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GREENING AND ENVIRONMENT

Female farmers win big

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INMED Partnerships for Children and INMED South Africa are pleased to announce that project beneficiary Pella Food Garden Cooperative was named Best Subsistence Producer by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries at this year’s annual Female Entrepreneur Awards. The group also was named the Overall Winner of the provincial Female Entrepreneur Awards by the Department of Agriculture in the Northern Cape. It is the first time a contestant from Northern Cape has won a top national prize.

The Female Entrepreneur Awards were launched in 1999 to recognize the diligent efforts of women in the agricultural sector to reduce poverty through food security, job creation and economic development.

“We feel like proud parents,” said Unathi Sihlahla, Programme Director of INMED South Africa, which has spent the last year working with the all-female farming co-op to install aquaponics and adaptive agriculture measures to help the group increase its production capacity to survive a prolonged drought.

The members of Pella Food Garden Cooperative, consisting of five women (one of whom is disabled), had been struggling to farm their land for eight years but could not generate enough income to utilize all their land or buy inputs. All the members had to rely on government assistance to make ends meet. Within one year of farming with new climate-smart techniques and aquaponics, however, the co-op increased its income from an average of R50 per month to R3000 per month.

 

With their newfound business acumen, the group is investing its R325,000 of prize money from the Female Entrepreneur Awards in future expansion and stipends for volunteers who help on the farm. The members also look forward to sharing more of their harvests with needy families.

Aquaponics: A Solution for Food Security, Income, Community Development & Climate Change

Aquaponics is an innovative and highly intensive food production technique that combines aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (soilless crop production) in a closed symbiotic system that is easily scalable to meet the needs of smallholder farmers, schools, government institutions, commercial enterprises and even home gardeners. INMED’s system produces year-round harvests despite extreme climate-change events, uses 90% less water than traditional farming, produces significantly more and better produce at a faster rate and can be scaled to fit any space in both rural and urban environments.

In partnership with Old Mutual, INMED South Africa installed a commercial-sized aquaponics system for the Pella Food Garden cooperative as well as a commercial-weight shade cloth for the group’s adaptive agriculture vegetable garden. The INMED team also installed a drip irrigation system and facilitated regular training for a full year.

In addition to receiving technical training in adaptive agriculture, the Pella co-op members learned computer skills, accounting, business planning, marketing and sales via training from INMED and Old Mutual. “Our Adaptive Agriculture programme is unique in that involves the entire value chain—from technical assistance and business training to access to financing and links to ready markets for high-quality produce and fish,” explained Sihlahla.

Indeed, the Pella group’s reputation has spread quickly, becoming a preferred supplier to the public, local retailers, community soup kitchens and schools. Local guesthouses, such as Aggenhuis Guest House, also are negotiating with the Pella Food Garden to provide vegetables and herbs for their guests’ meals.

In accepting the award, co-op leader Ester Nell said she was thankful for the help of INMED and Old Mutual and the diligence of her fellow farmers. “We had the persistence to carry on for many years, which were not very successful,” she said. “But through INMED and Old Mutual, aquaponics has made a significant difference in our lives and brought interest in our project that we’ve never had before. We will continue to grow our business and provide jobs in our community.”

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