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Turning terrace into thriving farm in urban Bangladesh

Jahangir Haider of Cumilla city hardly fits the quintessential image of a farmer. But this retired government official has now become the talk of the town with his rooftop farming, which has limited his outing to the market amid Covid.

When Jahangir started his own terrace garden after retirement in 2017, he planted a handful of vegetables. But the urge to stay indoors and eat healthy during the peak of the pandemic last year prompted him to expand his garden.

“Covid-19 and the consequent restrictions imposed by the government actually forced me to think about self-sustained living. Now I grow even leafy vegetables like spinach and beet, apart from bottle gourd, bitter gourd and pumpkin, on my terrace,” Jahangir says.

“I have also planted saplings of various fruit-bearing trees like mango and jackfruit. But for the time being, the vegetables are enough to feed both me and my family. It also saves me from stepping out frequently to buy fresh vegetables,” he adds.

Jahangir is not the only urban resident to take to cultivation of fresh produce on his rooftop. Buckling down at home during the pandemic, many people across the cities have turned to rooftop gardening — some to beat the boredom, others to make the best use of leisure time.

Tofazzal Hossain, a resident of Matuail in Dhaka, says the pandemic has actually given him the chance to revive his terrace farming. “Though I started cultivating a few vegetables on my rooftop before Covid, I could devote more time only during the lockdown,” he says.

“My rooftop garden is now lush with different vegetable plants. And my family and I are enjoying the organically homegrown vegetables. What else one wants, eating healthy and saving money at the same time,” Tofazzal adds.

Many say the not-so-expensive hobby also eases concerns over food security during an emergency situation just like the Covid-induced lockdown.

“Rooftop farming doesn’t cost much. Only during the primary phase of preparing the roof for cultivation, people need to shell out some money. But it eliminates concerns in troubling times like these,” says Jahangir.

Some urban farmers have been influenced by social media posts. Din Islam, a primary school teacher in Dhaka, for instance, says he was inspired by the ‘Roof Agriculture’ page on Facebook. “Initially it was sort of a hobby, but now it’s my passion.”

“I have planted pepper and tomato trees on my rooftop. The yield is not bad. The greenery on the roof is so satisfying,” says the proud school teacher.

Head teacher of Loujang Pilot High School, Nripenda Chandra Das says “the rooftop of his house resembles a mini forest”. “It is now a source of oxygen and key entertainment during my leisure time,” he adds.

Agriculturists see this trend as beneficial for the environment and have urged authorities in urban areas to promote rooftop farming. Some say it could be a sort of recovery of the forest area, which was reported at 10.96% in 2016 in Bangladesh, according to the World Bank.

According to Smart Garden, a platform for rooftop garden design, it is not difficult to change any place with proper planning and allocation of funds. “If you want to spend money to do something good, it is only a matter of time before an attractive garden is implemented.”

Smart Garden also advocates aquaponics on rooftops. Aquaponics is a combination of fish farming and hydroponics in a closed symbiotic system, which produces crops and fish round the year. It is also getting popular in Bangladesh.

“Vegetables produced through the aquaponics system are more tasty than those grown through regular farming,” says Shail Parvin, a housewife in Dhaka. “Aquaponics is the best solution for rooftop farming in limited space,” adds another resident, Hasibur Rahman.