Vertical Farming: The Future of Agriculture
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Vertical Farming: The Future of Agriculture
A Term Paper Presented to Mrs. Anne Richie Balgos Department of English and Applied Linguistics College of Education De La Salle University - Manila
In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for ENGLRES nd 2 Trimester, AY 2010-2011
By Andrew Winston S. Tan & Renz Emmanuel Raquion December 9, 2011
There are genuinely sufficient resources in the world to ensure that no one, nowhere, at no time, should go hungry. - Ed Asner Food is one of the most important things in one’s life. It gives person energy, happiness, contentment, and about everything that one needs in a day. As Pearl Bailey (n.d.) said, “Hungry people cannot be good at learning or producing anything, except perhaps violence.” Imagine a world where there is not enough food for everyone. According to the United Nations (n.d.), about 25,000 people die every day due to hunger. This is equivalent to one person every three and a half seconds. And as the world population keeps on growing, questions are, will there be enough land for farming? How can people create a self-sustaining environment? How can the world consistently produce enough food to cope up with population increase? Throughout the world, people are now stepping toward great progress when it comes to agriculture; however the environment can not be taken for granted. With the world population dramatically increasing, as well as it is becoming a major issue, the traditional farming methods that have been handed down from generations to generations will not be able to keep pace (Collin, 2010). Some experts say that more than 80% of the world’s available land suited for traditional farming are already in use, and according to Despommier (2009), if population steadily increases, new lands bigger than the area Brazil are needed in order to produce enough food to feed all of the people in the world, if traditional agricultural methods are to be practiced. Through the years, scientists have been devoting their time and energy in finding ways to improve the world’s agriculture. Several techniques have been thought of. Some of them were tested and others are still in concept. Dr. Dickson Despommier, a professor in Columbia 2
University, raised the idea of vertical farming as a solution to various problems in present agriculture. He sees cultivating food, including fish and poultry, inside 30-storeys high buildings in urbanized areas (Frail, 2010). He further states that vertical farming offers a lot of benefits to the world including: safe food production, effective farming techniques and clean sustainable environment (Despommier, 2009). Thus, this paper aims to discuss why vertical farming, as a form of urban planting, is an alternative for agricultural production since it is safe, efficient and environmental-friendly. Just last October 31, 2011, the world population reached seven billion. Currently, Asia has the highest population, with 4.2 billion, followed by Africa with 1.0 billion, Europe with 739 million, South America with 585 million and North America with 344 million (Hickman, 2011). According to the United Nations, the world population is expected to reach nine billion by the year 2050, and more than eighty percent of it will reside in urban areas (Rosenberg, 2011). According to Shah (2010), “Over nine million people die worldwide each year because of hunger and malnutrition. Five million are children. About 1.2 billion people suffer from hunger. Some 2 to 3.5 billion people have micronutrient deficiency.” The lack of proper nutrition results to death. However, starvation is not always the cause, but it is also due to malnutrition that depletes one’s immune system, lessening the capability of one’s self to fight diseases (Conway, 1998). Most of the people, especially the ones residing in developed nations, enjoy various kinds of foods without knowing the processes the foods had gone through before they consume it. Environmentalists Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins pointed out in their book Natural Capitalism the ineffectiveness of traditional agriculture. Another research done by Dr.
Dickson Despommier of Columbia University also noted these inefficiencies of the agricultural sector (Beheshtaein, Deline, Hyatt, Tsan & Slafter, 2008). According to Conway, traditional agriculture is one of the major sources of global pollution. Agricultural practices have huge effects on climate change. Aside from water vapour, agriculture produces methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide, which all absorb and trap heat inside the earth, similar to the effects of a greenhouse. Methane is produced form livestock husbandry; nitrous oxide is produced by nitrogen fertilizers and carbon dioxide produced from burning of forests and grasslands for arable lands. Though all of these may be considered natural, the Intergovermental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) believes that the production of greenhouse gasses by agriculture is a major cause of global warming, and this process poses a bigger problem than the destruction of the ozone layer. In Asia, irrigated rice fields have grown 40% since 1970, further intensifying the emission of these said harmful gases. Conway further states that traditional agriculture has many unhealthy practices. Examples are the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, and the burning of vegetation. Though fertilizers are not really harmful to the environment, but they damage the natural ecosystem by causing plants in contact with them to grow uncontrollably. An example is the eutrophication, or the nutrient enhancement of bodies of water. This is caused by nitrates and phosphates flowing to the water, producing surface plants that block aquatic vegetation from receiving sunlight. When the aquatic plants die, oxygen will be reduced, therefore creating widespread fish kills. This destruction often happens to a fish-pen industry in the lake of Laguna de Bay in the Philippines, which is caused by fertilizer use from nearby rice fields.
