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Roof Farming: Creating jobs and saving our planet

We build farms in low income areas to provide jobs for the home owners, increase the food supply, and reduce the heat levels on the building

Photo of Tarek Hosny
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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional Beneficiary Feedback in this field

Explain your project idea in two sentences.

Our idea is to convert Egypt's empty roofs into productive farms that produce healthy crops, generate income for the tenants, and reduce the heat levels of the buildings.

What is your organization name? Explain your organization in one sentence.

Schaduf is an ancient tool used to raise river water to the land. We raise water & food to roofs.

Is this project idea new for you or your organization? If no, how much have you already executed on?

We implemented many roof farms using different growing techniques. The current project is focused on improving the usability of farms & building 500 farms in a concentrated neighborhood with the infrastructure needed to add value to the products and increase the income for the farm owners.

What is the problem you aim to solve with this idea? How would you define this problem as urgent and a priority in your target community?

We want to create an additional source of income for low income individuals and families, while providing them with clean food and greenery on their roofs. The solution is urgent since 2.2B people globally are living with less than $2/day, and in the case of Egypt there are many unused empty roofs

What is the timeline for your project idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

The target is to complete 500 roofs in 3 years. The product design & development phase in which we are improving on the previous farm units is expected to be completed by August 2017. We will then start implementing the farms at a rate of ~15 per month.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of responsibility).

We have a diverse team of agronomists, mechanical engineers, and community workers and we are partnering with a local NGO (Kafelat Al Kheir) to select beneficiaries and manage the project logistics.

What do you need the most support with in this project idea?

  • Program/Product/Service Design

What is your primary goal over the next 6 weeks of Refinement?

  • Get exposure to design thinking and IDEO

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) results for this project?

We will measure results by quantitative measure: income received, plants/ food grown, new green areas Qualitative measure: impact on the moral of the farm owners, interaction of kids with the farms, awareness raised on the benefits of roof farming

How has your project proposal changed due to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase?

Based on our previous prototype we learned that the beneficiaries spend too much time watering the plants and that the planters are too low which causes them back pain when they are harvesting the crops.

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.

We received some great feedback that we worked on during the improve phase. The two main concerns we addressed are: 1) Feasibility of implementing 500 farms 2) Our ability to sell the crops Regarding feasibility, we attached a work plan that highlights the resources we will need as well as the installation schedule for the farms. The NGO we are working with is deeply rooted in the community and have already done workshops to collect interested individuals. They use a very rigorous process to inspect roofs, verify roof ownership, and filter people through an extensive training course. To speed up the installation process we are currently developing a new farming unit that will be easy and quick to install. It is currently in the engineering phase. Regarding our ability to market and sell the crops, we have several agreements with major supermarkets to sell our crops. We have been waiting for the right time so we have enough scale. Our concept is popular among several supermarket chains and consumers. We have a strong brand name from our appearances on local TV stations as well as BBC World and CNN. We have highlighted the crops we will work with and their expected profitability in the "Business Plan" document. It also includes the farm profitability as well as the overall project's profitability. We secured funding for a drying unit and packaging unit to add value to our products and improve the profitability of all the parties involved. Farmers will have the right to eat the crops and sell them themselves, however 1 roof produces much more food than one family can eat and selling will be tough to most families, so their best alternative would be to sell through Schaduf without taking on any risk. Since we are adding value to the products, the money they make through Schaduf will also be better than what they can achieve in the local market. Overall we are very grateful for the feedback we received and we hope we managed to solidify our project. Thank you.

Schaduf was founded in 2011 in Egypt with the aim to provide inspired green solutions that elevate the quality of life through social and environmental change. We do so by crafting sustainable spaces that adapt to diverse communities’ needs.

One of our initiatives is focused on rooftop farming in low income areas.

The idea is to increase the total land available for agriculture by utilizing unused roofs, thereby creating much needed food as well as much needed jobs for people that will own the farms. 

We work with NGOs to identify low income individuals who have access to a roof and are interested in growing food on their roof and selling it. We then help them secure funding for the farms through donors or Microfinance Institutions. We support the farmers with growing the crops and we then buy the crops from them to reduce their market risk.

With 2.2B people globally living with less than $2/day, our income generating solution is in high demand. We can leveraging existing global micro-finance capital and grants that are readily available for low income individuals to scale our solution in Egypt and globally.

Explain your idea

please see attachment (170414 openIDEO Roof Farming Summary)

Who Benefits?

There are several beneficiaries of the project. First there are the farmers that are making additional money by working a few hours a week on the roofs. In addition to the financial amount, by interviewing the farmers we have come to realize that growing food has important non-monetary benefits, like improvement mood by being surrounded by greenery and a sense of achievement for growing and caring for a living plant. Other beneficiaries are tenants of the buildings' top floors as the temperature is significantly reduced by having a small roof farm that absorbs up to 90% of sun rays. Finally, the project has an important environmental benefit, since unused spaces are used to produce food that has become increasingly scarce.

How is your idea unique?

Our idea is unique because it focuses on hydroponic farming, which saves water and uses space that is traditionally not used for agriculture. An important aspect of our project is that we reduce the market risk for farmers by buying the crops from them and selling them under our brand.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Tell us more about you

Schaduf was founded in 2011 in Egypt with an aim to provide inspired green solutions that elevate the quality of life through social and environmental change. We do so by crafting sustainable spaces that adapt to diverse communities’ needs. We are an outdoors Design-Build company, with a heavy emphasis on innovation and sustainability. We provide turnkey solutions, starting with concept design up to implementation and maintenance. We are constantly pushing the boundaries of life sciences, engineering and art to cater to the needs of our customers and their wellbeing. Schaduf was awarded the United Nations Global Human Settlements Award of GREEN TECHNOLOGY (Quito – Ecuador).

