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Will Agritecture Succeed in Transforming Cities into Green, Food Producing Hubs?

Agriculture | Jul, 2023

Almost 70% of the world’s population is projected to live in cities, as per United Nations report. As cities are growing along with rising personal disposable incomes, urban consumers are demanding a more diversified diet, including fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat. Besides, rapid urbanization spurred by population growth is causing an immense demographic shift in the world’s food systems, which is creating a challenge for farmers to meet the food security needs. To resolve this issue, the world food producers are now looking at incorporating farming innovations in urban areas and deliver a safe, sustainable, and nutritious food supply to growing cities. Meeting urban demand for food is creating massive market opportunities for the private sector, from large domestic local firms and multinational corporations to SMEs. Agritecture, integration of farming techniques into typical urban environments, is rapidly gaining momentum as the aim is to preserve natural resources while developing land for further human inhabitance.

Urban farms take up far less space than land-based farms, which enable farmers to create far more end products per acre. Additionally, since urban farms are set up in cities, carbon emissions related to transportation and storage can be reduced significantly. Moreover, reducing the use for pesticides and chemical fertilizers in urban farms, people can get high-quality and nutritious foods, no matter the climate or the quality of land. The new generation of farmers and innovators are leveraging the power of big data analytics and machine learning with genome editing to design better crops, using drones for proper crop monitoring and management, and other such technologies to enhance sustainability within operations. Urban farms can range from small community gardens to large scale rooftop farms, which can be found predominantly in European cities such as London, Amsterdam, Berlin, or in the cities of United States such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Several cities in Asia and Africa are also playing a vital role in providing food and keeping the local communities afloat with urban farming practices.

Emergence of Advanced Urban Agtech

Thanks to new technology, growing crop is no longer restricted to traditional growing cycles, soil health, weather conditions, etc. Moreover, climate change has made predicting crop output unpredictable. Hence, cities are leveraging technological innovations—particularly indoor vertical farms, greenhouses, precision farming tools, artificial lighting, etc. to increase food resilience in face of the growing threat of insecurity.

·        Ultrasonic Aeroponics

Recently, scientists at Bristol-based company, LettUsGrow pioneered ultrasonic technology to grow plants with sound and water. The sound-based technology allows the mist created by high-frequency sound waves provide the exact amount of water and nutrients to plant roots, depending on their need and stage of growth. The new patent-pending technology has a huge potential for increasing domestic food production, especially in places where there’s very little natural light or water is at a premium. The alternative growing method allows plant roots to grow faster and healthier than in hydroponics, one of the most common irrigation systems used in greenhouses and vertical farms today. Harnessing the new technology, farmers can grow more crips and meet the growing demand for organic and nutritious foods without sacrificing sustainability. One of the key advantages of ultrasonic aeroponics is the use of atomizer, which transforms liquid into mist, rather than nozzles. This eliminates technical complexities and issues with maintenance, which might aid in its large-scale agricultural applications.

·         Pop up Urban Farming System

Pop up urban farming system developed by a leading urban farming and stormwater harvesting company, Biofilta in collaboration with injection moulding company, Von Pace Group, is set to transform cities into highly productive urban farms. The company has created modular urban farming system called “Foodcube”, which is a large one-square-meter-injection moulded, self-watering urban farm that can generate tonnes of fresh produce in small city spaces. Since the farming system is tanked and sealed, it can be rapidly assembled on rooftops, carparks, backyards, courtyards, schools, and other spaces. The pop up farms can be used to transform organic waste streams into fresh produce, creating circular economy and food secure cities. Also, these farms are able to capture and utilize rooftop rainwater runoff that improves downstream water quality and help cities cool better during hot weather conditions.

Global retail giant, IKEA’s innovation lab Space 10 created Lokal, a pop-up farming system where crops are grown hydroponically (crops grown in water filled with nutrients) and rely on artificial light rather than natural sunlight. Integrated with sensors and machine learning, the system allows the plants to grow three times faster than conventional farming practices. The plants are hooked up with Google’s voice controlled Home device, which allows farmers to communicate to plants and find out about their nutritional status. Lokal is a perfect example of urban farming, which allows space-saving and sustainable way for people to grow their own food. Scaling up pop-up farming systems can bring a revolutionizing change in how people produce and consume food in consideration with sustainability.

According to TechSci Research report on “Global Indoor Farming Market By Farming Technique (Hydroponics, Aeroponics, Aquaponics, Soil-Based, Hybrid), By Facility Type (Greenhouse, Indoor Vertical Farm, Container Farm, Others), By Component (Irrigation Component, Lighting, Sensor, Climate Control, Others), By Crop Type (Fruits & Vegetables, Herbs & Greens, Flowers & Ornamentals, Others), By Region, Competition Forecast & Opportunities, 2028”, the global indoor farming market is predicted to grow at a significant rate during the forecast period. The market growth can be attributed to the rapidly increasing demand for healthier aspects of agricultural practices and decreasing availability of land for cultivation.

·        Rooftop Farming

Generally, rooftops in urban areas accumulate heat from being exposed to direct sunlight, which then radiates back into the environment and make cities warmer. However, rooftop gardening provides a solution to mitigate these issues and provide a building’s natural insulation and thermoregulation. For instance, One Island East, one of the city’s tallest skyscrapers boasts rooftop urban farm, called The Loop. It is one of the highest urban farms in Hong-Kong that has a big enough space for growing more than 30 kinds of crops, including basil, corn, okra, mixed herbs, etc. The rooftop farm not only help grow veggies, but also recycle food waste from staff who work in the building, utilized as compost. For a city that imports 90% of the food, rooftops serve as a viable and sustainable food system. Rotterdam, famous for its ports has a 1000 metre-square rooftop farm that produce organic fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs. Part of the roof has been transformed into smart roof with intelligent water storage system that automatically driven by the weather forecast. Sky Vegetables, an urban-agriculture firm uses a sustainable model to produce grocery on rooftops year-round. Leveraging commercial, aquaponics, the converted rooftops harvest rainwater, insulate buildings while lowering energy and water consumption. In recent years, many such startups have emerged that utilize modern farming practices to increase efficiency of rooftop farming and fulfill the growing food demands of city dwellers.

New Projects for Agritecture Underway

With enhanced focus of city planners on building self-sufficiency in terms of food produce, they are investing in urban agriculture policies in master planning projects. In Saudi Arabia, NEOM, a USD500-billion technological megacity is striving to become the world’s most self-sufficient city in terms of food production. Shifting the paradigm of extraction-based agriculture, the city is expected to promote responsible and sustainable aquafarming tailored to genomic and microbiome data. Recently, OCEANIX, The Busan Metropolitan City of the Republic of Korea, and UN-Habitat have collaborated to deploy a sustainable floating city that has food-proof infrastructure. The floating city will be built to produce its own food, energy, and freshwater with zero waste-closed loop system. Singapore and Dallas also have plans in work for promoting urban farming and ensure greater food security and access.

According to TechSci Research report on “Agritecture Market - Global Industry Size, Share, Trends, Opportunity and Forecast, 2018-2028, Segmented By Integration (Indoor v/s Outdoor), By Structure (Retrofitting, Extension, New Building), By Application (Commercial v/s Residential), By Region”, the global agritecture market is expected to grow at a formidable rate during the forecast period. The market growth can be attributed to the persistent crop production throughout the year to meet evolving food demands and emerging innovations to advance modern farming practices. 

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