By Leon Gettler

12 November 2013 – As more and more people need to be fed, farming, an activity once restricted to rural areas, is coming to cities around the world, writes Leon Gettler.

With projections of the global population hitting 11 billion, there are estimates that food production would have to increase 60-110 per cent to meet increasing demands.

At the moment, it’s likely to increase by only 38-67 per cent. As environmental analyst Lester Brown puts it, there are simply more mouths to feed.

“We’re adding 80 million people a year, and those 80 million come good weather or bad. That means there will be 219,000 people at the dinner table tonight who weren’t there last night. It’s a very sizable, daily increase in population.”

Peak oil, rising fuel prices, the availability of fertilisers, population growth, and climate change are driving the problem. It’s a situation also created by the costs of large-scale agricultural production increasing.

So are the costs of transporting food within and between countries, not to mention the price of fertilisers so essential to modern industrial agriculture. Add to that the problems with the bee population.

As the Financial Times points out, we’re facing a situation where there’s not enough bees and if that happens, yields of crops requiring insect pollination will drop and food prices will rise. This will affect most fruit and vegetables as well as high value foods we all love such as strawberries, coffee, blueberries, tomatoes, chillies and cocoa.

In his book The Coming Famine, Julian Cribb points to scarcities of water, good land, energy, nutrients, technology, fish combined with population growth, consumer demand and protectionist trade policies.

The increasingly unstable climates are added to the mix and that, he says, makes finding a solution all the more difficult.

“The coming famine is also complex, because it is driven not by one or two, or even half a dozen factors but rather by the confluence of many large and profoundly intractable causes that tend to amplify one another,” Cribb writes.

“This means that it cannot be easily remedied by ‘silver bullets’ in the form of technology, subsidies, or single-country policy changes, because of the synergetic character of the things that power it.”

As The Guardian says, the leaked draft from the United Nations Intergovernental Panel on Climate Change is making it clear to us that we need a complete reassessment of the global food system. It’s now become imperative that we increase food production in an effective and efficient way.

Vertical or urban farming might be one solution. Moving food production into the cities sounds impossible but Professor Dickson Despommier from Columbia University has long argued it can be done.

His book The Vertical Farm: Feeding The World in the Twenty-First Century looks at urban farms that can grow food 24 hours a day, 365 days a week, that eliminate use of pesticides, fertilisers, or herbicide, drastically reduce dependence on fossil fuels, prevent crop loss due to shipping or storage, create local jobs and re-use water collected from the indoor environment.

Despommier says urban farms are inevitable. “I think there should be a greenhouse on the top of every roof in New York.  Our students said if you put a garden on every roof, you could feed two per cent of Manhattan. But put a roof over that and you could feed six per cent of Manhattan because you get three crops every year.  Now that’s still not enough, but that’s why we did this!”

Similarly in his book Deep Economy, Bill McKibbin talks about rebuilding local farming in order to cut down food transportation costs and inefficient uses of water and energy. McKibben also highlights how organic farmers markets could bring healthy food to local areas while also rebuilding local communities damaged by big container stores and lower community engagement.

Hydroponic fish

Over in Sweden, businessman Hans Hassle has a company Plantagon which is building urban greenhouses. As explained on its website it uses excess heating and CO2 from industries for  vertical agriculture of vegetables in urban areas and aims to develop integrated solutions for energy, excess heat, waste, CO2 and water.

The firm was awarded the 2012 SACC New York-Deloitte Green Award for their breakthrough “green” innovation within the food chain, the Plantagon Vertical Greenhouse.

Aquaponics, hydroponic and other ’ponics

Tom Levitt at The Ecologist says a rise in the uptake of technologies like aquaponics, where  fish are kept in tanks, and plants grown hydroponically without soil, sitting in beds with their roots hang down into a tub of water – and aeroponics, where plants are grown in air or mist –  will boost the growth of urban farming.

“Aquaponics has been slowly attracting the support of sustainability enthusiasts in London and other cities around the world. The opening of a café and urban farm in East London back in 2010 set the ball rolling, showcasing how a tank of fish can be used to cultivate vegetables for salads.

“The company behind the installation, Aquaponics UK, now reports a steady flow of three or four orders a month for this pioneering system. Soil-free farming technologies such as aquaponics represent an opportunity not only to return a level of personal or household food production to cities, but also to create a viable commercial urban farming sector.

“And while nobody’s predicting vast swathes of urban space being given over to productive agriculture (there simply isn’t enough room in densely populated cities with high land prices), there is a growing number of examples out there pointing to a growth of urban-based agriculture over the next decade. It just may not be the agriculture we know.”

Levitt says aeroponics has taken off in a big way in Singapore which has little spare room for agriculture. Unsurprisingly Singapore is heavily dependent on imports, which account for more than 90 per cent of its food. Urban farming using new technologies is the perfect way to address this.

