Nhlanhla Mpati, an agripreneur, tends to his plants at the garden he set up on top of Johannesburg's iconic 'Chamber of Mines' building in the central business district on November 15, 2017. Inna Lazareva / Thomson Reuters Foundation
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The soaring "Chamber of Mines" building in central Johannesburg, a hub for South Africa's mining industry, is a symbol of a bygone era when pioneers began flocking here in the late 19th century to dig for gold.The initiative to create urban gardening businesses on vacant roofs was launched more than a year and a half ago by the public-private Johannesburg Inner City Partnership.Here plants grow faster and use up to 80 percent less water than in traditional farming.In the next three years, about 100 more farms will be set up in the city besides the two now running, and the scheme is already attracting many applications from would-be young entrepreneurs.Ten of the best performers will each be allocated a rooftop farm of at least 100 square meters with about 3,600 plants.The farmer will pay back a percentage of the total turnover, which will be used to fund the next farm.South Africa's jobless rate is close to 30 percent, but that rises to nearly 40 percent for those aged between 15 and 34, one of the highest percentages in the world.Some experts, however, doubt the potential of urban farming beyond meeting immediate hand-to-mouth needs.
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