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South African teen spreads the word on aquaponics

"You’re never too young to make a difference"

Rikalize Reinecke goes to school, just like the average kid in their late teens. But unlike them, she has an unusual side business. In January 2014, when she was just 12 years old, she started her own aquaculture and aquaponics farm just outside Pretoria, South Africa. And the inspiration came from the movie Dolphin Tale.

The movie inspired her to start her own fish farm, but there was more to it: "At more or less the same time that I watched the movie Dolphin Tale, we learned at school about all the natural resources that are being depleted, and that in a few years’ time, there will not be any fish left in the sea", she tells us. "When I saw the dedication of the people at the oceanarium, working with the dolphins, and helping them, that changed my life forever.

"I realised two things: I would like to have a similar experience one day, and that I had to do everything I can to prevent fish from becoming extinct."

From aquaculture to aquaponics
Rikalize started with a pure aquaculture farm. However, she found that ammonia and harmful impurities in the water grew to such an extent that the fish started to die. This and the fact that her capital input was very limited, meant that aquaponics was her only option.

"Aquaponics quickly solved the problem of reducing the high and dangerous water impurities and also provided me with a small constant income." Although her passion is fish, and she would choose aquaculture any time, aquaponics "opened doors for me as an inland resident, with a very limited water supply, to farm with fish in a sustainable way", she says. "Aquaculture would be my first choice, but I realize the value of aquaponics especially in the DAPS application that I developed."
From lettuce to leek, and strawberries to spring onion
Rikalize and her team grow a wide variety of crops in the aquaponic systems: "About 22 varieties, from various lettuces, spring onion, leek, celery, cucumber, rock melon, peppadews, green peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, baby marrows to various herbs, etc."

Most of that produce ends up at the shop she opened late last year, and is sold directly to the public. "I also sell fish to wholesale distributors and chef schools. Previously we would deliver to restaurants and lodges and mini supermarkets, but now all of them can buy and collect from my shop."

And she's constantly looking to expand that range, with a section where they do research and feasibility studies and grow produce to determine if it can be grown successfully in the aquaponics set-up.

With two and a half years of school still left, schoolwork comes first for Rikalize, but she is engaged in high level discussions on expanding production and acreage. "Offtake agreements are one of the ways we are looking at currently and that is the short term expansion. I can say that I am in the process of constructing a new Catfish Hatchery based on a brand new mobile and modular principle to be rolled out over Africa, the first POC will be ready end of July."

Spreading the word on aquaponics
Rikalize tells us that the aquaponics industry in South Africa has grown a lot since she took up farming three years ago. "One of my aims is to put a lot of effort into creating public awareness and hence grow the industry." And it hasn't gone unnoticed. "Aquaponics is now like the next best thing," she says.

One of the ways Rikalize is spreading the word is through the development of an app, which is now in the final testing phase before being rolled out on public platforms. "The team that worked on the design did a great job. The roll out date will be announced soon." She also provides training courses. "Training is the base of knowledge and education. As long as I need to build systems there will be training."

Her ultimate vision is to roll out the modular aquaponics system in Africa and all around the world, to equip people with the opportunity to have a job and provide food to their families. "Aquaponics is the most sustainable farming method of the new century," she says. "This system gives you the opportunity to process food in your backyard and generate a small income. One system can feed a family of 4-6 people sustainably."

And for all the young growers out there, Rikalize has a special message: "You’re never too young to make a difference."

For more information:
La Pieus Aqua

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