We are living in a world that is changing, and not always in a cool way. With climate change, inequalities, resource scarcity, and other pressing environmental and social issues on the rise, there is a loud demand for action. The call for a transition to a sustainable future, a green economy, has become a movement, and at its core are the young people of our nation.
A green economy demands innovation, passion, and drive to make a difference, qualities that young people possess. As a youth-led business in the green sector, we recognize the need for more youth inclusion and opportunities. Therefore, it is our intention, through our blog posts, to shed light on the challenges, opportunities, and potential exemplified by young people. Our hope is to inspire Youth to see these opportunities, and ultimately drive the inclusion of young changemakers in the Green economy.
To kick off, let’s explore the entrepreneurial journey of Gugulethu Mahlangu, CEO of House Harvest, a smart farming startup in Witbank, Mpumalanga.
Gugulethu initiated an aquaponics farm startup combining the best of two worlds, lush leafy greens and hearty tilapia fish. She stands currently at a fundraising stage and holds the goal to cater to the community through the just transition, showcasing agriculture as a smart climate solution.
She has been on this journey since 2017. From tending to spinach plants, to selling to fresh produce markets, Gugulethu has always advocated for the very soil under her feet. She embraced many facets of farming and by 2021 she discovered aquaponics.
“Agriculture holds the answer to many challenges such as unemployment and climate change.”
A German company spotted her spinach farm profiled on CGTN (an international media organisation) and offered her a chance to dive deeper into smart farming. For Gugulethu, smart farming wasn’t just another farming method, it appealed to her because its scientific, fun and data driven (that gives her flexibility).
In time and armed with gathered knowledge and an unquenchable passion, she knew she could do this on her own. Gugulethu has planted the seed of her own venture into aquaponics farming in her hometown.
“My aspiration is building a successful aquaponics model in my hometown. I see the model replicating into other smaller towns in Mpumalanga’.
Aquaponics is a harmonious blend of aquaculture (which involves raising fish) and hydroponics(which involves the cultivation of plants in water). In this system, waste produced from fish becomes a nutrient treasure for plants, and in return, the plants purify the water. It’s a sustainable dance of nature, and Gugulethu is at the forefront, championing its potential.
Like any journey, there are highs and lows, challenges and celebrations. Let’s venture further into her world to explore the hurdles she faced, her moments of adrenaline-fueled success, and the pearls of wisdom she has to offer to budding green entrepreneurs:
Being a startup aquaponics in witbank, presented its fair share of hurdles. From securing funding to mastering the aquaponics system and navigating the complexities of climate impact and regulations, Gugulethu was met with a maze of challenges. But with determination, she sourced grants, found guidance from mentors, and actively interacted with local authorities to ensure everything was above board.
Her Peak moment in her journey:
“The most exhilarating moment was getting the local mall to support allowing us to build the aquaponics facility and winning the National Climate Launchpad Competition. It affirmed my vision and mission on what I intend to do with my career.”
Apart from grasping the unique world of Aquaponics, Gugulethu had to tackle the task of market acceptance and awareness. Educating consumers about her special produce was key. She overcame this challenge by collaborating with local eateries and markets, spotlighting her top-tier, pesticide- free produce and building a loyal customer base.
Gugulethu also champions the campaign #farmspaces, #farmspacesafrica on twitter/X., which is an online growing community of people in the agricultural space. “This bridges the information gap by allowing farmers to tune into a show every Thursday at 6pm to listen to expert advice and get information”.
When quizzed about “smart farming,” Gugulethu paints it as the marriage of tech and agriculture – harnessing tools like IoT sensors and data analytics to ensure optimal crop growth and responsible resource utilisation. “It’s transforming agriculture by increasing efficiency, reducing waste, and enabling sustainable farming practices. Think of it like the ease of predictive text on your phone. You make decisions on what to text and are given suggestions to make your communications easier. We farm smart, not hard”, she quips.
Sustainability isn’t just a label for Gugulethu, it’s at the core of operations where she is monitoring water and energy consumption, recycling nutrients in the system, and combating waste with real-time tracking. Her ambitions don’t stop there. This empowering entrepreneur continually seeks ways to minimise her farm’s environmental footprint, including the consideration of renewable energy, with solar pumps on her radar.
When asked about resources that could aid young entrepreneurs like herself, Gugulethu points to accessible loans, mentorship opportunities, and green-tailored government incentives.
“Collaboration between experienced entrepreneurs and newcomers can also foster innovation. Its sometimes ironic for me how low risk and high investment smart farming is but yet it struggles to garner funding the easiest.”, she remarks.
In the ever evolving landscape of the green economy,Guguglethu shines as a remarkable and empowering young female force. Her journey from tending spinach plants to starting up an aquaponics farm is an inspiring testament to the potential of young people in South Africa. Her journey inspires us to think beyond conventional boundaries and to harness technology for a greener future.
Her message for Aspiring Green Entrepreneurs and Farmers:
“Start small, focus on solving a specific problem, and learn from failures. Please do not go big or go home when the fundamental requirement for a good farmer is one that understands their costs and unit at square meter level – you will certainly fail. Build a network of mentors and fellow entrepreneurs. Embrace sustainability not just as a trend but as a core value. Remember, every setback is a lesson in disguise, so keep learning and adapting.”
As Gugulethu continues to sow the seeds of innovation and ecological consciousness, we invite you to follow her journey and be part of her inspiring story. You can find her and stay updated on her remarkable endeavours via her digital platforms:
Twitter: #farmspacesafrica #farmspaces
Website: House Harvest
We hope her insights and experiences have inspired you as much as they have inspired us. Stay tuned for more captivating interviews with young entrepreneurs. Together, we can make a difference.
Read full interview conversation here