Communities to benefit from farming with the sun
The Faculty of Engineering at the North-West University´s (NWU´s) Potchefstroom Campus has joined hands with SUNfarming, one of the 10 major photovoltaic (PV) project developing companies in Germany, to launch an initiative that will significantly improve the quality of life of many communities, especially those in rural areas.
Realizing that the need for education, sustainable job creation and food security in African countries are increasing, they have designed an innovative solution to meet the needs of the communities by establishing a Food & Energy Solar Training Centre at North-West University.
The Food & Energy solution consists of special agro-solar green-house structures. The first three of its kind have been successfully tested and operated with excellent output on the Potchefstroom campus of the NWU. This is the result of the partnership between SUNfarming and the NWU where continuous training and research on new solutions for the future are being done. SUNfarming also collaborates with the University of Nairobi, Cape Coast University, Ghana, Copperbelt University, Zambia and BIUST University and Botswana in order to realize this project in Africa as well.
With this partnership, they have reached out to the local Ikageng community in Pothefstroom by transferring skills to its members and to build them a Food & Energy facility which provides them with energy, sustainable jobs and food.
The Food & Energy project, co-financed by the German Government, is focusing on the application of technological engineering solutions and taking traditional, small-scale vegetable farming to new heights.
According to Prof LJ Grobler, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, this concept enables them to multiply the use from the same available surface area. “We are doubling the value of the surface area as not only agricultural produce is grown, but the solar panels are simultaneously also generating energy.
Cauliflower, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, broccoli and onions are grown in three unique greenhouses. The initial plants, fertiliser and compost were donated by the NWU and SUNfarming. Thereafter, the revenue generated from these products will afford them to be sustainable for many production cycles to come.
Several women from the Ikageng community have been identified and are being trained and educated on a weekly basis about cultivation methods, insect control, nutritional values of the different crops, root systems and harvesting techniques. One such a woman is Motlalepula Magini. “As soon as the vegetables are ready to be harvested, we will sell it to local supermarkets. We can use this income to compensate ourselves, buy new plants, fertiliser and compost to restart the process again. It is a sustainable solution that not only creates jobs for us but also offers the opportunity to empower others with the wholesomeness from the earth. It enables us to be less dependent on others,” says Motlalepula.
She adds that they have a responsibility to transfer the knowledge they are gaining to their children and neighbouring residents. “I can already see the excitement about our project. We will soon be taking plants home where we will all start our own vegetable gardens. The plan is to expand this initiative further and to soon empower as many as fifty women with knowledge and skills.”
Since 2004, SUNfarming became successful as a project developer and operator of photovoltaic plants. Having initially started as an investment controller, SUNfarming gained substantial experience in the design, construction, development and operation of large, medium and small scale photovoltaic plants.
With their experienced team of 100 employees (commercial staff, engineers and electrical engineers) SUNfarming has already successfully realised projects for 450 megawatt of capacity worldwide. Peter Schrum, founder of SUNfarming, says to ensure the realisation of these investments SUNfarming needs partners at universities, municipalities and private stakeholders to realise a 20MW Food & Energy plant in each major city.
He says this project offers sustainable production opportunities for communities like never before. “It can create between 50 and 65 employment opportunities per project, and offers an income opportunity that is a combination of food production and energy generation. As it is combined, the risk factors are reduced significantly.”
“The benefits for citizens and local government are endless! This project will facilitate broad base community participation with long-term ownership, sustainable Food & Energy production and job security benefits with a strong training component to those who need it most,” Schrum adds.
The Food & Energy Project is the first of its kind in Africa and SUNfarming’s objective is to roll out this project to all universities and schools in Africa. SUNfarming and the NWU then want to be the heart of expertise with regard to research, training and support for these universities.
It offers local government and companies the opportunity to become involved in the roll-out of these Food & Energy plants to rural communities as part of their corporate social responsibility and the strive to stimulate economic growth.
“Through the cooperation with African educational institutions, we seek to lay the groundwork for future investments and joint ventures between our company group and local communities in your country,” says Schrum.
Statistics show that one in eight people goes to bed hungry each night and in most African countries, one in three children is underweight. Delivering food is only a temporary solution. A more permanent and sustainable solution is giving people the means to produce food for themselves. The Food and Energy initiative strives to do just that.
“We supply energy to much needed communities whilst food security enjoys priority. Through this initiative, we also create the platform for more jobs and offer the opportunity for people to get themselves more educated. Investors from the private and public sector have a unique opportunity to get involved, alleviate poverty and contribute to the well-being of citizens and the African continent,” Schrum concludes.