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MICROFARM water storage

A lightweight small unit which can provide food/income. Potential to filter/store rainwater, be made from local materials & compost waste.

Photo of David Cole
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Providing access to basic human needs is critical for urban poor, shelter, food and water are the at the forefront of these needs. The microfarm project aims to help meet these needs and potentially provide a sustainable revenue stream over time. The idea is relatively simple and is a design for a closed loop growing unit which can be fabricated from a number of materials making it easily assemblable across a range of geographic locations. For ground mounted units the growing chamber can be filled with compost and soil & for roof mounted units a hydroponic rooting sponge material is used to reduce weight. The design contains a number of chambers which allow for rooting and water storage/treatment as well as a modified designs for growth of root veg or ground nuts & a dark growing unit for mushrooms. The design can be scaled up or units can be joined together to meet a range of contexts or site needs. The idea behind the project is to provide people with a way of maximising the small amount of space they have. For each location tests are done to see which crops can yield the most return and if a number of growing cycles can be achieved each year. The challenge to find ways for people to not only meet their basic human rights but to exceed this & have access to healthy food & potentially sustainable income streams. The microfarm project reduces people's reliance on largescale farming, empowers communities to share/swap produce & educates families on selfsufficient strategies


The benefits directly go to those that take on the microfarm project. A number of skilled labourers can be taught how to assemble the unit and can make a living from helping people install and set up the microfarms. Once up and running the family can reap the benefits of fresh food and potentially selling produce. We would like to implement a pilot project in a number of locations across South East Asia where we have offices that can monitor the project and explore further opportunities.


Production of food and access to clean water are critical to human life. The growth in informal settlements and the drive towards urbanisation has led increasingly to large scale agribusinesses taking over food production. This business contributes to the production of green house gasses and in people become more distanced from the natural environment, losing the ability to provide for themselves. Localising food production not only reduces carbon and improves local air quality but it also reduces need to transport food, harnessing the idea of closed loop systems and permaculture. Urban slums can become wastelands of refuse, human waste and standing water, by giving people a means to microfarm we provide a strategy to use the waste to grow food and create revenue streams. The microfarms become incubators for enterprise and tap into existing market stalls and shops driving revenue back to those living within the community. The lack of basic infrastructure for sanitation and water common in urban slums leads to multiple health concerns, by educating people about microfarming you "Plan for the ordinary, not just the extraordinary" teaching principles of healthy eating, composting, clean water treatment & various other important environmental factors. Microfarmers use no machines to plant, tend or crop and no pesticides or preservatives. The roof top unit can reduce overheating of internal spaces & therefore reduce the need for fans or other electronic cooling devices. Being home based systems they lend themselves to being managed by caregivers & can provide income to women...


  • Yes, for two or more years


  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for at least two years


  • Yes


I am the founder of Building Trust international a nonprofit organisation that tackles a range of global issues through design. We have worked with communities and NGOs to improve the design of housing, education & health facilities, establishing sustainable livelihood programs across our projects.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Andrew Gamble

Hi David,

I've submitted this idea, and it seems like there may be a chance for us to collaborate. 

One of the biggest challenges that we are going to face in Djibouti is finding the space for the gardens. The landscape inside the slums is very hummocky, rocky and dry.  It sounds like your units are pretty flexible. I'm wondering if you have had experience in this type of environment. Is it possible to stack the units and make a vertical garden, when space is very tight? We are planning to use treated water from water treatment plants that are next to the slums. 

I would love to get your thoughts on our idea.

Photo of Shane Zhao

David, check out this likeminded idea in the Improve Phase. It'll be great to reach out to do some knowledge sharing

MICROFARM water storage:

Photo of Chioma Ume

Hi David,

Below is some feedback from our experts. We look forward to reading your responses! 

Nice and clear idea. It purpose is laudable and clearly relates to resilience. Whilst its relevance is well-established in the text, here are a few ideas of how it could be taken to the 'next level'. First, explore how this contributes to the 'adaptation' of communities to climate change impacts. The relevance to climate change mitigation is mentioned but I feel exploring adaptation is more powerful. Secondly, there is emphasis in the impact of the microfarm as an intervention, but it could be even stronger if the definition of what can be produced and its commercial/livelihood potential can be explained in more detail (visually or text). Thirdly, can this be used in different geographies?

How have you tested whether there is a desire for this product?

Where will it be used? Is this a low cost version of this ? If so, how is it better?

Is the pot meant to grow food that people will actually eat? How frequent is the yield?

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on making it to the Feedback Phase David! We would love it if you can take some time to answer the new Refinement questions that we've added to your original idea submission form. To answer the new questions, hit the Edit Contribution button at the top of your post. Scroll down to the entry fields of the new Refinement questions. Hit Save when you are done editing.

Also, here's a useful tip: When you update the content of your post, it'd be helpful to indicate this in your idea title by adding an extension. For example, you can add the extension " - Update: Experience Maps 11/16" to you idea title. This will be a good way to keep people informed about how your idea is progressing!

Photo of Lyn Evans

Hi David,
This is an interesting idea. Can you provide some details on costs to establish a microfarm, and say how the payment system would work, in a slum community with little if any income? Also, where would the water supply come from to establish growth? I
I do like the idea that women could have their own business to sell some vegetables.

Photo of David Cole

Lyn, thanks for your comment, we do have schematics which have been driven forward by a community we are working with in Cambodia. Here the water collection is based on rainwater catchment from zinc and palm roofs retrofitting existing water collection devices and using local materials. From a roof of 20m2, growers can collect 2 000 litres of water for every 100 mm of rainfall, enough for the year-round cultivation of a micro-garden of 2m2. The FAO suggest this enough for around 400 tomatoes (60 kg) a year, or 71 heads of lettuce every 60 days, or 20 cabbages every 90 days, or 200 onions every 120 days. In terms of funding we have been looking at very small amounts of seed funding to establish the unit but first figures show that this can be done for a very low cost that can be recouped within the first or second harvest. When the project is implemented across a community there may be opportunities once one microfarm is up and running for the owner to help someone else (a neighbour perhaps) set up there's. Thanks for your support...

Photo of Lyn Evans

Thanks David for your prompt response. Would you consider micro-loans similar to the model of Grameen phones in India, where the business pays back small amounts over time, or a repayable grant system? All the best with this idea.

Photo of David Cole

We would be open to looking at a range of ways to fund the initial costs with what may best fit the communities needs or with what the communities have experience of. If micro financing was something that was already in operation and that people had experience in managing their finance then this may be a a great way to deliver the project once up and running.