Some 40km from the capital city Tshwane, next to Rethabiseng Township and Ekandustria Estate near Bronkhorstspruit, the municipality’s first ‘agropolitan city’ has been launched. Called the Tshwane Food and Energy Centre, this greenfield development is sited on 200 of 2 600 hectares zoned for agriculture.

Beyond the average Black Economic Empowerment concept to aid upliftment, this project aims to provide an integrated solution to food security and production, energy supply, economic stimulation and job creation, says Dorah Nteo, strategic executive director of city sustainability for the City of Tshwane. “It goes strides further by emphasising and embracing sustainable green practices,” she adds, noting the supply of renewable energy.

In positioning the city to be the leading green capital of South Africa, Tshwane mayor Kogsientso Ramakgopa prioritised his vision with the establishment of Nteo’s sustainability unit. The Tshwane Food and Energy Centre satisfies the city’s mandate comprehensively and forms part of the city’s concept of a ‘green-belt’ of industries, agricultural beneficiation and green settlements to the east of the capital.

Twenty-five displaced farming families from the adjacent townships will be provided with a plot on which to live and farm.

The plot comes complete with a family dwelling, including rainwater harvesting tank, solar water heater and bio-septic tank, a greenhouse produce area, chickens and chicken shacks, and electricity generated from a solar PV installation and biogas digester. Nteo believes releasing the residents from the grid is crucial, “so they are freed from the burden of paying for these services”.

This is, however, not a free housing scheme, she says. It is similar to a leasing structure with strict policies in place about what produce is to be farmed. The occupying families were selected according to their individual situation – with many in dire straits without permanent shelter – and were predominantly selected by an independent agricultural committee set up by the displaced farming community in the area.

In the middle of the land, a commercial market hub was constructed. Called the Central Farm, it exists purely to service the farmers by bulk buying their produce and in turn marketing it to retailers and visitors. “This building also acts as a training and recreation centre, and has tourism spin-offs,” says Nteo. “Most importantly, it symbolises the integrated concept of living, working and production.”

The council has provided 90% (R40-million) of the core funding towards full implementation. Nteo says part of presenting the concept at COP21, C40 and ICLEI platforms was to attract partnerships for external funding and the pooling of resources so that the model could be replicated in other identified agricultural land parcels in the region. “We are hoping to tap into the Green Fund of the Department of Environmental Affairs and have started to link in with other local economic development initiatives, like Tshwane’s Economic Development Department, which has come on board to construct and run a packaging facility and an agro processing plant.” Half the profits from the Central Farm’s sales will be redirected into further infrastructure development.

The EBF Group is invested in the project with a R5 million contribution, and is the main contractor on the Tshwane Food and Energy Project, responsible for design, construction, development, training and management. Through three (Pty) Limited companies, EBF focuses on energy, building and farming by undertaking sustainable integrated developments that also impact positively on health and education.

“In effect what we are driving are 25 individual Pty companies. Each farm comes complete with a stock capacity of 2 000 chickens (from a pool of 50 000), and 300m2 of vegetable tunnels, which currently includes green peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage and cucumber, together creating independent sustainable farms with an estimated income profit of R10 000 per month,” says Carsten Laugesen, founder of EBF.

“Along with rooftop PV solar panels, rainwater harvesting tanks, solar water heaters and bio-septic tanks, the Tshwane Food and Energy Centre has also installed a central 1,5kV biogas plant, which apart from producing electricity to the development, will provide valuable organic liquid fertiliser for the farming activities.”

The source of the biogas comes from sorghum, which has been planted on 30 hectares. “Given this, the required tonnage will produce 150kW of electricity from the 9m high by 15m diameter biogas plant. Owned by the farmers, the power is sufficient to maintain the entire development, inclusive of dwellings, Central Farm and operations,” says Laugesen.

Co-managing with the City of Tshwane, EBF will be involved in the project until it is sustainable, however long this takes. The training programmes it hosts at the centre also ensures the farmers are well equipped to understand farming economics, and have the ability to farm produce in the right quantities and of the best quality. Outlying farms with differing products are also invited to avail themselves of both market stall and the training to further expand on developing Tshwane’s independent food and energy sectors.

“This is the future of the semi-urban environment, in my mind there is no other way. The impact of global economic factors, and escalating food prices, means we can’t use land and spaces to build single unit houses, endlessly repeating a historic pattern. We need to motivate for a new generation of families that are self-sufficient, especially the youth who have lost the mentality of living off the land in pursuit of degrees for jobs that don’t exist,” says Nteo.

By Kerry Dimmer

See earthworks Issue 32, June-July 2016 for the full feature.