Functional Market With Food Insecurity

Having a functioning market in their community is a determinant to a household´s ability to access food and an incentive for farming households to sell their surplus produce. Nationally, 17.0 percent of the interviewed indicated that there was a market within their community. Kambia, 20.1 percent, Bo, 18.5 percent, Moyamba, 17.5 percent, and Kailahun, 17.4 percent have the largest proportion of functioning markets within their communities; this reflects that in the Urban Slums households are engaged in petty trading, whereas in Port Loko with 3.4 percent penetration of functioning markets lead to high levels of food insecurity and constrain households ability to purchase food as to bring their produce to market. Considering the far distances that households must travel to the closest market the mode of transportation has important decision-making implications in terms of time and costs. 85.0 percent of the commuters from the Western Area Urban commute by foot, 94.4 percent from the Urban Slums also walk. In the districts of Kailahun, Kono, Tonkolili and Koinadugu where people must travel 5 to 10 miles one way to the nearest market it’s a burden in terms of time and energy.

Choosing to walk to markets indicates families unable to afford faster and more convenient modes of transport, household poverty, plus the fact that private transportation is underdeveloped; it also limits the access to more diversified food and resources that could be spent on food are allocated to traveling to markets. Kambia has the second lowest percentage of people walking to markets, 29.9 percent, at the same time, the highest percentage of people using private vehicle and paid transport, 66.0 percent. The cost of commuting to the market affects the ability of a household to access food and/or to make an income. In urban areas, where the distance to the nearest market is shorter the cost of traveling is lower, whereas in rural areas, the cost of transportation is higher, ranging from USD$0.80 in Kailahum to USD$1.41 in Koinadugu. For households in remote areas the cost of transportation ranks from USD$3.33 to USD$5.00 which is an important cost for a poor family, therefore they decide to walk long distances to reach the nearest market.

Women have the responsibility of buying and selling foodstuffs; if the distance to the nearest function market is far, then this can restrain them and other family members from maintaining their own farms or other income generating activities; if the responsibility to travel to the market is on children this will keep them away from attending to school and reduce their future income-earning potential. Consequently, long distances between farms and markets increase the cost of transporting produce to markets, reducing competitiveness of local rice compared to imported rice and reducing profit margins. The frequency that markets are held for farming households that sell their produce can impact food access and availability; if they are not held often it can reduce incomes as households do not have the appropriate storage facilities to keep their produce from deteriorating during the time lag between harvesting crops and when the next nearest market is held. In urban areas markets are held daily except for Tonkolili where 71.6 percent of the households indicated that a market occurred every day, most of the districts have periodic markets. In Bonthe where populations are dispersed due to its riverine topography 21.7 percent of households stated that daily markets were least common, a reason for this can be that due to seasonal flooding and that many households are involved in fishing activities, entire communities relocate every year which disrupts the establishment of regular markets. In Koinadugu 24.2 percent of households indicated that markets took place daily. 90.0 percent of the rural and urban districts always have imported rice available in their markets; this reinforces the national dependence on imported rice. Except for Koinadugu where rice is only available 53.4 percent of the time.

Local rice is available in Kambia, 74.3 percent of the times and in Bombali, 81.1 percent, this fact matches with being high rice production areas. Whereas local rice is available in their markets in Bonthe, 67.7 percent of the times and 56.2 percent in Pujehun. 38.3 percent of households rely on an unprotected water source to drink water from out of which 31.0 percent obtain their water from a river or a stream; in rural areas the proportion rises to 50.4 percent and the poorest access is located in Moyamba with 53.9 percent, in Tonkolili with 57.5 percent, in Bonthe 60.7 percent and in Kambia 64.5 percent. Vertical hydroponic farming is basically an indoor farm based on a multi-level design. Its features are recycled water plus rainwater or water from a desalination plant, automatic air-temperature and humidity control, solar panel lighting and heating, and tunable LED illumination. The LED system can be programmed to emit a spectrum of light optimal for photosynthesis for several types of crops. Regulating humidity and temperature levels minimize seasonality effects. This cultivation technique involves growing plants in a medium provided with nutrient liquid. Air conditioning delivers a constant supply of air.

Any nutrients and water not absorbed by the roots are recycled. With this system is possible to grow an extended range of crops, pharmaceuticals, or herbs. By being isolated from external climate the need for fertilizers, herbicides and fertilizers is almost none. Hydroponic farming eliminates risks like heat and drought, pests, seasonality and transportation costs from remote areas. Volatility in prices is addressed by planning production in accordance to demand levels; most importantly it provides an effective approach for food security and sustainability towards climate change and water resources. So far it has been difficult to secure access to land, water and other natural resources thus vertical hydroponic container farming should be considered as a sustainable agro-logistic solution to secure the right to food and in the long term to end poverty. Due to trends of increasing food insecurity, reduced fresh water supply, poor production practices, the associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and a continued climate change, the world is facing the challenge of sustainability and feeding the growing population which is expected to reach about 9.7 billion in 2050. Hydroponic farming offers a solution to improve future food production by involving innovative use of technology and automation, increasing productivity and reducing the environmental footprint within and indoor, climate-controlled facility. Hydroponic farming merges food production and consumption in one place. This farming method offers a clean and green source of food, free from pests, droughts and reduced use of transportation and fossil fuels; it minimizes maintenance and maximizes yields.

