Friday, February 8, 2013

Roof Top Gardens for Climate Smart Cities

Last week I had an opportunity to participate and present a paper at the Regional Workshop on, ‘Strengthening Urban and Periurban Agriculture (UPA) towards Resilient Food Systems in Asia’ in Bangkok, Thailand. This workshop was jointly organized by FAO Regional Office for Asia and Pacific and PN Agricultural Science Foundation, Bangalore. Ten countries in the region participated in the workshop sharing their experiences and approach towards UPA.

Urbanization is happening at a much faster rate than expected and is of a great concern world over. The global population reached the seven billion mark in 2011. After the six billion mark it just took 12 years to reach seven billion. The shortest time ever to add one extra billion signals a major shift in both the pace and scale of global demographics. During early 1800 about three per cent of the world’s population lived in cities. However, in 2011 there were 480 cities with populations exceeding one million as compared to just 80 in 1950. More than three billion people currently reside in urban areas and this figure is expected to rise to five billion by 2050. Global population growth is overwhelmingly concentrated in marginal urban and surrounding periphery of cities, especially in slums. This geographical shift has tremendous implications for the current and future dynamics of human development.

With more than half the world’s population now living in urban areas, there is a growing interest in urbanization processes and the role of cities in sustainable development. The current trends of urbanization are reflections of the transformations that are being seen in the national economies where farming community are moving away from agriculture to industry and service sectors.

It is expected that by 2020 the developing countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America will be home to some 75% of all urban dwellers which would comprise of 85% of the poor in Latin America, and about 40-45% of the poor in Africa and Asia will be concentrated in towns and cities. Most cities in developing countries have great difficulties to cope with the urban population expansion which is often accompanied by poverty, food insecurity, malnutrition and unemployment. Such rapid urbanization and the harsh reality of urban poverty require sound strategies to ensure adequate food supply and distribution systems to address escalating levels of urban food insecurity and food safety. Urban and Periurban agriculture (UPA) provides a complementary strategy to reduce urban poverty, food insecurity and enhance urban environmental management if it is planned and designed appropriately.

Urban and Periurban agriculture (UPA)
Urban and Periurban agriculture is much more than growing crops and raising animals within and around cities complementing rural agricultural systems in the production and supply of local food. In addition to food production, UPA provides a series of environmental services like clean air, carbon sequestration, reduction of green house gases, enhances biodiversity and many more. Also UPA supports related economic activities such as the production and delivery of inputs, processing and marketing of products and serves as an important ecological activity for income generation to supplement the revenues of urban and periurban families and therefore constitutes an integral component of urban socio‐economic paradigm. One of the approaches for UPA is utilization of the roof top space for gardening. Some studies estimate the roof tops comprise of about 30 – 40% % of the urban area which remains unutilized to a large extent. Roof tops provide a great scope in cultivating crops whereby the domestic biodegradable wastes and water can be recycled. The wastes can be transformed into resources (i.e compost) which can not only capture carbon but also provide manure for the plants to keep the city green and clean.

Roof top garden in Bangkok
Laksi District Office
Mr. Narong Jungchamfa, Director of Laksi District Office
During the workshop we had an opportunity to visit Laksi district which is about one hour drive from Bangkok to view the roof top garden project of the district administration. It was a beautiful model for the city dwellers to emulate. The technology used is very simple and appropriate to the city context.  On the top of the seventh floor of the Laksi district office complex the open area of about 4,000 square metres was used for developing roof top garden. The initial investment to establish this garden was a mere 1000 Bhat (about 35 USD) says the Director of the Laksi District Office Mr. Narong Jungchamfa who takes special interest and pride in promoting the roof-top garden project. Under his leadership this project has won many accolades from various international and national organizations. About 100 different species of vegetables are cultivated in the open space which otherwise was not utilized.
Rooftop Garden

Ms. Mam (left) with Ms. Wilailak sharing her experiences
The most interesting aspect was that the wastes were used as resources for the preparations of a variety of formulations adopting organic farming practices. Shrimp wastes, soya meal, vinegar, yeast, coir pith and many other available materials are fermented and used for making growth promoters and bio-pesticides. The garden is maintained by Ms. Mam from the Laksi district office who shares her experience with exuberance and enthusiasm with the visitors. All the garden operations from sowing the seeds in the nursery, transplanting, nurturing the plants, plant protection to marketing are being handled by Ms. Mam. She cultivates a variety of leafy vegetables and fruits on the roof top.

Rooftop garden
Every house generates lot of biodegradable wastes which to a large extent are disposed off adding to the existing garbage problem. If every household attempts to utilize the biodegradable wastes alone, the problem of waste management can be solved to a large extent. Roof tops may not be accessible for every city dweller; instead large pots can be utilized for cultivating vegetables on the balcony. Wherever rooftops are available don’t let the open space go waste use them for growing plants which in a modest way can contribute towards reducing the impacts of climate change.