Amazon Deforestation, A Situation Overview and Proposed Solution: Vertical Tower Farming with Hemp

 

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Contents

1 Introduction
2 Rainforests
2.1. The Amazon
3 Deforestation Extinction & Biodiversity
3.1 Accumulation of Extinction Debt
4 Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon
4.1. Threats to Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon
5 Tropical Rainforests & Climate Stability
6 Deforestation in the Tropics
6.1. Wildfires in the Amazon
6.2. Causes of Wildfires in the Amazon
7 Policy & Land Grabbing in the Brazilian Amazon
7.1. Cattle ranching in the Brazilian Amazon
7.2. Soy Farming in the Brazilian Amazon
8 Discussion of Part 1
8.1. The Status-quo
8.2. The Future Consequences
9 Innovative Agriculture
9.1. Sustainably Innovative Agriculture
9.2. Vertical Tower Farm
9.3. Compressing Space: VTF
9.4. The VTF and Biomimicry
9.5. Clean Energy
9.6. Energy Efficiency
9.7. Hemp an Economic Alternative
9.8. Socio-environmental Sustainability
10 Discussion of Part 1 & 2
11 Conclusion
12 References
13 Appendix A
14 Appendix B

Abstract
The following is a situation analysis of the deforestation in the Amazon. Starting from a broad overview, the area of rainforest and its value is explored. The effects on climate, biodiversity, and indigenous peoples are then discussed. Then the article narrows in further on the Brazilian Amazon and how a misalignment in policy has led to the encouragement of land grabbing and a massive accumulation of deforestation debt, which is due to years of advancing agriculture into the frontier lands. The use of fire as a land clearing practice is then examined, and the consequences of the wildfires in the Amazon is explored. The reasons for the land clearing for cattle ranching and soy farming is explained. After which there is a discussion about the first part of the article. In the second part of this article, a solution is proposed in the form of the Vertical Tower Farm (VTF). Its benefits compared to traditional agriculture are explored, and its functioning is discussed and explained. Finally, the second part of the article closes with a discussion of the first and second part of the article and then concludes with some ending remarks.


Photo by Chennawit Yulue from Pexels.

1 Introduction

With the recent increase in wildfires of the Amazon rainforest making its headlines around the world, there has been an outcry by environmentalist and the public alike. Without the proper understanding of the complexities and nuances in the Amazon region, nothing can change. This is a complex socio-environmental situation that has been derailed by the influence of the global marketplace and the misalignment in public policy to protect the frontier forest land. Agriculture is on a rapid increase since the last several decades, with its advancement into previously untouched Amazon forest land. Wildfires are causing massive damage to ecological systems combined with the off-gassing of carbon dioxide emissions and concerning greenhouse gas (GHGs). Climate change is a concern that worries policymakers, environmentalist and the public. Conservationists worry about the loss of biodiversity to aggressive land-use practices. Activists are concerned about the rights of the indigenous peoples especially those tribes that remain uncontacted, as it would be a devastation to their way of life to be forced off their land due to the approaching settlement activity. There is a vicious cycle between opening up land for farmland and building infrastructure to support its access to reach it. The infrastructure allows access that allows more land clearing and the cycle continues. Striving for economic independence, countries are caught in a vicious loop between economic sustainability and protecting the valuable life-giving nature they depend on.

2 Rainforests

Rainforests are complex and diverse ecosystems which carry a high density of unique and sensitive lifeforms. According to the National Geographic Society (2019), rainforests can sustain as many as 1,500 species of flowering plants, 750 species of trees, 400 species of bird, and 150 species of butterflies within just 1000 hectares. Rainforests are habitat to over half of the world’s plant and animal species and yet only account for 6% of the earth’s surface or 1.2 billion hectares. Tropical rainforests range between the latitudes 23.5°N and 23.5°S, these zones are called the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn respectively. The regions that tropical rainforests exist in are central and western Africa, Central and South America, Southeast Asia, Australia, western India, and the island of New Guinea.

2.1. The Amazon

The world’s largest tropical rainforest the Amazon, or often called Amazonia, is located in South America. The Amazon basin is said to contain somewhere between 6 to 8 million square kilometres. It stretches eight countries Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, Venezuela, and an overseas territory of France: French Guiana. Brazil contains the most rainforest cover at 58.4%, while the rest contain less than 13% each (Coca-Castro, A., Reymondin, L., Bellfield, H., & Hyman, G. 2013, p. 9; Global Forest Atlas 2019; WWF 2019.) Its inhabitants include approximately 2.5 million species of insects, 40,000 species of plants, 3,000 species of fish, 1,300 species of birds, and 427 species of mammals (National Geographic Society 2019). According to a publication in the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), there could be around 16,000 species of trees in the Amazon, 227 were referred to as “hyper-dominant”, accounting for half of the trees in the rainforest, while around 11,000 accounts for its rarest species (Steege et al. 2013.)


