- freely available
Sustainability 2017, 9(1), 140; https://doi.org/10.3390/su9010140
1.1. State of Land, Water and Agriculture in Mexico
1.2. Protected Agriculture in Mexico
1.3. The Development of Hydroponic Culture in Mexico
1.4. From Hydroponics to Low Height Vertical Farming
1.5. Impact of Vertical Farming in the Ecological Footprint
- Fertilizer use leading to agriculture runoff causing eutrophication of lakes and reservoirs and ocean acidification;
- Global water use; globally, 80% of freshwater is used in agriculture;
- Food transport leading to significant food waste and greenhouse gas emissions; and
- The growing demand for food; by 2050, the global population is expected to be 10 billion people, 80% of whom will live in urban areas, thus increasing demand for food in cities.
Conflicts of Interest
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|Type of Facility||Number of Units||Percentage (%)||Surface (ha)||Percentage (%)|
|State||2008||2011 to 2014|
|Surface (ha)||Percentage (%)||Surface (ha)||Percentage (%)|
|Estado de México||100.00||1.12||1517.39||6.46|
|State||Number of Units||Surface (ha)||Number of Units/Covered Surface (ha)|
|Baja California Sur||364||803.2||0.45|
|San Luis Potosí||1129||901.41||1.25|
|Estado de México||5564||1517.39||3.67|
|Current Situation in Mexico||Potential Benefits of Vertical Farming Referred to in the Literature|
|The rate of deforestation of forests and rain forest in Mexico from 2005 to 2010 was 155,000 ha per year [58,59].||Decrease in land use changes driven by traditional soil cultivation systems, allowing restoration of the damaged forests and rainforest ecosystems [42,43].|
|There are 2583 species in Mexico classified at risk .||Reducing the risk to endangered species in several damaged ecosystems by reducing deforestation and better land use .|
|In Mexico, as in many other countries, 77% of the available water is used for agriculture; water availability in most of the central and northern regions of the country is already scarce [20,62]. Moreover, 115 aquifers are classified as overexploited in the country (19.3% of the total), and most of the rivers have been fragmented due to the construction of embankments or dams for agriculture .||Important reduction of water use for agriculture, allowing for the recovery of aquifers and the flows in streams in rivers necessary for ecological goods and services [42,44,63]. Potential reuse of treated waste water in hydroponic culture production .|
|More than 70% of the water bodies have some degree of contamination. Lakes, rivers, mangroves and coasts are polluted, affecting humans, animals and plants that inhabit these ecosystems .||Substantial reduction in the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides with a resultant decrease in air, soil and water pollution [7,42,43,44,45,46,47,48].|
|There are 4462 dams, 667 of which are classified as large dams. These cause habitat fragmentation, reduction of environmental flows in rivers and other environmental-related issues .||Reversal in the trend in the construction of small and large dams to store water for irrigation, thus permitting the restoration of natural ecological flows of rivers and the recovery of disturbed ecosystems.|
|The total GHG emissions reported in 2013 were 742.2 MtCO2e, where agriculture contributed 89.1 MtCO2e. This amount represents about 12% of the total GHG emission of the country and about 0.74% of the total GHG emissions due to global agriculture .||Reduction in the national carbon footprint, because of substantial savings in energy from reductions in the use of agricultural machinery, as well as vehicles for transporting farm products to cities, and reduced transport in the supply chain to supermarkets and consumers [42,44,45,46,47,48].|
|Agricultural productivity has only increased by about 1.1% in Mexico in recent years [24,25].||Substantial increase in the agriculture productivity throughout the year, as the photoperiod can be extended with the use of LEDs for lighting; energy can be ensured with solar cells or other low ecological impact forms of energy production, such as low impact small hydropower plants where water flow is available [66,67].|
|The transformation of agriculture in Mexico City from a conventional rural form to a new urbanized model, as a reaction to urban development and the availability of waste products from the city, as well as a response to the demands of recreation and tourism. From this has emerged a new concept of the rural producer or urban farmer who now has access to an urban infrastructure, to education and research .||Potential improvement of the quality of life and in the environment in the most populated metropolitan areas of the country, such as the Valley of Mexico (20.1 million inhabitants), Guadalajara (4.4 million inhabitants) and Monterrey (4.1 million inhabitants), and eight more cities having more than one million inhabitants .|
Access of the urban consumers to fresh, safe and locally-produced products .
|Mexican cities have the lowest rates of emigration; the rural places that are spatially proximate to cities have the highest emigration rates. These findings suggest that while urban development retains emigrants within city borders, it may generate emigration out of neighbouring rural places [69,70].||Creation of new permanent jobs in low height vertical farm mainly in urban areas and in areas near the cities.|
Creation of a national culture of food production and settlement of rural families near the cities based on the application of sustainable-based technologies.
