Yuichi Mori, a Japanese researcher, has revolutionized agriculture through the development of transparent polymer films made from a permeable hydrogel, which can store liquids and nutrients where plants can grow without the need for soil. The device was originally designed for renal dialysis treatment.
In addition to allowing fruit and vegetables to grow in any environment, the technique consumes 90% less water than traditional agriculture and does not use pesticides, since the pores of the polymer block the passage of viruses and bacteria. The products obtained in vertical agriculture are fresh, locally grown, can be harvested throughout the year, are free of pesticides and are not affected by bad weather, say their advocates.
His company, Mebiol, has patents for this invention in almost 120 countries. This invention represents an authentic agricultural revolution in Japan, a country with a shortage of arable land and a lack of labor.
Polymer cultivation, as done by Yuichi Mori, is practiced in more than 150 locations within Japan, but also in regions such as the United Arab Emirates desert. The method is also being used to rebuild agricultural areas in northeastern Japan that were contaminated by substances brought over by the tsunami after the great earthquake in March 2011.
The Japanese government seeks to attract young people who have little interest in working directly in the field by using agricultural technology, in an attempt to revive a key industry that increasingly has fewer people. In almost a decade, the number of Japanese agricultural producers has fallen from 2.2 million to 1.7 million and their average age is 67 years. Only 7% of Japan's active population is employed in the field, and most farmers work only part-time.
Japan's topography greatly limits its agriculture. The country can only produce 40% of the food it needs, as nearly 85% of the territory is occupied by mountains and most of the remaining arable land is dedicated to growing rice. High technology, therefore, has allowed the expansion of crops without soil. In fact, Japan has been able to expand its production of fruits and vegetables through its production in greenhouses and hydroponics, increasing their productivity by up to one hundred times compared to conventional crops.
Despite the high energy cost of hydroponic agriculture, the number of such factories in Japan has tripled in a decade and there are almost 200 facilities nowadays. The hydroponic market is growing worldwide and it's currently worth about 1.5 billion dollars. According to the forecast of Allied Market Research, it is expected to multiply by four by 2023, reaching 6.4 billion dollars.