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3 Deforestation Extinction & Biodiversity

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (2019) was established in 1964, it is the creator of the “Red List of Threatened Species”. The Red List is used as a way to show the biodiversity health of the planet. It is an important resource on the status of species, and also a means to support change by informing conservationists and policymakers. Based on forecasted models of deforestation throughout the Amazon, in 2012, the Red List of Threatened Species had shown that there was a substantial increase in the risk of extinction for around 100 bird species of the Amazon. The most affected species tend to be those with longer life spans. These species can be impacted by even moderate deforestation. Some species will lose over 80% of their environment in the next decades, placing them at "Critically Endangered". This is the highest category for risk for extinction. The Director of Science, Policy and Information at BirdLife, Dr Leon Bennun, says that the risk of extinction for Amazon bird species was previously underestimated, and due to the weakening of the Brazilian forest law, the situation could look even worse than what has been predicted in recent studies (IUCN 2012.)

3.1. Accumulation of Extinction Debt

In conservation biology, one core goal is the forecast of extinction and its potential prevention. Using a mathematical approach, the time lags in extinction that follows environmental destruction could be estimated. The concept of extinction debt is that not all extinction occurs immediately after the destruction of habitat, but can have a time lag in consequences, in which an extinction debt is built up and not felt completely until years later. This approach was applied to the Brazilian Amazon between 1970 to 2012 and forecasted to 2050. The accumulation of extinction debt was estimated, and the study concluded that due to historical habitat loss 80% of the extinctions are still due to occur. Although, additionally stating that there is still a chance to mitigate the effects of past deforestation by conservation focusing efforts on the most vital locations (Wearn, Reuman, & Ewers 2012.)

4 Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon

According to the nonprofit organization Survival International (2014), which refers to itself as "the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights", the Amazon is home to around 400 tribes and about 1 million indigenous peoples. What makes these tribes so unique is that they each have their territory, language, and culture. Over the past 500 years, most tribes have had interactions with outsiders, although some tribes continue to remain uncontacted. Brazil contains the most rainforest cover in the Amazon and the world (Kiprop, J. 2017). It has an indigenous population thought to be around 310,000. Further estimated is that only 280,000 of them are living within their indigenous territories. There is believed to be around 206 tribes in Brazil, 160 of them are located in the Amazon, of that 50 are thought to be still uncontacted (Cunha & Almeida 2000.) In Brazil, 14 million hectares have been agreed upon to the indigenous peoples by the government, thus providing them with ten legal territories (National Geographic News 2013). Responding to the expanding frontier land, the creation of indigenous territories was often made. Many of which had prevented the complete deforestation of an area even while high deforestation activity had been occurring alongside their borders. Through centuries of contact between indigenous peoples and the national society, the indigenous lands held a significant inhibitory effect on deforestation which was not due to their population density (Nepstad et al. 2006.).

4.1. Threats to Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon

The non-governmental organization Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) (2019, p. 10-11, 50-55), created projections of 20 years into the future based on the effect of the current Brazilian policies in place. In the worst situation, there could be some protected forest areas that will be completely deforested by 2039. They determined that at the current rate in the deregulations of environment protective policy and forest disrupting projects, there could be a serious threat to the existence of the indigenous people in the Amazon. Aggressive capitalistic practices and policies are a significant threat to indigenous peoples. In the very remote areas of the Amazon, there is a record increase in non-native peoples. The tribes of the Amazon that choose to remain isolated are facing the increasing threat of a traumatic emergence into contact. The main threats are from the national government and transnational companies that are developing mega projects in the areas. These projects, through the forest access they create, encourage conditions that support land grabbing, illegal logging, and other indigenous threatening activities such as oil and mining ventures (See also: Direto do ISA 2019.)

