Challenges of Shrinking Farmlands & Urbanization 

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In land deficient Jammu & Kashmir, Vertical Farming is the only hope

DUE to very small land holdings, the majority of the farmers in Jammu and Kashmir are officially recognized as marginal farmers.  The size of small agricultural landholdings in J&K  was estimated at 0.55 hectares during the agriculture census 2015-16, but unofficial sources say that land holding is much smaller (around 0.45 hectares ). In Kashmir Valley, the size is even smaller. During the 2010-2011 agriculture census, the average size of operational land holdings in India was 1.15 hectares. This figure was  lower, at 0.62 hectares  in Jammu and Kashmir. Districts in Kashmir valley had even lower landholding sizes than the state as a whole. Kulgam 0.39 hectares Anantnag 0.39 , Shopian 0.56, Pulwama 0.48, Srinagar 0.31, Budgam 0.43, Baramulla 0.51, Ganderbal 0.37, Kupwara 0.51, Bandipora 0.48. This figure again came down during the 2015-16 census as discussed above. In Kashmir  valley, where most farmers own less than an acre of land, any Government policy related to land acquisition, especially for “development projects”, needs to take into account the fragile mountainous environment and climatic conditions as well. At a time when the agricultural land is shrinking day by day and population on rise,what is the future of agriculture in Jammu & Kashmir ?

The world’s overall population is expected to increase by another 2 billion by 2040. Feeding such a large population will be the most challenging task. Scientific studies show earth has lost one- fourth of its arable lands over the last 50 years only ? India has a huge population. Urbanization and  industrialization is shrinking India’s agricultural land. Vertical Farming is the solution to these challenges. This type of farming is an innovative way of maintaining our agricultural practices. In India, vertical farming is mostly polyhouse-based farming. Poly-house farming is a protected way that gives higher productivity and yield of vegetables and fruits across India.

Background

The world population will increase by 2 billion by the next 20 years. Feeding such a huge population will be the biggest challenge. We are constantly losing our agricultural land. We don’t know how much more we are going to lose in the next 40 to 50 years. Increasing food demand due to a growing population along with ever decreasing arable lands poses one of the greatest challenges facing us. Many believe that vertical farming can be the answer to this challenge. Is vertical farming really the future of agriculture ?

What Is Vertical Farming ?

Vertical farming is the practice of producing food on vertically inclined surfaces. Instead of farming vegetables and other foods on a single level, such as in a field or a greenhouse, this method produces foods in vertically stacked layers commonly integrated into other structures like a skyscraper, shipping container or repurposed warehouse. Using Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) technology, this modern idea uses indoor farming techniques. The artificial control of temperature, light, humidity, and gases makes producing foods and medicine indoor possible. In many ways, vertical farming is similar to greenhouses where metal reflectors and artificial lighting augment natural sunlight. The primary goal of vertical farming is maximizing crops output in a limited space.

Firstly, the primary goal of vertical farming is producing more foods per square meter. To accomplish this goal, crops are cultivated in stacked layers in a tower life structure. Secondly, a perfect combination of natural and artificial lights is used to maintain the perfect light level in the room. Technologies such as rotating beds are used to improve lighting efficiency. Thirdly, instead of soil, aeroponic, aquaponic or hydroponic growing mediums are used. Peat moss or coconut husks and similar non-soil mediums are very common in vertical farming. Finally, the vertical farming method uses various sustainability features to offset the energy cost of farming. In fact, vertical farming uses 95% less water.

Vertical farming in J&K 

As discussed above, the agricultural land holding in Jammu & Kashmir is very less. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently told Rajya Sabha while highlighting the schemes introduced by his government, that the three new farm laws seek to fulfill the aspirations of over 12 crore small and marginal farmers. Surely he meant to also include the farmers in Jammu and Kashmir as well. The government is in the process of acquiring more than 600 acres of land for the Srinagar Ring Semi Road project in Jammu and Kashmir. Some villages in Pulwama, Budgam, and Srinagar are affected by the land acquisition process for this project.This highway project was inaugurated by Modi on 19 May 2018 at Srinagar. This 62-km alternate road will be constructed on highly fertile land. Budgam alone is losing 500 acres of its farmlands. We already lost a lot of agricultural land during construction of Qazigund – Baramulla railway line. Due to urbanization a lot of paddy fields were converted into housing colonies around Srinagar , Budgam and Ganderbal districts. Shopping malls , hospitals , schools have come up on agricultural lands. Have we ever thought about our future generation ? Will people in Kashmir valley be able to grow vegetables or paddy in 2050 ? No not at all. What is the solution ? Why are our agri –scientists and researchers not coming forward and guiding people on vertical farming ?

Advantages of Vertical farming 

Vertical farming has a lot of advantages. However, there are some challenges as well. The advantages are listed below :

  • Preparation for the Future:
    In the next 30 to 35  years  around 70 % of the world population is expected to live in urban areas, and the population growth will demand more food. The efficient use of vertical farming may perhaps play a significant role in facing such challenges.
  • Year-Round Crop Production:

The vertical farming ensures to produce more crops from the same square footage of growing area. In fact, 1 acre (8 kanals) of an indoor area offers equivalent production to at least 4-6 acres of outdoor capacity. According to an estimate, a 30-story building with a base area of 5 acres can potentially produce an equivalent of 2,400 acres of conventional horizontal farming. Additionally, year-round crop production is possible in a controlled indoor environment which is completely controlled by vertical farming technologies. This is indeed a very useful technique for a place like Kashmir in view of  shrinking farm lands and harsh winter months.  Vertical farming allows us to produce crops with 70% to 95% less water than required for normal cultivation.

Unfavorable Weather Conditions:

Crops in a field can be adversely affected by natural calamities such as torrential rains, cyclones, flooding , snowfall or severe droughts—events which are becoming increasingly common as a result of climate  change.  Indoor vertical farms are less likely to feel the brunt of the unfavorable weather, providing greater certainty of harvest output throughout the year.

  • Production of Organic Crops:

As crops are produced in a well-controlled indoor environment without the use of chemical pesticides, vertical farming allows us to grow pesticide-free and organic crops.  Indoor vertical farming can significantly lessen the occupational hazards associated with traditional farming. Farmers are not exposed to hazards related to heavy farming equipment,  diseases like malaria, poisonous chemicals and so on. As it does not disturb animals and trees inland areas, it is good for biodiversity as well

 Challenges 

  • Difficulties with Pollination:

Vertical farming takes place in a controlled environment without the presence of insects. As such, the pollination process needs to be done manually, which will be labor intensive and costly.

  • Labor Costs:

As high as energy costs are in vertical farming, labour costs can be even higher due to their concentration in urban centers where wages are higher, as well as the need for more skilled labor. Automation in vertical farms, however, may lead to the need for fewer workers. Manual pollination may become one of the more labor-intensive functions in vertical farms.

Technology dependency 

The development of better technologies can always increase efficiency and lessen costs. But the entire vertical farming is extremely dependent on various technologies for lighting, maintaining temperature, and humidity. Losing power for just a single day can prove very costly for a vertical farm. Many believe the technologies in use today are not ready for mass adoption

Conclusion 

The constant shrinking of agriculture land is a big challenge at global level as discussed above. For a place like Jammu & Kashmir and Kashmir valley in particular the shrinking of agricultural land due to urbanization and population growth will lead to food crises in future. Vertical farming is the only hope now and our agriculture scientists , universities and research institutions need to shift their focus to research on this particular way of farming.


Views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. Feedback [email protected]

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