Climate-resilient agriculture of the future
Hekpoort, Gauteng Province – North-west of Johannesburg, the largest and technically most advanced aquaponics facility in Southern Africa has gone into operation early August 2021 with the eight-months construction and commissioning phase successfully implemented despite the raging coronavirus pandemic and its disruptive frictions.
In addition to fresh Nile Tilapia, the GAP certified facility currently grows baby leaf spinach, spring onions, Batavia frilly lettuce, chives, mint and water cress. The team has also in-depth farming experiences with pak choi, kale (flat and curly), celery and almost any type of fancy lettuce from butter to cos. The weekly harvest capacity is in the range of 20,000 units of organically cultivated greens.
At present, the facility’s resource-saving, regionally farmed, mouthwatering and all year around produce is mainly sold to local packhouses, retail stores and online shops. In the near future, the environmentally friendly production facility will also run on solar energy.
The founder and CEO of Parkmore-based Integrated Aquaculture (Pty) Ltd., Lance Alexander Quiding, together with Desertfoods International GmbH (limited liability company) from Germany, agreed in late 2020 to combine forces with the aim to expedite the paradigm change in South Africa’s agriculture sector in line with the government’s master plan in terms of food safety & security, responsible and water-wise farming, hands-on education and employment.
The retrofitting of the existing round tank fish rearing infrastructure at Hekpoort Farm to a state-of-the-art recirculating aquaculture system (‘RAS’) operation was the departure point of the cross-continental co-operation between private-owned Integrated Aquaculture and private impact investor group backed Desertfoods International.
There was also agreement reached to expand the hydroponic growing system by duplicating the previous floating raft production capacity. The modular design of the now 3,500 square meter grow bed compartment allows for versatile crop cultivation and quick adaptation to altering market requirements.
The installation of an own brooding and hatchery facility formed another pillar of the initiative. Next to meeting the fingerling requirements of the own RAS operation, special attention in the design phase was centered around the aim to offering high-quality fingerlings to third-party fish farms or backyard aquaponic or pond systems and thus to make an important contribution in further developing South Africa’s land-based aquaculture industry next to mitigating the exposure tight to food value chain sourcing from overseas.
Today’s scope of the one hectare decoupled multi-loop aquaponics facility has turned the Hekpoort Farm into a self-sufficient food production system at scale. The farming approach applied fulfills almost all of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (‘SDG’s’) as it provides a substantial contribution especially towards achieving local food security, showcasing technology, enabling knowledge transfer, innovation, job creation and good health and well-being.
Aquaponics links the cultivation of green or fruit-crop plants in a water-based (soilless) media that is rich in nutrients with the land-based breeding of fish species such as Nile Tilapia or Catfish. Raising vegetables and fish in this integrated way is ecological farming in its natural form as the aquaponics cycle replicates a biological ecosystem.
95 per cent less water and 99 per cent less agricultural land is needed compared to conventional vegetable farming – with a simultaneous 10-fold increase in yield performance due to a much higher density per square meter along with the ability of all-year cultivation in a protected environment.
According to internationally acknowledged industry experts the aquaponics cycle is the safest, most water efficient, cleanest and most sustainable way to farm fresh vegetable produce and fresh fish.
The design, size and yield of an aquaponics food production system can be (down or up-) scaled according to the project’s underlying purpose and individual needs. Next to catering (mega) cities with close-by smart urban aquaponics farms at scale, the system is just as suitable for small communities as it can supply regional grocery shops, farm stalls and small food chains.
The aquaponics methodology is equally successful in remote and arid countryside as water is used sparingly due to the system only losing water through trans-evaporation through the leaves of the plants.
Farm manager, Mapopa Phiri Gwengo, explains: “I have been working on Hekpoort Farm for six years now, and in the past months have witnessed firsthand the complete upgrade and expansion of the facility. Despite the pandemic that continues to be pummeling in our area, the retrofitting and building phase was carried out within the pre-defined time schedule by Lance and our dedicated in-house construction team. Today, I am very proud to work on the most sustainable farm in Mzansi with the entire team remaining keen to sharing our best practice knowledge with smallholder farmers and young growers. Improving water, land and yield productivity of South Africa’s food production is a matter of heart to all of us. Personally, I cannot wait to smartly monitor key metrics of our aquaponics farm on my handheld device with the data soon to be captured by a state-of-the-art sensor kit which I find extremely exciting. With our most recent efforts, Hekpoort Farm definitely maneuvers itself to the
forefront of the ‘farming for the future’ initiative.”
“We greatly appreciate the mid 7-digit foreign direct investment of Desertfoods International and the ongoing trust of the German crowd in our team and our beloved country. It fills us with pride to partner with like-minded Desertfoods International to accelerate the implementation of our vision and ambitious growth strategy. Based on the complimentary skillset and network we consider the partnership with Desertfoods International as an unparalleled opportunity to untap the full market potential across South Africa and to spark the interest of additional off-takers for our fresh, sustainably grown and non-GMO produce. The impact of the current pandemic in combination with the changing weather patterns have underpinned our firm belief that the resilient and sustainable aquaponic farming practice is a key ingredient for the much-needed revolution of our country’s food and agriculture system”, says Lance A. Quiding from Integrated Aquaculture.
Lance Quiding has played a major role in the development of the aquaponics industry by sitting on the executive of both the Tilapia aquaculture Association of South Africa (TAASA) and the Aquaponic Association of South Africa (AASA). Along with those efforts he previously acted as designer and implementor of two turn-key aquaponics training facilities successfully realized for a South Africa-based youth employment programme next to regularly advising a Johannesburg-based AgriPark by assuming responsibility for the land-based aquaculture farming division.
Karsten Jansen, co-founder and managing director of Desertfoods International adds: “We are extremely pleased about the accomplishment Lance and his entire team have achieved during the last couple of months and look forward to the most exciting journey that is jointly ahead of us. Based on the milestones achieved at Hekpoort
Farm, representing the debut project for us in Southern Africa, we are currently busy incorporating South Africabased FinLeaf (Pty) Limited with the implementation of multi-faceted aquaponics farming and training projects in other parts of the country as core business objective. Along with those endeavours we are aiming to make further progress with the piloting of the next-generation aquaponics system at the on-site R&D center next to offering live-practical training courses to third parties at Hekpoort Farm with the training campus soon to be inaugurated. The partnership with Integrated Aquaculture represents a role model for us to establishing similar setups in neighboring countries and even beyond, i.e. in the entire SADC area”.
Together with the AgriScience Faculty of Stellenbosch University, Desertfoods International and FinLeaf Farms will soon offer e-learning courses so that as many individuals as possible can remotely familiarize themselves with the optimal handling of the smart aquaponics farming practice and to entering into secure job arrangements or aquaponics entrepreneurships in harmony with nature.