Rapid urbanisation in Asia presents potential problems in food supply and distribution, but indoor farming may just be the key to our future.
For decades, experts have been calling for increased attention and funding to support sustainable agriculture in Asia, where the breakneck speed of expanding urban populations continues to aggravate climate change and strain access to basic human needs, including food.
Emeritus professor of geography at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Professor Yue-man Yeung, highlighted these issues as early as 20 years ago, noting that urban centres in Asia were facing challenges such as the uneven distribution of incomes, the prevalence of poverty, diminishing farmlands and inefficient distribution systems.
The crisis continues unabated today. Asia now has more megacities than any other continent, according to the United Nations. It also reports that the region is home to more than half of the entire world’s urban population. At the same time, poverty in Asia is rampant. In 2014, the Asian Development Bank estimated that nearly 50 per cent of Asia’s population is poor.
Research has shown that this rapid urbanisation is directly responsible for a drastic increase in food demand – food that Asian cities lack the infrastructure to grow locally and therefore costs more for city dwellers to purchase from imported sources. This ultimately results in the urban poor facing increased malnutrition due to low purchasing power.
Feeding Asia’s urban dwellers, sustainably
Given these facts, practising sustainable agriculture in Asia is more urgent than ever. To revitalise urban environments, it’s crucial to ensure the efficient, high-quality production of food that is low-priced, ecologically beneficial and improves local economies.
Japan is already taking the lead in this journey. In the Miyagi Prefecture, a former semiconductor factory has been transformed into the world’s largest indoor farm illuminated by LEDs.
At 2,323sqm, the farm houses over 18 cultivation racks that are 15 storeys high. A dazzling 17,500 LED lights nurture the garden beds, emitting light at wavelengths that are uniquely engineered for optimal plant growth so that the farm grows lettuce two-and-a-half times faster than an outdoor farm. In doing so, energy consumption is also reduced by 40 per cent than if they were to use fluorescent lighting, while successfully increasing their harvest yields by 50 per cent.
Taking up the charge in Singapore
Living up to its reputation as the ‘Garden City’, Singapore too is beginning to explore indoor farming as a solution to its land scarcity, where currently only 8 per cent of vegetables consumed in Singapore are home-grown.
Panasonic Factory Solutions Asia Pacific recently launched the country’s first licensed indoor vegetable farm, and hopes to ramp up its contribution to local production from an initial 0.015 per cent to 5 per cent by March2017.
The indoor agriculture facility, which has expanded from 77sqmto 634sqm since July 2014, supports an annual production capacity of 81,000kg. It produces 38 types of vegetables, including premium Japanese crops such as mini red radish and mizuna (potherb mustard).
Temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels are carefully controlled in the soil-based environment – which is also kept free from pesticides – so that production quality is consistent throughout the year. The vegetable farm is also HACCP-certified and complies with the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority’s stringent food standards.
By scaling up sustainable agriculture practices across the region, Asian countries can ensure the self-sufficiency of its urban environments, offering city dwellers the ability to enjoy a high-quality, lower-price and environmentally friendly farm-to-table experience.