Gcwalisa food hub

Improving food and energy access in low-income communities

Image supplied by Gcwalisa
Energy: Solar power
Food: Retail

Miles Kubheka is a food entrepreneur and founder of Wakanda Food Accelerator. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, he pivoted his business model to address pressing community needs, launching Gcwalisa: a weigh-and-pay food retail model aimed at democratizing access to nutritious food in low-income communities. He also seized the opportunity presented by South Africa's regular power outages to extend Gcwalisa's services to include energy provision, demonstrating his commitment to addressing societal challenges with creative solutions.


In Alexandra, Johannesburg, Gcwalisa food dispensaries tackle the dual challenges of food access and packaging waste in informal areas by selling essential household food items via conveniently located upcycled shipping containers. A "weight and pay" model allows low-income communities to align purchases with budgets and reduce single-use packaging by bringing their own refillable containers. Additionally, the dispensaries provide affordable backup electricity during power outages at R5 per hour for lights and R10 per hour for plug points, reducing disruptions to essential activities.

Social Impact

Low-income communities living on the urban edge often face challenges in accessing retailers of healthy foods, and transporting and storing food without cars or refrigerators. With smaller household budgets they often have to buy smaller quantities of food at a time, facing mark-ups of 30-50% for the extra packaging required per unit of product. By selling food by weight, customers with limited means can access basic items like sugar, rice, and flour at lower unit prices, improving their access to food. By encouraging shoppers to bring their own re-usable containers, volumes of packaging waste are reduced, reducing the burden of waste management and collection as well as the amount of litter in the surrounding area. Additionally, solar panels on the food dispensary roof provide electricity for essential services like lighting and security during power outages.

Environmental Impact

The food dispensary reduces environmental impacts by promoting by minimizing single-use plastic packaging. Customers are offered biodegradable packaging if they don't bring their own. Unlike large-scale retailers that only sell in specific package sizes and encourage purchasing more than is needed through special offers, selling food by weight reduces food waste by allowing customers to purchase only what they need. Additionally, using upcycled shipping containers to house the food dispensaries minimizes their environmental footprint and enables swift placement in areas of need. The use of solar PV instead of diesel generators for electricity further reduces their environmental impact.

Success Factors

The initiative's success can be attributed to a combination of factors, including strategic partnerships with Wakanda Food Accelerator, which provides a GROW and SCALE platform for food start-ups. Partnerships with Unilever, Pepsico and other major food manufacturers have allowed Gcwalisa to purchase goods at a reduced cost, making staple foods more affordable for the community. In terms of electricity provision, the self-governed system of power sharing has enabled efficient use of solar-generated electricity to meet basic needs in the community.

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UN Sustainable Development Goal(s)

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A female technician from DC-GO working on a solar-powered unit
Image courtesy of DC Go.