By Ronit Golovaty (MSc.Agr)
Rising Demand and Shrinking Resources
The world’s population is expected to increase by 2 billion in the next 30 years, growing from 7.7 billion in 2019 to a projected 9.7 billion in 2050, according to a 2019 United Nations report
Correspondingly, the demand for food will also increase dramatically, and this will pose a huge challenge to the agricultural sector which already suffers from a continuous reduction of natural resources (especially water and agricultural land), caused by climate change, and intensive farming.
The development and adaptation of new technologies in irrigation, fertilization, and precision agriculture are essential and have been improving crop production capacity in recent decades. However, according to UN forecast (figure 1) the rate of development and adaptation of these technologies is not rapid enough and in the coming years there will be an increasing imbalance between production and demand.
In addition to population growth, today, 55% of the world’s population live in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 68% by 2050. Projections show that urbanization, the gradual shift in residence of the human population from rural to urban areas, combined with the overall growth of the world’s population, could raise the population in urban areas to 2.5 billion people by 2050, with nearly 90% of this increase taking place in Asia and Africa (the 2018 Revision of the World Urbanization Prospects. UN DESA)
While cities are getting bigger, production areas are getting smaller and further and further from the consumer.
As a consequence, there is:
- More pollution due to transportation of food to the cities
- Huge waste of food (due to the time taken to transport)
- More energy waste and pollution from cooling and packaging
- Diminished contact between the consumer and the producer (if at all): we don’t know where our food is coming from, and what exposure to treatments and pesticides are involved
- Time spent in cooling facilities, and impact on its nutritional value
Following these concerns, different initiatives have been undertaken around the world in recent years to bring food production into the cities. However, along with these initiatives (urban agricultural gardens), conflicts have also arisen over the land allocated for these gardens.
Therefore, this is the time to try and explore technologies and techniques that will enable the practice of agriculture without expending many of the valuable natural resources available.
Hydroponics – Key Concept for Urban Farming
What is hydroponics?
Hydroponics is the technology of growing plants without soil. The plant is grown in pipes or containers with a solution of water and fertilizers enriched with oxygen.
Hydroponics fits in perfectly with the needs of the urban farmer since it is a closed system whereby the water and fertilizers are recycled (saving 90% of water and 75% of the fertilizers compared to growing in soils). It can be modular and modified to fit the space in the backyard, or on a roof or balcony. It can be mounted vertically so it needs only 1/10 of the space that a conventional garden bed utilizes. Crops grows faster since the amount of minerals and water can be easily adjusted according to the plant needs.
It is also a much easier way to grow crops, since there are no weeds, and the elevated plants can be handled easily by pensioners, the elderly, or people with physical disabilities.
In such a home garden a family can grow for their own consumption, have fresh and healthy food available, and may also be able to sell surplus for additional income.
In a changing world, the “business as usual” paradigm can no longer work; better
tracking, incentives, and support systems should be introduced to communities.
Urban farmers, those who are already practicing, and also potential growers, need to receive up-to-date information about growing methods, innovative business models, and the best indoor farming practices, and also have ways in which they can connect with other stakeholders including potential funders.
The inclusion of urban agriculture in the municipal agenda including allocation of budgets for infrastructure development, tax incentives, training, marketing, start-up kits etc. will help urban farms thrive and remain sustainable as well as contributing to the development of a sustainable and resilient city that is socially inclusive, food-secure, productive, and environmentally healthy.