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 desert conditions restrict traditional agricultural production. Hydroponics however, as tested by WFP in both Peru and Algeria, offers a proven solution.

As part of the H2Grow project, WFP’s Innovation Accelerator, WFP’s Country Office in Jordan, in collaboration with the Jordanian National Center for Agricultural Research and Extensions (NCARE) and the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) tested the use of the first generation of the hydroponic food computers, developed by the MIT Media Lab Open Agriculture initiative.

WFP worked with MIT, the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) and other local partners to run more than 10 food computers in Amman and Al-Baqah.  As a first step, the project aimed to identify the optimum growth-recipes for various types of crops, with the intention to scale the production of ‘winning’ crops together with Syrian refugees, and furthermore provide sustainable income-generating opportunities, strengthen food security, and contribute to economic self-reliance within the camps. However, the results showed that while the idea of growing food in a controlled hydroponic environment is worth exploring, early generations of food computers weren't mature enough to function in the types of harsh environments that WFP operates in. We then ended this pilot in September 2017, following a thorough review of the results with all parties involved, and a change in the business model.

Currently, in Jordan, the best fit solution are low-tech hydroponic units, that are built and set up with local materials and know-how, supporting Syrian refugees, and local vulnerable communities. The wider H2Grow project continues beyond Jordan and to date enables food-insecure communities in Algeria, Chad, Sudan, Peru, Kenya and Namibia to sustain themselves. 

Meet the team

Lama Almajali
H2Grow Innovator
Last updated: 21/10/2019