Is future in film farming?
DUBAI — Recognising the risks involved in a future without enough water and soil resources, companies and inventors have engineered what can be called a step towards a revolution in farming.
Soil-less farming or what will come to be known as ‘film farming’ has been made possible with hydrogel technology. The technology reduces up to 90 per cent water consumption and 80 per cent fertiliser use, resulting in a productivity boost of 50 per cent. Tests have also proved that the film can be used in any geographical area and weather conditions.
The hydrogel-based IMEC film and the hydrophilic booster, SkyGel — a super absorbent polymer that acts as a reservoir holding water up to 1,000 times its weight, — can boost plant productivity and yield. The IMEC Film and SkyGel are developed specifically to reduce the use of water, increase plant productivity and crop yield, while producing a best in class nutritious and healthy food that is highly rich in sugars, GABA and Lycopene. The technology will officially be launched in the UAE today by its Dubai-based owners, agricel. These original tests were carried out in Japan, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, the UAE and the UK.
The film was invented by Prof Dr Yuichi Mori of Waseda University, Japan. He is also the chairman of the Advisory Board of agricel.
The “film farming” system can be installed on any surface — wood, sand or concrete — and across any terrain—from a dry arid desert to existing fertile farms or even in space. Co-founder and CEO of agricel Yalman A Khane said, “The technology allows us to farm in a sustainable manner commercially, in turn producing nutritionally superior and safe food while reducing the use of harmful chemicals in the food supply chain. We can now grow cherry tomatoes in the middle of the desert.”
Currently, film farming is done across 180 farms in Japan. The film can be used in a green-house facility and the SkyGel can be mixed along with the fertiliser and applying it in the soil will cut down water use for the crops.
Another co-founder of agricel Kunal G. Wadhwani said, “Current global issues like water and food scarcity will manifold in the future. Our company’s motto is ‘to feed the future’. When the technology is applied on 1 acre of farm land, not more than four people are required to operate it right from seeding to harvesting.”
The company is currently signing contracts with several local players to integrate film farming into the UAE’s farm sector. Speciality foods and fruits like cherry tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and melons, and spices like paprika thrive on the film.
The technology aims to remedy the problems of extreme food shortages due to finite agricultural land and resources and an exploding population whilst creating demand for jobs around the globe. “We are entrepreneurs. The case is very clear as agricel’s innovative film farming technologies have proven to be more cost effective than alternative farming methods, generating an ROI (return on investment) of between 40% to 70% and an IRR (the initial return rate) north of 58%,” added Wadhwani.
“Have you wondered why cherry tomatoes are so expensive here? A kilo costs about Dh35. It’s because of the costs involved in the logistics like transport. But if you can grow it locally and on the film, half the costs are reduced,” said Khan. Mass production using the technology is currently possible only using the gel. All kinds of crops can be grown on the film, except vegetables grown underground like potatoes, ginger and onions.
Apart from farming, Khan suggested that the film can be used in golf courses which will, in turn, result in lesser water bills. The hydrogel film can be installed at a cost of $2,000 per acre of farm land in the SkyGel form, installation would cost about $2 million. agricel markets, services and sells the film farming and hydrophilic booster technologies developed in Japan. agricel’s products have been commercially successful for over four years, in Japan and China. More recently, Australia ran a successful transformation from hydroponic farming to the new use of film farming in 2010.
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