Why Vertical Farms could be the Solution to our Food Insecurity
On my most recent travel to my rural village (here in Kenya), I noted that the rains are becoming more and more unpredictable. The prayers of many farmers I interacted with were simple; if the rains came, then their crops would flourish.
These prayers are offered despite the yield by acreage continuing to decline sharply for decades in a row. It is interesting to note that although there has been researching done to improve the seed quality, poor agricultural practices have meant poor crop yields for the farmers.
For instance, there is no rotational farming with the use of traditional farming methods. If a farmer planted maize for this season, they will plant the same crop for the next season and the next one with only mixed farming coming to play every often but with the same crops every season.
Whilst the need to continue with this horizontal farming and incorporate better agricultural practices to be food secure, there is a need to go vertical due to its enormous benefits now that space and land for farming are becoming a really big challenge. Vertical farms are vertical in literal terms and done in indoor spaces with controlled growth parameters.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of vertical farms is their reliability. Whereas the farmers in my village are at the mercy of Mother Nature, vertical farms are under controlled environments and hence no variation in terms of seasons which often affects planting times which in turn affects harvest times.
With reliability also comes the advantage of reducing the harvest times. In normal circumstances, the forces of nature can often delay the time when planting, weeding, and applying fertilizers, as well as harvesting, is done. These get sorted in a controlled environment which doesn’t affect the crop quality by any means.
Because the plants are monitored closely and no external environmental effects, the crop yield tends to be higher as compared to if the plants were planted on a normal horizontal piece of land.
Better land and water use.
The aspect of better land use is just that. Suppose a farmer was to plant potatoes on a one-acre farm, there is a limit to how many seedlings the space can take. Let’s say that perhaps it takes about 300 seedlings.
With vertical farms, those numbers can be increased to over 1000 or more depending on how the farmer wants by utilizing the vertical space in that one acre alone. In addition, vertical farms that use hydroponic for example use fewer fertilizers and nutrients because none gets washed away or used up by unwanted plants. Water gets efficiently used as well with a lot of it getting recycled.
Environmental friendliness and efficient energy use
Vertical farming can be best described as the environmental darling of the century. With the methods and technology involved, there is no need for fossil energy use to cultivate and weed the crops. Often these methods disturb the soil and result in biodiversity loss.
Because this type of farming reduces biodiversity disturbances, it means vertical farms can enable the land and animals in it to thrive without any conflict. In addition, most of these farms are designed in a way that they use renewable energy to run and are thus self-sustaining as well as efficient.
Reduced losses and labor costs
A lot of food gets lost due to transport logistics and the last mile delivery. This is often due to the crops being farmed far away from the markets where they are sold due to space issues. With the advantage that vertical farms use less space, it means that food can be grown close to the consumers and thus save them the hassle of transportation headaches and last mile losses.
Given that these farms are technologically advanced, they thus require fewer labor costs and often the costs of operation are reduced drastically. With higher yields and fewer operation costs, the food grown often tends to be cheaper.
Those advantages amongst others not listed mean that vertical farms can transform modern agriculture and ensure our food security. Are we ready for them in Africa and the world over? That is the big elephant in the room.
Maybe necessity will have to push us at some point in time to embrace them fully.