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From Cleaning Carpets To Cleaning Up

How do you strike it rich in a country that revolves around education and political connections? Just ask Base Sebonego who has neither.

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Every household has a dirty carpet and that’s where I literally made my first buck as a businessman,” says Base Sebonego, beaming at the memory.
That first buck came in 1995 with a one-man carpet cleaning company. Sixteen years later, Sebonego is a multimillionaire through turning ideas into money.
In a highly educated and developing country, where the private sector has relied heavily on government patronage for its survival, Sebonego is the exception. In fact he shatters the historical mould of a successful Motswana businessman in a country where you find well-schooled university graduates in the most menial of jobs. He failed high school; has never been to a business school; started his business with no bank loan or help from government empowerment schemes. Yet, at the age of 37, he has rubbed shoulders with Botswana’s movers and shakers and amassed a fortune.
Sebonego’s investment portfolio straddles property, insurance broking, textile manufacturing, road construction and he has recently added mining to his repertoire.
Sebonego’s life is the quintessential rags to riches story. Standing at just over 5’4”, his unpolished English vocabulary belies the medley of ideas his brain is constantly digesting. Doing this interview was not easy either. With several appointment cancellations, more than a couple of double bookings that resulted in postponements, the piecemeal interview suffered the interruptions of a mobile phone that rang incessantly and streamed a barrage of SMSes.
“I have so many things happening at the same time, but nowadays I have come to accept that I do need a personal assistant,” he says rather apologetically. As disorganized as he is, that is his modus operandi, and it seems to have worked well for him.
Sebonego was destined to be a businessman. Despite being one of the best students doing pure sciences at high school in Maun in the late 1980s, he often skipped school and spent much of his time at the “driving school of a family friend, fascinated by the number of clients he had and the money this guy was making”.
“I was… (he counts with his fingers) …just 15 years old. What else was I supposed to do with my father away on trips half the time?”
In 1994, after obtaining a certificate in Animal Health and Production at a technical college, Sebonego worked for the government for six months before absconding to sell insurance. This helped him buy his first car, a brand new Toyota Tazz, a far cry from the Range Rover Sport and CLK 63 AMG he currently drives.
The following year, armed with a bucket, brush and a car wash pressure machine, he headed for Francistown, Botswana’s northern city. He did his insurance work alongside washing carpets.
“I targeted schools where government housed teachers in a village set-up. I would literally knock at any of the front doors and offer to clean their carpet for free. The neighbor would see the carpet hanging on the fence to dry, and by the end of the week all the carpets in that neighborhood would be clean and my pocket would be full.”
But charging 20 pula ($2.95) to clean a carpet was not enough. He moved to a bigger client, Supreme Furnishers, a furniture company where he charged an unbelievable P9,000 ($1,330). This job, he says, was a watershed that showed him he could actually make a lot of money.
It was at this time that Sebonego met a woman who operated a cash loan business from Palapye, 160 kilometers away. The two of them talked, she liked his entrepreneurial intuitiveness and determination; the following week, Sebonego was in Palapye working as a partner in the business. In 2001, cash loaning by non-commercial banks was a relatively new business system in Botswana. Sebonego’s contribution to the business was the introduction of a commission-based sales team, a concept he borrowed from his three-year stint in the insurance industry. He targeted people like teachers, unions, bank employees and even parastatal institutions. The pair opened up outlets in four other towns because, like Sebonego observes, “people will always need money, and how far it comes from, they don’t care”.
The money and power bug bit him and he wanted more. He wanted to be in control, so he parted ways with his partner and took over the Palapye operation.
I ask him if he is a greedy businessman. The man, who never fails to extol God and his eternal belief in Him, jumps out of his chair before settling back down.