5 Tropical Rainforests & Climate Stability

There is a growing concern in recent decades about the disruption and changing of the earth’s climate. Gases can trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere. These gases are referred to as greenhouse gases (GHG). The amount of GHG’s in the earth’s atmosphere influences the climate’s stability. Human activity can disrupt the earth’s climate balance through excessive GHG emissions. The main contributor, from human activity, is the combustion of fossil fuels which generate carbon dioxide, a GHG, as its byproduct (US, EPA 2017.) Rainforests perform important ecological services that are crucial to the wellbeing of all lifeforms on the planet. Through a process called photosynthesis, plants utilize light along with carbon dioxide. This in return produces oxygen which the plant releases back into the atmosphere (Vidyasagar 2018.) The removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is known as carbon sequestration (Forestry and Timber, UNECE 2019). The global carbon cycle is significantly impacted by untouched moist and rain tropical forests. They store carbon significantly in two ways, firstly, in their soils, which account for around 12% of the world’s soil carbon pool, and secondly, they hold 46% of the living terrestrial carbon pools on the planet (Soepadmo 1993.) A place that stores a significant amount of carbon is referred to as a carbon sink. Rainforests are known to be important carbon sinks in the world. Although forests can vary in their contribution to the global carbon cycle, they can either be a net sink or emitter of carbon. It all depends on their local situation, for example, the type of trees it has and the extent that a forest has been disturbed (Forestry and Timber, UNECE 2019.) From the years 2000 to 2005, the estimated deforestation in Brazil was 3,292 million hectares. The resulting emissions were an estimated 340 tetragrams (340,000,000 tonnes) of carbon (Harris et al. 2012.) For these reasons, deforestation is more widely becoming recognized as a major threat to the earth’s climate stability.


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6 Deforestation in the Tropics

Published in Nature International journal of science, satellite data was utilized, with this an extensive record of global land change dynamics was created, and it was based on the period of 1982 through to 2016. As opposed to popularized views, their study found the forest area globally actually had a net increase of 7.1% (Song et al. 2018.) However, another reputable study had different results. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FOA) of the United Nations, from 1990 through to 2015, they claim the world’s forests have decreased by 3.1% (MacDicken et al. 2016, p. 16). While this may show either the difficulty that research has in assessing and agreeing on the global forest cover, it could also show the variations in land change dynamics within their given timeframes. What both studies could agree on were that there was a net loss of forest cover in the tropics (MacDicken et al. 2016, p. 16; Song et al. 2018). And one of the studies found that in the tropics the per capita forest area decreased by half, while by only 35% in the subtropics (MacDicken et al. 2016, p. 16).

6.1. Wildfires in the Amazon

A major factor that has been causing extensive deforestation in the tropics, aside from logging, is the intentional practice of clearing of land by the use of fire. Environmentalist and the public alike are becoming alarmed about the accumulative consequences of wildfires in the Amazon and its threat to biodiversity, indigenous peoples, and the earth’s climate stability. According to the data collected by the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) (2019), by using satellite technology to record wildfire sightings, their records show that between the year 2000 and 2005, wildfires detected in the Amazon increased 393%, from almost 37,000 sighted during 2000 to almost 181,000 during 2005. The trend shows that during this period there was a dramatic increase in wildfires, reaching its peak in 2005. Followed by an equally dramatic 383% decrease between the year 2005 and 2011. The year 2011 has been the second lowest year since 2000. Currently, in 2019, and throughout the last 8 years, the trend is on a steady increase by 88% compared with the year 2011. This made for an average of 83,322 sighted wildfires per year between 1998 and 2019, and a total accumulation of 1,833,073 total recorded sighted wildfires between that period (See Table 1 & Graph 1 Appendix A)

6.2. Causes of Wildfires in the Amazon

Slash and Burn is a commonly used agricultural practice in South America and other tropical regions. It is an ancient agricultural technique. In this practice, the forest is cleared and the materials are allowed for a period to dry if needed. Then a fire is used intentionally, usually during the dry seasons, to clear the debris for agricultural land use. Its effects could be sustainable when given enough surrounding undisturbed area from which biodiversity can recover. Although, the concern is that in modern times its use is occurring at a higher frequency and in bigger areas. The affected area can experience significant negative consequences on biodiversity (Hauser S. & Norgrove L. 2013.) Fire is a low-cost tool used to clear forests and prevent secondary vegetation from growing back (Pinto et al. 2018). Tropical forests are not adapted to fire. Their trees have trunks that are not protected by thick bark. Fires can destroy all types of sensitive lifeforms, such as seeds, seedlings, and sprouts. The damage to seedbanks causes alterations in biodiversity by preventing the original species from returning (Woods 1989.) In the study “Land Use and Land Cover Dynamics in Relation to Fire Recurrence in the Brazilian Amazon, 2008–2014” (2018), researchers analyzed two data sources, one was the “Amazonia TerraClass spatial database with land use” and the other one was “land cover classes estimated from Landsat imagery and the MODIS-AQUA fire pixels”. The study’s objective was to find out how fire related to land change and its use in the Brazilian Amazon. They found that areas previously affected by fires had a higher amount of primary and secondary forests being converted to agricultural use. They also found evidence of the government’s ineffective policies regarding illegal fires and the reduction of their consequential emissions.

