Sustainable Agriculture and Food are areas that benefit greatly from the environment of space. The Sustainable Food & Agriculture track can involve activities tackling one or more of the below themes. Or you as participant can come up with a different theme, or an alternate take on any proposed theme.

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Space farming for improving plant health, crop yield and more stress tolerant plants

Space allows for a better understanding of stress mechanisms of plants and their adaptation to a new environment. Gene expression in plants grown in space also changes due to the microgravity environment. Plant genetics are the regulations of the plants genes that lead to things like drought tolerance, temperature tolerance, and salinity tolerance. Microgravity also affects plant microbe interaction, as microorganisms behave differently in the microgravity environment of space that lacks convection and sedimentation. Using microgravity, where microbes can become more virulent, we can find ways to combat disease causing microbes and create better methods for treating and preventing plant diseases. Research on a space station can allow for increased plant yield or the development of new varieties of plants, capable of surviving diverse environmental conditions and more resistant to climate change.

Indoor agriculture / vertical farming

Vertical farming is the practice of growing crops in vertically stacked layers. It also incorporates controlled-environment agriculture, which is a technique of growing crops that aims to optimize plant growth, and soilless farming techniques such as hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics. This is also frequently looked at as a way to feed people in remote places without arable soil and for long duration space exploration and colonization. The space environment serves as a testbed for controlled environment agriculture, such as indoor growing technologies and vertical agriculture techniques – these are tested in a space environment and the invaluable knowledge gained from these new technologies can be applied for both terrestrial as well as in-space sustainable solutions. Moreover, water treatment or water membrane technologies can benefit from the environment of microgravity. Understanding lighting technologies and how phototropism is different in microgravity could lead to better lighting technologies for indoor farming on Earth or in future space greenhouses.

Precision farming technologies and methods

The focus of this theme is to address advancement in technologies and processes for the sustainable management of farming activities - crops, livestock, and fisheries - from space to Earth. Concepts could be elaborated focusing on the establishment of observation, measurement, data analysis, and response strategies and tools to monitor and control breeding and crops. Monitoring crops also allows us to enhance our understanding of food availability. Much of work done in crop monitoring focuses on ensuring a healthy and large production yield, as well as early warning signs of disease and shortfalls in crop production. Assets that could be used are for example remote sensing, robotics, unmanned aerial vehicles, nanotechnology, cellular agriculture, gene editing, artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain. By applying such technologies and methods, farmers can be helped in reducing the environmental impact through a more efficient and effective water, soil and pest management, for example, thus improving protection, cost-effectiveness, quality, safety and productivity of farming activities and ultimately the sustainability of the global ecosystem.

Food production, processing, quality, safety, and waste management

The focus of this theme is to address the advancements in technologies and processes of food production and storage to enhance the functionality, quality, nutritional value, palatability, and safety of food, and its waste management. This could, for example, include research, development and demonstration of eco-efficient and cost-effective food production, processing, controlling, and packaging systems that ensure the health, performance and well-being of humans, animals, and plants. Also, space plays a role in inspiring humankind to seek new sustainable solutions such as 3D food printing or cellular agriculture that are also relevant for extreme environment outposts and expeditions, both in space and on Earth.