The United Nations (UN) agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), is widely believed to be associated with country-specific agriculture involving the production of grains and staple foods. Far from it, its range and reach extends even to urban gardening, including the rooftop category. The latest news, not covered by major newspapers published in the capital, is that FAO will fund an urban gardening program in the areas of Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) and Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC), Narayanganj and Gazipur city corporations . Proshika Manobik Unnayan Kendra will be in charge of technical and logistical support for the development of no less than 5,000 urban gardens in these four municipal areas.
Previously, FAO had provided similar support for rooftop gardening in the capital. This time, the gardening or urban agriculture program should be extended and cover both urban and peri-urban spaces available for growing complementary foods to reduce reliance on vegetables and fruits especially from the kitchen market. .
Many people are likely to reject the idea of producing a substantial amount of these foods in a crowded city like Dhaka. This is because the concept of gardening for them is not at all clear and, therefore, ridiculous. But urban agriculture is not a figment of the imagination, it is real and can adequately sync with the Prime Minister’s emphasis on using all available space to produce food to to ensure the country’s food self-sufficiency or food security.
The broad concept of urban gardening encompasses not only the practice of growing leafy and other vegetables and fruits, but also animal husbandry, aquaculture, agroforestry, urban beekeeping and horticulture. A few young entrepreneurs have now successfully developed cattle and dairy farms in peri-urban areas. Similarly, the development of vegetable farms and urban orchards is quite possible on fallow land in these areas. These farms certainly have an advantage over their counterparts in remote districts in processing and distributing food in and around urban areas.
Admittedly, in Dhaka city, proper community gardens may seem anathema, but in peri-urban areas such as Keraniganj as well as Narayanganj and Gazupur, such projects are more than achievable. The definition of urban agriculture also includes aquaponics or hydroponics programs that can easily be practiced in the back yard or on portions of front lawns of private residences.
In addition to providing organic native vegetables and fruits, such arrangements can help maintain a natural cooling system in the surrounding areas. If the majority of the inhabitants opt for this type of gardening or horticulture, the temperature in the locality will remain much lower by a few degrees, allowing them to use their air conditioner sparingly. It does not exclude indoor greenhouses, balconies and patios. Thus, those who reject the idea can review their conceptual limits.
As for livestock, raising chickens, if not running poultry farms, in urban residences is not uncommon. Aquaculture is an almost unprecedented urban practice, but the few lakes have long been used for this purpose. This program can be implemented in the few remaining water bodies of the capital. But Gazipur is an ideal place for this.
Already, the super-rich and wealthy have built sorts of personal holiday resorts in Gazipur, where the sprawling landholding is used for a kind of organic farming. For ordinary citizens, this is unimaginable. It is precisely at this stage that the initiative taken by FAO and Proshika can prove most useful for the poor.
The official launch of the project titled “Promoting Urban Gardening by the Urban Poor in Four Cities” at a ceremony held in Khamar Bari, Farmgate last Tuesday may prove to be a game-changer in the availability of additional food but highly nutritious and safe for ordinary city dwellers. Proshika will train 250 trainers from the impoverished community, who in turn will train and support 5,000 targeted beneficiaries to develop urban gardens. Elected officials and members of local communities will be involved in the whole process.
About the merit of the project, there is practically no doubt, but how it will be executed will decide the prospect of such an amazing initiative. The local urban economy varies by light years, with slums faring worse than villages in terms of poverty, health and hygiene indices. The urban gardening program has the potential to improve this condition to a great extent.
Besides physical activities such as digging, shoveling and watering that burn calories, there is an emotional aspect associated with gardening. Along with reducing the carbon footprint, the bonding element that develops between plants and humans is known as “horticultural therapy”. The plant-human bond or relationship developed in the process is unique with a calming effect on those involved in this semi-amateur and recreational occupation.
The city of Dhaka cannot expect to have anything similar to the forests of Bangalore, but it can certainly see its green covers improved many times over if urban gardening is brought to a desirable level and boulevards are developed for the complete. The 10 degrees Celsius higher temperature in the city compared to the countryside, as revealed by a recent study, certainly demands such initiatives if Dhaka is to maintain its quality of life.