GreenLab.bi, a hydroponics project in Northern Cape schools, has received widespread praise for its potential to combat climate change and promote food security in the region. Through the initiative, learners have easy access to hydroponic grow chambers.
These chambers are small, tabletop hydroponic vegetable garden units that are climate-controlled and computer-programmed. Each grow chamber produces a variety of crops, including lettuce, spinach, and herbs.
The project, which is backed by the Northern Cape education department, also offers a solution to the many climate-related challenges faced. Hydroponic farming is intensive and requires less space, and the grow chambers provide a climate-controlled environment for small-scale farming.
Soil erosion rife throughout Mzansi
“After decades of intensive agriculture and human activities, many regions in South Africa are facing severe soil erosion, leading to reduced crop productivity and environmental degradation,” explains Dr Gerhardus Nortje, a soil science expert from Unisa.
He believes poor farming practices have largely contributed to soil erosion due to poor land suitability evaluation and land use planning. Effective land management and conservation practices are therefore essential to prevent further soil erosion and maintain the long-term health of agricultural soils.
“Conventional commercial farming is usually extensive, while hydroponic farming is intensive and requires a smaller surface area to produce the same yield,” adds hydroponics specialist Dr Ricky van de Westhuizen.
The height of the greenhouse is used to grow crops vertically, making it suitable for crops with a compact growth habit which can be stacked on top of each other, or indeterminate crops that continue to grow upward when trellised and pruned until the plants are topped.
The grow chambers installed at different schools allow learners to understand the importance of food security innovation and how school lessons relate to real-world scenarios. It also provides learners with a balanced diet, teaching them important skills around food production and sustainability.
Role of hydroponics
“I think hydroponics can play a big role in reducing climate change because it allows us to grow crops without relying on traditional farming methods that can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions,” says Tshiamo Molusi, secretary of the science club at Kimberley Boys’ High School.
The Northern Cape is known for its arid and semi-arid climate, characterised by low rainfall and high evaporation rates. Its soil types are generally low in nutrients, have a low water-holding capacity and are often heavily eroded due to wind and water erosion. As a result, the soil in the province is often unsuitable for growing crops using traditional soil-based farming methods.
Hydroponics has several advantages that make it a promising technology to address the challenges of climate change while providing fresh, healthy food to communities. It uses less water than traditional farming methods, which can help conserve water resources in areas where drought is a concern. Using hydroponic systems, crops can be grown indoors and in urban areas, reducing the need for transportation and minimising the carbon footprint associated with transporting food.
Bridging the gender gap
“I believe that incorporating hydroponic chambers into our class lessons would be an excellent opportunity for all learners, especially for female learners like myself,” says Dimpho Dhladhla, a pupil at Kimberley Technical High School.
She explains that in the past, science and technology have been seen as male-dominated fields, and it is important to change this perception. “By using hydroponic systems, we can learn about plant growth and biology in a practical and engaging way that will benefit all learners regardless of gender.”
According to Dhladhla, hydroponics is a sustainable farming method that can have a positive impact on the environment, which is an important issue for everyone. “By integrating hydroponics into our lessons, we can learn how to grow food more sustainably and make a difference in the world,” she adds.
GreenLab.bi is owned by the Northern Cape Entrepreneurship Academy, a non-profit company which aims to educate and drive sustainable development with youth through various initiatives. This project is financed by the United States Mission to South Africa’s public affairs section at the U.S. Consulate General in Cape Town.
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