Shigeharu Shimamura, a plant physiologist and CEO of Mirai, has constructed the world’s largest indoor farmâ€”25,000 square feet of futuristic garden beds nurtured by 17,500 LED lights in a bacteria-free, pesticide-free environment. The result? About 10,000 heads of fresh lettuce harvested each day.
The unique “plant factory” is so efficient that it cuts food waste from the 30 to 40 percent typically seen for lettuce grown outdoors to less than 3 percent for their coreless lettuce.
National Geographic spoke with Shimamura recently about the innovative food factory and indoor farms as a potential solution to the global food crisis.
What was the inspiration for this business venture?
Japan has had an interest in research and development in the field of farming in a factory setting for about 40 to 50 years now.
Our company built a plant factory at a location devastated by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011 because of the general concern in Japan about the declining rate of domestic vegetable supply, and how we might remedy the problem of the heavy dependence on imports.
The reason we chose this particular location is because we wanted to prove that vegetables can be produced anywhere now. Second, we wanted to help restart the economic development in this disaster area. And last, looking into the future, if we could succeed there, we could also see a possibility of exporting the technology we developed all over the world.
What impact could your plant factory have on the future of food production and as a remedy for food shortages?
Currently we have a world population of 7 to 7.2 billion. Among them, about 800 to 900 million people are suffering from starvation, or close to it. People around the world are all wondering how we can produce more food to mitigate this grave situation.
We know that water plays a big role in this, and the technology Mirai developed uses less than one percent of the water commonly used to grow vegetablesâ€”so we can conserve water by growing vegetables in a factory environment and use the water to produce more grains elsewhere.
Using this method, if we can build plant factories all over the world, we can support the food production to feed the entire world’s population. This is what we are really aiming for.