British engineer's hydroponic food system for disaster areas wins UN backing

A new system for growing food in disaster-hit areas, developed by a British engineer, has received backing from the UN.

Adam Dixon, from Pocklington, Yorkshire, has designed a hydroponics system which grows horticultural crops in water encased in a recyclable polymer film, requiring 10 times less land and water to produce food than conventional systems.

The Cardiff University graduate will receive an £11,000 prize for seed funding, training and mentoring to help bring his idea to life.

Phytoponics, the company set up by Dixon to develop the technology, is raising investment in order to roll it out at a commercial scale.

He was prompted to come up with the technology in the face of deforestation and growing loss of habitats converted to farmland to feed the world’s increasing population.

The cost-effective, rapidly deployable technology is already being piloted for use in refugee camps by the World Food Programme to support the supply of fresh produce to thousands of people.

The technology is designed to be flatpacked so that it can be easily transported and deployed to deliver fresh food where good soil or land is not available.

The entrepreneur has been awarded a UN Young Champion of the Earth award, one of six people aged between 18 to 30 each representing a region of the world to get the prize for ‘big ideas’ to protect or restore the environment.

The awards are being given out for the first time by UN Environment with Covestro, a major supplier of high-tech polymer materials, alongside the existing Champions of the Earth prize, and aim to support environmental innovation in younger generations.

“As an engineer, I developed my own systems, I was frustrated by the high cost and low usability of existing hydroponics,” Dixon said.

“There hasn’t been much evolution in the systems for a long time and I think it’s ripe for development.

“It’s very sustainable because it uses much less land and water,” he said, adding that it also reduced risks from food production as it delivered a more consistently high yield.

“It is a sustainable food technology for our growing population, both in terms of reliability and reducing risk, and protecting the environment.”

He also said it could be used in places hit by natural disasters, for example after tsunamis where the land had been come unusable for crop growing due to salt influx.

His current focus was on designing hydroponics solutions for greenhouses where much of the fresh produce people ate was grown and creating efficient farms on the edge of cities to boost local produce.

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