Less than a third of Earth’s surface is land, yet only 18% of this is suitable for agriculture. Given the size of the human population, it’s unsurprising that there is fierce competition as land is used to meet the needs of humans and the environment. It also isn’t surprising that we are coming up with some innovative ways to grow our food.
Using the same piece of land in multiple ways can be a valuable option. For example, aquaponics combines hydroponics (growing plants in water without soil) with fish farming. This builds on the benefits of hydroponics, which uses less water than conventional agriculture.
There’s also room for adding new components in some mainstream agricultural settings. Crops such as certain spices and herbs thrive in shady conditions, so make ideal understory crops in orchards or timber plantations. Keeping fish in rice paddies has the added bonus that they eat pests and weeds.
Competition for space in London led people to think vertically – not just building upwards but building downwards. The London Underground was opened in 1863, and now disused tunnels are being used to grow salad veg thanks to a combination of hydroponics and LED lighting.
Rooftops are proving a popular place to grow food, from watermelons in China to rice in Bangalore. This is sometimes called ‘Zero-Acreage Farming’ (ZFarming), because no land is needed. With a growing awareness of the positive impact of green space on well-being, rooftop gardening may also be a way to make our cities better places to live.
Many different approaches are needed to tackle the demand for land, but these creative solutions are just some of the ways we can get more from the land we are already using.