question: what strategies can small farmers use to better compete in a challenging market environment?

Small farmers are an integral part of society. They produce food, provide rural employment, and contribute to diversity in both ownership and societal structure. However, they are also faced with a number of struggles, particularly when it comes to market entry and competition with large-scale agribusiness. In order to address these issues and maintain profitability, small farmers must be innovative and adaptive. This implies the use of new marketing strategies to protect their existing market share, and, if possible, expand it. There are three main types of new marketing strategies. They are as follows:

  • Differentiation: providing a product that is clearly different from that which is offered by conventional producers. Conventional production can offer mass quantities of goods at a low price, but this is often at the expense of other desirable qualities or services.  This presents small farmers with an opportunity to fill identified market gaps. Differentiation can take the form of, for example, offering heirloom varieties or personalized service.
  • Specialization: choosing a specific product or group of products and fine-tuning the production process to reduce costs. When specializing, it is essential not to fall into a low-value monoculture trap, as it will not prove economically or environmentally sustainable. Instead, specialization should focus on high-value products, e.g. berries which can be sold fresh, as jams or other processed products, and wine. Specialization may also take the form of vertical integration or functional upgrading. Vertical integration refers to the process of internalizing multiple steps of the production and distribution process. Functional upgrading refers to the introduction of a new, higher value product.
  • Diversification: integrating different activities, processes, or methods to add value, e.g. growing several types of crops including some perennials and raising some dairy producing ruminants. In doing so, farmers are able to mitigate some risk in that the likelihood of total crop loss in the event of an inclement weather or pest event is reduced. Likewise, it can support biological diversity and support a more stable farm ecosystem. From a different perspective, diversification can take the form of services provided, e.g. partnering with local schools to provide educational opportunities or senior citizen centers to provide elderly care in exchange for low-impact assistance.


Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. (2017) Farm Direct Marketing for Rural Producers. Retrieved from$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex3482?opendocument
Fromm, I. (2007). Upgrading in Agricultural Value Chains: The Case of Small Producers in Honduras. GIGA Research Programme: Transformation in the Process of Globalisation. Retrieved from
Mitchell, J., Coles, C., and Keane, J. (2009). Upgrading Along Value Chains: Strategies for Poverty Reduction in Latin America. Retrieved from
Rethink. (n.d.) Resilient Food Systems and Market Differentiation. Retrieved from…/RETHINK_CS-leaflet_LT.pdf
Rosset, P. R. (1999). The Multiple Benefits and Functions of Small Farms. Food First The Institute for Food and Development Policy.



vertical farming: when high-tech meets food production

In 2008, Dickson Despommier published the book ‘The Vertical Farm’. His vision of growing up rather than outwards intrigued the world and ignited the imaginations of innovators who would build on his ingenuity to create sustainable, agricultural production systems even in the most land poor locations. Since the release of his book, his creativity has become a source of inspiration for those who believe in his dream for the future in which cities are no longer resource-hungry, environmental destroyers, but self-sufficient landscapes capable of producing enough food for each citizen. The non-profit organization the Association for Vertical Farming (AVF) has also since come together to help support this effort and help transform Despommier’s dream for the future from fantasy to reality.

While there are many varying concepts related to the realization of the vertical farm concept, a basic conceptual framework is nonetheless present: Vertical farms are isolated ecosystems that engage in a practice referred to as Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) that is arguably ideal for edible food production, particularly leafy greens. These systems, which can exist in a variety of locations ranging from old warehouses to newly designed multi-use urban farms, can grow food 24/7/365 regardless of the outside climate conditions. They are efficient in that production per square meter is increased and the outputs are highly nutritious due to the controlled nature of the growing environment. Production in such an environment requires also fewer chemical inputs, allows for water and nutrient cycling and recycling and eliminates the need for pesticides. Likewise, the issue of agricultural runoff is removed and arable land is not required for production. Explained more concisely, vertical farms are plant factories, which apply many of the concepts of traditional, technology-based manufacturing to food production.

Vertical farming is of interest to many different industries due to its novel nature, which provides an opportunity for innovation and new products for manufacturing. Technology companies are particularly keen on this technology because of the inherently high-tech nature of this strategy for food production. In Japan, the global epicenter of vertical farming, there are already 370 vertical farms (as of 2014) and the demand currently heavily outweighs the supply despite products costing more than double their conventional counterparts, albeit this is arguably a result of Fukushima which has engendered a great deal of fear related to food safety. Success has been so great that major technology companies, such as SONY and SHARP, have invested in vertical farms and begun adapting inactive infrastructure to suit growing consumer demand. Other successful endeavors can be seen in the Netherlands with the Plantlab, in Sweden with Plantagon, and in the United States with Farmed Here and Green Spirit Farms.

