Soil has always been an integral part of the food production ecosystem. However, over the years as agrarian practices have intensified, the quality of soil has deteriorated due to inadequate replenishment of soil nutrients.
Since the early 1970s, researchers and botanists have been exploring the possibility to grow food without soil, which laid the foundation for future research in Aeroponics. Aeroponics, essentially, is a method to grow food in a soilless environment, with very little water.
Interestingly, aeroponics was first explored in 1920s when scientists wanted to study the root structure of plants. But the method did not gain more formal interest until the 70s, when behind the scenes research was going on. It was only in 90s when NASA supported a small project, that the method received widespread interest and recognition as a potential method to grow food.
How does it work?
Aeroponics involves a cardboard, Rockwool and some water. Seeds are allowed to germinate on a board with equidistant holes with soilless medium like Rockwool. As the plant grows, roots are allowed to grow below in an enclosed chamber which holds the nutritional water and cuts off the sunlight. Read more here. Essentially, the method looks to grow food with minimal inputs in a way that nutritional quality of food is not affected.
Future of aeroponics
For centuries growing food has been dependent on soil, and the idea of soilless food production seems bizarre to most. That’s why aeroponics still awaits implementation as a regular way of agriculture. But aeroponics addresses some of the biggest challenges of conventional agriculture, making it a promising trend in agriculture.
- Water efficiency: Aeroponics involves a closed chamber which hosts the nutritional water for crop growth. Hence, water application is targeted with continuous recycling, reducing wastage to minimal. Conventional agrarian practices require field irrigation which leads to heavy water losses. FAO estimates that 60% of the water used in irrigation is wasted due to inefficiencies like run-off. Additionally, as compared to field agriculture, aeroponics uses 95% less water.
- Restoring nutrition: The inefficiencies in agricultural practices has led to loss of nutrition from soil. Through aeroponics, botanists have found a way to enhance aeration, nutrient uptake by the roots leading to robust crop yields that can contribute to the food security goals, globally.
- Productivity: Aeroponics allows for plants to grow faster as they have access to timely and accurate resources. Controlled environment allows to monitor the productivity and make required changes, making it a “smart” method to grow food. Aeroponics has the potential to produce 70% more food than through conventional methods.
Apart from its future in urban agriculture, aeroponics has the potential to become a commercial method of production due to other advantages like space utility, easy maintenance and mobility. It is hence that aeroponics market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 25.60% from 2019 to 2026.
With the right support from the Government, interest from young agri-tech startups and upskilling the farmers, aeroponics can gain popularity and make way for an alternative source of growing food in addition to the conventional techniques.