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Women farmers launch fruitful venture

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A women-owned co-operative has beaten the odds with an innovative farming practice.

File Photo: IOL

WHILE the thought of cultivating fresh fruits and vegetables in the dry, dusty, desert region of Namaqualand was previously unheard of, a women-owned co-operative has beaten the odds with an innovative farming practice.

The women-owned co-operative, comprising of six women, one of whom is disabled, is running a successful and innovative farming operation in the heart of the Karoo, in Pella, an area previously thought of as nothing more than a desert wasteland.

The Pella community has few opportunities to take advantage of. However, with the foresight and ingenuity of INMED, a non-profit humanitarian organisation, Pella Food Garden Cooperative submitted a successful funding proposal and is now receiving funding and assistance from Konkoonsies Solar Power in the form of a fully-equipped agro-processing unit, bottling and canning facilities as well as skills training and other enterprise support.

Due to a progressive, symbiotic farming operation, the Pella Food Garden Cooperative is sustainable and is in fact doing well enough to provide full-time local employment to help keep the venture fruitful.

The aquaponics farming model used is a productive, innovative and sustainable process that includes both fish and vegetable production that successfully overcomes the negative environmental elements that include drought, soil pollution and extreme Karoo temperatures.

“For many years, the co-op struggled to successfully farm their land, having to rely on government assistance to make ends meet. That all changed when they shifted their operation to the climate-smart aquaponics technique that is still considered an emerging practice in South Africa. With the help of funding and economic development this enterprise has increased its productively exponentially, as well as its capacity to employ more local labour,” explained Anna Letsoalo, senior economic development officer for Konkoonsies Solar Power, which is supporting this farming enterprise.

“The aim is to create job opportunities for the local people; access to fresh fruits and vegetables as the Pella community is situated in a deep rural area of the Northern Cape with less access to markets; and to increase the economy,” added Letsoalo.

Aquaponics is an emerging farming practice in South Africa that may hold the key to ensuring better food security, especially in isolated rural communities such as Pella.

The system produces year-round harvests – providing significantly more and better produce at a faster rate.

“This project brings relief to our daily lives as we are able to put bread and fresh vegetables on the table each day,” said Ester Nell, the director of Pella Food Garden Cooperative.

“Aquaponics has made a significant difference in our lives and brought interest in our project that we’ve never had before. We will continue to grow our business and provide jobs in our community.”