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Cooperatively owned urban farming for nutrition security and shared prosperity in a circular economy

To enable low-income urban communities become self-reliant and food secure by cultivating nutrition rich food crops in a sustainable manner

Photo of Peehu Pardeshi

Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

People for Education Health Environment and Livelihoods Foundation (abbrv. PEHEL Foundation)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Types of stakeholders: Social scientists Health professionals Natural scientists Entrepreneurs Local community

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://pehelfoundation.wordpress.com/

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Under 1 year

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Mumbai

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

India

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Mumbai

What country is your selected Place located in?

India

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I and my family have been staying in this city (Mumbai) for more than 10 years. It is my father's native place. I have received my higher education from here and now am settled here. The community where we plan to work, a low-income setting, is close to my current residence and I have been working with those people for the past 3 years on various issues of health and nutrition. I have conducted research surveys as well as run field action projects in it and have published research articles connected to them. I am deeply involved with the lives of the people staying there and am in constant touch with them. I, along with the health professionals working in the community, have established through sound scienitifc research, that poor communities in this area have high amount of malnutrition and poor housing conditions which become the risk factors for many preventable diseases. We want to break this cycle of poverty and malnutrition and are committed to do it through our various interventions ranging from awareness programs, nutritional counselling, health care service delivery, demanding basic rights from the government, livelihood creation and ration provision. We are continuously in the process of trying to understand the dynamics of the community and have evolved into more humble human beings through this exercise. We aim to implement a need-based approach for nutrition security in the community and are continuously striving to generate resources for the same.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Mumbai is an island city based on the shore of Arabian sea in Western coast of India. It has a tropical wet climate and receives rains at least for 4 months in a year. It is moderately hot and has high humidity due to proximity to the sea. It is overall highly developed and is considered a financial capital of India as most of the business head-quarters are based out of here. However, the whole city is interspersed with low-income settlements like slums and rehabilitation buildings. Mumbai attracts many migrants from villages and smaller towns across the country for want of employment opportunities, access to health and education as well as business opportunities. In general, the city is cosmopolitan and the only culture that binds all its citizens is the struggle for a better lifestyle and access to resources. A huge part of the employed population also travels in and out of the city daily. The major food choices of people come from a need to get a satiating diet while also saving on time and effort. Street food mainly consists of processed food made from refined wheat flour, potatoes and refined oil. Tea, with whole milk and sugar, is the most basic, most common and cheapest preparation available on the streets as well as a welcome drink in the houses. Some traditional cuisines influence the breakfast options which include preparations made from wheat, rice or lentils with a sprinkling of vegetables and curries. All the foods are prepared through detailed recipes most often including all the aromatic spices found in India making the food delicious and tempting.  Curry leaves, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, chillies, garlic and asafoetida are used for tempering the curries. All these enhance the taste and look of the food as well as help in digestion. Staple diet includes lentil curry, vegetable preparations and rice or flat breads. Generally, people are not health conscious in their food choices. Most of the people undergo work-related stress and are always short on time. Hence, there are trends of stress-eating leading to overweight and obesity, many a times along with hypertension and/or diabetes. On the other hand, the poor people who do not have access to enough nutritious food options suffer from malnutrition, anemia and other related deficiencies. Most commonly spoken languages are Marathi (local state language), English, Hindi and Urdu. The most unique aspect of Mumbai is that this city never sleeps. There is vehicular traffic and working professionals even at odd hours of the night. This makes the city safe for all the travellers and helps them do more with their time. Local trains provide a dependable and affordable public transport system for the middle and lower-middle class citizens. It is a completely urban area with little agriculture of its own. The city receives its required raw food from the nearby villages as well as from all over the country. The main hope of the poor people in this city is to secure a decent livelihood for themselves and their family.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

