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Student Corner: Cellular Agriculture, The 21st Century Farming

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Cellular Agriculture: The 21st Century Farming

      “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium” – Winston Churchill, 1931.

There is no better way I can think of to introduce this piece than with Winston’s famous quote. Even though it was more political than technological, it has been the basis for several “out of the box” innovations as regards cellular agriculture. It will be a great mistake to presume that everyone reading this understands what cellular agriculture is all about so some details about it is explained below.

WHAT IS CELLULAR AGRICULTURE?

It is simply “laboratory farming” in which agricultural products especially animal based are developed from cell structures unlike conventional farming. It is borne out of ground breaking ideas in medicine, farming, biotechnology, food engineering, materials engineering and agricultural engineering. Food like meat, milk, eggs, and rhino horns can now be easily produced from cells and microorganisms. Lots of work has been done since 1912 when Alexis Carrel demonstrated the possibility of keeping muscle tissues alive outside the body down to most recently when NEW HARVEST hosted the first global new cellular agriculture conference months ago.

Should in case some don’t know, there is an impending disaster that will face the world by 2050 if something drastic is not done about food scarcity. With the current rate of food supply and the 9 billion people estimated to be on earth by 2050, cellular agriculture has now become a necessity not more a mere scientific pleasure.

WHY THE NEED FOR CELLULAR AGRICULTURE?

Cellular agriculture in developing countries like Nigeria and most African countries is unsurprisingly practically nonexistent. If employed, there are many socio- economic and environmental benefits it can provide. It is more or less the only lifeline to solving the numerous hazards caused by conventional agriculture. Some of the problems are explained below.

ENVIRONMENTAL AND HEALTH HAZARDS

  • Due to the absence of viable substitutes, factory farming and other conventional farming activities are still practiced today .The former involves breeding of animals in a confined area before killing them and mass-producing meat or eggs from them which is very unhealthy to the public and the ecosystem as a whole.
  • According to EPA, Cows produce 130 times more excrement than that of the entire human populace every year. Further data also claim that animal agriculture is responsible for more than half of humanity’s total greenhouse gas emissions and presently cannot be regulated. Proper disposal of this waste is a pain to environmentalists as several techniques used have done little or nothing to solve the menace.
  • Factories dump millions of animal waste and agro chemicals into the environment every year which leads to land, water and air pollution. These wastes sometimes find its way into the groundwater thereby rendering it undrinkable.
  • Breeding of diseased and poorly fed animals which in turn causes havoc to the final consumers.

SOCIO-ECONOMIC HAZARDS

In many developing countries like Nigeria and most African countries, conventional  livestock farming consumes a large chunk of the land mass and labour. It also leads to Cattle rustling and ethnic/religious confrontations.

ADVANTAGES OF CELLULAR AGRICULTURE

  • Fewer environmental impacts
  • Safer and purer products
  • Cheaper and Constant supply of food
  • Food design, etc.

PROBLEMS OF CELLULAR AGRICULTURE

  • Lack of expertise and funding
  • Cellular agriculture involves high level of scientific expertise unlike conventional agriculture. If fully implemented as the major source of food supply, millions of farmers will be rendered jobless especially in Africa.
  • Religious and ethnic beliefs.

About Ewuola Olushinaola Taiwo

Federal University Of Technology, Akure (FUTA) Environmental Engineering Student.

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