Urban farming & food security

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Dr Banarsi Lal

Presently COVID-19 pandemic is the major concern for the people across the globe. This outbreak was initiated in December 2019 and its consequent spread across the global level has pushed the entire world in to the serious crisis. The subsequent lockdowns imposed due to COVID-19 have affected the agricultural sector and has caused the unprecedented disruption in the food supply chain from rural areas to urban areas. Lockdowns have affected the daily requirements of food for the urban population. Urban farming is the practice of cultivating, processing and distributing of food in and around the urban areas. It involves small scale agricultural operations by which the need based edible commodities can be produced. 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 the urban farming due to the 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 the food in their open spaces and reduced pressure on rural population. In recent times, former US First Lady, Michelle Obama promoted the concept of kitchen garden. This garden has been located in the premises of White House. It was having a beehive and 55 varieties of fruits and vegetables. Presently when the whole world is under threat due to COVID-19 urban farming can ensure food security to the urban dwellers. It can cut down the 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 United Nations, by 2050 more than two-third of population will be living in cities. Urban farming can play a significant role in proving the 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, industrialization, 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 the 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 issue. 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 in the world. If we have to control the Coronavirus then restrictions on public movements are necessary. The restrictive movements have affected 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 have affected the food supply chain. During lockdowns the traffic is affected except for essential services. The mainstream food supply chain has been 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. Now people are getting increasingly conscious about where their food comes from, how it is grown organically and how responsibly it is transported.
Coronavirus is pushing many city dwellers to grow fruits and vegetables in their respective homes. It is boosting urban farming. Sometimes people afraid to purchase fruits and vegetables because of pandemic. People feel problems to come to the vegetables and fruit shops during the lockdown periods. 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 get the fresh organic vegetables has become difficult. Sometimes we get the over-riped tomatoes and droopy spinach whenever we go to the vegetables shops. Now 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 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 the pots or grows bags to sow the 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, vermicompost etc in the roof top kitchen gardens. Local food can be protected through roof top vegetables gardening. Urban farming emerges as an alternative strategy for households to secure their food at the same level before COVID-19 pandemic. This 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. 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 time, urban population should not only consume the food but they should also produce for themselves in their limited spaces.
(The author is Scientist & Head, KVK Reasi SKUAST-J).