By Mashudu Malema
20 July 2021
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been widespread and well documented, conversely, perhaps what has received moderate attention in respect to the human health implications, is the ever increasing climate effect, both of the human population, as well as previously untouched wildlife. The human impingement into the natural world has over the years been driven largely by the need for more agricultural land to support a growing population; which has subsequently resulted in high social and ecological trade-offs.
Back in 2007, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that over 150 000 people suffered fatalities attributed to climate-change related issues every year. A further study conducted in 2014 indicated that climate change was responsible for 3% of diarrhoea, 3% of malaria, and 3.8% of dengue fever deaths worldwide. WHO has since classified human impacts from climate change as “the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.”
More and more, human beings are inescapably exposed to climate change through the changing of weather patterns in the form of temperature, precipitation, sea level rise and more frequent extreme events; additionally, indirectly through changes in water, air and food quality; changes in ecosystems, agriculture, industry and settlements as well as the economy. Air pollution, wildfires, and heat waves caused by global warming have also adversely affected human health, the world over.
The consequences of climate change have long been projected to negatively affect all four pillars of food security; not limited to food availability, but food cost, quality and stability. Global warming directly communicates to the increase of extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts, and rainstorms. These events are predicted to intensify as scientists have determined climate change to be responsible for trends in weather patterns.
It is further worth noting that climate change threatens agricultural yields with drier climates in already dry areas, and wetter climates in already wet areas. These effects will only worsen the food insecurity in dry places like Southern Africa and other areas across the globe. Climate change already contributes to migration in certain parts of the world; and the future of this status quo heavily depends on the extent to which nations implement prevention efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions, and adapt to unavoidable climate change effects. The effects of climate change, together with sustained greenhouse gas emissions, have resulted in scientists categorising the effect as a climate emergency and an existential threat to civilisation.
So what needs to be done?
Climate-smart agriculture is a holistic concept, connecting numerous issues related to agricultural development and other global development objectives. It covers environmental issues, for example energy and water, alongside social impacts such as gender and economic issues. Additionally, it has proven to be a sustainable recourse towards development and food security, built on increasing productivity and incomes of both men and women; enhancing resilience of livelihoods and ecosystems, whilst reducing and removing greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere.
Climate-smart agriculture speaks to agriculture which increases sustainability through productivity and income; strengthening resilience to climate change and variability; enhancing the achievement of national food security and development goals set by the World Food Summit Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations framework Convention on Climate Change, to name a few.
The effects of climate change are clearly evidenced in our physical environment, ecosystems and human societies; its effect also include economic and social changes from rising global temperatures. The many physical effects of climate change are already apparent in; extreme weather events, glacier retreats, changing in the timing of seasonal events and rising sea levels. This in combination with food climate variability, has worsened food security impact in many areas, increasingly putting pressure on fresh water supply. Climate change has further contributed to the desertification and land degradation in many regions of the world. Its negative implications aren’t limited to livelihoods of people dependent on land for food and energy, but rising temperatures are changing precipitation patterns and the increase in extreme events threaten development due to adverse effects on economic growth in developing countries.
Introduction to smart farming
The agricultural sector is not only among the most vulnerable sector to the impacts of climate change, it is also directly responsible for over 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the sector is a global key driver of deforestation and land degradation, which account for an additional 17% of emissions. This particular sector can be an important part to the solution to climate change by developing more productive food systems and improving natural resource management.
The consequent impact of climate change on agriculture and food production globally, sees effects of elevated CO2 in the atmosphere, rising temperatures, altered precipitation, modified weed, pest and pathogen pressure; all of which influence a multitude of factors associated with droughts; such as rainfall and rain evaporation. This is set to increase the severity and frequency of droughts worldwide; as evidenced in a number of case studies, droughts ultimately result in crop failures and the loss of pasture for livestock.
Climate change relief measures rely heavily on projected future social and economic development. As of 2019, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Issues Report, an estimated 831 million people are undernourished. Compared to a no climate change scenario, this would put between 1-181 million extra people at risk of hunger.
The need for smart-farming agricultural industry
Conventional farming practices are at a point where agricultural inputs are overused, as labour is no longer in abundance, this is frustrated by increasing, continual energy demand. In response to the upshot, new farming opportunities are emerging. Smart farming aims to improve economic returns of traditional farming whilst reducing environmental impact.
Controlled environment agriculture (also known as smart-farming, weather and climate proof farming, or more commonly, indoor vertical farming), is the production of plants in a restrained environment. While indoor farming is not a new phenomenon, as green houses have been used for centuries; the more recent innovation of hydroponic and aeroponic farming eliminates the outmoded components of traditional farming practices.
Smart farming is based on a precise and resource-efficient approach and attempts to achieve high-efficiency on agricultural goods production, with increased quality in a sustainable basis. Smart farming technologies can be divided into three main categories; Farm Management Information Systems (FMIS), Precision Agriculture (PA), and Agricultural Automation and Robotics (AAR)
Although the attention toward smart farming is growing rapidly, farm size and income reflect the most important barriers to adaptation for all countries, specifically, in countries where small farms of low income, subsidy and taxation are considered the main positive drivers of smart farming technology intake.
