Food is literally one of the key needs of human survival. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, physiological needs, including food, sit right at the bottom, indicating its primary importance to humans.
Food scarcity has always been a pressing issue since the era of man. Our ancestors had to hunt and experiment with different pollination techniques and strategies to increase our access to sustenance. Most of us who have access to the internet and reading this article today probably never had to make ends meet when it comes to food and are able to enjoy three warm meals daily. Although we humans have come a long way since our caveman days, food scarcity continues to be a problem that plagues the world as a whole. Additionally, while food production has certainly increased over the years, the world population has increased significantly as well. Traditional methods will probably no longer be able to meet the increasing demand for food, which is a cause for concern.
Thankfully, we have foreseen this problem from way back, and have dedicated resources to alternatives that may help alleviate the situation. The more common ones that are already put into practice are irrigation, aeroponics, and hydroponics. We will be discussing hydroponics in greater detail.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of hydroponics, it is technically the cultivation of plants without soil and instead, using nutrient solutions in a water solvent. Many of the greens and fruits that we enjoy today, such as tomatoes and lettuces, are cultivated through hydroponics. Today, the hydroponically produced food market is a lucrative industry, generating more than $24 billion according to the International Monetary Fund. About 25,000 hectares in the world are dedicated to hydroponic farming and are adopted in various regions including but not limited to Europe, Australia, and the United States. Let’s take a look at what makes hydroponics such an attractive alternative to conventional farming.
Firstly, the hydroponic crops retain much more of their freshness as they can be transported in water to be sold to consumers. For those who like their greens fresh, hydroponics allows them to enjoy the plants in their freshest stage. Some may also argue that this freshness that hydroponic crops have also technically increases the number of health benefits that one can derive from consuming. Although debatable, health junkies can seek to benefit from this, should this be true.
Hydroponic crops take a shorter time to mature and to be ready for harvesting. Due to the hydroponic system, the plants are able to enjoy more nutrients and this allows them to grow at a more rapid speed than conventional soil-grown crops. This faster maturation and harvesting is critical to battle food scarcity as it helps to put out a higher quantity of food available to be consumed by people. Additionally, this is also highly beneficial for commercial growers as this is potentially a new way to increase their output and enjoy higher profits.
Downsides of Conventional Farming
Another key factor that is drawing scrutiny from various organizations is the potential dangers of consuming conventionally grown crops. Soil-grown crops are highly susceptible to diseases and microorganisms which can be harmful when ingested. Furthermore, these soil-grown crops are highly reliant on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. There have been outcries by several concerned groups that claim that consuming these crops exposed to chemicals can be harmful to one’s health in the long run. Although there isn’t concrete evidence at the moment to validate the legitimacy of the claims, many people are not willing to take the risk of being harmed because of their consumption choices. This is also why organically grown food has become such a boon in recent years.
As mentioned above, fertilizers that are used in conventional farming are harmful to the environment. Introducing mass-produced fertilizers which may contain synthetic chemicals can lead to devastating environmental effects such as pollution and the destruction of the ecosystem. In addition to this, the arable land we use to cultivate crops on is diminishing at a rate faster than they are recovering. How this arable land is being depleted is the use of man-made fertilizer, which exacerbates the natural degradation of these arable soil due to farming. For those of us who are unaware, soil erosion occurs when we continuously plow, plants, and harvest crops on the same plot of land. The supposedly environmentally-friendly way would be to rotate between different plots of land for farming, but objectively speaking, it may not be realistic and cost-effective for relevant stakeholders to do so. To put things into perspective, there is very little to no land available to bring under cultivation, according to The Food and Agriculture Organization. Hence, hydroponics is the way to go for a sustainable food production method as it does not require the use of soil at all and is not damaging to our environment.
What is needed for Hydroponics
Hydroponic crops require less important resources such as space and water as opposed to conventional farming. Not everyone has an abundance of space and water due to various reasons. This may pose as significant barriers to entry for some, but with hydroponics, they would not have to worry about these. In a hydroponic setup, the growing plants can be stacked vertically on top of one another, which minimizes the overall space used. Moreover, the amount of water used to cultivate hydroponic plants is much less than one would need for conventionally grown plants. Although these may sound trivial, on a large commercial scale, these savings can make a huge difference to business owners.
To conclude, while hydroponics may seem confusing and intimidating initially, it is definitely one of the more viable farming options of the future. In fact, NASA’s Veg-01 experiment illustrated how hydroponics is even capable of being utilized in space – the vast nothingness. With a simple hydroponic setup and several essentials, the team was able to grow red romaine lettuce within 30 days. With an ability to even produce crops in space, the hydroponic system has proved itself to be a highly adaptable cultivation technique, which is sure to help humans in our journey to battle food scarcity regardless of the unforeseeable changes in our future.