A socio-economic approach to Urban Rooftop farming in the Greater Cairo Region

Full Solution
Rooftop garden

In informal settlements of the Greater Cairo Region, a rooftop farming project was initiated in 2014. The goal was to reduce ambient temperatures (microclimate) in a densely populated area through green spaces on rooftops, and reduce the impacts of the urban heat island effect and increasing heat due to climate change. In addition to the environmental benefits, rooftop farming has other socio-economic benefits, adding to income generation and reducing vulnerability to price hikes. As many challenges were faced affecting sustainability and continuation, a new project was developed to establish a social business model to strengthen the socio-economic aspects of the project, while looking at rooftop farming from a community development perspective. A Rooftop Farming Hub was established in two informal areas to act as a technical, socio-economic, and environmental driver for change within the participating community members. 

Last update: 23 Apr 2021
Challenges addressed
Extreme heat
Increasing temperatures
Infrastructure development
Changes in socio-cultural context

As socio-economic conditions in Cairo's informal settlements worsen with increasing climate vulnerabilities, adaptation measures should be linked to income generation. The recent price hikes and devaluation of the local currency presents an opportunity, as well as a challenge, where community members could be more motivated to grow their own foods to decrease their dependency on buying from the market, however it presents a great challenge as the cost of rooftop farming (initial, running, and maintenance costs) is greater than the profits generated from the sales of the produce. As the socio-economic conditions worsen, so does the break-even point for the success of this collective farming scheme. The lack of economic benefits threatens the project’s continuity. Poor infrastructure in these areas, access to clean water,  affordability of nutrients, as well as harsh weather conditions, further threaten the growth of the rooftop farms.

Scale of implementation
Green roofs / Green walls
Food security
Health and human wellbeing
Local actors
Urban planning
Outreach & communications
social entrepreneurship for sustainable development
Cairo Governorate, Egypt
North Africa
Summary of the process

Aside from the technical implementation of rooftop farms (Building Block 1), the approach builds on the establishment of a social-business model ( Building Block 2), and the cooperation and knowledge sharing between different stakeholders (Building Block 3). The first building block addresses the challenge of finding the most effective techniques that are locally sensitive to the socio-economic conditions. Furthermore the structure of the project, the second building block, addresses the major challenge of sustainability of the project with its main pillars focusing on the technical, social, and economic sustainability of rooftop farming as a local practice. Without community collaboration and this collective approach to farming, third building block, rooftop farmers cannot yield the same gains, whether financial or social gains. It is therefore important to combine these 3 building blocks together.

Building Blocks
Rooftop farming methodology & technique

A hydroponic technology system was set up on the rooftops. The model consists of 3–4 water beds, directly attached to on each rooftop. They are made of wooden frames, plastic sheets, foam panels and cups filled with peat moss and pyralite substrate. The 15-cm deep water is supplied by a water pipe through an electricity connection from downstairs and maintained by a water pump and water filter. As an alternative, the project installed boxes filled with soil, having the advantage that no electricity is needed for water circulation. The biggest challenges for the rooftop farmers were irregular water supply and electricity cuts, as well as the hot summer temperatures which negatively impacted the growth of the plants.

Enabling factors

The choice of which crop to grow heavily relied on the feasibility and market study; finding the right balance between a crop that has a high demand in the market and used most by the people, a crop that yields high returns to strengthen income generating opportunities, and a crop that can withstand environmental and climatic conditions of the area.

Lesson learned

Monitoring: A monitoring system should gather data on e.g. food production, income, farming activities, economic costs/benefits, etc. Measurements should be conducted in order to assess the actual microclimatic impact. Technical setup: The hydroponic model is relatively cheap and thus affordable. However, other factors (maintenance, water and electricity consumption, usage of organic waste and grey water, impact on microclimate conditions) should be considered for upscaling. Other technical options aside from the hydroponic system should be explored. Remaining technical bottlenecks have to be tackled by on-site experimentation. Impact: the microclimate rooftops should be protected from direct solar radiation, enhance cooling-off through evaporation and enable a higher effect by spatial clustering and a bigger implementation area.

Social-business model approach

The project established two Rooftop Farming Hubs, a community-based social business model locally embedded to support a rooftop farming ecosystem and grow a community of practice in the field of urban agriculture. This is based on the study of different markets, produce, farming techniques, marketing plans, as well as a co-financing arrangements between the community and the RTF Hubs in the two targeted areas. The aim is not just educating and training the local residents of the targeted areas about RTF, but also creating a platform through which the residents can collaborate, exchange experiences, network, form support and learn how to sustain and expand their income generating urban agriculture projects. 