Although there is no “perfect” fish for Aquaponics, the following are desirable biological and economic attributes when selecting the best fish. When you shuffle the determination to mature your own organic fertilizer fruit and vegetables astatine home, single of the cheapest and easiest methods you tooshie count is to fix upwardly an aquaponiAquaponics – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Other alternatives include growing duckweed with an aquaponics system that feeds the same fish grown on the system, excess worms grown from vermiculture composting, .

Aquaponics and fish farming Growing high quality vegetables using aquaponics increases profits for any fish farm. Aquaponics Fish Species – Which One Is Right For You? | Awesome . To setup your aquaponics system properly, you must pick the right fish species for your needs. Includes how many fish to use, how much to feed them, grow beds . Aquaponics Fish What types of aquaponics fish are most commomly used. September 29, 2012

Market day at CERES in Melbourne

There’s a social angle

And the movement is growing around the world. Karney Hatch, a filmmaker spent five months travelling the globe to gather material for a documentary about urban farms in places as far flung as China, India and Africa. Hatch says it’s a movement that can change the world.

“It’s more productive and it seems to lead to much stronger communities. Because if you’re growing food to survive, you have a strong motivation to grow really well. You ask the people around you what their secrets are. You all work toward this common cause.”

While there simply isn’t enough room in densely populated cities like Beijing or Singapore to create a mass movement, there are a growing number of examples out there pointing to a growth of urban-based agriculture over the next decade.

Vertical farms

And then there are the vertical farms which are basically skyscrapers or high-rise buildings that have indoor farms on every floor.

The goal of these farms is to be as technologically advanced as possible and to utilise cutting edge solutions.

This would be the best place to implement technologies like genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or lab grown meat.

Vertical farms could be highly mechanised and have automated controls for irrigation and control systems monitoring the entire building.

Beneficial wavelengths only

The lighting could be controlled so only the most beneficial wavelengths of light were emitted for each species of plant.

A building designed specifically for farming would provide plants and crops a haven when they can no longer survive on the degrading arable land and the growing urbanisation of the planet. Though there are currently no buildings like this in existence, concept designs are being up drawn now.

Scientists at Columbia University are developing vertical farms in New York of all places. Work is now going on creating a 30-storey building with glass walls, topped off with a huge solar panel. On each floor there would be giant planting beds, indoor fields in effect. There would be a sophisticated irrigation system.

National Geographic says urban farms can raise issues. Land in cities, for example can be expensive, especially since gardens tend to contribute to gentrification and rising rents. Urban soils can be loaded with lead, arsenic, and other toxins, requiring remediation or replacement before planting can be done safely. Cramped conditions can limit yields, and getting enough water and sunlight can be concerns.

And while some commentators have suggested that urban agriculture may provide the solution to food security issues in cities, Australian Policy Online points out that the potential contribution of urban agriculture to food security differs between developed and developing countries.

In cities in developed countries, urban agriculture is limited by a lack of space and the absence of economic incentives. In the developing world, however, urban agriculture has considerable potential to improve food security.

In developed countries urban agriculture plays only a minor role in improving the food security of an area. Lack of space and the absence of economic incentives limit increases in crop production whereas urban agricultural production constitutes a large proportion of the total food supply in developing cities.

So if urban farming is to take off in developed countries, key issues, such as urban sprawl, contamination threats and legality, must be addressed.

Despite that, urban farms are springing up in cities in Australia, the United States, England, France and New Zealand. But there are limits to their impact. According to the North American Urban Agriculture Committee, cities produce only five per cent of urban food consumption as their production capacity is limited by the amount of space available and the high costs associated with urban farming.

“Dragonfly vertical farm is a concept urban farm specially designed for the Roosevelt Island of New York City which will reduce the problems associated with food shortage, mileage and connection between the producers and consumers. Because of the densely packed city civilization, this farm has been designed vertically, spanning 132 floors and 28 different agricultural fields for accommodating dragonflies aiming to produce fruit, grains, vegetables, meat and dairy. This Dragonfly wing shaped superstructure features wind and solar power producing capability and includes housing, offices, research labs and communal areas separated from farms, orchards and production rooms. Throughout the glass and steel set of wings, animal and plant farming is arranged as well as soil nutrient levels are maintained properly” See

The planning issues

If urban farming does take off, cities will have to tackle key planning issues. Paul Burton, a professor of urban planning and management at Griffith University says:  “An ever-growing web of regulations can form serious barriers to entry and make even the apparently straightforward task of selling surplus eggs or jam a complex and costly exercise.

“While community gardens are proving increasingly popular, our research found cases where proposals were met with concerted opposition and sometimes with serious abuse from neighbours concerned that a community garden might reduce their property values (when if anything the opposite is likely to be the case).

“But the most significant impediment lies in the competition for urban land, both within and on the fringes of our cities where pressure to build more houses is intense. The suburban backyard that once allowed Australian families to provide a significant proportion of their own fresh fruit and vegetables is shrinking rapidly and as we live at higher densities within cities the space to grow food is diminishing.”

As questions about food security grow, this is likely to start exercising the minds of planners and governments around the world.

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