603

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

20000000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Current challenge: Unsustainable rural farming practices, water and soil pollution due to overuse of fertilizers and pesticides. Lack of food security to the poor people for both macro and micro nutrients. Lack of equitable resource allocation. Lack of access to nutritious food for the urban poor. High dependence on the government subsidized ration and services from the NGOs. High infant mortality rate due to acute and chronic malnutrition. Low productivity of malnourished individuals. Vicious cycle of malnourishment and poverty continues to keep a section of population deprived from reaching their full potentials and fulfilling their aspirations. Lack of political will to address these problems and problems in last mile connectivity of the various government policies and schemes leaves people at the mercy of the overlords and leads to their exploitation. Increases in the expenditure on the treatment of diseases which are clearly preventable and avoidable. Lack of resources in one area leads to migration or internal conflicts in the community destroying the local culture and harmony of the community. Unsustainable technology relying on fossil fuel energy leading to climate change making life on Earth all the more vulnerable to newer threats like frequent flooding, drought, submergence of lands etc. Future challenge: India is rapidly urbanizing. Currently about 30% of the population of India resides in urban areas. It has been projected that, by 2050, almost 50% of the Indian population will be residing in cities, due to migration from villages in search of better employment opportunities, water security and better health facilities. In future, the marginalised communities may simply be wiped out, if their nutrition and health are not secured now. Newer technological solutions need to be developed so that they use renewable source of energy and do not lead to any further climate change. A model of circular economy needs to be implemented through innovative policies and schemes such that waste creation is minimised and sustainable development can be brought about, at the same time ensuring a just and equitable distribution of resources. There is also a need to increase the forest cover which needs land. The population growth needs to taper off in order to make this possible. With socio-political changes happening in the country there would be increased aspirations of the people. Women who would be empowered will need new opportunities to generate income while sharing the household responsibilities with their family members. With the globalization and neo-liberalization, stress has become the norm and torn apart many families and is holding an individual responsible for his/her situation rather than the prevailing power structures. There is a need to break these exploitative power structures and put the power and responsibility in the hands of the communities.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

We envision Urban farming in decentralized approach as a way to empower people and make them self-sustaining. Mumbai is full of buildings where urban farms can be built on the terraces of the buildings. We envision this to be a holistic and system thinking approach towards answering many of the city’s problems like food and nutrition security, livelihood creation, solid waste management, air pollution, grey water treatment etc. The idea is to grow seasonal fruits and vegetables which have high nutritious value. These terrace farms would be cooperatively owned and managed by the women and adolescents living in those buildings. The ready availability of fresh vegetables will help encourage the consumption by the community. This will help fight malnutrition by providing fresh fruits and vegetables in the vicinity of slums and resettlements. The ownership by women will also make them independent and help them raise their socio-economic status. The plants would be grown in staggered racks made of recycled plastic or metal and holders made from used plastic bottles and cans. This will promote the reuse and recycle of the plastic waste in the city and help in solid waste management. The compost prepared from the wet waste in the composting unit would be used as manure for the growth of the plants. Also, to this natural soil and bagasse from sugarcane and coconut will be added to retain moisture. For watering, grey water from the communities would be diverted through pipelines to the terrace farms and each plant would be irrigated through drip irrigation to avoid aerosol formation. This will lead to effective treatment of grey water while at the same time avoiding usage of any extra water in irrigation. The treated grey water would be reused in toilet flushes or would be sent for further treatment and purification. This grey water which would go to the sewage treatment plants will pose a lesser burden as compared to direct outlet of grey water from houses, as it would have already passed through one layer of soil. Apart from the fruits and vegetables, the bagasse and the compost would also be used for mushroom cultivation in the houses of the owners. Mushroom is a good source of protein and is a widely accepted food item with a good market price. The organic methods of growing mushroom and the other fruits and vegetables will increase the income of the households in the community. Further solar energy would be used to pump up the grey water to terraces for the drip irrigation, thus reducing the cost of electricity. The plant growth will increase the total green cover in the city and will help in reducing the carbon footprint of the city. These farms could also be used for effective rain water harvesting which could be later used for making the communities water secure. Further, the produce could be used to create more diverse livelihood options like fruit salad counters.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

