OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

A vertical agriculture system irrigated by captured rainwater

A low-cost vertical agriculture system relying on captured rainwater to combat food scarcity and mitigate flood risk.

Photo of Bennett Lambert
6 9

Written by

EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

In regions susceptible to heavy rainfall, climate change will increase the frequency and extremity of heavy rainfall events. Flooding poses a multifaceted problem for those among lower economic classes, as they are frequently the first to be displaced. Flooding can also severely impact local agriculture and surface water quality, creating food scarcity. This project aims to introduce modular infrastructure that, if widely adopted, can combat both food scarcity and provide a decentralized retention system. Vertical agriculture systems are utilized to great effect in several urban settings. Most of these systems rely on expensive control systems to water crops with water supplied by the municipality. This fact has relegated vertical agriculture to use in up-scale developments. The system proposed here captures rainwater in an inexpensive container and utilizes a simple embedded system to deliver water to crops in a vertical scaffold. Capture of rainwater is a proven method to mitigate the effects of heavy rainfall and resulting storm water. This system provides the means to harness an untapped resource while decreasing flood risk and producing food.

WHO BENEFITS?

All members of the low-income community will benefit from the addition of this infrastructure. The introduction of agriculture to the slums themselves represents a large opportunity for a culture shift. The goal of this shift would be equality amongst members of the community through the capability to be more self-subsistent. This idea is suitable for many areas in the list of eligible countries. Examples include: Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea.

HOW DOES YOUR IDEA TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE CONTEXT OF URBAN SLUMS AND CLIMATE CHANGE?

This system is just one step in the battle against climate change and resource uncertainty. Decentralized water retention systems are a powerful technique to mitigate the damage done by extreme rainfall. Papua New Guinea suffers from flash floods and landslides due to cyclones, which can displace upwards of 30,000 people. As a coastal nation these rainfall events can have far reaching environmental impacts as well. Papua New Guinea has one of the richest coral reef systems in the world and sediment washed into the ocean from storm water poses a great risk to ecosystem health. There are currently many initiatives to mitigate storm water runoff, but none make use of captured water. Beyond extreme events, this system offers a reliable food source and a culture based on self-subsistence. The low cost of this system enables easy adoption, but there is large potential for expansion. Scaled-up versions could offset food scarcity for larger urban populations in the not so distant future.

IN-COUNTRY EXPERIENCE

  • Not yet

EXPERTISE

  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for between one and two years

GEOGRAPHIC FOCUS

  • Yes

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF

I'm a Ph.D. student in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology- Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program. Currently I am a visiting student at ETH Zurich. Outside of my personal research I have a passion for low impact development and green architecture.

6 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Spam
Photo of Saurabh Saraf
Team

Hi Bennett,

Have you worked on the designs for such a system? Including what kind of food you may potentially grow there. We are thinking of trying aeroponics for dense slums with limited area, but the issue of energy needs etc will remain. I am doing WaterHubs.org where in one aspect of the solution is to provide some kind of biological production (that can be food or compost etc). Looking forward to hearing from you.

All the best.

Saurabh

Spam
Photo of Bennett Lambert
Team

Hi Saurabh,

I've worked on embedded systems for projects similar to this one and am quite interested in urban agriculture. I'm not entirely familiar with aeroponics but it seems a little elaborate. What I had in mind was a soil based system with rainwater coming into contact with nutrients as it initially flows into the system. The rainwater would then percolate through the soil delivering nutrients to the potted plants. I think that for a proof of concept microgreens are a good place to start. WaterHubs looks really cool!

Spam
Photo of Saurabh Saraf
Team

Hi Bennett,

Thanks for explaining. Indeed aeroponics is a bit elaborate and slightly technical with its needs. We are also thinking of microgreens to begin with. Thank you.

View all comments