URBAN farming is growing in popularity, especially now during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many people are spending more time at home and taking up farming as a resourceful hobby, while some are also earning an income from selling the produce.
While the authorities encourage the activity, some farms are being cultivated in areas that are not meant for such projects, thus disrupting the surroundings.
To regulate the activity, Housing and Local Government Ministry launched the Urban Community Farming Policy (UCFP) on Aug 3 as a guide for individuals or groups interested in pursuing such projects.
The National Landscape Department, an agency under the ministry, is the policy executioner.
Its director-general Rotina Mohd Daik said that despite a high number of urban gardens, the communities that managed them lacked knowledge on proper management, growing methods, maintenance and sustainable practices, among others.
She said the department’s involvement in an earlier initiative by the ministry called Rakan Taman that was closely related to urban community farming, showed that these communities faced problems and challenges from the start.
“Many started gardens on illegal sites, grew unsuitable plants and had poor knowledge of garden tools and uses.
“That was when the idea for UCFP first came about,” she said.
Rotina said the main objective of the policy was to develop urban community farms in an organised, systematic and sustainable manner in urban areas.
“In this community garden policy, guidelines are also provided for the community to carry out urban gardening activities.
“The policy touches on suitable farming areas, the processes of obtaining permission from the landowner and local authority, and includes advice on must-have elements of an urban farm such as boundaries between crops, compost site, crop rotation practices, watering methods and maintenance.
“Individuals wanting to grow vegetables or fruits in their house compounds need not seek any permission from the authorities.
“However, individuals or groups wanting to start a garden in a common area or any available space belonging to others, must seek the proper approvals.
“This is to avoid instances of people taking over spaces in prohibited areas such as recreational sites and children’s playgrounds.
“The policy also touches on the type of crops suitable for urban gardens, among which are eggplant, lemongrass, carrot, cucumber and kale,” she elaborated.
Rotina said Housing and Local Government Ministry hoped that the policy would increase gardening activities in urban areas in a more systematic and tidy manner, which in turn would increase social integration among the urban community.
She said the department would work closely with local councils to ensure the policy served local communities well as a guideline for those interested in creating their own urban farms.
“Residents associations, joint management bodies for strata properties and non-governmental organisations are encouraged to register their urban farm initiatives with the local authorities.
“Registered organisations will be able to receive support and guidance from the authorities.
“Some may even get financial aid for start-up capital from local authorities and the relevant agencies to jumpstart community garden projects,” she added.
Right time for guide
Persatuan Lestari Alam Malaysia chairman Rashdan Rashid said the launch of UCFP was a step in the right direction, as there was a growing interest in such projects.
Rashdan, who is also Kuala Lumpur urban farming chairman under the Local Agenda 21 (LA 21) programme managed by Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), said there were over 100 applications for urban farms that were awaiting approval since the Covid-19 pandemic started.
He said the approval process had been delayed because there was not enough officers in the task force to oversee the setting up and operations of such farms.
“Setting up a sustainable urban farm needs proper planning, otherwise it will fail.
“Under the LA 21 programme, we help them choose the site, provide training in capacity building, teach them how to operate as a social enterprise and assess their projects biannually,” he explained.
Rashdan said participants would also learn about the circular economy.
“Once the farm is up, we educate them on rainwater harvesting for watering crops, making compost as fertilisers and organic farming for health and benefits to the environment.
“Apart from just selling the produce at markets, we also teach them to make products out of the fresh produce,” he added.
Some groups, Rashdan revealed, recorded sales of up to RM300 a month.
“Part of the sales can be put back into the farm,” he advised.
However, from the 84 registered urban farms, he noted that only about 20% met the sustainable standards.
He stressed that regulations were also important to control farming activities in the city.
“Some farms are being cultivated in children’s playgrounds and recreational areas, which is not fair to others.
“Another example of poor urban farming practice is siting the project below high-tension cables.
“Although allowed, many do not seek approval from the landowner and they plant the wrong type of crops.
“With a policy in place, such practices could be avoided,” he said.
Thriving community farms
Taman Tun Dr Ismail Edible Community Garden chairperson Margaret Lee agreed that with regulations, problems could be nipped in the bud.
When residents started the project on a vacant plot along Lorong Burhanuddin Helmi 11 in 2017, it had a smooth kick-off as they were guided by the LA 21 programme.
“As a result, we have a thriving vegetable garden and have planted a variety of fruit trees.
“We use organic methods and our produce is snapped up quickly by the community.
“We also make and sell compost.
“Prior to that, there were groups that started smaller gardens but failed to sustain them,” she said.
Latiff Abu Hassan, who heads the Neighbourhood Garden Project at Seri Perlis 2 Flats in Kampung Datuk Keramat, Kuala Lumpur, is also of the view that communities will benefit from the policy.
He said the flats residents’ garden project was initiated in 2015 under an Agriculture and Food Industry Ministry programme.
It was to encourage the community to grow their own crops as a way of reducing living expenses.
However, it was only through a LA 21 programme that Seri Perlis 2 flats residents learned how to cultivate crops using sustainable methods, said Latiff.
“Our crops are flourishing.
“We have groups that plant different types of vegetables.
“We sell the produce at the market and profits are ploughed back into the housing corporation for the benefit of residents.
“The project also keeps residents, especially the older generation, active and healthy.”
He said cash incentives were given to the groups that achieved their target for the month.
“I hope more communities will take up urban farming because there is much to be gained.
“It brings people together and promotes neighbourliness,” Latiff added.