Business is booming.

South African University leads the way in sustainable urban agriculture

By George George Idowu

Through its innovative initiatives, the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Ecological Intelligence (CEI) is pioneering sustainable urban agriculture, food security, and community engagement.

As a living laboratory for experiential learning, CEI has become a beacon of hope and progress in regions including Gauteng, Eastern Cape, and Mpumalanga.

CEI’s unique approach combines theoretical knowledge with practical application, offering hands-on research opportunities for students from various disciplines.

According to Godfrey Ndamane, the CEI project manager, the centre provides experiential learning through integrated food systems and incubation hubs. Students engage in projects such as aquaponics, hydroponics, agroecology, and the circular economy, gaining practical experience that bridges the gap between academia and real-world applications.

He said: “We train urban farmers, people who want to go into farming, and students who are curious about agriculture. We focus on crop production, but we also explore poultry farming and aquaculture. We aim each project to be commercially viable and impactful for our surrounding community,” Ndamane explained.

Since its inception, CEI has launched several groundbreaking projects. Notable among these is the integrated food systems project at the UJ Bunting Road campus, which transformed a barren hilltop into a vibrant hub for fish farming and vegetable cultivation.

This initiative and establishing a seedling nursery and growing tunnels and wormery exemplify CEI’s commitment to sustainability and practical learning.

CEI’s vermicomposting project, which converts organic waste into valuable compost using earthworms, highlights its dedication to sustainable waste management. This project promotes eco-friendly practices and fosters a strong relationship with the campus community.

At the heart of CEI’s mission is community engagement. The centre actively involves local communities in its projects, addressing social issues such as poverty, hunger, job creation, and climate change resilience. Partnerships with local schools like Yeoville Community School and New Nations High School have led to the establishment of food gardens and education on sustainable agriculture.

“I think gone are the days where universities are just there to produce graduates without impacting community development. We want to open up this place to people curious and passionate about making a difference,” Ndamane emphasised.

CEI’s achievements are numerous, from providing aquaponics training to students and unemployed individuals to supplying produce to the Waterford Restaurant, a commercial venture for UJ’s School of Tourism and Hospitality.

These initiatives demonstrate CEI’s success in creating a semi-commercial model that benefits the university and the broader community.

CEI plans to expand its projects and enhance its research capabilities. Future initiatives include developing a solar greenhouse fully operated on solar energy, further solidifying its position as a leader in sustainable food systems and ecological intelligence.

“The Centre for Ecological Intelligence is a testament to the power of collaborative, inclusive, and sustainable practices in urban agriculture. By transforming theoretical knowledge into practical solutions, CEI not only advances academic research but also creates tangible benefits for local communities,” he concluded.

As CEI continues to grow and innovate, it stands as a model for how universities can contribute to building a fair, just, and sustainable society.


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