OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

FEED (Food Equity, Equality and Democracy) - a Cooperative, Systems-Thinking and Circular Economy-Based Approach

We envision the creation of an innovative, inclusive, and sustainable farming value chain in Johannesburg.

Photo of Nicola Coundourakis
6 4

Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

SEED (Simanye Economic and Enterprise Development)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Investment-based Organization

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Okovest Impact Hub Rooftop Roots Simanye Bjala Wagono Africa Business Group Half-Past Herbs Nosh Food Rescue Glory (restaurant) Interdisciplinary researchers

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

South Africa

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?


What country is your selected Place located in?

South Africa

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The core team members of our initiative all currently live and work in Johannesburg (Joburg) but also have ties to other parts of the world. There’s something special about Joburg: in the words of Alan Paton, “all roads lead to Johannesburg”. Since its inception as a mining town, millions have flocked to Joburg in search for better prospects and improved livelihoods. Although there are numerous challenges facing Joburgers, the now-city offers incredible potential and opportunities. The quirks of Joburg include the juxtaposition of traditional and modern, gritty and slick, concrete and green. Joburg is simultaneously developing and regressing. The FarmInnovate team is both personally and professionally committed to participating in the realisation of an inclusive, forward-thinking urban Johannesburg. The most natural place to start is food.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Otherwise known as Egoli (the Zulu word for ‘place of gold’) due to gold-rush-era roots, Johannesburg is situated in the Gauteng province of South Africa in the Highveld area with a sub-tropical climate. As the financial hub of South Africa, Johannesburg is one of the largest city economies in Africa. The larger Johannesburg Metropolian area (over 1600 square kilometers) does include some peri-urban spaces, however the vast majority of Johannesburg is urban with a concentration of people and buildings in the CBD. What was originally a collection of tented mining camps eventually became a town of tin shanties, then Edwardian brick buildings and finally a city of modern skyscrapers and suburbia. The literal groundbreaking nature of Johannesburg has always meant that it is a space in transition, both a throughway and a destination for a diversity of people. In recent decades, Johannesburg has seen an influx of immigrants from neighbouring countries and asylum-seekers from war-torn areas. In addition, a large number of people from the Global North have chosen Johannesburg as their new home thanks to work opportunities and the promise of high quality of life with a relatively low cost of living. This means that it is difficult to pin Johannesburg’s culture down to just a few groups. There are certain areas in Johannesburg where immigrant groups tend to concentrate, such as the Congolese community in Yeoville and the French community in Morningside, however Johannesburg is a true melting pot of people, culture and heritage. This does not always make for a harmonious socio-cultural environment, especially in light of daily difficulties facing the majority as well as the realities of economic constraints. People living in or passing through Johannesburg have access to a wide range of food stuffs from supermarkets and informal markets, and urban rooftop farms are springing up throughout the city. Where Euro-centric food once reigned supreme, there has been a recent upsurge of interest in traditional African fare, fusion food and locally grown produce. In a similar vein to global food trends, more and more people are thinking and talking about sustainability of food supply chains and how people can participate meaningfully in the production and consumption of food.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

ENVIRONMENT - Although Joburg’s subtropical climate used to mean reliable rainfall patterns and healthy soil, drought (compounded by climate change) and unsustainable agri practices have severely impacted food security. Already a large percentage of Johannesburg’s food is transported from other parts of SA, which translates to a high carbon footprint. As Joburg’s population grows and essential agricultural inputs such as water and land become scarcer, the scale of the problem is set to increase. 

DIETS - Cheap and calorie-dense convenience foods have colonised the average Joburger’s plate for decades. With obesity-related diseases (such as diabetes) and communicable diseases (such as HIV) on the rise and impacting an already overburdened public health system, experts are pointing to diet as both a preventative and ongoing health-management strategy. This is incredibly difficult to action without everyone having access to fresh, healthy produce and food products. 

ECONOMICS -  It’s widely understood that SA is one of the most unequal countries in the world in terms of wealth distribution and access to basic services. Johannesburg, where the haves and the have-nots co-exist, epitomises inequality. Amongst other social consequences, this extreme inequality manifests as low levels of skills, unemployment and reliance on social welfare systems. Already unsustainable, this situation is set to worsen unless systemic changes are put in place. 

CULTURE -  While food is not the sole answer to Joburg’s culture clash, it does have a history of bringing people and communities together. Also, changing attitudes around the production of food is essential in transforming the landscape: if the perception that participating in growing and processing food is lowly pervades, there is little change of challenging current systemic failures. 

TECHNOLOGY - Compared to just a few years ago, the technological environment in Joburg is thriving. Internet infrastructure and access has grown cheaper, as has access to enabling technology such as smartphones. Despite this and the emergence of start-up incubators, there are still relatively low levels of innovation in Joburg. With the right kind of investment, support and skills in place, there is ample potential for technology to contribute towards an innovated food system. 

POLICY - At a policy level, SA is fairly progressive. In national, provincial and municipal policy, sustainability is increasingly being woven into future narratives. South Africa has also aligned with global frameworks, such as the AU’s Malabo Goals 2025 and the UN’s SDGs. However, there’s a distinct lack of focus on tangible models for policy implementors to utilise as proof of concepts and research are costly exercises. It is important to align with existing policy, but there should also be an onus on evolving into tried-and-tested methods for successful, scaleable execution.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our Vision considers multiple dimensions of the challenges faced by Johannesburg’s current food system. Given the area’s environmental context and global climate change considerations, our Vision reflects on the positive effects that localised solutions will have on reducing the carbon footprint of food/produce logistics and transportation as well as conserving water and space. Additionally, importance is placed on improving the health environment through strategic placement of crops. The green nature of the Vision also extends to diet: access to fresh and healthy produce in conjunction with cleaner air means that Johannesburg’s residents will enjoy overall improved health and will celebrate both more traditional cuisine as well as new, tantalising food and food products. Through increased access to local farms and farmers, there is an anticipated socio-cultural shift in terms of how people engage with food and where preconceived notions about who participates in food systems are quashed. The economic implications will also be significant: where large segments of the population were previously unable to access cost-effective, nutritious food and the tools to participate in economic activity this will no longer be the case. Although the digital divide is still a concern, the right investment in low-barrier tech will mean that more people can engage in the digital and agricultural economies. With all of the right levers in place, there is a strong chance of improved social cohesion and community connection. Greener, more collaborative spaces will mean that people have the opportunity to bond over food and, with fewer people going hungry, crime is also likely to decrease. Finally, it’s the team’s intention that our model (which will be conceptually and practically proven) will influence urban and food policy for the better. Since the Vision is collaborative in nature and extensive stakeholder engagement is envisioned, the policy development environment will be strengthened. The Vision both aligns with current policy and will be a basis for policy evolution and expansion.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

