Vertical farming can help shape up food security

DUBAI — Agriculture in the UAE can reach new heights with a novel system called vertical farming.

By Farhana Chowdhury

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Published: Sun 12 Sep 2010, 11:33 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 4:41 PM

Speaking to this newspaper, the founder of Aerofarms, a company that promotes this method, Dr Edward Harwood, claims this sustainable form of agriculture can change the landscape and improve food security here.

Vertical farming is a system of growing plants in tall buildings using recycled resources and artificial lighting. The concept adds a positive effect on the environment by reducing waste, cutting down use of water, and chemicals used to tackle pests.

“I think the UAE is more than ready for such an approach if attention is paid to the method. Accommodating the idea will depend on the imagination engaged and due diligence paid to sourcing systems. The system is able to minimise the normal challenges that may be faced by farmers in the UAE because electricity is subsidised in most of the GCC countries and because the machine uses less than 10 per cent of the normal amounts of water. We expect that it will meet with a higher level of success in the UAE and GCC than perhaps anywhere else on the planet,” says the US-based professional.

Vertical farming uses two different methods to grow greens without the need for soil as a base — ‘Hydroponics’, where plants are grown in water and mineral nutrient solutions, and ‘Aeroponics’, where they are suspended in misty conditions. The UAE, given its climate and soil identified as ‘coarse sandy’, can reap benefits from the alternative to traditional farming as fruits and vegetables can be grown any time of the year, thanks to artificial lighting that allows faster growth and more crop turnout annually.

“The environment can be more easily and inexpensively controlled, and you will get fresher, more nutritious, and safe food,” he said. As for taste and quality of the end result, fruits and vegetables contain a rich value of nutrients because they are grown in protected chambers.

“In many ways, the value of the produce is better. We supply what the plant needs and in the environment best suited for it. Randomly planting in soil and using fertiliser of unknown content just cannot compare,” he said.

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