Opinion, by Alfonso Stefanini
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The historic Zona Portuária (Port Zone) in Rio is presently going through a formidable revitalization where many of its gigantic sheds and outdated navy yards are receiving billions of dollars in investments from both the government and the private sector.
Construction has already begun in the area and there are plans to build over 2,000 residential units for low-middle class citizens, in addition to hotels, an aquarium, Olympic infrastructure, cultural and social centers and the new headquarters for the Brazilian Central Bank.
Modern structures will also be part of the eclectic development repertoire, but unfortunately there are no plans, for now, to have integrated urban agricultural facilities.
Integrated hydroponics and aquaculture systems can be part of an urban agriculture matrix built inside one of these sheds. Fish tanks, positioned at the ground floor level, can serve as the fountainhead providing water rich nutrients to vegetables grown in the hydroponic systems directly above, on floors or on rooftops, using both natural and artificial lights.
Renewable energy, such as solar energy, in addition to gravity fed systems, natural cooling techniques and animal feed production by way of vermicomposting, could greatly enhance the efficiency of such operations.
Tilapia can be cultivated in intensive and semi-intense aquaculture systems, being a perfect candidate for these integrated systems. Brazil also has a diverse selection of freshwater crustaceans and fish species adding an array of niche market product options.
It is worth noting that there are plenty of successful large-size rooftop operations in other world cities, such as the heirloom tomatoes grown in New York City, sold and delivered to local restaurants and food markets.
The Zona Portuária is a perfect location to establish an economically and socially democratic city center, with diverse businesses and recreational opportunities for all citizens. Job creation would be an important aspect of these projects as well, and food can be readily delivered from these urban agricultural centers to the city, eliminating much of the transportation and refrigeration overhead as seen with conventional agriculture today.
Telemetric urban agriculture learning and empowering centers could also be part of these urban farming facilities where investors, students and the public can literally see their crops growing. These operations could potentially be incorporated in other urban areas, thereby expanding the food security network in other parts of the city.
Furthermore, urban agriculture can promote people’s reconnection to their food supply, supplementing their dependence on outside sources. More than half the world’s populations live in cities today, and many more are expected to migrate to urban areas in the near future.
Kids today already have a keen sense and interest in technology. Integrated urban agriculture projects require both old and new technical expertise, adding the perfect educational platform for kids to reconnect to the built and natural environment while living in the city, fulfilling a new urban agricultural paradigm so necessary for the future of Rio de Janeiro.
Alfonso Stefanini has an MA in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California and a BA from Hampshire College. Alfonso lives in Rio de Janeiro, and he can be reached at: Ecobrasilis@gmail.com.