Introduction of this technologies in small and medium-sized cities could avoid emigration of the population by creating jobs and profitable export activities.
|Disadvantages||Advantages in the Mexican Context|
|Cost of production:|
|A skyscraper-sized vertical farm would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build and equip for agricultural needs.||The hydroponic agriculture is in fact a growth business in Mexico and can be even more profitable in a medium scale of production by using vertical farming, given the opportunities of the USA market [9,16,27,28,29]. Thus, in the country, it is not necessarily required to build costly skyscrapers to have a profitable business. Improvements in the design of the existing high-tech and medium high-tech facilities could increase the productivity even more (see Figure 4).|
|Cost of maintenance:|
|The cost to run thousands of LED lights, keep the growing temperature suitable for the crop and supply water to plants will outweigh the cost to run a traditional farm unless operators can find a way to make the energy renewable and self-sustaining.||It is possible to design greenhouses being only some meters high to generate a vertical farming concept without introducing artificial light or complex control systems. In fact, Mexico is growing faster in the field of protected agriculture due to favourable climate conditions .|
Additionally, Mexico is one of the countries with major opportunities to use solar energy to supply the energy needs of the population . Therefore, photovoltaic energy is one of the growth sectors, mainly in the central and northern regions of the country. Therefore, several Mexican companies now produce LEDs for several applications by using their own technology.
|Cost of urban land:|
|Vertical farming must be profitable to investors, but the cost of land in urban areas is usually higher than farmland, so profit margins could be smaller.||In Mexico, urban and peri-urban agriculture can be a profitable business and can be further improved using technologically-advanced facilities similar to ones in developing countries [68,72].|
|Limited variety of products:|
|Vertical farming technology is not yet capable of producing different varieties of fruits and vegetables. Today, there are only a few varieties of fruits and vegetables that can be produced in a controlled environment generating attractive profits for investors.||Greenhouse crop production and hydroponic production systems located in Mexico produce a variety of vegetables and flowers. Today, there are more than 15,000 ha in production using intensive agriculture technologies in the country, and most of these producers have export activities .|
|Intensive hand work:|
|Pollination is something that needs serious consideration because insects are crucial in the process of the production of seeds and fruits. Therefore, given that the technology is an insect-free environment, pollination has to be done by hand, which is labour intensive and could affect production costs and diminish profits.||Mexico has a developing economy and still needs to create jobs for that part of the population having a low level of education. Vertical farming could create many job opportunities for families living in peri-urban areas where the emigration rates are high .|
|Vertical farming does not take into account the fact that much of the vegetation produced there will still need to be processed. Fruits like tomatoes will need to be transported to another facility to be processed into products, such as ketchup, sauce and juice. If the cost of production is already high, sending the crops to another facility for processing will drive it up even more.||Since the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) boost an important part of the GDP and employment in Mexico , production in vertical farming units located close to cities has the potential to create small food processing facilities next to the farms. The actual strategy based on low and medium-tech protected agriculture has been resulting in Mexico in the last few years in an increase in the value of production, developing local and foreign markets and creating jobs [9,16,27,28,29].|
|Dependence on technology:|
|Loss of power to the facility for even a day could be catastrophic to production. The plants are reliant on the perfect temperature, air quality and lights that the artificial environment supplies; if these failed, those crops could die.||Mexico has a new energy reform that encourages the investment in renewable electricity production . On the other hand, the excellent geographic location of the country permits the use of natural solar energy instead of using electricity for lighting and heating vertical farming projects in winter.|
|Sophisticated control systems required:|
|Vertical farms must also take into account the costs of controlling LED lighting, environment control systems, flow control and water circulation and temperature controls.||The fast growth of protected agriculture in Mexico indicates that farmers in Mexico have access to training and technical assistance and that they are able to solve the technical problems involved in this production system.|
|High dependence on technology:|
|Cell phones, laptops and tablets will control these farms. This technology depends on dependable, functioning networks. If the technology needed to run these structures were to fail, the farm would be at stake.||There is expertise in Mexico to develop structures based on information technologies (IT), Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile apps. Only some protected agriculture facilities based on advanced technology would require the control systems based on this kind of sophisticated remote control system. In most of the existing facilities, the production uses locally-controlled systems.|
|The workers in a vertical farm facility have to be highly trained in best management practices to deal with the production of food in an isolated and controlled environment.||In the country, there are technological development centres oriented to build capabilities in management of hydroponic or aeroponic cultures by using some meters high vertical farming technologies as already proven and validated in R&D centres in Mexico .|
|Putting traditional farmers out of work:|
|Due to the use of technology for plant needs, vertical farms need far fewer employees than traditional farms need. Their efficiency and location within the city, where the customers live, would put many traditional farmers out of work.||The policy of the Ministry of Agriculture (SAGARPA) is to foster projects in Mexico of low to medium levels of technology that would employ 8 persons per hectare . Additionally, this technology could create new indirect jobs for services required by the greenhouse vertical-farm producers.|
|Currently not an all-encompassing system:|
|Not all crops are suitable for indoor cultivation, such as grains and livestock.||Undoubtedly, the production of wheat, maize and sorghum in Mexico will have to be carried out in accordance with conventional farming methods currently used in the country. However, low height vertical farming technology opens the possibility that a variety of vegetables and other hydroponic or aeroponic crops may migrate to this technology.|
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