7 Policy & Land Grabbing in the Brazilian Amazon

In the article "Stimulus for land grabbing and deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon", researchers Brito, Barreto, Brandão, Baima, & Gomes (2019) evaluated the consequences of a 2017 land law on the Brazilian Amazon. The law in question was new land law 13,465/2017, which gave those from 2005 to 2011 amnesty for illegally occupying public rural lands. This was previously illegal based on the federal law of 1966. In reflection, based on the data records of the INPE “Situação atual—Programa Queimadas,” (2019) in the last 22 years of Amazonian observation, 2005 was the peak year with almost 181,000 reported wildfire sightings. As well, years 2006-2008 and also 2010 were significantly notable years of recorded wildfire sightings. From 2005 to 2011 there was an average of 119,658 sightings per year, making this a historically recent hotspot. At the bottom end of a decreased trend, 2011 hit the second-lowest since 2000. But from 2011 on, the trend was once again on the rise, with an 88% growth rate of reported wildfire sightings in comparison of 2011 and 2019 (See Table 1 & Graph 1 Appendix A.)

This recent land policy rewards and gives validation to the practices of illegal land grabbers through setting the land price underneath the market price. This has also been extended to land areas as large as 2,500 hectares. The study found that when compared to previous legislation, this was a 1,000-hectare increase. This policy continues a negative historical pattern that will potentially lead to losing tens of billions in public revenue, and the expansion of illegal grabbing of public lands that are connected with territory disputes and deforestation (Brito, B. et al. 2019.) In 2017, Brazil had 57 recorded murders of land and environmental defenders. This was the highest rate in Brazil, and in the world the worst year on record (Brito, B. et al., 2019; Kyte B. 2018.) Indeed, this was a tragic result of the misalignment between developmental and socio-environmental policy. According to the article "Converting Forests to Farms: The Economic Benefits of Clearing Forests in Agricultural Settlements in the Amazon" by Mullan, Sills, Pattanayak, & Caviglia-Harris (2017), the local economic benefits have come at the cost of the environment, with the agriculture progressing into the rainforest frontiers. This income can increase their acquisition of assets, consequently, growing further the producing capabilities of a household’s wealth, and the continuing possibility of future asset accumulation. Although the wealth gained from deforestation is minimal, the return on investment could be substantial. For these reasons, the conditions are being supported that play on a financial need and desire of people to become settlers of the rainforest frontier. In many cases, they are in a situation where their family’s financial needs and the short term gains out weight the long term consequences to the environment and the indigenous peoples that live there.

7.1. Cattle ranching in the Brazilian Amazon

According to the article “Current outlook and future perspectives of beef production in Brazil” by Millen D., Pacheco R., Meyer P., Rodrigues P., & De Beni Arrigoni M. (2011), there is a mature cattle ranching industry in Brazil. Calf production in Brazil increased from 44.3 million in 2001 to 47.5 million in 2011, a 9.5% increase. There were about 78.6 million cattle in 1970. They occupied 124.4 million hectares of natural pasture and 29.7 million hectares that were cultivated. By 2006, this amount increases to around 171.6 million cattle. The natural pasture has decreased to 57.3 million hectares, and cultivated pasture land increased to 101.4 hectares. From 1970 to 2006, the number of cattle had a 2.04% per year increase, and there was also an increase in the cultivated pasture by 3.5% per year, while a decrease in natural pasture land by 2.26% per year. A major influence on the expansion of the beef industry was the exportation of Brazilian beef. Total beef production exported during 2002 was at 13.4%, and increased to 28.2% by 2007. Compared with the top beef exporters, Brazil also showed the highest increase in methane emissions, a GHG, by 2.12% per year from 1981 through 2011.