In 2020, Joburg is a relatively green city, with it being known as one of the largest man-made urban forests in the world. This while being located in a dry region in a semi-arid country. And while Joburg is fairly green, most of what Joburg consumes by way of food is not produced close to the city, with most of the greenery being non-indigenous.

Our vision is to create a large, distributed urban farming environment within the City of Joburg Metro, whether on rooftops, pieces of land and parks throughout the city and in people’s homes. In 2050, we envision Johannesburg to be known as one of the largest and smartest urban farms in the world, one that would inspire many other cities to follow suit.

Our vision advocates for platform cooperative-based approach where interventions are made throughout the system to create efficiencies and stabilise while opening up opportunities for new entrants. Opportunities are not only restricted to food production but could include recycling, beneficiation (e.g. production of furniture), hydroponic systems production, advisory services etc.

We believe this will enable a city that can provide for itself and the needs/desires of its inhabitants. A city that encourages wellbeing by allowing easy access to safe green environments for its inhabitants, where its citizens have a direct connection to their food. And a city that takes pride in its locally-inspired food culture, one that encourages others to travel there to delight in unique culinary experiences.

And we believe that the models, systems, techniques and tech that we’d need to use to create this large, distributed urban farming environment would be applicable throughout South Africa and the continent to assist with the various challenges that are faced in different regions. Joburg is an ideal place make this change to a greener, more self-sufficient city because it has the market and people to make the vision work while not being made subservient and secondary to a farming past.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Interventions in the Food Supply Chain in Johannesburg: An initiative that changed the city's landscape forever.

In 2020, Johannesburg was a relatively green city, with it being known as one of the largest man-made urban forests in the world. This while being located in a dry region in a semi-arid country. And while Johannesburg was quite green, most of what Johannesburg consumed by way of food was not produced within or close to the city, with most of the greenery being non-indigenous trees.

Our vision was to create a large, distributed urban farm within the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan, whether on rooftops, pieces of land, and parks throughout the city and in people’s homes and backyards. In 2050, Johannesburg is known as one of the largest and smartest urban farms in the world, one that inspires many other cities to follow suit. Our vision includes a city that provides for itself and the needs and desires of its inhabitants. A city that encourages wellbeing by allowing easy access to safe green environments for its inhabitants to enjoy while having a direct connection to the food they consume. A city that takes pride in its locally inspired food culture, one that encourages others to travel there to delight in a unique culinary experience. Our vision is that the models, systems, techniques and technologies used to create this large, distributed urban farm could be used throughout South Africa and the continent to assist with the various challenges faced in different regions.

Before the start of the project in 2020, farming projects in and around the city faced failure or uphill battles for survival, even though there had been much enthusiasm for such projects, from governmental, non-profit and private organisations. Many of the failings had been due to other factors in the value chain rather than due to the specific component that an organisation had worked on, especially since most projects were operating completely independently. There were many different players that worked on different aspects of the food ecosystem, but it was only by moving to a collaborative, systems-based approach that the tide in urban farming in the city turned.

Best-of-breed players have been brought to bear on problems in their own domains with the result being of benefit to their projects and the entire ecosystem. At the same time, using a collaborative, system-based approach, the project had been able to identify and address any shortcomings in the overall system that could have resulted in failures. The approach has resulted in a more resilient and robust system; it was the siloed approach that had meant that, while experts in a field had identified great niches in the market that they had moved into, their failings had been due to other aspects of the market that they hadn’t catered for and where there had been no easy solution for them to overcome those issues.

With the global issues in food production and South Africa’s own unique mix of domestic issues, de-risking the agricultural process has been one of the critical themes in ensuring success. Environmental issues have played a critical factor from the beginning. With South Africa being a water-scarce country, water conservation is a critical factor in the success of farming projects in the country. Global warming did not help, with rainfall becoming more and more unpredictable. This has been best addressed by healthy, intensive farming techniques (such as the use of aquaponics and hydroponics and greenhouse systems, and the management and recycling of organic waste in the city). This also had a knock-on effect of creating expertise and support industries in those spaces, with manufacturing of efficient food cycle systems becoming a major industry in the city. Water quality was also addressed by these systems: recycling and reticulation systems for water helped in gathering and purifying wastewater and maintaining as much of that water content and nutrients in the systems. A further effect was to control the varying effects of poor soil quality on plant growth. Pollution in and around the city was also a huge issue, particularly with the high reliance of coal-powered power stations in the country and dust brought up due to mining. Urban agriculture had a key benefit of reducing the effects of this on the people of the city: the planting of more crops around the city meant those crops simultaneously absorbed excess carbon dioxide and gave out valuable oxygen. And planting crops on mine dumps (that would have otherwise just remained as heaps of dust) substantially reduced dust pollution. The mine dumps were even re-mined for gold using wheat to extract the gold from the soil, a technology that also produced wheat for consumption.

