Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Indoor High-Tech Farming Vs Natural Farming

High-tech indoor farming is a major issue in agriculture among others such as GMO, chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

Ever since Dickson Despommier put forward the concept of indoor vertical farming, there has been a growing trend in indoor vertical farms in many places around the world using high technologies such as aeroponics, hydroponics and LED lighting. Some use totally enclosed systems where all environmental factors are controlled by sensors and computers.

They claim that high-tech indoor farming produces much higher yield, has no pest problems, saves water, time and labour.

Once in a farmers' market, I overheard how a staff of a high-tech farm promote their produce to a potential customer in a misleading way: "Our vegetables are grown in completely sealed rooms. Therefore there are no bugs and we don't need to apply pesticides. Hence, our vegetables are organic"

The video clip below shows how some high-tech farmers boast their farming systems.
@0:40 "Plants don't need sun, they need spectrum. They don't need soil, they need nutrients, micronutrients."
@1:56 "If you said to me the best-tasting basil I ever had was the one I was on vacation in the south of Italy in June 2006. I can literally go back through historical environmental records and find light, temperature, humidity, CO2 levels and go recreate that environment in my box here and grow that same-tasting basil for you."
@2:54 (Dickson Despommier) "A lot of people say 'I hate the idea of farming in buildings because it is not natural.' l love them when they say that. I just love to hear that. Why? Because farming is not natural. Ha ha ha!"

As a professor,  Dickson Despommier may be knowledgeable, but certainly there is no wisdom in his words. His saying "Farming is not natural" refers to that any form of farming involves human intervention and therefore is not natural.

True natural farming works in coordination with nature. Crops are planted according to seasons, climate, soil types. It is a nature-centred rather than human-centred farming approach. So, any "human intervention" in natural farming is for the benefit of nature and living things, including human.

Unlike iPhones, crops are part of nature and must not be manufactured using industrial processes.

Plants need to grow in a natural environment, constantly interacting with all natural elements including all kinds of creatures both above and in the soil. Through photosynthesis, plants absorb sunlight and produce sugars, as much as 40% of which are released from the roots into the soil to feed the microorganisms. In return, the microorganisms extract nutrients and minerals in the soil and supply them to the plants. These soil microorganisms also protect the plants against pathogens.

Also, plants' ability to produce phytonutrients depends on many environmental factors such as UV in sunlight and soil microorganisms. Scientists believe that there are more than 100 thousand phytonutrients existing in plants. Many phytonutrients, such as carotenoids, polyphenols and flavonoids, are vital in maintaining human health. Many of them also give the colours and flavours of plant foods.

Natural farming encourages biodiversity. The richer the biodiversity, the better nutrients cycle in the farm and this is how the soil gets its fertility.  Fruits and vegetables grown in healthy and fertile soil are healthy, nutritious and rich in flavours.

Whereas, high-tech indoor farming ignores the laws of nature, and totally shuts out all natural elements in the environment. Such a human-centred farming approach can only produce less nutritious crops and is not helpful to the environment.

Unfortunately, the life of many people has become disconnected from nature and its life-giving benefits. It is easy for them to believe that vegetables grown indoor under artificial environment are safe, clean and hygienic. They also believe that vegetables grown with their roots submerged in nutrient solutions instead of soil are healthy and nutritious, and they are willing to pay high price for these vegetables, which are usually appealingly packaged, but lacking in nutrients.

With efforts such as the 4 per 1000 initiative by the French government, it is hopeful that more people will soon realize that ecological farming approaches such as natural farming are part of the solution to food security and climate change.

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