Ver­ti­cal farms to shape fu­ture agri­cul­ture sup­ply chains

New Straits Times - - Business - DR MARCO TIEMAN marco@lb­bin­ter­na­tional.com The writer is founder and CEO of LBB In­ter­na­tional, the lo­gis­tics con­sult­ing and re­search firm that spe­cialises in agri-food sup­ply chains, in­dus­trial lo­gis­tics and third-party lo­gis­tics. LBB pro­vides lo­gis­tics d

BY 2040 the world will have nine bil­lion in­hab­i­tants, of which the ma­jor­ity of which will live in cities. With a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion and high ur­ban­i­sa­tion fig­ures many coun­tries, in­clud­ing Malaysia, have be­come highly de­pen­dent on im­ports for ba­sic agri­cul­ture com­modi­ties.

This has cre­ated very long agri­cul­ture sup­ply chains, with the agri­cul­ture pro­duce sec­tion in our su­per­mar­kets to­day fea­tur­ing food from all over the world!

As agri­cul­ture pro­duce is liv­ing mat­ter, the mo­ment it is har­vested or slaugh­tered it be­comes a highly sen­si­tive prod­uct that re­quires a spe­cific en­vi­ron­ment, han­dling and has lim­ited shelflife.

Long agri­cul­ture sup­ply chains, there­fore, means higher risks of diseases, re­duc­tion of qual­ity, higher wastage, and high lo­gis­tics costs.

Food miles, the dis­tance food needs to travel to the point of con­sumer pur­chase, have ex­ploded over the past 25 years.

Re­search shows that sys­tem­atic long food miles are not sus­tain­able.

High de­pen­dence on im­ports comes with high risks for coun­tries, as food prices be­come highly de­pen­dent on the avail­abil­ity of ex­cess of agri­cul­ture pro­duce by agri­cul­ture ex­porters.

Is there a way back to where we have shorter sup­ply chains for our ba­sic fresh pro­duce?

To sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease lo­cal pro­duc­tion of ba­sic agri­cul­ture com­modi­ties in Malaysia, there are two so­lu­tions: agri­cul­ture food parks and in­te­grat­ing farm­ing in ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments.

Agri­cul­ture food parks pro­duce agri­cul­ture prod­ucts in bulk and are lo­cated in ru­ral ar­eas.

These parks are also in­volved in pro­cess­ing, rang­ing from wash­ing, cut­ting, pack­ing up to ad­vanced food pro­cess­ing into ready meals and ul­tra-pro­cessed foods.

These agri­cul­ture food parks then trans­port these prod­ucts by truck to re­tail out­lets and restau­rants.

How­ever, as land be­comes more scarce, the nec­es­sary land is of­ten not avail­able for this kind of bulk agri­cul­ture pro­duc­tion. There­fore, the in­te­gra­tion of farm­ing in ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments be­comes a ne­ces­sity in or­der to feed our grow­ing pop­u­la­tion in com­bi­na­tion with high ur­ban­i­sa­tion.

The Nether­lands has more than 100 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in in­door farm­ing, and is to­day the ex­am­ple of pro­duc­ing agri­cul­ture prod­ucts in sit­u­a­tions where land is scarce or not suitable for farm­ing due to cli­mate con­di­tions.

All over the world, coun­tries are look­ing at ini­tia­tives in ver­ti­cal farm­ing.

Ver­ti­cal farms are high-rise multi-func­tional build­ings pro­duc­ing food in a ver­ti­cal sys­tem. This can be in­te­grated in an of­fice build­ing, flat, or con­do­minium.

These build­ings need to plan the nec­es­sary wa­ter, en­ergy, and nu­tri­ent re­quire­ments needed to farm. Wa­ter can come from rain­fall.

En­ergy can be sup­plied from so­lar en­ergy and by mak­ing use of spe­cialised light-emit­ting diode lights, where veg­eta­bles, herbs and soft fruits can be pro­duced in cli­mate cham­bers, through en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly closed sys­tems.

These farms can be even be in­te­grated with fish farm­ing.

Nutri­ents can be gath­ered from used cof­fee grounds from cof­fee shops and waste from restau­rants, su­per­mar­kets, and house­holds.

Ver­ti­cal farm­ing re­duces the agri­cul­ture sup­ply chain dis­tances dra­mat­i­cally, bring­ing down trans­porta­tion costs.

How­ever, this re­quires food pro­duc­tion to be in­te­grated in city plan­ning.

City plan­ners will need to force real es­tate devel­op­ers to in­te­grate farm­ing in build­ings.

Food sovereignty, safety, se­cu­rity and sus­tain­abil­ity can thus be solved by the in­tro­duc­tion of ver­ti­cal farm­ing.

Ver­ti­cal farms dra­mat­i­cally re­duce agri­cul­ture sup­ply chains, cut­ting trans­porta­tion costs and en­hanc­ing fresh­ness.

This al­lows coun­tries to re­store the eco­log­i­cal bal­ance in the ur­ban jun­gle.

Re­search shows that sys­tem­atic long food miles are not sus­tain­able. High de­pen­dence on im­ports comes with high risks for coun­tries, where food prices be­come highly de­pen­dent on the avail­abil­ity of ex­cess of agri­cul­ture pro­duce by agri­cul­ture ex­porters.

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