Rooftop agriculture is taking root around the globe. With its beginnings in 600 B.C.E. Babylon (present day Iraq), rooftop farming has arrived, full circle, back in the Middle East. According to the online Lebanese newspaper L’Orient-Le Jour, Gazan residents are installing aquaponic gardens on their roofs to meet local food demands.
The February 4th article, written by an Agence France-Presse (AFP) journalist, stated that, “Gaza has 1.7 million people crammed into an area of [139 square miles].” As one of the most densely populated areas in the politically-unstable region, Gaza’s ability to grow its own food is critical. The article points out that 35% of Gaza’s arable land, which could be used for farming, is located in the “buffer zone” barrier, instituted by neighboring Israel in 1994. Farming within 330 yards of the border can be deadly, so Gazan farmers operate within safer areas whenever possible. A fact sheet released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) notes that the barrier additionally excludes 85% of Gaza’s fishing territories. Combined, annual losses from restrictions on agricultural and fishing territories exceed US$50 million, according to the fact sheet.
In response to Gaza’s food insecurity– which the FAO has deemed a “humanitarian crisis” – the FAO took interest in teaching Gazans how to efficiently grow their own food at home, in confined spaces. With funding from the Government of the Kingdom of Belgium, the FAO established an emergency food production support project in 2010. During the project’s first phase, deputy director Mohammad al-Chatali successfully facilitated the construction of 119 aquaponic gardens on the roofs of female-headed urban households. Twenty-four additional gardens were installed in community and educational facilities. In 2011, during phase two of the project, 100 more were constructed, for a total of 243 rooftop aquaponic gardens.
Aquaponic gardening consists of a closed-loop system that combines aquaculture (aquatic animal and plant cultivation) with hydroponics (soil-less plant propagation). The technique simultaneously produces fish and vegetables, by re-circulating water through the troughs or barrels in which the fish and edible plants live. In Gaza, tilapia is the fish of choice for these gardens. Residents grow lettuces, peppers, broccoli, celery and herbs, among other edibles, which are all fertilized by the fish waste in the recirculating water.
One Gazan resident who received a home aquaponic system, Abu Ahmad, feeds his 13 member household with the vegetables and fish produced on his roof, thereby minimizing his need to buy groceries. With additional rooftop gardens in the pipeline, Gaza is able to feed itself, one bite at a time.