The prognosis for the future: extreme population growth, urbanization, climate change, rising sea levels and desertification. As a consequence, the demand for food will grow exorbitantly. The possible solution for the already on-going world food system crisis: SeaLeaf – a floating agricultural platform for coastal megacities based on hydroponic farming.
By 2015 an estimate of 340 million people will be living in the world’s top 21 megacities, of which 18 are located along the coast and, even though, urban spaces will become less and less accessible, a large area of ‘land’ will still remain available to us. It is cheap, rather unused and it is even increasing. We call this land ‘water’. When land is scarce or becomes too expensive the open water is the ideal alternatative terrain and SeaLeaf cleverly makes use of it. The modular and expandable system based on hydroponic farming is an ideal fit for the coastlines of the world.
The benefits are manifold. For one, due to its proximity to their final consumers, SeaLeaf modules help eliminate unnecessary and expensive carbon miles caused by mass importation and can, thus, minimize the world’s overall carbon footprint. Take for instance the city-state Singapore, which was once a country of 20,000 farms and today imports 93% of all its food. Singapore is a prime example for where SeaLeaf could make very much sense. Moreover, SeaLeaf can make a truly local mass agricultural industry possible, even inside greater urban areas. It can easily contribute to worldwide food security and, on top of that, increase the nutritional value of food, in general, as fresh produce no longer has to arrive at the retailer in a frozen or premature but in a fresh and healthy state.
As a farm that floats on water the hydroponic system presents itself as the perfect choice. Idrees Rasouli, Roshan Sirohia, Jason Cheah and Sebastiaan Wolzak from the Royal College of Art and the Imperial College, London, the heads behind SeaLeaf, discovered that hydroponics have almost two to three times the yield compared to conventional farming with mere soil. In present scenarios hydroponic farming, however, has been reliant on commercially expensive land, power, water intensive needs and permanent infrastructure. By relocating hydroponic farms to the open water all of these variables can be cancelled out and are no longer relevant for the farmer – which is great.
Although floating farms are no new invention and small-scale farmers have been using this technique for centuries the modules of SeaLeaf take it to a new level by making floating farms compact, nearly self-sustainable and, thus, future mass food production at all possible. Each module covers one cubic meter of cultivatable land and can be connected to other modules via a walkway pontoon, which makes it less difficult for farmers to have an eye on their floating crops – a crucial aspect as crops are meant to expand and expand. The modules itself are made of recycled HDPE and the design is based on kayak and pontoon manufacturing technology for an optimum stability. Each unit is meant to go on sale for $90 or will be rentable on an annual basis for an entire farm (140 units), which, eventually, pays for itself.
In its beta-phase the SeaLeaf team envisions existing fish farmers to be the best choice for initial adoption because they are already familiar with the terrain and can simply add SeaLeaf modules to their existing fish farms. By making use of solar energy, rainfall abundancy in tropical regions and the local fish farming industry SeaLeaf proves to be economically and environmentally viable. If everything goes smoothly the first SeaLeaf farm should be ready by mid 2016 and by the end of 2018 full production for major parts in the worlds will have started. To get a hands-on experience of hydroponic farming visit our #CityOfTheFuture exhibition at the Museon in The Hague, open until 27 October.