Skyfarming in the global food system

Conclusive concept needs financing

Last Tuesday, at the invitation of DAFA (German Agricultural Research Alliance), experts met in Berlin to discuss the research needs for food of the future. Folkard Asch from the University of Hohenheim gave a particularly passionate lecture on Skyfarming.

The area available to everyone for food security is constantly shrinking. In 2050, we will have to get along with 2,000 square metres per capita in order to cover our demand for agricultural products. This also includes animal feed and clothing.

Worldwide, we are experiencing increasing urbanization. Even today, more people live in cities than in rural areas. It takes considerable logistical effort to supply the cities with food. In addition, climate change will cause crop yields to decline significantly in the coming decades. We can improve this situation by involving cities more in food production and making ourselves independent of external influences. This is not about vegetables, which take up only 5% of the world’s arable land, but about staple foods that feed people.

Involving cities in the food production

Cereals, most commonly corn, rice, wheat and potatoes, grow on 50% of the arable land. Rice covers 20% of people’s calorie requirements, making it the world’s most important staple food. Its cultivation already accounts for a quarter of the world’s grain acreage. Experts forecast a significant increase in demand. The high water consumption and high methane emissions are problematic for rice.

A look at rice consumption in Tokyo reveals the dimensions of the problem. Almost 38 million people live in the Japanese capital, consuming an average of 150 grams of rice per capita per day. The city therefore needs 2 million tons of rice per year, equivalent to 3.4 million tons of paddy rice. To grow this quantity, farmers need 566,000 hectares or 2.6 times the area of Tokyo. There is no question that the cultivation and transport of these quantities are disastrous for the environment, apart from the fact that we do not get there in this way with the arable land available to us.

Mutiply the yield by Skyfarming

As a solution, Folkard Asch proposes Skyfarms to produce the rice in the city in an environmentally friendly way. Skyfarms are skyscraper facilities in which no people live, but only plants are cultivated. Compared to conventional cultivation, the yield can be multiplied, because one hectare of a Skyfarm corresponds to 10 to 40 hectares in the open. Here, optimal growing conditions prevail, production takes place all year round and is independent of the weather. The farmers no longer have to fear harvest losses due to droughts, floods, pests, etc. The negative effects of rice production on the environment can be reduced, e.g. the use of pesticides.

The concept appears to be coherent and offers solutions to urgent problems. Can economists now help to develop ideas for funding?

Dr. Sabine Bonneck