Feeding the next billion

Xprize Visioneering Challenge, “Feeding the Next Billion” category winner in Los Angeles, California in 2018. Tuija and Pekka Pakkanen’s “Soilless Agriculture Challenge” set rules for a grand competition for the science community to build a system using renewable energy that recycles 90% of its water and 90 % of the nitrogen and phosphorus in the system while feeding 100 people for 100 days with a full nutritious diet.


The next billion cannot have food produced in traditional ways, because the limits of our planet will soon come to an end. Today one fifth of the CO2 emissions is caused by agriculture. And if agricultural energy and transportation emissions are added, the share is as much as 40% of all the CO2 emissions. Due to climate change and the overuse of the world’s resources the amount of fertile land will stop increasing. Instead, it will start to decrease. The amount of fertile land will become scarce and soil poor. Agriculture in all of its forms is heavily dependent on the use of phosphorus and nitrogen. Currently we are using them beyond our limits and it has a high risk of them running out having then grave consequences. 

The demand of food — especially livestock — continues rising as most of the people in next 12 years will not be poor, but rather middle-class having similar consumption habits as we do. 

If everyone ate an average American diet, we would need 2,7 times more agricultural land than we use now. It takes an area of 5,6 million football fields to make a Quarter Pounder steak for the next billion people if we use conventional farming techniques.


In order to feed the next billion, we need to break the connection between food and land.

Our XPRIZE competition aims to accelerate innovation development under soilless agriculture and it aims to prove that we can feed the next billion by alternative food production methods. It calls together actors from different disciplines: biologists, geneticist, AI specialists, marketing specialists, engineers and such, everyone who wants to revolutionize our concept of future food.

The winner will get USD 10 million and the competition takes 3 years.

Our competition awards the 1st one to achieve to make healthy daily diet for 100 people for 100 days in 1 closed affordable soilless system. 

In the system, 100% of the energy must be renewable and 90 % of phosphorus, water and nitrogen must be recycled within the system, so that anything that comes out from the system is edible, reusable or recyclable. 

The system can consist of various technologies. One can use aeroponics, hydroponics, bioreactor, cellular agriculture, insect farming or a combination of these. One can introduce yet another unknown soilless farming technique. The system must be modular to ease the transportation and it must fit in 40-foot shipping containers.

Why this has not been a success yet

The soilless agriculture systems have existed in laboratories for decades. Each of them have their pros and cons and the commercial versions have always focused on using only one technique leading to very limited range of end products. Until now the cost of energy and the technical exclusiveness of these systems have kept them from spreading into wider use.


Solving this challenge will have a huge impact in our future. This food production system will not produce CO2 emissions, and reducing CO2 emissions is critical to tackle climate change.

When the food production is separated from land ownership, it empowers people and increases food security. Stable food security is the best preventive medicine for conflicts, migration flows and poverty. When the system becomes more common and widespread in urban areas, the majority of the transportation and logistics costs from the farm to plate will disappear. 

The amount of food waste will drop to minimum, because the amount of growing crops are customized according to the consumer communities needs. There will be no storage losses nor transportation losses.

The food will be “beyond-organic”, because the need for pesticide iis reduced in the closed soilless system and the plants can grow freely without their natural pests. Lakes, seas and rivers will return to their healthy original state when there will be no nitrogen and phosphorus leaking from fields to rivers causing overgrowth of water plants and algae blooms. Because the system is closed, it functions anywhere: city centers, basements, empty parking garages, floating vessels, abandoned mines or — even on other planets.

Xprize is a nonprofit global leader in designing and implementing innovative competition models to solve the world´s greatest challenges. Since 1994 the Xprize Foundation has designed and operated seventeen competitions in the domain areas of Space, Oceans, Learning, Health, Energy, Environment, Transportation, Safety and Robotics. Each of these prizes has created an industry-changing technology that brings us closer to a better, safer, more sustainable world.

Project team

Tuija Pakkanen, Pekka Pakkanen, Amahle Ntshinga, Eric Hirshberg


The Tony Robbins Foundation, FFAR