Promotion of urban farming amidst COVID-19

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Dr Banarsi Lal & Dr Vikas Tandon

Urban farming is a practice of cultivating, processing and distributing of food in and around the urban areas. It involves small scale agricultural operations. It is not a new concept. As human population progressed, agriculture was confined in the rural areas while urban population engaged itself in the trading activities. Natural disasters and acts of man such as war encouraged urban population to explore for urban farming due to disruption of food supply chain from the rural areas. This was happened in World War I and World War II when the city dwellers were encouraged to grow food in their open spaces and reduced pressure on rural population. COVID-19 outbreak was initiated in December 2019 and its consequent spread across the global has pushed entire world in to serious crisis. Presently, when entire world is under threat due to COVID-19 pandemic urban farming can ensure food security to urban dwellers. It can cut down carbon emission by saving the fuel which otherwise is used in the transportation of food items from rural to urban areas. Urban agriculture can reduce the poverty and health issues in the urban areas. According to the United Nations, by 2050 more than two-third of population will live in the cities. Urban farming can play a significant role in providing food to this population. In recent decades urbanization has increased rapidly and this has caused malnutrition in urban areas. There is dire need to pay attention on the food security especially for the urban dwellers. In urban areas there is pressure on the land due to population, construction of buildings, roads etc. But still there remains enough area where the fruits and vegetables can be grown. Moreover, people can grow fruits and vegetables on their roofs. In Singapore, 90 per cent of the food is imported and vertical and now-a-days roof top gardening has become very popular. During COVID-19 outbreak, there is need to grow the vegetables and fruits in the urban areas so that nutritional problems of people can be mitigated. Roof top vegetables gardens provide the fresh organic vegetables. They also ensure a better living environment with cooler indoor temperature and fresh oxygen.
Covid-19 pandemic has become a global crisis and it has effected almost every area of our lives. It is impacting the global food systems and disrupting the agricultural value chains. It is posing risks to the food security across the globe. The outbreak has heightened the awareness of food safety for the producers, consumers, businessmen and governments. Cities are dense in population and presently many cities have become the hotspots of corona virus pandemic. If we have to control the coronavirus then restrictions on public movements are necessary. The restrictive movements affect the central nerve system of cities. The cities depend on the surrounding villages. This dependency puts the cities under threat. Such situation also arises due to some other factors like extreme natural calamities. Rural-urban disturbances affects the food supply chain. During lockdowns the traffic is banned except for essential services. The mainstream food supply chain is disturbed. Even before coronavirus many urban areas were at risk due to climate change and related anomalies. There is need to promote the urban agriculture under the restrictive rural-urban movement. This can significantly contribute to the food supply to the urban dwellers. Studies show that urban agriculture has the potential to produce huge amount of organic vegetables for the city dwellers. During COVID-19 pandemic urban areas can contribute immensely to provide the fresh and safe vegetables to the city people. During 2014, Ebola break urban agriculture was promoted in some countries.
Coronavirus lockdowns are pushing many city dwellers to grow fruit and vegetables in their respective homes. It is boosting urban farming. Sometimes people afraid to purchase fruits and vegetables. They want to know about the details of sellers, producers and transporters. They feel problems to purchase the vegetables and fruit shops during the lockdowns. By the urban agriculture, the unused land in the urban areas can be used effectively. Urban farming can improve the food security and nutrition for the urban dwellers. It lowers climate change impacts and also lowers stress. Now-a-days to purchase the fresh organic vegetables has become difficult. We find the overriped tomatoes and droopy spinach whenever we go to the vegetables shops. At this time when the people are inside their homes, they can start the roof top vegetables gardening. During the lockdown period many urban dwellers are enquiring about the scientific method for the cultivation of roof vegetables. They are showing keen interest in roof top vegetables gardening. At this difficult time one can build the hobby and can engage oneself in the roof top vegetables gardening. The first step is to prepare the soil. One can use compost and vermicompost to prepare the fertile soil for the roof top vegetables garden. The soil is filled in pots or grow bags to sow seeds or seedlings of vegetables. After sowing the seeds the pots are covered with the plants leaves. The leaves act as the mulching material and help in conserving the moisture in the soil. Avoid over watering to the plants as it can rotten the seeds or seedlings. It is very easy to control the insect-pests and diseases in the roof top kitchen gardens. We can use organic inputs such as Neem oil, Neem cake, fermented butter milk, cow urine, panchgavya etc. in the roof top kitchen garden. Local food can be protected through roof top vegetables gardening. Moreover, they can establish hydroponics units at their roofs to grow the fresh organic vegetables.
Restrictions on population movement because of COVID-19 pandemic affects the agricultural sector. COVID-19 pandemic has raised the importance of local food production. It is very challenging to ensure the food security during COVID-19 times. There is need to speed up the urban vegetables production during the COVID-19 times so that fresh nutritious vegetables can be provided to the urban people. This can help to boost the immune system of the people. There is need of proper policy for urban agriculture so that it can be done in a scientific and systematic way. There should be proper management for the wastewater collection and its treatment in the urban areas. Presently we are fighting with COVID-19 and we should prepare for the tomorrow. At this critical time, urban agriculture can be promoted not only to produce the fresh organic fruits and vegetables but also to utilize the vacant spaces in urban areas. Urban agriculture can build resilient urban food systems at city-region level. It can tackle food shortage and malnutrition among the urban dwellers at this critical time.
(The writers are Head, KVK Reasi and Professor SKUAST-J).