The global population looks likely to hit 9.6 billion by 2050. To meet the hungry demands of so many, food production will have to increase by a 70 percent. To make matters worse, water scarcity is becoming a real problem. According to the World Resources Institute, one third of our current food production takes place where water is running out. Happy days, eh?
Right now, we’re open to any ideas—the crazier the better—and architect Javier F. Ponce of Forward Thinking Architecture (in collaboration with Jakub Dycha) might have come up with the maddest of the lot. A floating farm.
Smart Floating Farms (SFF) are “automated offshore multi-layer food and energy production platforms,” or to put it in simpler terms, these buoyant beauts could make it possible to deliver food to countries with food and water import and production issues, or even scarcity.
“After doing some research and watching documentaries about humanity’s future, I became interested in using my architectural knowledge and design in order to help improve the world,” Ponce says. “One subject which caught my attention was food risk and the current trend of importing massive amounts of food from one place to another, causing huge environmental problems.”
Far from being a gimmick for the future, Ponce was inspired by the past. He tells me that “floating farms as such have existed historically” giving the example of the Mayan agriculture of Chinampas.
Also called “floating gardens,” these artificial islands are built on freshwater lakes using layers of vegetation and mud. The wet environment allows for a cycle of decomposition and irrigation which fertilises the soil, creating a productive area for agriculture.
Developed in ancient times by the 14th century, Aztecs had turned most of the Lake of Xochimilco into one big floating garden, which allowed them to support up to 230,000 people. Some Chinampas still exist today.
“This is not science fiction. It is a serious and viable solution,” Ponce says. “It is not meant to ‘solve’ all of humanity’s hunger problems or to replace existing traditional agriculture; this is not the idea at all. The driver behind the project is to open a new initiative which can be complementary and compatible with other existing production methods in order to help reduce food risk associated problems in different areas of the globe.”
So how does this floaty farmy thingy actually work?
The three-story system is made up of a range of farming facilities. The lower level, or basement level, is closed off from the outside environment and primarily used for fishing operations. There are also boat docks, shipping and storage areas, and a processing plant.
On the second floor is the automated hydroponics, which uses nutrient-rich water and a soil-like base of rock wool, coconut wool, or clay (instead of soil) to feed plants and crops. No rain is required, nor fertile land—just treated water.
And finally, on the top floor is the solar plant, a hub of fans, microclimate controls, and irrigation tools. This is where the nitty gritty business of waste and energy management takes place, including bio-digesters, water recycling, and organic energy creation.
With its aquaculture (fish), hydroponics (crops), and photovoltaics (solar power) mash up, the SFF could produce food 365 days a year regardless of water scarcity, drought, and even natural disasters. Ponce’s design offers a continuous food supply and an estimated annual yield of 8152 tons of vegetables and 1703 tons of fish.
They would be readily available for mega cities of the future with access to water or inland lakes or rivers, which includes pretty much everywhere: Chicago, Tokyo, Singapore, Jakarta, Cairo, Doha, Osaka, Bahrain, Istanbul… The list is endless.
But is the floating farm solely a concept or could it one day actually be built as a commercially viable agribusiness? Founder and editor-in-chief at Indie Farmer, Nigel Akehurst thinks so.
“In terms of feasibility, I’d say the project looks quite ambitious,” he says. “But if you look at a successful hydroponic salad and fresh produce growing enterprise like Thanet Earth all the technology and expertise that exists to make it a commercial reality, floating farms could potentially offer a sustainable way of growing more local, healthy food.”
SFF’s creator is certainly hopeful.
“It started as a concept,” Ponce says. “And it’s becoming potentially a reality. I can’t comment more for the moment.”
No pressure, Ponce, just the future of mankind.
This post originally appeared on MUNCHIES in June 2015.