Voices all over the world are telling us that we urgently need to transform food production to make it more sustainable. But what is sustainability? What does it mean?
Is Indoor Farming Sustainable?
Natasha George | LettUs Grow
Voices all over the world are telling us that we urgently need to transform food production to make it more sustainable. But what is sustainability? What does it mean? The idea has been thrown around to such an extent this past year, that it sometimes seems more of a buzzword than an achievable goal.
Sustainability is defined as ‘the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level’. In terms of food production, this means that we need to grow and produce food in a way that does not exhaust our resources, but also provides enough food for our growing population.
Our current food production system is, quite simply, not sustainable. We are growing food on deforested land, smothering our crops in toxic pesticides, killing wildlife, and then flying that produce halfway around the world. Government statistics tell us that last year, the UK produced only 53% of the food that it consumed - the rest coming from overseas.
So how do we produce food in a way that is sustainable? We need to achieve sustainability for ourselves and for the sake of our environment - for our land, wildlife and soils. Importantly though, we must also protect the welfare and financial security of our farmers - ensuring that their industry is also able to thrive. Indoor farming can achieve both. Here are just some of the ways indoor farming can address sustainability concerns:
The fewer resources we use to grow food, the more likely it is we can sustain that production. We use aeroponic systems in our indoor farms. This means that we require no soil. Instead, we use a nutrient-dense mist to grow crops - using 95% less water than traditional farming. This is a huge breakthrough, as fresh water shortage on Earth is a huge problem - only 1% of the world’s water is accessible drinking water, and water scarcity is only going to worsen.
Another resource that is currently at risk is our land. Despite the fact that we only produce around half of the food we consume, agriculture accounts for 63.1% of land use in the UK. Growing indoors and vertically will allow us to grow more efficiently, and free up space which could be used for forestry or rewilding projects.
Shorter supply chains
Indoor growing systems can ensure that farmers are able to grow crops all year round, which means that we do not have to rely on buying in produce from overseas. Buying local means you are supporting the local economy, and food does not need to travel as far to reach our plates, which lowers its carbon footprint. It is estimated that 30% of food waste is produce lost in the supply chain, so less travel time means less waste.
Sadly, agricultural industries abroad often provide food to countries like the UK at the expense of their own market. This means their farms are not always feeding the people growing the food. Scholar and environmental activist, Dr. Vandana Shiva calls this a ‘stolen harvest.’ Being able to grow more of our own food in the UK means that our growing demand is not exploiting markets overseas. Importantly, this means that we can maintain fair trade relationships with other countries that are fruitful for all parties.
Pesticides and fertilisers
In order to meet the high demand for food and protect their livelihoods, many traditional farms use pesticides to protect their crops from pests, weeds or diseases. However, we now know that the decline of insects and wildlife is a serious threat to our environment and there is a push towards organic farming methods. Indoor farms create a controlled environment, removing the need for toxic pesticides.
Fertilisers are also used in traditional farming to ensure that plants get enough nutrients - our closed system ensures that these fertilisers do not leak into waterways and corrupt ecosystems.
Controlled environment agriculture provides farmers protection from worsening weather patterns due to climate change. Providing this food security would mean that we could consistently maintain our food production rates in the UK through the winter months and provide job security for farmers. Whilst artificial lighting consumes more energy than using natural sunlight, we can also make use of renewable energies, which are only going to become more energy and cost efficient in the future.
* photograph was taken by Jack Wiseall
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AgriTechTomorrow
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