We saw a steady increase in the health and wellbeing of people in the city. Besides cleaner air, localised access to fresher and healthier produce improved the daily diet of people in the city; and with such good quality local produce, many established, and many more aspiring chefs took to taking local cuisine to higher and higher levels. The pride and joy this evoked in citizens meant they started valuing the farms and farming more in general, with the food industry now having a reputation for attracting talent, with crime decreasing as people took pride in their city, and the beauty the farms brought to many areas, and with people no longer that inclined or interested in importing produce from the rest of the world. Many farms have also become recreational areas for people, with trees and other vegetation being planted to create biodiversity, to attract beneficial insects (like bees) and create shade and ground cover to hold more water. The best restaurants in the city are situated on the farms. And the best office and retail buildings are the ones that have rooftop farms where fresh produce is picked daily and where workers can go to relax during breaks or have meetings in open spaces.

Communities have also come together around the farms, with them at first providing a much-needed source of jobs and income for the unemployed (particularly youth and women) who had moved to the city from rural areas (both from within the country and from neighbouring countries) and who had an affinity to farming due to their upbringings. As the farms grew, whole communities formed that only worked in and around the farms and the production of food. The best and brightest became leading food scientists or world-famous chefs. Communities created recreational areas as part of these farms, areas that they ensured remained safe (as it is their livelihoods) and areas where their children could remain and be looked after while they worked, areas that families go to be together, to hold special ceremonies and to honour special days. Communities have formed a primary pillar on which the farms have succeeded, and it would be difficult to imagine the farms succeeding without them. People have really embraced the concept of food buying clubs and other cooperative groups that aim to leverage the concept of collectivism.

Another pillar, one that really created the turning point, is the platform cooperative on which the farms have come to rely on. Starting with allowing farmers to plug into a digital marketplace (from commercial all the way to private households), the use of a digital platform made all the difference. Farmers were able to access the markets much quicker and with low cost of logistics and time to market, consumers were overjoyed to embrace the platform. Farms were also able to access supplies, expertise, and services quite readily and the investment cost of starting farms has decreased tremendously because of that. Farms no longer have to buy heavy equipment (it’s brought in on a rent basis as and when it is required), they no longer have to have all the expertise (all the best experts sit on the platform, ready to assist with problems) and information about issues (like the outbreak of diseases) is disseminated quickly. Packaging, logistics and refrigeration are taken care of on the platform, it’s easy to source these services now.

 We are grateful that the project was able to work with local government to encourage and direct investment in the space. While government had always been interested and somewhat encouraging of the space, the systems-based approach allowed government to direct investment and policy into the correct areas that really strengthened the ecosystem. Johannesburg is a thriving city. Egoli, the City of Gold, was formed around mining. It is the largest city in the world that does not have a major river running through or next to it. The city is still one of the greenest in the world but now it fortunes lies in the food it produces, not on the mines that have slowly dried up. It exports its expertise and systems to other parts of the country, the continent and the world. And the world recognises that the city created this amazing feat not because it had all the resources it required for farming, but because it didn’t have the resources and needed to act innovatively in order to secure its future. Data, insights and critical research are shared in an open-source manner with the intention of developing a collective consciousness and body of knowledge around urban food systems.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Facebook

Describe how your Vision developed over the course of the Refinement Phase.

Over the past few months, the state of the world has changed considerably. Once termed FarmInnovate, the core team decided to change the project to FEED (Food Equity, Equality and Democracy) to illustrate an expansion in project focus. The fragile nature of the Johannesburg food system has, due to the health pandemic, been exposed through collapses in parts of the food supply chain, rampant food insecurity and threatened livelihoods of small-scale farmers in particular. The FEED team has been intensely involved in food activism since the beginning of lockdown in South Africa and has, through this work and the many dialogues stemming from it, come to understand even more about what needs to change in the Johannesburg food system and how meaningful change will undoubtedly require a co-operative, multi-stakeholder approach. Project partners and stakeholders have reinforced the need, not just the desire, for our Vision to unfold. Our Vision has therefore evolved to be the People’s Vision.

Please provide the names of all organizations you meaningfully partnered with to develop this latest version of your Vision (they contributed at least 10 hours of time to the Vision development during the Refinement Phase).


Impact Hub

Africa Business Group

C19 People’s Coalition Gauteng Food

Half Past Herbs

University of Michigan


Describe the specific steps you took during the Refinement phase to include different stakeholders to develop your Vision, including a description (age, profile, and total number) of the stakeholders engaged, and how you engaged with each.

The FEED core team has ensured that a wide range of stakeholders have been engaged to develop and refine our Vision. This has been achieved through a series of Zooms, calls and collaborations via Google Drive. The stakeholders span across civil society, the private sector and academia and the representatives themselves range between 25 and 72.

Key partner Africa Business Group has assisted with strategic positioning, research support and value chain development while Impact Hub Johannesburg has been integral in framing the circular economic angle of the Vision. The University of Michigan has been engaged around the global positioning of the Vision and its synthesis with the current prevailing sustainability narrative. The food security parts of the Vision have been strongly informed by engagements with Nosh Food Rescue, representatives from C19 People’s Coalition Gauteng Food, with insight into indigenous knowledge systems provided by Return to Origin. The FEED team has endorsed the South African Food Solidarity Campaign’s Partnership Framework for addressing the hunger crisis and integrated these ideas into the Vision.

A representative from the financial sector, Okovest, has shaped the team’s awareness around commercial aspects of FEED. Farmer partners Rooftop Roots (urban) and Halfpast Herbs (per-urban) have contributed key insights into producer pain points, with the perspective of restaurants provided by Glory and Brik Cafe. Logistics stakeholders iHealth Meals/Fresh Delish Delivered and UA inputs expert Wa Gono have identified the needs of intermediary roleplayers in the food system.

A special mention goes out to Tushya Naidoo and Kassie Naidoo who consulted on the branding aspects of the Vision.

Other stakeholders with whom we’ve discussed our Vision and who have expressed enthusiasm for future participation include:

FORUS, Open Streets, WIBC, Urban Fireworks, Victoria Yards Farmer’s Market, Khula!, Izindaba Zokudla, REEA Farm, PGS Gauteng, Food+City

What signals and trends did you draw from to inform your Vision? Please provide data or examples that back up each signal or trend.

