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The next generation of food tech? Nobel Laureates discuss future of food

Post a commentBy Louis Gore-Langton , 04-Jan-2017
Last updated on 04-Jan-2017 at 15:15 GMT2017-01-04T15:15:30Z

A day before the Nobel prize giving, laureates met to discuss new food technology ©iStock
A day before the Nobel prize giving, laureates met to discuss new food technology ©iStock

The Nobel Foundation’s ‘Your plate, our planet’ event featured talks by start-ups boasting the world changing power of new food technologies like ‘food computers’ and tropical weather forecasting.

The day-long event in Stockholm on December 9 featured talks and discussions with Nobel Laureates, scientists, politicians and artists.

Johan Rockstrom, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, a research group focussing on social-ecological systems, told the event:

“The most important scientific insight for humanity is that we need to position food in the context of the first generation being a large world on a small planet… the question of whether we are serious about human well-being on a stable planet, really resides on food.”

Food Computers

Open Agriculture, an initiative based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is developing what it hopes will be a universally available ‘food computer’ that will give people year round access to reliable agriculture, and create ‘a billion new farmers’.

Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) is a system which replicates agricultural climates. Using LED lighting systems and incubators, all different aspects of a climate can be reproduced reliably in aeroponic or hydroponics.

This avoids the difficulties of changing seasons, droughts and disease. Growth rate is also up to five times faster and requires 90% less water. The CEA system would also provide means to mass data collection on plants and environments.

Whilst not yet commercially available, the ‘OpenAg Computer’ is envisioned as a globally accessible technology providing both the hardware and software for producing food on a home or industrial scale.

An open network for sharing and updating ‘climate recipes’ would also be stored online, alongside their current technology, already publically available on the OpenAg website.

Open Agriculture's home food computer

Caleb Harper, director of the initiative, sees the food computer as an answer to poverty and sustainability issues worldwide; he claims to have had the idea in Japan, following the Fukushima disaster that left Japanese agriculture largely destroyed.

Similar projects are already underway in Japan, with Philips Electronics having started its own LED farm, currently producing up to 12,000 lettuce heads per day.

Fast Forecasts

Ignitia, a Stockholm based start-up, displayed its new weather forecasting system at the event, claiming to have created something essential for farmers in tropical regions.

Current weather forecasting systems are usually designed for western nations and farmlands with completely different conditions.

Ignitia designed new atmospheric modelling (mathematical simulations of current physical states which can predict what will happen next) for tropical regions specifically.

The accuracy of the system is up to twice the strength of normal forecasting systems.

Ignitia

The technology is now used by 80,000 farmers in West Africa, who receive daily weather reports via mobile for around €3 per day.

In some cases, the forecasting has helped farmers increase their income by up to 80% through better planning. 

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