Vertical Farming: Nowhere To Go But Up

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NAIROBI, Kenya — As land is becoming limited, and farmland is further depleted of its integrity, many countries are in need of innovation for how they grow food. In this plight, many have found themselves with nowhere to go but up. With the rapid growth in urban and suburban areas across the world and scientific predictions estimating that agricultural land will only be viable for about 60 more years, many cities have gotten creative with how they are maximizing and repurposing real-estate.

Vertical Farming

Vertical farming has become a hot topic of discussion for many countries across the globe. It has become a key factor in how to solve food scarcity, diminish food deserts, tackle city pollution and fight climate change in recent years. Wall space in concrete jungles can be utilized for little more than an advertisement.  By implementing systems of hydroponic planters, they can be transformed into lush fresh food sources. This growing system acts to positively impact urban spaces in a multitude of ways. The idea is to maximize the vertical space and rooftops of skyscrapers and housing units to grow food and plants that will feed the city and provide natural air filtration in areas of high-density air pollution.

With the high influx of people around the world moving into urban areas, unemployment rates have skyrocketed in many cities and food prices soar as more and more food has to be imported. However, food can be difficult to acquire when little to no money is flowing into a household. This leaves many hungry and with fewer places to turn to feed themselves. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that more than 820 million people globally do not have enough to eat and are suffering from malnourishment. Vertical farms could offer an affordable, steady flow of food for families.

A Natural Air Filter

These vertical farms provide natural air filtration by taking in CO2 from the air and turning out oxygen. They also act as filters for particulates. As particulate laden air moves through the dust and gets caught on leaves It is then subsequently washed away with the rain or washed off by hand before consumption.

Providing a cleaner atmosphere lowers the populations’ risk of illness born of air pollution, curbing the financial consequences that come from illness. Cities could save millions on expensive public filtration systems and create a visually appealing cityscape. This also boosts mental and physical health, civic morale, and feeds thousands of residents.

Helping the Earth

Climate change is taking a toll on the globe. The desertification of land is more common every day. Water scarcity is actively or passively affecting everyone but especially in the agricultural industry. As climates are rapidly changing, making traditional forms of agriculture around the world obsolete. Foods that once flourished are no longer compatible with new weather patterns that have changed the terrain.

Vertical farming allows for individuals to more accurately and efficiently control the state of their plants’ soil and water. Whether it is hydroponics or simply vertically oriented gardening pots, people are able to tailor their plant’s needs as the weather changes. This creates more successful crops that can be rotated with ease.

According to The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), an estimated 1.1 billion people worldwide are unable to access water. An estimated 2.7 billion face water scarcity for at least one month out of the year. Large scale agriculture can be challenging if not outright impossible for some. However, by utilizing vertical farming, individuals could use up to 95 percent less water depending on the individuals’ growing system. This takes some of the burdens off of those engaging in vertical farming to be constantly providing large quantities of water to their crops.

Utilizing Vertical Farming

Vertical farming became popularized in 1999 after a professor at Columbia University built upon the idea with a group of his students. However, despite this revolutionary idea’s popularization, its implementation is a heavy burden for many cities and countries to take on. To withstand large wall mounted farms often walls must be reinforced to some degree. Rooftop farms most definitely require fortification to stop roots from making their way through the ceiling.

The cost can also be significantly more expensive for bigger vertical farms. The hydroponic systems, structural fortification and labor to do upkeep can become costly quite quickly. However, personal vertical farms often are just a matter of ingenuity and seeds. A collection of wall-mounted planters could provide regular fresh produce for single families living in cities or suburban areas.

The Prospect of Vertical Farming in Africa

Resources Oriented Development Initiatives (RODI) Kenya entered into a partnership with the Association for Vertical Farming (AVF) in 2019. Their work is oriented towards educating communities in Kenya with hopes of expanding on how to utilize the resources which they have already been endowed to independently build their communities. They are currently active in 15 of the 47 counties in Kenya. 

 They have taken a particular interest in the idea of vertical farming. This is due to the impacts of spreading desertification in Kenya. As land is cleared as trees and groundwater are used up, the soil loses its root systems and hydration to keep it on the ground, so it simply blows away. Creativity is required in order to continue to feed people. Vertical farming offers the ability to farm without the risk of mineral loss in the soil from over-farming since it can be replaced as needed and won’t just blow away in the wind.

Kenya imports much of its food staples, leading to high costs and heavy pesticides and preservatives used to protect the food during transportation. Vertical farming offers cost-effective reliable and clean food options for many Kenyans. RODI is working to assure an end to food scarcity in Kenya. It is using vertical farming as one of many ways to impact the population and its future.

Much of poverty can be directly linked to lacking agricultural industries and food scarcity. By proving solutions to these issues, communities are empowered to independently build themselves up from the inside out. Vertical farming is one of the many tools that can be utilized to open up a plethora of opportunities and establish stability for many globally.

Emma Hodge
Photo: Flickr

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