Press Release

Mobile vegetable gardens in Chennai India: Building resilience to extreme heat and food insecurity

Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center
Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center
September 22, 2021

Mobile vegetable gardens in Chennai India: Building resilience to extreme heat and food insecurity

Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center partners with Care Earth Trust and Chennai Resilience Center to launch the Urban Horticulture Initiative's Mobile Vegetable Garden Kits program.

WASHINGTON, DC/CHENNAI, September 22, 2021 — The Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center (Arsht-Rock Resilience Center) has launched the Urban Horticulture Initiative in Chennai, India, in partnership with the Chennai Resilience Center (CRC), a unit of Care Earth Trust (CET). The Urban Horticulture Initiative aims to build local resilience by applying nature-based solutions to counter the adverse effects of extreme heat and related needs, such as food insecurity. 

The first nature-based solution under this initiative is the Mobile Vegetable Garden Kits program. Consisting of organic seeds, soil, fertilizer, and containers, the Garden Kits offer residents who do not own land the ability to produce food and have the potential to establish a new means of supplementing their daily diet with nutritious produce. With one resilience solution, the Urban Horticulture Initiative safeguards families and communities from food insecurity while simultaneously protecting them from heat waves. As dangerous temperatures become more prevalent in urban settings, introducing tree canopy and greenery on balconies, entryways, windowsills, and rooftops will help to cool heat-prone households.

"The Arsht-Rock Resilience Center saw mobile gardens as an innovative tool to meet immediate pandemic-related food needs while building nature-based resilience solutions that reduce risk to extreme heat in urban areas," said Rebecca Scheurer, Director of Humanitarian Initiatives. Scheurer also noted that "The side benefits to this program are incredible, particularly in the way it empowers marginalized women."

As teachers and primary caregivers at home, women lead the Urban Horticulture Initiative's implementation by acquiring and cultivating skills through mobile gardening. As the  Mobile Vegetable Garden Kits program gains community momentum and engagement, the skills may be passed on from one generation to the next. "Ensuring household food and nutrition security, especially in marginalized communities, calls for well designed, pragmatic initiatives that can facilitate inclusive community action and ownership. Mobile Garden Kits are a standing example of such initiatives. We are proud to be a part of this program," shared Dr. Jayshree Vencatesan, Managing Trustee, Care Earth Trust. 

The concept for the Mobile Vegetable Garden Kits program emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic when at-risk urban communities in Chennai experienced unexpected burdens from significant job loss, less mobility under lock-downs, and related inability to afford food. These burdens were especially felt by displaced day laborers from across India and children who faced acute hunger after losing their mid-day meals due to school closures. In April 2020, Arsht-Rock partnered with the CRC to launch a COVID-19 Relief and Resilience Building Program. The program distributed emergency food kits that reached nearly 5,000 people with the help of local partners Pudhiyadhor Charitable Trust and Information and Resource Centre for the Deprived Urban Communities (IRCDUC), with cooperation from the Greater Chennai Corporation Shelters and the Integrated Child Development Service Centres. This program helped families facing myriad challenges compounded by living in informal settlements, resettlement colonies, homeless shelters, and anganwadis (day care centers). 

As the pandemic persisted, the need for a longer-term, sustainable relief measure was clear. As stated by Krishna Mohan Ramachandran, Chief Resilience Officer for Chennai City, the Mobile Vegetable Garden Kits program created a unique "opportunity to strengthen the resilience of vulnerable populations through a do-it-yourself, low-cost, replicable solution that can feed families during a pandemic." Ultimately, the Urban Horticulture Initiative and its  Mobile Vegetable Garden Kits program will increase resilience to climate change and create healthy, self-reliant communities in Chennai and beyond, helping "residents secure a greener, cooler, and nourished future."

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