Urban gardening proving a success in Dhaka, helping hundreds of poor families

Urban gardening has an important role to play in improving the economy, environment, and health of cities in Bangladesh, experts said at a seminar on Tuesday.

It reduces poverty and food insecurity resulting from urbanization, while also improving the health of city residents and preserving the environment. Urban gardening allows low-income families to meet their needs for vitamins, minerals and plant protein by providing direct access to fresh, nutritious fruit and vegetables every day.

They also offer a source of extra income from the sale of small surpluses.

Although urban and peri-urban horticulture is a reality in most developing cities, it often goes unrecognized in agricultural policies and urban planning. The essential first step towards sustainable management of urban and peri-urban horticulture is the official recognition of its positive role in urban development, particularly in the nutrition and livelihoods of the urban poor.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), through its Dhaka Food System project, has trained and provided resources to 440 community members – almost all women – from across the capital to help them grow their own produce.

Along with partners BRAC, Platform of Community Action and Architecture (POCAA), Proshika, and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), FAO co-hosted a seminar on the role of urban gardening in reducing food and nutrition insecurity in urban areas, at the KIB Convention Hall in Dhaka.

“Urban gardening has been a big success in the communities we have supported with training and it has the potential to improve many more poor people’s lives throughout Dhaka, as well as other cities in Bangladesh. Not only can families from poor communities feed themselves with nutritious food, they can earn money from selling their produce. What’s more, urban gardening leads to health, therapeutic, and environmental benefits, and can also strengthen community bonds,” said John Taylor, Chief Technical Advisor of FAO’s Dhaka Food System project.

The seminar brought together experts on nutrition and food security, development experts, national and local government officials, as well as several representatives of urban poor communities in Jhenaidah, Dhaka South, Gazipur, Dhaka North, and Narayanganj. It also helped to identify technical, financial, and policy support needed to further promote and popularize urban gardening.

Mustafizur Rahman, who is Deputy Secretary of the Local Government Division and the Deputy Project Director of the Dhaka Food System project, delivered the opening remarks at this seminar. 

After theopening ceremony, an expert panel discussed the positive impacts of urban gardening to urban poor communities, including improved nutrition, health, mental wellbeing, incomes, and community building.

Panelists included Deepa Joshi, Gender and Inclusion Lead at the International Water Management Institutes (IWMI) in India and the CGIAR Research Program on Water; Khondaker Hasibul Kabir, community architect and co-founder of Co Creation Architects (CCA) and POCAA; and Dr Rudaba Khondker, Country Representative of GAIN. Community representatives from different cities of the metropolitan area took turns to share their experiences and encouraged others to take up gardening.

A study carried out in 2019 by the Dhaka North Community Federation and FAO found that poor households were spending up to half their income on food. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated problems and there are increasing rates of hunger in urban communities. For many of the urban poor,growing their own food has been a lifeline. Promotion of urban gardening by FAO and organizations including BRAC, Proshika, POCAA, and Islamic Relief, has benefited hundreds of vulnerable families in Bangladesh.

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