It’s a chilly Monday morning in Morningside, the richest suburb of Sandton municipality in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Zandile Kumalo, a young Black hydroponics farmer, is already at work on her rooftop garden.
The 29-year-old Kumalo told Anadolu Agency she was motivated to start the hydroponics farm on the concrete rooftop of Morningside Shopping Centre in Sandton after realizing she could supply fresh vegetables to those in her vicinity.
“My farm is on the rooftop of Morningside Shopping Centre, which houses several food chain stores and restaurants, so this was an ideal market. There is no transport cost for me,” she said in an interview.
Kumalo, the holder of a diploma in analytical chemistry from the Vaal University of Technology, approached property development firm Flanagan & Gerard, the co-owners of Morningside Shopping Centre, to start the farm as its co-owners.
Kumalo grows a range of fresh vegetables such as baby spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, and some herbs.
“We harvest every week from our rooftop farm and supply our products to shops downstairs,” she said, adding her farm provides a reliable supply to her clients.
Kumalo’s 300-square-meter (3,229-square-foot) farm -- Neighbour Roots hydroponic farm, is now the talk of the town.
She has generated huge media interest being the first young Black woman to operate a rooftop hydroponics farm on a shopping center in Sandton and co-own such a farm in South Africa’s most affluent district in a country where farming is largely dominated by white people.
Kumalo, who has been interested in farming since her university days, started her first hydroponics farm in her backyard in 2019, creating awareness of zero hunger in her community.
She told Anadolu Agency that her hope is to have more farms on rooftops in Sandton and to make the concrete jungle of rooftops greener.
“We are also working closely with schools to show them how tech agriculture works in urban farming,” she said.
What is hydroponics farming?
Hydroponics farming is a method of growing plants without soil using water and nutrients but needs electricity most of the time to run machines that pump water for irrigation.
Kumalo said that unlike conventional farming, where farmers don't recirculate their water, “in hydroponics we recirculate our water, and by doing that we save up to 80%, and we can yield up to 90% of our crop production. Cases of crop failures are minimal compared to other methods of farming.”
The farm currently employs Kaelo Moroke as a technical manager. The Information Technology (IT) graduate said he quit his job at a local bank as an IT specialist for his passion in farming four years ago and advises youths to venture into farming.
“Among the benefits of our farming method is that it fights carbon emissions. We don’t use pesticides and chemicals like in conventional farming,” he said.
Moroke also said that hydroponics farming is ideal in South Africa, especially in its urban areas, where land is still in the hands of a few.
“In South Africa, we have land issues, climatic conditions, so this hydroponics farming system makes us overcome these challenges,’’ he said as he switched on the water pump to start irrigating the farm.
Moroke appeals to youth to embrace farming, which he describes as the basic form of humanity.
“We eat every day, and farming should not be neglected. Youth should farm in the backyards of their homes to stop hunger or to sell the produce,” he said.
Kumalo said her farm also employs seasonal workers to help with harvesting and cleaning.
She said clients like her vegetables because they are of premium quality.
“Our veggies are usually fresh, have a longer shelf life and good flavor,’’ she noted.