Land-based algae farms could help solve future global food production problems

By mid-century, society will need to significantly intensify the production of its food production system while reducing its footprint: land use, freshwater resources and biodiversity.

A new study speculates that these future global food production problems could be solved by growing nutritious, protein-rich (single-celled) microalgae in land-based aquaculture systems fed seawater.

Today, agriculture is the backbone of food production, but with high environmental costs and many greenhouse gas emissions, there is still a lot to do. Marine aquaculture is underdeveloped and also has environmental impacts.

We cannot achieve our goals with the way we currently produce food and our dependence on land-based agriculture.

Charles Greene, Professor Emeritus of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and lead author of the paper.

Terrestrial aquaculture systems.

This is where land-based aquaculture systems come in.

Cornell University researchers claim that algae growth in land-based aquaculture farms can make a big difference.

Researchers have studied how the growth of algae on land could fill the projected gap in the future nutritional needs of society. Moreover, the environmental footprint of these innovative farms reduce deforestation and require no soil or fertilizer.

We have the ability to grow fast-growing, highly nutritious food, and we can do that in environments where we don’t compete with other uses. And because we grow it in relatively closed and controlled facilities, we don’t have the same kind of environmental impact.

charles green

Cornell researchers used GIS-based models to predict yields based on annual sunshine, topography, and other environmental and logistical factors. The model results reveal that the best locations for terrestrial algae cultivation facilities are along the coasts of the Global South, including desert environments.

Marine microalgae are a great untapped source of high quality dietary protein. Marine microalgae also provide nutrients that vegetarian diets lack, such as essential amino acids and minerals found in meat and omega-3 fatty acids often found in fish and shellfish. Algae grow ten times faster than traditional crops and they can be produced more efficiently than agriculture in their use of nutrients.

By reducing the demand for agricultural land from agriculture, growing marine microalgae can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss, the researchers note.

Moreover, although seaweed farming solves many food and environmental problems on paper, it can only be successful if people adopt it in their diets and for other uses.

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