Divers inside one of the pods in Nemo's Garden.

Underwater farming for food security

Could growing basil and strawberries underwater be a solution for attaining food security? It might sound far-fetched, but a group of divers and agricultural researchers hope it could be a reality in places affected by drought or lack of fertile soil.

It was while on holiday in Italy that the diver Sergio Gamberini came up with the idea of growing crops in air-filled “bubbles” beneath the water. In the four years since, his diving company, Ocean Reef Group, has collaborated with agricultural researchers and experimented with different technical solutions. Their task is to find the optimal conditions in which plants will sprout, using environmentally friendly methods and nature’s own resources. In June, it’s time to sow new seeds off the cost of northwestern Italy, in seven pods using desalinated water.
But why should you try to grow crops under water? There’s a global need for more food and growing demands for more sustainable agriculture. As Gamberini told The Guardian, underwater farming could appeal to small producers and NGOs working on nutrition projects in developing countries.

“Not just local businesses, but for large parts of the world. Starting from Middle Eastern and tropical countries such as the Maldives, where there is not much [suitable] soil or fresh water … [to] southern California, which is experiencing droughts” he says to the newspaper.

The project is currently crowdfunded and making it commercially viable is a challenge. There are also practical obstacles to underwater farming. In Nemo’s Garden it’s not enough to have a green thumb – you must be an experienced diver, too.