Saturday,25 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1271, (19-25 November 2015)
Saturday,25 November, 2017
Issue 1271, (19-25 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Green skies

Mai Samih learns how to recycle water, raise fish and plant chemical-free vegetables, all on one rooftop

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feat01
Al-Ahram Weekly

According to Wikipedia, the practice of cultivating food on the rooftops of buildings is called “rooftop farming”. This was known to ancient cultures, including Mesopotamia, (the current day Iraq), Syria, Kuwait and parts of Turkey and Iran. All were famous for planting trees and shrubs on mud-brick terraces. Babylon, then a city in Mesopotamia, was particularly famous for the Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the world built during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II around 600BC. Cultivation was also known to the Romans in Pompeii, and the Egyptians who implemented such techniques in Fustat in the early 11th century when they used ox-drawn waterwheels for irrigation.

Many centuries later, the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology (ASRT) is now teaching people how to grow vegetables on their rooftops without using chemicals or even soil.

“The plan is one of the national programmes the academy is responsible for,” Amr Farouk, deputy dean of ASRT and supervisor of regional research centres, national campaigns and initiatives, said. “The academy usually funds projects after they pass the scientific research and experimental phases and are ready to be applied in society.”

ASRT tries to bridge the gap between the needs of industry and society and the outcomes of scientific research along with funding and supervising research. “Planting vegetables on rooftops is not new in Egypt. It was done many years ago, but it was just for means of ornamentation. Even those who planted vegetables had no intention of financial gain. We are focussing on the financial gain for the first time,” Farouk said.

He added that ASRT conducted feasibility studies to see if the plan could be a source of financial support for youths who wish to apply it in their districts. “For this reason, we started making models. The first is the one on the rooftop of the academy. A year ago, the dean of the academy decided to clear the roof and start the first phase of the project.” Also set up on the roof was a solar energy generating station.

According to Farouk, ASRT is also working on rooftop planting at the agricultural training department of the Agricultural Research Centre (ARC) which is also where the public is being trained on cultivation. ASRT also started work in the governorates of Damietta, Tanta and Sohag. Classes have begun in ARC. “We are planning to start an advanced training course and we want to tell youth that if they want to simulate this project, there will be financing and monitoring of their work,” says Farouk.

The project itself has passed the experimental phase, but to know when it will start allowing people to be self-sufficient, more experiments are needed. “We want to find out what areas of land render financially profitable products and what types of vegetables are suitable to plant using this method.” Adds Farouk, “We want to find out if there are certain districts in which we can plant certain plants. This is why we chose to team up with Misr Al-Kheir Foundation in districts like Al-Sayeda Nafeesa where we started work on the roof of the Al-Sayeda Nafeesa Mosque. It is related to the Grey Water initiative in which we recycle water that is used in the sinks of bathrooms and kitchens of the mosque or surrounding buildings and use it, after purifying it, to plant vegetables on the rooftops of mosques.

“This in collaboration with members of staff from the University of Minya. There will also be a training centre for youth in the district.”

They chose the rooftop of the mosque because it was the shortest building in the district and is visited by many residents who can see what’s happening from their vantage points and learn how to implement the idea.

Farouk says that those who want to take part in the workshops do not necessarily have to be experts in agriculture and that anyone can learn how to do it at home. This is why they have programmes to help people from various backgrounds share their expertise in different fields and help each other.

Mahmoud Tantawi, supervisor of the ASRT roof planting programme, spoke about the technical side of the plan. “The most advanced country in planting on rooftops is Singapore and this is where we took it from. This system is called hydroponic or recycled water planting in which I have a fish tank in which we raise juvenile fish (fish that have just hatched from their eggs). The tank is connected to a wooden tray with plastic tubes with plant pots in them where the vegetables are planted in water with a substance that resembles soil to hold the plant steady. At the end of each tray is a filter in which the water from the vegetables is filtered and goes into the fish tank. The wastes of the fish go into the vegetable plant container to fertilise it. So it will neither be a source of pollution nor will it cause water leaks on the rooftops. This makes it a simple closed-circle technique.   

“With this technique, in Singapore one can build an entire tower of plastic tubes consisting of 14 layers of plants.  It is one of my hopes to find something like this or at least a building of five storeys in Egypt. It is systematic process but its results are fast. On a small scale it would cost LE400 per tray with the necessary filters and tubes,” says Tantawi who added that people could plant three to four times per year using this system.

“In the academy, we have a sort of showroom in which we have four fish farming units. Each tank is one metre wide and one and a half metres in depth. We bought the juvenile fish in Ramadan and it has since grown a little bit. We also have molokheya, cabbages, tomatoes, lemon, lettuce, zucchini and green pepper growing. In the winter we plan to plant tomatoes and broccoli among other vegetables.

“The plan has cost the academy LE one million and will be funded with a similar amount next year depending on the progress achieved. The largest part of this budget went to the Weather Institute in which planting was done on a large scale for commercial gains. For example, each tank has a diametre of 10 metres and weighs seven tons with the water in it. We have about five fish tanks that are expected to produce two tons of fish every two months. If each kilogram costs LE10, then the two tons will yield about LE20,000 and LE120,000 per year,” Tantawi says. ASRT will also plant aromatic and medical plants that are economically profitable because the type grown in Egypt has unique characteristics.

ASRT has worked closely with NGOs “which help us as partners in terms of providing us with contacts like in the example of Al-Sayeda Nafeesa Mosque. They contacted the Ministry of Endowments for us. It is an NGO that pays a lot of attention to scientific research,” Tantawi said. ASRT is ready to work with any NGO that works in entrepreneurship, work opportunities, and regional development in the governorates they are working in. They aim at lessening the pressure on Cairo by working in other governorates. For this reason, their regional centres in Sohag, Al- Wadi Al-Gedid, Arish, Ismailia, Damietta and Zagazig work with such NGOs.

“I hope that within two years, people visiting Egypt by plane could look down and see something other than old furniture on roofs,” Tantawi said. “I hope that every building will be self-sufficient in home grown vegetables. We need at least five years to raise the awareness of people. We will start awareness classes on 1 December in the academy.”

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