Science fiction and the crops of the future
We're surrounded by evidences about the black future of the Earth. This month (November 2016), Leonardo Di Caprio launched his documentary 'Before the flood' about global warming and its consequences as an urgent call to action on the matter. Science fiction has also been flirting for a while with the idea of humankind moving massively to other planet. Of course, that couldn't be explained without setting before the feasibility of growing crops in those new worlds.
We can see this in 'Interstellar' and in 'The Martian', for example. In the former, wheat and other crops been wiped out from the planet due to extreme conditions and dust storms. Just corn and okra remain. Population has to move into the Cooper Station, a sort of giant, space bubble with the same atmospheric and climate conditions as the Earth, floating near Saturn. Here plants are able to grow, but this is just a temporal accomodation while astronauts look for a new planet to settle in.The Martian explores this possibility in more detail. Its main character, Matt Damon, is an astronaut-botanist who manages to grow potatoes in Mars. Is this far from reality? Well, the International Space Station has its own system. It's name is Veggie, and it provides astronauts with fresh salad-type crops. China has also been experimenting on this. In October, they launched their longest manned mission into orbit to carry out medical and scientific experiments. During their one-month stay, the two Chinese astronauts have nurtured silkworms and grow lettuce. The peculiarity is that the incubator environment can be remotely controlled from the Earth.
CROPS UNDER THE SEA AND UNDER THE GROUND
"The seaweed is always greener in somebody else's lake", says that famous song from 'The Little Mermaid'. And that's, precisesly, what the founder of Nemo's Garden must have thought. Sergio Gamberini came up with the idea of growing crops under the sea in the north-west of Italy in 2012. As a diver, he believed that plants could grow here in an optimal environment: light, constant temperature, protection and tonnes of water. In order to make it real, he just needed a system consisting of pods (or transparent balloons) anchored to the bottom and ultimately filled in with air. Voilà! The underwater greenhouse is ready for the seeds to be sowed. Would they use this in Atlantis?
These crops are watered by a desalination method: the seawater inside the bubble evaporates and condensates on the top, free of salt. Then, the drops will fall into the trays containing the crops. For now, they contain strawberries, red cabbage and beans among others.
Eco-friendly, self-sustainable and ecological are the three principles on which this system relies, as per its creators. In their words, they're exploring the possibility to give countries with harsh or impossible conditions for agriculture an option to water and soil.
While the submarine and space agriculture gives its fruits, Norway shelters a huge backup of frozen seeds in the insides of an iced mountain. A kind of Noah's Ark for vegetables and plants, just in case. The most scary thing is that The Svalbard Global Seeds Vault -as this place is called- has already opened its doors for the first time due to the catastrophic effects of the war in Syria.Hopefully, the humankind will have learnt some lessons from popular culture and from science fiction books and movies (and most importantly, from our own mistakes) before a new withdrawal is required.
Science fiction and popular culture have given us hints about the agriculture of the future. The decay of the conventional methods due to the climate conditions and pests could make necessary the implementation of new ways of growing crops. The US and China have already experimented with the production of salad-like vegetables in the space, and Italy has a project devoted to grow crops under the sea. But while these new ways expand, Norway has a backup of all the seeds in the world in an enormous freezer under a mountain, just in case a major catastrophe takes place.