Launched in 2005, the National Horticulture Mission (NHM) is an Indian central government scheme that’s working towards increasing nutritional security and improving horticulture output – by assimilating into society, innovations created through traditional and modern scientific knowledge systems. (Upper north and north eastern states are alternatively covered by the Technology Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture in the North Eastern States.) 

NHM’s aim is to synergise existing and upcoming horticulture programs while developing all systems from nurseries to markets, and it works towards creating employment – skilled and unskilled; increasing farmer/grower family income; and dispersing/diffusing funds to grower individuals and groups in the form of loans subsidy and materials. On their part, state governments decide how to contextualise the strategies to maximise fruit, vegetable, flower, nut, medicinal and plantation crop production in their own state. 

Kerala produces large volumes of rice, spice, flowers and vegetables. The state’s Horticulture Mission is now encouraging families living in urban spaces to take on urban farming initiatives to grow food and consume locally-grown food. In particular, they hope to get through to those individuals who don’t have a lot of space available but are interested and willing to learn and grow. 

The optimal use of available space and resources is central to urban farming initiatives. To this end, Kerala is encouraging the use of Arka, a vertical growing structure that requires only 1 square meter of sunlit utility area on the terrace or patio of a home. Designed by the Indian Institute of Horticultural Research (IIHR), the structure is designed for ease in personal handling: height of reach, mobility, light requirement, and control over water, fertilizer and pesticide. The contraption has a base frame with attached wheels, central support and additional support for the pots. At the top of the structure is a 25 litre plastic water container with networks of microtubes and drippers for the plants. 

Keeping in mind the height to which certain plants grow, the slightly taller ones are to be grown in pots at the base of the structure. Smaller leafy vegetables can be grown in the middle and herbs and medicinal plants can be planted in the top. Depending on grower and plant preference, one can use soil or soil-less growing mediums. 

The Kerala government has installed 10 Arka units in government offices across the state, and is looking to distribute 330 other units to homes in urban localities across Kerala. 

While each unit costs an estimated ₹20,000, through the National and State Horticulture Mission, 75% of total cost is subsidised resulting in a per unit cost of only ₹5,000, with additional benefits through the provision of seeds, fertilizer and pots for the structure.