Urban nutrition gardening: Multi-boons
Nutrition community should reflect on how to use this platform to promote nutrition in urban areas. Urban Nutrition Gardening is largely a win-win situation that needs to grow and evolve as an integral and hip urbanization trend in Nepal
Good nutrition is a precursor for sound health and well-being throughout life. Ample consumption of fruits and vegetables daily is an inevitable recommendation for a nutritious diet. In addition to a range of important vitamins, minerals and fibers, they are also rich in antioxidants and other immune-boosters that protect our body against diseases.
Nepal is witnessing a very rapid urbanisation and is among the top 10 fastest urbanising countries in the world. Urbanisation is a double edged sword that comes with a host of challenges including health threats. Low consumption of fruits and vegetables results in nutrient poor diets which are specifically linked to deadly diseases like cancers, diabetes and heart disease.
Conversations along these lines are often accompanied by a dilemma faced by urban dwellers with not only the soaring prices but also in ensuring the quality of vegetables and fruits bought from the market. We hear constant reports on the rampant use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and many substandard techniques used to preserve fresh produces longer without much consideration to short and long term effects on people’s health. Rather than feeling helpless, there is a need to break away from the tendency of thinking that we have to rely only on what is available in the market. It might be difficult at first to imagine growing own produces in the urban context given that land is becoming increasingly scarce or simply not available.
With a little thinking out of the box and exploring around one will be amazed at how many innovative ways there are to grow fresh produce in urban spaces even without land. More than half of the world is already urban and there is a clear need to keep pace with new means and ways of growing food. With this realization, many big cities in countries like Hong Kong, US, UK, Japan, France, Italy etc. are well ahead in research and practices on urban agriculture. A few enthusiasts and entrepreneurs in Nepal have also set heartening examples and have demonstrated that it is feasible. Urbanites need to gather their interest, enthusiasm and some energy to grow nutrient laden vegetables, herbs and even fruits, thereby showcasing Urban Nutrition Gardening.
Nutrition and agriculture workers can join hands to spark a new green revolution with nutritional benefits. Nutritionists bring the nutritional insights on the importance and types of vegetables, herbs and fruits while the agriculturists complement with the know-how for urban farming techniques thereby resulting in a wonderful collaboration.
The urban gardening techniques have various forms like container gardening (sacks, pots, or just about any container); vertical farming (yields more crops, more surface area for example in sack gardening); Hydroponics (plants are grown in nutrient rich basin of water); Areoponics (crop roots are periodically sprayed with a mist containing water and nutrients); community and institutional gardens (e.g. schools and hospitals). These ideas along with nutritional insights need to be introduced to the interested urban residents and communities along with the provision of a simple training and agriculture extension service support.
Urban Nutrition Gardening deserves recognition for its multi-pronged boons. It also helps with the problem of urban household wastes and waste water turning them into a productive resource. Degradable waste can be made into compost manure to nourish the plants while non-degradable waste such as containers of any shape and size can be used for the gardening itself. These gardens also provide much needed oxygen for the urban micro-climate and help to infiltrate pleasant greeneries amidst the concrete jungles. Such gardens act as a classroom for urban children and teenagers to learn how fruits and vegetables are grown. They can be fascinatingly engaged with various stages of plant growth from plantation to harvest and encouraged to develop a lifelong habit. They can also proliferate as school gardens, community gardens and even hospital gardens.
Urban Nutrition Gardening thus attracts the attention of several other disciplines and professions such as urban planners, architects, water and sanitation, environment, education and municipalities. This concept unites the expertise of these sectors and everyone stands to gain making it a multi-sector endeavor.
Kathmandu and Lalitpur metropolitan city offices have been conducting small-scale urban farming activities that began with the objective of urban waste management. Other complementary and viable techniques like rain water harvesting and compost from organic waste have been integrated. Recently, incorporation of nutrition component focusing on young children, pregnant and lactating women was also tested by the two metropolises. Learning from these projects should feed into the local urban plans and strategies for wider coverage. The nutrition community should reflect on how to use this platform to promote nutrition in urban areas.
Urban Nutrition Gardening is largely a win-win situation that needs to grow and evolve as an integral and hip urbanization trend in Nepal. Its proliferation en masse holds untapped potential for urban nutrition contributing also to a better quality of urban life.
The writer is a nutritionist