By Sharon Atieno
Despite the majority of the world’s arable land being found in Africa, the continent continues to grapple with food insecurity. Countries have continuously resorted to imports to fill the gap.
In 2016, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), estimated that 27.4% of Africa’s population was severely food insecure, this is four times more than in any other region. It further states that food insecurity is alarmingly high in Sub-Saharan Africa.
With the growing population now at around 1.2 billion people and climate change posing a bigger challenge, Africa’s food security is at more risk. Moreover, urbanization is also on the rise, 45% of people live in urban areas, of which 60% live in overcrowded and underserviced areas.
However, in order to combat these challenges, a new way of farming has emerged and is slowly spreading across the continent. Vertical farming which is soil less and involves use of space rather than land is shifting the course of agriculture in the region.
Speaking in Nairobi during the launch of the African Association of Vertical Farming (AAVF) in Kenya, Josephine Favre, President of the association noted that African farmers lack the appropriate support to sustain their farms and do not have suitable infrastructure to support their farms hence it’s difficult to produce enough to cope with the rising demand.
“The benefit of vertical farming are three fold or four fold yield when you are going to harvest,” she said. “It can actually feed communities faster than traditional farming.”
She adds that vertical farming will not replace traditional farming rather it will complement it.
Also at the same event, Prof. Dominic Mwenja, President of Miramar International College said that congestion and pressure over land is not necessary as soil is required only for deep rooted plants.
“When we grow food out of the soil, we eliminate almost 80% of diseases,” he said, looking at the benefits of vertical farming.
Samson Ogbole, AAVF partner, Soil less lab, Nigeria notes that in vertical farming space is utilized for maximum productivity.
He says that one can stack the seeds as close as possible because they are not competing for nutrients as opposed to using soil in traditional farming, where both the plants and soil compete hence there has to be space.
Ogbole argues that in vertical farming, the production is no longer seasonal and one can produce all year round because it does not depend on weather, hence climate crisis such as drought, floods and even locust invasion will not affect the produce.
The President of AAVF also notes that adding technology to agriculture, would make it more attractive for the youth.
Prof. Mwenja, adds that with science and technology ‘we can resolve the issue of farming in this country, feed our people and create jobs’.
He noted that despite the high rate of unemployment among the youths, practicing traditional farming would be difficult for the young people as they have no land.
“The factors of production are held by people in their 50s and 60s,” Prof. Mwenja said, observing that this is a hindrance to the economy’s growth.
AAVF has currently been launched in three countries: South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. It seeks to improve food security and provide a platform for economic empowerment, especially for youth and women.
The President of AAVF says that they are looking forward to expanding to four or five countries in 2020.