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Hopping on the Sustainability Bus

Words by Russel Wasserfall  //  Pictures supplied by Khaya Maloney

A Johannesburg inner city hops farm is creating jobs and showing the way to a sustainable future.

A young Johannesburg entrepreneur called Khaya Maloney is making waves in the business district of Braamfontein by growing crops on the roof of an office block.

A young entrepreneur called Khaya Maloney is doing an astonishing thing. With the assistance of the Urban Agriculture Initiative (UAI), a spin-off project of the open innovation, idea and business incubator ‘Wouldn’t It be Cool’ (WIBC), Maloney is growing hops on the roof of a building in downtown Johannesburg.


Traditionally hops is grown near George in the Western Cape. Conditions there are perfect for this plant, the signature ingredient in beer. Finding it on top of the building in the Maboneng district in Gauteng is a bit unusual.


The craft brewing industry in South Africa has to import most of its hops because South Africa’s biggest brewing concern (SABMiller) has cornered the hops market and strictly monitor growing and distribution. Maloney’s hops project, called Afri-Leap, on the roof of the Constitution Hill building in Braamfontein is changing that. His climate-controlled, hydroponic operation produces multiple annual crops which is great for small brewers he supplies.

Maloney has basically built a big grow-house on the roof and by controlling conditions, can harvest hops four times a year.

Hops is a high-value crop used in beer brewing and also for essential oils in the perfume industry.

There were challenges that required smart interventions. For instance, the hops farms in George receive up to 18 hours of sunlight in the growing season, cooling winds and high annual rainfall. Replicating these conditions called for growing lights, fans, pulsators and a water pump system switching on every four to five hours. His ‘rooftop hops’ can now be harvested four times a year.

Drying hops on the pavement – it’s a city farm after all.

Hops cones being sorted after on of the four annual harvests.

The ‘farm’ is also closer to its customers, so distribution is swift and efficient. Apart from craft brewers, a well-known Jo-burg restaurant, Urbanology, started buying hops for use as an aromatic in their dishes. Extraction of essential oils for the perfume industry created another revenue stream. Selling smaller parcels of produce to many users, rather than an entire crop to one user, has meant much better profits.

While traditional agriculture struggles with wind, rain and other elements, Maloney’s farm provides perfect growing conditions.

With staggering rates of unemployment in South Africa, the hydroponic mini-unit provides another opportunity. Agricultural development is a viable means to create sustainable employment. Projects like Maloney’s can show the way for young people to grow cash crops hydroponically in congested urban settings where space is limited but access to market is bountiful. Afri-Leap has mentored small producers including a mushroom farmer and other cash-croppers.


It also speaks to a potential path to creating healthy communities with a smaller footprint on the environment. Perhaps, thanks to the ‘rooftop hops’ project, the sustainable future of food crop production can belong to micro-producers, growing produce where it is needed.


In this way, the impact of Khaya's farm extends far beyond the boundaries of Johannesburg. It exemplifies the power of African innovation to address pressing societal and environmental challenges. With each hop cone harvested and each drop of essential oil extracted, Khaya's project not only nourishes bodies and minds but also seeds the future of African innovation, rooted in the soil of urban renewal and blooming with possibility.


Tours of the Afri-leap rooftop facility can be arranged by appointment by mailing Khaya Maloney at

Perfecting the hydroponic growing process allows Maloney to teach other urban farmers valuable commercial farming skills.

South African writer, photographer and editor Russel Wasserfall has worked in the media space for over 35 years. His work is mainly in the arenas of food and travel and has appeared in more than twenty books and dozens of magazines. Wasserfall has run bars and restaurants, including his award-winning South African restaurant The Table at De Meye, and consults to restaurant start-ups on innovative food concepts. He runs a weekly podcast on the restaurant and food scene in his Cape Town home called A Table in the Corner.

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