“Let me tell you something, I am a seriously, seriously, seriously spiritual guy. When I see someone struggling I feel really bad. I once pounced on the property of a client of mine who worked for a local bank. She was dodgy because she had evaded me several times instead of renegotiating her repayment plan. I took possession of her TV and radio set. I remember feeling terrible about it, but I was going to sell them off if she hadn’t come to pay me, which she did that evening.”
Even though the cash loan business gave him more than a healthy bank balance, it was to be his next business that would catapult him into the multi-millionaire league. It began with a chat over a barbeque with some lawyer friends and gave rise to his next big idea. His friends complained of having trouble with their clients, many of whom were unable to settle their legal bills. Sebonego’s brains were already in overdrive.
After a year of research and product development, Sebonego launched Mosele Legal Services in 2004. The idea was simple; a legal aid subscription-based business that would outsource clients’ cases to other law firms. He approached the Citizen Empowerment Development Agency (CEDA) for a P100,000 ($14,730) loan but was turned down. “They said it was not a viable project even though I had no competitor, it was a tried and tested model in South Africa and if they had the capacity to give millions of pula worth of loans, what was the problem?”
Once again drawing on his past experience as an insurance consultant, he carried on with the concept of sales reps. He offered shares to an attorney, whose responsibility was to interact with fellow lawyers. The company soared to dizzying heights, reaching around 20,000 subscribers in a couple of years.
“A very productive and ambitious young fellow who always aimed for greater heights,” says Paul Chitate, Sebonego’s former boss at Botswana Life Insurance. Chitate now owns First Sun Alliance, a successful insurance broking firm. “I am proud of him as a person I trained who went on to use his experience as an insurance consultant to develop his own products.”
Booze flowed, women were plentiful and entertainment was endless until everything came down like a pack of cards. In 2008, the company was dragged before the high court by its underwriter, the Botswana Insurance Company (BIC). BIC sought an audit of Mosele Legal Services after reports of illegal insurance practices, fraud and money laundering. BIC flexed their muscle. Comprising a consortium of political, business and legal heavy-weights, including former president Festus Mogae, it was a given that battling with a giant like BIC was going to be messy. It was. It was also a public relations nightmare for Mosele.
“They just wanted to rattle my business from under me,” says Sebonego. He spreads his hands on the table as if distracted. “I saw it as a hostile takeover. These guys are the titans of the economy and I don’t have a big surname or the money on my side, but the truth set me free.” The high court threw out the claims as unsubstantiated rumors.
Sebonego claims Mosele now has 34,000 subscribers. But with such an extensive investment portfolio, how much is Sebonego really worth? Getting such information as the net worth of any businessman is a tough business in Botswana. A culture of secrecy tantamount to the culture of Swiss banks prevails amongst businessmen who refuse to divulge their investment interests. Even a bill that seeks to compel politicians to declare their assets has been floating around parliament for over a decade. But for Sebonego, divulging details about his worth is a particularly sensitive subject which borders on paranoia.
“There is a serious problem of the ‘pull-him-down’ syndrome in this country. When people see you climb the ladder or when they know how much you are worth, they want to see you down—down—down,” he jabs the air with his index finger pointing downwards. “We don’t band together like the Chinese or Indians or Zimbabweans to help each other. This country is dirty,” he continues. “You survive best when people don’t know anything about you.” Sebonego says this kills entrepreneurship which survives on role-modeling for upcoming entrepreneurs. This reference to the ‘pull-him-down’ syndrome is such a common thread throughout the interview it is hard to imagine it as anything but the truth.
Seasoned Sunday Standard journalist Prof Malema admits to the difficulty of finding information on the assets of businessmen in Botswana. This is compounded by the fact that many of these businesses are not floated on the Botswana Stock Exchange. He concurs that Sebonego may be a multi-millionaire, but he says the Mosele Legal Services court case dealt a huge blow to his net worth. “His construction business is not so big but his new company, Home Assist, the one modeled on Mosele, has the potential to become big.”
Home Assist is one of Sebonego’s latest pet projects. It is a home maintenance guarantee scheme for subscribers. Another is the setting up of a weekly newspaper to report “the real stories”.

