The Index Project
Index Award 2013 Finalists
Diaper Technology
Diaper technology makes farming 90% more water efficient

The ballooning world population is putting pressure on agriculture, and the increase in agriculture is in turn draining scarce water supplies, as well as arable land. What if we could reduce water consumption by 90%? Minimize the use of potentially harmful fertilizers? Utilize arid landscapes such as deserts, or even concrete carparks to grow fruit and vegetables? Well, now we can.

Dr Yuichi Mori of Waseda University has pioneered a system of Film Farming with Hydrogel that is remarkably soil-less, uses 90% less water, 80% less fertilizer, boosts productivity by 50%, and produces nutritious and delicious crops. How? He combined the technology used in disposable diapers with a pioneering film.

“In adapting diaper technology for irrigation, engineers had considered that hydrogels in a diaper must absorb liquid once and hold it without seepage, while in soil, they must hold and slowly release water” reported in the New York Times. While the Hydrogel technology was introduced in the early 80s, it failed to take-off because it was too expensive. Since then, Dr Mori of Mebiol Inc. has added a visionary element: the film.

The film, which acts as a surrogate for soil, can be installed on any surface – wood, sand, or concrete – and across any terrain. So it’s little surprise it has taken-off in arid regions such as the Middle East. “The technology allows us to farm in a sustainable manner commercially, in turn producing nutritionally superior and safe food while reducing the use of harmful chemicals in the food supply chain. We can grow cherry tomatoes in the middle of the desert”, said Yalman A Khane, of agricel, which is partnered with Mebiol Inc.

The Neolithic – or rather Agricultural – Revolution during the Stone Age marked the beginning of culture. Prior to the revolution, man hunted and gathered, and was forced to live a nomadic life in a never-ending quest for new food sources. As soon as man learned how to farm the land to produce all the required food, he began to exert control over nature, and harness its fruits for development. The population ballooned, and culture flourished. Thousands of years later, nature cannot keep up with 7 billion mouths to feed. Film Farming with Hydrogel is truly a step towards a revolution in farming.

What is really at the heart of this design is sustainable food production. Kunal G Wadhwani of Agricel said: “Current global issues like water and food scarcity will manifold in the future. Our company’s motto is ‘to feed the future”. And we salute them.