”Urban Farming”... a Safe source of Food and a Lifeline for Hundreds of Families in Gaza
rooftop farming in Gaza
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
At a time when the Gaza Strip is the most densely populated region in the world - with more than 2 million people living on 365 square kilometers - the population and urban expansion are destroying thousands of dunums of agricultural land at a terrifying speed. It is threatening the food basked of the Gaza Strip, which could relieve its population from having to import food from abroad.
In the face of this painful reality, environmental experts are warning about the great problems that this coastal region might face in the coming years in the absence of strategic projects. In order to preserve an agriculturally green Gaza, many ideas and proposals are under development.
The project "Humanitarian Response to Food and Water Needs in Gaza Strip with Innovation in Humanitarian Action"- is one of the ideas that succeeded to improve resilience, alleviate suffering, strengthen preparedness mechanisms for vulnerable households and contribute to promote and disseminate knowledge about the culture of urban farming in the Gaza Strip.
About the project
The abovementioned project was implemented by MA’AN Development Center in partnership with the Danish / Norwegian Joint Assistance Program. It aimed to spread and promote the culture of urban farming and food sovereignty, strengthen the economical side and create income-generating projects for its beneficiaries.
The project included meeting the immediate food needs of 1,000 families (7781 individuals) from different areas in the Gaza Strip. The needs were met through the implementation of four main activities; electronic vouchers for vegetables, fruits, fresh poultry and groceries, vouchers for drinkable water, urban farming within the homes of the targeted families to improve safe home production of food, as well as emergency preparedness activities.
Urban farming ... What is it?
During the implementation of the project activities, eight observation units were established in different areas of the Gaza Strip (north Gaza, central Khan Younis, Rafah). Awareness sessions were held for approximately 2,249 individuals about the importance of urban farming, during which knowledge about the culture of urban farming was disseminated. Additionally, theoretical and practical training on urban farming was carried out for 300 families, together with the establishment of three home income-generating units.
“Urban farming" is the utilization of available space for food production, through the investment of available resources and unused areas in cities. These unused areas can involve spaces such as empty land between buildings, as well as rooftops of residential buildings, hospitals, schools and roadsides. These spaces can be used to grow vegetables, while other food production activities may include poultry breeding, domestic animals, fish, etc.
Engineer Mustafa Hanoun, the supervisor of the project, said that in addition to providing food security for the families, the project aimed to “break” the structural landscape and “coloring it green”, referring to the plantations.
The above project is an extension of two previous projects implemented by MA’AN Development Center; the first targeted 50 farmers and the other 170 beneficiaries. Yet another project will be implemented in the future, as a result of previous successes.
In terms of the units of demonstration, Mustafa Hanoun said that it has achieved great success. Many foreign delegations have visited these units in order to gain knowledge and write stories about their role in helping the people of the Gaza Strip.
He explains that some of the beneficiaries have converted the units into an income -generating project. This is being supported by MA’AN Center by expanding these units and supporting the beneficiaries, while they sell their products on the market.
Remarkably, the organic agricultural units produce about the same amount as regular agriculture with the former outperforming the latter in terms of quality and safety for the environment, he say. It should be noted that MA’AN Center has provided all means necessary to ensure the success of the project, starting with training, guidance and water reservoirs, in order to alleviate the water shortage crisis, as well as supporting the beneficiaries with seeds, seedlings and compost.
Economic and Healthy Farming
Engineer Tarek Abdel Ati, one of the supervisors of the project, highlighted the patterns of urban farming between plant production (yard and house cultivation, and top roof), animal production (poultry, sheep, rabbits) and fish farming.
He explains that urban farming is distinguished from traditional agriculture in the sense that it relies on simple and inexpensive resources, uses small areas, provides food for home consumption and produces healthy food that is free from dangerous pesticides.
The benefits of urban farming are many. From an economic point of view, it increases food intake, provides an income for households, uses plant and animal waste as fertilizer on farms and urban parks and invests untapped resources.
In terms of environmental benefit, according to Tarek Abdel Ati, urban farming mitigates atmospheric temperature, reduces noise and wind, absorbs carbon dioxide emissions, reduces methane emissions from landfills and reduces the use of polluting chemical inputs to soil.
Not to mention the health and social benefits, such as increased access to healthy food, improved health for those who eat food free of chemicals, increased physical activity through horticulture and provision of food sovereignty in case of worsening economic conditions and disasters.
Advice and instructions
According to Tarek Abdel Ati, anyone can build a garden farm on a rooftop, a balcony, in the backyard or in a house corridor. It is simply based on the availability of water, space, and by following some important steps; choosing the right place, making sure that there is available water, sunlight, fertilization and knowing the agricultural season.
According to Tarek Abdel Ati, the decision to build a home garden depends on the space available in the house. It can be built in any empty place, but it must be exposed to sunlight for the longest period of the day.
Additionally, anyone interested can create a garden in more than one place in the house, based on available pieces of land, either in front of or behind the house, on the roof of the house, in hallways, balconies or exposed walls.
Tarek Abdel Ati adds, any person interested in establishing a garden must be fully aware of water sources; for example is the water coming from the municipality or a water well? One must also determine the quality of the water and the concentration of dissolved salts, as this will determine the type of the future crops; saline-tolerant crops, medium-end crops and/or saline-sensitive crops.
Since many of the residents in urban neighborhoods of the Gaza Strip suffer from water scarcity and only have water during limited days of the week, it is recommended to provide plastic reservoirs for water conservation. Thereafter one should start planning for rainwater harvesting by cleaning the surface of the house, water drainage and collection in reservoirs, as well as cultivating plants with low irrigation needs (e.g., cabbage, radish, pepper, turnip, arugula, squash, eggplant and Jew's mallow).
It is also important to have adequate amount of sunlight in the garden, because of the plant's use of light in photosynthesis. One should avoid planting in places that experience a lot of shade throughout the day. It is necessary to make room for sunlight, by removing any obstacle that could obscure light from the garden.
According to Tarek Abdel Ati, if a balcony is chosen as a place for cultivation, the plants must be positioned in the place that experience the most light, (at least eight hours of light daily).In regards to fertilization, planting must rely on organic fertilizer.
There are many types of organic manure including animal waste, such as chicken, sheep, cows and pigeons. Compost is the best organic manure, as it is produced from the decomposition of plant and animal waste.
Tarek Abdel Ati states that it is necessary for people interested in home gardening to know when to plant crops. Plants are grown according to two seasons; cold (such as potatoes, garlic, peas, spinach, lettuce, radishes, carrots, parsley, beans) and warm (such as melon, watermelon, tomato, mallow, squash, eggplant, pepper, okra, cucumber).
Some considerations must be taken into account when cultivating on roofs. This includes choosing the appropriate farming system, making sure that the system does not leak water from the roof into the house and ensuring that the crops are exposed to direct sunlight (4-5 hours daily). Furthermore, it is important to avoid places that are exposed to extreme winds, as well as keeping crops close to water sources.
Pests and diseases that affect crops can be controlled in a variety of natural ways. Some are easy to apply, for example, one can use resources available in each household, such as pepper and garlic.
Translated by: Ghadeer Kamal Zaineh
Edited by: Johanna Albinsson