LAYTON, Utah — Food security is a tough issue since there are countless ways to thwart a food supply, including disease, lack of space, pests and drought. Grow Pod Solutions is a company that has built farms inside shipping containers, eliminating all of the above problems and opening a door that could lead to these farms aiding in the improvement of global food security. Ensuring global food security is such a significant undertaking that it can often feel overwhelming. The World Food Summit that occurred in 1996 clearly articulated what global food security means. The summit stated that “[food security is achieved]when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” An overwhelming problem is best dealt with one step at a time.
The Consequences of Global Food Insecurity
The first and foremost consequence is starvation. When there is not enough food to go around, people could lose their lives. However, this is not the only consequence. Without a balanced diet, life expectancies decrease, growth stunts and children have diminished mental capacities. Malnutrition can take many forms as obesity is also a form of malnutrition. Obesity sometimes occurs when a healthy and nutritious diet is not affordable. Obesity also decreases life expectancies and can lead to non-communicable diseases.
In 2021, the BBC estimated in an article that 928 million people were severely food insecure. Additionally, the United Kingdom’s Global Food Security program stated that “More than 2 billion people lack vital micronutrients (e.g. iron, zinc, vitamin A), affecting their health and life expectancy.” It also stated that nearly a quarter of all children aged under 5 suffer from stunting.
With those statistics, it is clear to see that there is a desperate need not only for food but quality food that is highly nutritious. Lack of food is a nuanced problem and has many causes that range from violent conflict to drought – any number of issues can have an impact, according to BBC. A single storm can destroy an entire village’s rice harvest and disease can kill crops with just as much inevitability. BBC has stated that not all land is suitable for crops as arable land is a limited resource that is quickly diminishing as urbanization increases and sea levels rise.
The Next Step
What should one do, if there is a need for agriculture and not enough resources? The scientific community has been hard at work and it introduces many hopeful new technologies to increase efficiency and accessibility. Enter Grow Pod Solutions, a California-based company with an eye for innovation. The Borgen Project spoke with Grow Pod Solutions President George Natzic to discuss how the company’s indoor shipping container farms have the potential to help achieve global food security.
Grow Pod Solutions (sometimes referred to as GP Solutions) has created a product they call a container farm – a complete farm inside a shipping container. The container farms use a mixture of human operation and automation. According to Natzic, tried-and-true farming techniques are often worthy of modern use and too much automation can create inefficiency. No special accreditation or degree is necessary to operate the pods, only a one-day training course. One fully trained part-time employee could operate up to five container farms every 20-hour workweek.
Many outdoor crops are highly dependent on rain and irrigation and water levels must stay within a certain margin that drought and flooding can disrupt. Scientists currently predict that droughts will increase in frequency in the future, BBC reports. GP Solutions’ container farms utilize various hydroponic systems, eliminating the use of soil and providing plants with water through a stream-like flow. The water runs “through reverse osmosis and sometimes UV lights, which kills bacteria and provides the farms with clean water to feed the plants with,” Natzic said. Grow Pod Solutions equips their farms with LED grow lights and automated temperature controls, providing a stable environment for plants to thrive. No risk of overwatering, drought, scorching or freezing.
Pests and disease are another constant agricultural plight. Locusts and other insects ravage crops, destroying entire fields in the blink of an eye, according to BBC. Plants can pick up disease in any number of environments, as it is a long journey from field to consumer. Indoor farms remove these risks as well. Shipping container walls provide ample protection from hungry animals and insects and disease is far more preventable when farmers are dealing with a contained environment. Natzic explained that since there are no pests, there is no need for pesticides that can be harmful to human health.
The Potential Applications of Container Farms
Due to the nature of the container farms, this is a solution that gears more toward malnutrition and small crops, such as leafy greens, fruits and vegetables. There is still a need for serious work when it comes to staple crops, such as rice, maize and wheat. Grow Pod Solutions is better suited to solve issues regarding malnutrition. According to Natzic, most produce naturally loses about 45% of its nutritional value by the time it has completed transit and someone purchases it. This is another reason why this method of localizing produce is a good fit for poor areas.
Currently, Grow Pod Solutions mostly deals in the United States, although they have recently expanded their reach to include the Bahamas and Tahiti. Natzic emphasized that the company is showing interest in international partnerships to improve global food security. The container farms perform equally well in rural and urban environments. GP Solutions is able to place the pods virtually anywhere and solve hunger if there is water and power at the pod site.
– Mia Sharpe