A lot of our work has been informed by our experience and work in various phases of the food value chain. We have identified quite a few different signals and trends that affect the sector, giving us a fast-evolving landscape for players to navigate through. COVID-19 has exacerbated many of the issues in the food system and with some of the signals and trends identified becoming stronger and new ones coming to the fore.

Buy Africa

Movements like For Africa By Africa, and Proudly South African are gaining traction, with buyers becoming more incentives to purchase locally. We’re also finding global interest for African foods[3]. With the average age of farmers in the country being estimated at 62 years old, and with youth unemployment estimated at 52.5%, there has been great effort to get youth involved in agriculture as a means of employment. We believe that the interest in Africa, especially on the food side, both locally and globally, would be beneficial in getting youth into the food value chain and into farming. We also believe having stronger connections on the internet will help this cause.


Transparency is currently a key driver in the food industry[5]. This comes consumer becoming more aware and educated about food amid concerns of health, ethics, and lifestyle choices like veganism (which is a fast-growing movement in South Africa[6]). We believe that a move to locally sourced produce will lead to less complexity in ensuring transparency.


This is affecting every aspect of society with South Africans having a high level of obesity or conversely, malnutrition[9]. We also believe that people will start moving towards healthier, fresh produce as programmes to decrease health issues take effect.

Convergence / Sharing Economy

We’re seeing a convergence of restaurants, grocers, farmers and online stores as the lines start to blur between each other[10]. We believe this is creating more room for innovation as the competition intensifies, which has favoured smaller producers with unique offerings. This will also make it easier for farmers to get to markets.


Movements like Food Sovereignty, Platform Cooperativism, Community Supported Agriculture and seed libraries are growing in South Africa. We believe this will have a major impact on our cities and our work.

Describe a “Day in the Life” of a key food system actor within your food system in 2050 (e.g., farmer, chef, supply chain actor, food policy actor, etc.).

Joseph Gumede (30) has been a chef for 9 years now. He had grown up on the family farm and got experience on his family’s farm restaurant during the holidays. The restaurant became quite famous for his grandmother’s lamb stew, the secret was the vegetables and local herbs they used she had brought with her from rural Kwazulu-Natal.

After studying, Joseph worked at a few restaurants in the city, learning how to cook Chinese, Indian, Congolese and Iranian foods, giving him a spectrum of knowledge on different cuisines. He was already well versed in his Zulu traditional cooking, learning from his grandmother.

Two years ago, he, his brother and two others decided to start a restaurant in the city together. His brother had spent a lot of time learning how to run the family restaurant. The other two were also chefs, the one specializing in desserts and the other being a sous chef that had specialized in traditional healing and indigenous plants. They had decided to start the restaurant together as a co-op, they all had complementary skills but none of them ready to start a restaurant on their own.

The restaurant was an instant success, with people loving the mix of cultures and fresh ingredients from the family farm. They had now decided to look at other farms in the city to complement their list and Joseph was off to visit a few. He and his sous chef walked down the road to a particular farm he wanted to work with, he had met one of the members at the local market and loved the indigenous vegetables they were growing in their custom-designed, 3D printed, AI enabled hydroponics systems. The meeting went well, and he left with a basket of beautiful pumpkins. He agreed that we would send back the seeds for replanting if he didn’t use them.

His customers had come to expect that they would get something fresh and new every day and today was no different. It was a huge success, getting him and the farmer a mention in the newspaper.

Environment | How will your food system of 2050 adapt to climate change and remain resilient?

Responding to environmental challenges will require configuring the Johannesburg food system to be both resilient and ecologically responsible: the system should be built in such a way that it actively works to decrease pollutants arising from food or agricultural activity and is able to withstand climate shocks such as droughts, flooding and temperature fluctuation.  Through the careful greening of public and private spaces (such as roofs, pavements, balconies and unused lots) and the strategic design of existing green spaces using foliage of trees and plants (especially plants that respond to warmer temperatures) , we envision that urban runoff, urban heat, dust particles and air pollution will be significantly reduced thereby increasing air moisture, reducing temperature, buffering against sun and wind, and facilitating air quality in the city.  Additionally, the system would increase energy and other resource efficiency through collective investment in renewables and waste management tech (such as water conservation systems, composting , the use of eco-bricks in building beds etc.). Asides from the social aspects of food localisation there is also an environmental dimension: the team is focused on cutting out on unnecessary transport emissions by streamlining local food hubs and encouraging more eco-friendly movement of food through innovations such as bicycle networks. The intended environmental outcomes of FEED are closely aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, which will be leveraged to enhance impact and resource mobilisation.

As existing climate shocks mean that traditional agricultural activity can be compromised, FEED would leverage existing technology and projects around alternative systems such as aqua and hydroponics. The team already has significant experience in this realm and has aligned with partners who are making these systems available at a fraction of the cost they once were. It’s important that all aspects of FEED are accessible.

Systems that encourage diversity of species as well as redundancy (i.e. planting more crops than are strictly needed to compensate for potential losses or failures) demonstrate more resilience than others: FEED would mobilise this principle through the encouragement and enablement of seed swaps (via the seed bank mechanism), especially those of plants that are friendly to wildlife. Urban beehives will be another area of focus, empowering honeybees to take up residence in urban gardens, simultaneously pollinating plants and producing honey for consumption. Overall, restoration of biodiversity is a priority for the FEED platform, with some of the outcomes being to protect endangered or scarce species of animals, fruits, vegetables, flowers, trees and shrubs.  The team intends to consult extensively with indigenous farmers, drawing on and sharing knowledge about sustainable and adaptive farming practices  and encouraging innovation in agroecology practices through a food lab stream.

Diets | How will your food system of 2050 address malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, metabolic disease) for the people living there?

