Pioneers in school aquaponics still thriving

A decade ago the principal and learners of Pudumo Primary School in Orange Farm became the pioneers in using aquaponics to supply school feeding schemes. The INMED South Africa initiative has since spread throughout the country

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An aquaponics system at a school in the Gauteng township of Orange farm was not only the first in the country, but it has managed to support the learners and their community for ten years now.

With one fish tank and two grow beds to provide healthy fresh vegetables and fish for the school meals. Since its installation ten years ago, it has provided what for many learners has been the only meal of their day.

With the support of a principal with a passion for healthy eating and for the wellbeing of the greater Orange Farm community, the project has thrived. During the toughest days of last year’s hard Covid-19 lockdown, the garden managed to grow enough spinach to feed all of the children at the school.

The project was a labour of love between the ABSA Foundation and INMED South Africa, says operations manager for INMED South Africa, Janet Ogilvie.

Operations manager for INMED South Africa, Janet Ogilvie. Photo: INMED

Using plans for a simplified system developed by INMED Partnerships for Children, INMED South Africa brought the initiative to life.

“The tiny team of Khumbudzo Manyaga, who was INMED’s adaptive agriculture programme manager at the time, Lucas Stander and myself dug the holes for the fish tanks and the cement grow bed’s foundations,” recalls Ogilvie.

Principal Johannes Seruoe. Photo: Supplied/ Food For Mzansi
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Ogilvie adds that the learners and teachers could not contain their anticipation for what was unfolding on their school grounds. “The day of the fish delivery created such excitement,” she says. “During break time, all the learners rushed to see the fish as most had never seen a live fish before,” she says.

This was just the beginning of the decade long relationship between INMED and Pudumo Primary School, Ogilvie says.

In 2016, the school also hosted the launch of INMED’s Health in Action programme, a school-based nutrition and healthy lifestyles initiative in partnership with the Mondelēz International Foundation.

“It focuses on improving access to fresh produce via school gardens and aquaponics as well as education and training for students, staff and parents on nutrition, physical fitness and making healthy choices,” explains Ogilvie.

Turning concept into reality

The Pudumo Primary School was an obvious choice for the implementation of the Health in Action programme, says programme manager Dr Sandra Pretorius.

Together with INMED SA the school staff put boots to the ground to train kitchen preparers, staff and students at participating schools, with a strong focus on creating nutritious meals, demonstrating how to prepare them, and developing fun activities to build strong, healthy bodies.

INMED Health in Action programme manager Dr Sandra Pretorius.

“The principal, educators and food preparers at Pudumo Primary School are all very passionate about ensuring that the learners at the school receive nutritious meals and value the contribution that the vegetable garden and the aquaponics system makes towards achieving this,” says Pretorius. 

Johannes Seruoe was the pillar central to the success of the Health in Action programme, says Pretorius.

Seruoe takes the reigns as the principle of the school and is passionate about healthy eating, the importance of growing your own food and the nutritional status of children in his school, but also the health of the greater Orange Farm community.

“Many families in his community face food insecurity, and the school is integrally involved in assisting families in desperate need of food.

“During the lockdown last year, and immediately afterwards, when the schools were still struggling with Covid-19, principal Seruoe commented to me that the vegetable garden at Pudumo had been a life saver for them,” says Pretorius.

“They managed to harvest enough spinach from the garden to feed all the children at the school.”

Janet Ogilvie, Operations Manager for INMED SA, levelling the cement foundations for the initial grow beds for the first INMED Aquaponics system in South Africa a decade ago. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Ogilvie adds that, “The project was a great learning experience for INMED SA and remains very special to its team members. 

“It really helped germinate a lasting passion for aquaponics and how it can help so many,” she says.

“One only has to look at the success of the project to appreciate the value it offers the community, and to this day I’m still passionate about aquaponics and the work we do.”

A decade later, and the organisation has implemented INMED aquaponics systems in the Eastern Cape, Free State, Limpopo, Gauteng, and the Northern Cape.

“Our involvement with schools’ feeding schemes is so important, because it generates an interest in farming in the children at a young age and is a key solution for strengthening food security, climate adaptation and sustainable livelihoods. It’s the future of farming in South Africa,” says Ogilvie.

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