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Two Nelson Mandela University (NMU) graduates intend using their new innovative agriculture skills in the rural Eastern Cape communities where they grew up, to assist with food security in a resource-scarce region.

Sinazo Tomose, from Cacadu, and Unathi Mgcebele, from East London, were awarded their diplomas in agricultural management after doing extensive research and gaining valuable work experience in the field of aquaponics.

They were able to complete their studies thanks to the internships they secured with nonprofit organisation INMED SA, a company focused on developing programmes for food security, child and community health and social development through agricultural education.

Aquaponics is an intensive food production technique that combines aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (soilless crop production) to produce fresh produce and fish without the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

It also uses up to 90% less water and 75% less energy than other conventional farming techniques.

For Tomoso, 23, her interest in crop production stems from her grandparents’ subsistence farm back home.

“There was never enough food and a high rate of poverty — there still is today,” she said.

“I chose a career in agriculture because I want to help improve people’s lives and food security by producing enough food for the growing population and the less fortunate.

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“I also want to teach people to use available resources effectively, every available piece of land, like backyards and schoolgrounds, to produce food for themselves,” she said.

Mgcebele, 27, said he was intrigued by the idea of crop production because as a child he had been left at home while his parents went to work in fields to plant and harvest crops.

“It confused and intrigued me.

“There came a time when nobody planted crops in fields any more because so many young people left the rural areas to live in townships and look for work,” he said.

As he learnt more, he became concerned about the impact chemicals had on the people and soil, and became interested in organic fertilisers and farming techniques.

“I wanted to gain knowledge about organic farming methods and share these with my communities and spread the word about the importance of organic fertilisers.

“INMED and NMU helped me realise this vision and fuelled my passion for adaptive agriculture, including teaching me about organic insecticides.”

INMED SA director Unathi Sihlahla said the organisation was extremely proud of the achievements of its interns and their eagerness to take their knowledge into the field and share it with their communities.

“The world is changing rapidly due to climate change and a growing population.

“One thing that never changes, however, is that people need food.

“This is why we need many more keen young minds passionate about agriculture to explore new methods, like aquaponics, gain the skills and pass their knowledge on to others,” Sihlahla said.

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