Studies over the past few decades have shown that various permutations of malnutrition are pervasive in South Africa. Hidden hunger, or the co-existence of malnutrition and obesity, is one of the pressing problems that is driven by poverty, inequality and urbanisation. Low income households have very limited access to fresh and healthy produce, opting instead for cheaper and calorie-dense foods that don’t meet nutritional requirements. With some of the major impediments to healthier diets being cost and physical access , FEED aims to decrease fresh produce costs and accessibility through the localised food hub model - urban agriculture in particular has the potential to contribute to diversified diets of urban residents  as it leads to the consumption of a greater variety of food items and has been shown to positively affect the health status of urban children participating in UA.

Through the core FEED team’s involvement in local food aid activities since the lockdown and economic go-slow were first implemented, issues around disturbances to the food supply chain and ensuing undernourishment of vulnerable populations have emerged as endangerment to public wellbeing. Urban populations are even more vulnerable to food insecurity than rural populations, as they rely on external sources for their food needs and are thus exposed to greater supply risks.   The team is committed to unlocking the participation of smallholder farmers in local food chains, both in a commercial and a charitable capacity such that those who have the means to purchase food stuff and those reliant on food aid schemes have access to a diverse range of locally-grown, fresh and processed food. Research shows that household nutrition can be successfully supplemented through access to fresh produce.  

As education around nutrition and dietary norms are also significant factors contributing to malnutrition, information sharing and hands-on learning become an important part of how FEED plans to change food culture in Johannesburg. Beyond general health management through food, combatting some of the effects of diseases currently dominating Johannesburg  (such as TB, HIV/AIDS and Covid-19) and enabling people to practice culinary medicine  is an anticipated outcome of FEED.

Addressing diet is multidimensional, requiring a range of responses and initiatives. For FEED, the approach is investing in localised food supply chains and innovative farming techniques and educating communities on healthy eating, including indigenous and fortified foods. Food security and better diets can be supported through urban agriculture since it has the potential to provide large quantities of food, appropriate nutrition, cost-effective food supplies and an overall reduction in food bills.  FEED plans to partner with local agencies and other experts in nutrition and health to identify priority crops and to ensure that the system is responsive to the evolving needs of the population.

Economics | Where and what will the jobs be that support living wages in your future food system of 2050, and how will these jobs impact gender equality?

At the core of FEED is a reimagined food economy, one that has low barriers to entry and participation , and one that enables equitable and democractic engagement. FEED recognises that people from marginalised groups (women, LGBTQ* people, migrants, the disabled) have historically been excluded from pockets of economic activity: the hubs would have streams dedicated to supporting initiatives led by these groups, such as business toolkits and partnering with organisations working in the advocacy space (WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment) and SAWPA (SA Waste Pickers Association), for example).

From a socio-economic standpoint, there is an existence of different value systems and cost-benefit considerations across urban agriculture models.  As any food system is complex, FEED’s position is that there will be a multitude of different economic models employed within the larger platform. A service-focused business model between farmers and buyers seeks to facilitate flows between small-scale operations and the households, individuals and other businesses (such as restaurants and others with means). This model directly supports SMMEs in the form of farmers and farmer groups, as well as logistics intermediaries (such as delivery partners or market stallholders) with access to an array of markets (virtual marketplaces, informal traders, spaza shops, open air markets, local restaurants, schools, public institutions, community purchasing clubs, stokvels, Community Action Networks etc.) and other forms of support. It is also anticipated that, due to the boost in localised food activity and financial flows, additional jobs and SMMEs will be created within and between food hubs   . To speak to the core principles of FEED, participants would need to adhere to fairness, transparency and good labour practices. An example of how this can happen in practice can be found in Cecosesola (an association of co-operatives in Venezuela): the Federation asks its member farmers what they need to produce a harvest. Price-setting unfolds in a transparent manner, where the yardstick is harvest production costs and farmer costs of living. Members are not separated into producers, traders, and consumers; rather everyone is considered part of a whole wherein everyone has to have their needs met.

Another facet of FEED is a strong emphasis on subsistence activity, through a three-fold approach: empowering individuals and groups to grow their own food, facilitating the growth of food in private and public spaces to be distributed via feeding schemes and enabling commercial farmers to donate excess produce to said feeding schemes. Though the economic link is less direct, enabling free or subsidised access to fresh and processed food is a valid way of decreasing living costs  and has the potential to free up financial resources for other needs.

Though urban agriculture is not new to Johannesburg, what we’re proposing is the boom of an urban agricultural economy.  Our aim is to foster local spend and, in doing so, boost local economies including a multitude of roleplayers and stakeholders.

Culture | How will your 2050 food system ensure that the cultural, spiritual and community traditions and/or practices in your Place flourish?

The cultural diversity of Johannesburg means that a one-size-fits-all approach to integrating cultural practices into FEED is too one-dimensional. Rather, the position of the core team is that there should be space and opportunity for people from different groups to contribute their knowledge and traditions to the urban agricultural community and to evolve as a collective.

It is our vision that food equity and participative production is positioned as a means of fostering community development, where people’s physiological needs (sustenance and movement) are met alongside their need for belonging and connectedness. Victory gardens, once a response to conditions under the World Wars, are again emerging as a response to the international health pandemic : community gardening is a way of mobilising the commons, a vision for reimagining humanity’s future and interrogating how social organisation, economics, infrastructure and politics are intertwined. The commons is based on enabling people to enjoy freedom without repressing others, enacting fairness without bureaucratic control, fostering togetherness without compulsion and asserting sovereignty without nationalism.Collective transformation is already taking place across the world, through agroecological farms in Cuba, community forests in India, community WiFi systems in Catalonia and neighbourhood nursing teams in the Netherlands, for example.   FEED envisions that the physical and virtual platform, and activities linked to it, will be part of the commons, encouraging people to come together to pursue shared goals and creating a new surge of coherent social power.

