And this is what pushed Inmed Partnerships for Children to come up with innovative ways to ensure that learners are not only fed but are healthy.
Inmed Partnerships for Children, with the help of the Mondelez International Foundation, run aquaponics plants in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng which reach up to 100 000 primary pupils a year.
Unathi Sihlahla of Inmed Partnerships for Children said: “The concept of aquaponics has been there for many years. We started it in 2010 as we wanted solutions for farmers to cope under the threat of climate change. In particular, we were targeting farmers with disabilities, as it requires no labour.”
In addition to reaching disabled farmers, the organisation has been able to use the system to ensure that schoolchildren are not malnourished.
Sihlahla said the aquaponics units are up to 10 times as productive as equivalently sized plots that are traditionally cultivated and use about 90% less water than traditional agriculture.
Speaking about the Port Elizabeth plant, Sihlahla said the great thing is that you are growing all your vegetables without using soil as a medium. We have two units here - the first is a greenhouse structure where we keep our fish. It has five tanks with a total of 4 000 fish, either tilapia or catfish. We then have nine grow-beds for vegetables. These grow about 130 heads of lettuce and 110 tomato plants.”
Sihlahla said all the harvest and fish go to schools for use in their feeding schemes.
Some of the other food they have produced on the gravel-based system include broccoli, cauliflower, spring onions and herbs. Sihlahla noted it was harder to cultivate root vegetables.
“The beauty about aquaponics is that you can re-use 90% of the water. Your fish is the engine of the system. Waste from the fish is used to provide nutrients for the plants. It goes to the plants through the recirculating water.
“The beauty of this system is that you don’t need fertilisers. Everything we grow is organic,” he said. As a result of the success of the Port Elizabeth plant, the Mondelez International Foundation and Inmed Partnerships for Children will open an even bigger facility in Soweto last month.