Urbanization and population growth have been growing rapidly. Africa’s urban growth is estimated to be 3.5%, the highest growth in the world. Unfortunately, food production has fallen against the population increase. More people are moving to urban centres, and very few are left in rural areas to provide food for urban centres. The shortage in food has forced most African countries to rely on food imports to meet the deficit in supply. As Africa adopts technology which will boost food productions, vertical farming is one of the innovations which will make a difference to urban populations in Africa.
Reduction of or unused arable land
Africa has over 600 million hectares of arable land that is not being utilized. So much land yet many Africans go hungry! This is probably because of the large number of people who have opted to leave the rural areas for urban centres in search of greener pastures. It is estimated that by 2050, over 20% of Africa’s population will be residing in urban areas.
Subdivision of land to small parcels is one of the challenges facing Agriculture in Africa. This has affected the available arable land for food production. This is partly due to poverty, inheritance practices, and population growth. Most of the arable land is now being used for subsistence farming in many parts of Africa.
Farmers in Africa have been discouraged by the low yields resulting from climate change. Many have opted to plant for subsistence instead of incurring huge losses. This has hurt food production. In the past year, South Africa has seen a fall of 30% in its maize production. Most African countries are experiencing a similar fall in output.
It has become necessary for Africa to adopt other farming practices, such as vertical farming, if food security is to be realized.
Advantages of Vertical farming in Africa
Gives land the time to recover
One of the reasons for a fall in food production is the over-use of land. Vertical farming helps in the conservation of land. This will eventually lead to improved soil fertility and increased food production.
Sustainable source of food
Vertical farming is not affected by climate change, drought, heavy or no rainfall, or by soil fertility. Seasonal foods will also be available all year round if they are grown using vertical farming. This is why vertical farming is an excellent solution for food security.
Vertical farms are cost effective
The initial investment is substantial. However, when it comes to maintenance, vertical farms are less costly when compared to other farming methods.
Opportunity for job creation
Vertical farming offers excellent employment opportunities. It calls for innovation, technology investment, and entrepreneurs. Africa would be able to solve the challenge of unemployment.
Is Vertical farming the answer to food insecurity in Africa?
When vertical farming was first initiated, many people wondered how this would work. However, if one considers the level of land degradation, urbanization, and population growth, health care and malnutrition are a common concern.
Many African countries are taking urban farming seriously. Food prices in urban centres are high because of inadequate supply. Some residents have chosen to have their vertical gardens to substitute what they get from the market.
The Kenyan Government endorsed Konza Technological City, located 64km to the south of Nairobi. 2000ha has been set aside in this area for Kenya’s first urban agricultural city. Ukulima Tech, a company that helps to create vertical farms for residents in Kenya, has four prototypes, hanging gardens, tower gardens, multifarious gardens, and A-Frame gardens.
Africa’s version of vertical farming
Unfortunately, the cost of setting up vertical gardens has played a significant role in the slow adoption of this farming practice in Africa. Africa also lacks the right technology for large-scale urban farming. This has, however, not held back some individuals who have chosen to use the locally available resources to set up their version of vertical farming, even though it is for subsistence.
Many Africans have discovered the value of sacks in gardening. Urban dwellers who have nowhere to grow their food opt to use sacks. This has helped reduce their spending on food and even provide a buffer when there is a shortage of food in the market. The sack gardens are made of sisal fibres. They are cheap, easy to use, and readily available. The sacks used are tall, filled with soil, and vegetables are grown in layers, vertically.
In Uganda, urban dwellers use wooden crates stacked vertically. Vegetables are grown in these crates and water bottles are used for watering. This vertical garden uses little water, yet the production is high since the environment is controlled through the provision of optimal condition for food production. About 20 farms are practicing this form of vertical farming. Efforts are being made to increase the number.
South Africa is one of the leading countries in Africa that have significantly invested in vertical farming. The scale of the investments made is close to that of developed nations. It has introduced sustainable urban farming such as hydroponic systems.
The Challenge facing vertical farming in Africa
Vertical farming is still a foreign concept to many Africans. Many do not know that they can produce food even if they do not have the land to do it. Other may have heard of vertical farming but have no idea where to start. The investment opportunities have not been expounded for innovators and entrepreneurs to explore. For now, vertical farming remains a small scale venture until the necessary information is made available to the masses.
Vertical farming has great potential in Africa. With the right financial backing, the public and private sector can take on the challenge of producing enough food for the urban population in African countries. It is the right time for Africa to adopt vertical farming on a large scale. This is the only way the gap between the food produced and population growth can be bridged.