AgricultureLifestyle

Urban Farming: A glimpse into the future or a passing fad?

By Lionel Alva

These are dark times that we live in. Apart from the spiralling inequality, ongoing climate change crisis, and the second-wave of the pandemic has shaken the already imperfect world food system to its core. Today, the world is on the brink of a food crisis like never before: 690 million people were estimated to be food insecure and a crisis level hunger or worse had affected over 135 million already.

The new normal has only acted as a catalyst for the growing hunger crisis: Economic disruption and increasing unemployment have exacerbated the existing vulnerabilities and inequalities of the food system.  As a consequence, people are looking at alternate means to secure food availability: Public interest in growing fruits and vegetables at home is growing. However, it remains to be seen if urban farming is a sustainable trend. In the long run, urban farming has the potential to build more resilience in urban fruit and vegetable supply chains. Let’s take a look at some of the key trends in urban farming that may make it an integral feature of towns and cities of the future.

Sustainable towns and cities

Urban areas house more than 50 percent of the global population and this number is expected to rise to 68 % by 2050. In places like the UK, this cities and towns are expected to house 9 out of 10 people, and for such cities having more sustainable practices is imperative. Greenery and vegetation interwoven into the fabric of urban development is a welcome change. However, in congested cities like Mumbai, many residential or commercial areas do not have access to a garden or even a terrace. In such places, vertical farming can be implemented on rooftops or designated walls, or even in abandoned tunnels, underground shelters and spaces.  Urban farming has a plethora of options to creatively re-design the urban environment with a flair for green.  These options would also help increase the food and vegetation supply significantly in cities.

The fast pace of urbanization has also to urban malnutrition and urban farming can play a critical role in mitigating its long-term impact.

Resilient food supplies

The confluence of recent trends has led to widespread food disruption. In such cases, diversifying food growth regions can reduce the impact of a disruption to conventional food supplies. In the Indian context, by 2024, the country is set to surpass China’s population and reach 1.5 billion by 2030 to become the world’s most populous planet.  With a bulk of India’s population under the age of 35, limited fresh water and land for agriculture would put significant pressure on the country’s food supply. Climate change and water scarcity may hinder food imports. Ostensibly, urban farming would help Indian cities garner a better resistance to food supply shocks. Even the pandemic harvest labour shortages would not have happened if there was widespread urban farming in Indian cities, as food is made available right where people live.  Presently, the agricultural output is healthy despite the second wave of the pandemic and is set to grow by 20 % this fiscal, as per this article.

Holistic health approach

The old adage, we are what we eat holds true for urban farming. Engaging in gardening and nature focussed activities can have a dramatic impact on one’s physical and mental fitness. There is research that highlights how being involved in urban farming or merely being exposed to it can result in a healthier diet. The reasons for making health food choices by urban growers are many: Easier access to fresh produce, nature-specific activities reduce stress, and there is a heightened awareness for eating healthy in present times.  Urban farming can not only lead to a healthier lifestyle but also ethically sourced food in the long-run. There is set to be a greater respect for how food is produced in urban locales.

The road ahead

Urban agriculture can play a critical role in building biodiversity and restoring vigour to the natural ecosystem. A study highlights that urban agriculture areas can act as hotspots for pollinating insects, a key enabler of the natural ecosystem.  As per Precedence Research,  the vertical farming market is expected to grow to USD 31.6 billion by 2030, and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 25.2% for the forecast period of 2021-2030.

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