You know when sometimes you can’t decide whether research ideas are ingenious or ridiculous? This is one of those cases. Apparently, in Costa Rica researchers are working on agriculture that doesn’t require any more land, because crops are grown directly on rafts floating on freshwater lakes and reservoirs. In aquatic agriculture (not to be confused with aquaculture, the method of farming seafood), terrestrial crops can have their roots directly in the water or be potted on the rafts and supplied with water through capillary wicks, whereas aquatic crops (which I am assuming to mean algae and the like) are farmed directly in the lake. The Costa Rican researchers got a $100,000 research grant from the Canadian government to further their research and say that this method would help to minimize the wasteful use of water common in irrigation schemes and provide novel solutions to deal with shifting rainfall patterns due to global warming. According to them, the technique could be used wherever access to large lakes or man-made reservoirs (e.g. through the creation of hydroelectric dams) exists, for example in Sub-Saharan Africa, Bangladesh, Bolivia, or the Philippines.
While I have some reservations about the actual logistics of it – how would it affect the lake ecosystem? How do you distribute access to the lake? How would property rights work? Where do the plants get their nutrients from? – I have to admit that it is a fascinating concept, and an interesting alternative to current river and lake use for irrigation that has left one of the originally largest lakes in the world, the Aral Sea, decimated to 1/10 of its former size (in 2007 – note that the Aral Sea was a saltwater lake and would thus not have been suitable for this technique, but it’s the starkest example of water loss through irrigation of our day).
Bonus: Check out this video where the scientists explain their idea: