Thursday, 20 January, 2022

Plant Factory: Ultimate Hope for Urbanites

Md. Shahidullah

Plant Factory: Ultimate Hope for Urbanites
Md. Shahidullah

Imagine running out of natural resources for food production in the country! Urban areas face food supply chain disruption from rural parts due to lower production of crops! People are haunting food around the supermarket in the city. All the shelves in the super shops remain empty due to supply shortages; parents are running to find food for their children. This situation is undoubtedly terrific; then, who will feed the urban people? Urbanites need to grow their own food. Plant Factory in the form of soilless hydroponics and alternate growing media containing food production is the ultimate hope for urbanites. Rural areas' growing food production challenges bind people to rethink urban food production worldwide. Locally produced and locally consumption reduces the risk of supply-chain failure and increases the urban dwellers' food security, increases the urban greenness, improves the ecosystem, reduces the excessive temperature, and improves the urban air quality.

Amazingly, the urban population is continuously increasing; according to the UN, in 1950, nearly 30% of the population lived in urban areas. Now it is 54%. In 2050, the urban population will be 68%. Bangladesh is no exception in the increase of urban people; population growth here is 2.5 times higher than in rural areas. At present, the urban population is six times higher than five decades ago.

How can urban dwellers grow sufficient food? Have they plenty of arable spaces to grow? The crowded city leaves no room for horizontal food production. The hope of growing food crops in urban areas is rooftop; traditional rooftop agriculture provides subsistence food production. Adverse climate and challenging environment changed the way of food production. Technological advancement brings field agriculture to building agriculture; introduces vertical farming rather than horizontal expansion of cultivable areas. Controlled vertical indoor farming produces a higher yield and provides year-round harvesting with less pest infestation and plant diseases.

Plant factory expansion opportunities in Bangladesh have massive potential. Technological advancement driven cultivation such as Hydroponics and poly-shade food production attracts educated young people in urban and peri-urban areas. Millions of Reinforced Concrete Construction (RCC) flat roofs provide many vast spaces in the urban areas to establish hydroponics structures on a commercial basis. Agro-based industry gets the financial privilege in the national fiscal budget and credit facilities. Overall, the agro-friendly government supports agro-based intervention. Booming economies in Bangladesh flourishes vast amount of restaurant hotel in urban major cities, towns and tourism areas. This rising restaurant sector collects leafy vegetables and herbs abroad to meet the kitchen requirement and fulfil the customers' demand. People no more rent land but rent empty spaces in building structures; closed-door farming is the future of agricultural food production.

Hydroponic system cultivation, globally, started 3-4 decades ago. The system gradually developed to ultra-high-tech technology to grow year-round and harvest large scale in commercial scale. Developed countries such as Japan, China, The Netherland and USA have developed artificial LED light driven plant factories to provide the required day length to plant demands. The developed countries use artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), sensor-based irrigation and necessary operations in hydroponic farms.

Hydroponic system cultivation in Bangladesh is in a primitive stage compared to developed countries. At the primary level, the research organization is researching nutrient solutions for a plant is a major concern. Researchers should try to formulate low-cost, readily available nutrient mixes with required nutrient contents for plants. Private sectors are showing a growing interest in hydroponics establishment; young educated entrepreneurs like to choose urban farming as a profession in the production and business levels. University graduates from different disciplines in urban areas are getting enthusiastic about hydroponics. This sector can be a large part-time job sector for university and college students in Bangladesh.

The Challenge of establishing a plant factory in Bangladesh is that the initial set-up cost is high. That nutrient solutions for plants are not available in the market is a major concern. Electricity consumption cost seems high, and the marketing of hydroponics produces a significant barrier to sustaining the technology on a large scale. The concept of the industrial plant factory it yet to attract business people to invest in these new areas.

Flourishing plant factories in Bangladesh needs development partners such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations, World Bank, and others extending technical and financial support to high-tech plant factory food production. City corporations should establish an urban agriculture division in their administrative structure and co-ordinate in flourishing high-tech urban agriculture. Government should establish an authority designated as 'Urban Agriculture Development Authority (UADA) to look forward to expanding high-tech urban agriculture across the country. This authority should be responsible for planning, designing, implementing high-tech urban agriculture with the support of the Department of Agricultural Extension, Department of Agricultural Marketing and Hortex Foundation. High-Tech urban production needs incentives and subsidies to reduce production costs initially. The government may consider rebate in electricity bills like irrigation rebate in paddy fields and patronize private organizations to be involved in large-scale urban food production.


The writer is an Additional Deputy

Director, Department of Agricultural Extension, Khamarbari, Dhaka. Email: [email protected]