On the other hand, pesticides damage the environment by contaminating wild animals. In particular, pesticides poison birds and water animals (Conway). When this happens, the food chain is disturbed and the ecosystem is harmed. According to Tallaki (cited in Mougeot, 2005), a study in Lome shows that the reason why farmers use low-grade pesticides is because they are not taught on how to identify pests and on how to control them. They just simply turn to pesticide peddlers selling cheap pesticides because they could not afford the ones recommended. They ignore the consequences of using cheap pesticides, thus harm the environment and put their health at risk. Globally, one of the main causes of air pollution is the burning of vegetation. This is often done when clearing forests for arable land. This practice releases harmful gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide, to the atmosphere. The negative effects to the environment include the acidification of air, water and soil; increase of ozone concentration, and of course the depletion of ozone layer. If this is not managed, the global temperature could rise by an additional 0.4 degrees Celsius by 2020 and as much as 2.0 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century (Conway). Another reason why agriculture is one of the major causes of pollution is because of its fuel consumption. Current agriculture relies heavily on farm machines to harvest food. These farm machines are powered by fuel and they produce too much waste. At the same time, since farming takes place in rural areas, farmers need automobiles to transport their food products to cities and towns where the consumers are, and this consumes fuel and produces carbon dioxide that heat up the global temperature (Despommier).
Vertical farming is the way of growing crops on tall buildings mostly made of transparent walls and ceilings. Vertical farms are located where most of the consumers are, in cities and towns. The concept of it was developed in 1999 by Dr. Dickson Despommier, a professor at Columbia State University. He stated that the reason why he thought of the idea was because the traditional horizontal farming is failing (Kumar, n.d.). Vertical farming is a type of urban agriculture (Beheshtaein et al.). Urban agriculture is defined by the Encyclopedia of Sustainability: Environment and Ecology as the growing, processing and distributing of food and other products through plant cultivation and animal husbandry in the near cities. Urban agriculture is an old practice. Back in history, cities like Babylon farm in metropolitan areas. They even had their hanging gardens. In World War II, it is said that about 40% of the vegetables and fruits of the United States were produced in urban farms, and in 1993, the concept of rooftop planting was introduced by Dr. Job Ebenezer, a former director of Environmental Stewardship and Hunger Education at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (Ebenezer, n.d). Productive urban agriculture plays a vital role in a community. Buying locally produced foods reduces the consumption of energy and lowers tariff from the transportation of food. On the other hand, it reinvigorates the community, because it generates opportunities to business engagement. Urban farming provides food security and gives people authority to control their own food. The community will also enjoy the perks of cleaner air, greener surroundings and lower air temperature during summer (North American Urban Agriculture Committee, 2003). According to Time Magazine (n.d.), urban agriculture is currently being practiced in various countries. Some of these countries include: Japan, Thailand, United States, England, South Korea, Cuba, Egypt, India and China. 6
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, urban farming has been viewed as a solution to various problems like the lack of water and the shortage of food. Some of the countries already support urban agriculture, and there are small-scale urban farms built at present. On the other hand, Dickson Despommier proposed the concept of vertical farming as a solution to various problems at present (Frail). According to Despommier, vertical farms are farms built 30- high or more. They are mostly built on glasses and other transparent panels to allow sunlight to reach the plants, thus making vertical farms look like gardens floating in space. Unlike traditional farming, vertical farming conserves space and produces the same or more quantities of food. It is said that lands in urban areas are much more expensive than lands in rural areas, and vertical farms are located in cities and towns, which is why they need to be very efficient and effective (Mikel, 2011). Three of the most effective ways of planting applied in vertical farming are the processes: Hydroponics, Aeroponics and Aquaponics. All of them are soil-free (Kumar). As defined by Beria et al., hydroponics is the process of growing plant life in a bath or continuous flow of oxygenated, nutrient-rich water. In reality, soil is not required for planting, but it is actually the minerals found in it that are needed for plant growth. When water is added to the soil, the minerals are dissolved, thus being absorbed by the plants (Kumar). This method has been used for decades to grow food in dry places such as Arizona and Israel, where traditional agriculture is not suitable. This system only needs around 10% of the water that a common planting needs, because it allows recycling of water and nutrient solutions so that no water can
