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The Durban University of Technology (DUT) Midlands Entrepreneurship Centre and Student Desk in partnership with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development; Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA) and the Agribusiness Development Agency (ADA) hosted a virtual launch of their Agri-Hub via Microsoft Teams, on Wednesday, 24 February 2021.

Agri launchThis event was facilitated by Mr Zwakele Ngubane, Director of Advancement and Alumni Relations at DUT who said this is a momentous occasion for DUT and applauded the partners that have come together to assist and ensure that this important initiative comes to full realisation. EDTEA has pledged a three-year partnership with DUT and committed an amount of R2 million towards the Agri-Hub.

Giving more insight on the launch, DUT Midlands Entrepreneurship Centre and Student Desk Manager, Ms Nontokozo Ngcobo said the Agri-Hub seeks to build resilient and profitable agribusinesses within the Midlands area and the KwaZulu-Natal Province at large.

“The infrastructure for Phase One has now been completed and is located at the Indumiso Campus on a 700m2 land. The hub has three 5m x 10m Greenhouse Tunnels that are currently being used to grow over 500 trees of cucumbers using the Hydroponic System. The cucumbers have been carefully selected in line with the current market demand against product supply. A Nursery has also been provided to grow seeds of cabbages, onions, carrots, garlic, and spinach that will be sold to staff and nearby markets,” said Ngcobo.

She said the centre has further recruited 15 students with an interest in the Agriculture field to use the space for practical learning and for growing their skills. Four local schools have also been adopted by the centre to use the Agri-Hub to also expose the learners from these schools to practical experience.

Ngcobo further explained that their main objectives through the Agri-Hub is to promote participation in the agricultural sector as a sustainable vehicle for economic growth.

“The Agri-Hub aims to counteract issues of food security within the community of Imbali and outskirts. This programme is one of a few other programmes that the Centre has initiated, including the One Home One Garden project where the Centre provided over 150- seedlings to Greater Edendale community members in June 2020. The Centre is also determined that their partnership and collaborations, will assist their studentpreneurs to build businesses that will thrive, and build an enduring legacy, once they exit into the external market upon the completion of training and exposure,” added Ngcobo.

DUT’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Engagement, Professor Sibusiso Moyo spoke about DUT as an entrepreneurial university.

“As South Africa, we know that currently the youth unemployment rate in our country is very high. In our province itself we have a lot of challenges around youth unemployment. As the university is imbedded within our region, we want to contribute to skills training of our students. One of the key things we are focusing on is to ensure that our graduates and students become entrepreneurial and innovative before they graduate. For us, the Agri-Hub launch is very special, which is a testimony to the university together with our strategic partners. Like soldiers in a war, we remain resilient in our resort to pursue the dream of productive participation in the development of our region, country and the world,” said Prof Moyo.

The DUT Midlands Campus Director, Dr Joe Molete said they have identified 10 hectares of land at Riverside Campus for commercial scale hydroponic tunnels, which is the second phase of the Agri-Hub. He said the great thing is that it is next to the Msunduzi river, where there’s plenty of water to help them produce more food.

Giving his message of support, the Director for Youth Economic Empowerment at the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development; Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Mr Thami Zondi said their engagement with the centre began two years ago.

“We took our time in understanding what they want to do and making sure that what they are talking about is not a fly by night. It is something that when we come in as government, we can see sustainability and make sure that as a collective, working together we can see young people producing tangible businesses. We want to sign a three-year MOU with DUT because we are not about once-offprojects. We want to make sure that the taxpayers money that we put behind projects is being monitored,” said Zondi.

Speaking on behalf of ADA, the Acting Chief Operations Officer, Ms Zodwa Mazibuko said ADA is an agency of the Department of Agriculture, responsible for implementing a catalytic project in the agribusiness and agricultural development space.

“We are honoured to be part of the anticipated growth and development within the DUT’s wings of Research, Innovation and Engagement through the anticipated collaboration and efforts with DUT Midlands Entrepreneurship Centre and Student Desk. The ADA’s vision is to create a diverse, deracialized, prosperous and sustainable agribusiness sector in KwaZulu-Natal, while our motto is promoting agribusiness through partnerships and knowledge, which is exactly what we seek to achieve with the DUT centre,” said Ms Mazibuko.

In his closing remarks, Mr Duke Ngcobo who deals with external projects in the centre, acknowledged DUT management and DUT’s strategic partners, not forgetting his colleagues at the centre for ensuring that the launch becomes a success.

The guests were also treated to a virtual tour of the Agri-Hub showcasing the different vegetables and plants being produced and sold in the hub.

Pictured: Prof Sibusiso Moyo speaking at the Agri-Hub Launch.

2nd Picture: DVC: RIE Prof Sibusiso Moyo cutting the ribbon at the official launch of DUT’s Agri-Hub with KZN EDTEA’s Director for Youth Economic Empowerment, Mr Thami Zondi and Ms Nontokozo Ngcobo, DUT Midlands Entrepreneurship Centre and Student Desk Manager.

Simangele Zuma

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