By transforming Johannesburg’s inner city rooftops into urban farms, entrepreneur incubator, Wouldn’t It be Cool, has created a unique solution to unemployment and supporting food security.
Once upon a time, Johannesburg’s inner-city thrummed with the energy of office workers bustling about the streets on their way to work, or stopping for a drink and a chat before heading home. Then came the great office exodus, with many of the city’s blue chips opting for the apparently cleaner and more secure streets of Sandton. All that was left was the shell of the city.
“We realised we needed to bring back Johannesburg’s energy and excitement,” recalls Halaliswe Msimang, technical and operations director at Wouldn’t It Be Cool (WIBC). And so the region’s property owners embarked on a campaign to clean up the parks, refurbish the buildings and tidy up the streets. But, laudable though these efforts were, they failed to address one of the city’s most critical problems: the high rate of homelessness and unemployment. “We realised that both problems were linked – even if we introduced low-cost housing, our unemployed citizens wouldn’t be able to afford it,” Msimang says.
The city stakeholders looked to an unusual ally in the agricultural sector as a possible solution, as it’s a labour-intensive industry with a supply chain that can accommodate a variety of jobs, from growing food to packaging and selling it. At the same time, it provided a built-in answer to providing food for the homeless.
The hitch, of course, is that Johannesburg isn’t known for its rolling farmlands. “In the absence of large tracts of land, we decided that we would still be able to pursue an agricultural solution if we used hydroponics,” says Msimang. With so many building rooftops unused, it made sense to site the project above street level; the added advantage of vertical growing being that it allowed farmers to use more space than traditional farming methods.
Launched with funding from the Small Enterprise Development Agency, WIBC put out a call to people interested in starting a career as an agricultural entrepreneur. Although the programme targets youth, it also favours women and the disabled. These would-be farmers are invited to present their ideas for a sustainable business, such as selling spinach to local supermarkets, before a panel comprising Johannesburg inner city property owners and other stakeholders – and, if they’re selected to become part of the incubator, WIBC spends the next three months helping them hone their entrepreneurial skills. “We look at all areas, from how to identify customers to assessing whether the product is right, business development and marketing,” Msimang explains.
The next step is to assign each incubatee a structure, complete with panel, growing system and the first batch of seedlings, so that they can begin farming. Structures are allocated according to the location of the entrepreneur’s market; the idea being to reduce the distances required for transport and thereby cut down carbon footprint. “Our entrepreneurs usually start making money within the first four weeks, and every cent goes directly into their pockets,” says Msimang. They’re required to pay back WIBC investment only after 12 months, once their business is on a solid standing.
With 23 entrepreneurs getting their start through WIBC, the project has grown beyond crop farming, to include agro-processors, fishing, packaging and production. It’s spread geographically, too, with rooftop farms popping up in Soweto, the Vaal, Pretoria and, soon, Midrand – in fact, says Msimang, the organisation is currently investigating sites in Mpumalanga.
“Our ultimate goal is to operate in all nine provinces,” she states – an aim that is firmly in sight.
Grobank is excited about this initiative that uses the agricultural sector as a way to fight urban unemployment and to secure much-needed housing for the homeless. As a Bank with the ambition to become a leading food and agricultural Bank, we are well positioned to support this initiative and enable the spreading of these micro enterprises like a wildfire. We are keen to support both the initiative and the individual entrepreneurs with comprehensive banking solutions. – Grobank CEO, Bennie van Rooy
Text by Lisa Witepski. Images by James Puttick.
