In India, agriculture employs around 50% of the working population and contributes to approximately 13% of the GDP. These figures are continuously declining over the last two decades. The younger generation wants to work in a town or a city as job opportunities are abundant as compared to rural areas and dependability of agriculture over climatic factors still plays an important role in the production and the farmers’ income. Add to this poor public distribution system and red tape involved with it, the price that an end customer pays for agricultural produce has shown a steeply rising trend. The concept of urban farming can bring about a welcome change in the overall scenario.
Where to do?
Agricultural activity happens mostly in rural areas while the concept of urban farming brings the agricultural activity to industrialized cities and towns. This is being done by converting gardens, parks and empty land portions around the houses and buildings into small farmlands. In metros like Mumbai, the government can provide large dumping grounds close to home to housing societies by regularising waste management. Those grounds can be covered by a layer of fertile soil for growing vegetables. Biodegradable waste can be used as manure over these small farm lands. The vegetation thus grown will be organic and much easily transported to the end customers than the traditional ways.
Many small companies are involved in this business and making the concept of a community garden and rooftop farms more widespread. Taking an example of Singapore, a small country, having less of cultivable land and depends mostly on imports for its vegetable and fruits needs. With urban farming, people and businesses have started to grow leafy vegetables in community gardens available to houses, schools and offices. These farms are not flower gardens, instead, the gardener plants vegetables like cabbage, spinach, coriander, curry leaves, etc. Other places which are getting converted into small farms are unused parking lots, rooftops and even artificially made vertically stacked beds. Singapore has more than 1,000 community gardens now and over 80% housing estates have community gardens growing vegetables.
The acceptance level for such organically grown vegetables is obviously quite high among the customers and they are ready to pay a premium for its freshness that is hard to get in traditionally grown vegetables thus making this a viable business. In India, there are several start-ups involved in urban agriculture like Squarefoot Farmers in Bangalore, iKheti in Mumbai and Edible Routes in Delhi. They motivate and help their clients to grow their own food in small spaces like balconies and rooftops.
There are a few issues with urban farming. The foremost being the quality of the soil that is used for farming. In cities, the soil can be polluted with heavy metals due to pollutants from vehicles and industrial chemicals. This can be overcome by laying a fresh bed of soil over the land before using it for farming.
Growing food that we consume will help us during times of crises when prices steeply rise due to bad agriculture produce which is our primary source. By cultivating our food we are not just sourcing the freshest and organic vegetables but connecting our soul with the farm and farmers-the oldest way of livelihood.