Rooftop hydroponic farming comes to Joburg’s inner-city CBD

JOHANNESBURG — Here’s a clever initiative to utilise space high up in the CBD of Johannesburg. This group of urban, rooftop farmers are backed by brewing giant AB InBev and their produce will be supplied and sold to local restaurants and communities. It’s a great way to green up the stark concrete jungle landscape while creating a unique industry that creates much-needed employment opportunities. – Gareth van Zyl

AB InBev media statement

SAB and AB InBev Africa has introduced its first group of ‘urban farmers’ in Johannesburg’s inner-city and surrounds with the installation of three 200m2 rooftop farms, facilitated by its youth entrepreneurship programme, SAB KickStart, in partnership with the City of Joburg, the Department of Small Business Development (DSBD) and the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA).

The farms, situated at the top of 1 Fox Street in Braamfontein and at Outreach Foundation in Hillbrow, are run by 7 young agri-entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 and 35. They are Sibusiso Mahlangu (Outsauce Pty Ltd); Sibongile Cele (Mcebo Unlimited Wealth Pty Ltd), Fezile Msomi (Hazile Group Pty Ltd); Puseletso Mamogale (Midi Agricultural Farm); Khaya Maloney (Afri-Leap Pty Lt); Siyabonga Mngoma (Abundance Wholesome Foods) and Themba Baladzi (Rutegang Agricycling Co-op).

CAPTION (left to right): Back row: Sibusiso Mahlangu, Sibongile Cele, Fezile Msomi, Puseletso Mamogale and Khaya Maloney. Front row: Siyabonga Mngoma and Themba Baladzi
CAPTION (left to right): Back row: Sibusiso Mahlangu, Sibongile Cele, Fezile Msomi, Puseletso Mamogale and Khaya Maloney.
Front row: Siyabonga Mngoma and Themba Baladzi

The Rooftop Farms are supported by a newly formed brand called “Hola Harvest”, under which they produce a wide range of fresh produce such as leafy vegetables, strawberries, chillies, violli flowers. The produce will be sold to restaurants and local communities around Johannesburg Central and the profits will go to the entrepreneurs themselves to assist them in managing their businesses. In addition, the farms have opened up opportunities for three agro-processors to run enterprises based on the produce that they convert into condiments and sauces.

The Urban Agriculture Project forms part of SAB and AB InBev’s Public Interest Commitments made to the South African government in which the organisation invests R1 billion into economic stimulus and societal benefit programmes. The organisation has committed to invest R610 million into Agriculture, R200 million into Entrepreneurship and R190 million is earmarked for societal benefit programmes. Of this, approximately R2,200,000 will go towards growing Urban Agriculture and the ‘urban farmers’ needed to support this.

SAB and AB InBev join a number of organisations globally, that see opportunities in restricted spatial areas such as city centre building roof spaces to farm a vast variety of produce that will be sold to local markets.

“SAB looks to innovative ways to help tackle youth unemployment effectively in South Africa. The Urban Agriculture initiative is one such initiative, which involves commercial hydronic farming. This initiative closely aligns technology and food security, as well as consumer education to facilitate job creation amongst young unemployed graduates.

“Global ecological challenges present opportunities for intrepid entrepreneurs to develop innovative solutions, which not only address the problem facing the sustainability of our earth and the survival of its people, but assists the drive towards creating helps to create much-needed jobs. Through this project, we are also demystifying the misconceptions of agriculture by making farming more attractive to the younger generation” says Phumzile Chifunyise, Enterprise Development Manager, SAB and AB InBev Africa.

As a means of promoting awareness and knowledge of the urban agriculture concept, consumers are able to tour the various technologies used in a demonstration farm on site at 1 Fox Street.

SAB and AB InBev’s focus on entrepreneurship, particularly SAB KickStart, is geared at addressing the massive youth unemployment issue experienced by South Africa. To strengthen its impact, entrepreneurial solutions invested in targeting critical sectors, such as Agriculture and Manufacturing, identified by national government as substantial contributors to job creation and which can have the greatest impact on driving progress within communities.

“Rooftop farming is a concept growing in popularity for being a smart and no-fuss solution to helping address, on a small scale, eco-social and economic challenges. It requires minimal infrastructure and can be developed over a short period of time to yield quick results. We are always looking for innovative ways in which to improve people’s lives and society as a whole, and urban agriculture provides us this platform.

“We are helping to demystify some of the perceptions of farming especially that of a traditional sector only accessible to those with high capital, land and infrastructure, years of experience and knowledge. And what better way to address this than rooftop farming,” says Chifunyise.

The Urban Agriculture Project develops the rooftop farm entrepreneurs by providing infrastructure funding and support in the form of business training to assist with how to operate and manage the farms, and training in urban farming practices.

An incubation programme with the young entrepreneurs was hosted in partnership with local organisation, Wouldn’t It Be Cool (WIBC), which focuses on developing young entrepreneurs through innovation.

The Urban Agriculture entrepreneurs participated in a 3-6 month training programme after which they present their business model on how they would solidify themselves in the market. They are then provided with the rooftop farm infrastructure and access to market.

The programme uses hydroponic technology through which fresh produce is grown in A-frame shelved racks. Props are used to hold the plants upright allowing their roots to reach the nutrient-rich water sitting below them.

The rooftop farms are well equipped to accommodate all seasonal weather conditions. Plastic sheet roof tunnels keep the plants warm in winter, and protect them from severe whether such as storms and hail in the summer months. The sheets can be retracted to release heat, if necessary.