The Food Computer is a controlled-environment agriculture technology platform that uses robotic systems to control and monitor climate, energy, and plant growth inside of a specialized growing chamber. Climate variables such as carbon dioxide, air temperature, humidity, dissolved oxygen, potential hydrogen, electrical conductivity, and root-zone temperature are among the many conditions that can be controlled and monitored within the growing chamber. Operational energy, water, and mineral consumption are monitored (and adjusted) through electrical meters, flow sensors, and controllable chemical dosers throughout the growth period.
Each specific set of conditions can be thought of as a climate recipe, and each recipe produces unique results in the phenotypes of the plants. Plants grown under different conditions may vary in color, size, texture growth rate, yield, flavor, and nutrient density. Food Computers can even program biotic and abiotic stresses, such as an induced drought, to create desired plant-based expressions.
In the desert east of Jordan's capital, Amman, more than 30,000 Syrian refugees live in Azraq refugee camp. Although many of those residing in the camp come from rich farming backgrounds, the surrounding conditions restrict traditional agricultural production. Hydroponics however, as tested by WFP in both Peru and Algeria, offers a proven solution.
WFP is working with the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT), the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) and other local partners to run more than 10 food computers in Azraq camp. As a first step, the project aims to identify the optimum growth-recipes for various types of crops, as outlined above. Using the results, WFP will scale the production of ‘winning’ crops together with Syrian refugees, providing sustainable income-generating opportunities, strengthening food security, and contributing to economic self-reliance within the camps.