By Dr. Shivendra Bajaj, Executive Director, Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII)
NEW DELHI, 10 April 2020: A silent revolution is underway in the agriculture sector, which is going to be quite evident in the days to come. With the global population is set to reach near 10 billion mark by 2050, the food production must increase by 70 per cent, estimates the United Nations.
However, there is a global appeal seeking restrictions on the forests getting converted into the farmlands in the wake of global warming.
There comes the need of technological innovation in the farming processes. And the idea of vertical farming is among them. It is in the accordance with the principles of sustainable development, which beseeches judicious use of environmental resources.
Vertically farming is a practice of growing crops in vertical stacked layers in controlled-environment.
It does not just reduce the requirement of water but also increases yield and ability to cultivate a larger variety of crops.
The concept of indoor vertical farming facilitates cultivation of all crops even those that are not suitable to the local climatic conditions. It means growing tomatoes near Delhi or potatoes near Chennai.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the vertical farming system consumes 75 per cent less raw material than traditional farming and just 60 watt of power daily to grow 150 kg of vegetables in a month.
To obtain this quantity, vertical farming needs just 6 m2 space while traditional farming requires at least 72 m2 land area. Also, the requirement of water would be just 12 L to produce 1 kg of vegetables due to recycling as against 300-400 L under traditional farming.
More importantly, the vertical farming ecosystem holds a key to the major problem of weather-related crop losses.
Effects of climate change such as erratic rain events, prolonged droughts, and frequent floods in the country are causing farmers to incur heavy financial losses.
There have been many instances when ready-to-harvest crops were destroyed due to the unseasonal rains.
Plants can be grown indoors, with or without soil, under vertical farming, which assures the protections from unruly winds, incessant rains, dry climate. The key environmental elements such as light, temperature, humidity and micro-nutrients are controlled to optimize plant growth.
Vertical farming can be carried out in the areas with scarcity of water as well as in urban areas as it can be set up in small plots.
There are a few different gardening methods. The most dominant is hydroponics, in which the roots are submerged in water infused with nutrients.
Another method is Aeroponics. It has potential to reform the farming practices in the drylands and drought-prone areas as plants are grown in mist environment with no soil and very little water.
Some research say plants grown with the Aeroponics method uptake more nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. It translates into healthier plants and higher yield.
Vertical farming facilitates more crop cycles compared to that through conventional ways.
The fruits, vegetables grown in vertical farming are fresh, nutritious and safe as they are grown in controlled environment with least possible exposure to contaminants.
From the view of reducing carbon foot print, the food procured locally reduces “food miles”- roughly means the distance the agriculture produce has travelled to reach your plate.
If fruits and vegetables are imported or procured from far away locations, the transportation leads to higher carbon emissions.
Transportation and agriculture are among the largest five emitters of green houses gases, finds the Emission Gap Report – 2019 of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
One may think that vertical farming also leads to emissions as it requires energy for indoor lighting and air-conditioning.
However, the high-efficiency lighting, low-carbon electricity, nano cost climate control can even achieve a relatively low carbon footprint. Additionally, the higher crop yield offsets the emissions caused to operate indoor vertical farming unit.
Many entrepreneurs in India and other parts of the worlds have found interest in the concept of vertical farming. It is a profitable business that promotes the sustainable development - a win-win situation for all. Vertical farming is set to herald a new era of urban and compact agriculture sectors.
Image caption: Dr. Shivendra Bajaj