Author – Ayantika Dey
We are all aware of the exponential increase in world population and its grave outcomes. The time is not far when Earth would see a definite reduction in cultivable land and a spiraling food demand due to the land crisis and space crunch. Increasing urbanization is particularly evident among Indian cities, which face a massive influx of rural migrants seeking jobs and settling down in burgeoning urban sprawls. The UN estimates that by the year 2050, close to 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas and the total population of the world will increase by 3 billion people.
There is an urgent need to solve the double-edged problem of shrinking arable land and providing food to an ever-increasing population. We are all familiar with rooftop kitchen gardens and greenhouses within apartments or multi-storeyed buildings. So why not take this a bit further to prevent a food crisis and make ample use of available sunlight?
In order to provide a solution to the growing urban-rural supply chain issue, an innovative concept called “Vertical Farming” was jointly conceived by a Malaysian architect Ken Yeang and an American microbiologist Dickson Despommier. Vertical farming is an ultra-modern way of urban agriculture, which uses the principle of augmentation of the incoming sunlight as seen in a greenhouse. It is nothing but crop farms stacked on top of each other instead of spanning out horizontally. These high-rises are often called “Farmscrapers”.
Vertical urban agriculture is essentially made up of growing all kinds of fruits, vegetables, and flowers high-rise towers 20–30 stories tall or taller that provide a temperature-controlled environment. Plants are fertilized with compost and irrigated with nutrient-rich water provided through soil-less conditions known as “Hydroponics”. This process eliminates the need for any pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
Evidently, Vertical farming could be the simple yet effective and eco-friendly innovation for meeting the food requirements of the future generation. If designed properly, it may eliminate the need to create additional farmland and help create a cleaner environment. Without the use of chemicals for mass production the crops will be organic and even the loss of products due to harmful weather conditions can be prevented. Unlike traditional farming in non-tropical areas, indoor farming can produce crops year-round with an increased rate of productivity. Since the crops would be sold in the same infrastructure in which they are grown, there will not be any need to transport them between production points and the sales market, in turn resulting in less spoilage and cheaper costs.
While it seem like vertical farming is the ultimate solution to meet our future food requirements, there are downsides to this innovative method. The initial cost of vertical farming and the manual labor and the technology required behind it are huge. There are some downfalls since this system tries to compete against Mother Nature. Mass-producing plants within hermetically sealed, artificial environments that have little to do with the outside world will be energy inefficient. Pollination by insects and other natural agents have no role in vertical farming, so this intricate activity has to be done manually, which again results in cost increase. However, if this innovative farming method becomes feasible, then it may rob the jobs of conventional farmers, in turn harming the agricultural economy!
The idea of vertical farming has been adopted mainly developed nations such as Singapore, Japan, the US, etc. However, India is not far behind too, with serious experiments being conducted in agricultural institutions. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is trying its best to implement this new technique to bring about a revolution in Indian agriculture. Small-scale adaptations of vertical farming have been seen in Nadia, West Bengal and in Punjab. Bidhan Chandra Krishi Vishwavidhalaya in Nadia has found initial success in growing brinjal and tomato. Punjab also has succeeded in producing potato tubers through vertical farming.
Clearly, some of India’s chronic problems like lack of supply, overuse of pesticides and unemployment can be solved to some extent. However, the huge cost of infrastructure for a large-scale farm is a major hurdle for implementing vertical farming in India to be the next big thing. May be, this novel idea may become feasible for Indian agriculture in the not so near future!