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Updated: Oct 16, 2021

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, humankind is facing a plethora of grave and pressing problems beyond the prospect of falling ill; the primary one being food shortages in urban areas. Food insecurity has always been a critical problem in modern cities, but the SARS-CoV-2 virus has worsened the situation, making governments around the world conscious about the necessity of establishing beneficial food security systems in place. The role of 'smart cities' is a pivotal one in this agenda of achieving food security.

A smart city refers to a 'city' that employs information and communication technology (ICT) to boost operational efficiency, share data with the public, and improve government service and citizen welfare. According to Oxford, the idea of a “smart city” is to give urban policymakers real-time information on a whole variety of indicators about their city (traffic, environment, services etc.) in order to improve decision making and optimize service delivery. The metrics to measure the smartness of a city are several and varied, with a specific focus on 'environmental initiatives'. Indore, considered to be the cleanest city of India, ranks high on environmental initiatives and is thus, deemed one of the most significant smart cities in the country. Therefore, in order to address the issue of food scarcity and maintain their 'smartness' metric, smart cities have already encroached on arable land, and 'Floating Farm' is one such solution being considered.

Peter Van Wingerden, a Dutch farmer, came up with the concept of Floating Farms in 2012 after seeing how Hurricane Sandy had crippled New York City’s food distribution system. The idea behind the world’s first offshore dairy was to make the city of Rotterdam produce more of its food sustainably.

The structure of the farm comprises three levels and was developed to follow circular design principles. The farm gets all of its electricity from floating solar panels and provision of all water is done through a rainwater collecting and purification system.

The cows, in the farm, are fed grass from city parks and golf courses, as well as waste goods such as potato peels, bran, and brewer's grains. Their manure is then used to create a natural fertilizer. When the herd reaches the target capacity of 40 cows, the farm is able to produce 800 liters of milk each day. Fortunately, one of every transportation truck in the world is food-related. For instance, 1500 trucks come every day to New York City just to bring in food from the Midwest. Transportation links needed to import food are increasingly vulnerable to being disrupted by extreme weather conditions caused by climate change. Therefore, the farms also aim to reuse and recycle as much as possible.

In modern cities, where lands are in short supply and some areas are sinking a few millimeters each year, floating farms solve the issue of bringing healthy food closer to the consumers. This new kind of urban farming is circular, self-sufficient, and sustainable – what Peter Van calls ‘transfarmation’.

However, there are a few concerns relating to these farms with 'Animal Cruelty' being the primary one. In terms of animal welfare, this model is certainly an improvement to factory farming, taking in consideration the elimination of mobility restraints of cows. Peter Van Wingerden, also, acknowledged that animal welfare was one of their foremost priorities while establishing the floating farm, and they wanted to create the most comfortable and solid stable for the cows.

Nonetheless, there is no getting around the fact that the dairy industry is, and will always be, inherently cruel. To produce, package, and sell dairy for human consumption, female cows must be pregnant-therefore, to ensure consistent supplies to meet the demand, they have to be artificially inseminated against their will. No matter how sleek and futuristic the farm is, no matter how the cows are fed, no matter if they can go outside and graze or not – there is no way to eliminate cruelty from the dairy industry.

Cities worldwide, including Shanghai and Singapore, are already interested in the concept. But is it feasible to replicate the concept in India? We don't suppose so.

India is a major milk-producing nation, and even the most metropolitan cities are self-sufficient in this case. Floating farms still seem to be a distant future in several cities. The potential for pollution remains a major concern; if there is any sort of accident or malfunction at the facility, it could pollute the waterways. Plus, grass-fed cows produce a ton of methane, which isn't environmentally sustainable. Therefore, instead of focusing on floating farms, cities across the world should focus on advancing the plant-based alternatives, and start investing in companies which focus on transitioning away from dairy. In order to survive, it is essential to understand that we can’t fight climate change and continue consuming meat, dairy, and eggs every day.

Taking in consideration all the stumbling blocks associated with the concept, do you still think 'Floating Farms' have the potential to erase all the problems related to livestock farming?

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