efe-epaNagaa Oun (Egypt)

The residents of a small village in northern Egypt have turned their fortunes around by transforming the precarious roofs of their homes into spaces for growing food as part of a self-sufficiency drive that has also created jobs, an epa-efe photojournalist reports.

Five years ago, the 200 houses making up Nagaa Oun in Beheira governate, west of the capital Cairo, were topped by straw roofs that did not withstand the harsher weather conditions, nor deter insects from getting inside homes.

But thanks to a charity project, which came about after a woman donated a sum of money to the impoverished village, the settlement adopted greener practices that have allowed residents to not only cover their roofs but also save water and grow their own fruit and vegetables in the process.

"We got the idea to plant our roof because we don’t have any agriculture lands, but we have roofs and we have will and determination, and we have the ability to be productive families from our roofs," Ragab Rabeea told epa-efe of the green-fingered initiative.

He said mice, insects and snakes used to come into the houses via the straw roofs before the roof-planting project came along.

After selling traditional carpets, the manufacturing of which was made possible thanks to the original donation that gave the residents access to equipment, the village was able to save enough money to be able to consider and afford sturdier roofing materials to replace the straw.

The villagers then came up with the idea of planting roof gardens where they could grow their own produce.

"Now the roofs have become the main source of income for families," Rabeea said.

The would-be farmers reasoned that they could become self-sufficient and resourceful when it came to using water to grow their crops.

They use 200 liters of water per acre compared to 3,000 liters per acre on a conventional farm, which gets reused during the irrigation process, according to Rabeea.

Nagaa Oun's villagers now work across a range of sectors, and besides making carpets and tending to crops on their rooftops, they also sew and rear poultry.

The young inhabitants of Nagaa Oun only recently returned to their school some 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) away because it had to be reconstructed after it collapsed five years ago.

With no official transportation on offer, pupils either walk or go by donkey or motorcycle in order to attend classes again.

Some of the villagers told epa-efe that neighboring villages had also started to adopt rooftop-planting too.

"There isn't a single someone in need in Nagaa Oun, we overcame poverty and unemployment by planting roofs," Rabeea said.