Print Edition - 2017-08-06  |  Free the Words

The rise of organic roofs

  • Tapping into the potential of rooftop farming as an alternative to pesticide contaminated vegetables
- Bhawana Upadhyay

Aug 6, 2017-Can we create a critical mass of rooftop organic vegetable farming in sprawling Kathmandu, thus reducing our reliance on pesticides laced vegetables? Urban planners and experts are of the view that we certainly can create green jobs for youth in the valley by promoting sustainable organic vegetable farming.

My curiosity on this subject incited me to talk to a few people who have been engaged rooftop organic vegetable and herb farming. Dilip Pokharel, a retired banker, has been growing seasonal vegetables in a 120sq ft area on his rooftop terrace for about a decade now. 

Pokharel uses mustard oil residue cakes and kitchen waste as compost, with Neem oil as the main pest control measure. He spends about 40-60 minutes daily, watering and tending to these plants. Each season, the total investment required is only around $60 and the associated benefits are unparalleled.

“I started organic vegetable farming after learning of the effects of pesticides like organophosphate metacid, which is mostly used in commercial vegetable farming in Nepal, on human health. I also read about fatal cases of organophosphate poisoning. These days, I save more than $500 annually by growing vegetables myself. But more than the monetary benefits, my family and I feel that we are lucky to have organic vegetables on a regular basis”, he said.   

It’s alarming to note that Nepal imports over 100 tonnes of various pesticides annually and the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control (DFTQC) detects higher numbers of residue of pesticides in vegetables than in other foods in all monitoring surveys. The Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) has a lot more to do in order to tap into the potential of promoting terrace organic vegetable farming as an alternative to pesticide contaminated vegetables.

Positive steps

Despite the government’s efforts towards discouraging overuse of pesticides, not much progress has been made so far. Recognising this, the KMC coordinated with relevant stakeholders and took the initiative to promote rooftop vegetable farming inside the valley. 

KMC, in collaboration with Clean Energy Nepal, selected some households from areas such as Sinamangal, Buddhanagar, Kalanki, Teku, etc. and provided orientation and training on growing vegetables, herbs, spices, flowers and fruits on rooftops and terraces. These households were also given training on vermicompost preparation, waste segregation, nursery management, rain-water harvesting, as well as plant pruning and protection measures.

Though KMC is keen to introduce and promote terrace farming, it is vital to promote cooperation with all concerned stakeholders. Talking to some officials at KMC, I learnt that Kathmandu alone has more than 14 hectares of cumulative rooftop area that can be utilised for growing vegetables.  A KMC official said, “So far, in the Valley, only people who are conscious of health and the environment have been interested in organic vegetable farming. A majority of the people are still lured by the easy access to vegetables offered by street vendors, others complain about water scarcity and availability of quality inputs. After the earthquake in April 2015, people have become wary of gardening on rooftops”. 

Rooftop gardening in Nepal has not gained momentum yet, as there is a lack of public awareness. Appropriate awareness campaigns at all levels are critical. Equally important is the need for a sustained coordinated effort among agencies, including not-for-profit organisations, academic institutions, the private sector and households. 

A study conducted by Nepal Forum for Environmental Journalism with support from RUAF Foundation and UN Habitat reports that even though the Ministry of Agriculture Development and KMC have supported rooftop gardening, there is no legal ground for urban farming in Nepal. So far, it has been done solely on the basis of people’s voluntary interest.

In early 2014, the KMC, in consultation with national urban policy experts and other relevant stakeholders, drafted a rooftop garden policy. However, sectorial support towards the implementation of the policy will be required to ensure its wider uptake.

Viable alternatives

Kathmandu Valley has been dependent on imported vegetables for a long time.  The effects of climate change have contributed to dwindling domestic production, resulting in limited supply of vegetables and an increase in prices. Therefore, it is high time for Kathmandu to adopt viable alternative measures like organic rooftop vegetable farming.  

Climate experts argue that cities are primary contributors of greenhouse gas emissions and poor urban dwellers are among the ones who will be the hardest hit by the effects of climate change in the days to come. Cities have an important role to play in climate change mitigation and adaptation, and in enhancing the climate resilience of their vulnerable residents. One of these roles could certainly be the promotion of rooftop herbs and vegetable farming, which contributes to increased diversification of food, better nutrition and cost saving for households. In addition, rooftop gardens may have positive impacts on reducing heating and emissions with associated ecological benefits. 

Urban planners and climate experts are seeking innovative solutions to the social and environmental challenges posed by rapid urbanisation. It’s vital to have policies that incorporate food and nutrition security considerations while building climate resilient cities. 

It is equally important to create awareness and interest about the benefits of pesticide free food and vegetables among producers and urban inhabitants. 

Upadhyay writes on contemporary social issues, natural resources management and sustainable development practices

Published: 06-08-2017 08:35

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