Idea of Urban Agriculture and Use of Technology
26, Nov 2022
Prelims level : Geography Mains level : GS-III Agriculture and related issues
Why in News?
- As per the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization, urban and peri-urban agriculture have a significant role in global food and nutritional security, and so it is seeking to encourage such activities through the Urban Food Agenda.
What is Urban Agriculture?
- Urban agriculture refers to agricultural practices in urban and peri-urban areas. Peri-urban areas are those transitioning from rural land uses (such as for agriculture or livestock production) to urban ones (such as the built environment, manufacturing, services, and utilities), and are located between the outer limits of urban and regional centres and the rural environment.
- Cultivating food and non-food product: Urban agricultural practices are geared towards cultivating or growing a wide range of food and non-food products, and include activities such as rearing livestock, aquaculture, beekeeping, and commercial-scale floriculture.
Urban Agriculture and Technology:
- Farming using software: In France, for instance, certain software gives farmers access to cross-referenced information on their smartphones about the weather, spraying dates, seeds, fertilization plans, and regulatory compliance.
- Use of mobile applications: In India and the US, mobile applications can help connect urban growers and local consumers. Technology also helps food growers in precision farming, which involves mapping and monitoring geological and plant data for a field so that inputs can be adapted to suit ultra-localized needs. Local communities can be helpful in the gathering of such data.
- Aeroponics: Aero Farms in Newark, US, builds and operates vertical indoor farms to enable local production at scale and increase the availability of safe and nutritious food. The company uses aeroponics to grow leafy greens without sun or soil in a fully controlled environment. The technology enables year-round production with less water consumption and high yields per square metre.
- Container system: In Paris, a start-up called Agricool grows strawberries in containers across the city. The company retrofits old, unused containers to accommodate LED lights and aeroponics system to grow strawberries year-round. These ‘cooltainers’ are powered by clean energy and use about 90 percent less water than traditional farming activities. This can also create job opportunities for city residents in the agricultural sector.
Urban Agriculture in Indian Cities: Exploring the Potential
- Small area large population: India’s total urban area has been estimated at around 222,688 sq. km, or about 6.77 percent of the country’s geographical area. This small area is home to around 35 percent of India’s population, around 500 million Indians.
- Less area to convert into green spaces: If Indian cities were to allocate 10 percent of their geographic space for greens (gardens, playgrounds, public parks and the like), as suggested in the Urban & Regional Development Plans Formulation & Implementation guidelines, this would mean 22,268 sq. km of the total urban area is available to convert into public green spaces.
- Space constraint hinders the urban agriculture: Even if half of this area (111,34 sq. km) were used for urban agriculture instead of parks, gardens, playgrounds, and horticulture, this is a mere 5 percent of all urban area and 0.56 percent of all land under agriculture in the country. This showcases the space constraints that urban agriculture must tackle.
Urban constraints and use of technology:
- Raised bed farming: Raised bed farming is the agricultural technique of building freestanding crop beds above the existing soil level. In certain instances, raised beds are covered with plastic mulch to create a closed planting bed. The method helps reduce soil compaction and allows better control of the soil. The planted area also gets protected in case of excess rainfall. This method affords far greater productivity than regular farming.
- Container gardening: Container gardening refers to the practice of growing plants in containers instead of planting them on the ground. Containers could include polyethene plastic bags, clay pots, plastic pots, metallic pots, milk jugs, ice cream containers, bushel baskets, barrels, and planter box bottles. Most vegetables grown in backyard gardens can be grown in containers.
- Aquaponics: A closed-loop aquaponics system is an organic strategy that draws on the strengths of the basic ecological foundations of the nitrogen and carbon cycles. Nutrient-rich fish water is used to fertilise and water plants. This system requires only a few inputs primarily energy and some of the basic plant nutrients.
- The vertical farming: The vertical farming model essentially aims at increasing the amount of agricultural land by stacking many racks of crops vertically, thereby having many levels on the same space of land.
- Rooftop Plant Production: Under rooftop plant production (RPP) systems, food crops can be grown using raised beds, row farming, or a hydroponic greenhouse. Hydroponics is the practice of growing plants in a nutrient solution with or without a soilless substrate to provide physical support. RPP systems maximize the cultivation area with artificial lighting. RPP can be used to grow crops that require higher light intensities and more vertical space.
- Urban agriculture faces several constraints, but each of these can be overcome by adopting a range of technologies, establishing urban agriculture initiatives in peri-urban areas, launching community initiatives in common spaces, and altering planning parameters and city regulations to include urban agriculture as a ULB activity.