Hydroponic – Areoponic Smart-Farming
The current agricultural system has been set a mammoth task; by the year 2050, the world will need to have increased food production by at least 70% in order to meet the global population need of 9.8 billion people, 68% of whom are projected to reside in urban areas. Globally, 70% of water usage is consumed by agricultural production, largely attributed to unsustainable irrigation practices. By 2050, 593 hectares of land will need to be transformed into agricultural land to meet the calorie needs of a global population.
With the amount of scarce resources utilised by traditional agriculture rising daily at alarming rates, most crop production is already stretched to concerning degrees, both genetically and chemically, as significant increase in fertilizer and/or pesticides have not shown to sufficiently increase produce.
Vertical farming practiced on a large scale in rural and urban centres has great potential to; supply expanding markets with enough food in a sustainable fashion to comfortably feed the global population for the foreseeable future. It allows for large tracts of land to revert to the natural landscape restoring ecosystem functions and services; safely and efficiently using the organic portion of human and agricultural waste to produce energy.
Its effect accelerates the remedial of black water, creating a sought after new strategy for the conservation of drinking water; takes advantage of abandoned and unused urban spaces and allows year-round food production without loss of yields due to climate change or weather-related events. It further eliminates the need for large-scale use of pesticides and herbicides, and ultimately creates an environment that encourages sustainable urban life, promoting a state of good health for all those who choose to live in cities.
In order to support food security and boost incomes, agricultural systems in developing countries will increasingly be under pressure to upsurge productivity sustainably, and strengthen the resilience of agricultural landscapes. Improved agricultural systems can also potentially emit lower levels of greenhouse gases.
Climate-smart agriculture rooted in sustainable agriculture and rural development objectives, is able to contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of reducing hunger and improved environment management. However, early intervention is needed to identify, pilot and scale-up best practices which will strengthen institutional capacities and build experiences that can help agricultural stakeholders make informed choices in order to effect transformation in climate smart agriculture.
Gradually, smart farming technologies are being adapted across agricultural spectrums and changing lives in many areas. Aeroponic farming for example, has been proven to be an efficient and effective process for growing plants without using soil, its technology advances improvement by decreasing water usage, increasing plant yields, minimising rate of growth and reducing work force. This is mainly attributed to aeroponic systems use of 95% less water sources than traditional soil based farming techniques, its system requires minimal energy sources and is easily adaptable to entry level solar alternatives.
Local companies like Gauteng based smart farming entrepreneurs, Impilo Projects are at the forefront of actively meeting the growing demand for urban residential self-reliance on climate-smart produce for daily consumption unhindered by seasonal availability. The climate-smart farmers use what they call, Impilo-ponics, a method of adapting areoponics systems to engineer advanced food sustainability.
Founder and chief engineer, Tony Bryant says, “the core business of Impilo Projects is the design and manufacturing of modular vertical aeroponic/NFT growing tower systems, as well as recently introduced horizontal aeroponic growing towers. Impilo’s modular greenhouse structures, which range from microstructures to full scale commercial structures are designed and manufactured to both their client needs and affordability to; locally create micro-farming opportunities for rural and urban community-based operations which eliminate logistic costs, as well as reliance on seasonal availability for prime nutritional produce such as spinaches, potatoes, cabbage etc.
The Impilo-ponics system uses a soilless growing method and has a non-seasonal growing cycle, which Bryant explains, “does not require large growing space areas – approximately 1.5m2 floor space per 108 plant growing pocket tower of 300 + plants with multi-planting on various cultivars; growth cycles are achieved in a shorter period of time, with the system being less susceptible to bacteria and pathogen issues”.
One of the smart-farming projects currently undertaken by Impilo Projects is the development of an agricultural training facility conjoined with a community agricultural research facility; to train and accredit emerging micro farmers and SMME-entrepreneurs in its Impilo-Ponics, aeroponic vertical farming systems. This, Bryant says, is a unique project designed, manufactured, and supported by local government in South Africa, to locally contribute towards the future of sustainable food security in both rural and urban areas, as well as in the neighbouring SADC region, with potential for international adoption.
Locally, the project will utilize existing obsolete building infrastructure, such as unused traditional tunnels, industrial factories and farm storage buildings. Impilo Tower systems have shown to be cost effective through their optimisation of retrofitting – i.e., solar adaption and rain collecting for water source, particularly in remote areas where grid energy and water sources are not readily available.
“The key components in the medium to long term timelines are that this venture is quite unique to Africa; when operational success lends itself to exposure to various future investors both from government and private sector, the whole working infrastructure is adaptable to anywhere in any region within Africa, Bryant explains.
Agricultural ventures of the calibre undertaken by Impilo Projects, are integral to the success of allaying climate change effects on developing nations, which experience the most severe impacts; specifically in areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty is already exacerbated. In order to respond to the World Bank estimation that climate change could drive over 120 million people into poverty by 2030, a transformation of the agricultural sector, including crop and livestock production, fisheries and forestry is crucial. Ventures such as these are urgently needed to respond to climate change, through sustainably increasing agricultural productivity.
Verified practices and technologies can and must contribute to reaching the objectives of climate-smart agriculture. However, in order to effect this objective, increased investment is needed to build the institutional capacity to support their adaptation. Said investment will also be needed to address gaps in skills training and environmental systems to support uptake at a local and continental level. The achievement of such attainments are well within our collective reach.
To find out more about Impilo Projects, visit: www.impiloprojects.com