No fewer than 15 hearing-impaired youth from Soweto and Orange Farm in Gauteng entered the world of aquaponics after a two-day training programme presented as part of Deaf Awareness Month.
The aquaponics programme, presented by INMED South Africa and the Deaf Empowerment Firm (DEF), is described as “a new type of incubator of entrepreneurial agro-enterprises for climate-smart food production”.
According to the organisers, the INMED Aquaponics Social Enterprise promotes positive aspects of deafness, social inclusion and critical skills development options offered for the hearing impaired. It is supported by the Mondelēz International Foundation and USAID Southern Africa.
“We identified aquaponics farming as one of the best programmes through which to empower young deaf people,” says Alex Msitshana, the founder and managing director of DEF.
He tells Food For Mzansi that this is their first project in the agricultural sector and also a great way of exploring opportunities where they could empower their participants in a social enterprise and farming environment.
Changing perceptions about deaf people
Msitshana believes that aquaponics is suitable, user-friendly and safe for people with all disabilities. As an intensive form of agriculture, combining hydroponics and fish farming in a closed symbiotic system, it produces at least ten times more crops than traditional farming using a tenth of the water with no chemical fertilisers or pesticides.
“Our first contact with INMED SA was met with a quick response and we set up a meeting to explore the synergies between what we wanted to achieve and what INMED offers. We had site visits to two enterprises, in Soweto and Vanderbijlpark, and were pleasantly encouraged by how this system of agriculture works.”
Unathi Sihlahla, programme director for INMED SA, adds that the synergy between DEF and the Aquaponics Social Enterprise was apparent from the start.
Msitshana concurs, saying it reinforces their vision of changing the perception that deaf people are only fit to do menial work.
“Having skills in aquaponics and running a successful aquaponics enterprise will serve as affirmation that deaf people can do this kind of work too. Aquaponics will also help our candidates learn a new skill that is currently scarce in our country.”
“Except for one of the candidates, all candidates participating in the training do not have matric due to the challenges deaf learners face in our country as in most schools for the deaf, the curriculum is not offered to matric level.”
Msitshana says deaf people learn better when they do things hands on, so they selected candidates who would be best suited to a more practical programme.
During the two-day session, trainees were shown how to build a simple aquaponics structure from scratch, how to combat climate change, how to take care of produce and the fish that make it possible, how to access markets and how to do financial management.
From job seekers to job creators
Following last month’s training, the participants are going to form part of the DEF enterprise development business unit.
“We have no doubt that what the 15 DEF candidates have learnt … will stand them in good stead as individuals and valued family and community members in the future. In future, we hope to collaborate with other government stakeholders such as the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development as well as the department of women, youth and persons with disabilities to provide longer-term skills development training,” says Sihlahla.
The aim is to move our candidates from being job seekers to being job creators, adds Msitshana.
“The enterprise will be used as both a training place as well as an entity to offer employment to other hearing-impaired people seeking employment. It is aimed at giving our candidates an enterprise from which they can make a sustainable living.”
Commenting on their decision to invest in the Aquaponics Social Enterprise, Mondelēz corporate and government affairs lead for Sub-Saharan Africa, Navisha Bechan-Sewkuran, says the initiative is in line with the company’s corporate social investment initiatives.
“The agriculture sector has long been acknowledged as having the potential to create millions of jobs. While its potential has been recognised, its conversion into meaningful benefits for the previously disadvantaged, especially young women, has taken place at a slow pace owing to, among other challenges, shortage of arable land as well as lack of access to funding and industry information.
“Aquaponics farming has huge potential to remove barriers to entry into the agricultural sector. It eliminates the need for massive arable land and huge capital investments and it uses less water than traditional farming methods, making the sector accessible to all.”
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