A Thai university leads the way in organic urban agriculture

A Thai university leads the way in organic urban agriculture

The 7,000sqm rooftop garden at Thammasat University is the largest such green space in Asia.

It was on a sunny afternoon recently that teachers and students from Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand, set about harvesting organically grown rice.

They gathered on a rooftop urban farm in a bustling metropolis where skyscrapers dominate the landscape. As in many busy capitals, Bangkok is covered in unhealthy exhaust fumes and green spaces are scarce, apart from small city parks.

That is why the rooftop farm project Thammasat University, one of the country’s leading institutions, can point the way forward in greening this sprawling city, which was known in times past as the Venice of Asia thanks to its numerous canals that then still crisscrossed the landscape.

The 7,000sqm rooftop garden at Thammasat University is the largest such green space in Asia. Its design mimics scenic rice terraces on northern Thai hillsides so that rainwater used for growing crops can be absorbed and stored, which means that the farm can function with maximum water efficiency.

“We tend to make a distinction between buildings and green spaces but green spaces can be part of building designs in cities like Bangkok, which has few green spaces,” said Kotchakorn Voraakhom, chief executive and founder of Landprocess, an urban design firm.

The Thai university’s rooftop garden serves several purposes, one of which is the cultivation of chemicals-free crops, including organic rice. The project seeks to help wean Thai farmers off pesticides and insecticides in a country where such chemicals remain widely in use in agriculture.

The intensive use of chemicals at farms across Thailand is posing serious environmental concerns. From 2009 to 2018, Thailand imported vast quantities of agricultural chemicals, such as herbicides, insecticides and fungicides each year. In 2018 alone, more than 156,000 tons of such chemicals were brought into the country.

That same year more than 6,000 locals fell severely ill from exposure to hazardous chemicals and nearly 3,000 people were sickened from exposure to insecticides, according to health officials.

A goal of the sprawling rooftop farm at Thammasat University is to popularize chemicals-free produce like vegetables. And it is not only students and university staff who can grow organic crops: anyone who wishes to grow organic crops is welcome to join. People are invited to grow crops for themselves or else sell them to the university’s kitchens.

Towards the aim of setting up a chemicals-free food system, the university is planning to set up an organic canteen and an organic market in the area.

This story first appeared on Sustainability Times

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