Location: Chennai, Tamil Nadu

Duration: ongoing

Scale of the project: Neighbourhood

About the project:

Vulnerable communities in Chennai, specifically the urban poor do not have access to fresh, nutritious food. They live / go to school / work in settlements which are dense and where access to green space is limited and consequently, these areas are much hotter than other parts of the city. The Chennai Urban Farming Initiative is addressing the above problems by setting up mobile vegetable gardens in schools, Integrated Child Development Service Centres or Anganwadis and homeless shelters across Chennai city to build resilience to climate change (specifically extreme heat) and create healthy, self-reliant communities. Through this initiative, the program is not just providing kits but also training the teachers, staff, and beneficiaries at these spaces to set up and maintain their gardens and offering constant gardening support

to help them grow nutritious greens and vegetables until they are able to sustain on their own. Setting up the gardens on rooftops, wherever possible, the project is also contributing to cooling down the buildings offering greater thermal comfort for the beneficiaries.

The project is primarily driven by increasing community resilience and social benefits, creating sustainable livelihoods and driving economic benefits. As an additional benefit, it also links to promoting ecological integrity and driving ecosystem benefits.


Chennai Urban Farming Initiative aims to build resilience to climate change and create healthy, self-reliant communities by improving food security and livelihoods, especially among the urban poor in the city. The long term envisioned outcomes are:

  • to improve food and nutritional security amongst children and women from low-income communities by sustaining and expanding the project in all Anganwadis, schools and colleges across Chennai;
  • to provide green livelihood opportunities for women from low-income neighbourhoods through targeted skill development programs focused on gardening;
  • to make the city greener and cooler through the promotion and introduction of rooftop vegetable gardens among middle and upper middle income households in addition to targeting the vulnerable communities.

Project Implementation and activities:

Implementation : Chennai Resilience Centre sets up gardens using organic ‘Mobile Vegetable Garden Kits’ which are space efficient and scalable and contain potting mixture, vermicompost, grow bags, seeds and organic pesticide. Through the project, these kits are distributed to Anganwadis, homeless shelters, schools and low-income communities. Typically, these gardens occupy 50 sq. ft. However, the centre has also set up larger (1000 sq. ft) gardens in some of these spaces to measure yield and impact on heat mitigation. The project has reached 46 homeless shelters, 226 Anganwadis, 10 schools, 5 low income communities since it was initiated in 2020.

Building capacity The centre provides basic and advanced training sessions to all beneficiaries on how to set up and maintain a vegetable garden. It has an MoU with the Tamil Nadu Corporation for the Development of Women to train women from self-help groups (SHGs) registered with them on vegetable gardening and to connect the women to Resident Welfare Associations that require garden support. 1,142 people have been trained thus far.

Monitoring and Evaluation : is critical for the centre to understand ground level impact and course correct. A combination of tools (surveys, focused group discussions, WhatsApp groups, visits and temperature measuring sensors) are used to measure parameters including yield, innovation and challenges, impact on physical and mental wellbeing, and on heat mitigation (in larger gardens).

Incentivisation : A ‘Monthly Garden Certificate Programme’ has been introduced to encourage the teachers and helpers at ICDS centres and to motivate them in their efforts.

Greener and cooler Chennai : The centre has launched a campaign to encourage residents of middle and upper middle class localities to set up roof top kitchen gardens. This will help in further greening and cooling city, while potentially offering livelihood opportunities for trained gardeners amongst the city’s poor.

Implementing partners:

  • Care Earth Trust – Research and strategy partners
  • Okapi Research and Advisory: Research and strategy partners
  • Sempulam Sustainable Solutions: Provide technical support and garden kits
  • Tamil Nadu Women’s Development Corporation, Government of Tamil Nadu: Identifies women SHGs who can be trained by Chennai Resilience Centre
  • Integrated Child Development Services, Government of Tamil Nadu – Supports our efforts at Aganwadis.
  • Greater Chennai Corporation – Supports our efforts at Homeless Shelters and Corporation Schools
  • IRCDUC (Information and Resource Centre for Deprived Urban Communities) – facilitates engagement with vulnerable communities
  • Earthonomics – provides technical support to measure heat mitigation from rooftop gardens.
  • Pudiyador – facilitates engagement with local communities
  • The Adrienne Arsht Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Centre, funds the project.
  • The Resilient Cities Network amplifies the work we do and brings in relevant connections to move the project towards a Social Enterprise.

Source of Finance:

Currently the project is funded through grants and in-kind support from the Adrienne Arsht Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Centre and Resilient Cities Network.

Challenges addressed:

  • A lack of interest among ICDS staff was noticed after six to eight months into the project. This was addressed by introducing a monthly ‘garden champion’ competition which helped increase engagement levels. The competition is being redesigned to encourage self-sustenance through recycling and composting.
  • COVID linked restrictions in meeting and mobility were faced when the project had launched. This was over come through establishing communication through WhatsApp and online meetings. WhatsApp continues to be critical tool to engage with the partners on a daily basis.
  • Government/Policy support critical – We are hoping to inform and influence the 3rd master plan for the city to mandate a set of measures (such as green roofs ) to encourage residents to take up urban farming.
  • Funding sources – Lack of adequate funds is always a challenge. Grants, donations, CSR funds, and RWA engagement can go a certain distance; integration with existing government programs and schemes and development of business models that make these efforts a profitable self-sustaining enterprise is critical (e.g. Urban Mali).


  • Increases diet diversity, and access to fresh and nutritious food with produce directly contributing to the mid-day meal programme at Anganwadis and Schools.
  • Creates cooler and greener roofs as our research shows that the room below a 1000 sq. ft garden, is on an average 2-3°C cooler than the room below an exposed terrace space during summer.
  • Creates employment opportunities especially for women from low income communities.
  • Acts as an education tool for children at schools and Anganwadis.
  • Promotes pro-sustainable behaviour in the community.
  • Improves emotional wellbeing of and increases social engagement among homeless shelter residents especially those with psycho-social disorders.

Lessons Learnt:

  • Ownership from people is critical for success.
  • Government support in the form of permissions, facilitation, linking to its programmes and recognition is key for enabling implementation and sustaining the project.
  • Project design should be flexible and co-produced by reflecting needs and suggestions of beneficiaries and to account for logistical challenges to ensure long term success.
  • Constant, long term engagement through capacity building, incentivisation and motivation is necessary to drive change not just among project partners but in the larger communities in which these projects are situated.

Scalability and replicability potential and conditions for success:

  • The project built relationships at different levels of government and is largely driven by a bottom-up approach is helping it to sustain despite change in state government and periodic reshuffles of the bureaucracy.
  • The comprehensive monitoring and evaluation plan has been invaluable and critical to our success and can easily be replicated across contexts.
  • The campaign encouraging middle and upper middle income localities to adopt roof top edible gardens, along with the WhatsApp customer guidance platform can be easily replicated across cities.
  • Our heat monitoring study that will also determine the energy saving due to reduction in need for air-conditioning particularly in the floor directly below the roof garden could help sway policy in favour of urban rooftop gardens and therefore facilitate scalability across urban centres.

Additional Information:


Chennai Resilience Initiative – Project Update 2022-2023

Photo Diary | Homeless Shelter Project

Blog | Building Resilient Food Systems: The Chennai Urban Farming Initiative

Resettlement site in Perumbakkam sprouts first garden of hope


Krishna Mohan, Chief Resilience Officer, Chennai City

Email: cro@resilientchennai.com