Our INMED South Africa team had the pleasure of talking with two young interns from Nelson Mandela University at our aquaponics system at the Missionvale campus in Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape. The area is very poor with a high rate of unemployment and high crime rate with many youth taking drugs. Unathi Mgcebele is 26 and Sinazo Tomose is 22. Both are studying for a Diploma in Agricultural Management at NMU and plan to pursue aquaponics farming when they graduate.
Why did you want to study agriculture?
Unathi: I’ve been passionate about agriculture since I was young. I used to see older people going to the field to plant crops and those were the good times. There was less poverty and less crime then. Today, those fields are no longer used to plant crops and there is a high rate of poverty and crime in my rural area because of a lack of jobs and more youth doing drugs. I believe agriculture can make a positive change in my community, and I think it could change the lives of those young people who are taking drugs. If we can use the fields to plant crops again we can create more jobs for youngsters.
Sinazo: Growing up in a rural area made me realize that not everything needs to be bought, but that we can produce more for ourselves if we use available resources productively. That is where my love started for agriculture. I wanted to be part of something that is doing so much for people—knowing that I will be part of the reason people get fed every day, by producing food for them. I want to help fight poverty for the less privileged by producing food for them. Agriculture provides opportunities to work indoors and outdoors and opens up many different careers.
What areas you have enjoyed the most and why?
Unathi: The best part about our day is feeding the fish and watching them play—taking measurements of pH, temperature and oxygen; checking each seedling in the site to see if there is a problem for example aphids; looking at the seedlings for the first time growing in stones and being able to see how the aquaponics system works. I really enjoy monitoring the system, because I’m able to see the problems that lead to the high mortality rate in fish and work out ways to reduce the mortality rate.
Sinazo: I would say I enjoy everything the [aquaponics] site has to offer—from the site setup to the crops. This is my first time working in an aquaponics system. The way it operates and how it is set is just so amazing and interesting. It encourages me to want to learn more about aquaponics and the technology. I wouldn’t have thought of this way of farming, and being part of something that seems to be the future feels so great.
Why do you think agriculture is so important is so important for our South Africa?
Unathi: Agriculture is very important in our country because there is high rate of poverty and a high rate of unemployment. Most people in our community did not get an opportunity to go to school and most jobs in agriculture can take people who did not go to school. The climate of our country is also great for growing crops which we can export to help make our economy stronger.
Sinazo: I feel it is the most important industry sector in our country. It is the basis for food security as the main source of food, fodder and fuel. It creates jobs. It also contributes to the country’s economy.
What advice could you give to young people who are interested in the field?
Unathi: The advice that I could give is that studying agriculture at a college or university is the best decision they could make. There are many opportunities in agriculture, and as the world changes new technologies are being implemented all the time—like aquaponics. We need more farmers to grow food for our rising population. You will never regret it and will be proud of choosing agriculture. We have learnt about organic ways of farming to overcome the fertilizers that are dangerous to the human body. You will be able to make a big difference to our community when you work in sustainable agriculture.
Sinazo: Agriculture needs passion and it must be something you want to do, because it is very hands on. I would encourage them to look at the bigger picture.
Learn more about INMED South Africa’s aquaponics training and support for future aquaponics farmers at https://inmedase.org.