Tuesday, December 08, 2015

A Look at Vertical Farming in Latin America

Infrared thermometer in hand, Nelson Pérez checks the water temperature in the trays where dozens of small lettuce plants are growing in a nutrient-rich liquid in this vertical farm in Panama.

The water, which contains calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamins, must be kept at a steady 21 degrees Celsius, to obtain the best growth.

Pérez is the watchful carekeeper of the lettuce growing in trays in the controlled environment created by the Urban Farms company in the town of Río Hato, population 15,700, in the province of Coclé, some 125 km north of Panama City.

The vertical farm, the only one of its kind in Latin America, is an example of controlled-environment agriculture, a technology-based approach toward food production which often uses hydroponic methods. This kind of farming helps combat the effects of climate change on agriculture.

“Climate change has affected agricultural production,” said David Proenza, founder of Urban Farms. “So we saw a need to see what changes we could bring about, using technology.”

In 2010, Proenza heard about experiments with vertical farming in Asia and travelled to Japan, where he contacted researchers and members of the business community.

He brought the technique back to Panama, and he and his new partners decided to send an agronomist to be trained in Japan.

Until then, he was a conventional producer of watermelon and other crops.

“The farmer controls everything, from the seeds to the harvest,” he explained to IPS. “The idea is to produce and consume locally.”

Hat tip to Randy.

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