IN BUSINESS: Nhlanhla Mpati is a small-scale entrepreneurial farmer who started a roof-top farm on top of the Chamber of Mines building in the Joburg CBD. Picture: Dimpho Maja / ANA
The first commercial, rooftop small-scale farm has been launched in the Joburg CBD on the top floor of the 93-year-old Chamber of Mines building.

This urban farm has already supplied almost 15kg of basil to the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market and to surrounding cafés and coffee shops during the past 45 days.

The project, called the Urban Agriculture Initiative, was launched by Wouldn’t It Be Cool (WIBC), an incubation and mentorship organisation which helps entrepreneurs get started.

The project has been such a success thus far that the Department of Small Business Development has provided funding for another 100 small-scale farms to be rolled out in the inner city.

The Chamber of Mines intends giving these farmers more space as it still has 400m² of unused space in its heritage building.

Michael Magondo, chief idea sherpa for the WIBC, said they were not competing with residential space, but would be happy to make use of any unutilised space, indoors or outdoors.

The organisation identified and trained Nhlanhla Mpati as one of the first roof-top farmers, as he had some farming experience.

“We want to see all 100 farms rolled out now that we have government funding. We want to create entrepreneurs, jobs, skills and food security.

“There are many vacant government and provincial buildings, plus privately owned ones, as well as deserted parking garages and spaces in which farms can be set up.

“Although the donation of premises is welcome, and some property companies have donated their rooftops to us, we will try to pay market-related rents. All our entrepreneurs are fully trained in business and backed by us,” he said, adding that the aim was to turn Joburg into one big, sustainable ecosystem.

Mpati, who started farming in the CBD in August, said he already had orders for the next six months for basil, as it was out of season.

He proudly shows off his crop, saying the plants were farmed hydroponically, meaning that they don’t require soil and, therefore, use very little water.

He doesn’t use pesticides or insecticides.

He intends expanding to farming spinach, potatoes and carrots, among others.

Mpati, who says his basil grows in 21 days, has been interested in gardening since he helped his granny in Kagiso on the West Rand with the planting of flowers and vegetables, which she loved.

He studied plants and agriculture by himself and is particularly interested in growing specialised plants which are not easily available.

“I do a lot of my own research and I am learning all the time,” he said, adding that he had done several entrepreneurial courses.

“I am very happy so far with this business. Many restaurants are already ordering from me, and the Produce Market is impressed with the quality of my plants. They have already increased their prices because of the high quality of my basil,” he said.

He has preliminary orders for the next six months, but would welcome more.

WIBC has several partners and backers, including the City of Joburg, FNB, the Affordable Housing Company, the Inner City Partnership, Thebe, Botha Roodt, Bizcre8 and Stay City.

Contact Mpati at 081 3141972 for produce or Magondo on 0828577636 for available space.