Every cultural group has customs around food. In Community Supported Agriculture systems such as Next Barn Over (Massachusetts, USA), a shared commitment to fresh, local food is cultivated through hosting community dinners, inviting volunteers to the initiative, suggesting recipes for using up the produce harvested and including neighbourhoods of varying income levels.  Where togetherness is ritualised (whether through farmers sharing seeds, communities mobilising to turn an unused lot into a shared garden, or neighbourhood produce markets), shared values and purpose is strengthened. It is FEED’s position that recalibrating and democratising food systems  is one of the best ways of ensuring that traditions (old and new) are captured and shared. Indigenous knowledge, for example, will be accentuated through our partnership with Return To Origin (RTO) and out plan to create an Indigenous Knowledge Food System Initiative that will bring together various associates in the space with the hope of then creating a programme to compliment RTO's Indigenous Knowledge Leadership Programme. Additionally, bringing people into closer communion with how their food is produced is likely to influence dietary knowledge and practice: cultivation, harvesting, purchasing-from-farmer and cooking draws people into food systems  and contributes to increasing fresh produce consumption and diversifying the composition of the average dinner plate . We wish to embed sustainable food practices further into Johannesburg culture.

FEED’s vision also speaks to unlocking the nature of the ‘co-operative species’ known as humankind  and encouraging sharing in a deeply culturally and economically divided city. Through the reconfiguration of how public and private resources are perceived and used (such as public and open green spaces for vegetable growing, or research into green agri-tech as examples), FEED seeks to prioritise civic participation in food-related activity and, in doing so, create socially-inclusive digital and physical spaces that contribute to food security, food sovereignty and greater social cohesion. This view is supported by a case study of an urban community farm in Baltimore (Maryland), where it became clear that urban farms are likely to achieve greater success when they are run by or are inclusive of the people they serve, merging sustainability, public safety and food justice goals.

Urban agriculture is increasingly gaining traction as a tool for achieving urban food sovereignty, community community empowerment, social organisation, social cohesion, social inclusion, and education around food.  These are all ways of preserving and informing cultural, spiritual and community traditions and practices.

Technology | What technological advances are needed to transform your food system into one that meets your goals and embodies the values of your Vision in 2050?

We envision a high adoption of technology as we go along. The approach we’re advocating for though is about how effectively we can adopt technology as a community as advancements (whether created within our place or globally) arise. Our effectiveness can be greatly enhanced by using some of the benefits of the Information Age, specifically starting with increasing the usage of the Internet in a more effective way in our food system.


To begin, this would include sites, tools, guides and assistance in:-

-Sites and pages to structure information sharing and exchange of information;

-Sites and pages to assist players in the space to connect;

-Tools to assist people to connect and work with one another and to self-organize including design thinking processes and tools, collaborative platforms, agile methodologies and tools to roll out projects quickly and directories services;

-Platforms to assist with selling of products or to handle logistics for example, or to enable sharing;

-Exploration into Voucher (for feeding schemes) and Banking systems to enable transactions to occur;

We do not envision developing much or any of this ourselves, we have various partners who have already developed the appropriate technologies and where necessary are willing to make changes to enhance their products for our market. We are looking for easy to use, quick to deploy tools and initially would use websites, social media networks and open source, free or relatively cheap tools to implement what is required.

Where more “advanced” or substantial systems are required, we have partners with the relevant technologies including blockchain banking systems for banking and voucher and a number of other platform providers interested in working with us.

A critical aspect in this regard is the cost of data in South Africa, this has been high in South Africa. This has sparked a movement around data costs falling (#DataMustFall ) with government  getting involved. Prices have been declining, and we believe that we would be assisted by these decreasing costs. There has been efforts by a few providers to assist with solutions for farmers including Vodacom (a mobile provider) who has rolled the Connected Farmer service . We would also look at rolling out internet services to certain areas, some farmers have done the same  and we have done so in rural Kwazulu-Natal (another province) where we funded a now sustainable education provider who rolled out their own network for school children to supplement their education. We don’t believe this would be necessary anymore as more and more providers come forward to solve the issue.

We’re advocating for platform cooperatives within our system, and we believe that we need to bring more developers and technology people into the system. We have partners already in the space and will create alignment with new partners who have tech that we believe could enhance the space. At the same time, working with technology incubators and facilitating the establishment of a markers’ space for food will be components of our work. We believe that FEED needs to include the technology world in its implementation and promote open source developments and platform cooperatives that use local developers would be of great benefit in the food system.

One of the other key aspects of how we’re starting is that we’re creating data and mappings of who is active in our space. We envision using this initially to facilitate partnerships and enable more efficient networking. But as our data grows, we believe this would create opportunities for data mining that could assist other aspects like policy making, development of new technologies, rolling out of beneficial services etc.

We have also been finding a lot of room to start incorporating blockchain technologies into our developments, with us getting involved with blockchain banking platforms for the food value chain and looking at the use of this for a voucher system for feeding schemes. We’ve also seen great use of blockchain to trace food through the value chain so that people can be assured of origin

Other technologies that will play a part are advances in farming systems like hydroponics. Rooftop Roots and its partnership with Wa Gono have seen us build these systems for a fraction of the cost that it used to be. And the Internet of Things is already being used by many commercial farmers in South Africa with Vodacom also offering services for that . We expect drones and AI to play quite a significant role going forward in collection of data on health of crops for example.

It must be noted that some of the key advancements we look at are low-cost, fast-to-roll-out technology that creates incrementally changes that work (or fails quickly with learnings helping us to develop better solutions). We have seen a lot of activity in Johannesburg around innovative solutions, and we would like to bring more people together to work on those collaboratively.

Policy | What types of policies are needed to enable your future food system?

Policy can be split into 3 tiers: national, provincial and local laws, frameworks and principles. The FEED core team has specifically interrogated existing policies that speak to food systems, spatial configuration and UA.

