Hydroponics, a way to achieve sustainable intensification
What does the future of food production look like? What are the increasing and increasingly urbanised people of the world going to eat in 2030? Do we need to destroy more forest hectares to accommodate the nutrition needs of billions more to come? the answers to these questions might not be as depressing as you think.
In fact, it looks like we are going to be able to farm in the middle of cities like New York or London. On the 23rd of May 2018, in the course of the on-going SOCISDG Erasmus +, Professor Bozidar Benko delivered a lecture on hydroponics as a sustainable alternative to conventional agriculture. SOCISDG is Erasmus+ strategic partnership focused on nine socially-oriented Sustainable Development Goals. Datamaran is part of the project to bring data science and its AI-powered platform at the service of sustainability.
But what is hydroponics?
Hydroponics is defined as the practice of growing plants without soil used to provide support or nutrients. The truth is, plants can be supported with several different methods. The same goes for nutrition. Plants don’t need all the nutrients contained in the soil (even though, according to a number of professionals, unnecessary nutrients do affect the flavour in unpredictable ways). Furthermore, even though plants definitely need light, light can be provided by a variety of more easily manageable sources other than the sun.
Indoor, soilless and sunless farming, might be the solution the conundrum we face as a species: having to produce more to support a growing population and not destroying our planet.
According to professor Benko, the main advantages of hydroponics are: 1) the freedom of cultivating anywhere in the globe where it is possible to create a temperature-controlled, indoor environment (that is, everywhere); 2) the continuous cultivation of the same crop in the same production area, with no need for crop rotation; 3) reduction of water waste and water pollution, thanks to the management of water; 4) reduced attacks of plant pests, as an indoor environment can be protected more easily.
Professor Benko also showed us what are the main challenges to address in order to scale up: 1) costs. The little farmer can’t keep up with maintenance costs at the moment, nor with initial high investments, and that might mean that the whole farming sector could undergo unprecedented social changes 2) infection control. It turns out that the indoor environment can help spread the pest, when pest get in; farmers need to implement strategies to keep pests out; 3) recycling and raw materials: the support frameworks need to be created in way that they are completely recyclable; what’s the point of creating food security for all if the planet is covered in waste?
Hydroponics might be the way to unlock sustainable intensification without provoking reckless deforestation and water pollution, enabling businesses to pursue sustainable strategies while also investing in innovation and increasing their earnings.
Author: Vittorio Nigrelli / Datamaran