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Report from 2050: Vertical Farming Takes Off in Abu Dhabi

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["Reports from 2050" is a series of imagined reports from the year 2050, supported by current news, facts and predictions. To see what's real and what's fake, click on the links within the text.]

JANUARY 5, 2050 (Baffin Island, Canada) -- Over half-a-century ago, in 1999, American ecologist Dickson Despommier, at the time a professor of public health in environmental health sciences at Columbia University, developed the concept of "vertical farming" with graduate students in a medical ecology class.

In 2010, he published "The Vertical Farm," an agri-eco-adaptation text that explored the possibility of farming in skyscrapers as a sustainable urban agriculture solution. The book is now required reading in "verti-agriculture" classes around the world.

That year, Smithsonian Magazine reported that "urban farms are seen as an antidote to industrialized agriculture's excesses, including chemical fertilizers that pollute waterways and the high costs, both monetary and environmental, of transporting food to urban markets."

In the past four decades since, the human population has grown by almost two-and-a-half billion, reaching 9.3 billion people -- with 80% living in urban areas.

And now, Abu Dhabi is feeding the majority of its population with food grown in local vertical farms. According to a new study of the world's vertical farms by the Baffin Island-based Institute of Climate Change Adaptation (ICCA), the capital of the United Arab Emirates is the first city that can make this claim.

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"The Abu Dhabi model is proof that vertical farming is not only possible on a grand scale, but necessary," said Professor Arkady Voronov of the ICCA, in an email. He also noted that since 2010, Abu Dhabi has lost approximately 445 square miles (1,155 square kilometers) of its coast due to the rise in sea level.

"As the rising sea continues to claim vast tracts of shoreline around the world and people migrate to urban centers, growing food vertically in cities will be a key part to any successful solution to the global food crisis," Voronov said. "The world is undergoing a large-scale loss of arable land due to the effects of climate change, desertification and human development -- and that is not likely to change anytime soon."

In the foreword to "The Vertical Farm," New York-based environmental justice activist Majora Carter wrote, "If the skyscraper farm is like a 747 jetliner, we are now at the stage of the Wright Brothers."

If Carter's prediction (and metaphor) holds, then the 747 of vertical farming is just a little over a few decades away. In the meantime, the residents of Abu Dhabi are currently reaping the benefits of a sustainable meal aboard something akin to a 1949 de Havilland DH 106 Comet.

[Part of the series " Reports from 2050 ."]

Reynard Loki is a staff writer for Sustainable Finance and Corporate Social Responsibility at 3BL Media/Justmeans. A former media executive with 15 years experience in the private and non-profit sectors, Reynard is the co-founder of MomenTech, a New (more...)

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