MULTAN-Kitchen gardening at extra-space in houses and on rooftops is not only a great source to avail fresh, cheap and healthy vegetables but also vital for maintaining good health along with good utilization of free time.

In the today’s highly urbanised lifestyle where almost everybody is busy from dawn to dusk without being able to spare time for nature but the productive use of time and space for kitchen gardening could be a stress reliever for the gardener. No doubt, vegetables are the prime source of many nutrients: potassium, fibre, folate (folic acid) and vitamins A, E and C which are playing significant role in maintaining good health.

Those who eat fruits and vegetables in their daily diet have reduced risk of chronic diseases. It is the importance of vegetables for human health that necessitates its promotion and consumption. Nutrition experts and medical researchers prescribe enhanced consumption of vegetables. However, in Pakistan, per person consumption of vegetables is only 51 kilogram per year that is far less than average of 71 kilogram in rest of the world.

Talking to APP, Vice Chancellor Muhammad Nawaz Sharif University of Agriculture (MNSUA), Prof Dr Asif Ali said that promotion of kitchen gardening is the need of the hour for producing healthy vegetables at household level. He, however, said that vegetables grown in the peri-urban areas for sale and commercial purposes are often irrigated with sewerage.

Therefore, the vegetables grown on waste water contain residues of toxic compounds which causes many diseases including cancer, diarrhoea and hepatitis, he added.

About kitchen gardening, the VC said that they started a project in 2017 funded by AIP (Agriculture Innovation Program) and USAID with the objectives to promote kitchen gardening, home gardening and rooftop gardening by establishing a system for provision of healthy nursery for economic and clean (pesticide free) vegetable production.

He said both male and female students were involved in various activities of the project to build their capacity regarding nursery media preparation, multipot tray filling, sowing and further nursery management.

Prof Dr Asif Ali said that during this period, vegetable nursery produced in this project was displayed in nine international conferences, two international horticulture expos.

He said that a permanent vegetable nursery sale point was also established in the university along with online vegetable nursery supply system to keep the vegetable supply system open 24/7.

The MNSUA students, Fatima Tariq and Muhammad Asim said that their experiences in kitchen gardening was marvellous.

After joining the project, they learnt about the innovative vegetable nursery raising techniques and started kitchen gardening at their respective home. They said that many of their neighbours liked and adopted it. “We went to different housing colonies and established kitchen and rooftop vegetable gardens. We also made frequent follow up visits to check out condition of these kitchen gardens. Apart from that, we worked for creating awareness about kitchen gardening among friends and relatives”, they informed.

Nabeel Ahmad Ikram, Lecturer at the Department of Agronomy, MNSUA, said that kitchen gardening initiative was commendable.

“The importance of kitchen garden is great and manifold as it ensures an inexpensive, regular and handy supply of fresh vegetables which are basic to ensure good health. The green vegetables contain vitamins and minerals which protect us against diseases.” He said, “I have established a kitchen garden at my rooftop, which provides us healthy and nutritious veggies. I am also giving hands on training innovative trends in kitchen gardening to citizens in my locality.”

Assistant Director Agriculture Naveed Asmat informed that kitchen gardening schemes were in progress since 2012 in Urban Punjab. About 250,000 seeds packets of 16 different vegetables, including summer and winter were provided to citizens.

In Multan, the Department established 14 sales points. A single seed packet is available against Rs 50 only. Similarly, the government introduced 325 sales points across the province.

Dr Asif said that there is no comparison between the taste of a garden fresh tomato and a grocery store bought one that’s devoid of flavour. He said that gardening is a gym for obese, adding that it is a physical activity and pulling weeds, planting, and digging can burn up to 400 calories per hour.

Gardening is also a good mental exercise and helps keep the mind sharp, he added. An agriculture activist, Saeed Khan also enumerated different benefits of kitchen gardening and observed that gardening was a natural stress reliever. He said that being outside in the fresh air and sunshine can improve mood and make you feel rejuvenated and overall happy. Growing your own produce also gives you a great sense of accomplishment, he added.

A kitchen gardener, Ahsan Zaheer stated that growing vegetables at home not only save money but also offer opportunity of physical activity. He said the vegetables grown in our garden will promote health as they are rich in nutrients, especially in phytochemicals, anti-oxidants, vitamin C, and vitamin A, adding that the veggies would also be free from pesticides and heavy metal residues.