With the global population predicted to rise to over nine billion by the year 2050, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that we, as a global community, will need to increase food production by as much as 70 percent if we are to ensure that there is enough food to go around.
Of those nine-or-so billion people, more than 6 billion are expected to live in cities. This is compared to around 4 billion in 2016.
By definition, traditional farmland does and can not exist in cities, meaning food often has to travel long distances from where it is grown to where it is eaten. Among other things, this makes the traceability of food more complicated, increases carbon emissions through the logistics process, and negatively impacts the quality of the produce, leading to a reduction in taste and increased wastage.
As it stands, figures show that 42 percent of the world’s accessible water is wasted through traditional agriculture, and as much as 50 percent of the food we grow does not get eaten. All of this raises the question, on World Cities Day, how are we going to bridge the gap between farm and table?
We need to think differently
Traditional agriculture is already one of the leading causes of environmental degradation – compounded by factors such as deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and resource wastage – and the amount of fertile arable farmland is limited. And this not only affects humans, the impact of farming on wildlife habitats can also be catastrophic.
So it stands to reason that in order to find a legitimate solution, we need to think, and farm, differently.
By farming vertically, indoors, and in the city, we not only reduce the burden on precious agricultural land, we can also mitigate the other factors – for example weather, pests and pollution – that plague outdoor farmers across the world, to produce efficient, clean and sustainable produce.
We can both guarantee and vastly increase harvests, and we can bring the world’s heavily urbanised population closer to the source of the food we eat, ensuring food arrives to the consumer fresher and therefore has less chance of going to waste. We can achieve all this while using up to 95 percent less water and it can be done anywhere in the world, regardless of the climate, as shown when one company announced plans for the world’s biggest indoor vertical farm in Dubai.
However, the aim of urban farming is not to replace traditional agriculture; it will coexist with it. And with the technology constantly improving and being made even more available and efficient, it is fast emerging as one of potentially many solutions to one of the biggest challenges we face in our immediate future.
About World Cities Day
World Cities Day was established by the United Nations as a way to promote the international community’s interest in global urbanization, push forward cooperation among countries in meeting opportunities and addressing challenges of urbanization, and contributing to sustainable urban development around the world. It falls on October 31 every year.