Three years ago, Mosesi Mosesi (28) was jobless and hopeless. When an opportunity for a learnership in horticulture came along, he took a huge leap of faith. That leap has completely changed his life, and today he is reaping the rewards, running an aquaponic farm in a township.
His New Liff Hydroponic Farm has since opened a well of connections for the urban farmer. Through his farming endeavour, Mosesi has rubbed shoulders with a few prominent dignitaries including pres Cyril Ramaphosa as well as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who visited his farm last year.
But before opportunity knocked, he was an unemployed young man with a diploma in civil engineering. He was desperately searching for a light at the end of the tunnel.
The learnership, part of a Nedbank funded skills development program in partnership with the Youth Employment Service (YES), was his eventual saving grace and his business was born in 2017 as an aquaponic hub situated in the heart of Tembisa, a township on the East Rand of Gauteng.
Mosesi was born in Sharpeville, a township on the South of Johannesburg. He remembers his time in the township as a period of hardship and struggle. His parents lived in abject poverty, forcing them to make do with the bare minimum.
He believes that it was his parents’ strong faith and perseverance that helped them survive through his tough childhood. He attributes his recent breakthrough to his father Jacob Mphethe Mosesi, and mother Jeminha Motshegwa Mosesi.
“Mom was strict, and dad is the most religious person I know; I am where I am today because of them. Although they were unemployed, they made it work with what little they had,” he says.
In South Africa, land has always been an issue, but with urban farming all you need is space.
After matriculating in 2009 from the Thuto-Lore Comprehensive School in the North West, Mosesi pursued his civil engineering diploma at the Sedibeng TVET College in the Vaal. He completed his qualification in 2011, but like many graduates was forced to stay home due to a lack of employment opportunities.
His life changed in 2017, when he found out about an opportunity to join a horticulture learnership programme and he jumped at the chance. He was identified as one of three thousand young people to benefit from the Nedbank funded skills development program in partnership with the Youth Employment Service (YES).
During this programme he developed a new fondness for plants. Through the initiative he could also harness his new-found love for agriculture and start his own business.
“I was one of the statistics of unemployment. I was unemployed for four years, until I got the learnership. I actually fell in love with plants and how they grow. It got me curious and I just wanted to further it until I got this opportunity from YES for Youth. They identified me as someone who was capable of running such a farm.”
The Nedbank initiative footed the bill for Mosesi’s enterprise. “Everything was actually funded. Nedbank seeded the whole project. They gave us the boost we needed to go into the right direction,” he says.
The initiative also gives extensive training to its beneficiaries. Mosesi was encouraged to enrol into the Wouldn’t It Be Cool (WIBC) incubator, a programme that seeks to take young people between the ages of 18 and 35 and turn them into entrepreneurs.
“I went under intensive training with a lot of people!” he adds. “The WIBC has an incubation procedure which you have to go through, it’s called the urban agriculture incubation. They take young farmers and then they incubate them about how to go about it,” he explains.
Mosesi firmly believes that “farming is not a job, but more of a vocation and a lifestyle.” He is using this business to educate his community about alternative agricultural practices.
“In South Africa land has always been an issue, but with urban farming all you need is space. I’ve had people from the community actually come in and question what I’m doing and actually want to try and feel the leaves of my produce to see if it’s not plastic,” he says.
Before opportunity knocked, he was an unemployed young man with a diploma in civil engineering.
Mosesi adds that most people find it peculiar that this Westernized business exists right in the heart of the kasi. “People find the whole thing surreal, what we are trying to do now is educate the community. We have people from the community actually purchasing our produce, we are also working with a lot of chefs,” he says.
The young farmer says the inspiration behind creating this venture was to give back to his community. “I am trying to recreate the opportunity that I got by bringing the project into the community,” he adds.
His business currently employs two locals full-time, as well as a seasonal worker. He started out with hydroponics, housing about 1650 plants and has since moved into aquaponics. The urban farmer adds that his journey in creating the leafy oasis in the township is not without sacrifices. “Every morning when I have to wake up, I think agh it’s this again,” he jokes.
Early mornings aside, he believes that his work is for the greater good and it comes naturally for him. “In urban farming we are working with a lot of technology, so as a farmer you need to be a lot of things, you need to be a technician, a plumber and everything.”
Mosesi believes that farming at its core is a test of human resilience. “It’s actually amazing. That’s why I call farming more of a calling, because if something was meant to be, you can actually see the difference it makes in one’s life,” he says.
He dreams of offering the same opportunity he received by employing more youth at his hydroponic farm. “Giving back to the community would be a very big achievement. The idea is not to employ, but to empower. If we could have the next Mosesi in our midst who is actually empowered by my business, I think that would be great.”