If we’re going to feed 9 billion people by 2050, humanity is going to need some new ideas. Current practices--which lead to over-farming and obesity in one part of the world, and under-development and malnourishment in another--aren’t going to cut it.
Here are five tentative suggestions from a student competition called the Thought for Food Challenge. They aren’t the final answer, but they show promise, and, importantly, engagement from the next generation.
The five were chosen from more than 100 entries, and will receive $1,000 and a round of expert mentorship before a final event in Berlin this September. The winning team gets $10,000.
A team from the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee is building a food waste collection system. The students plan to collect organic matter and take it to a central plant, where they’ll convert it to agricultural products using an anaerobic digester. The clever bit: they’ll offer incentives for participation. In return for separating garbage, hotels and restaurants will get credits they can spend with retailers (kind of like what RecycleBank does for consumers). The students have already spoken to businesses around their campus (as you can see from the video) and built an Android app to manage the credits.
Team Agrilution, from the HAS University of Applied Science in the Netherlands, built a prototype for a closet-sized vertical farm. The aquaponic system uses LED lighting, minimal inputs, and is fully automated. The team, which has already set up a business to promote the product, is also planning an "open source platform to share plant growing recipes."
"It’s probably not a technology that’s going to feed the masses," says TFF’s founder, Christine Gould. "But it could bring households closer to food production in urban areas. You could imagine new green buildings putting in individual vertical systems to grow vegetables in an efficient way, without the use of inputs."
CrOpportunity, developed by five students at the University of Nebraska, is a food certification scheme with two goals: to provide better information to consumers in developed countries, and to direct funds to the developing world. The team plans to certify restaurants and food producers meeting sustainable criteria, and then use a portion of their profits to support food groups overseas. Consumers can vote for their favorites at a website.
Team O.A.S.I.S, from Kenya, has the most ambitious idea of the five. The students would pipe seawater to arid regions, desalinate it, and then reclaim the land, while farming fish in trenches. "The project revolves around establishing an endless supply of fresh distilled water from seawater, after which we reclaim the lands that were affected by deforestation and desertification," says the entry. "In the process, we gain food security, adequate low-cost housing, employment and environmental stability."
"What was really interesting about this is that they built this system not just to bring food production to arid areas, but also housing and an interesting architectural structure," says Gould, who is based in Holland. "This is super interesting, if it works."
The Henlight project, from students at U.C. Davis and the University of Oregon, aims to improve egg production yields. The idea is based around a simple solar-powered lamp that lengthens effective daylight, and thus increases the rate at which hens lay. "By using light to extend the amount of stimulation chickens receive, farmers can gain greater value per individual chicken more consistently throughout the variable seasons of the year," the team says.