CONVERSATION ON THE TOPIC AT THE TABLE 6 | Science Session, CUMIPAZ 2017
It’s for Urban Farms. I would like to ask you a question about excitation with carbon dioxide, does it generate a phenological increase in the plant or does it simply phenology reject what you do not need and use what you need?
Let’s write down three questions… Any other plenary questions?
For Dr. David. If you use products in the fertilization process… it says that you do not use chemicals because of how the site is, but in the fertilization process, what type of fertilizer do you use? And is that fertilization passed through any natural methodology.
[No audio]... and what percentage of the total cost of production is represented by lighting?
Excuse me. If you can say your name and organization before asking the question…
My name is Josué Aguirre and it is called Educational Corporation from the Peasant Worldview, Research Center.
I’m Jaime Collado, vice president of ICID Mexico.
Good afternoon. Venancio Polanco. EXTRA, independent producers of hacienda “Prosperidad”, it’s the family business that we have.
Also for Mr. David Proenza. More than anything, the first steps that a producer must take is to make that change in the controlled environment production. You spoke about the Research and Development and Innovation Center that you are developing, I would like to know what other investigations are necessary apart from what LED lights, the CO2 inserts that they are trying to do? And finally, it is related to what the doctor said, the energy cost in a controlled environment system, can these be innovated with the use of solar technology to reduce those costs. Thank you.
Many questions for you, David.
(...) I’m going to take this opportunity to also ask a question. The general cost. And what experience do you have with family farming, because these are real companies, so how is the technical assistance or what are the possibilities of investment?, because how much does one need to start such a company?
The first was the use of CO2 by plants. It depends on which country or which region. For example, here in Panama, if you go to the city we have measured that the CO2 here in the city ranges from 400 to 600 depending on the day, there are many factors. In the countryside, where we have the vertical farm, CO2 is around 300, 350 ppm. So, we, through our analysis, have seen that by giving more CO2 to plants what it does is accelerate photosynthesis, which makes its growth faster.
An example, in the case of lettuce, a lettuce in the traditional field, usually 300 ppm plus sunlight… other factors, it takes around 60, 70, up to 80 days, depending on the variety of the lettuce, between seed and harvest. In the vertical farm we give it 1000 ppm of CO2, we give it a little more light through LED lights, and we are harvesting, from seed to harvest, that same plant, that same lettuce, in 30 days; the only thing we are doing is accelerating its growth. And then, compared to traditional fields, depending on the season, rain and other factors can give you up to three cycles a year, we are giving twelve cycles a year, then that increases the amount of plants per year and also the profitability per the sales.
The other was the nutrition used. We are using certified nutrition to biological, the seed is certified organic, organic; So what we are doing is from the beginning organic certified seed to nutrition and everything, it is precisely so that we do not have to use chemicals that are harmful to our health.
If I did not go into detail for the question, I am available later and I will gladly go more into that subject, so we can make it quick and answer all the questions.
Something on the cost of lighting or the percentage. The highest cost we have nowadays is the energy cost. I don’t have the actual percentage, but between labor and energy, they are more or less the same. And also answering part of the question made by the gentleman, renewable energy is being used, with solar panels, to reduce the cost; we are also doing analysis for a biodigestible; also, other forms of renewable energy, precisely to lower that. We want to get to the point that we do not use no energy based on carbon; it is the topic at the center of investigation we are developing nowadays; and each year, renewable energy is getting better, the costs are getting lower, efficiency is increasing; then, we will reach a point, very soon, where it will be one hundred percent green, in the case of the energy.
Then, I go through the production… oh yes, cost. Compared… let’s take the example of lettuce and each product is a little different, but for example in the lettuce the cost of production in vertical farms, only taking the costs of production, it is 25% to 26% less than the traditional; so we are saving on the production. Since we use technology and this technology is new, and since we all know that new technology is always high, the investment is higher, but the cost of production and the rentability is much more than the traditional one.
To give you an example (because technology is reducing), when we first began to do this experiment (and to answer part of the question of the gentleman), we, although we have been producers for more than 30 years and we have an agro-exporting business, I did now want to make a big investment; so, we bought six LED lights, only six, we took three-inch-long PVC pipes, we made the holes and placed them in a room where there was air conditioning, a very small room, and there we began the experiment.
And how did we begin? Although we are a business that can make an investment much more high in a new technology, we did not want to, we did not know if it was going to work or not, to tell you the truth. And those LED light pipes, at that time, the cost was much more than 180 dollars each. I quickly said: “This is not going to work”; but what intrigued us was the technology and the form – what could be done. Nowadays you can find these same LED lights for 60 dollars, even less, depending on the volume. Technology is dropping more than 50%, more than 100% in everything is dropping. Then, there will soon come a time, in a couple of years, where it will be much more economic, or the capital investment will not be as much as it is now; but with all that, it is a very profitable business.
