Home » How Vertical Farming and Hydroponics can Save Space and Water while Producing Fresh and Nutritious Food

How Vertical Farming and Hydroponics can Save Space and Water while Producing Fresh and Nutritious Food

by Kehinde Giwa

Hydroponics and vertical farming have more to offer the world in contributing to reducing climate change and fostering food security, especially in developed, developing and fertile soil-deficient parts of the world, its adoption will greatly benefit such places to ensure all year round production and a consistent supply of fresh and nutritious produce.

By Mercy Eloebhose

Over aeons of years, several industries have experienced a considerable amount of growth and development, since the Stone Age and up to the present digital age. Advancement has taken place, with changes that have impacted agriculture, causing the industry to experience massive growth and development since the beginning of mankind. Every day, newer innovations of how crops and animals can be produced and reared with minimum space, input, and labour, and ways to achieve maximum output are being developed.

Vertical farming and hydroponics are some of the new developments in agriculture for crop production. Although these methods date back to the early 1600s, they are only recently gaining ground, Especially in Africa, as a means to produce crops with minimum space and less water, and still obtain fresh and nutritious food at maximum output.
In this article, we will explore what vertical farming and hydroponics are, how fresh and nutritive foods can be achieved using these systems, and how they can help conserve space and water.

(Read more) The Future of Food: What Factors Will Drive the Food We Eat in 2050 (Part One)

What is Vertical Farming?
Vertical farming, just as the name implies, is the practice of growing crops vertically or on vertical surfaces (from top to bottom) against the traditional way of growing them horizontally (from side to side) to help maximise space.

Vertical farming dates back to the Babylonian hanging gardens about 600 BC. They adapted this system as a means of growing crops not common to their clime, thereby creating their own microclimate to produce certain foods. This system has now become essential in today’s modern society.
In vertical farming, crops are stacked vertically in controlled environments. Farmers can produce more food by making use of the limited space available to them while still maximising output. This means that farmers can produce more food, and other non-farmers can practise vertical farming to add aesthetics to their homes and offices, as it can be practised in skyscrapers and office buildings and according to edengreen.com vertical farms can offer 40 times the yield of a traditional outdoor farm. It is indeed impressive.

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Commercially, vertical farming can be practised in shipping containers, greenhouses, warehouses, or anywhere that may not be regarded as fit for farming, allowing for increased crop yields per square metre. This is especially valuable in urban areas where arable land is scarce because of population increase and land degradation and this practice will help to maximise available land, limit the impact of external factors like weather and pests, and provide a stable and consistent growing environment for crops.

What is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is a soilless farming method in which plants receive nutrient-rich water solutions directly, to reduce water consumption in comparison to traditional soil-based farming. In simple terms, it is cultivating using a soilless medium. Like vertical farming, hydroponics wasn’t invented yesterday. This method of farming also dates back to around 600 BC when the Babylonians kept hanging gardens and during Egyptian civilisation, as Egyptian hieroglyphics show, from carvings of plants being grown in water along the Nile without soil, which dates back to several hundred years BC. In Aztecs, plants were suspended on rafts in Lake Tenochtitlan in Mexico using nutrient-rich soil with the roots hanging in the lake in the 10th and 11th centuries. This doesn’t defeat the fact that they practised soilless farming, soil rich in nutrients was only used as the medium for holding the crop in place which has been replaced in recent times with coco peats, and the likes.

An Hydroponics system
Source: www.freepik.com



This technique of growing plants using a water-based nutrient solution rather than soil helps to achieve maximum use of limited resources by supplying water (which is one of the major resources needed for plant growth) directly to plants. It prevents water wastage as it uses 90% less water compared to traditional farming. Also, used water can be recycled and reused thereby, achieving maximum resource management and efficiency.
The closed-loop water circulation systems in hydroponics also prevent nutrient runoff and leaching of soils, and reduce environmental and waterways pollution. Hydroponics utilises materials like aggregate substrate, or growing media, such as vermiculite, coconut coir, or perlite and this can be practised on a small scale by smallholder farmers and other individuals, and can also be commercialised.


There are links between vertical farming and hydroponics. Both can be used together, in a system known as aeroponics – a type of hydroponics. Hydroponics and vertical farming is used to cultivate ornamental crops, herbs and vegetables including cucumbers, lettuce, peppers and tomatoes.
Hydroponics operates on a simple principle: nutrients-filled water solution provides crops exactly what they require for growth, at the adequate time. Vertical farming allows farmers to grow crops in stacked plant positions within tower-like structures to maximise space. Therefore, vertical farming helps to maximise space and hydroponics helps to conserve water and nutrient use. Together, they contribute to sustainable agriculture through water conservation, improving planting nutrient uptake, and allowing for an all year round production cycle. Both systems, when implemented, also reduce the impact of weather, pesticides and herbicide usage, maximise space, reduce irrigation, improve and fasten growth and maximise output.

Combining hydroponics and vertical farming will contribute greatly to sustainable agriculture and increased food production especially as there is a high population increase, the UN estimates world population to reach 8.9 billion by 2030 and we are already at 8.1 billion as of 2023.

It will also increase food safety as deadly plant diseases can be easily controlled. There is also a reduction in the pressure on land for cultivation, and carbon emissions due to heavy machine use like tractors, in farming activities is reduced.

(Read also): Agritech Companies are Reshaping Agriculture and Sustainable Farming Through Innovation and Technology

In all, hydroponics and vertical farming have more to offer the world in contributing to reducing climate change and fostering food security, especially in developed, developing and fertile soil-deficient parts of the world. Its adoption will greatly benefit such places to ensure all year round production and a consistent supply of fresh and nutritious produce, crucial to meeting the demands of growing populations in urban areas.

Although hydroponics and vertical farming provide a promising path towards sustainable and space-efficient agriculture,they do not come cheap and are not without their challenges. These systems usually require professional and trained personnel with adequate knowledge and experience in the field, large financial investments outlay to produce commercially, and adequate electricity to power the plants in order to function efficiently. While there are structural challenges to their implementation in most developing countries, with dedication and the necessary investment opportunities they can be achieved and the goal to make Africa food secure can be possible.

Cover photo by Photo by Jatuphon Buraphon www.pexels.com

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