Dhaka, Bangladesh
Urban farmers

Off the track

Urban farmers


How do you farm surrounded by concrete and millions of people? What does urban sprawl mean for food safety and supply? Students from the University of British Columbia Graduate School of Journalism report from Bangalore in southern India. In Ramagondanahalli village, Muniraju Hanumanthappa bends over his clay-coloured soil surrounded by bright green spinach leaves. He quickly prunes the plants, dwarfed by the apartment complex next to his small plot. Ramagondanahalli is an urban village being swallowed by the city. It lies on Varthur Lake, one of the biggest in Bangalore, which is known as the Silicon Valley of India. There are copper-tinted dirt roads, small-scale vegetable farms and a man who calls people to temple by beating a drum. The once-rural farming community is now part of eastern Bangalore, near the city’s mighty IT campuses. This rapid urbanisation has thrust urban farmers like Hanumanthappa, who is 45, into a fraught relationship with the city. They are confronted with a choice: continue farming under adverse conditions, or sell their land. Ramagondanahalli is emblematic of what’s happening throughout Bangalore. The city’s concrete-covered area has expanded by 925% since 1970, with more farmland being sold off to developers as the city embraces its tech boom. The new urban landscape is testing farmers’ resilience as they grapple with how to move forward. A stream from Varthur Lake irrigates Hanuman-thappa’s soft russet plot. The second biggest lake in Bangalore lies just beyond his farm. He has always used lake water, but now it is extremely polluted. Hanumanthappa knows he’s not supposed to use water straight from the lake. But without enough money to drill a borewell, he feels he has no other choice. Varthur Lake is polluted with both industrial waste and untreated residential sewage from the apartments that line its perimeter. There is no hiding the pollution, since stinking foam froths at the lake’s surface, especially when it rains. Upstream, Bellandur Lake periodically catches fire because of the cocktail of chemical pollutants it contains. Now, Hanumanthappa can only cultivate crops with short growing cycles so they don’t rot in the field. Spinach is the only plant he’s found that can grow with lake water. He sells his produce to the nearby HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd) market. “If I take it to the market, people who know about our crops do not purchase it,” Hanuma-nthappa says. “They know that we use polluted lake water.”

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