Vertical farms - future for hungry cities

It is estimated that by 2050 the world population will be around 8.3 billion people, and the reason for this is the extremely rapid urbanisation in the 21st century. Currently, there are about 800m hectares of farmed land on earth, which is about 38% of the land area. Again, it is estimated that an additional 100m hectares of farmed area will be required due to population growth. This will be, of course, required with current agricultural methods. As the population grows with a tendency to grow even more, more land will be needed for settlements, and the fact that not all land can be used for agriculture explores the possibilities of so-called vertical farming.

There is an assumption that a 30-story farm could be built in one New York neighbourhood that could produce food to feed 50,000 people. Such a farm-building would have 27,800,000 square metres of vertical farm space available. In addition, a calorie calculation was made so that the aforementioned 50000 people who were fed would receive 2000 calories a day. These are just some of the reasons why many enthusiasts see vertical farms as the future.

Vertical farms are still very much at the conceptual stage. The idea is to cultivate crops on multiple levels within high-rise buildings in urban areas. It’s not an entirely new proposition, with architect Ken Yeang suggesting a vision of high-rise plant cultivation in mixed-use skyscrapers as early as the 1980's. Vertical farms do indeed have many advantages. They would enable us to produce crops all year round using 70% less water. We wouldn’t need to use agro-chemicals and could avoid the adverse environmental factors that affect yield and quality in more traditional farming. And if food were grown in urban areas in the first place, we could eliminate the financial and environmental costs of importing food into towns and cities.

In some respects, farming is now a practical possibility. The technology it requires, in terms of plant growth and construction, are available. We can already cultivate plants without soil and recycle the water used to deliver clean indoor farming, for example. Hydroponics, where plant roots are grown in nutrients dissolved in water, is one option. This plant-growing technique can be combined with traditional aquaculture to raise fish or prawns – a farming technique known as aquaponics. Another way to grow plants is aeroponics, which involves growing suspended plants by spraying the roots with a nutrient-rich water solution.

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