Aquaponics project will feed thousands of kids

IN THE LOOP: Health in Action co-coordinators Inmed operations manager Janet Ogilvy, Mondelez South Africa managing director Joost Vlaanderen and Mondelez corporate affairs manager Navisha Bechan-Sewkuran in the new aquaponics facility’s veggie growing tunnel Picture: GUY ROGERS
IN THE LOOP: Health in Action co-coordinators Inmed operations manager Janet Ogilvy, Mondelez South Africa managing director Joost Vlaanderen and Mondelez corporate affairs manager Navisha Bechan-Sewkuran in the new aquaponics facility’s veggie growing tunnel
Picture: GUY ROGERS

Bay schools to benefit from R37m veggie, fish scheme

What is sweet but fishy and decidedly green? It is candy giant Mondelez’s R37million aquaponics programme which it launched with partner Inmed at the NMMU Missionvale Campus in Port Elizabeth yesterday.

Government, university and business representatives, school principals and a group of excited pupils attended the launch of the Health in Action programme, which will benefit 100 000 pupils at 116 disadvantaged schools across the metro.

At centre stage was a new aquaponics facility which combines tilapia fish and veggie smart-farming using zero soil and 90% less water than traditional farming.

The facility comprised two greenhouse tunnels and the tilapia were spread through five tanks according to size and to allow for easy harvesting and continued research, Inmed South Africa operations manager Janet Ogilvy said.

The fingerlings take eight to 10 months to grow to an optimum 600g to 800g, at which point they are ready for harvesting.

The best part is what happens to the fish waste.

Nutrient-rich water is syphoned off the bottom of the tank where the waste settles, and piped across to the other tunnel where an array of vegetables are planted in nine long beds.

The veggies are planted in gravel, not soil, but beneath this sterile-looking substrate the fish wastewater circulates, delivering abundant nutrition.

Because of this super-rich nutrient supply the vegetables could be planted closer together than in a traditional veggie garden, meaning a bigger crop, Ogilvy said.

“Each plant also grows 10% faster, so you can expect at least two extra harvests a year.”

With all the nutrients filtered out and absorbed by the vegetables, the remaining clean water was channelled back into the fish tanks, closing the loop in terms of energy and efficiency, she said.

“Besides the huge water saving, what electricity is needed to drive the water pump is generated via solar panels.

“And the beneficiaries of this great system are all the disadvantaged kids from the schools involved in Health in Action who will now be eating proper meals.”

Mondelez Africa chief executive Joost Vlaanderen said besides giving these children access to better nutrition, the programme also included education about healthy eating, opportunities for school and university research and promotion of a healthy lifestyle via the supply of sports equipment.

“So it’s holistic, which we believe is important,” Vlaanderen said.

Motherwell’s Enkwenkwezini Primary School principal, Nomphumelelo Yako, said she was thrilled with the programme.

“The kids are amazed you can harvest from gravel but they will take note and spread the gospel of fresh harvest,” she said.

“The food will keep them healthy and grow their brains bigger.”

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