By Rina Chandran
SINGAPORE - Rain or shine, every day for the past year, Kanti Kagrana walks a short distance from his son's flat to Singapore's HortPark, a national park where he grows chillies, eggplant and spinach in his allotment garden.
Kagrana, a 60-something native of India, is among a growing community of urban farmers in Singapore, which introduced allotment gardens in November 2017, modelled after England's programme which dates back to at least the 19th century.
Singapore now has more than 1,000 allotment gardens in a dozen of its national parks. Each is a raised planter bed measuring 2.5 metres by 1 metre, and can be leased for three years for S$57 ($42) annually.
"I enjoy gardening, but there is not enough space in my son's flat," said Kagrana, who has two plots.
"This gives me something to do, and I take the produce home so we save some money, as well," he said as he turned the soil with a spade.
Agriculture makes up only about 1 percent of Singapore's land area, but urban farming - including vertical and rooftop farms - is fast becoming popular.
Singapore last year topped the Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIU) Global Food Security Index for the first time, scoring high on metrics such as affordability and availability.
Yet, as the country imports about 90 percent of its food, its food security is susceptible to climate change and natural resource risks, the EIU noted.
Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had envisioned the country as a "Garden City" in the 1960s.
With some 5.6 million people in an area three-fifths the size of New York City, land is at a premium in Singapore.
Yet it has among the most green cover of urban centres - 66 square metres per person, compared to New York City's 23.1 sq metres, according to a Siemens-sponsored Green City Index.
More than 36,000 Singaporeans are part of the Community in Bloom programme, tending to 1,300 gardens in housing estates, schools and organisations, according to officials.
More of them now grow edibles such as vegetables and herbs, said Bjorn Low, co-founder of Edible Garden City, a social enterprise that designs such gardens in under-utilised spaces.
"Allotment gardens and community gardens give the public the ability to become more food independent. It is important to engage the community to help Singapore become more food secure," Low said.
More than two-thirds of the world's population is forecast to live in cities by 2050, according to the United Nations.
Urban agriculture can be crucial to feeding them, producing as much as 180 million metric tonnes of food a year - or about 10 percent of the global output of pulses and vegetables, a study published last year in the journal Earth's Future said.
Singapore aims to produce 30 percent of its nutritional needs by 2030, by increasing the local supply of fruits, vegetables and protein from meat and fish.
Allotment gardens are key to that goal, said Azmi Shahbudin, director of HortPark.
"We are encouraged by the positive response," he said.
($1 = S$1.35425)