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Rooftop farming in Cairo

Submitted by Nitya Jacob 18th November 2022 6:56
People gather on a rooftop


In informal settlements of the Greater Cairo Region, a rooftop farming project was initiated in 2014. The goal was to reduce ambient temperatures (microclimate) in a densely populated area through green spaces on rooftops, and reduce the impacts of the urban heat island effect and increasing heat due to climate change. In addition to the environmental benefits, rooftop farming has other socio-economic benefits, adding to income generation and reducing vulnerability to price hikes. As many challenges were faced affecting sustainability and continuation, a new project was developed to establish a social business model to strengthen the socio-economic aspects of the project, while looking at rooftop farming from a community development perspective. A Rooftop Farming Hub was established in two informal areas to act as a technical, socio-economic, and environmental driver for change within the participating community members. 

The need for urban farming

As socio-economic conditions in Cairo's informal settlements worsen with increasing climate vulnerabilities, adaptation measures should be linked to income generation. The recent price hikes and devaluation of the local currency presents an opportunity, as well as a challenge, where community members could be more motivated to grow their own foods to decrease their dependency on buying from the market, however it presents a great challenge as the cost of rooftop farming (initial, running, and maintenance costs) is greater than the profits generated from the sales of the produce. As the socio-economic conditions worsen, so does the break-even point for the success of this collective farming scheme. The lack of economic benefits threatens the project’s continuity. Poor infrastructure in these areas, access to clean water,  affordability of nutrients, as well as harsh weather conditions, further threaten the growth of the rooftop farms.

Aside from the technical implementation of rooftop farms the approach builds on the establishment of a social-business model and the cooperation and knowledge sharing between different stakeholders. The first building block addresses the challenge of finding the most effective techniques that are locally sensitive to the socio-economic conditions. Furthermore the structure of the project, the second building block, addresses the major challenge of sustainability of the project with its main pillars focusing on the technical, social, and economic sustainability of rooftop farming as a local practice. Without community collaboration and this collective approach to farming, third building block, rooftop farmers cannot yield the same gains, whether financial or social gains. It is therefore important to combine these 3 building blocks together.


Environmental impacts: The green roofs improve the microclimate by contributing to the reduction of temperature inside and outside the buildings, thus providing a cooling effect and increased natural ventilation.

Social impacts: Through the RTF Hub, a rooftop farmers network was established within the participating community members, where social support was given, challenges were shared, concerns were communicated, and ideas were developed to help strengthen each farm collectively. Exchange sessions are set up regularly to enhance communication between the RTF farmers. With the support of the Hub, participating members were able to keep a portion of the crops for personal use, thus making people less vulnerable to price hikes. Rooftop farms further provided a new recreational space for families and children.

Economic impacts: The Hub functioned as a linkeage to the local market. A marketing plan was set up sensitive to the local community. While participating members kept a portion of their crops for personal use, a larger portion was collected by the Hub from all rooftops to be sold in the market. The proceeds were then shared with the farmers, as well as used to finance nutrients and maintenance of the farms. Income generation is therefore and opportunity as this scheme grows.