With the prevailing challenges addressed the communities will become empowered, just, equal and self-sustaining societies. They will have equal access to nutrition and will have a fulfilling life. All the children will be properly nourished and will reach their full potentials in life. The control of community over their own food will bring independence from exploitative structures and hence there will be an increase in well-being. The women will be gainfully employed and would contribute to the economy of the community. They will now be recognised as the true and worthy harbingers and sustainers of prosperity and will enjoy equal rights. With the increase in green cover and circular economy, there will be a drastic reduction in carbon emissions which will help stop climate change. The optimum use of technology will help us become efficient in our resource use and pose little burden on the planet’s non-renewable resources. With organic farming practices, the soil, water and air will gain back their purity and enrich our lives and future generations. With the correct policies and policymakers in place, people will enjoy true democracy, become aware and invite the most humane people for governance roles. With all these needs and aspirations met, there will be a culture of peace and harmony in the society and there will be no longer wars over resources. This will make the society most vibrant - one which would celebrate all life forms and help each other evolve into better beings.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

People for Education Health Environment and Livelihoods (PEHEL) Foundation is a Mumbai-based NGO. As the name suggests, PEHEL has an interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary approach towards its functioning. PEHEL sees various development indicators like Education, Health, Environment and Livelihoods extremely essential for development of the humankind. However, PEHEL views these indicators as multilevel, diversified ones instead of a monolithic one. Therefore, in its operations PEHEL tries to maintain a link in all of its core indicators. One of the core indicators, Health, has been often-neglected when it comes to several levels of interventions such as Government, Private, Public or Community level.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has a right to standard of living adequate to health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care” (United Nations, 1948). Every nation has a duty to invest in health and nutrition of its population. This not only improves indicators but also ensures long term sustainable development. Health and Nutritional Status affect the capacity to learn, which in turn determines productivity and economic growth (Andersen, 2001). In India, various forms of malnutrition and deficiencies result in high productive losses annually (Capacci, et al., 2012). According to World Health Organization’s definition, “Nutrition is the intake of food, considered in relation to the body’s dietary needs.”

The National Nutrition Policy of 1993 by the Government of India opens with the following statement:

“Nutrition affects Development as much as Development effects Nutrition.” (National Nutritional Policy, Govt.Of India, 1993)

India has always given special care to the problem regarding nutrition.

Given these factors, PEHEL has a special focus on the existing issues in Nutrition and Food Security in the context of city of Mumbai.

Mumbai is an island city based on the shore of Arabian sea in Western coast of India. It has a tropical wet climate and receives rains at least for 4 months in a year. It is moderately hot and has high humidity due to proximity to the sea. It is overall highly developed and is considered financial capital of India. However, the whole city is interspersed with low-income settlements like slums and rehabilitation buildings. Mumbai attracts many migrants from villages and smaller towns across the country for want of employment opportunities, access to health and education as well as business opportunities. In general, the city is cosmopolitan and the only culture that binds all its citizens is the struggle for a better lifestyle and access to resources. A huge part of the employed population also travels in and out of the city daily. The major food choices of people come from a need to get a satiating diet while also saving on time and effort. Street food mainly consists of processed food made from refined wheat flour, potatoes and refined oil. Some traditional cuisines influence the breakfast options which include preparations made from wheat, rice or lentils with a sprinkling of vegetables and curries. In beverages, Tea, with whole milk and sugar, is the most basic, most common and cheapest preparation available on the streets as well as a welcome drink in the houses. Staple diet includes lentil curry, vegetable preparations and rice or flat breads.

