Amid the growing concerns about climate change and feeding the world's increasing population, especially in urban conurbations in developing countries, Simon Harvey investigates whether vertical farming – growing fresh produce in a controlled environment – can become well-established in the market.
The nascent vertical-farming industry is growing and gaining prominence among investors and governments that recognise the potential in a world where land availability for producing fresh food is fast diminishing, especially in countries with increasing urban populations.
Singapore is a prime example of an economy with a limited land mass for agricultural farming, leaving the city-state reliant on imports to feed its expanding population and turning to new technologies such as vertical farming and cell-grown meat. And with much of Singapore dominated by skyscrapers, it is cultivating fresh food on window ledges and rooftops of commercial and residential buildings in self-contained growing units.
But vertical farming as its name implies may be a bit misleading, which is why it also carries the designation of urban or indoor farming, or, what the chief executive of UK government-backed CHAP (Crop Health and Protection) prefers to call controlled-environment farming. As well as growing produce in stacked shelf-style units, it also takes the form of using redundant shipping containers known as 'cooltainers' and abandoned subway tunnels, employing the most-widely used hydroponics and aeroponics technologies – at least currently – without the need for soil and fields.