Film farming: Cultivating crops beyond soil and water
Is it possible to raise crops without soil? We are familiar with soil-less modes of cultivation like hydroponics and aquaponics. But there’s a new incredible method for growing fruits and vegetables with neither water nor soil, known as film farming.
The Japanese polymer physicist Dr. Yuichi Mori, invented the technology of film farming. He developed a cultivation system startup company named Mebiol in 1995, based on this novel technology. In the early 1990s, world nations signed the Kyoto protocol considering the global warming phenomenon as an ecological hazard. Meanwhile, Dr. Mori developed film farming technology to promote sustainable farming and thereby tactfully curb the issues of water scarcity and soil pollution. The reckless natural disasters of 2011 that shattered the spirits of the Japanese population like the Tsunami and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster, motivated Dr. Mori to make his dreams come true.
What’s film farming?
Hydrogel is a crosslinked polymer that acts as moisture absorbent in the diapers and napkins. The same chemical is being used in an IMEC film on which seeds are planted. This film appears like a cling film used for wrapping food materials. But unlike a cling film, IMEC has nano pores having the size 1/1000000 th of a millimeter. Water, salts and nutrients alone reach the root zone of the plants via a process known as osmosis. Hence film farming protects the plant roots from disease causing bacteria, fungi or viruses thereby offering excellent protection, facilitating a safe to eat mode of food production. The utility of this novel technology is very attractive as it can be easily adopted to raise crops in fallows, polluted or marshy lands, concrete or even in desert soils.
How to do film farming?
Place a piece of thick black waterproof polymer sheet of required length, on a desired surface intended for crop cultivation. Above that, install the porous drip tube containing salts and essential nutrients. Next is a layer of filter paper having the same length as that of the black polymer sheet underneath. Top it all is the IMEC film and the agricultural field is ready for cropping! As there is no direct application of water, the chances of leakage is highly improbable. The requirement of water and nutrients is just one fourth of the normal method and hence cost of production can be substantially lowered. Being subjected to optimal quantities of water and nutrients, tomatoes produced by film farming have high amino acid and sugar content making them more appealing to the market. Besides, they have high nutritive values and sugar content in comparison to naturally grown tomatoes.
From tomatoes to lettuce
Dr. Yuichi Mori dedicated his 20 years in relentless trial and error experiments to develop film farming technology. In the beginning he faced huge challenges in making this technology acceptable among masses. More than 160 farms are now practising film farming technology for growing tomatoes, salad cucumber, strawberry, capsicum and lettuce. All the credit goes to Dr. Mori for his perseverance, patience, extensive and continuous extension services at every stage for the farmers, until they wholeheartedly accepted the technique.
Countries like Singapore, China, Dubai and Europe have adopted film farming technology for growing fruits and vegetables. Mebiol received patents for this technology in 116 countries worldwide. For certain crops the IMEC film can be utilised until a year but farmers replace them after six months.
During January 2018, the Mebifarm at Al Ain in Dubai commenced film farming in 1.25 acres of land. In a country like Dubai, where 90% of agricultural products are imported, film farming technology opens wide opportunities in crop production. Mebifarm is a subsidiary of Mebiol Europe Limited company, gained GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) for its agricultural products in international markets. But organic certification is not feasible in Dubai, as it offers only for crops grown in soil. The branded Mebifarm tomatoes known as “tomatilicious” is available in supermarkets all over in Dubai.
The utilisation of available groundwater in India is 5% for industrial purposes, 6% for household purposes and 89% for agricultural purposes. By 2050 India will become a nation of water insecurity, according to economic surveys. Hence novel technologies like film farming that require very little amount of water may be promoted and hopefully it will gain a foothold in the Indian agricultural sector, hopefully in near future.
Source from: Dr. Yamuna S (2022). Film farming: Cultivating crops beyond soil and water. Retrieved from: The Times of India (April 4, 2022). https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/voices/film-farming-cultivating-crops-beyond-soil-and-water/