In a world where the populational growth is predicted to go from 7.7 billion in 2019 to 11.2 billion by the end of the century, a question arises, how are we going to feed all these people?
The current model of growing food – intensive farming - is rapidly deteriorating and is becoming obsolete and unsustainable for the Planet. This method uses fertilizers, pesticides, plant growing regulators, heavy – many times outdated - machinery to be able to produce various crops a year in order to fulfil the demands of the market. You may be thinking, how about greenhouses? we will get to those later on.
The problem with this method is – it causes massive damage to the soils that it grows on by causing erosion and contaminating the underground water sheets; it’s the main factor to mass deforestation - Cerrado in Brazil’s Amazon forest, loses an area equivalent to the size of London every 3 months! And this is not to mention other areas that have large chunks of them wiped out daily or the immense use of water that this method requires. The scale is enormous. Another problem is the mega urbanization that we are seeing today. We are losing arable land daily, scientist estimate that we’ve lost 1/3 of our arable land in the last 40 years alone. The need to create pasture for cattle and crop fields is so vast that if we continue on the same route, we will end up losing most of the wild areas still remaining on the Planet by 2070.
We’d suggest that you go back and re-read the last paragraph, just to let the gravity and magnitude of this issue sink in.
As you may suspect, innovative people have came up with an idea that might just be the silver bullet for this problem. This possible solution is called vertical farming.
So what is vertical farming exactly? We will explain all about it below.
As the name suggests, Vertical farming is the practice of producing food on vertically inclined surfaces. Instead of farming food on a single level, such as in a field or a greenhouse, vertical farming produces foods in vertically stacked layers commonly integrated into other structures like a skyscraper or any vertical building. By controlling artificially factors like temperature, light, humidity, and gases, it makes producing foods indoor possible and viable. You might be thinking about the greenhouses again now. Greenhouses use the same valuable asset as intensive farming, they use land. Not to mention all the chemicals in pesticides and fertilizers.
The primary goal of vertical farming is producing more food per square meter. You might be thinking that it sounds just like intensive field farming, however, there’s a major factor of difference. Vertical farming is virtually carbon negative. See, to accomplish this, crops are cultivated in stacked layers in a tower life structure. A perfect combination of natural and artificial lights is used to maintain the perfect light level in the room. Finally, instead of soil, aeroponic, aquaponic or hydroponic growing mediums are used. Peat moss or coconut husks and similar non-soil mediums are very common in vertical farming. The vertical farming method uses various sustainability features to offset the energy cost of farming. In fact, vertical farming uses 95% less water. Think about it, 95% less water than the currently used methods and a bigger yield from the crops, which are technically able to produce all year around. Also, did we mentioned that all crops are organic? Yes, there’s no pesticides or artificial fertilizers in vertical farming.
Certainly there are disadvantages to this method, nothing can be perfect. The cost of building the structure and mass scaling the technologies used in vertical farming are very substantial. The cost of training people to be able to operate the systems and run the process is very high. Then is the labour cost as pollination of the crops needs to be done by humans as insects are non-existent in the controlled environment. Also, power failure even for a day could be a big prejudice to the production.
As you see there’s many cons to this method. Gladly, we can come up with a solution for all of them, as no problem is bigger than the ones we are facing right now. We are running out of time and most importantly we are running out of Planet. The damages caused by intensive field farming for centuries is far greater than the cost of buildings, labour, technology and a backup power system!
Currently vertical farming is used in many developed countries like Japan, US, some of The EU countries and the UK. Unfortunately it makes a very small percentage of the market at the moment.
By widely adopting vertical farming, we will be able to solve various issues with one solution. We would almost totally diminish the pollution caused by agriculture right now. We would stop deforestation to create space for agriculture, therefore letting the forest and wildlife recover and absorb even more greenhouse gases and help keep temperature rise at a stable level. We would reduce the current water use by today’s agriculture by 95%. We would be able to produce enough food for the world’s population as well as being able to produce the food that is needed in any specific area of the globe, technically being able to eradicate or at least greatly reduce world hunger. We would create jobs, skilled jobs. We would boost economies and literacy levels all around the globe as this industry would be manned by highly skilled workers in high numbers. But mainly and most importantly, we would have a chance to reverse the cycle of destruction that we’ve created and preserve our beautiful blue home.