Air Products South Africa has once again shown its commitment to ensuring a better tomorrow by developing the country’s youth today, in an innovative and sustainable manner.

The company’s most recent corporate social investment (CSI) project is helping to address the nationwide plight of poverty and hunger through an innovative and sustainable farming technique known as aquaponics.

In this, Air Products has partnered with international philanthropic organisation Inmed to launch the largest unit developed in South Africa to date, at the Carel de Wet Technical High School in Vanderbijlpark.

Mike Hellyar, Managing Director of Air Products South Africa, explains, “Food supply is a major concern, particularly in the economically disadvantaged parts of our country. It is vitally important to teach children ways of food production which look to the future, using systems which are sustainable in terms of preserving natural resources as far as possible. The aquaponics system addresses a variety of challenges, including poor soil quality and water scarcity. In addition, the system maximises space by up to ten times that of normal crop farming.”

Aquaponics is an intensive food production technique which combines aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (soilless crop growing). It works on a closed system whereby the nutrients from fish tanks feed gravel grow beds, acting as a filter for the water. Clean, oxygenated water is then pumped back into the fish tanks.

Carel de Wet Technical High School is the first school in the country to be using the Inmed aquaponics project as part of an agricultural training programme. Since the launch of the aquaponics unit in August 2013, the learners at the school have been putting this innovative farming technique into practice, and have recently harvested their first crop of vegetables. “A variety of crops was planted, including cucumber, green peppers and tomatoes. We were excited to see the fruits of our labour turning into sales and profit,” says Gawie Richter, Principal of the Carel de Wet Technical High School.

Six grow beds in total are managed by the school, containing tomatoes, cucumbers and green peppers. The other three grow beds are used for training the students, using a variety of vegetables and herbs. These were planted at the beginning of March 2014, ready for today’s ‘First Harvest’ event.