Preparations are at an advanced stage and the weekly is expected to hit the streets within the next two months.
“Five years from now, I want to be the biggest small-stock producer in Botswana or the region and have my own commercial bank,” he giggles and rubs his hands together as if he can’t wait.
For a man claiming to be the cleanest businessman in the land and to win business without political connections, it sure would be a giant leap from the carpet cleaner of 1995.

Sunrise Economy?

Sebonego’s rags-to-riches story mirrors that of his country. At independence in 1966, Botswana was one of the poorest countries in the world with a largely illiterate rural population. The country has since observed the highest average growth rate in the world, thanks to huge diamond deposits and a government that exercised prudent fiscal management.
The economy is slowly recovering from the hard knocks of the 2009 global recession.
But the International Monetary Fund says the economy is staging an impressive recovery with the help of rapidly rising prices for rough diamonds. The IMF says since the second quarter of 2010, Botswana’s pace of economic growth has been one of the strongest among middle income countries.
The government of Botswana expects the country’s 2011-2012 GDP to surpass the P101.5 billion ($15 billion) mark in current prices. The country continues to enjoy good credit ratings internationally. Unemployment stands at 17.5% with more than 30% of the population living below the poverty line. The government has embarked on a privatization drive and outsourcing of non-core services, albeit at a slow pace.

Okavango Delta

Foreign exchange reserves stood at P54.9 billion ($8.1 billion), enough to cover 18 months of imported goods and services. The average year-on-year inflation was 6.9% in 2010 according to the country’s Ministry of Finance.

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Arts

The Baskets Holding Them Together

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The female basket-weavers of Rwanda. When destiny failed them, they saw hope, in gentle strands of sisal and grass. The art helped them heal, reconcile and live again.

‘Art As A Reconciliatory Tool’

As dusk descends on the verdant valleys of Kigali, the green of the city’s rolling hills and its red terraced homes relinquish their arresting appeal to the most sparkling jewel of the night – the landmark Kigali Convention Centre (KCC), easily one of Africa’s brightest spots, with its multi-tiered colors and unique architectural aesthetic.

The Kigali Convention Centre’s design inspired by the traditional Rwandan baskets

It is striking in contrast to the landscape around and occupies center-stage, both in the city as well as the psyche of the proud Rwandan. Resembling the traditional, intricate, hand-woven Agaseke basket, the KCC stands atop the hills as a symbol of hope in Rwanda, and as a beacon of a new Africa.

It’s a sight most reassuring for the plethora of female artisans and entrepreneurs in the country. In villages and districts far from this dome in the city center, women sit huddled together in tiny cooperatives weaving with nimble fingers beautiful Agaseke baskets, in all forms, shapes and sizes, oblivious to the impact their creations have on the tourism economy – and more so, in their own lives.

Bella Rukwavu of the Agaseke Project

Bella Rukwavu, Project Coordinator of the Agaseke Project, which was initiated by the City of Kigali in 2007, recounts the beginnings of some of these cooperatives, after the new government took over, post the horrific genocide against the Tutsi that left a million dead across the country.

“When the city was trying to reorganize itself, part of the problem was the streets were filled with women hawkers, prostitutes, the disabled and the sexually-abused,” says Rukwavu.

There had to be a sustainable, lasting solution that gave the destitute women, most of them widows and survivors of the genocide, a viable alternative, and the idea for cooperatives training them with the art of basket-weaving was born.

The women had a natural flair for it, as basket-weaving was an inherent part of their upbringing and culture, so they could be easily skilled. The women were a mix of both ethnic groups, Tutsis and Hutus, and slowly, surely, through their collective efforts sewing sisal fiber and grass to make and sell objects of beauty, put their ugly past behind them.

The City of Kigali now oversees the Agaseke Project with 2,000 women, distributed among 50 cooperatives in three districts across Kigali.

