No land? No problem

Puseletso Mamogale says her journey as a rooftop farmer has been “quite pleasant”. Picture: Rosetta Msimango
Puseletso Mamogale says her journey as a rooftop farmer has been “quite pleasant”. Picture: Rosetta Msimango

Those who want land are not necessarily after a big, remote farm. We visited three urban farming ventures to find out what it means to farm in the city.

They wanted to be farmers but had no access to land. So, they turned to Dr Michael Magondo, the co-founder of “idea incubator” WIBC (Wouldn’t It Be Cool).

“My role is officially chief idea sherpa. Our aim is to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds get into value chains they have been excluded from. One of our projects is the urban agriculture project,” he says.

The concept of having “farms in the sky” came about because entrepreneurs who wanted to be farmers had no land.

The project has received support from unlikely places. These include a hotel in Berea called Stay City, which wanted to connect more with the community, the US Embassy and the Minerals Council South Africa (the old Chamber of Mines), which offered its rooftop. Partners include the government and the Johannesburg Inner City Partnership.

“It’s not about putting the farm on the roof, it’s about the lives that can be changed,” Magondo says. “At the end of 2018, we had 20 farms established and six agroprocessing sites. Each one of those farms represents three or four jobs created.

“Some of our guys trade between R15 000 and R25 000 a month and are talking about expanding their sites.”

Among the rooftop farmers is Puseletso Mamogale (pictured, 34), who farms hydroponically with basil and leafy vegetables at 1 Fox Street, Johannesburg.

“I started in June 2018. It’s been quite a pleasant journey,” she told City Press.

Mamogale says hydroponics  growing plants without soil – allows her to avoid certain soil diseases as well as weather-related problems. “Since I have been growing crops in the tunnel, I am not limited to seasons.”

She adds, “The money is also good. I can make at least R20 000 a month. Spinach is a low-value crop, but basil and lettuce are high-value crops. I also don’t need a lot of labour  just seven people when I harvest  but I do most of the job myself.”

Getting into the market can be challenging. “You need to build your reputation,” she says.

Kagiso Seleka (35), a fellow rooftop farmer who grows mint and lemon balm, has faced a similar challenge. “The biggest challenge was getting clients and establishing a market but the longer you’re in it, the more people see your produce, the better clientele you get,” he says. “The beauty of farming is seeing something you’ve grown on someone’s plate.”

Mamogale’s advice to would-be farmers is to explore new ways of farming.

“The hydroponics system accommodates old age. It’s not hard labour as we know agriculture … Just do your research. There is so much to learn and to gain.”

  • This package is part of a journalism partnership with Africa Check, the continent’s leading fact-checking organisation. The project aims to ensure that claims made by those in charge of state resources and delivering essential services are factually correct. In the run-up to this year’s national and provincial elections it will be increasingly important that voters are able to make informed decisions. This series aims to provide voters with the tools to do that. The Raith Foundation contributed to the cost of reporting.


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