|__hssrc||session||This cookie is set by Hubspot. According to their documentation, whenever HubSpot changes the session cookie, this cookie is also set to determine if the visitor has restarted their browser. If this cookie does not exist when HubSpot manages cookies, it is considered a new session.|
|cookielawinfo-checkbox-advertisement||1 year||The cookie is set to record the user consent for the cookies in the category "Advertisement".|
|cookielawinfo-checkbox-analytics||11 months||This cookie is set to store the user consent for the cookies in the category "Analytics".|
|cookielawinfo-checkbox-functional||11 months||The cookie is set to record the user consent for the cookies in the category "Functional".|
|cookielawinfo-checkbox-necessary||11 months||This cookie is set to store the user consent for the cookies in the category "Necessary".|
|cookielawinfo-checkbox-others||11 months||This cookie is set to store the user consent for the cookies in the category "Other.|
|cookielawinfo-checkbox-performance||11 months||This cookie is set to store the user consent for the cookies in the category "Performance".|
|__hssc||30 minutes||This cookie is set by HubSpot. The purpose of the cookie is to keep track of sessions. This is used to determine if HubSpot should increment the session number and timestamps in the __hstc cookie. It contains the domain, viewCount (increments each pageView in a session), and session start timestamp.|
|bcookie||2 years||This cookie is set by linkedIn. The purpose of the cookie is to enable LinkedIn functionalities on the page.|
|lang||session||This cookie is used to store the language preferences of a user to serve up content in that stored language the next time user visit the website.|
|lidc||1 day||This cookie is set by LinkedIn and used for routing.|
|__hstc||1 year 24 days||This cookie is set by Hubspot and is used for tracking visitors. It contains the domain, utk, initial timestamp (first visit), last timestamp (last visit), current timestamp (this visit), and session number (increments for each subsequent session).|
|_ga||2 years||This cookie is installed by Google Analytics. The cookie is used to calculate visitor, session, campaign data and keep track of site usage for the site's analytics report. The cookies store information anonymously and assign a randomly generated number to identify unique visitors.|
|_ga_7830NTLLXS||2 years||This cookie is installed by Google Analytics.|
|_ga_8FT0WQ6XG7||2 years||This cookie is installed by Google Analytics.|
|_gat_UA-199321007-1||1 minute||This is a pattern type cookie set by Google Analytics, where the pattern element on the name contains the unique identity number of the account or website it relates to. It appears to be a variation of the _gat cookie which is used to limit the amount of data recorded by Google on high traffic volume websites.|
|_gcl_au||3 months||This cookie is used by Google Analytics to understand user interaction with the website.|
|_gid||1 day||This cookie is installed by Google Analytics. The cookie is used to store information of how visitors use a website and helps in creating an analytics report of how the website is doing. The data collected including the number visitors, the source where they have come from, and the pages visted in an anonymous form.|
|hubspotutk||1 year 24 days||This cookie is used by HubSpot to keep track of the visitors to the website. This cookie is passed to Hubspot on form submission and used when deduplicating contacts.|
|_fbp||3 months||This cookie is set by Facebook to deliver advertisement when they are on Facebook or a digital platform powered by Facebook advertising after visiting this website.|
|bscookie||2 years||This cookie is a browser ID cookie set by Linked share Buttons and ad tags.|
|fr||3 months||The cookie is set by Facebook to show relevant advertisments to the users and measure and improve the advertisements. The cookie also tracks the behavior of the user across the web on sites that have Facebook pixel or Facebook social plugin.|
|IDE||1 year 24 days||Used by Google DoubleClick and stores information about how the user uses the website and any other advertisement before visiting the website. This is used to present users with ads that are relevant to them according to the user profile.|
|test_cookie||15 minutes||This cookie is set by doubleclick.net. The purpose of the cookie is to determine if the user's browser supports cookies.|
|VISITOR_INFO1_LIVE||5 months 27 days||This cookie is set by Youtube. Used to track the information of the embedded YouTube videos on a website.|
|YSC||session||This cookies is set by Youtube and is used to track the views of embedded videos.|
|AnalyticsSyncHistory||1 month||No description|
|CONSENT||16 years 6 months 1 day 12 hours||No description|
|li_gc||2 years||No description|
|UserMatchHistory||1 month||Linkedin - Used to track visitors on multiple websites, in order to present relevant advertisement based on the visitor's preferences.|
|yt-remote-connected-devices||never||No description available.|
|yt-remote-device-id||never||No description available.|