There are several challenges that our food system faces. We can divide them into current challenges and future challenges. When it comes to current challenges, few of the challenges include unsustainable rural farming practices, water and soil pollution due to overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, lack of food security to the poor people for both macro and micro-nutrients, lack of access to nutritious food for the urban poor, high dependence on the government subsidized ration, high infant mortality rate due to acute and chronic malnutrition and low productivity of malnourished individuals. The vicious cycle of malnourishment and poverty continues to keep a section of population deprived from reaching their full potential and fulfilling their aspirations. Lack of political will to address these problems leaves people at the mercy of the overlords and leads to their exploitation.

Following are the future challenges: India is rapidly urbanizing. Currently about 30% of the population of India resides in urban areas. It has been projected that, by 2050, almost 50% of the Indian population will be residing in cities, due to migration from villages in search of better employment opportunities, water security and better health facilities. In future, the marginalized communities may be wiped out, if their nutrition and health are not secured now. Newer technological solutions need to be developed so that they use renewable source of energy and do not lead to any further climate change.  

What does PEHEL envision?

We envision Urban farming in decentralized approach as a way to empower people and make them self-sustaining.

Mumbai has several tall buildings where urban farms can be built on the terraces of the buildings. We envision this to be a holistic and systems thinking approach towards answering many of the city’s problems like food and nutrition security, livelihood creation, solid waste management, air pollution, grey water treatment etc. The idea is to grow seasonal fruits and vegetables which have high nutrition value. These terrace farms would be cooperatively owned and managed by the women and adolescents living in those buildings. The ready availability of fresh vegetables will help encourage the consumption by the community. This will help fight malnutrition by providing fresh fruits and vegetables in the vicinity.

The plants would be grown in staggered racks made of recycled plastic or metal and holders made from used plastic bottles and cans. This will promote the reuse and recycle of the plastic waste in the city and help in solid waste management. The compost prepared from the wet waste in the composting unit would be used as manure for the growth of the plants. For watering, grey water from the communities would be diverted through pipelines to the terrace farms and each plant would be irrigated through drip irrigation to avoid aerosol formation. This will lead to effective treatment of grey water. The treated grey water would be reused in toilet flushes or would be sent for further treatment and purification. This grey water which would go to the sewage treatment plants will pose a lesser burden as compared to direct outlet of grey water from houses, as it would have already passed through one layer of soil. Apart from growing fruits and vegetables, the bagasse and the compost would also be used for mushroom cultivation in the houses of the owners. Mushroom is a good source of protein and is a widely accepted food item with a good market price. The organic methods of growing mushroom and the other fruits and vegetables will increase the income of the households in the community.

Further solar energy would be used to pump up the grey water to terraces for the drip irrigation, thus reducing the cost of electricity. The plant growth will increase the total green cover in the city and will help in reducing the carbon footprint of the city. These farms could also be used for effective rain water harvesting which could be later used for making the communities water secure.

The produce could be used to create more diverse livelihood options like fruit salad counters. Through this integrated farming efforts, we envision that the health of the urban populations will also be improved as they will be engaged in constructive manual labor and will be closer to nature. The cooperative nature of the ownership will give rise to satisfaction and build a more cohesive community as there will be no hierarchy.

In the resettlement colonies and slums of Mumbai, almost 60% of the children below 5 years are malnourished. They have deficiency of macronutrients as well as micronutrients. The socioeconomic status of one of the largest slums is very poor with the HDI being around 0.25. This is the case in spite of it being a part of financial capital of India which has an average HDI of 0.7. This is in spite of the fact that India in general is food secure and even exports its goods to other countries. Thus, the problem in India and specifically in Mumbai is not of production but of resource allocation and distribution. In addition, most of the food provider and distributor mechanisms are privatized and people who are able to afford, have access to the best quality of fruits, vegetables and grains. Whereas those who rely on PDS system for their food requirements, find it completely unaffordable to supplement it with food available in the market. So, they skip on eating vegetables and fruits and instead consume mostly the staple foods i.e. rice and wheat. This deprives them of the protein energy nutrition as well as the essential vitamins and minerals.

