Can rooftop farming be promoted as a way of urban agriculture?

No matter how advanced a country gets, the importance of agriculture can never be substituted. It is a necessity for our food source as well as for the upkeep of the environment. The expectation of sustained survival without agriculture is zero.

In today’s age of urbanisation, the maximum amount of land is plotted to convert into a residential area. The division leaves little to no space for agricultural activities.In the thick of this problem, the urban home owners have devised a new way to continue agriculture in the form of rooftop farming. 

Has rooftop farming been effective in its benefits? Does it keep the capacity of replacing land agriculture in urban areas made congested with countless buildings? How can this alternative be supported by the government? What are its impacts on the environment and building structures?

Concept

Rooftop farming, known as ‘kaushi kheti’ in Nepali, is an activity of growing food crops on the terrace of homes and similar building structures. Various techniques like Aeroponic, Hydroponic and traditional methods are employed to farm crops on the rooftop. 

This trend is usually found in city areas where there is a lack of cultivable soil or land. In Nepali households, drums, crates, food packaging, plastic jars and pots are usually found to follow the traditional farming on the rooftop.

Planting on the rooftops is not a brand new idea per se. The recorded history may be traced back to the civilization of Mesopotamian city states. In fact, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon can also be cited as an example of ancient rooftop farming. Several other places and traditions have followed suit after that.

‘Kaushi Kheti’ started gaining popularity in Nepal only after 2013 AD. 

Benefits

Rooftop farming has multiple benefits that can be listed out in following points:

  • Modification of microclimate to revert climate change.
  • Reduction in ecological problems (air pollution, waste generation, reckless use of resources) by addressing climate change hazards.
  • Creation of metropolitan food system.
  • Solution to food scarcity and inflation in agricultural products.
  • Utilisation of rooftops.
  • Learning of skills to create self-reliance.
  • Promotion of good health through consumption of organic home-grown crops.
  • Opportunity for self-employment and utilisation of leisure.
  • Environmental sustainability.
  • Alternative to the ruined fertile soil and ample amount of agricultural land in the city because of urbanisation.
  • Encouragement to family time

Impediments

The points that follow shed light on the challenges to rooftop farming in Nepal:

  • Building structures in city areas are not all suitable enough in terms of load bearing capacity of their roofs.
  • Heavy load on rooftops causing seepages.
  • Lack of public awareness about rooftop farming and its potential..
  • Undersupply of season-based quality seeds and saplings.
  • Inconsistent and uncoordinated efforts from government agencies and non-profit organisations.
  • Absence of sufficient orientation and training on plant varieties, waste segregation, rainwater harvesting, nursery management, plant pruning and protective measures.
  • Lack of innovative techniques to combat the existing problems.
  • Busy work schedule of urban home-owning population.

Despite the challenges facing rooftop farms in urban areas, they are not without solutions if efforts from government, non-government and private sectors are integrated.

Foreign Practices

Rooftop farming is reaching new heights in the application of newer, more efficient techniques:

  • Singapore: Inorganic hydroponics are considered more suitable for they are lightweight, have higher yield and require less labour.
  • Hong Kong: Fibre glass containers and raised beds are used as rooftop setups.
  • Bologna: Fruits and vegetables are grown in plastic pipes, recycled pallets and polystyrene panels floating in tanks.
  • Montreal: Sustainable hydroponic methods are applied by lufa farmers.

Similar progressive practices for organic rooftop farming may be seen in Brooklyn Navy Yard, Gymnase Vignoles of France and Taiwan.

Regulation in Nepal

In the year 2013, when rooftop farming started making waves inside the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal, Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) gave training on rooftop farming to 150 households under the integrated course of solid waste management, wastewater management, and rooftop vegetable gardening. The KMC had worked in cooperation with ‘Resources Centres on Urban Agriculture and Food Security (RUAF) Foundation’, ‘UN-Habitat’ and ‘Environment and Public Health Organisation (ENPHO)’ for this project.

KMC had drafted a Rooftop Garden Policy in 2014 consulting with the National Urban Policy Experts but implementation remains hinged till date due to lack of sectoral support.

Other than this, initiatives can barely be found. It is the complaints from the public that at the local levels, administration is not helpful enough for providing required material and vocational resources to them.There are no proper rules or dedicated authority to administer the sector.

This loophole can be filled if suitable legislation comprising the elemental necessities for rooftop farming, roof-assessment criteria, rules to be followed by rooftop owners and provisions of resources is drafted. 

Conclusion

We can safely conclude that farming on the rooftops has increased healthy consumption and savings in many households. The people not having their own homes or whose houses are not in a fit state to farm on their rooftops can easily resort to the market availability which will ensure sustenance of the vegetable vendors as well.

Considering all the benefits of rooftop farming and its potential to become a really good tool in promoting self-sufficiency, it would be great to observe it wherever possible. However, the risk criteria in carrying out rooftop farming must be adequately assessed beforehand. The local governments have a responsibility to include it in their agendas to lend hands to the households in building their resourcefulness for rooftop farming.

Having said all that, rooftop farming should have a limit and it should not grow to replace agriculture on land. It is to be taken as only an alternative in situations where land-farming is not possible but where the environment still needs to be aided.

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