A report of the French Institute for Demographic Studies suggests 10 billion humans will inhabit earth by 2050 and this number means about 3 billion more mouths to feed then was in 2010. This increasing population will have a bearing on the food requirement too. A study regarding the food requirement by 2050 by the World Resources Institute (WRI) estimated that food needs will increase by 56% by 2050. The world has to produce more from the shrinking land, depleting resources and a more toxic environment. The major challenge that lies ahead for all of us in the coming decades is to ensure food as well as nutritional security for all.
The agricultural production systems all across the globe are producing enough to meet the dietary needs of the growing population, but the unfortunate part is that they suffer from food losses and wastage. Reports reveal that of all the food produced in the world each year; approximately one third by weight is lost or wasted between leaving the fields and reaching our plates. Such a huge wastage if prevented could serve millions of hungry and malnutrition peoples. This thus has to be stopped. Our yields of most of the crops have become stagnant. The Yield has to be increased by making our production more efficient. At the same time we also have to protect and restore our natural ecosystems. Besides, in the wake of constraints like limited land and natural resources, there is an urgent need to think for out of box solutions to meet the 2050 challenge.
Hydroponics refers to growing of plants without soil. The underlying principle of hydroponics is that if you give a plant exactly what it needs, when it needs it, in the amount that it needs, the plant will be as healthy as is genetically possible. With hydroponics this is an easy task; in soil it is far more difficult. With hydroponics the plants are grown in an inert growing medium. The growing medium is the material in which the roots of the plant are growing. The growing medium can vary from substances like Rockwool, perlite, vermiculite, coconut fibre, gravel, sand and many more. The growing medium is an inert substance that doesn't supply any nutrition to the plants. The nutrition comes from the nutrient solution which is a combination of water and different fertilizers. The nutrient solution has a perfectly balanced pH. This nutrient solution is delivered to the roots in a highly soluble form. This allows the plant to uptake its food with very little effort as opposed to soil where the roots have to search out the nutrients and extract them.
Aeroponics constitutes a specialized version of hydroponics where the roots of the plant extend only in air and the roots are directly sprayed with a nutrient water mix (the recipe). The primary difference between Aeroponics and Hydroponics is the availability of oxygen to the roots. In hydroponics, one has to be sure to supply oxygenated water. Both Aeroponics and hydroponics give better results and yield than soil gardening and are suitable for indoor and urban spaces, but Aeroponics gives bigger yields, healthier plants, has lower running costs and looks set for future developments, while hydroponics is easier to set up and manage.
The percentage of the urban population growing their own food is miniscule. With the trend of migration from rural to urban settlements going unabated, the pressure for ensuring food security of the urban dwellers will be on the rise and a challenge to meet. The urban areas are also characterized by considerable undernourishment and deficiency of calorie intake. In the recent years urban agriculture has emerged as one of the solutions for ensuring food and nutritional security that has been threatened also due to migration ad quiet a good number of farmers leaving this profession. Urban agriculture or Peri-urban agriculture can not only provide food and nutritional security but also help find sustainable solutions to the growing challenge of wastewater and solid waste management in addition to helping alleviate poverty. Urban agriculture can be practiced on a variety of sites in homes, malls, government buildings, schools and other institutions. Food can be produced in balconies, dead areas like terraces which are used for keeping water tanks, roof tops, open areas in cities, vacant plots, ponds, parks community structures, road side, railway lines and institutional areas like schools, colleges, hospitals, universities and many more where it can be managed by community institutions.
This is another technique of crop production which reduces the need for new land and saves many natural resources that are currently threatened by various human activities. In the modern terminology the use of the term vertical farming pertains to growing plants in layers, whether in a multistory skyscraper, used warehouse, or shipping container. The modern ideas of vertical farming use indoor farming techniques and controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) technology, where all environmental factors can be controlled. Ecologist Dickson Despommier argued that vertical farming is legitimate for environmental reasons. According to him the natural landscapes are too toxic for natural, agricultural production, despite the ecological and environmental costs of extracting materials to build skyscrapers for the simple purpose of agricultural production. Because vertical plant farming provides a controlled environment, the productivity of vertical farms would be mostly independent of weather and protected from extreme weather events except for earthquakes and other shocks. Vertical farming is a right strategy to augment agricultural production without compromising with environment and ensuring availability of fresh produce to the consumers.
It is the practice of growing plants in containers usually pots. A container refers to a small, enclosed and usually portable object used for displaying live flowers or plants. It may take the form of a pot, box, tub, basket, tin, barrel or hanging basket. Many types of plants are suitable for the container, including decorative flowers, herbs, cacti, vegetables, and small trees and shrubs. Usually, the containers are used for ornamental purposes.
In certain parts of the country, due to harsh winters the season for open cultivation is very short and to meet the demand of food grains and other commodities adequately, the region has to get the produce from other parts of the country more so during winter months. In such regions, the protected cultivation has immense potential to ensure that the peoples get year round supply of at least fresh vegetables. It has also proved to be a boon for the farmers of this region by way of giving them livelihood opportunities also. Protected Cultivation includes poly houses, trenches, and black plastic sheets. With the help of these Poly houses and trenches the farmers in this region raise early nurseries of vegetables, produce early vegetables, extend growing season and vegetable production during frozen winter. Leafy vegetables like spinach are now cultivated in the trenches and poly houses in extreme winter when land gets frozen and nothing grows outside.
Digital farming has today become the buzz word everywhere in every sector. In farming it refers to the ‘Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and data ecosystems to support the development and delivery of timely, targeted information and services to make farming profitable and sustainable while delivering safe nutritious and affordable food for all’. Today agriculture is witnessing what is called ‘digitalisation’. Various digital farming technologies include Internet of things, precision agriculture, Robotics, Smart green houses, cop monitoring and Advance Farming Systems. The digital technologies are bridging the gap between the research findings and the farming community. They are providing timely information to the farmers about weather, outbreak of disease, crop management and market prices of various commodities thereby saving a lot of time, energy and money of the farmers. The various private sector initiatives like e-Choupal of Indian Tobacco Company (ITC), Tata Kissan Sanchar Limited (TKSL), Rheuters Market Lights (RML) M S Swaminathan Foundation Limited, Chennai and the Digital Green initiative of Rikin Gandhi which use short videos to make the farmers aware are some of the examples of successful promotion of digital farming initiatives in the country.
Nearly a third of the global population relies on agriculture for a living, and growth in this sector has been shown to be at least twice as effective at reducing poverty as growth coming from other sectors. The growth and future of agriculture thus lies in such out of box solutions. These need to be popularized and made within the reach of producers, more so for the large numbers of the world’s smallholder farmers.
(Dr. Kumar is a Faculty at SKUAST-K. He can be reached at email@example.com