Smart urban agriculture can transform our food system for the better – TechTalks


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Our global food system depends on large-scale agriculture to feed the world’s immense and growing population. However, the environmental costs of industrial farming are immense. Indeed, modern agricultural practices produce more environmental pollution and far greater carbon emissions than perhaps any other industry.

From the reliance on fossil-fuel-driven equipment to cultivate and transport crops to the dependence on nitrous oxide-emitting fertilizers, today’s farms pose a profound threat to the climate, accelerating and exacerbating the climate crisis.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can feed our family without ravaging the environment. The answer may well lie in smart urban agriculture.

What is smart urban agriculture?

Smart urban agriculture comes in many forms, but what unites its many manifestations is the commitment to more localized, technology-based, environmentally-friendly farming practices. The result is an approach to farming that harnesses the attributes of the local environment while at the same time unleashing the power of agricultural technology (ag-tech) to produce abundant, high-quality crops with minimal environmental impact.

An end to urban food deserts and food insecurity?

One of the most exciting benefits of smart urban agriculture is that the practice may well eliminate urban food deserts as we know them. This means that food producers no longer require access to vast quantities of arable land to generate yields sufficient to meet the needs of the modern food system.

Rather, through urban agriculture, ideal growing conditions can be created almost anywhere—from a patio or backyard amid a busy metropolis to your own indoor kitchen. In urban centers plagued by food deserts, the ability to grow your own fresh fruits and vegetables at home or in a community garden means that residents no longer have to turn to convenience stores and bodegas to purchase cheap, highly-processed foods.

Likewise, in developing nations, where food insecurity is often ubiquitous, community and home-based food production may help to significantly reduce or even eliminate life-threatening malnutrition.

Reducing carbon emissions 

In addition to reducing the threat of urban food deserts and food insecurity, smart urban agriculture also promises to slash carbon emissions, particularly in comparison to traditional industrial farming. This is due to the effects on both crop cultivation and transport.

For instance, smart sensors connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) enables growers to continuously monitor soil condition, humidity levels, and other environmental factors that determine a crop’s growing conditions. Armed with this information, farmers can tailor their water and fertilizer usage to the crop’s exact needs. The result is significantly less waste, reduced run-off, and decreased fertilizer use, resulting in lower greenhouse emissions.

In addition, urban agriculture means that more food gets produced locally, resulting in far shorter transport. That means lower truck, train, and ship emissions produced during shipping.

Preventing supply chain disruptions

Producing food locally through urban agriculture doesn’t just mean that you’re producing fewer greenhouse emissions because of shorter shipping distances. It also means that you’re preventing disabling supply chain disruptions. 

For instance, localizing the supply chain through smart urban agriculture makes it far easier to find affordable alternative suppliers and shippers should your regular partners fall through. In the worst-case scenario, vendors or consumers may even be able to access the product for themselves, straight from the local grower.

Reducing waste water and increasing conservation

If the last few years have taught us anything, it is how very precious a commodity freshwater is. In California, decades of severe drought have brought freshwater reserves to record lows. Around the world, agricultural irrigation has resulted in highly toxic effluent, much of which has drained into and polluted community water supplies. 

Smart irrigation systems, however, can eliminate contaminated run-off through the use of precision lasers to level cultivated fields. Likewise, environmental sensors can determine the exact moisture levels required to render arid urban environments arable while also reducing water waste. The result is a smart approach to urban farming that supports water conservation, maximizing efficiency in irrigation and crop hydration.

The takeaway

As the global population surges, our food system comes under increasing threat. At the same time, our environment labors under the peril of climate change despite sustainable businesses’ best efforts. Large-scale, industrial farming is a leading culprit in the climate crisis. However, there is immense promise in the advent of smart urban agriculture. 

Through urban agriculture, food deserts and insecurity will be significantly reduced, supply chain disruptions prevented, carbon emissions slashed, and water contamination and waste decreased. Best of all, through urban agriculture, anyone and everyone can become a food producer, no matter where they may live or how many mouths they must feed. Food security, then, becomes not simply an outcome of a large, anonymous global food system but the product and provenance of the community, the home, and the family.

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