Johannesburg - Amid the hustle and bustle of downtown Johannesburg is a flourishing rooftop garden that produces a variety of fresh vegetables which are delivered daily to customers.
The hydroponic garden at Newgate Mall, next to Bree Street taxi rank, is the brainchild of three young professionals, Leratong Nyokong, Ayanda Mkhwane and Lebohang Mohloding.
The trio are part of a growing number of youths who are leaving the corporate environment to try their hands as agricutural entrepreneurs. Arise and Shine Greenerversity, their company, produces spinach and lettuce using hydroculture - growing plants using water without soil.
“The system forces us to only plant lettuce and spinach. We source other vegetables from different areas such as avocados from Limpopo. We are working on building a system that will accommodate peppers and other vegetables,” said 25-year-old Mohloding.
When the trio started their urban farm, families and friends were concerned as the decision involved quitting their jobs and downscaling their lifestyles in pursuit of a dream.
Mkhwane has a BSc with geography, environmental studies and aquaponics majors. Mohlodi studied horticulture; while Nyokong is a qualified chemical engineer. The friends decided to pool their skills, passions and experiences to form the venture at the centre of a prospective market.
“I don’t have a professional background in agriculture. I worked for Sasol,” said Nyokong, 32.
“When I was growing up in Meadowlands, Soweto, my grandmother had a vegetable patch and she enjoyed growing her own, and that inspired me,” she added.
Although their enterprise is still in its infancy and relies on public transport to distribute their produce, it received seed funding from the City of Johannesburg, South African Breweries and Small Enterprise Development Agency, as part of the go-green project.
In the future, these entrepreneurs plan to farm hectares of land and create employment.
“We get frustrated when we see people who own land not use it productively. If we could get land, we would expand our operations and create jobs for 10 people or more,” said Mkhwane, 29.
Journalist and radio producer Nonkuleko Britton-Masekela, 35, writes a blog when she’s not involved with organic farming.
The founder of Kula Organic Produce grew up surrounded by agriculture in a plot in Midrand where her dad reared sheep and planted vegetables.
However, she didn’t think to pursue it as an enterprise until 2016 while studying towards a business qualification at the Gordon Institute of Business Science.
“Farming came naturally to me. When I met permaculture farmer Amon Maluleke, he evoked my love for farming and taught me the methodology that doesn’t use pesticides.
“My current interest is in vegetables that are used for juicing such as carrots, beetroot, celery, ginger, turmeric as well as herbs (medical and culinary) and garlic,” she said.
Britton-Masekela uses social media platforms to serve her growing market and also supports other budding farmers to supply her with organic produce to serve her niche market.
“I am currently expanding on the herbs and freerange eggs as part of the business. The plan is to acquire more land to scale up organic farming.”
Asked why she had decided to purse a business in agriculture and not in media, Britton-Masekela said: “I wanted to make a contribution to our GDP (gross domestic product), and to create my own wealth as a black person. Food security is a huge issue, and that is why I started Kula Organic Produce.”
Agritech entrepreneur and chief executive of Livestock Wealth, Ntuthuko Shezi, found a lucrative niche when he launched his crowd-farming platform in 2015.
The venture has more than 2000 cattle on several farms in different parts of the country and around 1000 investors. Shezi said his entreprise is worth R100million and supplies Woolworths with free range beef.
“Late last year, we secured a lucrative agreement to supply Woolworths with free range beef and we sent through our first supplies in April. In the last three months, we have supplied Woolworths with around 64tons of beef,” said Shezi, who qualified as an electromechanical engineer.
He recently announced expansion plans to include plants. His investors would be putting their money in to sugarcane plants, macadamia trees and maize plants and also have an option to invest in a connected garden system that grows organic vegetables
“My grandparents were agriculturists and I fell in love with agriculture from watching how it became a backup for our family’s financial challenges.
“Although I am not qualified in agriculture, I hire qualified people to bring new ideas and trends to the business,” Shezi said.