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Joburg launches rooftop gardening in inner city

The Johannesburg inner city might be running out of space for conventional housing development, but the space to grow vegetables to feed the city’s citizens is certainly not in short supply.

In fact, as long as there are rooftops there will always be space in the inner city to establish high-yielding food gardens and tackle food insecurity challenges facing Johannesburg head-on.

This was proved on Friday October 14 when the City of Johannesburg’s Member of Mayoral Committee for Health and Social Development, Dr Mpho Phalatse, launched an innovative method to grow vegetables – ahead of the 2016 World Food Day. On Sunday October 16 the international community celebrated World Food Day in recognition of the date in 1945 when the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation was founded. This year’s theme was: “Climate Change – The Climate is Changing”.

The Kotze Rooftop Garden launched by MMC Phalatse in Hillbrow in the City’s Region F uses the hydroponic method to grow vegetables. A subset of hydroculture, the method uses mineral nutrient solutions – in water but not in soil. The method provides high yields within a short growing cycle. It also conserves water and adapts better to climate change.

MMC Phalatse said the City embarked on the hydroponic farming method in response to food insecurity and climate change challenges in Johannesburg.

“This method uses little recycled water. The growth cycle is shorter than the conventional method. It also does not depend on seasons. This means that plants can be grown continuously throughout the year,” Cllr Phalatse said.

“With the growing high demand for food globally, the trend has moved towards everyone growing their own food. However, in view of changing climate patterns, our agricultural methods must also change.

“Our environment is changing because gases emitted in the atmosphere form a blanket layer around the Earth. Because of the heat trapped by the layer, we get exposed to extreme temperatures on Earth. These changes affect agriculture, which ultimately impact on nutritional quality. So, on the one hand, we have these challenges and on the other, we are facing a growing demand for food security. We are also facing space challenges, particularly in urban settlements,” Cllr Phalatse said.

Hydroponic farming training facilitator and Ubuntu Business founder Gary Smith said his organisation focused on two main issues: unemployment and food insecurity.

“We teach and empower entrepreneurs to start and grow profitable and sustainable businesses. Working with the City of Johannesburg and other strategic partners, we set up a pilot project through which we hope to build a network of inner city rooftop vegetable cultivators,” Smith said

Through food gardening projects, residents are trained on entrepreneurship and agriculture fundamentals.

“We recruited a team of 22 beneficiaries in Region F and took them through a six-month training programme in which we focused on operations, marketing and finance to help set up viable farming enterprises,” Smith said.

One of the beneficiaries, Catherine Khambule, said her team had so far produced more than 800kg of vegetables, which it either sold or donated to needy individuals or organisations.

“I decided to venture into farming because agriculture is the highest provider of food. Without farming, the human race cannot survive. Hydroponic farming is the ultimate solution,” she said.