The Covid-19 pandemic saw many small players in the agricultural sector taking a knock, and farmer Andile Matukane was not spared. But instead of the qualified crop farmer throwing in the towel, she turned her sights to another form of farming: hydroponics.
Looking back, Matukane told Vutivi News that this was one of the best decisions she made because it introduced her to a new dream, which was to spread hydroponic farming to other parts of the country. Matukane started her hydroponic farm, Farmer’s Choice Rooftop Farm, in 2021 after farming spinach, cabbage and beetroot in a conventional manner.
Matukane, who is from Bushbuckridge but is now based in Tshwane, has a Master’s in Crop Production. She studied agriculture because of her fascination with how food was produced. “Before I started farming, I was employed in various agricultural companies,” she said. “When Covid-19 came and I was farming, I had to change tact, and I chose to go the hydroponic route.”
However, it was not an easy process. When Matukane started farming, she did not have a mentor or funding. She also faced gender discrimination, as few people believed that she would succeed as a woman. But her life changed when she enrolled in the South African Breweries (SAB) Tholoane Programme in 2018. She received blended funding and mentorship.
“I also received technical support, and this involved attending masterclasses where they taught me financial management and marketing, and I learned how to manage money properly and source other forms of funding,” she said. It took the farmer two years to convince the upmarket Menlyn Shopping Centre, where her rooftop farm is based, that her business was viable. She now employs seven people and serves the shops in the mall.
Matukane produces lettuce, parsley, coriander, spring onions and spinach. She told Vutivi News that there were numerous reasons she would stick with hydroponic farming. “The turnaround time from planting to harvesting is quicker than conventional farming, and we also get to save on irrigation water,” she said.
“We also reduce our carbon footprint by cutting down on transportation, since we supply stores in the same mall as our farm.” Matukane also provides accredited agricultural training, where she trains agriculture hopefuls and provides short skills upliftment and developmental courses. “My dream is to expand our operations to other parts of the country and be involved in more than just rooftop hydroponic farming,” she said. “We dream of creating a green economy through this type of farming.”