Ocean agriculture may form part of the solution to food production.
We are all aware of that some of the food we purchase goes to waste but, in the grander scheme of things, the truth is that more than a third of food that's produced gets thrown away. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that, over the past four decades, the world has lost around a third of the amount of land capable of growing nutrient-rich crops, and arable land is only expected to shrink even further due to the effects of climate change. That's not good news! But read on...
Yesterday, OGN Daily published an article about a distinguished professor of soil science at Ohio State University who showed how regenerating land could drastically improve crop productivity. That's most definitely positive news, and the professor was awarded the World Food Prize for his efforts. Today, to add a dash more optimism, OGN turns to another intriguing idea.
Some are convinced that answers to the impending food crisis may not lie on land at all – instead, they’re looking to the ocean and to feed future populations with crops grown on floating farms, fed by seawater.
As sea levels rise, salt levels are creeping up in the rivers and underground aquifers that irrigate fields, thus interfering with nutrient uptake and damaging tissue. Once it reaches farmlands, salt requires significant resources to remove from soil - the most common methods involve large amounts of fresh water, which is already scarce.
How do you grow staple crops in constantly increasing salinity? Canadian startup Agrisea thinks it has, literally and figuratively, the solution. They are developing gene-edited salt-tolerant crops with the objective of growing them on floating farms in sea-flooded plains or anchored directly in the ocean.
Agrisea’s proposed method involves isolating stem cells from crops like rice, then using gene-editing technology to insert a DNA sequence that would eventually allow the plant to tolerate high levels of seawater. Thus far, the company has worked to grow rice plants in water one-third the salinity of seawater, but expect to have 'boutique' floating farms off the coast of Kenya and Grand Bahama Island by the end of the year.
Agrisea pushes crops out in the ocean, but Scotland-based company, Seawater Solution, takes a different approach. The company takes degraded coastal farmland, seeds it with naturally salt-tolerant herbs, then floods the area by removing seawalls or pumping in water from the ocean to create an artificial salt marsh.
In this new wetland ecosystem, crops grow without fertilizers, pesticides, or freshwater. They also hold soil in place, preventing erosion, and feed on nitrates and carbon, both of which over-accumulate in waters near human populations due to factors like agricultural runoff and CO2 emissions.
We can only hope that the combined efforts of improving soil on land and harvesting from the sea provides the solution.
World Food Prize: Soil health is critical to meeting global challenges like eliminating hunger and ensuring clean drinking water, says this year's World Food Prize winner, who pioneered research on sequestering carbon in soil as a way to battle climate change.