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From Cow-Boys to Cow-Buoys

The world’s first floating farm is in the Netherlands’ Rotterdam harbour. Image credit: Ruben Mario Kleimeer

By 2050 the Planet population is expected to be close to 10 billion people. That’s much less than the estimated number of ants living today (1 quadrillion, that is 100,000 more than the expected 10 billion humans in 2050) but their total weight is two orders of magnitude less than the one of humans and roughly we can say that humans use 3 orders of magnitude more Earth resources than ants. The growing number of resources used just for feeding is a major issue. It has been a major issue for most part of our story on the planet, with the growth of human population often constrained by the amount of available food, technology -improvement in agriculture- has been a fundamental component in making more food available, hence sustaining more people.

The number of chicken is growing exponentially. There are now 23 billion of them and by 2050 their number is estimated to get close to 200 billion. Image credit: FAO statistics

Notice that to sustain the quest for food of a growing human population we inject more needs in the “planet-System”. We have now over 1 billion cattle , 23 billion chicken (the number of chicken eaten worldwide each year has reached 66 billion, over 2000 each second), an undefined number of shrimp (but the FAO estimate we eat some 300 billion shrimps each year half of them “produced” in fisheries) in the world to serve our hunger for meet. All these animals have to be fed and this multiply the demand on agriculture.

No wonder that substantial investment is dedicated to find new ways of producing food.

In the Netherlands Beladon is experimenting with self sustainable floating farms. They have one active in the port of Rotterdam, hosting 32 cows eating potato peals and grass clippings. They produce 2.5 tons of dung each day that is collected by a Roomba like robot and processed in the lower floor of the barge to be converted in fertiliser. Another robot is milking the cow, 5 gallon a day from each heifer.

Clearly, 32 cows out of 1 billion is close to nothing, but it is interesting to see how new approaches are being tested, leveraging on automation supported by better and cheaper technology.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.