Vertical Agriculture, a solution from above

Faces of Climate Change

November 9, 2022

This blog is the fourth in a series of blog and other communication materials that the UNDP Cabo Verde Accelerator Lab will produce on climate change and its impact on people's lives, especially people from the most vulnerable communities.

Author: Samory Araújo, Head of Solutions Mapping, UNDP Cabo Verde Accelerator Lab

Water scarcity: challenges/opportunities

Characterized by a situation of water scarcity, Cape Verde has in water the main limiting factor to the practice of agriculture. The problem of drought, desertification is particularly serious in the country, where the irregularity of rainfall associated with the island character and the characteristics of the relief, very pronounced on the islands with the greatest agricultural potential, are overwhelming challenges, which in the past implied the death by starvation of significant percentages of the population. The irregularity of precipitation, combined with the small size of the properties and the high slopes of the plots, produce high rates of erosion, which is the main threat to the agricultural sector.

For almost four years, Cape Verde has been experiencing a severe drought, which has been conditioning agricultural activity in almost the entire archipelago, with consequent reduction of agricultural production and household income, especially in rural areas, also contributing to the deterioration of food and nutritional security of families and to the reduction of water availability for public supply and irrigated agriculture. Drought reduced by 40% agricultural production in Cape Verde in four years. However, drought is currently a major challenge for the country but should not be considered a fatality. There are various ways and opportunities to combat the effects of drought by circumventing the hard workings of nature, especially regarding agriculture. Despite all the difficulties several solutions have been developed in Cape Verde with the aim of combating drought and accelerating the development and improvement of the agricultural sector.

A Vertical Solution

Agriculture entrepreneurs, and farmers has been looking for solutions that adapt to the climatic conditions of the country in other parts of the globe with a climate and challenges that resembles that of the archipelago; this search for new solutions to tackle the climate change and severe drought has made it possible to introduce grassroots innovation, new technologies and new experiences for the improvement of the sector.  Helder Silva, a Cape Verdean businessman, in his search for a solution found the so-called "Tower Garden"; "When I found this solution, I thought I found Cape Verdean gold," he says enthusiastically and with a certain glow in his eyes. "The Cape Verdean gold" he refers to is the "Tower Garden" implemented by him on his property in San Francisco, a subdivision of the city of Praia. As Helder Silva explained to AccLab on a visit, the Tower Garden solution brought from Arizona is an aeroponic system with a set of advantages and benefits ideal for Cape Verde's climate, with a lack of hydraulic resources.

Advantages and benefits

  1. Water saving – “when growing fruits and vegetables in a Tower Garden, we save up to 95% water compared to conventional agriculture.” This is the perfect agricultural technology for places like Cabo Verde, where water is scarce.

    On average, a commercial airport tower that grows 52 plants will use about 1 to 2 gallons per day, which is approximately 4 to 7 liters per day, depending on crops and conditions....
  2. A Tower Garden uses very little electricity - In a commercial Tower Garden, each tower is equipped with a low-voltage submersible pump that runs at 45 watts, intermittently working 3 minutes on and 12 minutes continuously off, which means 4.8 hours a day. Regardless of the price of electricity, the main advantage of a low electrical footprint is that we can create projects using green energy. To save up more on electric energy Helder Silva installed two solar energy panels which reduces the already low electricity costs.
  3. Space saving – “when we grow with our airport towers, we save up to 80% space compared to conventional hydroponic systems.” Space saving means less investment in the greenhouse and a much lower cost for exploration. Space saving also translates into a reduced energy footprint!

    On average, an airport tower occupies less than 1 m², however, but it´s better 2 m² per tower: this includes enough space for the towers, the dosing station, the spacing between corridors, and the area of propagation of seedlings. As an example, a “Tower Garden” with 100 towers should be installed in a space of 200 m² (approximately 2000 feet.), and in that space, you can harvest up to 5200 plants every three weeks... “This is totally mind-blowing”, he says!
  4. Regarding the density of nutrients, flavonoids, or antioxidants, Helder Silva explains: “our crop is between 15% and 45% above all that is grown in the soil through conventional farming methods, which makes our vegetables better and healthier! In addition, our agricultural production increases by an average of 30%!”
  5. “We almost never use pesticides” - Vegetables with an increased nutrient density and antioxidant levels also mean vegetables that have developed a stronger natural defense mechanism, which explains why they almost never have to spray pesticides.  However, as he explains: “very occasionally, when we need to spray pesticides, we use only organic formulas made mainly of Neem oil or pyrethrin oil…”
  6. Versatility - Tower properties can be mounted outdoors, in a greenhouse, indoors with LED lights, or even on a roof! They can be installed in places where the land is not fertile or polluted. Only Tower Farm technology, powered by Tower Garden, offers such options and leverage.
  7. No experience is required to start a Tower Farm - A commercial Tower Farm can be operated successfully by someone who does not have any experience in gardening or farming. That's one of the reasons Helder Silva, an entrepreneur with no prior experience in agriculture, embraced this new project. “The Tower Garden aeroponic system is the only technology that delivers professional results without the need for prior experience within the agricultural sector.”, he told us.

    Unlike conventional commercial hydroponics and aquaponics, when starting an aeroponic Tower Farm, no expert is required. It is the most intuitive and user-friendly farming method available for beginners in agriculture.