It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to gauge that the number of warning signs over the past few years which threaten global food security is growing. First the pandemic, followed by the war in Ukraine, then heatwaves and droughts, the latter linked to a much bigger problem: climate change. These factors have triggered rocketing prices which have squeezed wallets and left the poor even worse off.
‘Leave No One Behind’ is the key theme of this year’s World Food Day by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations). Seven years ago, world leaders committed to a highly ambitious target to end hunger by 2030. That goal now appears more distant than ever. The United Nations estimates that the number of people in “hunger emergencies” – just one step away from famine – has jumped from 135 million in 2019 to 345 million.
A recent article in The Guardian highlights a “crisis . . . laying bare the broken food system that underlies it”, going on to say that “Any long-term solution will require curbing carbon emissions, adapting crops as the climate crisis takes hold, reducing dependence on chemical fertilisers – and challenging the dominance of a small number of players in food markets.”
While this needn’t be a blog echoing the same gloomy rhetoric we’re reading about almost on a daily basis, it’s nevertheless an understatement that the need for a secure, self-sufficient food system where everyone, everywhere has regular access to enough nutritious food is becoming ever more urgent. So, in the context of indoor farming being one such long-term solution, let’s look at three ways it can help world hunger:
- Curbing carbon emissions
One benefit of indoor farming is a reduction in transport-related emissions. At present, the UK imports 45% of our food. This has a massive impact in terms of CO2 emissions as food needs to be transported by land, air or sea. Imagine how our carbon footprint would be dramatically reduced, not to mention the significant reduction in transport costs (think record-high fuel prices as of late) as a result of growing all our own produce via indoor farming methods. Not only would it cut transport emissions, but a third of EU Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions come from the entire food system.
According to comprehensive research published, food system emissions amounts to 18 Gt CO2 equivalent per year globally, representing 34% of total GHG emissions. At 71%, the largest contribution in GHG emissions comes from agriculture and land use/land-use change activities; half of the GHG emissions are CO2 (linked to land use change and energy) and one third is methane due to livestock, rice production and waste management, with most of the rest emitted as N2O from nitrogen fertilisers.
2. Adapting crops
Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) allows for crops to be grown in the UK that couldn’t normally survive in our climate. There’s no such thing as ‘seasonal produce’ with indoor growing, unless the farmer decides to focus on different crops at different times of the year. It’s not so much about adapting crops but adapting the environment. Utilising CEA conditions means zero reliance on seasonality or climate and more control of the environment such as light, temperature, nutrient and humidity, giving indoor farmers a great advantage.
Take strawberries, for example. Traditionally mainly grown in open fields and protected (plastic) agriculture, a surge in investment and an advancement in software and technology means it is perfectly feasible for growers to profitably grow strawberries in their vertical farm or computerised greenhouse.
Now, thanks to the booming trend of indoor strawberries, Britain is now self-sufficient in them from May to October. What’s more, strawberries, like anything else grown in a controlled environment, is busting with flavour and nutrition, as farmers can create just the right amount of pressure for the fruit or vegetables to develop their full flavour.
3. Reducing dependence on chemical fertilisers
Smart use of technology is transforming the way we farm so that agriculture doesn’t compromise the natural environment. AgTech significantly reduces the need for herbicides or fertilisers. Growing food in a vertical farm, when managed correctly, offers the opportunity to eliminate the need for pesticides. This is because pests cannot enter the controlled environment to cause crop damage and fungal diseases struggle to gain a foot hold as humidity levels are managed.
The result is a product which is better, healthier, safer and featuring dry leaves which are clean and ready to eat.
World Food Day is just another reminder for governments to urgently prioritise food security, and the evidence in favour of indoor farming as a sustainable, long-term solution is only mounting.