Well, I spoke about the cost and production, it is 25% less. We have also analyzed - because we are also working with schools who have also asked us to place these systems in order to teach future agronomists or students how to produce food; then, we have analyzed how we can take that, so it is not advanced technology, but rather utilizing many of the benefits but lowering the cost, so it may be accessible for the lower income producers.
That is also a subject of ours, it is Dr. Stutte’s (from NASA) subject, because we not only want it to be for the private business, we want everyone to benefit from this. So, there is a component… and we are also working with local universities in Panama, the two universities we are working with so that it becomes a reality. The Foundation is working very close with them for that reality.
Then, what we want is that this can also be given to families, homes, wherever, but at a low cost, but the same benefit; and yes, it can be done; and we are confident that this subject will be fixed in a short amount of time.
Well, solar panels… I spoke about lowering the costs and other mechanisms. And to begin with the business, I tell you all to do like… I mean, if you want to spend millions of dollars, you can also do that, but I suggest to start small, because… just like we did. We have any amount of agronomy engineers, who know how to produce any amount of product ranges; but one thing is to be in an open field and another is using technology.
We had to learn hydroponics, vertical hydroponics, the effect of LED lights, the CO2 (as we spoke); in itself, many factors; that’s why we started small and now we are about to develop a very big one, we already have another in development; and for our purposes, as a private company, compared to the traditional, we are convinced that this will be the future and will help not only the environment but the workers; because did you see our workers there? They are as if they are in a laboratory: air conditioning, 71.6 degrees fahrenheit, they working healthy, they are earning three times what they were earning in the field, they are doing a function already much more… and he is not an engineering graduate, he only graduation from high school, but he has the desire and he is learning how to use the systems, which are not difficult; but, as everything, he has to begin and he has to develop his talents; so this is also a great benefit for the worker.
If there is another question, I will gladly answer it later; if I didn’t answer it… I will gladly speak to you later.
Thank you very much, very interesting. I also had many questions for you, David, although you already answered some of them.
I will begin with Magda: You spoke of ancestral food, the importance of packaging, my question is: How do you directly benefit the rural indigenous communities from where you are gathering* these foods? And what can you tell us about the packaging, which I find very interesting: How do these get to the rural producers? Is the packaging done in the community or at the countryside, or is it transferred? Very well, like you said: in order to decrease the loss of food after, the transportation is where it spends most of the time, so is it done before, in other words, in the field, that packaging? That is the first one.
For Vera, I would like to see, what is the FAO’s approach in that of vertical vegetables, that a quite innovative solution is made to us; is it already being promoted there?
For you, David, well, 1) number of jobs that are created; I liked it you already solved it, you told us that not all are necessarily engineers, I also liked that agro-industrial engineers are being trained... well, the capacity of the creation of jobs, which is an important issue.
And the next one, here at the table you also heard topics... for example, we spoke of packaging: how much do you see the possibility of also integrating the issue of biodegradable packaging?
The next one, it was spoken of biodiversity, so where do your seed come from and how do see, encourage, for example: more traditional crops; for example, potato, of which we spoke of or things like that.
Just so you know I was surprised to see that the study I believe a 60 (you will correct me) 70% of the worldwide products come from about seven plants; amongst them, corn, wheat, soy, and rice, as it is so innovative it also makes you put aside the importance of both natural and food diversity.
And last one, for you Oscar, after listening to all these different visions, also options, how do see it and how would you see from - include there more of the indigenous’ perspective or at the same time the benefits that could lead to... *. If you wish we can begin.
Dra. Magda Pinzón
Very well. Thank you very much for the questions. So the first one was if the prime material, how did communities benefit from them.
*We are looking... in the yellow cassava we use from where I mentioned, a community called Cajamarca, Colombia (because there is also Cajamarca in Peru and they also grow yellow cassava, they are very good producers of yellow cassava). So Cajamarca, Colombia, there, as I was saying, is the first worldwide producer of yellow cassava, all the variability is there; and CORPOICA is Agricultural Research Institute in Colombia, so they have to be asked for permission so then we are given the materials to work on; then what do we want afterwards? It is still at laboratory level but what we want is to give to the community and after make some courses with the community.
In fact, it has been done in Cundinamarca, in Boyaca as well (I am speaking about my country), it has been done, all the knowledge will be given to the community, and it will be accompanied, so the community learns, realizes the benefits and then will be on its own, later will realize that if it applies these techniques -which are quite simple- also helped by the local authorities (there must be a local accompaniment either way); then that will come to good terms because they will be able to get their products; not as they are taken from the earth, but with an added value; other than that, with less loss between harvest and post-harvest.
