Why Brazil is investing in vertical farms and CEA research

"Despite the abundance of land with agricultural potential in Brazil, the production of vegetables depends less on territorial extension than on adequate climatic conditions for production," says Italo M. R. Guedes, Research Agronomist in Plant Mineral Nutrition and Soilless Horticulture at Emprapa, a Brazilian Ag Research Corporation. 

He continues, "tropical regions present considerable challenges for the production of quality vegetables, as physical productivity is not the main determinant. The fact that vegetables are fragile and easily perishable products is one of the main reasons why vegetable farms are generally located close to urban centers. Still, estimates of post-harvest losses for some vegetables approach 50%."

Heavy climate changes 
According to Italo, the green belts around urban centers already foreshadow the importance of bringing together production centers and the consumer population, but this model itself may already be exhausted and clearly threatened. The increase in the frequency of extreme weather events due to global climate change has negatively impacted agricultural production in Brazil, particularly the production of vegetables and fruits. 

"There is strong pressure from society to make the urban environment more sustainable in response to the growing challenges posed by the scarcity of resources, population pressure, and climate change. Integrating agriculture into the urban ecosystem can contribute to the resilience and sustainability of cities," he notes. The concept of urban agriculture encompasses the production, processing, and marketing of food, fiber, fuel, and compounds of pharmaceutical interest of plant origin in urban and peri-urban areas, generally using intensive production practices such as protected cultivation.

Urban agriculture already employs at least 200 million people and accounts for about 20% of world food production, playing an important role in food security in developing countries. Even in developed countries, urban agriculture accounts for almost a quarter of vegetable and fruit production. 

Horticulture is upcoming
More recently, Embrapa's greenhouse horticulture research team has intensified research into soilless production systems, testing practices, species, varieties, the composition of nutrient solutions, and forms of application, in addition to different substrates and growing media. Although greenhouse horticulture as practiced in Brazil has important differences from controlled environment horticulture, both are close enough to allow the transfer and use of at least part of the knowledge produced so far. 

Since 2020, Embrapa has established a research partnership, which Italo coordinates, with a private vertical farm in São Paulo named 100% Livre (100% Free) to advance research on controlled environment agriculture in the country. Embrapa has been carrying out research and developing knowledge and technologies in greenhouse vegetable farming since the 90's of the last century. 

Read the complete article at Italo's LinkedIn post.


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