As India is industrializing, rural farms have been neglected and are facing severe water and resource crisis, leading to migration of people. There is a need to build sustainable and smart cities which would cater to the needs of the migrant people as well as to those staying already in the cities.

The volunteers could be encouraged to donate their time and effort in the farming practice to develop a culture of dignity of labor and provide a unique experience of farming in urban areas which is hitherto limited only to rural areas. This would supplement the economy of the farm owners and also generate additional livelihood options.

With the prevailing challenges addressed, the communities will become empowered, just, equal and self-sustaining societies.

The above discussion summarizes the approach PEHEL will take to address the pertinent food system challenges in context of lower socio-economic populations.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email

Attachments (1)

Conceptual Models of the Study.docx

These are the two Conceptual Models which have a major impact on our idea of the Food System Vision Prize.

10 comments

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Spam
Photo of Mat Jones
Team

Hi Peehu, This is an amazing idea that might be applied to lots of cities. Is there anything unique about Mumbai that would make your solution particularly appropriate?

Spam
Photo of Peehu Pardeshi
Team

Dear Mat Jones. Thanks for showing interest in our idea. There are various reasons which make Mumbai appropriate for the solution. The first thing - all the members from my organization are based in Mumbai which has allowed us to understand deeply the existing situation and the problems in this area. Mumbai is a highly developed city and is considered the commercial capital of India. But there is also a huge amount of inequality in terms of access to resources, income, health status, education and other essential commodities. Mumbai is an urban space full of concerete buildings and slums without much space for conventional agriculture practices. Whatever negligible agriculture that happens, is along the railway tracks. This gives an opportunity to try out farming on terraces which is a space that has not been utilised efficently for any purpose yet, apart from solar panels and water tanks, as yet. Another reason for selecting Mumbai is that, since there are many businesses/professions thriving in the city, there is a huge demand for high quality of fruits and vegetables. Thus, there is a scope of alternate livelihoods from this practice of urban farming thus making it sustainable for the cultivators. Once the nourishment needs of the farming community are met, they can sell the excess vegetable off, at the market prices which are generaly high. Thus Mumbai city can support this alternate livelihoods option while becoming food secure.

Spam
Photo of Mat Jones
Team

Dear Peehu, Thanks for getting back to me. I think your right that the demand for fresh vegetables is huge in Mumbai, and only set to grow. This all points towards the need for protected space for local production. It's interesting to know that a new source of competition for space is solar panels. This raises some real dilemmas about what to prioritise for action on urban sustainability.

Spam
Photo of Peehu Pardeshi
Team

Indeed, it raises a dilemma. And that is when we need to put things in perspective. Whom are we doing the development for? Who is going to be most benefitted and by what kind of development? Are we leaving behind anyone when we talk of development? It has been proven that it is the industry that consumes most amount of fossil fuels and any attempt to use solar panels at the household level is not going to reduce the destruction of the environment that has been brought about by the corporate greed. Also, technology like solar panel may look efficient, but when we do a lifecycle analysis, we find that there is a lot of energy input in the manufacturing of any kind of technology in the first place. Hence, the onus of saving energy should not lie on the urban or the rural poor, but on the corporate. At the household/community level, it is important that each individual and each population becomes at least food secure and nutrition secure while causing minimum damage to the environment. That is what needs to be pushed. There needs to be movement towards this.

Spam
Photo of Mat Jones
Team

I agree - it raises an important issue about land use in urban and peri-urban areas. In the UK and other European countries the legal protections of small areas of land for urban food production is very weak. There is a growing movement in the UK to try to rectify this. I'm doing research with the UK Sustainable Food Cities programme on this http://sustainablefoodcities.org/ (new website to be launched soon).

Spam
Photo of Mat Jones
Team

Hi Peehu, I just had read through your updated submission. It's looking really good now - particularly nice to see the images. Good luck! Mat

Spam
Photo of Peehu Pardeshi
Team

Thanks Mat

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