Vertical farms to shape future agriculture supply chains

By 2040 the world will have 9 billion inhabitants, of which the majority 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. It also has created very long agriculture supply chains were the agriculture produce section in our supermarkets today literary come 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 specific environment conditions, handling and has limited shelf life. Long agriculture supply chains therefore means higher risks of diseases, reduction of quality, higher wastage, and also 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, where food prices become highly dependent on the availability of excess of agriculture produce by agriculture exporters. Is there a way back 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 and restaurants. However, as land becomes scarce, the necessary land is often not available anymore for this kind of bulk agriculture production.

Therefore, 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 for producing agriculture products in situations where land is scarce or not suitable for farming due to climate conditions. All over the world countries are starting with initiatives in vertical farming. Vertical farm is a high-rise multi-functional building producing food in a vertical system. This can be integrated in an office building, flat, or condominium. These building needs 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 making use of specialised LED lights, where vegetables (such as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers), herbs and soft fruits (such as strawberries) can be produced in climate chambers, through environmental friendly closed systems. This can be even integrated with fish farming.

Nutrients can be very well gathered from used coffee grounds from coffee shops and waste from restaurants, supermarkets, and households. Vertical farming reduces 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 furthermore dramatically reduce agriculture supply chains; cutting transportation costs and enhancing freshness. This allows countries to restore the ecological balance in the urban jungle.