Dhaka 'plant doctor' regenerates urban spaces with green fingers
Md Dulal Miya, 35, a "plant doctor" with urban greening initiative Green Savers attends to a rooftop garden at a client's office in Dhaka, April 20, 2023. Thomson Reuters Foundation/ Md Tahmid Zami
What’s the context?
Green Savers plants gardens and trees around the Bangladeshi capital to fight pollution and heat, and improve residents' health
This story is part of a series on transforming the world of work for a greener, fairer global economy: "Green jobs for a just transition"
DHAKA - Md Dulal Miya, 35, works as a "plant doctor" at Dhaka-based Green Savers, a city greening organisation that plants and tends to trees and gardens on rooftops, balconies and in office campuses, with clients from households to businesses.
In rapidly urbanising Bangladesh, whose capital has seen its population jump to 23 million people today from around 6.6 million people in 1990, green space and vegetation have eroded fast, giving way to buildings and concrete infrastructure.
Fighting against this grey tide and the extra heat it fuels, Green Savers has pioneered rooftop and schoolyard gardens, urban farms and tree-planting in crowded and polluted Dhaka.
According to Green Savers, while a liveable city should contain 25% greenery, Dhaka barely has 5%, including only about 2% of the city's 4.5 million rooftops.
Founded in 2010, the organisation has so far trained about 1,000 "plant doctors", who help its clients cultivate green spaces in often densely built-up areas.
Seeking to play its part in tackling climate change, Green Savers has created more than 5,000 home gardens and worked with at least 200 schools, while some of its trainees have joined other outfits or become entrepreneurs themselves.
Through his work with Green Savers, Miya has discovered the health and nutritional benefits of increasing urban vegetation.
Why did you choose this job?
"I lost my mother early on and my father, a landless peasant, relied on farming on leased land to provide for his three children. The usual floods in my home district of Netrokona (in central Bangladesh) would quite often result in crop failures - and the hardship in our family was difficult to endure.
I chose to move to Dhaka about 10 years ago and took up a job in a nursery. That is where I got in touch with Ahsan Rony, the founder of Green Savers, who would procure plants from the nursery. As I learned about his organisation, I felt interested and, eventually, I joined Green Savers.
I received three months of training on various aspects of gardening, such as how to grow plants on rooftops, balconies or even indoors, the main diseases and growth challenges for plants, and how to tackle those with proper use of fertilisers and pesticides.
I also learned about emerging innovative techniques like hydroponics - whereby one can grow plants without soil and vertical greening along the walls of a building."
What do you enjoy about the job?
"I help clients grow a range of plants such as guava, lemon, malta, mango, orchids, roses and so forth. I am providing support to five clients at the moment. Since (they) do not necessarily have technical knowledge about plants, they sometimes get concerned as to why the trees are not growing faster or bearing fruits earlier. However, my training equips me to allay their concerns and provide solutions to any problems that may arise.
The work is emotionally rewarding, besides ensuring a steady income to my family of four. When I ride my bicycle along the roads of the hot, humid climate of Dhaka, I can feel on my skin the palpable difference between greener neighbourhoods and barren ones. The clients can get safe fruits and vegetables from the gardens, while whole neighbourhoods benefit from the fresh air and oxygen, thanks to the gardens. I am raising and educating my two daughters with my earnings, while trying to cope with soaring prices of essentials.
Beyond Dhaka, we have worked on major projects in other parts of the country. I was part of landscaping and gardening activities in Sylhet (in eastern Bangladesh), for example. There are many more projects with a range of clients as interest in urban farming is on the rise."
What are the challenges?
"People often look on gardening as a low-end profession. Our organisation branded the position as 'plant doctor', as emblazoned on the printed t-shirts we wear. This helps garner some respect from people, including our clients, for the work we do."
How do you see your job evolving in the next decade?
"Down the line, in five years, I plan to set up a nursery of my own to extend gardening and greening back in my own locality. I might purchase a plot of land and employ a few people to set up my own greening business.
Dhaka has no dearth of rooftops, balconies and spaces that are waiting to be populated with plants. The organisation is growing - and new recruits are lining up to get the training and join the work. There are other organisations coming into this business as well. The prospects seem quite favourable for the urban greening sector."
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
(Reporting by Md. Tahmid Zami; editing by Megan Rowling and Kieran Guilbert.)
Part of:Green jobs for a just transition
Updated: May 02, 2023
- Agriculture and farming
- Green jobs