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Change the world

27/12/2023

A prototype of a mobile greenhouse that can grow anything all year round has earned an award for Nelson Mandela University geoscience lecturer Dr Gaathier Mahed, who is passionate about food security and sustainability.

 

The HotBox is essentially a farm on wheels in an urban setting, cultivating herbs and vegetables and monitoring itself.

“Food security is a major issue in the Eastern Cape and many parts of the world,” says Dr Mahed, who received an Emerging Innovation Excellence Award at the university’s Celebrating Excellence Awards on 27 November.

The event honoured students who were top academic achievers, as well as staff in areas of research, learning and teaching.

“We wanted to create a solution to help people grow their food without them worrying much about the process of growing it themselves.

The effective use and monitoring of water in soil, which has major implications for agricultural activities and therefore food security, is at the centre of Dr Mahed’s research.

The hotbox is equipped with sensors to regulate itself, meaning that soil maintains optimal moisture levels and the box’s temperature is regulated to grow fresh greens in the best way possible, he says.

Born and raised on the Cape Flats, Dr Mahed graduated from the University of the Western Cape, earning multiple degrees, and has a background in water and sustainability. He has consulted on earth science projects with diverse stakeholders, including the Water Research Commission and City of Cape Town.

He has served on technical panels in South Africa to help water research projects focus on sustainable development and mitigate climate change. At the Water Research Commission, he helped pilot a project related to geothermal energy.

Dr Mahed visited multiple labs in Europe and Africa for training during his MSc and PhD studies, gaining valuable experience consulting with government, industry and academia, and serves voluntarily on executive and non-executive company and NGO boards.

A Brightest Young Minds in South Africa recipient in 2010, he has scooped several awards and scholarships for his work, including being a finalist in the NSTF awards, dubbed the Oscars of Science in South Africa, and a World Islamic Economic Forum Global Young Fellowship.

A trained groundwater scientist, his other awards include Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans to Take to Lunch, an Erasmus Mundus Scholarship and an exchange opportunity at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium.

Mandela University has previously honoured the innovative scientist with a Science Faculty Excellent Teacher award (2018) and the University Emerging Lecturer Award (2020). He has also served as deputy dean for the institution’s faculty of science.

The HotBox, still in prototype phase, was a team response to important issues facing the world today, he says.

“Global food, energy and water security are critical for the functioning of economies worldwide. The convergence of these resources is particularly crucial in optimising their limited availability, especially in developing nations.

“Our product aims to address a significant challenge created by climate change in agricultural practices, since we have noted that there is a difficulty in cultivating specific vegetation due to their seasonal nature.

“The HotBox aims to combat this issue by maximising resource utilisation, with the use of sustainable methods, at an affordable price.”

Several factors impact food security and sustainability, he explains, including irregular weather patterns, rising temperatures, scarcity of fresh water and other unpredictable circumstances caused by climate change and agricultural practices.

“This makes the cultivation of specific vegetation during their natural season challenging, limiting and affecting not only the availability and affordability of fresh produce but also the productivity and livelihoods of farmers.

“The HotBox aims to provide an innovative solution, with the idea of creating a controlled environment for urban farming. This will be done by optimising the utilisation of available resources to overcome the constraints imposed by traditional farming methods.”

Dr Mahed and his team have not released prototype samples for public viewing yet, as the product is still in production.

“A similar product is being developed for European markets, but we are building an African solution for Africans, by Africans.”

Contact information
Ms Elma de Koker
Internal Communication Practitioner
Tel: 041-504 2160
elma.dekoker@mandela.ac.za