From the darkest hour to the greenest hour

Sometimes you have to look back into the past to really see what the future could hold.

The past I’m referring to is the Second World War where Britain was facing the very real possibility of starvation as were many other countries. In Britain’s case they were surrounded by U-Boats, so getting ships laden with imported food in was precarious and often fatal. To prevent British from starving the Dig For Victory propaganda campaign was kicked off to encourage the UK public to reclaim parks, gardens and any available space to grow their own fruit and vegetables. Even the moat around the Tower of London was commandeered to grow vegetables, this successful campaign coupled with rationing helped to stave off starvation of millions.

Fast forward to today and we’re faced with another impending food crisis and this one is on a global scale. By 2050 the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation are predicting the world population to increase by 2.25 billion so there’ll be a total of 9.15 billion people to feed. This has to be viewed against a backdrop of increased competition for land, more extreme weather patterns and pest and diseases all putting pressure on crop yields not to mention the carbon emitted by sending this food across continents further accelerating global warming. You’ve every right to feel a pang of anxiety (I did).  How is our global community going to feed itself?

I’m under no illusion that there’s one single technological magic bullet and we’re certainly not going to be farming on Mars any time soon. But in today’s darkest hour, there is hope… If we can get new hyperefficient growing technologies into the hands of local communities and home growers we could secure our global food production.

There is some really exciting technology being developed, trialled and rolled out right now for commercial agriculture that could be put in the hands of the people.

We’re starting to see the emergence of tech fuelled urban commercial farming businesses like Plenty.ag.  Plenty is a US start-up that has just received $200m investment to expand its indoor vertical farming proposition.Plenty is creating indoor farms  close to populated areas growing non GMO herbicide and pesticide free produce. They use growing data and machine learning to create the optimal combination of water, heat and light that is spot on for growing. They claim to use just one per cent of the water that traditional farming would use.

Robotics and AI is now being experimented with in large scale agriculture. A company called Blue River Technology are developing smart farming machines coupled with artificial intelligence that can identify individual plants that need treatment. This dramatically reduces (they claim by up to 90 per cent) the amounts of harmful herbicides used negating the need for the traditional blanket approach to crop spraying. Just imagine if you could have your own gardening robot treating all your prized vegetables. You’d hardly have to lift a finger!

At GardenTags, we’ve created a platform for individuals and communities to connect, share advice and support each other’s growing journey. As a result of the growing communities nurturing and encouragement, 75 per cent of members are growing more plants. We’re further supporting our growing community with digital plant identification and we’re moving on to the next stage of development where A.I. will help growers make smarter growing decisions like when to harvest crops for maximum yield and spotting pests and diseases. We believe this will make home growers, particularly those with less experience, successful first time around.

If we couple this emerging technology with local communities fired up to grow on disused public spaces (see Incredible Edible as a great example of community growing) or individuals who want to take over a part of their garden or indeed room in their house to grow, the results could be transformational. Just think of all that fresh local produce at your fingertips that hasn’t literally cost the Earth to grow. I’m hopeful that that the future is locally grown and our greenest hour is just around the corner.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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