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The eminence of urban farming

india Updated: Jul 06, 2007 23:03 IST
Syed Amir Alihashmi
Syed Amir Alihashmi
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

As construction consortiums overpower the landscape of the city, urban farming or urban landscape management is emerging as a viable and practical tool to maintain the ecological balance of the expanse.

According to estimates from the Ministry of Urban Development, out of the total population of 1027 million on March 1, 2001, about 742 million live in rural areas and 285 million live in urban areas.

For these millions in urban areas, urban farming is an easy and do-it-yourself method that brings in the benefits of nature into their lives.

Urban farming is different from kitchen gardening, though, the essential premise remains the same of using greens for greater benefits. A classic case in context is Havana, Cuba.

According to cityfarmer.org, the most extensive online source on urban agriculture, this Caribbean island has what is believed to be the most extensive urban agriculture programme in Latin America, with more than 2,730 government-operated gardens.

In Delhi, along the banks of the Yamuna, vegetables have been grown and sold for a long time. However, with technological advancements, urban agriculture too has to be understood in the context independent of its archaic connotations.

According to Padam Parkash Bhojvaid, Senior Fellow at Tata Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), urban agriculture is about landscape management and ‘greening’ a space.

All across the world, practices in vegetation are being cleverly used. In the Middle East, for instance, vegetative belts are used to prevent the movement of sand and sand dunes across cities.

Near the border of Rajasthan, huge shelter-belts have been created with vegetation, in order to stop sand flowing from Rajasthan into Delhi.

In fact, the dividers across Mathura Road in Delhi have been created out of the species called Nerium or Kanner, which grows perfectly well despite the exhaust fumes generated by automobiles, mitigates noise and cuts out the glare.

According to Professor VK Jain, Dean of the School of Environment Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), “I have not seen the concept of urban farming in India or Delhi per se, but large vegetation belts do have benefits. A research done by us proves that shrubs/hedges/vegetation, help in mitigating noise pollution. Depending on the size of the hedge and other factors, a reduction in noise to the order of five-six decibels has been noticed.”

According to Bhojvaid, the best example at hand of such a practice is the Medicinal Plant Garden at the President’s residence.

Medicinal herbs, beneficial to one and all, have been cultivated in approximately 600 acres of land. With India being home to 14 different kinds of agro-climatic zones, urban agriculture has huge potential for us.

On the same lines, TERI has launched a unique initiative called Home Herbal Gardens, to improve urban health solutions.

Under the initiative, TERI has contacted 200 Residential Welfare Associations (RWAs) across Delhi to grow herbal home gardens, within their apartment complexes. By distributing a wide variety of medicinal and aromatic herbs, TERI aims to create an awareness about the strength of plants.

Efforts, duly in place will also ensure a steady stock of useful plants for the residents. Being executed in collaboration with the National Medicinal Plants Board, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India and Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions, Bangalore, the initiative is a winning case in cosmopolitan urban farming.

At a recent conference in the city, the Doors of Perception 9, Debra Solomon, a green entrepreneur from Amsterdam and author of culiblog.org, advocated the potential that lies within urban greenery to inflict climatic change.

Green manures like alfalfa, methi and spinach have great restorative powers. In fact, spinach is a proven phyto-remediator, a rectifier that can restore degraded soils in urban landscapes.

According to Bhojvaid, “If corporates and the government decide to participate with a healthy attitude, then, we can go a long way in making Delhi the kind of Utopian expanse that one always dreams about.”

According to estimates by Bhojvaid, the cost incurred to prepare a miniature farm within their small apartment premises would be a mere Rs 40 over three years (subject to certain conditions).

With repercussions of an unhealthy ecology staring us in the face, it is time that Delhites take responsive measures towards rectifying the situation.

Whether it means planting gardens or protecting the soil, the end result will be a cosmopolitan space with a rural ambience.