It is no secret that the worldâ€™s population is growing exponentially, having increased sevenfold in the last 200 years alone. Furthermore, this tendency is predicted to continue; especially with rising global health standards and overall life expectancy. The boom in the earthâ€™s population inevitably puts a strain on the resources needed to keep all those mouths fed, both environmentally and economically. Robert Malthus, an English cleric and philosopher, was the first to address this problem in an academic manner. In the late 18th century, his essay dealing with population growth gave a bleak image of the future where the sheer number of people on the planet would outgrow our capacity for food production, resulting in widespread famine and devastation. His apocalyptic visions of the future might have not yet been fulfilled, but famine is unfortunately an everyday occurrence in many parts of the world.
Cities and agriculture
Despite being associated with rural areas and third world countries, famine affects as much as 20% of malnourished people who live in cities. Economic factors such as unemployment and high costs of living are the main culprits of urban hunger. Although there are many humanitarian organisations that try to combat malnutrition by feeding the hungry, many believe that a paradigm shift is needed in order to solve the problem in a more permanent and meaningful way. Urban agriculture is a rapidly growing field that aims to curb hunger by utilising urban areas for the growing of food. In addition to putting a dent in world hunger, urban agriculture also has the potential to reduce global pollution by minimising the amount of energy required to produce and transport food. The movement is gaining momentum, as more and more people are passionate about sourcing their food locally, and by so doing minimizing their carbon footprint. This trend has doubtless become more mainstream after first lady Michelle Obamaâ€™s passionate speech against poor nutrition and obesity amongst the youth of America, in which she encouraged Americans to plant their own backyard gardens.
Water and Soil
There are two main factors that are necessary for any agricultural undertaking, water and soil. Water is rapidly becoming a scarce resource, with water consumption growing at more than twice the speed of population growth over the last century. To combat this wastefulness, increasing effort is being placed in water sustainability; form drip irrigation and hydroponics, to water recycling and rainwater collection.
A common criticism of urban farming is that it simply uses too much drinkable water. In order for the practice to be truly green and eco-friendly, an independent water supply is a must. The quality of soil is another concern for critics. The pollution that is commonplace in most urban areas can cause soil contamination such as lead build-up. While there are viable soil remediation strategies, they are often cost prohibitive, especially for urban communities working on a small budget. Using raised beds for growing crops is a promising way of overcoming these issues. Defendants of urban farming point out that large corporate agriculture has its own problems: soil and water pollution caused by various pesticides and other chemicals, a lack of sustainability of large-scale farming systems and deforestation, just to name a few. Ultimately, urban farming aims to be a self-sufficient system, with no water going to waste as it cycles from rainwater and grey water collection tanks through plants and back to the soil.
In the very near future, most of the population of the word will be concentrated in urban areas. The logical solution when faced with a limited space is to build upwards, and farming is no exception. Although merely theoretical at the moment, vertical farming is an idea that has great potential for combating hunger in urban areas by increasing food production per unit area. Simply put, vertical farms are skyscrapers that have an indoor farm on every floor. These farms will have a high initial construction cost, but through cutting edge solutions and technological advancements should pay for themselves in a very short period of time. The advantages of a building designed for the sole purpose of growing food are numerous, providing crops and plants with the best possible conditions to grow and thrive. Lighting could be controlled so as to only let through the most favourable wavelengths, depending on what is being grown. Irrigation and monitoring systems will be mechanised and highly automated to ensure the highest level of efficiency. Such buildings may seem like science fiction, but a lot of research and development is being done around the concept of vertical farms. Singapore is leading the way in this field, having opened the first commercial vertical farm that is able to produce one ton of vegetables every other day.
Hunger is a huge issue, even in developed nations. According to Feeding America there are over 50 million food-insecure people in the United States. FEBA figures from 2010 estimate this number at 30 million in Europe (source). Urban agriculture is increasingly viewed as a viable option in the fight against hunger, and has already been implemented to some extent in many cities as either for-profit business or as community gardens. Turning unused urban plots into efficient and cost-effective growing spaces not only provides food but also cuts down on the amount of energy needed to cultivate and transport food from farm to plate. Transforming areas of concrete into green oases can also help fight the greenhouse effect and have a positive impact on the microclimate of urban areas. Although most cities lack the financial and governmental support needed to make urban farming an important part of our food supply, the idea that we can grow our own food and attain a level of self-sufficiency is gaining momentum and becoming ever more popular.
Reinforced flexitanks without bulkheads
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