Vertical farming, commonly referred to as upward farming, is a type of agricultural practice whereby crops are produced in vertically stacked layers.
The farming system has gained popularity in Kenya due to limited space, lack of water and climate change.
According to Speke Farms, vertical farming has emerged as a promising solution to address the challenges of food security, sustainability, and urbanization in today’s world.
While it was first introduced as a way to save space while maximising production, over the years, it has emerged as the most cost-friendly type of farming.
Photo of vegetables grown in vertical farming system.
How vertical farming works
Unlike traditional horizontal planting, vertical farming uses vertically stacked layers that are integrated into buildings such as skyscrapers or housed in warehouses, shipping containers or greenhouses.
“The method helps mountainside towns, arid and semi-arid areas, and cities grow different types of fruits and vegetables by using skyscraper-like designs and precision agriculture methods,” Eden Green, an agriculture journal, explains.
Vertical farming is applicable in every part of the country because the practice can use soil, hydroponic or aeroponic growing methods.
Hydroponic and aeroponic are types of farming that do not require soil for crop production.
Hydroponic is a type of farming system where the plants are suspended in water, while in aeroponics, the plants are not watered but instead given nutrients through a mist that is sprayed on their roots.
Benefits of vertical farming
Vertical farming has four main benefits; efficient use of space, water conservation, high productivity and cost-friendly.
Because it does not adopt traditional horizontal tillage of arable land, vertical farming uses less space through the upward layering of crops.
This makes it possible to farm in urban areas as well as mountainous regions.
The productivity in vertical farming is also optimised because a farmer can have a year-round crop production.
Vertical farming further saves on cost due to water conservation, especially in the hydroponic and aeroponic systems. Further, there is maximum utilisation of fertiliser since the crops do not compete with other plants for nutrients.
Kenyans practising vertical farming find it simple to set up the structures needed for vertical farming.
“Little dirty work is needed. Most farmers can do this on their own and in their free time. Purchasing materials necessary for normal vertical farming is cheap and you can pay up to Ksh 500 for installation services,” PGK Kenya, an agricultural publication, details.
A photo of vegetables being grown using aeroponics agricultural system
How to set up a vertical farming structure
Most farmers in Kenya use multi-storey gardens, mainly used to grow vegetables, though some Kenyans grow other crops in them.
“Multi-storey gardens in Kenya are a vertical farming system popular with urban vegetable farmers. Growing vegetables in a multi-storey garden in Kenya is now a common practice in limited spaces in densely populated locations,” Grekkon Limited, an agricultural solutions company, explains.
Multi-storey gardens are prepared using layers, high-density polyethene (HDPE) pipes, soil and bolts.
6 layers made using polythene or recycled plastic are made vertically in a space where a person wants to practice vertical farming.
The circumference of the base layer is 6 metres, and each preceding layer is a metre less in circumference.
According to Grekkon, each layer is supposed to have a 20 centimetre in height.
“0.75 mm or 1mm thick HDPE dam liner should be used to hold the soil together and the dam liners are bolted or welded at the joint,” Grekkon advises.
Types of crops grown in the multi-storey gardens
A photo collage of Kales (left) and Strawberries being grown in a multistorey garden in Kenya
Most farmers use the multi-storey gardens to grow vegetables, which include kale, spinach, strawberry, coriander, carrot, garlic, leeks, black nightshade and amaranth.
Herbs and spices that can be grown in the vertical gardens include rosemary, lemon grass, citronella, and mint.
Kenyans have also embraced growing strawberry fruits in multistorey gardens.
According to Grekkon, the garden can be put out in the open, in the shade or enclosed in a greenhouse.