SARA Davis (SD) established Synergy Farms Inc., with the aim to improve food security and help reduce poverty through profitable aquaponics fish farming. Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics system (the soil-less growing of plants) that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system. The company is based in Nashville, Tennessee, USA and operates the for-profit social enterprise, SFI Nam, locally in Namibia. Speaking to Confidente’s Marianne Nghidengwa (MN) from the North American country, Davis passionately spoke about how food security is one of the world’s most critical issues. She explained that the increasing population wants a more varied and healthy diet. But growing more food on less land with limited access to water, increased costs for fertilizers, fuel for storage and transport has proven to be a challenge. She added that aquaculture is one of the fastest growing food production sectors in the world and that SFI Nam is improving food security by expanding aquaculture technology to communities, feeding more people with fish raised with ‘clean and natural’ methods. She highlighted that SFI Nam aims to help reduce poverty in local economies by providing jobs, skills, and regular income. Above all, she seeks to earn the trust and respect of Namibians, as the company grows to become a reliable local source for fresh and healthy food.
MN: Briefly tell us about yourself and your background.
SD: I am an American born black woman from Nashville, Tennessee. I was educated in the USA public schools and graduated from Fisk University in Nashville with a bachelor’s degree in management. My exposure to farming is two folds. As a child my parents maintained a large garden as a source of food for our family. As kids it was my responsibility and my siblings to help with harvesting and keeping the garden. After a 10 year career in finance and banking, I sought a career change in commercial farming. I was fortunate to enhance my skills in farming through the support of Growing Power Inc. This organisation was established to train and educate future farmers in sustainable growing practices and the technology of aquaponics. I was encouraged by Growing Power’s owner Will Allen to think “Big” and look at aquaponics as a transfor- mative way to improve food security. I later combined my experience in business with my passion for growing food and created SFI to intentionally work in environments with people who have less access to healthy foods. Namibia was chosen by our executive team as best launch location for our business model. Our ambition is to introduce a low cost technology that can improve food security and the welfare of Namibians.
MN: Tell us about the establishment of SFI and services it offers.
SD: SFI is headquartered in the USA. It was founded in 2013 as profit- making social enterprise. We are committed to investing in the people to help them realise real change and progress in global development. SFI is a parent company to SFI Nam, our local farming company in Namibia. SFI Nam currently employs ten full time staff, most of them from the Groot Aub area. We produce tilapia at commercial volumes of 2-3 tons annually. With our technology, we also are able to grow leafy greens year round regardless of high or low temperatures.
MN: What triggered your interest in aquaponics?
SD: I was privileged to work closely with Growing Power Inc. and founder Will Allen who was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship Genius Grant. His perspective and now mine is aquaponics technology which is a sure way to manage the demands for food. This work can be done at a cost that is out of reach for most people. The affordability of producing foods that are high in nutrients and proteins triggered my interest in aquaponics.
MN: What are challenges and opportunities facing the company?
SD: As a startup business, we will experience our first harvest this year 2018. Managing a new company generally has challenges like cash flow and the need for skilled laborers. However these challenges have not limited our success. The opportunities are endless. The demand for tilapia in and around Namibia is greater than our company could satisfy. Our goal is to grow our footprint, developing more farms and attract local investors. Not only is our model achieving food security, it will also be a mean for greater incomes for both staff and investors.
MN: What key business areas are enjoying your attention at the moment?
SD: Marketing what we do to potential investors is an ongoing need. As founding manager of SFI and SFI Nam, I wear many hats. Not only am I the local contact for SFI Nam, actually working on the farm with staff, I also have a role in our capital campaigns. I enjoy communicating the possibility for our work to greatly transform Namibia’s aquaculture industry.
MN: What do you hope to achieve for the masses in 5 to 10 years’ time through SFI?
SD: My short to mid-term goal is to reach an output of 50 tons annually for our farms. I would like to skill and employ at least 150 local Namibians. SFI will take our technology across borders in SADC region and see our farms in Namibia as training ground for expansions in Africa.
MN: What advice do you have for the youth and fellow women on choosing a career in aquaponics?
SD: I encourage young people and women to see aquaculture and aquaponics as a new avenue for working but mostly an avenue for self sustainability. The cost of the technology can be reasonable and the skills for managing it are transferable. The Ministry of Fisheries is deeply invested in aquaculture in Namibia. Together my hope is to provide training in aquaponics that allow others to replicate this work in their community.
MN: What don’t people know about you?
SD: I love sweets! Namibia’s local street food vendors have become my best friends. I cannot pass vendors who sell gummies, chocolates, liquorish and such and without buying from them. MN: Just what do you do for a little fun?
SD: I love kids and have partnered with a local orphanage in Groot Aub to help support their needs. SFI Nam will give a portion of our harvest each month to the orphanage. I enjoy spending time during weekends in Groot Aub with the kids there; reading, chatting, trying to speak and learn Damara Nama. It’s fun for me but mostly they help me not miss home and family because they treat me as their own.
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