The COVID-19 pandemic and the antecedent restrictions on goods and services have claimed their toll on Supply chains across various sectors of daily life.
The Agricultural sector like most key sectors has had its fair share of supply-oriented challenges. The Pandemic has harshly exposed the gaps in the supply chains of most commodities which had hitherto relied on rural production and supply infrastructure to meet urban household, and peri-urban industry demands. With an urban population of 51.2% and rapidly increasing at 4.3% annually, the absolute reliance on rural production to meet urban food demand in Nigeria has been exposed as being unsustainable, to say the least.
The BEYOND COVID 19: AGRICULTURAL INSIGHTS series, aims to highlight nine (9) innovative opportunities which can be explored to ensure sustainable remedies to the challenges faced by agricultural value chains in Nigeria. Using findings from existing literature, a comprehensive overview of domestic policy and socio-economic space, industry insights from key players across value chains, referencing case studies from peer developing economies alongside domestic pioneers, and assessment of available technology. Insights are tailored for; policymakers, private enterprises, donor agencies and the public, on innovations for scale to remedy identified challenges in the Nigerian agricultural sector.
This article analyzes the viability of URBAN FARMING as a scalable solution to food security challenges in our urban centres. It highlights the various types of Urban farming techniques, the socio-economic benefits they portend in the Nigerian context, and the challenges, and limitations of adopting urban farming, with recommendations on policies and actionable steps to enable adaptation of the techniques. A Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis is also carried out to give an objective insight into the viability of Urban Farming in Nigeria. With tangible opportunities identified as; Huge population (approximately 206 million), many urban dwellers (51.2%), a sizeable food consumption bill (56.65% of domestic consumption), a large labour force (62.26% of the population under the age of 25 with a median age of 18.3 years), a significant number of abandoned and underutilized buildings and spaces in most cities, and socio-economic variables (such as 60-80% of the urban population being in the informal sector).
This article identifies mixed vertical farming, community farms, institutional farms, rooftop/vacant lots farming, and Agro Parks as having evident potential for scale. Subsidizing solar energy inputs, adopting an Urban Farming policy, and integrating Urban Farming techniques as part of entrepreneurial training, are among the recommendations proffered to facilitate the sustainable scaling of urban Farming in Nigeria.
URBAN FARMING OVERVIEW:
Urban farming is the use of urban spaces leveraging innovative technology to maximize output utilizing very limited or no land resources. Some of these methods include; Vertical farming, urban greenhouses, rooftop/vacant lot farming, allotment gardens, institutional farms, etc.
These techniques are easily applicable and feasible to scale up, as they use; public spaces, containers, rooftops, abandoned buildings, and even backyards for production. Urban Farming is already practised by many forward-looking cities that aim to achieve food security and tap into portending socio-economic benefits.
TYPES OF URBAN FARMING:
- VERTICAL FARMING: Vertical farming is a form of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) that consists of fully insulated indoor operations, producing crops on multiple levels solely using electrical lighting. Vertical farms have been widely regarded as feasible and scalable solutions to many environmental and economic issues in food production. In part, they are protected from the outside environment and can be constructed in even the most extreme environmental conditions. The types of vertical farming techniques with marked potential for scale in Nigeria include; Hydroponics, Aquaponics, and Aeroponics.
· HYDROPONICS: This method involves the growing of plants in a controlled environment without the use of soil. The crops are grown in a solution of nutrients that are constantly circulated to ensure the chemical composition of the soluble nutrients is efficiently balanced.
The advantages of hydroponics systems include; Higher yield compared to conventional farming, fewer pests due to minimal soil use, all year production from indoor growth, a faster growth rate of crops, and it is ideal for leafy and fruiting crops since fewer nutrients are needed for root growth
Limitations of the system include; the high cost of equipment, high maintenance cost (time and expertise), and smaller roots that might lead to unbalanced crops especially with heavy fruits, thus requiring elaborate forms of support
· AEROPONICS: This is an evolution of the hydroponics system, as it eliminates the use of soil from the growth process, leaving the roots to dangle in the air, where they are periodically puffed by specially-designed misting devices. Seeds are “planted” in pieces of foam fitted into tiny pots, which are exposed to light on one end and nutrient mist on the other. The foam holds the stem and root mass in place as the plants grow.
Aeroponics has proven advantages which include; a faster growth rate due to increased oxygen exposure, less water consumption, nutrient recycling, larger yield size/density, and reduced use of agrochemicals like herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides since growing equipment can simply be sterilized.