Food systems

South Africa’s National Development Plan  cites food a number of times, in relation to the fact that ‘climate change has the potential to reduce food production’ (p. 23), that we need to move towards a ‘food trade surplus, with one-third produced by small-scale farmers or households’ (p.24), that the food value chain is a key target for lowering the cost of living through ‘targeted microeconomic reforms’ (p. 28), and that there is ‘ a commitment to household food and nutrition security involving public- and private-sector action’ (p. 43).

South Africa, in 2014, gazetted the National Policy on Food and Nutrition Security for the RSA . This document outlines the constitutionality of right of access to sufficient food, water and social security and serves as a framework for other scales of government to implement food programmes. The five pillars of the Policy are:

1.The availability of improved nutritional safety nets

2.Improved nutrition education

3.The alignment of investment in agriculture at a local level

4.Improved market participation of the emerging agri sector

5.Food and nutrition security risk management

At the level of City of Johannesburg, the local Department of Social Development has a Food Resilience Unit that is mandated to address food insecurity via initiatives such as the Joburg Market (a physical fresh produce market in Johannesburg City Deep) and the annual Food Expo event for emerging farmers. The Johannesburg Integrated Development Plan 2019/2020 speaks to the work of this Unit.

The FEED vision aligns closely with the focal areas of these policies, however it would be beneficial for more quantifiable metrics to be available in monitoring and evaluating the impact of food security initiatives. Furthermore, there’s a need for

Spatial Configuration and UA

Spatial development and urban agriculture are closely linked because of the land use and planning aspect. Both private and public land is governed by zoning laws and subject to ownership disputes and other complications. In theory, the City of Johannesburg is in support of the overlap between public spaces and urban agriculture, evidenced by the mention of the City needing to “on a neighbourhood scale, support, invest and incentivise development of smaller community parks, gardens and urban agriculture.” and “invest in and support the agricultural industry and agricultural projects as a key sector in preserving green infrastructure and maximising its value for the city, including growing the economy, creating jobs and providing food and other products.” in the Spatial Development Framework 2040 (p. 90).

Further evidence of a policy basis for space for urban agriculture is cited in the same document: the City intends on transforming land use “from limited diversity to mixed land use, with traditional zoning supplemented by form-based codes” (p. 65). Unused or under-used public spaces in particular offer tremendous potential for urban agriculture projects and could be developed in line with the National Integrated Urban Development Framework’s vision for public space maintenance, one where “municipalities should develop partnerships with communities, civil society and the private sector for the planning and upkeep of quality public spaces…[and where programmes such as] community/business adopt-a-spot, should be up-scaled.”

Policy still to be developed

FEED wishes to see the development of a holistic Johannesburg Resilience strategy, similar to that of the City of Cape Town or the City of Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan, that highlights the role of the food system in the overall resilience and wellbeing of the City. Though pockets of political will exist to enable urban agricultural activity, especially the kind envisioned by FEED, an integrated and multi-dimensional framework is needed to institutionalise a transformed food system. Some of the key levers identified by FEED are:

-An assets approach to agriculture and food (such as how the City of Vancouver has prompted Community Assisted Agriculture  

-Local food production (such as that found in City of Chicago’s GO TO 2040 Regional Plan)

-Climate change and systemic resilience (e.g move towards a circular economy)

-Municipal services and infrastructure (water, land etc.) dedicated to supporting urban agriculture

-Unlocking sustainability bonds and other sources of green funds

-Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes (a sustainable urban design strategy linked to UA  

-Material, technical and informational support to urban farmers

Through the development of the Johannesburg Resilience Strategy and other supporting policies, FEED envisions the City of Johannesburg signing on to globally-relevant initiatives such as the C40 Good Food Cities Declaration. 

Describe how these 6 Themes connect with and influence one another in your food system.

In a context of a food system that has long been both fragile and exclusionary, FEED seeks to facilitate an equal, equitable and democratised move towards a transformed system by 2050. It has become clear that a coordinated and collaborative approach is essential to enabling such a system. FEED has identified three key pillars of the intervention which are applicable across the themes:


-Systems thinking

-Circular economy

These three pillars closely align with the 7 Principles of Resilience, which speak to how the themes interactively play out:

1.Maintaining diversity and redundancy through enabling a variety of system participants, produce and thinking will influence environmental sustainability, diets, food culture and economic flows, and will lower the risk of food insecurity.

2.Managing connectivity through the virtual platform and localised food models is key in enabling Best Practice in each of them thematic areas, and informing policy in particular. It also builds community cohesion and creates an environment conducive to further collaboration, innovation and sharing.

3.Managing slow variables and feedback through streamlined platform data management is important in keeping the economics on track and creating a responsive and efficient system that facilitates food justice through cutting-edge tech. It also has the potential to influence land use management policy and rationale.

4.Fostering complex adaptive systems thinking entails constantly and critically looking at the eco-system as a whole and understanding how stakeholder dynamics shift in the wake of environmental, socio-political and economic changes. It also couples environmental sustainability with other forms of development.

5.Encouraging learning through a design thinking methodology (empathise, define, ideate, prototype, test - in a continuous cycle) implemented through tech is key in ensuring that solutions are adaptable and relevant to eco-systemic needs. This will also build on the literature and policy around urban agriculture, paving the way for adoption in other cities.

6.Broadening participation speaks to co-operation, building the trust and relationships needed to ensure that the system flows, grows stronger and strengthens positive outcomes at the level of socio-economics, the natural environment and policy frameworks.

7.Promoting polycentric governance through coalition building means that power is decentralised, empowering multiple groups to have a say in how the food system develops and ensuring that the voices of many influence sustainability outcomes across the themes. It also dilutes the risk of failure, given that problem-solving will be multi-dimensional and enriched by an eco-systemic view.

Describe any trade-offs you may have to make within your system to attain your Vision by 2050.

The first consideration for trade-offs will be deciding which part of the FEED system to implement first. Because our intervention involves so many different stakeholders and moving parts, some will have to take priority over others as we build capacity and resources. If, for instance, we first focus on small-scale farmer access to market, that may mean leaving learning or skills development programmes until later. First considering the anticipated impact, resource intensity and existing expertise around particular projects will help us consider which trade-offs to make.

