Chiara Gandini wants to speed-grow wheat indoors to tackle the food crisis

The food crisis will demand innovative and sustainable solutions. Research Pitching Competition 2019 finalist Chiara Gandini from the University of Cambridge and Rothamsted Research wants to know if indoor wheat farming could be one of them.


You want to study how we could bring wheat farming indoors and grow crops with high speed. Why? 

I believe that controlled-environment farming strategies will become an increasingly fundamental aspect of global agriculture, as sustainability and food security concerns continue to rise. However, the industry-led approach to indoor farming is problematic. The focus of these businesses lies so far on cash crops, such as lettuce, herbs, and fruits. However, lettuce will not be sufficient to solve the world food crisis. Instead we need to focus on world-feeding commodity crops, such as wheat, rice, and corn. Because these are cheap to farm outdoors, there has not yet been an incentive to move their farming indoors. However, feeding the world via the current agricultural system would require additional land equal to twice the area of India. More sustainable farming methods are needed, to reduce the pollution and land consumption of commodity crops. I want to know whether indoor-grown wheat is a viable solution, and what we need to do to make it work.

In this competition, we look for ideas that are new and innovative. What is most innovative about your idea?

There are a few innovative aspects to this idea. Firstly, the project includes the cultivation and re-evaluation of existing indoor-prone varieties of wheat to find ones that could produce up to four harvests a year. Secondly, my team and I will merge new technologies, such as speed-breeding and energy-conversion to get a sustainable harvest, four times per year. Thirdly, the project produces open knowledge. The results and knowledge for building, troubleshooting and customizing the technology will be documented online so that citizens and developers may participate in the solution. 

What would you like to accomplish as a researcher? 

I would like to keep solving issues by being creative but being humble and knowing that I cannot solve the solution by myself. So, I want to keep bringing people together with different abilities and different ideas to help solve the problem. 


What made you apply to Research Pitching Competition?

My idea is in between academia and industry so I was curious to learn how to communicate it to different audiences. I think that as scientists we need to get trained to communicate our ideas with the bigger audience. 

Chiara’s wild idea: 

We are unlocking indoor/vertical farming as a solution for staple crop production. We are an international team of plant scientists, material scientists, engineers, architects and software developers that want to make the growth of staple crops a sustainable and reliable activity worldwide. Growing crops in a controlled environment could reduce the impact on non-renewable resources (such as land, water, chemicals and fuel for transport) which are currently largely exploited to produce stable crops. However, the high energy demands of growing plants in controlled environments currently makes indoor farming economically unsustainable to produce anything other than fruits and leafy greens. Moreover, the innovations on which the most advanced indoor farming facilities are currently running are covered by proprietary rights and therefore locked from further implementation and development worldwide, at a time when climate instability and future uncertainty makes access to food a social priority now more than ever.

The Hectare team combines modular, customizable, open-access technologies with scientifically sound solutions to bring together state-of-the-art technologies and novel staple crop varieties for an indoor farming approach that could be implemented anywhere on the globe.

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