Feed the Future of Agriculture with Vertical Farming

By Mark Esposito, Terence Tse, Khaled Soufani and Lisa Xiong

One big misconception is that produce grown from nontraditional methods is of lesser quality, and it’s time to put it to rest. In this article, the authors elaborate on the much needed innovative future of agriculture and how it plays as a “new tech” that revolutionises farming.


Restaurants, food trucks, take-out counters, and the like: classic destinations you go to meet friends or just to ensure you get enough calories for the day. Despite the importance of this quotidian activity, food prices are rising at an alarming pace. This has been the recent trend whether you are in Dubai, New York, London, Paris, or Shanghai. Cambridge, UK, is no exception. Mat, a local restaurant owner, revealed: “We are always trying to get the best quality food with appealing prices, but the price just keeps on hiking up.” There is, of course, cheaper meat and produce, but the quality is lower as a result. These lower quality food sources are often laden with heavy pesticides and chemicals for ease of storage and transport. For the consumer, restaurateur, and food retailer, there is no clear picture of how and when food costs might begin to stabilise.

Mat’s situation can be seen as a miniature narrative of the global issue at hand: food pricing pressure triggered by a wearing down of traditional agriculture. On average, food prices have gone up by 2.6% annually in the past two decades on a global scale.1 In the UK, grocery prices have risen 0.2% annually since 2014. In America, the same situation occurs. In 2011 alone, US food prices increased by 5%.2 In the east, China experienced 2.7% food inflation in 2016.3 These ongoing rises in food costs persist around the world and threaten a baseline quality of life as more and more of our disposable income goes into buying food.


Trends Analysis: Why is Traditional Farming Frustrating Us?

Traditional farming refers to field farming, which requires labour, amenable weather conditions, adequate sunshine for photosynthesis, irrigation, and pesticides and herbicides to protect crops. These crops then require travelling long distances from farmlands in other continents to get to local tables.

These activities in and of themselves do not reveal the reasons why food prices have been rising steadily, but using the DRIVE framework to investigate the megatrends influencing agriculture,4 we can detect reasons why traditional farming is no longer working as well as it used to.


According to the FAO, food production must increase by 70% before the year 2050 in order to meet global food needs.

• Demographic and Social Changes

When compared to the rise in global population, it becomes clear that the global food supply cannot keep up with demand. According to the FAO,5 food production must increase by 70% before the year 2050 in order to meet global food needs. What’s more, this growth must happen against a headwind – urbanisation trends are pushing people away from farming as a profession while taking over arable land at the same time.6

Meanwhile, cultural changes related to diet preferences among younger generations have taken a leap. More people are converting to vegetarianism and “superfoods”; foods like antioxidant-rich kale and protein-packed quinoa are favoured over conventional empty-calorie, carb-heavy foods like potatoes and processed dry pastas. In addition, local food initiatives have become more than a passing phenomenon. Demand for meat and produce from local farms continues to rise in response to environmental concerns and the conviction that fresh, not frozen, is the higher quality, better-tasting food.

Resource Scarcity
Agriculture takes up more than 70% of global water consumption. This tension over water usage adds to the total cost of agriculture. Food loss in the supply chain is another issue as perishable crops blemish and spoil during harvesting, packaging, processing, and distribution. According a report on food from field to fork, some activities could waste up to 50%.7 Moreover, the distance that some foods must travel shortens the number of days on the market, again cutting down on the amount of food available to consumers.

In addition to longstanding problems with malnutrition and widespread poverty in developing countries, inequalities related to food prices have also arisen in industrialised countries. In places like the US, the cost of fresh foods have led vulnerable populations to opt instead for budget-priced, high-fat processed fast food. The consequence of these food “choices” is a nationwide obesity epidemic as well as an increase in the number of people developing diabetes. As demand for food and the costs of agriculture continue to rise, the prospects of improving these health and hunger conditions for low-income families will not be great.

Agriculture is no stranger to volatility, which remains one of the industries most vulnerable to natural disasters. Climate change has caused more frequent extreme weather events in recent decades, which damages an entire season’s worth of harvest and worsens the rise in food prices. Higher temperatures also make crop pests more rampant. In addition, mutable government rules on crops can also drive up food prices. In the US, current ethanol mandates account for 10-15% of food price hikes. On top of that, regulations on herbicide, pesticide and fertiliser use are also positively related to lower crop yields.8 These forces, which determine the direction of price volatility, are here to stay.

Given these observations and changes seen through the lens of the DRIVE framework,9 the likelihood that traditional farming can continue to be a reliable and affordable source of food production is not that likely at all.

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Dr. Mark Esposito, PhD., is a Socio-Economic Strategist and bestselling author, researching MegaTrends, Business Model Innovations and Competitiveness. He works at the interface between Business, Technology and Government and co-founded Nexus FrontierTech, an Artificial Intelligence Studio. He holds appointments as Professor of Business and Economics at Hult International Business School and Grenoble Ecole de Management and he is equally a faculty member at Harvard University since 2011. Mark is an affiliated faculty of the Microeconomics of Competitiveness (MoC) network at Harvard Business School’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness and is currently co-leader of the network’s Institutes Council.

Dr. Terence Tse is an Associate Professor at ESCP Europe London campus and a Research Fellow at the Judge Business School in the UK. He is also head of Competitiveness Studies at i7 Institute for Innovation and Competitiveness. Terence has also worked as a consultant for Ernst & Young, and served as an independent consultant to a number of companies. Hee has published extensively on various topic of interests in academic publications and newspapers around the world. He has been interviewed by television channels including CCTV, Channel 2 of Greece, France 24, and NHK.

Dr. Khaled Soufani is Professor of Management Practice (Economics) and Director of the Executive MBA in the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge, where he also directs the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and the Circular Economy Center. He has published extensively in the area of financial management and economic affairs of small and medium- sized enterprises. His current research interests relate to fast-expanding markets and the economics of innovation.

Lisa Xiong is a candidate to the Executive Doctorate of Business Administration at Ecole des Ponts Business School. She works as Teaching Associate for business schools in Europe, UAE and China. Her research interests cover inequalities, Chinese economic development, entrepreneurship and open innovation. Lisa is a linguist and social science investigator. Her ability to navigate both the east and west cultures allowed her to serve different communities, enterprises and clients in different parts of the world.


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The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The Political Anthropologist.