By the year 2050 there will be over two billion more mouths on earth and we are not growing enough food to feed them. In the United Kingdom alone, 75 per cent of its 24 million hectares of land is used for farming, but, according to a report by Cambridge University, as early as 2030 its farmland area will fall short by two million hectares.
Speaking with Time magazine and the World Economic Forum, professor John Crawford of Sydney University warns that with the current rate of soil degradation, the entire world may only have around 60 years of topsoil — the layer that allows plants to grow — left. “Soil erosion is most serious in China, Africa, India and parts of South America,” he says. “If the food supply goes down, then obviously the price goes up. The crisis points will hit the poorest countries hardest… I find it quite ironic that while the Mars Curiosity Rover is poking around looking for life in martian soil, we’re in the process of extinguishing life in our own.” Solutions include reversing bad farming practices to replenish the soil with carbon, considering recycling human waste as fertiliser and finding “new ways of bringing together scientists and farmers to harness the expertise of both.” There are some fine ideas already well under way.
Nemo’s Garden Project is a farm on the sea floor of Italy’s Bay of Noli. Inside its underwater transparent pods grow strawberries, basil and lettuce, all managed from a land-based station where researchers can keep tabs on the crops and conditions as well as communicate with divers who tend to them. Near-perfect, constant conditions can be created and maintained day and night.
An architectural team from Barcelona have come up with a concept called the Smart Floating Farm, which is comprised of offshore rigs to harvest fish, crops and sunlight. The state-of-the-art technology, proposed for use where food shortage is most prevalent, will use water from an on-board desalination plant instead of traditional soil to nourish the plants, eliminating the need for precipitation. The bottom levels, closed to the outdoor, can be used to catch fish, dock boats, as storage and a processing centre.
The concept of floating farms is not a new one. Various forms of water-based farming were possibly first perfected by the Aztecs, a tradition still upheld, using more traditional methods, across Asia. Myanmar’s Lake Inle is renowned for its centuries-old network of plant and tomato crops, while across in Bangladesh, where flooding is commonplace, the nation has turned its misfortunate meteorological hand on its head and used its flooded lands to grow water hyacinth, bamboo and other aquatic plants. Speaking with humanitarian news agency IRIN, Papon Deb, project manager for the Wetland Resource Development Society says that, “the productivity of this farming system is 10 times higher than traditional land-based agricultural production in the southeast of Bangladesh.”
From farms floating on water, to ones upon city skylines, residents of the likes of Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Tokyo and a slew of US cities have taken to tending to their crops upon their multi-storey rooftops. “Five years ago, there were virtually no rooftop farms,” founder and president of Green Roof for Healthy Cities tells National Geographic. “Now they are starting to appear across the globe.” Not only are green roofs an ingenious solution to city farming, they also provide the buildings with insulation, provide extra oxygen and offer a habitat for local wildlife. “There is nothing more rewarding,” adds Anastasia Cole Plakias, founding partner of the world’s biggest rooftop farm, Brooklyn Grange, “than sitting down at the end of a good day of working with our hands, watching the sun set over a healthy, productive farm, and enjoying some freshly picked vegetables as a team.”