Three years ago, Angelo Marman started an aquaponics farming business in Riversdale near Malmesbury with just five fish. Today his business, Lab Aqua Trades, runs on 1.6 hectares of land in the Swartland, and he also grows vegetables that is sold across the Western Cape.
Marman leases land in Riversdale where he breeds fish and grows organic vegetables and fresh herbs for clientele like the Oranjezicht Market in Cape Town, as well as Pesto Princess.
“We just attained yearly organic certification status, which is another outstanding accomplishment. The farmers in our group are now completing the PGS organic certification procedure,” he says.
He believes that farmers struggle to earn a livelihood because they have trouble selling their goods and getting it to marketplaces since transportation is costly.
Marman tells Food For Mzansi that his business approach is pretty straightforward: to grow a variety of vegetables that the markets need. “For years I was one of the biggest small-scale providers of fish and fish food, and I grew those five fish into thousands,” he says.
“I think the secret to achieving many objectives in a small agricultural community, is developing a good network of building blocks.”
Following in agricultural roots
Marman was born in Mitchells Plain and moved to the Swartland when he was ten years old. His parents worked as fruit inspectors and he later followed in their footsteps. For 20 years he worked as a fruit export inspector for PPECB.
“They (parents) introduced me to their work. They routinely took me on company outings and vacations where I would volunteer during school holidays.”
Marman holds a diploma in agricultural management from Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), where he majored in plant and animal production. He also completed a course aquaponics and facilitation.
Forming connections to improve communities
When his fish company first started, it opened up a wide range of networking opportunities with many fascinating people in the sector, including Magda Campbell from the Umthunzi Farming Community in Cape Town, and Hiran Leng from the Pioneer Food Group.
He has also partnered with Herman Bailey to start the Abitz Farming Training Programme, which offers skills training in vegetable production and facilitation to the community of Riverlands near Malmesbury. The Abitz Farming Training Programme includes all areas of production, marketing, logistics and finances.
“I’m the guy responsible for operational marketing and also consult with farmers for free to encourage growth, mentorship and planning for market access.”
Through this project they also supplied seedlings to Umthunzi Farming Community for a year and then began forming connections with other small-scale farmers. They encourage farmers under their guidance to grow organic and assist with knowledge on how to produce high-quality food for the markets.
To date Abitz Farming has trained 22 interns in 2021 and 14 this in Riverlands, free of charge. Marman also offers free consultation to the farmers in his circle.
“I help them where I can in terms of farm production, efficiency, consulting them on what produce the market wants and looking at what problems the farmers are facing. I don’t charge them,” Marman says.
Creating a bright future for kids
Marman and Leng also teamed up with Factreton Primary School to supply them with fish and fish food.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the duo presented a aquaponics workshop with the former minister of education in the Western Cape, Debbie Schaffer, and small-scale farmers to promote aquaponics in all Western Cape schools in 2020. Unfortunately, the national lockdown struck a week later, and the project was abandoned.
“We made the decision to focus our efforts on making money by hiring women from our communities to create masks for businesses and people, which really worked out nicely.”
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