be wasted. It also allows people to enjoy the benefit of year-round local food production, with only minimal expense in transportation (Turner, n.d.). Aeroponics, on the other hand, is a way of growing plants in a mist environment without soil or growing medium, and with only a little amount of water (Kumar, n.d.; Beria, Garber, Neu, Sebes & Sheetz, 2006). In this method, plants are placed in horizontal boards wherein the whole plant, from the crown to the roots, is suspended in space. Through this, the crown can grow upwards and the roots can grow downwards, without the aid of soil. The plants are fed by spraying nutrient solutions, and this conserves water since the whole system is enclosed (“How Aeroponics Works,” n.d.). Aquaponics is a way of plant cultivation that combines hydroponics and aquaculture. The wastes produced by fish are absorbed by the plants as nutrients and plants in turn filter the water to prevent water toxification that harms aquatic animals (Kumar, n.d.; Beria, Garber, Neu, Sebes & Sheetz, 2006). This cycle supports the existence of both the plants and fish. The idea of aquaponics was taken from the ancient farming techniques of Aztecs and Egypt, wherein the nutrients in nature were recycled (Rogosa, 2010). Vertical farms have a lot of benefits to cities. First, people can ensure that the food they eat will be fresh and clean because vertical farms would not have farm animals to transfer diseases to the crops. Vertical farming also does not need the use of pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers, which are all hazardous to our health, to sustain crop growth, (Chamberlain, 2007). Second, people can ensure the liability of vertical farming since plants will be located in closed and monitored environments. Unlike in horizontal farming, which plants are exposed to natural conditions like undesirable temperatures, rains, hailstorms, floods, wildfires and 8
droughts, in vertical farming no natural phenomenon can halt food production, although the threats of earthquakes and tornadoes can not be completely avoided (Chamberlain; Kumar). There will be year-round food production and crops will not again be wasted due to the weatherrelated issues, thus eliminating agricultural runoff, which is a source of water pollution (Despommier). Third, vertical farming is environmental-friendly. It does not need farm machines to operate. These machines produce harmful gases which cause pollution. Vertical farms will be located near the consumers, lessening fuel consumption in the transportation and preservation of products (Kumar). Vertical farms would also make cities greener and more beautiful. People living there would breathe cleaner and fresher air because plants would purify the air by converting carbon dioxide gas emitted by automobiles to oxygen. Through their fascinating designs, vertical farms would also generate money from tourist visits, boosting a city’s economy. Vertical farming would also create employment opportunities and convert unused city places to productive farming properties (Chamberlain, 2007; Ellingsen, Despommier, 2008). Another reason why vertical farms are needed in cities is because of their efficiency. Unlike horizontal farming, vertical farming does not need huge farm lands. According to Despommier, a one square block vertical farm of 30-storeys high can yield as much food as ten square kilometres of horizontal farm. This reduces the burning of forests for arable lands, and allows agricultural lands to grow back to their natural form, restoring damaged ecosystems. Furthermore, vertical farms can supply not just food, but also energy by composting organic matter and this will be greatly needed because of the growing population in urban areas (Chamberlain; Despommier; Collin).
Drastic increase in population, speeding urbanization, low crop yields, rise in global pollution and shortage of food are among the major problems that the world is going to face in the near future. What the world needs are technological innovations and new practical measures to solve the problems, and Vertical Farming might just be the answer to them. Vertical farming promises to provide food security and efficiency in farming, eliminating outside forces that disturb food production. It also assures lower contribution to pollution by removing the use of chemicals and fuel-consuming machines in farming. If vertical farming is successfully implemented, it will offer a safe and sustainable environment, along with the repair of damaged ecosystems caused by traditional agriculture.
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North American Urban Agriculture Committee. (2003). Urban Agriculture and Community Food Security in the United States: Farming from the City Center to the Urban Fringe [PDF document]. Retrieved from http://www.foodsecurity.org/PrimerCFSCUAC.pdf Rogosa, E. (n.d.). How does aquaponics work?. Retrieved November 28, 2011 from http://www.growseed.org/aquaponics.html Rosenberg, M. (2011, May). New United Nations Population Projections. Retrieved November 28, 2011 from http://geography.about.com/b/2011/05/11/new-united-nations-populationprojections.htm Shah, A. (2010, October). Causes of Hunger are related to Poverty. Retrieved November 28, 2011 from http://www.globalissues.org/article/7/causes-of-hunger-are-related-to-poverty Turner, B. (n.d.). How Hydroponics Works. Retrieved November 26, 2011 from http://home.howstuffworks.com/lawn-garden/professional-landscaping/alternativemethods/hydroponics2.htm What is Aeroponics?. (n.d.). Retrieved November 26, 2011 from http://home.howstuffworks.com/lawn-garden/professional-landscaping/alternativemethods/aeroponics.htm