A garden on every roof: Help the Patchai Madi project turn Chennai into India’s urban farming capital

URBAN HORTICULTURE INITIATIVE

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Lush rooftop garden could be a reality across Chennai with the Patchai Madi Project. Pic: Balaji V T

The city’s Chief Resilience Officer Krishna Mohan was on a flight over Chennai when he glanced out of his window and saw that the many rooftops dotting the city were all barren and empty, devoid of any greenery. This sight was unlike many of the cities he had visited.

The view was stuck in his mind for some time and became the catalyst for the creation of an urban rooftop garden project for Chennai, which holds immense potential for the improvement of green cover in Chennai.

The Urban Horticulture Initiative

Urban horticulture is one of the strongest examples of effective nature-based risk reduction worldwide. From New York City to Quito to Bangkok and beyond, urban horticulture has become more popular as an effective way to safeguard and strengthen communities. Chennai has thousands of acres of flat, concrete terraces that are lying unused, presenting a huge potential for rooftop gardening. 

The project that came about as a result is the Urban Horticulture Initiative (UHI). It is one of the key projects recommended by the Chennai Resilience Strategy Report, released by 100 Resilient Cities in June of 2019. 

The UHI design draws from decades of science and good practice, building off the urban horticulture experience in India and in close partnership with technical experts from the Centre for Urbanization, Building & Environment (CUBE); Greater Chennai Corporation; Tamil Nadu Department of Horticulture and Plantation Crops; Tamil Nadu Corporation for Development of Women and the Tamil Nadu Skills Development Corporation. The project is in its pilot stage and is expected to be rolled out in October this year.

Rooftop gardens in Chennai schools

To begin with, the UHI will target corporation schools to introduce rooftop gardening, prioritizing the schools in low income areas. The initiative will also aim to reach and educate students’ families and encourage them to start gardening at home. The produce from these efforts will be used in midday meals and will help provide more nutritious and balanced meals for students. 

The programme is envisioned over a time span of 10 years and is aimed at reducing the vulnerability of 2.5 million people to climate change, through local food production on rooftops and in community spaces. This effort will yield a multitude of benefits such as food security, mitigating urban heat, delaying and holding rainwater run-off, livelihood generation for vulnerable communities, especially women and community cohesion.

The Chennai Resilience Centre (CRC) will facilitate the implementation of the Urban Horticulture Initiative (UHI). Initially, three model projects in Greater Chennai Corporation Schools will be executed to check proof of concept and assessment of parameters for monitoring and evaluation of the project. 

Based on the progress, the project will then be scaled to all 281 Government Corporation schools that cater to children from vulnerable communities. These rooftop vegetable gardens will feed directly into the free midday meal schemes run by the Government in these schools.

The next step of the effort will target six lakh households for rooftop gardening by 2030.

A preliminary survey of 300 citizens in Chennai revealed that 86% of them viewed a rooftop garden favourably. However, scaling-up of the urban horticulture initiative to citizens living in various localities through their Resident Welfare Associations (RWAS) could pose a challenge.

Project Challenges

  • Navigating infrastructural challenge posed by permeable rooftops in many households
  • Determining the components of an effective garden start-up kit
  • Driving behavioural change among the public
  • Tackling water shortage as Chennai does not have a stable monsoon.
  • Addressing the issue of incentivising homeowners to water the garden in dry spells 
  • Difficulties in gardening due to poor water quality in certain localities caused by saltwater intrusion and groundwater pollution
  • Offering necessary support and guidance during crop failure through lack of expertise, poor quality of saplings/seedlings, pest and disease attacks 

Most of the above challenges can be addressed through initiatives such as soil and water testing, drip irrigation systems to conserve water, an effective Customer Response/Advisory Cell, an online partner to deliver the garden kits at the doorstep, a consultancy service to help set up the garden and so on. 

However the biggest challenge will be to get the buy-in of the Residential Welfare Associations (RWAs) and getting citizens involved. To effectively reach six lakh households by 2030, the active support of 3000 RWAs would be critical.

Securing support and participation

How can the project get the active support of 300 RWAs in Chennai to encourage residents to take up rooftop vegetable gardens in the next 12 months?

To do so, the project calls for Idea Champions who can help the horticulture initiative with creative ideas on how to inspire 300 , that is 10% of the 3000, RWAs to encourage all households under the respective associations to take up the mission.

The stated purpose is to help the office bearers of these RWAs become green champions and play a leading role in making Chennai the Urban Farming capital of India, placing it alongside global pioneers such as New York , Bangkok and other green cities of the world.

If you have ideas to make this unique PatchaiMadi (Green Roof) Chennai project successful, send an email to  patchaimadi@resilientchennai.com (Subject line: ‘Green Roof project’.)

You will then receive a detailed brief on what to do. You will also get triggers on how to generate ideas to meet the project objective. 

What is in it for you?

1.     An opportunity to flex your creative muscles!

2.     An opportunity to contribute ideas to a truly transformative initiative.

3.     The first 10 winning entries will get a starter vegetable garden kit.

You will be required to sign a declaration that all your ideas are voluntary donations to the Patchai Madi Chennai Project and that the Chennai Resilience Centre can use the ideas for the project as they deem fit. A certificate of participation will be issued to every participant in this initiative.

Process

1.     Register to participate by sending an email to  patchaimadi@resilientchennai.com

2.     You will receive a written brief with triggers to generate several ideas.

3.     Please send in your ideas (making sure to meet the specific objective mentioned in the brief) by email to  patchaimadi@resilientchennai.com

4.     You can send as many ideas as you wish.

5.     All entries to be in English only.

6.     Last date for receiving entries: July 27, 2020

7.    Ideas will be judged by Mr. Ashok Sarath, Founder and Creative Director- Plan B. and Dr. Jayshree Vencatesan, Managing Trustee – Care Earth Trust.

8.     Winning entries will be notified by email by August 4, 2020.

About Sridhar Ramanathan 1 Article
Sridhar Ramanathan is an author, public speaker, ideation facilitator and executive coach.

3 Comments

  1. Roof garden Patchaimadi is a great idea worth emulating in all the towns and cities. The idea of initiating this idea among the school children is worth appreciating – when the children starts involving in growing plants it helps the children to understand the importance of Greenrties and importance of protecting the trees. Again good luck for the idea – Spread the Green on the roofs top.

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