Urban farming and reshaping neighborhoods

Cordaid’s urban resilience program in Jakarta is bearing fruit. Hundreds of impoverished families on the city’s heavily polluted and sinking northern coast, took up urban farming, claim their rights and actively fight the effects of pollution and climate change. Jakarta’s deputy governor, inspired by our approach, invited Cordaid to contribute to the city’s urban farming policy plans.

urban farming

Community gardening and learning center, near the harbor (© Cordaid)

A sinking city

Forget Venice, it’s Jakarta that is one of the fastest-sinking cities in the world. To protect the city against rising sea levels they are constructing a great sea wall. But this not preventing that the city is sinking several centimetres every year, due to abstraction of groundwater and massive construction works. As usual, it’s the poorest communities who are paying the highest price.

The ‘flat people’ were evicted and relocated in big social housing flats.

Harma Rademaker, Cordaid’s Resilience program manager, explains: “Take the waterfront neighbourhood of Marunda, on Jakarta’s northern coast. Due to appalling waste management and sewage systems the water is extremely polluted. Heavy rains, sea spring tides and flooding rivers aggravate the sewage and waste problems and increase health risks. The sea wall might stop rising sea levels, but could also turn the northern coastal area into a cesspool. On top of that, it is cutting fishing communities off from the sea and thus robbing them from an income.”

Working with locals as well as relocated newcomers

Cordaid, with its Indonesian partner Caritas, started working in Marunda in 2015, with local inhabitants as well as groups of newcomers they call the ‘flat community’. Local fishermen families in the inundated area live in shacks, lacking basic facilities. The ‘flat people’ are families that were evicted and relocated in big social housing flats. Rademaker: “They used to live illegally alongside rivers and other places in Jakarta, having nowhere else to go to. The flats they live in now are more comfortable. But many can’t afford the rent. And they are further away or cut off from the places where they managed to make some sort of living.”

urban farming

An industrial site on the right, floating waste and slums on the left (© Cordaid)

‘It’s as if they don’t exist’

On top of all that many people of Marunda hardly have a leg to stand on to claim their rights, simply because, for the government, they don’t exist. “Streets of Marunda aren’t mapped, many inhabitants aren’t registered by city agencies. It’s as if they don’t exist”, Rademaker explains.

The biggest results are not about tools and technologies, but about participation.

Rain water harvesting

What did Cordaid do to help the people of Marunda? To provide safe drinking water, in the absence of tap water infrastructure, Cordaid started setting up rain water harvesting initiatives in Marunda last year. “This is quite unique in Jakarta”, says Rademaker. “Thanks to our efforts, already 50 families are now collecting and filtering rain water, and can quickly and easily test whether it’s safe to drink.”

Eggplants and spinach in abundance

Local fishermen and newcomers alike suffer from job insecurity and have a hard time feeding their families. Our urban gardening project provides food as well as an income. Rademaker: “In two out of the 10 sub-neighbourhoods of Marunda, some  570 families – about  3000 people – are now participating in our urban farming project. This ranges from micro activities like balcony vegetable growing to turning fallow plots of land into vegetable gardens. Together with East West Seed, a Dutch-Indonesian agro company, we help them to improve their planting, harvesting and marketing skills. And to protect their crops against insects and rats.”

urban farming

Protecting vegetable crops against insects, birds and rats (© Cordaid)

Holding officials accountable for bad waste management

This works out well. Local production of eggplants, spinach and other vegetables in Marunda has definitely increased since these families took up urban farming. “They can not only provide vegetables for themselves, but many families manage to sell them on the market, increasing their income. Vendors even come to the families themselves to buy their crops”, Rademaker says. “Apart from that”, she adds, “the 800 families are trained to improve their often-appalling sanitation and hygiene situation at home. And to hold city officials accountable when they spot cases of bad waste management in their own streets.”

It’s amazing to see how people who were ‘invisible’ are now shaping their neighborhood and tackling flood risks together with the government.

Harma Rademaker, Cordaid’s Resilience program manager

Thriving platform

The biggest results so far are not about tools and technologies, but about participation. Rademaker explains: “Everything we do is participative, meaning that we include as many relevant parties as possible. This resulted in an active platform of local inhabitants and newcomers we work with, NGOs, local and provincial governments, a farming company and a bank. And so, for the first time, people who ‘didn’t exist’ are being listened to by government officials. They participate in working groups and not only voice their concerns but actively start solving their problems.”

Mapping the streets, shaping the neighborhood

Thus, an ‘open street mapping’ project was set up. Slum dwellers, many of them women, were trained and then plot by plot started geographically mapping their neighborhoods. They can now show the government how and where they live, that electricity and drinking water are lacking. They can show how many times their houses are flooded, because this is also being mapped. They map open public spaces, sit together with urban planners and, for example, turned deserted areas into vegetable gardens. “It’s amazing”, says Rademaker, “to see how people who were invisible for the government are now shaping their neighborhood and tackling flood risks together with the government.”

urban farming

Participants in our Urban Farming project created a garden in Marunda’s flat area (© Cordaid)

Jakarta’s Grand Design

Jakarta’s spatial planning, environmental and climate change agencies – headed by the deputy governor – are impressed as well by Cordaid’s urban resilience activities in Marunda – which fit in the Partners for Resilience program in Indonesia. So much so that they recently set up a workshop in which our team was invited to co-write the city’s so called Grand Design, or new policy, for urban farming. “So what we do in Marunda”, Rademaker concludes proudly, “might well be replicated in a city of 10 million people in the near future and later on to the country as a whole.”

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