Controlled Vertical Farming: Is it our secret weapon to a more sustainable future?

By 2100, the human population is expected to surpass 10 billion, and as a result, there has been a surge in interest to improve our global food security more sustainably. But how do we move away from the current intensive agricultural practices? Is it even possible to feed everyone sustainably?

Image by: Hannes Flo via flickr

The current state of Agriculture

It’s no secret that agricultural developments have played a huge part in the expansion and prosperity of the human-race. However, the bulk of the current intensive farming principals has not changed much since its inception: Quick and High turnover for more profit.

With 1.3 billion tonnes of food (value: $940 billion USD) getting wasted globally every year, it is clear that we are producing more than enough food already. But the issues with food security still persists in our societies as one in nine people do not have access to nutritious food on daily basis.

To prevent the wastage and unnecessary over consumption by city dwellers, many experts believe we should bring food production closer to our cities. This will make food more accessible to the urban poor, and shorter logistical chains will reduce carbon footprints. Currently, controlled vertical farming (CVF) is under the spotlight, where many proponents of urban agriculture believe it could be the key to a more sustainable food production.

 

What is Controlled Vertical Farming?

CVF is a method of producing food on inclined layers of vertical surfaces indoors. This means unlike a conventional soil-based farming practices (i.e. greenhouse), vertical farms can produce significantly more amount of food per square metre and can be integrated into majority of our urban structures (e.g. inside building, rooftops, carparks etc…). By the virtue of being in the heart of the cities, these farms can supply fresh produce to the city dwellers quickly, whilst minimising wastage from logistical chains and packaging.

In addition, CVF can accommodate year-long crop production whilst guaranteeing high quality end product as they are not subject to weather conditions, diseases and pests. Along with efficient lighting systems such as LED and smart irrigation systems, CVF requires less environmental input for the same output as the conventional farming practices. So why hasn’t this technology taken off?

 

Limitations of Controlled Vertical Farming

While lab-based experiments have shown promising signs, in real-world, scaling up this technology has proved to be a tricky task. No doubt growing food in the city is going to be costly due to higher labour and land costs. But the fact that our cities are already developed and established makes it harder to implement this technology. There is also a toxic view of “modern” cities where farming is often regarded as ‘dirty and unsophisticated’. Hence the rejection by many city dwellers to bring food production closer to the cities. This has also prevented investments as farming does not interest many so called” entrepreneurs”.

To make this technology viable in the near future, it is imperative that city developers incorporate this technology in the designing and planning stage to incorporate food production seamlessly in our cities.


7 Responses to “Controlled Vertical Farming: Is it our secret weapon to a more sustainable future?”

  1. Corinna Dieters says:

    Thanks Joseph, I’ll take a look.

  2. Joseph Hwang says:

    You got it spot on! Bringing agriculture in to an urban setting will boost local economy as money gets circulated locally. There will be no “middle man” in terms of logistics and distribution which means more people will be able to get fresh produce at more affordable prices. If you are interested, have a look at Lufa Farm in Canada (https://montreal.lufa.com/en/) who are leading the way in urban farming. They overcame logistical problems by operating an online ordering system!

  3. Joseph Hwang says:

    I agree! My only hope is that the agricultural industry takes initiative and looks for alternative ways of producing food sustainably now (vertical farming being one of them), rather than waiting until water becomes scarce. Hopefully just like the photovoltaic technology (solar panels), vertical farming becomes more affordable and easily accessible in the near future.

  4. Joseph Hwang says:

    I was wondering the same question as large-scale hydroponic systems require so much water that it might not be feasible in countries like Australia and South Africa. But upon doing some research, I found out that Australia has one of the best storm and rainwater collecting systems alongside well established water recycling plants. So I reckon it’s a technology thats worth looking into further to reduce Australia’s carbon footprint.

  5. Corinna Dieters says:

    Hi Joseph, I really enjoyed reading about the prospect of urban farming through Controlled Vertical Farming. I would have thought that the economics of bringing cleaner farming closer to the city would be attractive due to reduced transportation costs. Is this a potential benefit or are there other infrastructure issues that need to considered?

  6. zitingy says:

    Very good topic.
    I think vertical agriculture will be the trend of agricultural development in the future. Scarcer water and land resources could boost vertical agriculture. I believe people will accept vertical agriculture in the future.
    The only problem is the current high cost.

  7. Madeleine Hedin says:

    Thank you for this interesting read Joseph! I had never heard of this concept before. This pandemic has certainly highlighted the importance of alternative methods of ensuring urban food security, and it is really interesting to see all the different technologies being developed. I wonder how something like this would work in Australia, as I imagine this technology is based on hydroponic systems, and we are very prone to drought which is expected to get worse with climate change. Nonetheless, considering agricultural options that have a vertical structure will surely become important as cities continue to densify.

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