The future of the world depends on the condition of our soils. Healthy soil is the foundation of everything in the fight to eliminate zero hunger as referenced in the UN Sustainability Development Goals. The proliferation of new agricultural technologies is coinciding with the growing diversification of agricultural practices. Can a collaborative approach create a solid grounding for the future of farming?
The future of the world depends on the condition of our soils. This is the view of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) Director-General, José Graziano da Silva. In 2018, he ‘urged countries, scientists, policymakers and stakeholders invested in building an equitable, sustainable, and thriving planet to pay attention to the soil.’ Healthy soil is the foundation of everything in the fight to eliminate zero hunger as referenced in the UN Sustainability Development Goals. With a strong foundation, agriculture and sustainable food systems have a better chance of thriving.
A real issue for farmers working in extreme weather conditions and suffering from the effects of climate change, is being able to continue producing fruitful crops regardless of external factors. It is believed that the healthier the soil is, the more hope it has of recovering from extreme weather cycles. Research studies have shown that healthy soils hold more carbon and these reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50-80 per cent. However, farmers affected by drought, adverse weather, or poor harvests are having to diversify their practices and turn to alternative methodologies and technologies in order to survive.
Hydroponics, also known as vertical farming, describes the process of growing plants without soil. It uses water and nutrients to grow high-yield crops using sustainable methods. Peter Chege is the founder of Hydroponics Kenya, which sells hydroponic supplies and systems in Nairobi. Chege’s business is reportedly growing with five hydroponic systems being sold every week on average. He has also been recognised by many NGOs for his modified hydroponic systems which are custom made for the Kenyan climate. Adverse weather conditions and changes in seasons have previously created severe food insecurity in Africa, but using hydroponic methods means farmers remain unaffected. For many markets, it offers a strong agricultural alternative, it provides opportunities for additional income and can result in vital food security.
The first known instance of water-based hydroponics in fact dates back to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, but its methodology has gained a new-found popularity and is being rejuvenated today through agri-technology. Advanced hydroponic systems exist which can be used in urban environments, such as Urban Farmers Pro, which has social responsibility at the heart of its business. For every system that is bought, another is donated to a family or community in need. There are also simplified hydroponic methods that can be used by farmers without any advanced technology or prior knowledge. Whilst yields from simplified systems are lower than advanced systems, they are stated as “still outperforming farming methods and use 80 per cent less water.” The process is being increasingly used around the world to not only increase farming outputs, but to also grow plants in environments that wouldn’t normally be able to sustain them.
Advances in technology are crucial to the future of agriculture, in order to help farmers feed the world with limited and finite natural resources. Soil innovation is coming to the forefront through start-up companies such as CropX, which claims to represent ‘the internet of soil’. The company sells cloud-based software aiming to boost crop yields by focusing on saving water and energy. It measures soil moisture, temperature and electrical conductivity, with the data being sent to the cloud where it can be accessed from any mobile or fixed device. Then using in-field sensors, the technology automatically distributes the right amount of water on to each plant instead of watering a whole field at a time.
Agri-tech businesses are also applying innovative crop science to yield better results. mOasis manufactures a non-toxic soil additive that allows farmers to optimise the use of water in agricultural soil. The gel claims to improve yields and can also reduce water usage.
There will be a projected 9.7 billion people to feed on earth in 2050. The need to identify sustainable farming practises now is crucial in order to produce the best output from limited natural resources. The proliferation of new technologies is coinciding with the trend towards diversification in agricultural practices. Therefore it is crucial that the farming industry and tech innovators take a collaborative approach in order to produce the best yields for future generations.
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