However, despite some demonstrated successes, there are still questions as to the economic feasibility of vertical farming operations – especially due to the high technology and energy demands. However, it can be contended that as this practice expands and renewable energy becomes more readily available, the costs of the technological components will decrease as is the case with most technological advancements, indicating that vertical farming will likely be a permanent component of the urban agriculture family.


Loesel, M. (2014). Vertical Farming: From Concept to Reality. Urban Agriculture Magazine, 28. p. 62-64.

geoengineering explained: the benefits and challenges of ocean alkalinity enhancement

Ocean alkalinity enhancement is increasements in the ocean’s alkalinity via the exposure of large quantities of reactive minerals to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The resulting compounds are then stored in the ocean or soil. This form of geoengineering is known as carbon dioxide removal (CDR).



  • Increased solubility of CO2 in ocean waters
  • Sequestered carbon becomes inorganic carbon that stays in the ocean permanently
  • Expensive [estimates at more than 1 trillion USD]
  • There is a lack of infrastructure needed to effectively facilitate the transformation from limestone to quicklime
  • Has the potential to release more CO2 into the atmosphere if proper storage and capture facilities are not established
  • Can be harmful to biotic aquatic systems
  • Alkalinity must be significantly increased to produce worthwhile results

see also:

Question: What is geoengineering?

Albedo Enhancement

Space Reflectors
Stratospheric Aerosols

Ambient Air Capture
Bioenergy Capture and Sequestration
Ocean Fertilization
Enhanced Weathering
Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement


Ian S F Jones, C. H. (2003, May). Engineering Carbon Sequestration in the Ocean. Retrieved from
Francois S. Paquay, R. E. (2013, May 9). Assessing possible consequences of ocean liming on ocean pH, atmospheric CO2 concentration and associated costs. International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control, pp. 183-188. Retrieved from

zero acreage farming (zfarming): what it is and how it can change the future of (urban) agriculture

It is not uncommon to hear about the challenges that will be faced in feeding the growing population of the world. One of the main concerns is the lack of arable space, an issue that can be attributed to land-use changes, especially urbanization. Subsequently, the rapid growth of cities contributes to a number of issues, with the overwhelming demand for resources, e.g. food, that must be imported from outside systems being among the most relevant. This long-distance between urban-dwellers and agricultural production creates ecological problems in the form of inhibited nutrient cycling, high costs, and emissions problems.

Despite these issues, it is also well-documented that cities are efficient hubs of innovation. Accordingly, cities have birthed the idea of zero acreage farming, or ‘Zfarming’, which is defined as a form of agriculture that does not use farmland or open space, rather it uses otherwise unused spaces. Zfarming can take the form of, for example, rooftop farms/gardens, edible walls, indoor farms, or vertical greenhouses. As the competition between food producers and various interests is alleviated, the conflict related to land-use in urban spaces is resolved. Moreover, urban spaces supportive of Zfarming practices can be considered to have added-value as there is a unique component to said spaces.

Additional potential benefits associated with Zfarming include, for instance, the potential to shift towards new frameworks for food supply systems via input from evolving customer and social demands, and income generation – especially when higher value crops are grown. Furthermore, Zfarming can help address issues related to urbanization by providing economic opportunities which incentivize the transition towards more sustainable, resilient and efficient urban spaces.  

At present, Zfarming is almost exclusive to middle-class spaces with operations often catering to the needs of higher end restaurants or supermarkets with the use of mid- and long-term contracts in order to establish income consistency. This is arguably necessary due to the higher startup and maintenance costs. However, Zfarming is also associated with social/educational centers, efforts to improve the quality of urban life, and supporters of innovation focusing on alternative, i.e. not soil-based, methods for growing. It can, therefore, be assumed that as innovative practices are disseminated, they will gradually become integrated into lower-income spaces.

To encourage and promote Zfarming in more locations and further foster development in existing venues, the following supportive infrastructure is needed:

  • Modern and adaptive policy that is reflective of modern societal demands
  • Financing programs to allow for a shift away from top-down approaches to startups
  • Greater involvement (human capital)
  • Knowledge sharing to address the issue of a lack of practical experience which results in difficulties in the planning and implementation phase, something that can hinder the longevity or establishment of any Zfarming operation

In promoting Zfarming, innovative practices that may contribute to sustainable urban agriculture may be developed and implemented. Supplementary to the practical benefit of growing food, Zfarming also aids in the advancement of new forms of resource efficiencies, farming technologies and the practical application of such innovation, making it a trend worthy of further investigation.