Urban Farming and Healthy Living #1

 This is a part of the “Urban Farming: Self Sustenance and Growing your own Food” series.

After Self reliance through Growing your own Food and Tropical Fruits and the City as the first two articles of this series, let me just take this one to put up an introduction to what the policy makers and the scientists are doing to address the problem of food shortages faced due to the growing human population.

There are tremendous opportunities in farming as the world needs more food, better food and safer food. And sustainability is also a very important factor that has to be taken into account. Many people have started terrace gardens to add a variety to their everyday food. Community gardens and resilient homes are also gaining popularity in some parts of the world. These set ups are economic recession proof and do not get affected by certain crises that loom over economies. While planning urban farms and self-sufficient homes, one does not need to grow high calorie grains and cereals since they can be obtained for reasonable prices from the suppliers. So, utilizing the small space and the same amount of labour, one can actually grow a wide variety of food that can be nutritionally rich and time and cost effective.

Agriculture
Agriculture (Photo credit: thegreenpages)

To address the shortage of food (quantity and quality wise) and to reduce the dependence on agricultural imports by various countries, the UN in 2011 called for eco-friendly farming that could boost yields as well.

(Reference: Phys.org) The call for greater use of sustainable techniques by poor farmers or farmers with small holdings was aimed to increase crop yield and productivity in order to feed the world’s growing population. This was put forward by the FAO in a report called “Save and Grow” to reduce the dependence of farmers in developing countries on unsustainable practices and encourage them to move towards intensive farming practices like rotational cropping (rotating with legumes that enrich the soil by fixing atmospheric nitrogen), better use of fertilizers and irrigation practices and using plant residues as a cover over fields. These practices are also aimed to acclamatise the crops to changing environmental conditions and also reduce energy and water use. The FAO also called for increasing investments by governing bodies to provide incentives for the shift.

Now, here’s a brief look at the various plant growing techniques that have been developed and perfected over the last few decades to suit our current and to address our future needs.

1) Micro-propagation

By this process, we can rapidly grow a large population of plants with desirable traits from a source stock that has been obtained via genetic engineering or by traditional selection process. These plants are grown on artificial (or natural) media depending upon the plant’s needs. Growth regulators and hormones are added at specific growth stages. The plants obtained are basically disease free and are clones of one another . This process can be employed for plants that do not produce seeds (or the seeds cannot be stored or produced in low amounts) naturally or do not respond well to traditional growing techniques. Downside: very expensive process. Can’t be done on an individual scale. (Reference: Wikipedia)

Seed germinating in our biotech lab as a part of our course-work
Seed germinating in our biotech lab as a part of our course-work

2)Genetic Engineering:

Here we manipulate the organism’s (plant’s) genome (simply the hereditary genetic information or the DNA) to remove undesirable genes and add desirable ones before they are allowed to propagate by various techniques including Micropropagation.

our lab grown plants
our lab grown plants

There are still a lot of question and debates regarding the commercialization of GM CROPS (We might deal with all that in a later post) with some countries even banning their production and sale.

3)Aeroponics:

Aeroponic greenhouse with mature plants
Aeroponic greenhouse with mature plants (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this process, plants are simply grown in absence of soil as a medium. The nutrients and water are sprayed as per the plant’s need as a mist. This method answers a lack of space for growing plants as this can be employed inside homes and plants can be stacked vertically as well. This method is also being employed in the International Space Station to provide fresh food for the astronauts and also to study the behaviour and growth of plants in a zero-gravity atmosphere.

 

Here’s a freelance article I wrote last year for an e-news site about the same:

Scientists make plants grow without soil | Jharkhand State News.

Therefore, based on your own personal choice, you can decide to go the organic way and you can employ Classical breeding techniques like Mendel’s classical genetics. Though these methods are time consuming and labour intensive, the results are extremely desirable.

Furthermore, you may decide to grow them via MICRO-PROPAGATION techniques using a synthetic media, but as listed, it has a lot of shortcomings and is capital and labour intensive. You will need to set up an entire scientific unit for it.

Finally, you can go the Aeroponic way. There are many home versions available or you can build one yourself (one of my future projects!) like the DIY solar panels people install.

 

You may also like:

Being the Master of my Fate

Genetics of your Blood Group

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