Can the optimisation of pop-up agriculture in remote communities help feed the world?
Threats to global food security have generated the need for novel food production techniques to feed an ever-expanding population with ever-declining land resources. Hydroponic cultivation has been long recognised as a reliable, resilient and resource-use-efficient alternative to soil-based agricultural practices. The aspiration for highly efficient systems and even city-based vertical farms is starting to become realised using innovations such as aeroponics and LED lighting technology. However, the ultimate challenge for any crop production system is to be able to operate and help sustain human life in remote and extreme locations, including the polar regions on Earth, and in space. Here we explore past research and crop growth in such remote areas, and the scope to improve on the systems used in these areas to date. We introduce biointensive agricultural systems and 3D growing environments, intercropping in hydroponics and the production of multiple crops from single growth systems. To reflect the flexibility and adaptability of these approaches to different environments we have called this type of enclosed system ‘pop-up agriculture’. The vision here is built on sustainability, maximising yield from the smallest growing footprint, adopting the principles of a circular economy, using local resources and eliminating waste. We explore plant companions in intercropping systems to supply a diversity of plant foods. We argue that it is time to consume all edible components of plants grown, highlighting that nutritious plant parts are often wasted that could provide vitamins and antioxidants. Supporting human life via crop production in remote and isolated communities necessitates new levels of efficiency, eliminating waste, minimising environmental impacts and trying to wean away from our dependence on fossil fuels. This aligns well with tandem research emerging from economically developing countries where lower technology hydroponic approaches are being trialled reinforcing the need for ‘cross-pollination’ of ideas and research development on pop-up agriculture that will see benefits across a range of environments.
Authors: Gwynn-Jones, Dylan, Dunne, Hannah, Donisson, Iain, Robson, Paul, Sanfratello, Giovanni Marco, Schlarb-Ridley, Beatrix, Hughes, Kevin, Convey, Peter