Brit wins UN backing for food-growing system deployable in disaster-hit areas

A British engineer who has developed an environmentally-friendly food growing system that can be deployed in disaster-hit areas has won backing from the UN.

Adam Dixon, from Pocklington, Yorkshire, has designed a "hydroponics" system which grows horticultural crops in water encased in a recyclable polymer film, requiring 10 times less land and water to produce food than conventional systems.

Mr Dixon, who studied mechanical engineering at Cardiff University, said his technology was a "flat pack" system which could be deployed in refugee camps or areas hit by hurricanes or tsunamis to deliver fresh food where good soil or land was not available.

The entrepreneur has been honoured with a UN Young Champion of the Earth award, one of six people aged between 18 to 30 each representing a region of the world to get the prize for "big ideas" to protect or restore the environment.

The awards are being given out for the first time by UN Environment with Covestro, a major supplier of high-tech polymer materials, alongside the existing Champions of the Earth prize, and aim to support environmental innovation in younger generations.

The 25-year-old, who is receiving his award in Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday, receives 15,000 US dollars (£11,000) seed funding, training and mentoring to help bring the idea to life.

His company, Phytoponics, is raising investment to develop the technology at a commercial scale. He was prompted to come up with the technology in the face of deforestation and growing loss of habitats converted to farmland to feed the world's increasing population.

But he said he was interested in plants and hydroponics from a young age, first growing carnivorous plants and then using the hydroponics to grow plants in his bedroom as a teenager.

"As an engineer, I developed my own systems, I was frustrated by the high cost and low usability of existing hydroponics," he said.

"There hasn't been much evolution in the systems for a long time, and I think it's ripe for development.

"It's very sustainable because it uses much less land and water," he said, adding that it also reduced risks from food production as it delivered a more consistently high yield.

"It is a sustainable food technology for our growing population, both in terms of reliability and reducing risk, and protecting the environment."

The cost-effective, rapidly deployable technology was being piloted for use in refugee camps by the World Food Programme to support the supply of fresh produce to thousands of people.

Mr Dixon also said it could be used in places hit by natural disasters, for example after tsunamis where the land had been come unusable for crop growing due to salt influx.

His current focus was on designing hydroponics solutions for greenhouses where much of the fresh produce people ate was grown and creating efficient farms on the edge of cities to boost local produce.

But he has a vision that by 2050, the world will be using just 10% of its land for agriculture.

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