Brazil was the largest producer and top exporter of beef in the world during 2018, producing a total of 216.1 million cattle, a 26% increase from 2006. The agribusiness generated $597.22 billion in revenue. In 2018, the top importers of Brazilian cattle meat were the European Union, USA, China, Vietnam, Japan, Hong Kong, and South Korea. The top markets were in Europe, Asia, America, North Africa, and the Middle East (ABIEC, Brazilian Beef Exporters Association 2019, p. 8, 10, 28, & 29.) Cattle ranching is one of the top reasons for deforestation in the Amazon, as it takes substantial land to manage. Often the lands being cleared by frontier settlers are to gain land through its occupation and gain income through its farming.

7.2. Soy Farming in the Brazilian Amazon

Another agricultural threat on biodiversity in the Amazon in Brazil is the advancement of soybean crops into the frontier. Land use dynamics that have traditionally impacted the Amazon in Brazil are different when it comes to soybeans because they are propelled by the forces of the global marketplace. Massive infrastructure projects in transportation have been justified due to the soybean crop. This makes them especially damaging because, in addition to the environmental loss that goes along with cultivating lands in the region, infrastructure projects can also destroy a vast amount of wilderness. These projects can cause a chain reaction of further environmental damaging actions. Because of the constraints in the redistribution of soybean production in the global marketplace, its production has been concentrated in Brazil. Due to the unbeneficial effects of soybean crops on their national interests, Brazil may one day seek to end its subsidization. If soybean cultivation continues unchecked, this could lead to the extreme focusing of income around land occupation, the advancement of settlements into the tropical frontier, and infrastructure projects that are depleting of governmental resources. (Fearnside P. 2001.) Brazilian soybean production is rapidly growing. During 1987-88 the amount of production per million metric tonnes (MMT) went from 18 MMT and export at 2.7 MMT to the production of 51 MMT and exports to 20.5 MMT by 2002-03. From 1987 through 2002, Brazil had increased its exports by 17.8 MMT, whereas the US only grew by 5.2 MMT (Flaskerud G. 2003.) From 2000 to 2014, detailed satellite imagery was analyzed and showed that areas with intensive row cropping almost doubled in Brazil. Increasing demand has triggered the changes in existing land uses and land cover to be replaced with commodity crops like soy. The rate of new cropland from the clearing of natural vegetation was at 20%. While the primary change in the land was from pasture land that was repurposed, accounting for 80% of new croplands. While this also prevented new land clearings, its link to land clearing remains secondary. The amount of space cropland will expand reflects the marketplace circumstances and the policies of land use (Zalles V. et al. 2019.)

8 Discussion of Part 1

With the emerging awareness and concern of environmentalist and the public alike about the growing amount of accumulated deforestation and environmental destruction in the Amazon, innovations that create meaningful change, and can also be embraced by policymakers and the marketplace must be made. There is a real risk that is growing each day over the habitat loss of wildlife and the subsequent accumulation of extinction debt that will have its day of reckoning for future generations that have nothing to do with the decisions that are being made today. Traditional indigenous cultures and their ways of life may be lost forever. Especially sensitive are the isolated tribes that will be hurt the most by forced contact and an abrupt loss of habitat and way of life. Intentional wildfires are destroying the Amazon rainforest at a level that is beyond the capability of the environment to recover in the short term. These human activities have spatiotemporal impacts that are wide-reaching. There is an ever-increasing amount of atmospheric emissions of GHGs and its accumulation thereof. The changes in the soil structure and fertility are also a consequential threat to life in the region. These could have a delayed and an unseen chain event of socio-environmental and economic implications. Caused by forest loss and unsustainable agricultural practices, land degradation and soil loss through erosion is a result. These land changes also impact the hydrological cycle. Due to deforestation, the ability of the forest to trap humidity is absent. This may cause unforeseeable consequences to the region such as drought, changes to wet and dry seasons, and could affect sensitive bodies of water. Complications due to changes in the environment and land degradation could also rebound to the settlers who in the first place came there trying to meet their own economic needs. They in response will be forced to continue further actions to sustain themselves despite the long term consequences. It seems that Brazil and other Amazonian countries are caught in a vicious cycle of trying to appease the short term needs in the sacrifice of the long term consequences. This cycle is in desperate need of an intervention and a long term investment. Innovation is needed that must account for value creation on three dimensions, the social, environmental, and economic.

