By Bharat Mansatta
City dwellers are ecological parasites, consuming more that 75 per cent of the world’s resources. redress the balance through cultivating city gardens!
|Farming in the City|
For the first time in history, the human population – predominantly rural until now, has crossed the halfway mark to urbanisation. Today, over 50 per cent of all people live in towns and cities. These occupy less than two per cent of the earth’s surface, but use more than 75 per cent of its resources.
The urban per capita resource consumption is thus thrice that of rural areas. Given the present alarming rate of resource depletion and degradation, such a high ‘ecological footprint’ is plainly unsustainable. City dwellers are unwitting ecological parasites, eroding the very life support on which we vitally depend.
One way out is to encourage the trend of organic city farming, which is already on the rise.
By the end of the last millennium, 14 per cent of the world’s food was reported to be grown in urban areas. Most outstanding has been the performance of Cuban cities, particularly Havana. In 2006, Cuba’s urban (organic) food yield crossed three million tons! Other global success stories include Hanoi and Shanghai. In densely populated Hong Kong, 45 per cent of local vegetable needs were met through intensive cultivation on six per cent of the land.
Havana’s comprehensive strategy for urban agriculture is being replicated in several cities worldwide. In the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the tightening of the US embargo, urban gardens began to sprout as a spontaneous response to severe food scarcity. The government responded by providing land access and services. In 1994, the world’s first Urban Agriculture Department opened in Havana, undertaking field research and training in organic food gardening. The city’s bylaws were amended to permit only organic methods.
Hundreds of neighbourhood horticultural clubs shared information, ideas, and experiences. ‘Seed Houses’ opened all over the city – to sell seeds, gardening tools, compost, bio-fertilisers, botanical pesticides, etc. at reasonable rates; and to serve as guidance/networking centres. Farmers’ markets and new marketing schemes were created. The deregulation of food prices enhanced profitability and incentive to increase yields. By 2003, urban agriculture provided 60 per cent of the vegetables consumed by Cuban city dwellers. The planting of several million trees (including fruit and nut trees) in and around Havana increased groundwater recharge, improving the water security and water quality of the Cuban citizens.
In India, Pune leads in city farming. Lata Shrikhande, a pioneer, began in the 1980s. She and her friends organised their neighbourhood to separate ‘wet’ (organic) wastes from ‘dry’ (non-biodegradable) wastes, and locally compost/vermicompost the former. Terrace vegetable gardens were initiated. These proved productive, motivating other families to follow suit. Presently, several thousand families compost their organic wastes and grow organic vegetables and fruit. The Pune Municipal Corporation is acquiring a three-acre plot at Salisbury Park – for urban agriculture by interested citizens, to whom it will provide land, seeds, and water free of cost. It is proposed to extend the programme to other city areas as well.
Within Mumbai, the late Dr Ramesh Doshi began over three decades ago. His highly productive terrace garden, growing a wide range of organic foods, featured in numerous press and TV reports. Presently notable is the organic terrace garden atop the staff canteen at Mumbai Port Trust, tended by Preeti Patil and her colleagues. Ms Patil is also the moderator of firstname.lastname@example.org which has many active members. Maharashtra’s city farming movement owes much to the late Prof S Dabholkar, who inspired, networked, and guided many enthusiasts.
In West Bengal, the East Kolkata wetlands offer the most striking example of traditional urban agriculture and nutrient recycling, employing 60,000 people; and yielding 150 tonnes of vegetables every day, and 15,000 tonnes of paddy every year!
City farming is growing worldwide. It is here to stay, or city dwellers are not!
Bharat Mansata is a writer, editor and environmental activist, involved in natural regeneration and organic farming.
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