A first encounter with a community was made already, in terms of awareness of decreasing losses in post-harvest; there we go. Let us say we already have a pilot community. We want to do that and look into another community in Cundinamarca... we will search for another community, because it is very important, and then teach them to make the biopackages. Then in addition to them cultivating their own products, they will protect them and use biodegradable and ancestral raw material.
About the seed. The seed comes from the United States, certified organic, the National Seed Commission is here in Panama, which has to go through them in order to be authorized to enter the country, it is a process we have to do every time we bring seeds or any other product of that kind.
So, about the employees and quantity, we are about to build another vertical farm where jobs will be given... it will be of 1500 meters approximately, 1800, then there will be about 28 to 30 employees in that vertical farm. That is another topic, because as it has been spoken about it is known that the majority of the people will leave in the cities, so one of the concepts the vertical farm has is to produce to where more people are and not transport it like it is done now, many of the countryside people are looking for a better life, to have the opportunity of working at a food production company where they will get paid a lot more of what they can earn at the field.
As soon as Magda came in towards the table I told her that we have to talk about the biodegradable packages because I am interested in that topic. Us as a company are doing everything that is possible, of the entire vertical farm environment, so it does no damage to the soil, environment, or the human being. Then, since we recycle everything, water, wen use 80/85% less water, in all everything, nothing is lost; but we do have the energy issue, which is why we are working in the renewable energy, and now the packaging as well; that is important to us, in order to end that issue. Thank you very much.
Us as FAO always worry about the food security of families, of combining all this as well with a nutrition issue, of nutritional education; and we have been working - for many years now- in urban agriculture and peri-urban issues using the simplified hydroponic... logically not with machines.
I remember in the tall, Bolivia, La Paz, that we had simplified hydroponic, where simply once daily the water had to be revolved so nutrients can reach the roots of plants; then for that as well was my question, because many people do not have the possibilities of buying or installing a sophisticated system, but there are simple alternatives; we also work a lot in training people in various countries: Haiti, Colombia, Bolivia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, in agriculture, we also work with Cuba a lot in the urban agriculture and peri-urban.
Logically there are components that are important as an organization, as the marketing issue, as the technical assistance issue; logically it is a more complete package of what we are looking at. And there are topics also adapted to situations; for example, in Peru we work with simplified hydroponic, for example, to produce food for the guinea pigs, who eat them, then have no food; then they were some trays with grass, with which animals could be fed in order to improve the production. Then it is a matter of adapting to situations of the population with which we are working and do it in a way to produce food but adapted to the conditions and knowledge, and possibilities of the people.
For example, the issue on nutrients; nutrients when we work with organopony we make compost and make different organic fertilizers, liquids or solids; but when speak of hydropony -same familiar- nutrients have to be bought and mixed; then many times it is complicated because those are very small doses thus we need specific scales; then that is a lot more complicated, unless they are organized into a community and let it be done to a level... I do not know, more like cooperatives or something like that; then in that sense it was also worked, but to another level.
Taita Oscar Bastidas
One gets crazy listening to all that. I think one learns from these spaces. I think the indigenous issue is not binding -having respect for the academy. I think we must worry about, first, keeping the food ancestry; second, that it may remain in time; and the reality of our safeguards are different from the necessities of big cities; I am not saying that because it does not happen in cities. If cities can be fed, where there is no longer a place to grow, where to look, then it would have to be looked upon and implement it in a sustainable way. I believe Japan does it that way with terraces.
I believe that for the indigenous issue we must begin to strengthen what is ours; because it would work for those that have big monocultures; it is to them we must raise awareness, they have to be taught that the soil must rest; on those aspects it would work; because all the technology has its trap and on many occasions it would be feasible.
But we would propose that if FAO can help implement all the restoration or strengthening of their own seeds issue; because us the indigenous peoples do not grow more than what we need. I do think the community in general has to be taught the we need to have a good use of land. We used to say there is a motto: “sow to not buy”, and if what we have can be exchanged, make it sustainable; because it is true, how many countrymen do not sow their corn but he first city -the Choco case, the Amazonas’ case-, the issue of transportation being more expensive on how to move 6/7 hours by boat or 6/7 hours horse riding; then I think that it is important to reinforce the commercialization points or issues.
Either way, I am impressed; I do believe the big cities must learn to reduce, reuse, and that way create awareness; because technology can give us many solutions, but it will be short if in reality there is no change awareness issue, integrity awareness; and it is true, me listening to everyone, how much food is not lost at the market!, how much is not lost from since the time of harvest to when it reaches the city! And I think the answer is in the awareness, the self-awareness, and the environmental awareness. Thank you.
Thank you very much. She said it all and closed the table with a finishing touch.
I thank you all once more, all the panelists and all of you for accompanying us. The coffee break is ready and there is a plenary session at 5:15pm, in 10 minutes. Again thank you very much.