The Urban Agriculture Initiative has officially opened its first roof-top farm – situated on top of the Chamber of Mines in the heart of Johannesburg.
The “aim of this initiative is to create a vibrant urban agricultural ecosystem by innovatively repurposing disused rooftops and making use of hydroponics and aquaponics to produce agricultural produce for Johannesburg’s inner city communities.”
A number of partners are part of the initiative including the Chamber of Mines, FNB, the University of Johannesburg and the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market.
The Chamber of Mines funded the pilot project to assess the feasibility of growing herbs and vegetables hydroponically on the rooftops of inner city buildings as well as providing space for the actual farm.
“Given that growing produce by making use of hydroponics and aquaponics requires significant capital investment, the pilot project, which was funded by the Chamber of Mines, was needed to illustrate whether or not such a project would be effective and feasible in order to get the buy in of funders such as the Department of Small Business Development and other funding vehicles,” explained a Chamber of Mines spokesperson to BusinessTech.
“Given the successful outcome of the pilot project, the Department of Small Business has decided to immediately fund 24 projects and will in total fund 100 such projects.”
According to the Chamber of Mines, the projects will focus on producing crops that are in demand and have a quick turnaround such as basil, kale, micro vegetables, spinach and lettuce among others.
The use of hydroponics and aquaponics means that crops will be grown in special water solutions without the need for soil or large open spaces.
In fact, only a very small area is required to produce a sustainable crop.
This approach also significantly reduces water consumption given that 95% of the water used is circulated and therefore reused. Production can be increased by extending the gardens upward, and soil erosion and pest control issues are completely eliminated.
Hydroponic plants also mature much faster than crops in other mediums, resulting in a faster turnaround.
The first crop was planted on the rooftop of the Chamber building for the benefit of an agripreneur, Nhlanhla Mpati, and has now been fully handed over to him at no cost.
“Farmers are free to sell their produce to whoever they choose to and the profits all go to the roof-top farmers. This allows farmers to sustain and further invest in their projects,” said the Chamber of Mines.
“Thus far, the first crop has been sold to the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market and to cafés and coffee shops in the area and even to people who work in the Chamber of Mines building.
“Interestingly, the crops are also sold by making use of an app where people who need produce and people who provide produce are connected with each other.”