Motia Hossain, a retired government officer living at New Eskaton in Dhaka, found it difficult to source her preferred organic vegetables from different shops. Hence, she built a rooftop garden three years ago.
Sometimes, her two daughters taste the vegetables she grows. But now they are insisting that she expands the garden on her 2,000 sqft roof because they cannot buy vegetables as frequently as they could a month ago, because of the lockdown.
"My daughters – who are married – are now planning to build a rooftop garden," Motia said.
Gardening on the rooftop or in the veranda may be a fun and relaxing way to get rid of inertia. But at a time when social life and economy have stopped due to the lockdown, home-based horticulture has emerged as sort of a necessity.
To check the spread of the novel coronavirus, the government has imposed a nationwide shutdown. Every day, as new cases emerge, more areas in cities and villages are put on lockdown.
If farmers cannot go out for cultivation or fail to transport their produces to markets, or if consumers cannot go out for shopping, the demand and supply chain becomes disrupted. This severely impacts the market of perishable items, particularly vegetables.
"Urbanites have stocked up on rice, lentil and oil to handle emergencies. But doing so on perishable vegetables and keeping those fresh for long is impossible. If villages are locked down one after another, the supply of vegetables to cities will stop," Ahsan Rony, president of non-profit organisation Green Savers, warned.
So far, the government has not suspended transportation of agricultural produces. Hence, a sizable amount of vegetables still arrive at some wholesale markets in Dhaka.
Are these vegetables safe? Rony thinks the virus can be transmitted through those too.
"During any contagion, hygiene must be maintained. Hence, people having access to build gardens on the rooftop or in the veranda can utilise the space to grow their own vegetables," he said.
"Growing vegetables on the rooftop and in the veranda is the only option for urban cultivation in Dhaka – the mega city that is covered, nearly 80 percent, by concrete."
For good health
Consumption of vegetables is crucial for good health. Doctors say vegetables boost the body's immune system.
Besides ensuring nutrition, practicing home horticulture can also help people keep fit.
"People are getting bored by sitting idle at home. Gardening will be a remedy for those affected by lockdown. Going up and down the stairs as well as irrigation and weeding are good forms of physical exercise," said Dr MA Sobhan, a botanist and the president of non-profit BeezBistar Foundation.
For the last 20 years, Sobhan, former chief scientist at Bangladesh Jute Research Institute, has been maintaining a 2,200 sqft rooftop garden in Mirpur. "I am still physically fit at 79."
He cultivates all kinds of seasonal vegetables and fruits. Currently, he is producing string beans, cucumber, papaya, sweet gourd, bitter gourd and spinach.
According to Sobhan, most of the local varieties of vegetables can be cultivated on the rooftop. Plastic-made drums, buckets, trays or earthen pots can be used as containers.
"Regular cultivation is enough to meet the vegetable demand for three families," Sobhan said, adding that his married children's family members also consume the vegetables he grows.
Green Savers President Rony said there are approximately 20,000 small- and medium-scale rooftop gardens in Dhaka.
"On average, each building has a 1,500 sqft roof. Proper management of the space and an organised horticulture can ensure the daily vegetable demand of at least 10 families."
Urban horticulture requires hybrid varieties of seeds. Hence, it mostly depends on nursery. Fortunately, nurseries in Dhaka are still open and those interested can arrange the necessary stuff to start gardening.
In the time of total shutdown, family members are staying at home. This togetherness can be a source of inspiration for doing something good.
As Rony said, "The younger members can learn gardening by seeing the elders doing it. This will also inspire the new generation to love the green."