Sunday, 21 July, 2024

|
In May 2022, Sappi Southern Africa joined forces with Standard Bank to establish Ngodwana Aquaponics, a community-operated aquaponics farm in the Elands Valley in Mpumalanga.

Aquaponics farm aims to bridge youth unemployment gap in Eland’s Valley

In May 2022, Sappi Southern Africa joined forces with Standard Bank to establish Ngodwana Aquaponics, a community-operated aquaponics farm in the Elands Valley in Mpumalanga.

This project focuses on youth job creation, with particular emphasis on agriculture.

Amidst rising unemployment among youth, which stood at an alarming 44,3% in the fourth quarter of 2023, Sappi has directed its social-impact efforts toward initiatives that empower young people to access economic opportunities.

Farm foreman Excellent Sibuyi Edward Msuthu with Dr Bev Sukhdeo, Sappi vice president of manufacturing and research and development.

In addition to its skills centres located at the Saiccor and Ngodwana Mills, Sappi has explored alternative approaches to tackle the country’s youth unemployment. 

The aquaponics project aims to enhance local food security by providing affordable, high-quality protein through locally farmed Tilapia Rendalli fish. In its initial phase between September and November 2023, the project involved 30 local youths.

In its initial phase between September and November 2023, the project involved 30 local youths.

Not only were local young people upskilled in the basics of aquaculture, they were also trained in vegetable and herb production.

To ensure overall profitability, the project diversified its offerings by including a range of high-end products for sale at the farm stall. These sought-after artisanal products – such as macadamia pesto, grapefruit marmalade, piquant capsicum peppers, tomato jam and a hot chilli sauce – supplement the income from fish production.

Mahlatsi Mathebula, Minenhle Malevu, Thabiso Sambo and Comfort Mgiba were upskilled in the basics of aquaculture, as well as vegetable and herb production.

However, the true source of pride lies in the construction of the farm.

The project ensured that all participating youths acquired a comprehensive set of skills necessary for every aspect of construction. From digging foundations to building structures, handling plumbing, wiring, and even basic welding, the tutors of the Ngodwana Skills Centre equipped them with the expertise needed to complete the construction to the highest standards.

The Ngodwana Nursery, which is adjacent to the Sappi Ngodwana Mill and supplies more than 17 million seedlings and cuttings to Sappi Forests and other customers annually, was chosen as the farm’s location. Its reliable power and water supply, provided at no extra cost, combined with the nursery management team’s dedication and passion, made it the ideal venue.

The aquaponics project aims to enhance local food security by providing affordable, high-quality protein through locally farmed Tilapia Rendalli fish.

We believe that supporting neighbouring communities positively impacts our operations. Initiatives like this, which create economic opportunities, foster community growth and contribute to a stable, healthy ecosystem for our business

Melanie Jacobs, Sappi’s global process owner for talent, performance and learning

The farm design was done by Sappi Engineer in Training, Chelaine Maree, under the supervision of Henri Pereira from MyAquaponics, who also conducted the initial training of the group.

The partnership between Sappi and Standard Bank outlined specific roles, where Sappi would manage the project, identify local youth, and oversee the design, development, and capital expenditure for building the farm. Standard Bank committed to subsidising the youth stipends for two years, with their commitment extending until November 2024. The overarching goal is for the operation to achieve a breakeven point and become self-sustaining.

The farm will remain as a department of Sappi under the management and the blueprint created at Ngodwana Aquaponics will be used to create similar farms at other nursery locations in rural areas elsewhere in South Africa.

A retail shop is currently being shop-fitted at the Ngodwana shopping centre and will be opened once the first fish have reached a saleable weight of 250 grams. The live fish that will be sold in the shop, in addition to the vegetables that are being grown, will serve as a welcome source of healthy low-cost food for families in the area, who currently travel some 60km to access food. 

In addition, local craftsmen will be able to sell their craft in the shop, together with the beneficiated produce under the Eland’s Valley Craft Preserve brand.

“We believe that supporting neighbouring communities positively impacts our operations. Initiatives like this, which create economic opportunities, foster community growth and contribute to a stable, healthy ecosystem for our business,” says Melanie Jacobs, Sappi’s global process owner for talent, performance and learning.

“These initiatives empower youths, allowing them to channel their talents into productive and dignified economic activities, ultimately opening new doors for their future,” she says.

Any profits generated by the operation will be reinvested into further community youth projects.

Leave a Reply