Could Hydroponics Solve The Global Food Crisis?

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

The global population is projected to exceed 9.8 billion by 2050. And with this surge of people on Earth comes and increased demand for food, water and space. It’s estimated that to feed the population in 2050, we’ll need to produce 70% more food than we currently do. However, in the US alone, currently only 2% of the country’s population work as farmers and in the UK, 48% of all food is imported. So how do we combat this global problem of food insecurity and shortage when the production of our food does not have a collaborative platform for farmers and growers to exchange information and tackle it?

Perhaps the answer lies in hydroponics.

Hydroponics is the future of agriculture. Requiring fewer resources, maintenance, manual labour and land, it utilises digital systems and artificial intelligence (AI) to vertically farm plants and food.

It’s a field that’s reimagining agriculture to inspire the next generation of farmers. And it’s a field that’s being pioneered by Caleb Harper’s team at the Open Agriculture Initiative, located in MIT Media Lab.

In his talk for TED Global in Geneva, Caleb broke down just exactly how this technology could innovate our future. In his talk he asks, “What if … we built a digital farm? A digital world farm.”

Bringing together a team of data scientists, botanists, engineers and urban planners, the Open Agriculture Initiative is doing just that by learning the language of plants. By growing plants in an enclosed digital laboratory, it is possible to control every aspect of climate so that tomatoes native to Spain can be grown in a box-sized laboratory in Alaska. By digitising farming, instead of importing and exporting food, the world would be exchanging information and programs for growing them.

Although, at first glance, it seems this technology is futuristic and costly, it is one that will crucially be made inexpensive and accessible. From starting out with building a $100,000 digitised lab available to be sold and built anywhere in the world, Caleb’s team has begun building personalised food computers; essentially a laboratory in a box with the potential to grow any seed imaginable using a programmed recipe optimised for its growth.

And whilst this technology is not been used widely by farmers just yet, it’s an industry that’s growing — with estimates placing it’s worth at $31.4 billion on global market by 2022. As a result, a world in which you could grow food right in a box in your apartment is not one that’s far distant in the future.