Aug 21, 2020
During this lockdown, one thing that was made abundantly clear is that global pandemics wreak havoc on supply chains. One of the most critical supply chains that exist in urban India is that of food. Most people experienced variations in price, and availability of various fruits and vegetables during the lockdown period. Strict restrictions placed on transportation along with the sudden disappearance of local food markets and street hawkers led to changes in normal food supply chains. In addition, with commercial activities being suspended many daily wage workers lost their incomes, making access to food increasingly difficult for the urban poor.
Urban farming can help residents of the city navigate shocks in the food system while simultaneously offering various health and environmental benefits. It can help reduce internal temperatures and the urban heat island effect, increase biodiversity, and yield chemical-free, super fresh and nutritious produce. By reducing food miles, it helps to reduce emissions from fuel. As a matter of fact some residents have been catering to all their fresh vegetable needs through their own terrace farms.
Mr.M N Nataraj, the vice president of Banashankari 6th stage resident welfare association, has been planting trees, vegetables and rearing stingless bees in his home ever since he retired in 2008. He is an active member of the “BSK 6” gardening group which brings residents together through their collective love for gardening. Mr. Nataraj grows a variety of plants in his home, including local greens, fruit trees, medicinal plants and a few flowering plants to encourage biodiversity. He says that his hobby has proved to be a real lifesaver during the crises.
“Our roof grown produce really came in handy during this lockdown period. All our fresh vegetable needs were catered to, complemented by staples that were kept at home, we stayed safe and did not need to leave our home during this time. I also got my daily dose of fresh air and exercise by tending to plants on the terrace.“
When asked how he felt about surviving off his produce during the lockdown he responded by saying
“Lockdown or no lockdown, nature seems to correct us. Bees and earthworms have been instrumental to maintaining a healthy garden and so it is my passion to protect and promote them in the interest of mankind. All the fertilizer used in my garden is made from kitchen waste through vermicomposting, and all the water used for gardening is got through rainwater harvesting or from reusing the RO discharge water. It doesn’t take a lot of money to start becoming self sufficient, just a little dedication and ingenuity! For example, to reuse the RO discharge water we connected a levelling tube, for Rs.50, to a bucket. When the bucket fills up it overflows onto the ground where is naturally finds its way to a nearby plant bed”
It is highly recommended that you use either treated recycled greywater or RO discharge water in any of the above spaces, to avoid straining an already stressed government water supply system. Additionally, maintaining a composting system can make good use of your kitchen waste. With minimal effort it can yield very good nutritional content of your plants.
If setting up a farm/edible garden on your own seems too daunting a task, perhaps you can have one of the several new innovative farming companies help you get started.
Wolly.io is an award-winning startup, has a unique model where it sets up hydroponic farms in privately owned idle spaces such as terraces and unused grounds, converting them into woolly-enabled food production centers. As explained by Bushair A. P., the company’s Co-founder & CEO,
“In the residential context, the homeowner pays for the initial set up, post which Woolly facilitates a collaboration between the homeowners and woolly-enabled urban farmers to oversee the maintenance of their farm for a period of 10 years. This way the homeowner gets to enjoy the benefits such as reduced internal temperatures and reduced benzene emissions as well as freshly harvested vegetables. In return for this service, Woolly takes about half the farms produce and sells it to its consumers.”
When asked whether the company has seen growth in its customer base during the lockdowns this is what he had to say
“Woolly has seen over a 1000 new consumers in the first 21 days of the lockdown. Normally we spend a lot of time on educating people about the benefits of urban farming. However, in light of the lockdowns people have educated themselves and they are approaching us due to need. What we find especially interesting is that we have seen a large increase in interest for installation of rooftop farms since people want to become more self-sufficient and resilient to shocks. This makes us believe that there will be a sustained interest in urban farming continuing well beyond the lockdowns."
Growing produce locally has not been limited to residential spaces alone. When done at scale it can feed multiple people and help to generate and sustain employment.
Madhavi Farms is a 20-acre organic estate located in Bannerghatta, Bangalore. Once a barren plot of land, it is now a thriving, biodiverse, ecosystem with thousands of native plants and trees, grain fields, plantations and fruit orchards. It also houses India’s first commercial aquaponic farm. The farm also hosts a dairy facility for the protection and proliferation of Indigenous zebu cattle breeds. According to Rohan Menon, the CEO of Madhavi Farms:
“We have seen twice as much demand for fresh greens and vegetables during the lockdown period. Our mission has been to make the oldest supply chain in the world a cleaner one, one vegetable at a time. When that supply chain was broken by the lockdowns we have seen sales in our produce rise. On our farm we harness the power of the sun and make every single drop of water count. There is a lake adjoining our property which we have taken on lease from the lake authority which supplies the bulk of our water for farming. We clean and use this water and also release the fish from our aquaponic units back into the lake when they are too large for the tanks. The remaining water is drawn from wells and the corporation water supply. Around 75 people are employed in our farm, out of which 75% are women. We see a large number of repeat customers as the city's residents are happy with our produce."
If you're interested in getting a farm started on your own rooftop or balcony, find the list of companies who can help you below.