To the simple question of whether food will be produced in the soil and in 100 years, the answer would be: yes. However, as we relate to the environment in general and to food sources, there are scientists who say that over a hundred years, food could be grown in some form of alternative or substituted for traditional soil. Scientific predictions usually go ten, twenty years in advance, but again, there are those who think that where and how to grow food for maybe ten, twenty, twenty-five billion people in a hundred years, and that food quality is the same for all of them. Just because in the future we should not rely on a thin layer of soil on our planet, but think of alternatives.
Vertical and hydroponic farming are already being considered. Synthetic cultivation of meat-like protein in the laboratory is also known. I know that all this is far from nature, but if this attitude towards the same nature forces us to alternative, we should also think about artificial cultivation of food. One of the sciences dealing with this problem is synthetic biology.
So will we have the technological know-how, and will we be able to afford the infrastructural investment to produce all our food away from natural soil within a century? Technologically we would like to think this is possible. But will we have the need? Do we have the will?
There are two predominant modern movements in relation to food. The first is the ethical and environmental movement, which holds that food should be produced without harm to the environment or perhaps even to animals. Soil is an important – and non-renewable – part of the environment. This raises the crucial question of whether it can continue to sustain the world’s growing population.
Alongside this is the slow food movement, with its concern for the production of high-quality food of known provenance. Already, modern food production techniques to manage energy and water use can potentially give 10 times the yield per unit area that normal field conditions provide. This could be transferred to vertical growing spaces, 100 units high. That alone means we would need just 0.1% of the land area we use now for food production. This could free up huge tracts of land to allow soil to recover from degradation, restoring ecosystems across the planet. It would represent a high-tech answer to the question of environmental ethics.
Returning areas of soil currently used for food production back to native vegetation could help us conserve wildlife, defend against floods, and provide natural buffer areas that can filter water and cycle nutrients. Locations may include soils in rain forests with copious biodiversity and voluminous water-cycling capability, or wetlands upstream of cities prone to flooding.