Changes have taken place in rural areas of the country as well as in urban nature during the Covid-19 pandemic.
During the shutdown period, people stuck at home for a long time became inclined to start gardening. As a result, the number of rooftop gardens increased significantly in the capital. Many people have made vegetable gardens, orchards or flower gardens on the roofs of their houses.
Before the pandemic, different environmental organisations carried out campaigns to inspire people to establish rooftop gardens, but during the shutdown, a good number of house owners and nature lovers ordered saplings and soil online, aiming to establish rooftop gardens.
According to the Bangladesh Agriculture Information Service, Dhaka city has about 4.5 lakh roofs with an area of more than 4,500 hectares. Most of the roofs were left empty, but nowadays homeowners are building roof gardens to spend their leisure time and green their roofs.
At present, there are around 30,000 rooftop gardens in the capital – covering 7% of the total number of roofs.
According to a Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University study, about 41% of Dhaka's roof garden owners are young, 30% are middle-aged and 29% are elderly.
Many people are not interested in roof gardening considering the cost and damage to roofs.
Environmentalists said despite the problems, homeowners are becoming more and more interested in the effort, attracted by the prospect of fresh vegetables, fruits and air. As a result, interest in roof farming is increasing. "This interest has increased during the [novel] coronavirus period," they observed.
Dr Sabikun Nahar, from the Gynaecology Department of Dhaka Medical College, took the initiative to make a rooftop garden at her old house during the shutdown as she was encouraged by friends and tree lovers in different Facebook groups.
At present there are about 120 trees of 30-35 species in her garden. Although she started with some flower and fruit trees, she is now planting vegetables also.
Her fruit trees include: lemon, pomegranate, guava, and mango. Meanwhile, her vegetables are long bean, eggplant, gourd, water spinach, malabar spinach, ridge-gourd and papaya. Further, Nahar is cultivating various medicinal plants including neem and aloe vera.
Nahar told The Business Standard (TBS), "Inspired by friends' examples, I became interested in roof gardening during the [novel] coronavirus period. Since our house is a little old, there is no staircase inside, so I climbed up a ladder to the roof and started gardening."
"I have planted about 120 trees on my roof by now. We have not bought many vegetables from the market since May. After a day or two, I can cook the vegetables produced in my roof garden. The satisfaction of growing vegetables with one's own hands and feeding one's family members after cooking is really different.
Like Dr Nahar, Mohsina, a resident from the city's Dhanmondi, also started roof gardening with the help of the Department of Agricultural Extension. Besides fruit trees – including lemon, mango, malta, guava, papaya, fig, and orange – she has also planted vegetables like: long bean, spinach, snake gourd, bottle gourd, malabar spinach, and bitter gourd. She has planted an array of flower trees also.
Environmental organisation Green Savers is working on roof farming, through its own website, Facebook page and various campaigns. They offer consultancy on different aspects of planting – including roof gardening. The organisation also has a tree doctor, mobile clinic and hospital for trees.
Ahmed Roni, founder of Green Savers, told TBS: "The number of rooftop gardens has increased during the pandemic. In the last six months, we have prepared around 300 roof gardens in Dhaka."
"Our organisation started its journey in 2010. So far, we have established 6,000 roof gardens, and are regularly maintaining them," he added.
"We have 40 dedicated members on our team. Divided into different groups, they make gardens and take care of them regularly. Outside the capital, they have so far assisted preparing about 300 gardens in Chattogram. However, services over taking care of the gardens are provided in Dhaka only," he continued.
"Dhaka North City Corporation has donated us an ambulance to carry trees, besides providing a large space in the capital. Moreover, the Department of Agricultural Extension [DAE] has provided us training," he said.
In 2018, the DAE undertook a three year project on urban agricultural development to establish 600 rooftop gardens in the capital. The project is scheduled to end in June.
The DAE's project director Taherul Islam said, "Under this project, we have so far established 500 roof gardens in Dhaka. Hopefully, we will be successful in preparing 100 more in the rest of the time. There are about 6,975 roof gardens in Dhaka under our supervision."
He said interested persons can contact the Department of Agriculture for help regarding rooftop gardens.