Hydroponic farming involves an indoor facility with climate-controlled and with renewable energy. It saves water and energy, reduces pollution, enhances new employment, contributes to restore ecosystems, and produces access to healthy food. As it operates all year round in a controlled environment it´s independent of weather conditions producing crops less subject to infestation, crop rotation, polluted water runoff, pesticides, and dust. Furthermore, hydroponic farming reduces travel costs as well as GHG emissions, by cutting down on travel distances from distant farms, local markets and homes. Hydroponics is a method of growing food using mineral nutrient solutions in water without soil. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica hydroponic refers to “the cultivation of plants in nutrient-enriched water, with or without the mechanical support of an inert medium such as sand or gravel” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018). Hydroponic farming provides several advantages over traditional soil-based farming; one of these advantages is the reduction of soil-related farming problems like insects, fungus, and bacteria that grow in soil; hydroponic requires very low-maintenance in relation to weeding, tilling, kneeling and dirt removal; it also provides a less intensive labor way to manage larger crop productions; additionally it is easier to control nutrient levels and pH balance. There are many drivers for food production planning that bring positive effects on public health, water, land and economic development.

– In 2007-2008, the international price of wheat doubled, the price of rice tripled, thus increasing food insecurity for two billion people and contributing to food riots in some countries.

– Climate change is increasing droughts, floods, tornados, earthquakes, hurricanes, cyclones, fires, and damage to ecosystems, and farming fields which apart from suffering losses due to these factors, a significant part of what has grown spoils in the fields before being harvest, another portion of harvest turns into waste by fungi, bacteria, insects and rodents during storage; these constrains have a significant impact on developing countries where road infrastructure is easily blocked disrupting access to markets thus food, and where food prices are under pressure. Armed conflict threats all daily human activities; farming usually suffers when crops are burned or made unavailable by those who want to limit the opposition´s access to food supply.

– Rapid urbanization is leading to food shortages in some areas of Asia due to the emigration of rural areas by job-seekers and increasing instability in the food-supply chain in urban areas due to unstable labor availability.

– Ecosystems could almost fully recover by abandoning farmland and letting the land to cure itself (Gunderson, 2000, pp. 425-439).

The combination of these factors increases complexity and uncertainties to secure food for all. In fragile countries an additional driver is to provide new jobs within these facilities, in food processing, process maintenance, and infrastructure development.

Food insecurity can be tackle by using the vertical hydroponic system built inside a 40-ft. shipping container (see Figure 12). Container farming allow any person or community to grow fresh produce year-round. The technologies involved in vertical hydroponic farming are “a revolutionary approach to producing high quantities of nutritious and quality fresh food all year round, without relying on skilled labor, favorable weather, high soil fertility or high water usage” (FAO, Good Agricultural Practices for Greenhouse Vegetable Crops: Principles for Mediterranean Climate Areas, 2013, p. Ch. 15).

This container is built from upcycled shipping containers and works as solution to shorten the food supply chain and bring local, fresh produce to any community.

The cost of this vertical farming system is USD$85,000.00 plus delivery and set up costs. This container has been modified to work as a vertical hydroponic system able to produce lettuces, herbs and hearty greens like among others:

The hydroponic growing system is built inside an upcycled shipping container; it requires 450 sq. ft. of level land, 15 to 20 hours of labor per week, it operates with temperatures that range from -40 to 120 ºF, consumes 125 kWh electricity per day, and less than 5 gallons of water per day.

-Ebb and flow system: where plants grow in a bed that is constantly flooding and draining with the nutrient rich water solution (seedling station); a shallow through that holds as much as 12 trays of seedling is filled with water allowing it to drain several times each day, this timing is the sufficient amount of water for the seedling to grow;

-Drip system: emitters drip the nutrient rich water solution down the vertical grow tower which is the growing medium where the plant roots are located, there is a wicking material that helps to draw the water to the roots growing throughout the tower; the water that the plants did not consume flows out the bottom of the tower and its recirculated back to the emitter.

-Nursery Stage: a multi-function, aluminum workstation that integrates the irrigation system with a LED lighting array for seed germination and early-stage growth; it can grow up to 3,600 seedlings at one time.

The seedling table supplies crops with the necessary light and water to grow from seeds into mature plants.

The seedling table is also the workstation where to plant new trays of crops, transplant seedling into the vertical towers, and harvest and package the produce.

The harvest track which makes possible to move up to 32 towers across the farm, makes the transplanting and harvesting more efficient.

-Mature Growth Stage: growing vertically maximizes the use of the inner space in the container; with 256 crop columns, LED array, and overhead drip irrigation the container becomes an efficient growing environment for approximately 4,500 mature plants.

Controlled indoor environment: inside the container are sensors that measure the temperature, humidity, CO2, and nutrient levels; these sensors send the information to the in-farm controller. The controller responds to air and water sensors to keep the best growing conditions. Temperature and humidity are controlled with a multi-planed airflow and intercrop aeration system that keeps air circulating with an air conditioner that also balances internal and external temperature.

LED lighting: a LED lighting system mimics sunlight in a way that spectrums of red and blue light make photosynthesis happen with a uniform plant development. The strip lights run for about 18 hours per day and are off during the day to give the plants time to rest. Water control: the recirculating irrigation system constantly provides nutrient-rich water solution straight to the plant roots to assure a strong and uniform growth. Temperature, pH and EC sensors measure and control water conditions; the nutrient dosing panel also has sensors that ensure water has the appropriate levels of nutrients for plant growth. In-farm controller: the in-farm controller receives information from the climate sensors and automatically fixes the required levels to maintain a suitable growing environment; a touchscreen displays all the necessary farm data and gives access to each of the features inside the farm to maintain the optimal growing condition. There is also the Farmhand mobile application that allow farmers to:

  • view real-time data inside the container
  • monitor and control climate levels
  • track germination, transplant, and harvest dates
  • connect to the Farmhand Shop to restock on supplies

Due to its advantages hydroponic farming (see Table 21) proves to be a sustainable farming system that can be managed by women and/or young men and contribute to secure food at all times to people living in fragile countries.

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