Agritech and Its Role In Creating Sustainable Cities


Agritech and sustainable cities

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Agriculture is the foundation of our country -- urban centers arose from farming communities, growing into thriving metropolitan areas full of industry and innovation. Now, as life comes full circle, urban areas look to agriculture and its technologies for help addressing problems stemming from rapid urbanization. 

Building cities around agriculture
Farming was one of the key activities that catalyzed the switch from nomadic lifestyles to where people settled down and built homes. Over time settlements developed and grew into cities that formed governments and divided work up amongst the residents. Citizens took on specialized jobs relative to their skills, e.g., barbers, artisans, teachers, and so, a surplus of food occurred. 

With a lower fatality rate compared to nomadic societies, a reliable food supply, and some families securing predictable incomes, the population flourished. 

Urbanization pushes ag to rural areas
The boom in population and resulting urbanization pushed agriculture out of the cities and into rural areas. Without thinking of the ramifications, citizens only thought of the benefits of increased areas of land for housing and businesses.

Unfortunately, rapid urbanization soon led to the unforeseen consequences of increasing poverty levels and food insecurity. Pushing agriculture to rural areas significantly limited access of urban residents to healthy, affordable food. The cost of goods increased to cover transportation costs, but higher poverty levels meant people couldn’t afford to buy fresh produce.

Food waste levels climb
Along with urbanization and modernization came a harrowing climb in the amount of food going to waste. An estimated 40% of the entire US food supply along all production stages, from field to the consumer, ends up as refuse.

A significant chunk of that waste food is directly related to agriculture now lying outside urban areas. Up to one-third of produce goes to waste during storage and transport due to improper handling, delays in transportation or distribution, and non-optimal cold chain logistics. The longer time spent in transport also reduces the shelf life -- produce quality deteriorates quicker once purchased, further exacerbating food waste.

“Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the U.S. are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards.” -- The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg

Rebuilding cities with sustainable waste management
With food insecurity and large waste streams creating significant dilemmas in urban areas, sustainable waste management has catalyzed agriculture to come full circle and help address these issues and rebuild cities. One such way, according to Re-Nuble’s COO Rahul Bhansali is through, “the opportunity to close the loop on [the] food waste” that has increased dramatically due to urbanization.

Many agritech companies utilizing the UN Sustainable Development Goals to promote sustainable food production while reversing environmental degradation meet these goals. Agritech offers excellent potential to help reduce food deserts, improve food security, and sustainably reduce the food waste stream to lessen landfills' environmental impacts. 

Over the last decade or so, agritech in combination with sustainable waste management solutions have made powerful advances towards sustainability, especially in reducing the food waste in landfills by developing innovative waste handling technologies. 

Technology

Advantages

Shortcomings

Anaerobic digesters

  • By-products include compost and fertilizer (closed-loop)
  • Removes phosphorous and other metals from waste, lowering risk of contaminating water
  • High installation, operating, and maintenance expenses
  • Only economically feasible for larger farms

Composting facilities

  • Can be utilized from household level to commercial/industrial
  • Promotes closed-loop ag; compost can enrich damaged soils, improve water efficiency
  • Only usable for organic matter; wrong waste spoils entire compost mix
  • Takes time and work to develop good compost/soil nutrient mix

Dehydrators

  • Can process all food waste products, as well as soiled paper, waxed cardboard, and napkins
  • Easy to operate
  • Consumes large amounts of energy
  • Regular cleaning and up keep required
  • Ash byproduct remains after treatment

Dewaterers

  • Signifcantly reduces volume (~80%) and weight of food waste
  • Reduced volume equates to lower collection and disposal costs
  • Does not fully process the food waste; further technology is needed to make the byproduct into a re-usable material

Food waste liquifiers

  • Easy for businesses and institutions that generate large amounts of food waste
  • Only intended for commercial or industrial settings
  • Residual food waste slurry must be discharged into the sewer system

Pyrolysis

  • Degrades toxic components and pathogens
  • Gases produced can be used as fuel for the process
  • High operational and investment costs
  • Flue gases need to be purified; ash by-product contains heavy metals

But, to really move the needle and achieve sustainability, agritech needs to increase options for closed-loop agriculture. These options also need to be interconnected between the technologies, striving to address multiple targets and accessible for implementation within urban settings.

Re-Nuble’s commitment to sustainable food production and cities

Dedicated to fostering sustainability Re-Nuble strongly supports numerous UN SDGs and associated targets with its inherent business model. By utilizing the food waste stream to promote closed-loop food systems, Re-Nuble seeks to help achieve two SGD goals in particular: SDG 11 and SDG 12.

Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Reducing agricultural use of synthetic mineral salts -- and its resulting impacts on both the soil and human health -- is at the forefront of the company’s mission. When biostimulants such as Re-Nuble’s organic hydroponic nutrients (biostimulants) are applied to farming systems, it reduces chemical fertilizer use and increases the sustainability of soils by improving nutrient availability, enhancing soil structure, and bolstering microbial colonies. 

SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production

Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
By fostering closed-loop agriculture and reducing synthetic fertilizer use and urban food waste, Re-Nuble is committed to improve urban air quality and increase access to affordable, nutritious food.

SDG 11 Sustainable Cities & Communities
Ultimately, one of the goals of Re-Nuble is to help cities and its key stakeholders implement goals such as the ones above in order to bring back closed-loop food production and grow sustainable agriculture. If we can be of any help or if there are potential collaboration opportunities, we are always here to to chat