 “The project acted as a reconciliatory tool and promoted peace,” says Rukwavu, in the car as we drive from the City Council to Gatsata sector in Gasabo district to meet with some of the artisans at the cooperative located there. “In some cases, both the victims of the genocide and the wives of the perpetrators worked together, and the art unified them. They have forgotten their differences. Today, they all live as Rwandans.”

Past the thatched homes on the hillside, and up a muddy road, the red earth leads to a one-storied edifice with yellowing walls and blue windows. Here, a group of 25 women sit on the hard cement floor, indulging in light banter and expertly weaving dyed sisal, grass and papyrus reeds to create a raft of colorful basket containers. These are arranged on a wooden shelf and on frayed floor mats.

On the shelf are two wooden boxes with locks. This is where the women store their money as part of their self-styled loan-and-savings scheme; the boxes a repository of their collective earnings – and trust.

The cooperative receives orders from clients in the United States (US), Europe and Japan. The baskets have given the women economic security and a social network. Says Rukwavu: “Some of these women are doing so well and have become so successful they have come out of these cooperatives to start businesses of their own, making diversified products and selling them elsewhere.”

The Agaseke Project is but one snapshot of the larger community of female basket-weavers in Rwanda. In the pages that follow, FORBES AFRICA visits more social enterprises, profiling the artists, artisans and entrepreneurs this industry has spawned. In a country where drones are delivering medical supplies and innovation is a daily buzzword, these women are keeping alive a traditional art form that has found its way into the snazzy department stores and boutiques of the world. To them, fortune is not dollar figures, but mere survival. Their future is in their own hands.

The Single Survivor

Catherine Uwimana, 48

In Gikondo, about a 30-minute drive from the city, a dirt road with a morass of overhead power and telephone cables leads to an unassuming grey gate with colors bursting within. These are the premises of Talking Through Art, a not-for-profit focused on art-related employment opportunities for people with physical disabilities. It was started by Petr Kočnar, from the Czech Republic, who initially came to Rwanda from Kenya to learn French. He encountered destitute people with disabilities on the street and decided to start the center in 2015 with his own savings, to rehabilitate them with art therapy and traditional basket-weaving.

Each of the 25 women, young and old, at this center make about $5 for each of the medium baskets they craft. Placide Ndacyayisenga, the manager, offers a cup of steaming Rwandan coffee, and pointing to the dainty handcrafted bowls on the walls, says: “The baskets we make are inspired by nature, such as the sun, the birds and the baobab trees. Foreign tourists buy from here and our products are also available in premium boutiques and gift shops in Kigali. The artisans here were wandering the streets before, now they can sustain their families, and even have bank accounts.”

One such is Catherine Uwimana. She lost her right leg during the genocide, hit by a grenade when in hiding at her home in Kacyiru.

Save for her older sister, all her family died around her. Having never married, Uwimana lives alone and is grateful she makes enough money weaving baskets to feed herself and pay her rent. “I have been here four years now and this is my family,” she says in Kinyarwanda, her eyes not concealing the pain of her past. “These baskets give me hope for the future.”

Baskets To Theater

Emilienne Muhawenimana, 35

Muhawenimana arrives at the Talking Through Art center in Gikondo riding a scooter. It’s hard to tell she is polio-afflicted and needs crutches to walk. Muhawenimana’s nature-inspired paintings light up the walls here just as she does. She leans against one of them, posing genially for pictures. One of the most prolific basket-weavers at the center, she is today into stage plays, and even traveling outside of Rwanda as part of theater groups. “She was one of our best basket-weavers and is a good actress today,” beams Placide Ndacyayisenga, the center’s manager. The multi-talented Muhawenimana also recites poems and mentions her work with the British Council; one of the many empowered at the center to make a living through art.    

The 8-To-5 Weaver

Vestine Nyiravesabimana, 49

A mother of nine children, Nyiravesabimana has been weaving baskets at the Agaseke Project cooperative in Gazabo district for the last 12 years. Making an average of $5 per fruit bowl that she handcrafts, over time, she has been able to send her children to school. She makes a minimum of $100 a month, working 8AM to 5PM through the week.

