Rooftop agriculture for urban “prosumption”and more

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Rooftop gardening has gained popularity among the city dwellers in recent times. Photo: Collected

Gone are the days when availability of land for agriculture was not so scarce. With population explosion worldwide, particularly, in the periphery, intensive agriculture has now been the go of the day. Development via urbanization has gradually been reducing the availability of suitable agricultural land across the countries, mostly in the periphery. Moreover, absence of greenery in the emerging urbanization in such countries has inspired many urban dwellers to adopt the practices of rooftop agriculture for greening a little bit of their rooftops for supplying garden-fresh vegetables and fruits for consumption. It also gives an opportunity for engagement in agricultural production with other interested members of their families. The rooftop greenery has also been adding the aesthetic and environmental values in the created dry concrete-jungles.

In the economic parlance, production and consumption are two most-frequently used terms and in the advocacy for “massification” of production and consumption, many an economist argues that economic success comes from mass-production, mass-consumption and their ultimate equilibrium. In such conditions, the production is divorced from the consumption; the production efficiency contributes to lowering the unit-cost and price benefitting the consumers; and the scale of production ensures good return on investment. All these have spoken of a win-win situation for all. But the other side of the story is that the participation in production by the consuming public goes away; it has created a perpetual dependency of consumers on far-away producers; and pursuant to profit-maximization by the profit-seekers, there often grows a tendency to over-exploit the environmental resources resulting in environmental degradation, and so on.

In recent past, there were arguments in favor of “prosumption”. This is a term arising out of fusion between the words production and consumption by the same people. So, it’s a portmanteau of two words giving a new meaning as well as significance. The word was coined in 1980 by American futurist Alvin Toffler and since then began to be used by the technology writers from that time. The user’s participation in both production and consumption has blurred the line of separation between them. In the earlier agricultural era, the fact of both production and consumption was very common in the reality. The earlier subsistence peasant economy was essentially a “prosumption” economy as the same peasants used to produce and consume their products by themselves with no or little surplus for distribution to the relatives or sale to the others. With commercialization and “massification”, the subsistence economy became an alien. “Prosumption” can now be viewed as a partial comeback of the idea related to the subsistence economy of the bygone days. Now, the technological breakthrough and user’s participation in both production and consumption has given a new significance to the “prosumption” products.

In Bangladesh, the interest in the roof-gardening that has now been growing on the rooftops of the tall multistoried buildings, particularly in Dhaka, is such a clear phenomenon that this is not the simple amateur activities by a small number of urban dwellers. Rather, this can be considered as the expansion of “prosumption” activities in the urban agriculture. Agriculture is typically associated with rural economic pursuits by the rural people. Pre-independence urbanization of Bangladesh did not experience any land scarcity and very high land cost compared to as it is now. The earlier urbanization was horizontal with a maximum of two or three storied buildings surrounded by open spaces where there were so many planted trees or some flower-gardens. Post-independent Bangladesh has been witnessing both horizontal and vertical urban building constructions leaving little or no space for trees and gardens. Where there is planning inadequacy and lack of enforcement, the conditions in those places are aggravated. Immediately following independence, the urban-dwellers in mega-cities like Dhaka and Chittagong have been finding themselves as if they were insects in the concrete jungles. Of course, in the new planned areas the situations are different.

Against this background, the city-dwellers, particularly in Dhaka, are becoming gradually interested in urban rooftop agriculture and many a person is engaging themselves with their family members in developing their agricultural gardens in their rooftops. Mention should be made of a particular pioneer Shykh Seraj of Channel I TV for his distinct appreciated role as a spark-plug in this regard. The emerging rooftop agricultural gardens are not only meeting the needs of those city-dwellers for their “prosumption”, but also other aesthetic and environmental requirements. These rooftop gardens may be viewed to function as “micro-oxygen generator” for each of the buildings with rooftop agricultural gardens.

As the rooftop agriculture has been emerging as a new reality, the extension services by the appropriate institutions should come forward to support the needs of rooftop agriculturists. Other than the concerned government institutions for support, the NGOs, banks, other interested private sector entrepreneurs and organizations may think about playing their roles in the fields of extension, finance, appropriate technology and so on. Perhaps, environment degradation can be a little bit minimized by the “micro-oxygen generators” atop the tall buildings with meeting “prosumption” needs of some of the dwellers of these buildings.

The writer is a columnist and vice-chairman of CDIP.

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