VUT Agri-preneur with an avid interest in uplifting communities

VUT Agri-preneur with an avid interest in uplifting communities

Ms Zandile Kumalo, The Founder of HyHarvest (Pty)Ltd, a hydroponics farming company

Selina Rapulane

Did you know that the Vaal University of Technology Southern Gauteng Science and Technology Park (VUTSGSTP) has given a home to a hydroponics production farm meant to serve the community?

Hydroponic farming refers to the growing of crops, using a water-based, nutrient-rich solution – referred to as a hydroponic system – instead of soil.

Although hydroponic farming isn’t competing with traditional agricultural farming at present, its popularity and potential has not gone unnoticed. Recent technological advances, in combination with social awareness, are bringing hydroponics into the mainstream.

Hydroponic systems use nutrient solutions to feed plants and use other substrates to provide support for roots. Additionally, some hydroponic systems require no substrates at all. There are a range of different methods and variations of hydroponic gardening, ranging from small, in-home systems to large, complex commercial systems.

Hydroponics Production Farm based at VUTSGSTP, Sebokeng

Hydroponics is quickly gaining popularity in places where traditional farming simply isn’t an option. In large cities there is little to no access to agriculturally viable land. However, hydroponics can be implemented anywhere!

The initiative at the Science Park was brought about by an aspiring woman who is passionate about hydroponics and an enthusiastic go-ahead from Management Team at VUTSGSTP.

Zandile Kumalo, 27, who hails from Soweto, is a South African entrepreneur who founded HyHarvest (Pty)Ltd, a hydroponics farming company, in 2017. Before this she was involved in numerous social activities: in 2007, she started volunteering at Youth Desk in the School Safety Task Team. In 2008, she implemented the programme at her school, Meyerton High School. Later that year she became part of an organisation called Fire Fire Youth Organisation which was a beneficiary project of Kago ya Bana and Hollard. In 2009, she became the president of the School Safety Task Team and lead it for two years. In the process of doing so, she was involved in the fundraising for upgrades at her school with Samancor. In 2010, she became part of the executive board of Fire Fire Youth Organisation and appointed financial manager for three years.

In 2011, aged 19, Ms Kumalo enrolled at the Vaal University of Technology, majoring in Analytical Chemistry. After completing her internship as a laboratory chemistry analyst at Henkel SA in 2015, she graduated with her National Diploma.

Early in 2016 she began her research of hydroponics. Her research was inspired by visiting a few farmers like One Agri Can in Westonaria, which focuses on vertical farming, and Darling Farm-Grow Machines in Standerton in Mpumalanga which focuses on NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) farming.

She also gleaned knowledge from farmers whose focus is on rooftop hydroponics farming.

In September 2017, she gained accreditation as a Carbon Sequestration analyst and Carbon Footprint analyst and founded HyHarvest.

Its first initiative was to develop unused backyards into hydroponic farms. “The initiative is still in progress as we started with conventional farming and the company’s added focus is to also move already existing backyard projects from agri to agri-tech,” she said.

Agri-tech refers to the use of technology for farming that is developed to improve efficiency and profitability.

Early 2018, HyHarvest participated in a research and development project for rooftop hydroponics. They wished to help farmers scale up by using the new farming technology. Her company and its partners now operate a packhouse in Johannesburg for farmers who needed improved agro-processing standards. It is also helping them with access to markets.

Ms Kumalo approached VUTSGSTP to assist her to erect her hydroponic tunnel.

“I plant lettuce, some call it living lettuce, with its different cultivars. I have butter lettuce, red oak, green oak, lolla bianda, lolla rossa and cos lettuce. They all have the same benefits which is high water content, making it a refreshing choice during hot weather. It also provides calcium, potassium, vitamin C, and folate. The nutrients in iceberg lettuce can help you to meet the standard daily requirements for several vitamins and minerals,” she said.

She believes that most South Africans, especially those living in townships, eat a lot of fast foods and even vegetables that don’t have any nutritional value. She therefore wishes to grow a variety of crops that can be used by households, such as root vegetables and herbs.

“I want our people to taste the value of the food they eat, straight from the garden to your plate. HyHarvest’s value proposition is to ‘Farm Locally and Eat Locally’,” she explained.

“I am a woman who enjoys seeing change and prosperity in communities. During my research I saw that this type of farming is mostly done in urban areas and not township areas and this gave me the idea to   bring the exposure of this farming technique back home,” she said.

Ms Kumalo plans to grow her business and get the Vaal community members involved. Her business is currently proudly sponsored by the infrastructure, Urban Agriculture Initiative (UAI) and she is over the moon about the level of support she has been receiving from them and VUTSGSTP in her venture. As she will need further sponsorship going forward, she is more than willing to present her company and its offerings to potential investors.

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