Vertical farming in Pakistan, "rare but not non-existent"

There are few agritech startups in Pakistan working in the vertical farming industry. Islamabad-based Aether is one of them, and the firm specializes in providing turnkey hydroponics farm solutions, management services and also markets hyperlocal produce for business owners.

Zarak Khan, CEO of Aether, said: "It's all about the economics, efficiency, and sustainability. We can produce 30 kgs of tomatoes from a plant in a hydroponic environment in comparison to 5-6 kg from a plant in a typical farm, with far lesser costs and far more sustainability against climbing risks from floods and climate change." 

When asked about the initial investment and profitability of these small businesses, Zarak explained that they charge Rs. 2.8 million per acre for low-density and Rs. 3.5 million for high-density farms, with few hundred thousand in running costs of electricity and labor. The capital investment should be covered in the first six months as each plant in a hydroponic environment produces at least five times more yield than a traditional farm, he said.

Hydroponics usually faces criticism for not being competitive with traditional products, but Zarak argued that given the recent fertilizer price hike, hydroponics might be the only competitive option. He stated that temperatures crossed 50 degrees this season in Bannu, but their hydroponic tomato plants kept growing due to a regulated environment.

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