Air Products South Africa has once again shown its commitment to ensuring a better tomorrow by developing the country’s youth today, in an innovative and sustainable manner.
The company’s most recent corporate social investment (CSI) project is helping to address the nationwide plight of poverty and hunger through an innovative and sustainable farming technique known as aquaponics. In this, Air Products has partnered with international philanthropic organisation Inmed to launch the largest unit developed in South Africa to date, at the Carel de Wet Technical High School in Vanderbijlpark.
Mike Hellyar, Managing Director of Air Products South Africa, explains, “Food supply is a major concern, particularly in the economically disadvantaged parts of our country. It is vitally important to teach children ways of food production which look to the future, using systems which are sustainable in terms of preserving natural resources as far as possible. The aquaponics system addresses a variety of challenges, including poor soil quality and water scarcity. In addition, the system maximises space by up to ten times that of normal crop farming.”
Aquaponics is an intensive food production technique which combines aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (soilless crop growing.) It works on a closed system whereby the nutrients from fish tanks feed gravel grow beds, acting as a filter for the water. Clean, oxygenated water is then pumped back into the fish tanks.
Carel de Wet Technical High School is the first school in the country to be using the Inmed aquaponics project as part of an agricultural training programme. Since the launch of the aquaponics unit in August 2013, the learners at the school have been putting this innovative farming technique into practice, and have recently harvested their first crop of vegetables. “A variety of crops was planted, including cucumber, green peppers and tomatoes. We were excited to see the fruits of our labour turning into sales and profit,” says Gawie Richter, Principal of the Carel de Wet Technical High School.
Six grow beds in total are managed by the school, containing tomatoes, cucumbers and green peppers. The other three grow beds are used for training the students, using a variety of vegetables and herbs. These were planted at the beginning of March 2014, ready for today’s ‘First Harvest’ event.
“The students have learnt invaluable lessons using this exceptional system – in particular that nutritious food can be produced using a minimum of water and space. They have also learnt about agricultural economics, such as having to identify and secure new markets for their products,” Richter points out.
For Air Products South Africa, the Aquaponics project represents an innovative way in which the company can give back to the community in regions where it operates.
“Our plant in Vanderbijlpark is one of the largest of its kind in the country. An important part of our CSI strategy is to actively find ways to uplift the community in areas where we have a presence. The plight of our under-privileged children is close to our hearts, and when Inmed approached us to help in a project which would help to create a more self-reliant community, we leapt at the chance,” Hellyar says.
“When Inmed South Africa approached us to help with the aquaponics project, it immediately resonated with us. Innovation, quality systems and sustainability are a core part of our business strategy - and this project is truly bringing innovation to the youth and their communities. We have been excited to be part of this first phase of the project, and based on its successful outcome, we look forward to opportunities for potential further involvement,” Hellyar says.
Phase one of the project has seen the school experimenting with various crops, and now the children are learning how to plant and manage the aquaponics unit themselves, according to Richter.
“The success of the project has meant that aquaponics has now been incorporated into the curriculum for our agriculture students,” he says. “We are grateful to Inmed, and the generous sponsorship of Air Products South Africa for making this a reality.”
“While agriculture might seem a long way from the industrial gas business, as a responsible corporate citizen it is our mission to find new ways in which to support and develop the children of this country. They hold the key to a successful future for all of us. In celebrating this ‘First Harvest’ event, we are also celebrating growth, new beginnings and hope for a healthy, sustainable future,” Hellyar concludes.