Disabled farmers in the Free State are feeding their communities and erasing stigma in a collective effort to enhance food security in the drought-stricken province.

INMED Aquaponics, an adaptive agricultural programme, has enabled almost 100 disabled Free State farmers to scale up their agricultural operations and meet community needs while turning a profit.

“Subsistence farmers here were struggling to produce enough vegetables even for themselves,” says Mantombi Madona, an adaptive agriculture facilitator and trainer for INMED South Africa. “Today, the three co-operatives that I work with are producing enough tomatoes and lettuce and a variety of vegetables, not only for themselves, but also for their communities, at an affordable price. They even turn a profit.”

Aquaponics helps ensure food security

Aquaponics is a food production technique that combines aquaculture and hydroponics in a closed system. It has been used as the mechanism through which smallholder farmers, schools, government institutions and commercial enterprises are able to overcome interrelated issues of poverty, food security, nutrition and economic development in the Free State.

“Aquaponics plays a vital role in these farmers’ food security, and they are now on their way to becoming self-sufficient, which is especially important during the coronavirus shutdown,” says Madona. “Fortunately, INMED was able to receive a special exception from the government for a few members to visit the projects to monitor the seedlings, which will be ready for harvest in June.”

Challenges and triumphs 

There are more than 230 000 people with disabilities living in the Free State. Many of them still face the challenge of fighting the stigma in South Africa’s rural communities, and disabled farmers are often not supported at fresh produce markets.

The scarcity of rain in the province has led many farmers into bankruptcy, and food shortages in many rural communities are common. As such, INMED Aquaponics has set out to train more than 1 000 small-scale farmers and continue to provide a valuable skill set to people that could really use it.

“Fortunately, the communities here actually give support to these disabled farmers, as well as volunteer to help out in some of their activities,” notes Madona. “They like to spend time with these special people because they learn from them and can see and appreciate the value they add to the community.” – The South African