Tech, which is one of our key areas of intervention, will need to be carefully considered as often highly complex, sophisticated tools are inaccessible to the majority due to inhibitive costs of software, hardware, data etc. FEED is committed to technological innovation in the food space but must consider accessibility, which could influence the types of tools integrated.

FEED straddles the line between public and private agricultural activity. This will mean having to make trade-offs in which projects take precedence, depending on where we are likely to gain the most traction the fastest and which activities will require more investment in behavioural change and perhaps government lobbying. This arena will also require consideration of the degree of access of land: for example, what kind of safety and security measures would need to be put in place to protect an area designated for urban farming?

Also relevant to the public/private divide is around who has decision-making power (i.e members of FEED) and who doesn’t. Governance is a complicated issue, and the core FEED team is well aware of the kind of internal policies, principles and procedures that need to be in place to streamline the operation. Democratisation adds a layer of complexity that is not easily navigated, so the trade-off would be between agility and proper process.

An additional consideration is produce growth efficiency and yields, often spurred by artificial processes or inputs, and agroecological principles. There will be times where there will be overlap, but we as a collective will have to look closely at the advantages and disadvantages of using particular systems.

Localised, more artisanal food production is often associated with increased cost-to-customer because these producers cannot achieve the same economies of scale as larger operations. Additionally, policy changes that would require more demanding compliance activity could increase production costs.  Deciding how to price produce in such a way that is fair to producers, buyers and beneficiaries will require careful cost modelling and trial and error.

3 Years | Describe 3 key milestones that you would need to achieve within the next three years for your Vision to be on track?

Data Collection & Mapping

This is essential in better understanding the food value system in Johannesburg. This would entail looking at all aspects of the system and collecting, collating, and mapping players in space. This would include, for example, farming input suppliers, farmers, produce consumed, restaurants, food manufacturers etc.

This information would allow us to map the system and start to have connection points with players. To achieve this, communication channels are important and starting the relevant social media pages and websites (for surveys and to start community engagements) for example are important.

Our current activities during COVID-19 have highlighted the need as many organisations tried to source food. We started mapping farmers with excess produce to make the connections between them and communities in need. This proved quite difficult as there isn’t a readily available database of farmers that we could speak to.

This work is on-going and we have engaged with many coalition partners to join hands in this exercise.


The second milestone is engagement with the food value system community. We would start hosting events with players in the space, around different aspects of the value chain. Engagement would further include members of the public (particularly (but not exclusively) those who feel excluded due to access and culture). Events would be online at first, and physically depending COVID-19 progress.

We would also involve ourselves with advocacy, particularly with aligned partners, to create a more open food system.


We believe it’s important to pilot projects to create awareness, to understand how these would work in our environment, to test out toolkits, software, governance structures and to develop our methodology. These include small market spaces (for farmers and to host engagements) and facilitating groups of farmers or restaurants to start working together (we have two groups keen to form platform coops).

10 Years | What progress will you need to make—by 2030—that would set your Vision up to become a reality by 2050?

By 2030, we would have to have formulated a working methodology that has been tried and tested together with projects that have had a history of feasibility and sustainability. At that point we would want to see cooperative structures that are talking to each other, that players in different aspects of the food chain are working together.

We would also need our mapping exercise to be running smoothly and being regularly updated, with an increase in data collection points to be able to get a view of the entire food system value chain. These would allow for a better understanding of how the entire system has been running and would give insights into the direction the system is taking.

We would also want to see that the industry has started to create some shared resources like maker spaces, food system friendly banking services or testing facilities for farmers as per the needs identified or facilitated by FEED (through engagement processes with the system) or through players using methodologies of collaboration.

Virtual marketplaces are important, with access to them by formal and informal traders, small or large. These virtual marketplaces would need to be community owned by smaller players for them to compete effectively.

We also believe that Community Action Networks are important and believe that open air markets in communities will help to facilitate that. These are already being formed in many neighbourhoods and help collect data on the ground, particularly regarding those in need. They would help coordinate the growing of food in neighbourhoods.

If awarded the $200,000 prize what would you do with it?

Our strategy for mobilising the $200 000, if FEED was one of the finalists of the Food System Vision Prize, is using the money towards our 3-year milestones. The specific investments are envisioned as follows:

Data Collection & Mapping

Undergoing an extensive stakeholder mapping exercise would require sufficient human capital and consultation. To build on the mapping we have already done, we would have at least two resources dedicated to completing this exercise.


Hosting virtual events would require the FEED team to engage various experts and to plan programmes. The team would dedicate at least one resource to this workstream, ensuring that quality information and activities are organised. Part of this would also entail sharing information emanating from these sessions with the public.


For select pilot programmes, such as getting the virtual food hub up and running and allocating some small seed grants to emerging farmers, we would allocate funds to such.

As FEED is a large and long-term project, the idea would also be to use the FSVP funding to leverage funding from other organisations (through a co-funding mechanic).

If you are chosen as a Top Visionary, The Rockefeller Foundation would like to share your Vision widely with a global audience. What would you like the world to learn from your Vision for 2050?

The prospect of sharing the FEED Vision with the international community is incredibly exciting, as we consider it part of the commons and believe it is applicable to most urban environments. We would like to inspire others to look at their own local food systems in a different way, and imagine how a co-operative, systems-thinking approach could transform food systems for the better. It is also our hope that our Vision stimulates further thinking and builds on what we plan to do.

Please share a visual that communicates the structure and operation of your food system in 2050. Describe the visual.

See attached. 


Join the conversation:

Photo of Itika Gupta

Reading through the Refinement Visions, I came across other Visionary teams from South Africa. Connecting you five Louis-Gillis Janse van Rensburg  Paul Currie Nicola Coundourakis Bevan Jones  Thaven Naidoo  so you can provide some feedback on one another’s Vision submissions from the context of your region's most pressing challenges in the present and future.
Happy connecting!

View all comments