Food System Heroes: Banothile Khuboni and Imvelo Agri Solutions
It was during academic research that Banothile gained a deeper understanding of food security in South Africa. And the more she understood and learned about the impact of climate change on food systems, the more she desired to do something about it and become active.
Another critical problem for Banothile is “increasing soil erosion and infertile futile and dry soil, which makes it hard for South Africans to grow their own food”. She believes that hydroponic farming systems, offer an innovative and sustainable solution. However, no idea no matter how good will work if it does not get used. Hence, the reason why she joined Oribi’s #FoodSystem Incubation program.
Some, of the farming methods used in South Africa, are unsustainable and have long-term negative effects on the environment”. Three challenges of South Africa’s food system are a particular concern for Banothile: “The unsustainable use of water, the use of harmful chemicals and problems concerning soil erosion.”
Soil erosion is a widely overlooked global problem. A full 90 per cent of the Earth's precious topsoil is likely to be at risk by 2050, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO (UN News, 2022). Innovative solutions will become inevitable.
“While South Africa is technically food secure, on average at a national level, most households lack access to adequate food to meet their dietary needs for an active and healthy lifestyle”. Thus, making it an urgent topic for Banothile. These are economic instability caused by potential pandemics and international conflicts, climate change and something not often enough talked about - an unsustainable, unsafe and unfair industrial agricultural food system.
Banothile, who has a background in geography and environmental management was motivated and driven to create her first NPC Imvelo Agri Solutions. When we asked her, what keeps her going every day and motivates, she told us that it is “her love for the environment and the desire to become active and do something! As someone who is conscious about the effects of climate change on our food system, I decided to explore organic hydroponic systems as a possible solution or mitigator.”
Hydroponic farming is the method of growing plants in water without soil. The water must be enriched with nutrients and the plants need some type of inert medium to support the root system. The water must be enriched with nutrients and the plants need some type of inert medium to support the root system.
Banothile’s NPC is currently running a pilot at a school in KZN, where she set up her first hydroponic stations, to grow organic vegetables, and educate and train students. “I wholeheartedly believe that it is beneficial for our youth to learn about Hydroponic systems. These systems are an excellent way to combat issues connected to climate change and droughts as they require very little space, little water, and no soil! We don’t only teach our students how to operate these systems, we also allow them to feel the pleasure of growing their own nutritious food.”
The newly set up station in KZN is operating on nutrient-enriched water and produces organic crops such as spinach and lettuce which are currently being tested and tasted.
Banothile offers a service that includes the setting up of hydroponic stations. The next step she aims to focus on is accessing the retail market in South Africa. “Retail has a certain demand that we have to meet. At the moment, we are looking at ways to team up with suppliers.” Banothile says.
The founder of Imvelo Agri Solution’s main priority right now is to find buyers of produce in Durban and then expand into the Western Cape, where Banothile intends to set up more hydroponic stations. For this purpose, she is actively looking for potential partners who can assist with finding a location/space to set up hydroponic stations in the Western Cape. “I am open to chatting with potential partners about mutually beneficial arrangements, whereby we train and educate in exchange for rent for a space. I am very much interested to link the production of organic produce to a hydroponic learning facility.” Banothile is ready to engage with potential funders about the possibility to support. Funds would be used for additional staff, equipment, fertilizer and seedlings.