Wed, Nov 28, 2012 - Page 9 News List

The agricultural revolution takes hold

Philipp Saumweber is creating a miracle in the barren Australian outback, growing tonnes of fresh food. So why has he fallen out with the pioneering environmentalist who invented the revolutionary system?

By Jonathan Margolis  /  The Observer

What next for the Patons, then?

“Well, the settlement we got was enough to carry on fiddling about for some time. We’re excited about getting a new project going in Cape Verde [the island republic in the mid-Atlantic], where they produce no food at all and they seem interested. And we have talked about a project in Somaliland [the unofficial breakaway part of Somalia], but that would be difficult as there’s not even a hotel to stay in.”

Charlie Paton, although the acknowledged founder of the idea of growing unlimited food in impossible conditions, seems almost destined to join a British tradition of hobbyist geniuses who change the world working from garden sheds and workshops, but, because they are not commercial, and perhaps rather eschew professionalism, miss out on the final mile and the big payday.

“We will absolutely keep on at this in our own way,” Charlie Paton says. “I don’t really feel that proprietary about it. The heart of the technology is actually a bit of soggy cardboard. You can’t patent or protect the idea of evaporative cooling. The idea of using seawater to do that absolutely was a major breakthrough, but again, you can’t patent it. The main thing is that it’s us that’s still picking up the plaudits, and I think that makes Philipp really angry.”

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