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Innovative ways to feed an ever expanding urban population

BBC World News’ Horizons speaks to pioneers in the USA and The Netherlands about innovative ways to feed an ever expanding urban population. Broadcasting on BBC World News Saturday, April 28th and Sunday, April 29th 2012.

Horizons Adam Shaw

Horizons Adam Shaw


By 2050 it has been estimated that the global population will top the 9 billion mark, with an estimated 70% of the world’s people predicted to be living in cities. In the fourth episode of the series, with increasing pressure on available agricultural land and the logistical issues of transporting food over large distances, presenters Adam Shaw and Saima Mohsin meet some of the people around the world looking for innovative solutions to feeding an ever expanding urban population.

Adam Shaw travels to New York where he meets some of the pioneers of urban agriculture. His first stop is Brooklyn Grange; a commercial organic farm using traditional agricultural methods but located on the roof of a six story building which its creators hope will be recreated across the city’s redundant rooftops. At Gotham Greens, he learns how advances in greenhouse technology and the field of hydroponics are allowing its team to grow higher crop yields in a smaller amount of space by replacing soil with a nutrient rich growing solution.

Adam also meets Mark Doherty the founder of Aqua Vita Farms which is at the forefront of aquaponics – a system which combines hydroponics and fish farming to produce not only salad crops but also fish to sell to local consumers. In aquaponics the plants act as a natural filter, cleaning water in fish tanks while the nutrient rich effluent from the fish provides food for the plants.

Later in the programme Adam meets Dickson Despommier, a specialist in public health, who is at the vanguard of a global movement which hopes to harness existing hydroponic and aquaponics technologies to bring them together in a radical approach to growing food in cities – the multi-storied skyscraper farm.

Dickson Despommier, Columbia University, says: “It’s big but it’s simple. It takes the concept of the greenhouse and stacks it on top of each other to make it vertical. It’s nutrition wherever you need it and wherever you want it, growing food closer to where we live. Because there’s no soil it doesn’t matter where you build it as long as the conditions inside are controlled.”

Meanwhile, Saima Mohsin is in the Netherlands to meet Gertjan Meuwes of PlantLab, an innovative research company which has been looking at revolutionary ways to grow plants indoors without natural light. Using a totally climate controlled environment and the latest developments in LED lighting, PlantLab creates what they believe is the optimum growing conditions for a wide range of crops monitored by computer software.

Gertjan Meuwes, Managing Partner at PlantLab says: “All the knowledge you need as the best grower in the world we put on a memory card. So instead of having a grower that turns and tweaks the climate conditions all day, all the settings from seed to fully grown are fixed.

“We see this as the future of modern horticulture. On one layer we are able to produce three or four times the best greenhouse production. Then you can make many layers which stack on top of each other so on the same footprint you increase yields tenfold or even more. We only need one square metre to feed a human being with fresh fruit and vegetables for a whole year. It’s a very compact and ecological way of producing food.”


The Horizons series, sponsored by DuPont, airs weekly on Saturdays at 01:30 and 08:30, Sundays at 14:30 and 20:30 (all times GMT). For programme highlights and an insight into the future of global business visit  For all the latest news, behind-the-scenes pictures/videos and updates from Adam Shaw please follow at and/or on twitter at @horizonsbiz.

BBC World News, the BBC’s commercially funded international 24-hour news and information channel, is owned and operated by BBC World News Ltd, a member of the BBC’s commercial group of companies.  BBC World News is available in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide, and over 300 million households and 1.8 million hotel rooms. The channel’s content is also available on 136 cruise ships, 40 airlines, 23 mobile phone networks and a number of major online platforms including  For further information on how to receive BBC World News, download schedules or find out more about the channel, visit

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