07/12/2017 08:05 GMT | Updated 07/12/2017 08:06 GMT

Joburg's Building Rooftops Are Being Turned Into Really Cool Farms

Could the city's urban farms be the future of food security in South Africa?

Dimpho Maja / ANA
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.

Johannesburg's 1921 Chamber of Mines building has become more than just an iconic architectural monument -- it's roof is now the first agricultural playground for a pilot project to assess the feasibility of growing herbs and vegetables on the rooftops of inner city buildings.

October 2017 saw the launch of the project, called The Urban Agriculture Initiative, which was hosted the by Chamber of Mines and the Johannesburg Inner City Partnership, in which the Chamber is a key stakeholder.

At the unveiling the parties unveiled the first crop, which was planted on the rooftop of the Chamber building by 29-year-old agripreneur Nhlanhla Mpati. There they displayed a tumbling, vibrant basil crop that has already been harvested and sold to the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market and surrounding cafes and coffee shops.

Since starting farming in the city, Nhlanhla has produced some 15kg of basil and he has received orders for the next six months -- a major success story for this fledgling project.

But the Chamber of Mines is not the only agripreneur development. Another participant in the Johannesburg Inner City Partnership, FNB's Bank City, is currently producing enough nonstarch vegetables for its canteen from its rooftop farm and has a surplus to send to its branch canteens.

As a result of the Chamber's successful pilot project, the department of small business development (DSBD) has agreed to fund the startup costs of another 24 projects in the inner city of Johannesburg -- helping to provide sustainable employment to 24 farmers.

Above that, property owners in the city have made 60 buildings available for these rooftop farms. The Chamber of Mines intends giving farmers more space as it still has an unused area of 400 square metres in its 93-year old heritage building.

"It's about being innovative and disruptive in the space," Mpati said, "That's why I say that within five years [the farmers] should be millionaires."