Sustainable Food Production on Earth and Mars

From the perspective of the evolutionary history of plants, the first angiosperms (flowering plants) appeared suddenly when their ancestral gymnosperm underwent a “whole genome doubling” event about 200 million years ago. An unsolved mystery is after 350,000 attempts the angiosperms have not evolved to outcompete conifers in the northern hemisphere.

Martians and Earthlings appear as anchors on this Wardley map to emphasize food sovereignty, or the lack of it, and to suggest a connection between Covid, empty buildings, vertical farming, grow chambers, climate change mitigation and humans inhabiting Mars.

How close are we to seeing a shift to vertical farming? Pre-Covid most likely decades. Post-Covid most likely sooner.

As the economy adjusts post-Covid, cities will have an abundance of empty unoccupied buildings. Furthermore, food sovereignty and climate change mitigation are issues that require urgent attention.

Vertical farming maximizes space usage and yield through continuous optimization. The highly controlled and automated lab environment of vertical farming will increase yields. Imagine networks of vertical farms sharing nutrient, lighting, heating, humidity, water, etc, data in real time. This process would provide training data to build machine learning models to predict optimal initial conditions and optimise a vast range of parameters throughout artificial agricultural cycles.

Vertical farming will have a significant impact on logistics. Initially, the costs of locally sourced fresh food would be offset against the additional costs of shipping and waste of traditional land-based farming. Vertical farming will evolve and become more energy efficient, generate less waste, with lower carbon emissions. In comparison the overheads of traditional land-based farming will become prohibitively expensive. It is plausible that the carbon footprint associated with traditional land-based farming will also become socially unacceptable too.

If vertical farming development and innovation is stifled on Earth, then hopes of humans inhabiting Mars will be pushed further into the future. Sustainable farming and climate change mitigation are urgent issues requiring more immediate attention. The adjacent possible vertical farming is opening up increases the chances of similar “whole genome doubling” events leading to breakthroughs in sustainable farming, and ultimately humans inhabiting Mars.

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