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CAB Reviews

A reviews journal covering agriculture, global health, nutrition, natural resources and veterinary science

CAB Review

'New wave' revolution in city-focused, closed environment food production.


A new wave of city-focused food production, variously known as 'plant factories' (vegetable factories or fruit factories), or 'vertical farming' or simply as 'closed environment agriculture' (CEA) is sweeping the world. As opposed to open-air agriculture, with its vulnerability to seasonal disturbances, its high dependence on water and chemicals as fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, all with uncontrolled run-off, the new approach is based on contained systems, utilizing renewable resources and recycling, and producing sustainable yields that can scale up to cope with surging urbanization and growth in global population. This article reviews the developments worldwide in CEA and identifies the main features, which are fivefold: (1) producing more with less, (2) continuously, (3) with clean practices, (4) in a controlled environment and (5) with an urban focus. The article develops an argument as to why the new wave resembles manufacturing more than traditional agriculture, and enjoys cost and efficiency gains that are likely to prove decisive in competition with traditional food production methods, particularly as the wave diffuses beyond leafy vegetables to encompass fruit vegetables, fruits, berries, fish and seafood and eventually staple crops starting with rice.

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