8.1. The Status-quo

Up until now, the tradeoff between economy and environment has largely been taken for granted as the status quo. Even many times the social cost is not considered with the destruction of the environment and economic-based policymaking. Society is largely unbalanced in favour of economic value creation. This model is unsustainable because (a) the earth does not have infinite resources, (b) our use of these resources affect the whole, and (c) economic value creation favours those who are already wealthy while subjugating the poorer to their wealth oriented decision making. For these reasons, innovation in agriculture must find a balance between value creation in the economic reality and with the socio-environmental needs. Can an innovation in agricultural use of space combat deforestation? Can more sustainable and economic alternatives reduce/replace the need for soy farming and cattle ranching in the Amazon rainforest frontier? Can an agricultural waste product be turned into a valuable resource? Can an innovative agricultural solution support local and regional peoples with economic opportunity to shift jobs from deforesting?

8.2. The Future Consequences

The global population is on a rapid increase from 7.7 billion in 2019 to an estimated 8.5 billion by 2030 (UN News 2015; Worldometers 2019). With the mounting concerns about natural habitat loss from the expansion of agricultural land into the tropical forest frontiers to the environmental impacts of urbanization. Modern agriculture is on an unsustainable path, dependent on a great number of chemical inputs such as fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. The consequences of their use on the environment can persist long after they have been used. This is another threat to biodiversity and sensitive lifeforms. The scheme of modern agriculture is dependent on earth’s finite and unrenewable resources, such as with the fossil fuels used to run the operations. Fossil fuels are a top cause of GHG emissions and pollution. Besides, the increase in water use can increase the strain on natural resources. The consequences of which could be water shortages and droughts which are a matter of survival and have serious ecological implications (Foley J. et al. 2005; Geiger F. et al. 2010.)

9 Innovative Agriculture

This proposal aims to create a long term investment project in agricultural innovation that will meet environmental sustainability, create economic stimulation, and support social wellbeing. The challenge is to bring together advancements in technology and innovative design to recreate modern agricultural operations. As a result of this concept are the sustainable production of food and industrial materials while mitigating the traditional destruction of the environment and creating zones for reforestation efforts based on resources generated and equivalent agriculture land use that has been offset. This is all to disrupt the consequential path of destruction industrial agriculture is taking and create a transformation in the sustainability of civilization. The concept is specifically targeting areas of urgent intervention such as in the tropics with the Brazilian Amazon.

9.1. Sustainably Innovative Agriculture

In traditional and in modern times, industrial-scale agricultural practices have typically taken up vast amounts of land. This land in its basic sense is an accumulation of horizontal space. To give an idea of how much horizontal space is being used, here are some of the average sizes in farmland: the US was 155.8 hectare (ha), Brazil was at 63ha, France was at 54.6ha, and Estonia was at 48ha (AS SEB Pank 2013; Bento de Souza Ferreira Filho J. & Eduardo de Freitas Vian C. 2016; Momagri 2012). Although these numbers do not account for the heterogeneity in farmland, they do give an idea of the situation. The problem with the accumulation of horizontal land is that it comes at a cost. A trade for space at the cost of the environment. One of the major design challenges of sustainably innovative agriculture (SIA) is the use of space. Space is an element in traditional agricultural design that one did not have much power over in past times. With the recent capabilities of urban and indoor agriculture, along with advances in materials science and technology, the time is now to make a merge between a novel concept and modern capabilities to solve a real-world, urgent, and meaningful problem.


Figure 1: An example model of a vertical tower farm and its potential systems. (See Appendix B for more images.)

9.2. Vertical Tower Farm

A Vertical Tower Farm (VTF) is the intentional design of agriculture into the context of a structural tower type building. It functions to produce a vast amount of agricultural outputs in an intensively limited amount of space. The concept takes agriculture from its traditional two-dimensional space into three-dimensions. In a basic sense, a VTF is like the combination between a tower and a modern industrial greenhouse and its operations. Although, the VTF operations are specifically intended to be designed around the intensive usage of vertical space. Through stacked layers of agricultural land, the horizontal land used will be minimized to a fraction of the amount the average farms are currently using. The VTF can take advantage of both above grounds and below ground vertical space. Additionally, this concept aims to stress the ability to use materials and technologies already available, and also that this design is intended to be practical, intuitive for construction, and at the same time is cost-effective.


Figure 2: Example of compressing horizontal space into volume space.

