An assessment of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) in low- and lower-middle income countries in Asia and Africa, and its potential contribution to sustainable development

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Commission on Sustainable Agriculture Intensification (CoSAI)

Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) is the production of plants, fish, insects, or animals inside structures such as greenhouses, vertical farms, and growth chambers, in which environmental parameters such as humidity, light, temperature and CO2 can be controlled to create optimal growing conditions.

To date, the majority of high-tech CEA installations are concentrated in high-income, industrialized countries, and the term is often associated with fully automated vertical farms in purpose-built buildings or repurposed spaces, such as disused warehouses, underground bomb shelters, office walls and basements, and even barges. Some forms of CEA are, nonetheless, being successfully taken up by entrepreneurs and established farmers in low- and lower-middle income countries, including in Africa and Asia. While the CEA techniques used in these contexts may not be so technologically advances, they show promise for their contribution to sustainable agricultural intensification (SAI).

Present trends of agriculture intensification run counter to the Sustainable Development Agenda (UN, 2015). They seek to meet the food and nutrition needs of a rapidly growing and urbanizing global population by expanding areas under cultivation, and through increased use of chemical fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides that natural resources under tremendous pressure, cause biodiversity loss, degrade water catchments and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, a major driver of climate change (IPCC, 2019).

SAI, on the other hand, is based on methods that are productive, energy-efficient, less-resource intensive, and robust to the effects of natural hazards, pest and diseases. These methods, and the policies, institutions and financial instruments they require, must be geared towards addressing the poverty and inequality that are associated with intractable food insecurity and malnutrition, particularly in low- and lower-middle income countries.

For CEA to make a meaningful contribution to SAI in low- and lower-middle income countries, there is a need for investment in research, capacity development, enterprise initiation, scaling, and creation of enabling environments (through policies at national and sub-national levels). To attract investment and justify policy change, more information is needed on the potential contribution of CEA to sustainable development, and where, how, by whom, and for whom various technologies might be best deployed.

The purpose of this report is:

• to identify which CEA technologies merit investment, and under which conditions, to advance SAI in Africa and Asia;

• to make recommendations concerning investment in CEA technologies.

To do this, we conducted a study on the current practice and future potential of CEA in low- and lower- middle income country contexts, consisting of a literature review, document analysis, and in-depth interviews with 12 CEA practitioners in four countries: Kenya, Nigeria, India, and Sri Lanka.

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Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA)
low-income countries
sustainable development