There’s a coconut tree growing in a pot on the terrace of the Mumbai Port Trust (MPT) kitchen. The 12-year-old tree shares the 3,000 sq. ft. space with 150 varieties of fruit and vegetable plants being grown there for the last 14 years by Preeti Patil, MPT’s catering manager. “Everyone is a farmer at heart. We just used that spirit to create this terrace farm,” says Patil. She is now working with a group called Urban Leaves to take the urban farming concept to five other locations in Mumbai, including Gopal’s Garden High School in Borivali, Don Bosco High School in Matunga, and the Iskcon temple at Babulnath.
Urban farming is a kitchen garden—only bigger. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization defines it as farming in small areas within cities for consumption by the growers or for sale in neighbourhood markets. According to data from the United Nations Development Programme, 200 million urban residents across the world provide food for the market, and 800 million people are engaged in urban agriculture.
Scientist Poornima Salgaonkar has created a terrace garden at her Gurgaon residence and is working with her neighbours to promote organic farming. “Initially, costs are high [because economies of scale are missing] and returns low. You should keep at it. The day you get your first tomato or brinjal, you will be inspired,” says Salgaonkar. Such farming groups share knowledge and skills, and mostly consume the produce themselves.
B.N. Viswanath Kadur, an agricultural scientist working with the NGO, Garden City Farmers, in Bangalore, to promote urban farming, estimates that Indian cities can produce 1,000 tonnes of vegetables and fruits every year. “Urban farming needs government support by way of policy, tools, and seeds,” he says. The Kerala and Andhra Pradesh governments have a budget to help households adopt urban farming. Kerala began with Rs 20 crore for five years for Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi, where every year 1,500 households join the programme.
Urban farming is also being promoted as a way to manage kitchen waste and use waste water. But, as Patil says, getting land is difficult in a city. When every inch carries a price and ownership is an issue, a policy on use of fallow land and open spaces can help.