“People with disabilities are often seen as useless and worse, bad luck,” said Makoena Moeketsi, vice-chair of the Tshwaranang Disabled People Centre in the dry and dusty township of Phomolong near Henneman in South Africa’s Free State province. “But this new INMED aquaponics system has given us a sense of purpose and we take pride in the fact that we’re now helping to feed our community.”
More than 100 disabled adults with physical and mental disabilities have worked with the farming cooperative since the project was established in November 2018.
Following the success of two other projects located close to the Phomolong site, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provided funding to INMED to help get this project off the ground.
Northern Free State is extremely poor, with more than 70% unemployment since the gold mines closed over a decade ago. “But the successes of the Wesselsbron and Kroonstad projects – each located under 50 miles from the Phomolong township – encouraged the community leaders to look at establishing an aquaponics system,” related Madona.
Wilfred Msibi, chairman of the Tshwaranang Disabled People Centre, added that many disabled people earn a very small disability pension which is not enough to sustain themselves, let alone the many blind and disabled children the centre supports.
“People from all over the Free State province bring their children here, so we can either feed them or help place them in disabled centres throughout the province,” he explained, commenting that the aquaponics system will not only help provide the necessary nutrition these children need, but also eventually provide a source of income to help develop the local community in general.
For now, the people at the centre each have their own job to work on the aquaponics system. “The system is designed so there is wheelchair access and it is easily accessed by the blind, who will likely be in charge of harvesting when the time comes,” said Msibi.