She is vaguely aware her creations sell well locally, to NGOs and at retail shops, but also “far, far away”, in America and Japan, lands she will perhaps never see.

Some of the women working with her face immense hurdles to come to work. But the project has helped Nyiravesabimana attain economic independence. Her husband, who works as a plumber, respects her more now, she says; they have fewer quarrels.      

“She also knows how to bank,” says Agaseke’s project coordinator Rukwavu. “She has an independent bank account.” Nyiravesabimana is also a part of the loan-and-savings scheme at the cooperative with her fellow female weavers. Working collaboratively in a group with the other women has helped her speed on the time-intensive art, as the more baskets she crafts, the more money she makes.

Dressed in a cheerful red chitenge outfit, her megawatt smile fills the small room she is in, as she gives the finishing touches to yet another signature fiber container that will make its way out of Africa to the world beyond.

The peace-maker

Farida Umuhoza, 43

A bored housewife for a long time until she discovered her skill crafting baskets, Umuhoza was with the Agaseke Project cooperative in Nyarugenge district for seven fruitful years from 2010.

A self-made entrepreneur today retailing her own range of handmade products, she is thankful for that epiphany, as today, she is the sole bread-winner for her family, supporting a sick husband and two children – a son aged 23 and a daughter aged 21.

We meet Umuhoza at her make-shift shop at the far-end of the car-free exhibition zone, by the towering citadels of capitalism in the heart of Kigali.         

At the Agaseke cooperative, she shone with her expertise weaving baskets, quickly moving on to open her own permanent shop, named Chic, in a shopping mall in downtown Kigali. Umuhoza has been expanding her business since.     

She also designs chitenge clothing, but her specialty is “the peace-maker, a sort of an oven made of fabric, sponge and cotton wool that saves energy and time and keeps food warm”. She sells it from $20 to $40 a piece, depending on the size.

As we speak, she pauses to “hello and welcome” curious shoppers, mainly international tourists, who walk in to look at her collection of baskets, clothes, and African bric-à-brac. Her attentive son hovers around her, as she settles the deal with a woman bargaining for a wooden stool.

Her finances have been stable, she says, as she has been able to meet her husband’s medical expenses, educate her children and re-stock her shop. She has traveled across East Africa, invited to showcase her baskets, and even once to the Netherlands for further training.

She has come a long way from her 18-year-old self when she lost her entire family in 1994, during the genocide against the Tutsi. 

As the sun dips on this August evening, her shop gets busier with office commuters and government workers, her largest clientele.

She is grateful for every sunrise and sunset. “Back then, sitting under the hot sun, weaving them, the baskets taught me about life. I knew they would take me out of poverty. Dare to start, don’t ever quit!” she says, before attending to yet another paying client.

The community builder

Mukeshimana Grace, 52 

Mukeshimana Grace

The Nyamirambo Women’s Center, an NGO on a bustling street in Nyamirambo, is a hive of activity the afternoon we visit. The cooperative doubles as a charming shop retailing all kinds of delectable African print clothing, accessories, home decor and trinkets, and buzzes with dollar-waving foreign tourists. Grace is about to give a presentation on the art of basket-weaving to them when we meet her. She has been mastering the craft for over six years now and says she has had a life-long connection with weaving, having learned it at her mother’s knee.

In an ante-room at the center, women are hard at work at their sewing machines. There are 55 seamstresses here turning cloth into craft.

“I enjoy being a part of a community, and building it.

– Mukeshimana Grace

The shop offers a sense of community and camaraderie as visitors stop by to chat to the staff. Launched in 2007 by 18 Rwandese women to address gender-based violence and inequality, today, the center provides skills and training to women so they can better their chances for employment. It’s a self-sustaining model, also offering tours into the neighborhood. The profits from the tours go back into paying the seamstresses and funding more community engagement initiatives.

