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NMMU launches new Aquaponics unit at Missionvale Campus

MARCH 8, 2017
NMMU launches new Aquaponics unit at Missionvale Campus

An innovative and cost-effective food production hub recently built at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) Missionvale Campus – which is to offer healthy lifestyle solutions to primary school pupils in the neighbouring communities – will be launched on Thursday.

The aquaponics unit, built last year, is a collaborative initiative of INMED South Africa and Mondelez South Africa and is being implemented in partnership with the University. Its aim is addressing a number of challenges affecting surrounding communities, which include improving access to fresh fruits and vegetables, availability of fresh water resources and promoting healthy living habits in school communities.

Aquaponics is an innovative, intensive and inexpensive food production technique that brings together aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (soilless crop production) in a closed system that dramatically conserves water and space, and yields abundant and marketable fresh produce and fish.

The unit, built within the NMMU Medicinal Garden at Missionvale Campus, is a medium-sized aquaponics system that includes a protective greenhouse over the fish tanks, with complimentary water catchment or storage facilities and solar power systems.

It forms part of the broader Health in Action programme launched in 2015, the goal of which is to promote healthy lifestyles, address obesity and alleviate hunger amongst primary school children.

Aquaponic units are up to 10 times as productive as equally-sized plots that are traditionally cultivated, eliminate the need for costly inputs such as fertilizer and use approximately 90% less water than traditional agriculture.

All produce from the aquaponics unit is donated to nearby clinics and needy primary schools to supplement the school feeding programme.

The project was birthed as an effort to respond to some of the various challenges affecting Nelson Mandela Bay communities. These include unemployment or low-income households and small-scale farming where limited resources such as land, farming equipment, adequate irrigation water and general technical knowledge sees farmers locked in cycles of generational poverty and food insecurity.

In a bid to address these challenges, INMED SA and NMMU’s departments of Human Movement Science (HMS), Diatetics and Agriculture and Game Management (AGM) entered into a collaborative partnership last year, the goal of which was to inculcate a sustainable healthy lifestyle culture in targeted primary schools and communities around the city.

This partnership has already seen a number of unemployed and out-of-school youth, who were recruited as school-based break-time buddies, trained by the HMS Department and sharing these insights gained with schools daily.

This collaboration also boasts research opportunities, with an MTech Agriculture student having since been granted an opportunity to conduct research on the unit that looks at factors affecting the viability of aquaponics in the Nelson Mandela Bay region.

The student has been part of the building process from the start, collecting data on the cost of building the unit as well as its operation, with production data to be collected as operation gains traction.

Water harvesting systems, garden equipment, seeds, and sports equipment will be handed over to a selected number of primary schools benefiting from the Health in Action programme.

Image: NMMU MTech Agriculture student Mpendulo Ngcakani, who is managing the aquaponics system as part of his postgraduate research work.