9.3. Compressing Space: VTF

The following is an example of the implications of the VTF, imagine compressing 1km2 of agricultural land into 1ha, think about how much forest cover that could save, either from preventing the need to deforest land for agriculture in the first place or with reforestation efforts in locations where land clearing has been offset. If a VTF were to be placed on just 1ha of land, how does it compare with the average farmland figures? In the US it would account as about 1/156th, in Brazil 1/63th, France about 1/55th, and Estonia 1/48th the size of the average farmland in these countries. Now, to consider the implications of its volume space. If the height of each floor was 10 meters, that would make the total of the volume of one floor at 100,000m3. Already, one floor of VTF converted 1ha of horizontal land space into the volume equivalent of 10ha. That is already 15% of the average farmland in Brazil. Now imagine the VTF had 10 floors with the height of each floor at 10m. That makes the total volume of the VTF a total of 1,000,000m3 or the equivalent to 100ha, or 1 square-kilometre of farmland. At this rate, on 1ha, a VTF of these dimensions would account for about 1.6 times the amount of space as is the average farmland in Brazil. If the VTF space were used to offset deforestation, that would make in 1ha of VTF land able to save natural lands or support reforestation efforts of 99ha of land, that is 99% of a square kilometre. Using multiple VTFs and/or a VTF with larger dimensions and more floors could offset an even greater amount of natural land and be even more impactful towards offsetting lands for reforestation efforts.

9.4. The VTF and Biomimicry

The VTF is designed to be based on the cycle of nutrients like in natural systems. The system will be a coupling a hydroponic/aeroponic system with an aquaculture system. When aquaculture, the production of fish is combined with hydroponics, this is called an aquaponics system. Aquaponics takes the waste from one element of the system and turns it into a resource for another. In traditional aquaculture, the waste from the fish can become concentrated, and needs to be changed otherwise it could cause harm to the fishes’ health. This is why in traditional aquaculture practices wastewater is leeched into the environment, where it can cause negative consequences. This is because the system is not in balance. What aquaponics does is takes the wastewater of the fishes which is nutrient-rich, and use it to feed the plants, and the plants effectively filter the water of its waste before returning it to the fish. Thus, turning waste into organic plant fertilizer, producing multiple outputs per input, and balancing the system.

9.5. Clean Energy

Modern advancements in technology have made renewable energy a viable alternative to 100% grid dependency. Solar and wind power can be integrated into the VTF making the operations more sustainable, and any excess produced electricity can be sold back into the grid. In the long term, these technology solutions pay for themselves. Solar and wind power are practical to implement, and solutions available now. As well, geothermal is a potential technology that is in already in practice.

9.6. Energy Efficiency

The VTF will utilize the latest materials, technologies, or techniques in energy efficiency. For example, LEDs are a disruptive innovation in lighting solutions at a fraction of the energy costs of incandescent bulbs and longer-lasting the fluorescents lighting. Additionally, natural lighting can be capitalized with the use of reflective mirrors, and fibre optic cables also have the potential of capturing light from one end and transferring it to the other, all through a flexible chord. Building the design around passive thermal and air circulation technologies is also a possibility. Having a smart system designed with the appropriate sensors could allow climate control, lighting, and production systems to be fully automated with energy-optimized programming.

9.7. Hemp an Economic Alternative

The following examples are reasons why hemp as a production crop should receive special focus in the VTF solution for Brazil and other Amazonian countries. The article “13 Reasons why Industrial Hemp is the Crop of the Future” by Childers J. (2019), discusses the modern implications of hemp as an industrial crop of the future. Hemp has many economical and environmental opportunities. The cultivation of hemp can be used to produce the following industrial products: textiles, animal feed, food, beverages, fuel, building materials, plastic alternatives, medical products, paper, cosmetics, wood stain, and varnish. Clothing has been made from hemp throughout history, though making textiles is a new concept. Hemp is more economical to cultivate when compared to other major modern fibre producing crops like cotton. Hemp’s water requirements are about half that of cotton, it can generate between 200 and 250% higher harvest on less water. Hemp also does not depend on pesticides as cotton does. Hemp could be an alternative crop to feed cattle with, reducing dependency on soy and other cattle feeding crops. Hemp seeds have a higher amount of omega-3 fatty acids and 25% more protein than walnuts. Its oil could double as a food and dietary supplement. Hemp can produce milk, as well as a variety of beverages. This is due to the relation between hops, commonly used in beer production, and hemp. It can be distilled into other types of alcoholic drinks as well. Hemp oil is a potential biofuel of the future, because of its current limited cultivation, it has not made it mainstream in the biofuel industry yet. Hemp is being more experimented with for alternative building materials, such as with hempcrete. Hemp has the potential for bioplastic production. Although hemp has a relatively low amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as compared to cannabis, it has a high level of non-psychoactive CBD, up to 20%, which can be used to make medicines. Hemp can be made into paper, and it is more quickly renewable as a crop than that of trees. Some beauty products are being made from hemp oil such as shampoos and lipsticks. Hemp could also be used as a cleaner ingredient in the production of wood stains and varnish. Hemp is a versatile and rapid growth crop that has potentially major economic opportunities. With hemp, the need for land-intensive crops can be substituted to the more environmentally sustainable crop of hemp.

