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Home-grown food production gets smart

Home-grown food production gets smart

Humans invented agriculture some 10,000 years ago. And it was the practice that formed the cornerstone of civilization; because we could stay in one place instead of roaming for food, communities grew and there was more time to do many other constructive things. And yet, today there are some two billion people worldwide who are moderately or severely food insecure (according to Our World in Data, an online publication). The United Nations (UN) has set to combat this through a key sustainability goal of zero hunger by 2030.

However, there are several challenges before we can meet that goal. For a start, climate change has created temperature deviations that have affected plant growth patterns, while extreme weather events have disrupted production cycles through either too little or too much rain.

Additionally, one quarter of arable land is degraded to the point that it would require restoration before it could sustain crops (according to consulting firm McKinsey). And it’s not just space that’s short - agriculture accounts for 70 percent of freshwater used globally, says the World Bank. All this leads to a single conclusion – we must plant smarter, not more intensively.

Smart agriculture

The IoT has been a game-changer for large-scale agricultural food growth. Through precision farming—which uses connectivity, sensors, machines, drones and data analytics—farmers can create the ideal crop growing conditions and achieve the best yield-to-input ratio.

For instance, when irrigating plants, humidity sensors can be employed to ensure that crops are receiving the ideal amount of water. The effects have been dramatic, with McKinsey finding that, through increased connectivity, the agricultural sector could add $500 billion in value to the global GDP by 2030.

On the home front

And it’s not just farms that can benefit from wireless tech. We can turn to' micro' solutions at home to help take some of the strain from the agricultural sector. By growing some basic plants, families and individuals could produce a small portion of their own food. But it’s not easy; according to Gardeningetc, an Australian publication, beginner gardeners end up killing over half their plants.

So how can those with limited knowledge and even more limited resources get started? The answer comes from recent innovations in home gardening. And these solutions are particularly useful for those living in apartments or those who don't have access to a garden or outdoor area, as the solutions enable plant growth in low (or even no) natural light on a relatively small footprint.

Connectivity maximizes plant growth

Growgreen’s aspara Smart Grower is an example of this new technology. The product uses a hydroponic design (for plant growth without the need for soil) and humidity sensors to provide the ideal level of moisture - reducing water waste by up to 90 percent, according to the company. The smart grower also includes a variety of other sensors to measure variables, including light intensity and nutrient levels, and create the optimum growth environment. The system is said to enable 50 percent faster growth than conventional planting in soil.

The product uses LED "grow lights," which vary in intensity and the frequency (color) of the emitted light to stimulate plant development at different stages of growth. And aspara does this while only using the same amount of power as a lightbulb, minimizing energy usage while providing plants with sufficient illumination to accelerate growth.

To make things even easier for domestic food growers, and maximize plant yields, Nordic-powered wireless connectivity allows the smart grower to connect to the ‘aspara’ smartphone app. Via their mobile, users can be notified if the plants require additional nutrients or if the water tank needs to be refilled. (Lack of water and nutrients are key reasons why home growers have a poor record of crop success.) The app also stores records of planting data and offers tips to maximize plant growth.

Helping create a greener future

By increasing the amount of food grown at home—through products such as aspara—carbon emissions can also be reduced by decreasing the need for transportation. Such transportation is made more energy intensive by the need to keep food under controlled temperature and humidity conditions to ensure freshness. For example, even transporting a humble potato to market costs an average of 2.9 kg CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent units) in emissions.

Moreover, growing food at home in a controlled environment can help combat seasonality issues, providing fresh produce when it is unavailable or significantly more expensive.

Of course, even with wireless tech, families and individuals probably won’t be able to grow enough produce to become self-sufficient. But connected smart growers at least have the capacity to help take some of the strain off the current agricultural systems. And if many households worldwide were to implement such solutions, it would significantly impact building a sustainable future.

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