Half of the world's population today lives in cities. By 2015, almost 26 cities of the world are expected to have a population of 10 million or more. At least 6,000 tonnes of food must be imported every day to feed a city of this size. Low income urban dwellers spend between 40% and 60% of their income on food each year.
Almost 250 million hungry people in the world live in cities. Is urban agriculture the answer to such harsh reality? Urban agriculture is the practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food in or around a village, town or city. Urban agriculture can also involve animal husbandry, aquaculture, agro-forestry and horticulture.
Agriculture and urbanisation are considered to be incompatible activities, competing for access and use of limited land. In urban areas, there is space available for public and private vacant plots and areas such as steep slopes, flood plains, low-lying areas and water courses, which are not suitable for built-up use. Even medians, public parks and maidans,derelict private properties as well as every rooftop, terrace and balcony is the potential resource for urban agriculture.
From 15th century Machu Pichhu in Peru, which suggests farming within city limits to modern masters like Le Corbusier, who converted roof-tops as reproducible, cultivable resources, the saga of contributing to edible landscape has continued to persist.
There has been a very evident and encouraging increase in proportion, interest and intensity of home gardens among middle and high income groups in urban centres but these essentially reflect aesthetic and recreational considerations rather than food or income security concerns.
Edible landscapes refer to visual, physical and social impact of producing food in urban land. Almost 800 million people worldwide are involved in urban agriculture, feeding city residents. There is mounting scientific evidence of benefits of urban growing. The UN has estimated that upto a quarter of world's population will be engaged in some form of urban agriculture by next year.
Hanoi and Vietnam get at least 80% of fresh vegetables, 50% of pork, poultry and freshwater fish and 40% of eggs from urban farming.
Portuguese painter, Philip Baldeau's painting of date trees growing in deserts in an artistic rendition of true Amdavadi ethos of extracting economic, aesthetic as well as functional benefits from whatever little in available. Le Corbusier aptly demonstrated this culture in the four buildings he constructed in Ahmedabad 50 years ago. The structures have roof-tops that can transform into reproductive resources.
The terrace of the Sanskar Kendra building is a large labyrinth of water troughs to cultivate hydroponics; a result of Corbusier's passionate idea to grow tomatoes in roof-top water.
Not only does Mill Owners Association building have water troughs and patch gardens on its terrace, it also has green cultivation facades on peripheral edges of each floor. Manorama Sarabhai's house is an epitome of urban cultivation with not only gardens but green patches as well on the terrace, first floor and the second floor. The family continues to enjoy harvest of edible landscape idea implanted in 1954.
When any building is built, it takes away a patch of land from the earth. Can we not substitute the same by constructing elevated gardens on rooftops? Can the riverfront not be a fruit orchard for green rather than grey consumption? Even if right of who reaps the yield are not defined, the bottom line is anyone or someone will get it. If we continue to plant bougainvillea, we will continue to get thorns.