Six women from the Suurbraak community are piloting a dynamic aquaponics farm in the Overberg district near Swellendam in the Western Cape. Their farming method, which combines aquaculture (the farming of fish) and hydroponics (a method of growing plants without soil) is becoming increasing popular in Mzansi.
The initiative, funded by the Breede-Gouritz Catchment Management Centre (BGCMC) and the Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE), is based on a piece of land that includes a nursery, which produces its own seedlings. Together they manage the aquaponics project with the Mawubuye Land Rights Forum.
At the moment the women primarily focus on producing lettuce, with plans to explore with other crops in the near future. Robert Andrews, an agricultural consultant for the TCOE project, says Suurbraak Aquaponics has experienced moderate success since it kicked off.
The initiative now employs six local women whose mission simply is, “Let us grow together”.
Andrews says: “It is our hope that this initiative will benefit not only Suurbraak, but a host of communities that they are connected to. We are also hoping that this project will receive more funding to support training and other ancillary activities within their community.”
Reinette Heunis, who is a Mawubuye Land Rights activist and one of the women who are part of the project, says: “This particular system is geared at producing 700 heads of lettuce, which is to be marketed to the surrounding communities of Swellendam and Barrydale.”
According to Andrews, the nursery was an existing project they incorporated under the aquaponics banner. “What we are trying to do is have the nursery produce the seedlings necessary to plant in the aquaponics system,” he adds.
Suurbraak Aquaponics is more than just a project for the women involved.
The farm is a business, which they are responsible for. The women are offered new skills and training that was not previously available.
“We tried to look at the concept differently where this project is controlled by the women involved. Yes, they have a mentor, but they are responsible for some of their fundraising, bookkeeping, etc. Basically, I see this project as a fledgling business and the women involved as entrepreneurs,” says Andrews.