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Africa Needs Its Own Version of the Vertical Farm to Feed Growing Cities

new from AllAfrica.com

(By Esther Ndumi Ngumbi, Auburn University)

The Netherlands is building its first large-scale commercial vertical indoor farm. It's expected to serve Europe's largest supermarket chains with high quality, pesticide-free fresh cut lettuce.

Vertical farms use high tech lighting and climate controlled buildings to grow crops like leafy greens or herbs indoors while using less water and soil. Because it's a closed growing system, with controlled evaporation from plants, this farms use 95% less water than traditional farms.

A few unique versions are sprouting up on the continent. These show that the African versions of vertical farms may not necessarily follow the same model of other countries. It's important to establish what the barriers to entry are, and what African entrepreneurs need to do to ensure more vertical farms emerge.

Barriers to vertical farming 

Access to reliable and consistent energy is another barrier. Many African cities frequently experience power cuts and this could prove to be a big challenge for innovators wanting to venture in vertical farming business.

Faced with these challenges, entrepreneurs thinking of venturing into vertical farming in Africa need to put in more thought, creativity and innovation in their design and building methods.

They need to be less expensive to install and maintain. They also have to take into consideration the available local materials. For example, instead of depending on LED lighting system, African versions can utilise solar energy and use locally available materials such as wood. This means that entrepreneurs should begin small and use low-tech innovations to see what works.

As innovators locally figure out what works best for them, there will be further variations in the vertical farms between African countries.

African versions

The continent has unique opportunities for vertical farms. Future innovators and entrepreneurs should be thinking of how to specialise growing vegetables to meet a rise in demand of Africa's super vegetables by urban consumers. Because of their popularity, startups are assured of ready markets from the urban dwellers. In Nairobi, for example, these vegetables are already becoming popular.

Feeding Africa's rapidly growing urban population will continue to be a daunting challenge, but vertical farming - and its variations - is one of the most innovative approaches that can be tapped into as part of an effort to grow fresh, healthy, nutritious and pesticide-free food for consumers.

Now is the time for African entrepreneurs and innovators to invest in designing and building them.


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