Let's make the cities green | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 04, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:59 AM, April 04, 2019

Let's make the cities green

According to the annual habitability report of UK's Economist Intelligence Unit, Dhaka stands at 139th position among 140 cities. After Dhaka, the war-torn city of Damascus in Syria stands at 140th position.

I grew up in Dhaka city. Even though I have to visit every corner of the country for my work, my heart remains in this city. During my childhood, Dhaka used to be a city of greenery. At that time, the area I used to live in -- Khilgaon was a village. There was a huge forest on the side of Bishwa Road, a green locality filled with fruit trees.

The forest was so dense that as soon as the sun started to set, it used to get dark. Foxes used to start howling in the afternoon. Tejgaon airport was near. Whenever I heard the sound of airplanes, departing or landing, I tried to look up and take a full look of the airplane. But I could only catch a glimpse of the aircraft, never its entire body through the dense awning of tree branches and leaves that covered the area. 

I remember I used to tread cautiously, fearing that bees might come chasing me any moment. The area was naturally filled with trees of various flowers. Thus, bees used to build hives on many trees.

I remember Kamalapur Rail Station was the first major infrastructure built in our area. At that time, I heard it was supposed to be the second largest rail station in Asia. Beside the rail tracks, there was supposed to be a huge 100-foot-wide road.

Trees after trees were cut down for urban development. Even after that, we had a beautiful city. Dhaka was still amazing.

But we are the ones who gradually destroyed Dhaka. We have turned it grey. If we are to save Dhaka from this state, we must make Dhaka green again. Trees are not being planted at the pace concrete structures are being constructed in Dhaka.

Developed countries in the world are placing emphasis on greenery because it is a must. For instance, in 1997, Japan made it mandatory by law for buildings to have a wide garden on its rooftop and cornice. This was done in accordance with the declaration of Kyoto Protocol to tackle the effect of greenhouse gases. Planting trees and the cultivation of greenery on rooftops have been made mandatory by law. Because a city has to be habitable with an increased supply of oxygen.

We barely see that environment in Dhaka. When we build houses or buildings, we do not consider the rooftops to be green.

A handful of people, however, are taking rooftop farming into consideration. Many of them adorned their rooftops with agriculture to serve multiple purposes. Some already became successful doing rooftop farming. I came across many who are meeting needs of their families by producing various vegetables and fruits including mango, guava, malta, sugarcane, beans, cabbage and carrots in their rooftop gardens.

On Channel i, we aired 125 rooftop farming episodes, titled Chhad Krishi. I have seen retired employees of public or private organisations, businesspersons and industrialists getting involved with rooftop agriculture for a more productive leisure time.

Some claim that it has brought spiritual peace for them. Those who have their own homes and roofs, are doing agriculture on one or two levels of the roof. And those who don't have their own homes, are taking permission from their landlords to do rooftop farming in a corner of the roof.

Some are even farming in their balconies. Doing so, they are meeting food and nutrition needs of their families, while at the same time, they are enjoying mental peace and performing their national duty. They are helping make the city green again. They are contributing in the increase of oxygen in the city.

Many of them, though, are not sure how to do agriculture on rooftops and front or back yards of their houses. For such enthusiasts, Agricultural Botany department at Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University (SAU) is conducting research on rooftop agriculture and its scientific aspects. Led by Prof Dr Mahbub Islam, a group of students developed a rooftop agriculture model. Channel i aired an episode of Chhad Krishi on their research findings last year.

Dr Mahbub in the programme said Chhad Krishi on Channel i are motivating people to try out rooftop agriculture. He also stressed the need for a research on it. Last year, he presented a comparative production demonstration on how to do rooftop agriculture in tubs, wooden boxes, cement structures and many other types of containers. The students are also working on to introduce modern irrigation systems for rooftop agriculture.

All around the world, the focus has shifted on climate-smart agriculture. Global warming and climate change have been posing threat to our food security. As such, agriculture is facing the impact of climate change the most. To survive in this hostile environment, those involved with agriculture has to adapt to the impacts of climate change. They have to produce anticipated yield amid soil and water scarcity.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations is calling this approach 'climate agriculture' since people who do this are involving agriculture in sustainable development to fight climate change. It is more like an integrated effort to make agriculture survive. Dr Mahbub said this model of rooftop agriculture is a practice of climate-smart agriculture.

Dear readers, you probably remember Dr Sheikh Ahmad Al Nahid, a faculty member of Chittagong Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (CVASU). He is doing a research on aquaponics in rooftop agriculture.

The rooftop of SAU can also be called such a research centre. Dr Mahbub is conducting many experiments on rooftop agriculture with his team.

Dr Mahbub told me that a garden lowers temperature of a rooftop by up to eight degrees Celsius. The immediate floor below the roof enjoys two degrees less of the usual room temperature. As a result, the flat remains cooler naturally.

Many say that rooftop agriculture harms the roof. Contradicting the perception, Dr Mahbub said rooftop agriculture protects the roof. He said that rooftop agriculture increases durability of the roof. Because without any rooftop garden, the temperature of the roof increases to up to 50 degrees Celsius during summer. The excessive heat harms the bricks, sand and stones of the roof.

During my conversation with SAU Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Kamal Uddin Ahamed, he urged all to be involved in farming. Praising Dr Mahbub's research, he said it will bring benefits for all.

Dr Mahbub involved many organisations with the research and made training arrangements for them. By providing proper training, they are improving skills of many rooftop farm entrepreneurs.

We must focus on rooftop or urban agriculture -- not only for food security, but also for adapting to climate change. Such institutional research on rooftop farming by SAU is highly stimulating. If a convenient model of rooftop agriculture can be designed through research, every rooftop in the city can be covered with greenery. The environment of the entire city will be cooler. There will be more oxygen. Hence, the city will be even more habitable. The world will become safer too.


Shykh Seraj is Bangladesh's pioneer development journalist. He received country's two highest civilian honours, Swadhinata Puroshkar and Ekushey Padak, respectively. He is an Ashoka and Bangla Academy Fellow. He also received highest award for agricultural journalism from the United Nations, FAO A.H. Boerma Award, Gusi Peace Prize (Philippines) and many other prestigious accolades at home and abroad. At Channel i, he's the Founder Director and Head of News. He's also Director and Host of Channel i's popular agro-documentary, Hridoye Mati O Manush.

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