- This innovative system of farming involves growing plants in containers stacked on shelves attached to walls or hung from vertically inclined frames or pillars, allowing enough space for the plants to grow to their full height and the light to reach each plant.
- Growing crop plants on rooftops, balconies and other portions of the multi-storied urban buildings is also viewed as part of vertical agriculture.
- The best results are obtained when such cultivation is done indoors or in poly-houses where environmental conditions can be controlled.
Since transportation of huge quantities of farm products to ever-expanding urban centers is posing formidable problems, including traffic congestion and vehicular pollution, besides heavy freight costs, cities need to meet part of their requirement through local production.
To accommodate the maximum number of plants in minimum area by utilizing upward, rather than horizontal, space.
What can it produce?
- No doubt, bulky and weighty crops are not ideally suited for this system of farming but numerous high-value crops of smaller size can safely be grown in upright structures.
- Mostly it produces stuff like lettuce, broccoli, medicinal and aromatic herbs, flowers and ornamental foliage; medium-sized crops like tomato, brinjal, and others; and fruits like strawberries.
- Few other examples of vertical farming:
- Commercial cultivation of mushrooms in trays kept in shelves under a protected environment.
- Tissue culture, where plant seedlings are raised on synthetic medium in test tubes under artificial lights and atmosphere.
Products free of diseases, pests and pesticide residues, grown in vertical farms, usually fetch premium prices because of their superior quality.
The current scenario in India
- Vertical farming is still in a nascent stage in India and is confined largely to cities like Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Delhi, and a few others.
- It started as a hobby for many people but subsequently scaled up as commercial ventures.
- 2 types of systems are used,
- Hydroponics (where plants are grown in water fortified with needed plant nutrients).
- Aeroponics (where plant roots are merely sprayed with nutrient mixtures).
- In the case of potted plants, the soil is generally replaced with mediums like perlite, coconut fiber, coco peat, crop straws or gravel.
Tricky aspects of vertical farming
- Adequate light to plants.
- If sufficient sunlight is not available in the indoor units, use of artificial lighting like LED bulbs and tubes, whose costs have dropped appreciably, usually come in handy for this purpose.
- Light reflectors can be used to divert sunlight towards indoor plants.
- In the absence of insect pollinators, especially in indoor farms, pollination needs to be done manually which is costly and time-consuming.
- Some entrepreneurs now rear honeybees within the vertical farming units for this purpose.
- This also supplements income through the sale of honey and its high-priced byproducts like bee-wax, propolis, and royal jelly.
- More research and development (R&D) support is needed to popularize this system and cut down its cost.
- Both public and private sectors should consider setting up R&D facilities to promote vertical agriculture to tap its economic, environmental and other benefits.
- The government should, therefore, come up with policies to incentivize vertical farming.