9.8. Socio-environmental Sustainability

The VTF has potential to offset agricultural production to an area the fraction of the average farmland, it has the volume potential of 1.6 times the amount of space when the example model is compared to the average Brazilian farmland of 63ha. With the investments in alternative agriculture, the impacts on social wellbeing must be accounted for. The VTF’s objective is not to displace farmers from there land, and source of finance. Instead, the VTF needs to be implemented alongside a social wellbeing plan to include locals in the VTF opportunities. Additionally, the VTF solution is not just technological innovation, it can also be an organizational model focused on decreasing environmental destruction and increasing the opportunities for the community. Resources produced by the VTF can be given special priority by enabling local and regional sustainable processing. Community opportunities to material crafting such as artisan products from hemp fibres can be made available, with a project team identifying and coordinating opportunities for locals and regional peoples to benefit. Money raised by operations shall also be put towards educating and hiring locals to act as part of the reforestation efforts and the Amazons protection. The VTF is intended to be a net positive value generator, with a focus on the wellbeing of the environment and society considered just as equally valuable as its economic value creation.

10 Discussion of Part 1 & 2

With the availability of technology and innovative design, the cycle of short-sighted gains at the expense of long term consequences needs to be put into check. The government, corporations and the people must come together and invest in the long term wellbeing of society, the environment, and the economy. It is time to make a shift to put these aspects in balance. The tools, knowledge, and resources are available, and there is no more room for excuses not to act. All the data is showing that our unsustainable practices are going to lead us to ruin. We are an intelligent species on this planet, and it is time we take up our responsibility as such. The VTF concept represents just one of many solutions to the challenges we are facing as humanity. The next phase in the realization of this concept would be to gather a multidisciplinary team to take the concept into more depth and explore the challenges of implementation. The VTF represents a long term solution, something that could benefit generations to come.

11 Conclusion

Human activity can change and become responsibly managed. The imbalance in priorities neglecting environmental and social factors in favour of economic gain is detrimental to humanity, biodiversity, and climate systems on the planet. Decisions are being made every day that rob future generations of opportunities. The rainforest is a living jewel of this planet, but the inherent wealth of nature will be discarded by misalignments in the policy. It is time that agencies work together and not against each other with conflicting agendas. Deforestation is linked back to aggressive capitalism that preys on the poor and harms the vulnerable. The awareness of this reality needs to become common knowledge. The world needs leaders to stand up for the environment and the people. The world needs innovators to challenge the status quo with new possibilities. The situation is urgent, and the data is supportive. Now is the time to act. The Vertical tower farm is an innovative concept that challenges the traditional way of doing things and couples sustainability with technology. These types of ideas should be encouraged and sought after by governments, or the world will face the loss of what is most important. 

Robert Stewart Jr (April 2020)

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Photo Credits:
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13   Appendix A

Year

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

Sighted Wildfires: Amazon

49,398

53,549

36,671

49,905

127,015

131,048

Year

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

Sighted Wildfires: Amazon

170,073

180,841

111,301

155,323

72,940

47,175

Year

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

Sighted Wildfires: Amazon

112,938

37,427

60,363

39,525

57,549

70,173

Year

2016

2017

2018

2019

Average

Total

Sighted Wildfires: Amazon

66,959

79,593

52,973

70,334

83,321.5

1,833,073

# of Sightings

Color Code

Less than 40k

 

40k-79k

 

80k-119k

 

120k-159k

 

160k-200k

 

 

Table 1: Number of fires detected yearly in the Amazon from 1998-2019. Data from the Instituto Nacional De Pesquisas Espacaiais (2019).

Graph 1: Number of fires detected yearly in the Amazon from 1998-2019, with trendline in red. Data from the Instituto Nacional De Pesquisas Espacaiais (2019).

14 Appendix B

Figure 1: An example model of a vertical tower farm and its potential systems.

Figure 3: Examples of a simple Vertical Tower Farm design with renewable energy.