As a technical hub, beneficiaries are equipped with the necessary skills and tools to establish and maintain their rooftop farms sensitive to socio-economic conditions and provide on-going technical knowledge and assistance.

As a social hub, linkages between targeted beneficiaries are enhanced to exchange knowledge about RTF,  consolidate learning experiences, as well as support positive interaction and community cohesion

As an economic hub, access to local markets is facilitated through a market plan that aims to market through awareness raising on organic urban farming. 

Enabling factors

Readiness of a local NGO or institution to host a RTF Hub as one of its core functions. The "Hub Enablers" have received extensive training on technical and practical rooftop farming skills, TOT, project management, marketing, feasibility, and awarness raising. They were then trained on the job through the recruitment of community beneficaries who joined the rooftop farmers network, the installation of their rooftop farms, support throughout the farming seasons, and support in market linkages. 

Lesson learned
  • Remote monitoring should be applied through the implementation process to help address any issues arising with the growth of plants.
  • Creating incentive activities for the beneficiaries would give an advantage to the success of the project to encourage higher interaction from the beneficiaries’ side;
  • Nets should be installed to protect the crops from external attacks from birds and flying insects;
  • More focus on trouble shooting problems during cultivation should be made during trainings.
Creating a rooftop farmers network

A rooftop farmers network established with all participating community members/ households focused on creating a community of practice. As people are more likely to lose interest and get demotivated, creating a support system where beneficaries can exchange, share experiences, challenges, thoughts, and even dreams has proved to keep people motivated and also strengthen social ties between community members. 

Enabling factors

A platform for regular exchanges that mobilizes the rooftop farmers

Lesson learned
  • Regular exchanges focusing on different topics to spark the farmer's interests
  • visits could be integrated in these exchanges
  • ongoing communication, especially during extreme weather events is cruicial. A whatsapp group was initiated to keep participants in close communication with Hub Enablers, and to also share photos of unusual plant conditions

Environmental impacts: The green roofs improve the microclimate by contributing to the reduction of temperature inside and outside the buildings, thus providing a cooling effect and increased natural ventilation.

Social impacts: Through the RTF Hub, a rooftop farmers network was established within the participating community members, where social support was given, challenges were shared, concerns were communicated, and ideas were developed to help strengthen each farm collectively. Exchange sessions are set up regularly to enhance communication betwen the RTF farmers. With the support of the Hub, participating members were able to keep a portion of the crops for personal use, thus making people less vulnerable to price hikes. Rooftop farms further provided a new recreational space for families and children.

Economic impacts: The Hub functioned as a linkeage to the local market. A marketing plan was set up sensitive to the local community. While participating members kept a portion of their crops for personal use, a larger portion was collected by the Hub from all rooftops to be sold in the market. The proceeds were then shared with the farmers, as well as used to finance nutrients and maintenance of the farms. Income generation is therefore and opportunity as this scheme grows.


Through the 2017 scaled up project, there are around 20 households/ families participating part of the rooftop farming network, as well as an additional 20 beneficiaries that were trained to become part of the RTF Hub enabled to onboard new household

Sustainable Development Goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 13 – Climate action
Leila Hussein, rooftop gardener

Neama is the head of the NGO "Serious Work" and was selected to be trained along with some staff members to act as a Rooftop Farming Hub, a social-business model that aims to support the establishment of rooftop farms in their community through a sustainable development approach. While she was hesitant that she would be able to play this role, after extensive trainings and capacity development programmes, and after supporting around 15 households to set up their rooftop farms, she is now an expert in her community and has become increasingly engaged in environmental projects from rooftop farming to community gardens. Seeing not only her own entity's rooftop grow, but also community members roofs turning green has inspired her to conduct her own research on different solutions and to become a crucial advocator for rooftop farming and its impacts on urban communities suffering from urban heat island effect in her community, as well as to other NGOs in the area. As her passion for growing this social-business grows, a number of NGOs have approached her to receive trainings from her group to help spread the idea and practice in other communities around the Greater Cairo Region. 

Connect with contributors
Other contributors
Farida Farag
Participatory Development Programme in Urban Areas (PDP) - GIZ
Prof. Dr. Dieter Prinz
Consultant to GIZ
Center for Development Services
Center for Development Services