Wednesday, November 4, 2009

'Container Farming in the Slums of Mexico' by Claire Kurtin

In the mid 1990's, half of Mexico's population fell to below the poverty line (some 40 million people). 15 million of those lived in extreme poverty, and most of them were concentrated in urban slums, such as those of Mexico City. About a decade ago, a group of some 20 NGOs attempted to create a method in which people living below the poverty line could produce their own food using "little or no land, little or no investment in infrastructure, no purchase of chemical inputs, and be light weight for rooftop cultivation"1. This development would hopefully alleviate some of the economic pressure on these slums.

The technology is relatively simple and accessible. Produce is grown in 18-20 litre containers filled most of the way to the top with grass clippings or tree leaves. A thin layer of soil is placed on top, where the seeds are then planted. There is a drainage hole 10-15 cm from the base, which allows for a water reservoir. Because the container is filled mostly with leaves and grass, it weighs a lot less than it would if it were entirely filled with soil.

The key to the whole system is the fertilization method. Chemical fertilizers can be expensive and often don't work well. The recommended fertilizer for container farming is actually urine. The decaying leaf matter in the bottom of the container breaks down the urine quickly, so that the smell is reduced and germs do not survive in urine. Also, most importantly, urine is obviously inexpensive and quite easy to produce. Due to the decomposition process happening inside the container, plants proved to be more pest resistant and resilient to disease as well.

The project has proven extremely successful in creating a form of farming which is cheap, self sustaining and accessible .

1. Willem Van Cotthem. "Mexico: Container Farming in Slums," Desertification Blog, posted on February 16, 2008, (10/04/09 10:30 am)

-Claire Kurtin

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