Tackling world hunger with urban vertical farms | Quantumrun

Tackling world hunger with urban vertical farms

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By Adrian Barcia, Staff Writer
@Quantumrun

Imagine if there was another way society could produce the same amount of fresh, high quality fruits and vegetables without using up any rural land for farms. Or you could just look at pictures on Google, because we actually can.

Urban agriculture is the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in or around a village. Urban agriculture and indoor farming are sustainable ways of producing desired fruits and vegetables without taking much land.  A component of urban agriculture is vertical farming—the practice of cultivating plant life on vertically inclined surfaces. Vertical farming can help reduce world hunger by changing the way we use land for agriculture.

The Godfather of Vertical Farms

Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental health sciences and microbiology at Columbia University, modernized the idea of vertical farming when he assigned a task to his students. Despommier challenged his class to feed the population of Manhattan, roughly two million people, using 13 acres of rooftop gardens. The students determined that only two percent of Manhattan’s population would be fed using these rooftop gardens. Unsatisfied, Despommier suggested the idea of producing food vertically.

“Each floor will have its own watering and nutrient monitoring systems. There will be sensors for every single plant that tracks how much and what kinds of nutrients the plant has absorbed. You'll even have systems to monitor plant diseases by employing DNA chip technologies that detect the presence of plant pathogens by simply sampling the air and using snippets from various viral and bacterial infections. It's very easy to do” said Despommier in an interview with Miller-McCune.com.

In the same interview, Despommier says that control is the key issue. With outdoor, rural farmland, you have next to none. Indoors, you have complete control. For example, “a gaschromatograph will tell us when to pick the plant by analyzing whichflavonoids the produce contains. These flavonoids are what gives the food the flavors you're so fond of, particularly for more aromatic produce like tomatoes and peppers. These are all right-off-the-shelf technologies. The ability to construct a vertical farm exists now. We don't have to make anything new.”

There are many advantages to using vertical farming. Society must prepare for the future in order to tackle the issue of world hunger. The world’s population is increasing exponentially and the demand for food will constantly be on the rise.

Why Future Food Production Depends on Vertical Farms

According to Despommier’s website, “by the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth’s population will reside in urban centers. Applying the most conservative estimates to current demographic trends, the human population will increase by about 3 billion people during the interim. An estimated 109 hectares of new land (about 20% more land than is represented by the country of Brazil) will be needed to grow enough food to feed them, if traditional farming practices continue as they are practiced today. At present, throughout the world, over 80% of the land that is suitable for raising crops is in use.” Vertical farms are capable of eliminating the need for extra farmland and can help create a cleaner environment as well.

Indoor, vertical farming can produce crops all year round. Fruits that can only be grown during a specific season are no longer an issue. The amount of crops that can be produced is staggering.

The world’s largest indoor farm is 100 times more productive than traditional farming methods. Japan’s indoor farm has “25,000 square feet producing 10,000 heads of lettuce per day (100 times more per square foot than traditional methods) with 40% less power, 80% less food waste and 99% less water usage than outdoor fields”, according to urbanist.com.

The idea for this farm grew out of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disasters that rocked Japan. Food shortages and unviable land became rampant. Shigeharu Shimamura, the man who helped create this indoor farm, utilizes shortened cycles of day and night and optimizes temperature, humidity, and lighting.

Shimamura believes, “That, at least technically, we can produce almost any kind of plant in a factory. But what makes most economic sense is to produce fast-growing vegetables that can be sent to the market quickly. That means leaf vegetables for us now. In the future, though, we would like to expand to a wider variety of produce. It’s not just vegetables we are thinking about, though. The factory can also produce medicinal plants. I believe that there is a very good possibility we will be involved in a variety of products soon”.

Crops grown indoors can be protected from severe ecological disasters, undesirable temperatures, rainfall, or droughts—indoor crops will not be affected and crop production can continue. As global climate change accelerates, the change in our atmosphere can increase the effects of natural disasters and cost billions of dollars in damaged crops."

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Despommier wrote that “Three recent floods (in 1993, 2007 and 2008) cost the United States billions of dollars in lost crops, with even more devastating losses in topsoil. Changes in rain patterns and temperature could diminish India’s agricultural output by 30 percent by the end of the century”. Indoor farming can not only protect crops, but also provide insurance for the food supply.

Another benefit is that, since vertical farming can be grown within cities, it can be delivered closer to consumers, thus reducing the amount of fossil fuels used for transportation and refrigeration. Producing food indoors also reduces the use of farm machinery, which also uses fossil fuels. Indoor farming has the ability to greatly reduce carbon dioxide emissions that cause climate change.

The expansion of urban growth is another effect of indoor farming. Vertical farming, in addition to other technologies, could allow cities to expand while being self-sufficient with their food. This can allow urban centers to grow without destroying large areas of forests. Vertical farming can also provide job opportunities to many people, helping to reduce unemployment levels. It is a profitable and efficient way of growing vast amounts of food while also allowing room for cities to grow.  

Impact 

The entire world needs to adopt the idea of vertical farming and other indoor farming practices. Urban agriculture has the power to solve many ecological and monetary problems with the production of our food. Transportation costs would be less and more people would have greater access to food. Vertical farming provides humanity with a way of reducing world hunger by eliminating the need to grow food on vast tracts of land. The cost-effectiveness of producing large quantities of healthy, fresh food in a limited amount of space provides one of many answers necessary to solve world hunger.

Forecasted start year: 
2025 to 2030

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