Expertise in sector

  • 3-5 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered company.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Appetite For Change

Roof top gardens, oh my! This looks incredible! We can't wait to see this spread world wide! Best of luck!

Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Tarek and Team! We’re excited to share with you feedback and questions from the BridgeBuilder team and an external set of experts. We encourage you to think about this feedback as you continue to improve and refine your idea. You are welcome to respond in the comments section and/or to incorporate feedback into the text of your idea. Your idea and all associated comments will all be reviewed during the final review process.

Based on expert career, previous work and field experience, is this a new approach or bold way of answering the challenge question:
• This is not a new approach, though I think it is an excellent one across cities creating urban roof farming. It has multiple benefits, including improving environment & air quality, protecting from heat, providing income, providing food, & encouraging agricultural entrepreneurship. My experience with rooftop farms have been positive thus far. They have proven successful, though they are at a much smaller scale than this initiative. Usually it's one rooftop for a specific purpose (sourcing to local restaurants, for example). This one is challenging because of it's scope and potential lack of clarity/specificity.

Desirability and Viability of proposal:
• Desirable: Very much so. As mentioned before, this project addresses multiple issues & has multiple beneficiaries. Feasible: Concerned about their target of 500 rooftops in 3 years. If it's just to start 500, it might be feasible, but I'm unsure they will have 500 viable roof farms. Also concerned about "reducing market risk" by purchasing the produce. Where do they sell to & do they sell at-cost or at a profit? It would be helpful to this proposal to clarify the business model on that end. Viable: This could be viable, though it really is contingent on how much of the produce they are able to get from the farms. Can farmers keep produce for themselves? What if there is a dry season? Many unanswered questions.

Feasibility of proposal (is this an idea that could be brought to life?):
• I think the concept of rooftop farming (alternative, urban farming) is excellent and tackles the problems of resources, land accessibility, environment, access to food, and income generation. As mentioned, I've seen this be a success in other places, but the scope was narrower; I think this project's ambitions and planning will need to be spot on for feasibility to move forward.
Other questions or suggestions our experts felt would support the assessment or success of your idea:

• Additional questions that would potentially make the proposal stronger: Can farmers keep their produce? Or can they sell on their own? Do they have to sell back to Schaduf? 2) Who owns these rooftops? If it's a complex, then do all tenants participate as farmers -- and if so, is this capacity sustainable or even welcome by the community? 3) Who do you sell to? What is the business model for this portion of the project? Is it at-cost or at a profit? Who determines (and how is it determined) the price paid to farmers? 4) Is farming a particularly popular skill set in this part of Egypt? Are farmers trained, and who provides training? There seems to be a risk if the plants don't grow.

In case you missed it, check out this Storytelling Toolkit for inspiration for crafting strong and compelling stories: Storytelling is an incredibly useful tool to articulate an idea and make it come to life for those reading it. Don’t forget - June 16 at 11:59PM PST is your last day to make changes to your idea on the OpenIDEO platform.
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Looking forward to reading more!

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Tarek,

I look forward to seeing your user journey and beneficiary feedback questions. If you have any questions at all, please tag me using ‘@‘ and ‘Kate Rushton’ or send me an email -

It would be great if you would tell us more about the existing global microfinance capital and grants that you currently leverage.

Are there certain types of organisations or organisations working in specific geographies that you are keen to connect to?

Photo of Tarek Hosny

Hi Ashley.
Thank you for your feedback.

Yes we are currently working mainly in Cairo so a big focus for us is metropolitan cities. Hopefully we will come to Australia one day :)

Photo of Ashley

Hi Tarek,

What a great idea! Truly brilliant. I live in Sydney, Australia and my first thought was that this would be great for large community apartment buildings in the city - where there is not a whole lot of ground space for a garden, but plenty of rooftops. Growing fresh fruit and vegetables for personal household consumption is becoming quite a trend in this part of the world.

I know this is meant for addressing urgent global challenges, but do you have any plans of implementing rooftop farms in metropolitan cities?

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Tarek,

Would you tell me more about the NGOs you work with to identify eligible low-income households?

What is an eligible household e.g. apartment tenant with approved access to a roof top?

How much money are they making from roof farming?

How much are they selling produce for? Is there a food desert in Cairo?

What could you achieve as part of a 1 to 3 year project? What in the ‘Steps Taken’ slide would be included?

Photo of Tarek Hosny

Hi Kate,
Thank you for taking the time to read through the project details.
I will try to answer all your questions:
1) We work with different NGOs with different objectives. Some are focused on creating jobs, others have more of an environmental focus.
2) Eligible tenant is typically someone that has the capability to do some light physical work and shows commitment to the project. They have to go through training and are evaluated at the end of the training period. Having approved access to the roof is a requirement.
3) It is an additional income not a main source.
4) Its not a food desert but healthy crops could be expensive
5) We are hoping to build the 500 farms and to get new projects

I hope I answered your questions and thanks again,

Photo of eldy wullur

Hello Tarek,
I feel very blessed reading your posts, because in my area it farms is not well developed, various government efforts but only one run in the beginning only and is not sustainable.