"Magic sand" could be Panasonic's new big thing. This material, a byproduct of the company's inductionheating cooking technology, can create an underground dam of sorts. Combined with a water recycling system, the dam makes agriculture possible even in arid regions. This in turn allows crops to grow faster than usual as fertilizers do not seep out.
Using the technology, Panasonic produced 40% more tomatoes than usual this summer from a field at its research center in the city of Kyoto.
"We will endeavor to find new avenues to change our business portfolio," said Managing Director Mamoru Yoshida. The company has set the goal of commercial application for its magic sand by 2018, the company's 100th anniversary.
Panasonic has already started sending officials to the Middle East and Africa to promote the high-tech farming method.
Seas in land
The world's population is forecast to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, and innovative ways to address potential food shortages are underway around the globe.
On Sept. 24, a village in Cambodia began cultivating shrimp 200 kilometers from the sea. Seawater is usually used to grow young shrimp into high-priced seafood. The shrimp cultivation in the village uses a special kind of water developed by a Japanese researcher.
Toshimasa Yamamoto, an associate professor at Okayama University of Science, discovered that both oceanic and freshwater fish can live in pure water if a small amount of powdered potassium, sodium and calcium is mixed in. This makes it possible to "readily cultivate oceanic fish in pure water in countries that have no sea," Yamamoto said.
After working for a major metal processing company, Yamamoto managed a company that designs water tanks. Twelve years ago he was invited to join the university.
The water he developed does not need to be changed due to the stability of components, which also helps make fish disease-resistant. It has already been used to cultivate blowfish and longtooth groupers. Eels raised in the water have become a popular dish at a Japanese restaurant in Tokyo's Nihombashi financial district.
Yamamoto has consulted with a wide range of people interested in his technology, including Asian entrepreneurs and Middle Eastern royalty.
Restrictions on fishing operations are becoming more widespread around the world, yet food consumption is rising fast in emerging economies. The World Bank and the United Nations forecast that farm-raised fish will account for 60% of all fish consumption in 2030.
Methods developed by Japan to cultivate tuna, shrimp and other seafood could create a large number of business opportunities in this field.
"We would like to eliminate metabolic syndrome from the world," said Kazuhiro Okuma, senior managing director at Matsutani Chemical Industry.
The Japanese starch maker, based in Itami, Hyogo Prefecture, west of Osaka, is pursuing this goal based on D-Psicose, a rare sugar which is about 70% as sweet as ordinary sugar but has zero calories. Clinical tests have shown that the substance is effective in combating high blood sugar and obesity.
Matsutani Chemical has already developed a method in a tie-up with Kagawa University to mass-produce D-Psicose from starch, and is conducting studies to apply the material to a variety of diets.
The company was founded in 1919. Amid post-war food shortages, the company's proprietary technology of producing glucose from starch was instrumental in helping to feed people in Japan.
"Obesity is not limited to developed countries, as people in developing nations often impair their own health by eating too much when they pull out of poverty," Okuma said.
"Pioneering advantages are greater in untapped fields nobody is willing to challenge" than other areas, said Mitsumaru Kumagai, chief economist at the Daiwa Institute of Research.
As the world struggles to address food-related problems, the more difficult tasks could yield the greatest rewards.