It took an episode of Carte Blanche in 2017, which featured rooftop farming, to ignite the passion and love for agriculture and technology for Khaya Maloney. A civil engineer by profession, he thought that rooftop farming could be an ideal solution that the country needed to deal with social ills among young people like unemployment and poverty.
Although he has found his place in agriculture, farming hasn’t always been his dream.
“I grew up in a family of five. My mom was in the National Assembly between 1994-2009 as member of Parliament, my dad was in business and I’m the eldest of three boys.”
His brothers both pursued careers in film and media industry. “I however, I had aspirations in the business of innovation and creating things. I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do so I thought my creative nature would suffice being an architect,” says Maloney, who studied at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
” I liked socialising and didn’t do too well with routine. It seemed like a fitting career until I learned of how demanding it was and moved to construction management, and civil engineering later,” he explains.
The North West-born Maloney says after seeing a private company called Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm being featured, he decided to venture into rooftop farming.
Taking the leap
Maloney went through the interviews and successfully joined an urban agriculture incubation programme which opened his eyes.
“I joined an incubator by the name of Wouldn’t It Be Cool (WIBC). They had a new Urban Agricultural Initiative (UAI) where they help young aspiring farmers to grow or start agriculture in the inner city.”
Following the programme he realised that there was a massive shortage of locally produced hops, barley, sorghum and malt grown in greener, sustainable, and more efficient ways.
“So, after asking brewers, farmers, and botanists if the concept of a four-season hydroponics green hop house was something they thought was a good idea, none of them had tried it.
“So, I did, and the passion grew as the hops grew. It stuck when a craft SA Pilsner was made from my hops at Soul Barrel Brewing in Cape Town,” he says.
Milestones to be proud of
Maloney kickstarted his 300 square metre urban farm, Afrileap, in 2018 and he has created two permanent jobs thus far with the hope of creating more and contributing significantly to the country.
He says being accepted to participate in the incubation by the UAI was the biggest milestone he has achieved.
The costs to set up his rooftop farm on Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg, was between R 250 000 to R 300 0000 and the funding was sponsored by WIBC. He also won some agritech competitions to make up the additional funding.
“Winning multiple awards from different competitions, including the United Nations Seed Indalo programme for environment sustainability, building the greenhouse from scratch, developing partnerships and investment are some of the milestones that I am proud of thus far.”
The good and the bad
Maloney says one disadvantage of rooftop farming with hops, is the limited space, which limits the number of plants you can grow.
“The advantageous part is instead of harvesting once every 12 months, you’re able to manipulate the growing to happen once every three months. Pests are also more controlled, less water and energy are required and you can introduce hops to the inner city.
“What I have learned is that it has to have an efficient grow cycle that sustains the business with three months output,” he explains.
Although he had some financial support, funding, enterprise development and land have been some of the challenges that he has faced. This also impacts other smallholder farmers and makes access to markets even more difficult.
Maloney says through social media and what the different mediums are publishing regarding farming, the narrative of farming among young people is changing for the better, which leads to the youth having an appetite on the sector.
Know your numbers
“Farming is a numbers game, down to the last decimal. Before you decide on a crop, have a market, know your numbers until the last digit.
“Everything is an expense that you subtract from whatever profits you hope to make,” he advises.
Maloney calls on young people to take up opportunities presented to them, especially if they want to venture into agriculture. He also recommends that they engage with people who have been in the sector long enough to have a better understanding of what is needed.
Get Stories of Change: Inspirational stories from the people that feed Mzansi.