Mary Nyangoma

Mary Nyangoma, Project Manager at the center, who has been a part of it from inception, finds time to break away from the unending stream of clients. She says: “Sewing is very popular in this neighborhood. Some of the women with us never got a chance to go to school, so we also taught them to read and write. And we came up with the idea of the neighborhood tours. Six years ago, we also started selling the in-house products we make.”

Nyangoma is effusive in her praise for Grace, who is too shy to speak. She was the first basket-weaver that joined the center and is now working full-time with them, making the baskets at home, and earning about RWF300,000 ($330) a month. A widow, she has four children to feed. Yet, there is no where she would rather be.

“I prefer working here, in a group,” Grace opens up, “as when I am alone, I tend to think of my worries. I enjoy being a part of a community, and building it.”

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Agriculture

Green-Sky Thinking

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In Johannesburg, city-dwellers like Linah Moeketsi have taken the future of sustainable farming into their own hands. Where land is becoming scarce, they look to the skies.


Doornfontein is one of Johannesburg’s older inner-city suburbs with decaying buildings and dingy alleys that wear a dour, monochrome look.

Daily commuters and street surfers jostle with delivery vans and mountains of metal scrap but the grey of the concrete city makes it hard to believe that there could be a patch of green in a most unlikely location.

READ MORE| No Seat At The Global Table For Indigenous African Cuisine

Above the humdrum of life here is a rooftop hydroponics farm looking down on the city, but upwards to a new route to restoration and urban preservation.

Atop the eight-floor Stanop building – offering a breath-taking view of the city and the landmark Ponte Towers in the distance – one woman has made it her mission to turn a grimy grey terrace into a green lung on the city’s skyline.

“City life is taking on a totally new direction… even people who think they couldn’t one day farm, find themselves on rooftops,” Linah Moeketsi tells FORBES AFRICA.

Moeketsi grows herbs, used to treat non-communicable diseases (NCDs), in a 250m x 500m greenhouse on the building’s terrace. But her rooftop farm is sans any soil – it uses a hydroponics system.

“I think because we are in the city and we would like to produce for people in the city, hydroponic farming is one of the answers because you can actually harvest more than twice the produce, and the growth rate is quicker and there is produce that you can have throughout the year that people demand because it is in a controlled environment,” she says.

On a windy Wednesday morning in October, we meet Moeketsi at her aerial green facility, a couple of days before she is to send some of her plant produce to the market.

She talks about her journey as an offbeat farmer. It all started when her father fell ill in 2013, when doctors failed to correctly diagnose his disease.

“They couldn’t see that he was diabetic. He didn’t show the signs of diabetes, but he had this foot ulcer that just wouldn’t go away,” she says.

“The future of city farming is great simply because we have more and more young people getting into this space. Even though it’s farming, they are looking at it from a very different angle.

Moeketsi decided to do her own research, so she read up books on African medicinal plants and used some herbs that belonged to her late mother, who had been a traditional healer.

“It took me a good eight months to help my dad and I actually saved him from having an amputation.”

The news of Moeketsi curing her dad’s diabetes using herbs spread. Sadly, her father died in 2016, at the age of 87. But she is proud to have helped prolong his life.

“So he passed away in his sleep, not sick, nothing, he was just old. But he was always grateful; he was like, ‘even when I die, I’m going to die with both my limbs’, so we would make a joke about it.”

READ MORE| Businesses At The Heart Of A Greener Future

After her father’s demise, Moeketsi rented some land and turned her knowledge on natural herbs into a fully-fledged farm. However, when the owner of the land returned, she was forced to vacate.

Land was always going to be a problem in the city. But instead of giving up, Moeketsi looked to the skies.

“Because of this passionate drive for an answer, I found myself researching what’s happening outside Gauteng and South Africa, and I saw in Europe, they were farming on rooftops,” she says.

In 2017, her dream became a reality when she secured a deal with the City of Johannesburg as part of an urban farming program, and started the rooftop project a year later.

When we visit her greenhouse, we are welcomed by the sweet lingering scent of herbs. It’s hot and humid, and two fans whir away to cool the air.

