"Hydroponics and vertical agriculture are nascent methods of farming in Africa, with Vitagrow Urban Farms being at the forefront of blazing a trail in the region. With their goal of 'Revolutionizing the Urban Food Landscape,' the Zimbabwean start-up is driven by process, innovation, research, and development, as well as a strong focus on the youth and community," says Keith Chipudhla, co-founder of Vitagrow Urban Farms, a farming company based in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Desire for sustainable farming
On average, the majority of the produce grown in Zimbabwe is grown on farms located at least 60km away from consumption. Fresh produce simultaneously loses quality and becomes more expensive with every kilometer it travels, an effect exacerbated by Zimbabwe's hot climate and lack of access to refrigerated logistical options.
The desire for innovation and providing easy access to nutritious produce drove them to develop the "Mobile Farm," which is inspired by Berlin-based InFarm's in-store vertical farms, built to cater to the Zimbabwean context by providing greater versatility and greatly reducing both the cost of production and operation.
Installation of the farm system
Blossoming in the suburbs
Founded in 2020, Vitagrow Urban Farms saw the need for access to high quality affordable, nutritious and flavourful produce in urban communities and sought to provide it using sustainable methods. Located in the heart of Zimbabwean suburbs, Vitagrow's main farm, "Farm One," provides up to a tonne of fresh produce to the urban community, including leading restaurants and supermarkets every month through hydroponic systems built with locally sourced knowledge and materials.
Crops to be harvested
First of its kind in Africa
VitagGrow Urban Farms recently added a mobile farm to their operations aiming to bridge the gap between farm and fork. Soon, retailers and chefs will have a portable, convenient, and cost-effective food offering option by growing their produce on-site. As well as providing customers with living produce that can be replanted and enjoyed fresh. “This is something never done or seen before in most of Africa,” Keith notes.
The mobile farm grows a variety of herbs and leafy greens in small cabinet structures outfitted with all of the hydroponic infrastructure required to grow and sustain healthy and nutritious vegetables. The start-up is eager to continue developing and improving its model, with plans to roll out more mobile farms to serve more businesses and communities in the coming year.
Produce grown in the display
Vitagrow’s mobile farm builds on its many innovations aimed at bringing hydroponics to the African context. “The Farm One is a testament to the possibilities available to low-income countries that wish to maximize productivity and minimize environmental damage using hydroponics and vertical farming,” Keith adds.
Vitagrow's efforts were recently recognized by Unicef and Hivos, who commissioned the start-up to develop a prototype under the Youth Food Action program, which aimed to improve the security and quality of the urban food system for youth.
Keith is no stranger to vertical production as he has several greenhouses where they grow multiple products
With their drive to contextualize hydroponics and vertical agriculture for Zimbabwe and Africa, Vitagrow has formed partnerships with premier organizations, including the Zimbabwe Fertiliser Company (ZFC), with the goal of filling the gap for locally produced hydroponic nutrients without the inflated price caused by importation logistics.
“This is just the beginning of delivering on Vitagrow Urban Farms' vision of bringing access to nutritious and affordable produce to the local communities within which we farm, with plans to expand our business across more cities and countries in the region over the next five years,” Keith confirms.