Can Underground Agriculture Solve the World Food Problem?
What is Underground Agriculture
Underground agriculture or underground farming is the activity of cultivating food underground. This is usually done using hydroponics using growing lamps and a nutritious solution.
The most efficient way to produce food underground would be a fully automated system of small pods or containers that contain the seedlings to grow, the growth lamps and the water with minerals. Using an automated elevator, these prods reach their destination in underground tunnels. There they remain until the produce is ripe for consumption and can be transported above ground. The tunnels can be as small as the size of the pod.
I estimate containers for growing salad hydroponically can be as small as 50 cm in height, depending on the plant. Thus, only tunnels of about this size would need to be dug underground, which reduces construction cost.
What Problems Can Underground Agriculture Solve?
The world faces an ecological crisis as more and more natural land is converted into farmland. The massive extinction of a whole catalog of species mirrors this process.
Underground agriculture can help feed the world without destroying natural habitats on a massive scale. The needed space for agriculture is transferred underground where space is readily available. Also, often food is shipped from far away places to the consumer. By producing the needed food locally underground, shipping can be minimized.
Furthermore, the use of dangerous chemicals in much of today’s agriculture above ground can be minimized by using hydroponics underground. Thus, the food grown underground is more healthy with less impact on the world’s flora and fauna.
When thinking about a rising population in the future, underground agriculture might be a great part of the solution to feed those additional people because there simply won’t be enough arable land available.
Also, in some climates, agriculture is only part of the year possible due to for example cold or hot weather. Using underground agriculture, farming can become independent of the climate. This increases food security and output.
Challenges of Underground Agriculture
Primarily, the high energy costs for the electricity growing lamps consume are a challenge that needs to be overcome. One possible solution would be nuclear fusion reactors that might produce enough cheap energy once available. Another solution would be big solar panels in space, the deserts or the oceans that can produce cheap energy.
The second challenge is the high cost of constructing the underground facilities needed to shelter the growth pods. In some areas, ground water or soil composition make underground construction more costly.
With innovative construction technology like fully automated tunnel boring machines, this challenge can be solved.
Consumer attitude can be another challenge, as consumers might perceive food grown underground as “less healthy”. With high quality produce and consumer education, this can also be overcome.
Underground agriculture is an emerging field of agriculture that has the potential to help solve a big part of the current ecological crisis. Once enough cheap energy and cheaper construction methods will be available, there will be nothing that can stop underground agriculture from its rise.
For the sake of all the world’s remaining wonderful animals and plants, let us hope this rise of underground agriculture happens rather soon.
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