Moeketsi walks around the greenhouse wearing dark glasses and a white jacket, with a syringe in hand – she could easily pass off as a medical doctor.

She elaborates on the hydroponics system. There are four pyramids, each attached to their own reservoirs of water. On each pyramid, different plants, ranging from spinach, lettuce, sage, parsley, basil and dill, rest on beds with pipes connecting them to the reservoirs. Moeketsi plucks out one of the pipes and inserts the syringe; water spouts out of the tube and she returns it to the bed.

“Twice a day, you have to check that water is actually going through the pipes, because that’s how the plants get water and nutrients,” she explains, as she unblocks a pipe using the syringe. She says it’s one of the best ways to farm using little water.

“When you put in certain plants in the greenhouse, you know you are guaranteed sustainable farming because you can produce those plants and harvest them,” she says.

Moeketsi adds that this allows her produce to stay consistent season after season.

“So, from that point of view, it makes the city more sustainable in terms of food produce that is easily accessible and cost-effective for the consumer because not everyone around here can afford the high prices of food but they can at least afford what we sell, whether it is at R10 ($0.5) or R15 ($1).”

As Moekesti continues to tend to the plants, a farmer she works with walks in and begins filling up the reservoirs.

Lethabo Madela has known Moekesti for almost six years.

“When you look around Johannesburg, there is no space, so rooftops have saved us a lot, especially those of us that love farming,” says Madela. “I’m learning a lot and I think she [Moekesti] changed the whole concept of farming for me because I used to farm vegetables. I didn’t know culinary herbs or medicinal herbs.”

Moeketsi speaks of other farmers around the city who have taken to the rooftops to farm plants such as strawberries, lemon balm, spinach and lettuce.

READ MORE| Everything You Need To Know About The Future Of Pesticides And Bees

In a suburb called Marshalltown, a 10-minute drive from Moeketsi’s farm, Kagiso Seleka farms lemon balm also using hydroponics.

He produces sorbet and pesto from his produce which is then used to make ice cream.

“It [hydroponics] is great for farming sensitive plants in terms of temperature. Lemon balm does not like frost. But it’s better to grow even out of season so you can set a higher price,” he tells us.

However, he says hydroponics farming is a luxury not many farmers can afford.

“It [hydroponics] does have a bit of a higher capital upfront, but you get a higher yield and higher quality, so people are willing to pay more. Hydroponic planting saves about ninety five percent of water soil farming in a water-scarce country,” says Seleka.

READ MORE| Local Solutions Can Boost Healthier Food Choices In South Africa

“We do have water shortages, and I know people are on the whole ‘organic trip’ but, is it more important to have an organic plant versus a water-saving environment?”

The Program Coordinator for Agriculture at the City of Johannesburg’s Food Resilience Unit, Lindani Sandile Makhanya, says there certainly are more rooftop farmers in Johannesburg now than ever before.

Converting idle terraces into avenues of profit is becoming a norm. There are new rooftop farms being set up every day, offers Makhanya.

He regularly visits Moeketsi’s farm to check on the progress and collect produce to sell.

“Urban farming in Johannesburg is rising, mainly because the idea of producing our own food is very important because most people are moving to urban areas and therefore it stands to reason that we have to try to produce as much as possible,” says Makhanya.

“[There is growth] even in animal production, although we are moving away from the bigger numbers, but we are involving the smaller ones; because of the space issue, they are increasing overall.”

For Moeketsi, her farm has changed her life and given her hope for a better future. In addition to the teas, tinctures, ointments and medicinal products she processes from her plants, she plans to include more by-products such as syrups in the future.

“The future of city farming is great simply because we have more and more young people getting into this space. Even though it’s farming, they are looking at it from a very different angle,” she says. “That is why the city is changing and rooftop farming is going to get bigger and bigger.”

Clearly, farming in Africa is covering exciting new ground.

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020

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FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.


JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.

NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:

Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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