Editor’s note: The Algae and Natural Security Series is an Algae Industry Magazine exclusive by our popular scientist and author, Mark Edwards. Dr. Edwards is a professor of strategic marketing and sustainability at Arizona State University, a student of military history, and has authored 12 books on algae’s value to people, farmers and our planet. Several of his books in the Green Algae Strategy series are used in colleges and institutions in over 30 countries.
This series is the first time algae food production systems, peace microfarms, have been positioned as a strategic tool for U.S. national security. Numerous civilian and military experts have made the case for the strategic value of algae biofuels. Each post in the series lays out critical challenges for national security and provides a novel, yet practical solution.
The threats of climate change, cropland, water and resource wars are severe. Algae solutions are bold and may offer the best strategy to avoid war. The development and diffusion of peace microfarms to a nation would cost less than one day of modern war.
The articles in the Algae and Natural Security Series are adapted from the new book by Mark Edwards and Robert Henrikson, Peace Microfarms: A Green Algae Strategy to prevent War, 2012. Peace Microfarms is available on Amazon.com.
Our goal: Let’s prevent the next war with peace microfarms.
A Green Algae Strategy to Prevent War
by Dr. Mark Edwards
ffordable food represents the primary threat to world security. When people lack food for themselves or their families, they take action that escalates from rumblings to riots to revolution. Once wars ignite, conflicts consume resources at an astonishing rate and often leave both sides with less food, money and means to produce food.
Peace microfarms grow algae and other microcrops and offer a new strategy for food security. Microfarms eliminate the need to fight over cropland, freshwater or other finite resources needed to sustain our food supply because microfarmers use abundance methods to produce food. Abundance uses plentiful inputs that are often surplus, cheap or free.
Food wars are caused by crop failure that result from climate change or diminishing non-renewable resources required for industrial food production. Resources become extinct when they are no longer affordable or available locally.
Food security and war
In The Food Wars, Walden Bello chronicles the food price increases of 2008 that led to food riots in over 40 countries. When poor people in Mexico saw corn tortilla prices escalate 60%, they took to the streets. Many other countries followed with food riots and revolutions. Countries took extreme measures to assure food including passing laws against waste and shutting down food exports. Food prices rose in 2008 because several large food growing regions experienced unusual heat and drought.
Leaders in practically every country predict future wars over food. Scientists, economists, political leaders and authors also forecast conflicts over increasingly scarce food and the finite resources required by industrial agriculture – cropland, water, fossil fuels, fertilizer and chemicals.
A U.S. intelligence assessment sums up the situation: “Over the next decade, water problems will create instability and state failures in countries important to the U.S. national security interests.” —Global Water Security, U.S. intelligence Assessment, 2012
Disruption from weather to any of the many resources necessary to grow crops, or the supply chains that distribute food, will put millions of people in in peril. Disruptions become increasingly likely with bad weather, water scarcity and escalating fuel and fertilizer costs.
Foods-driven war risk escalates as populations expand and new consumers eat higher on the food chain. Farmers have no idle land. Food stocks are the lowest in history. Lester Brown, CEO of the Earth Policy Institute points out countries are living harvest to harvest. We have more hungry people on earth than ever before and increasingly fewer natural resources to feed them.
Crops and heat
Modern terrestrial crops are not built for climate change. Food crops were hybridized over the past 11,000 thousand years to grow within a very narrow temperature range, absent shocks from climate change. Average temperatures in food growing regions have increased 2o F since 1970 and 24 of the warmest years on record have occurred since 1980.
Heat devastates food grain yields. As temperature rises, the rate of photosynthesis increases to about 68o F and then plateaus up to 95o F. Photosynthetic activity declines above 95o F and stops at 104o F. Rice, wheat and corn cannot pollinate above 104o F, which leads to crop failure. Combinations of heat, dry winds and insufficient soil moisture create partial pollination problems well below 104o F. Since pollination occurs only after the plant is fully grown, farmers must invest all their resources for an entire growing season before a heat spike ruins their crop.
Modern industrial agriculture is not sustainable because it is weather intolerant, consumes too many fossil resources and creates massive waste and pollution.
The root of the problem
The root cause of food insecurity stems from the problem that terrestrial plants are dependent on roots. When land plants evolved from algae 500 million years ago, they made substantial compromises. Plants had to use about 30% of their energy on roots, 25% on superstructure, and another 35% on sexual apparatus – seeds. All the energy directed into plant structure slowed growth and made plants more vulnerable to weather and available water.
Industrial agriculture methods improved yields but made crops far more consumptive of fossil resources and substantially less whether tolerant. Industrial methods also increased waste and pollution.
Why industrial agricultural methods lead to food insecurity.
No new technologies offer hope to overcome the substantial problems with terrestrial crops. Genetically engineered seeds may improve weather tolerance and reduce resource consumption, but those seeds are at least a decade away. No one knows if genetic changes will increase or decrease food security. Environmentalists and scientists have serious concern about the health impacts of transgenic plants on people, animals and the environment.
A smart strategy for food security would be to design a supplemental food supply that reverses the vulnerabilities associated with industrial agriculture and terrestrial crops.
New food supply
Freedom foods grown in peace microfarms offer an alternative food supply that frees growers from concerns about climate and weather. Peace microfarms offer a new strategy for food security by moving down the food chain to grow microcrops. A food supply that frees growers from climate chaos, cropland, fresh water and other diminishing fossil resources can prevent war by:
- Consistently delivering a healthy food supply, independent of weather or geography, and
- Saving finite resources for our next generation.
The Green Algae Strategy to prevent war consists of three tactics:
- Peace microfarms grow microcrops using abundance methods to produce 20 to 30 times more food per acre every year than modern terrestrial crops.
- Abundance methods offer an alternative for growing food and other forms of energy with plentiful resources that are cheap and will not run out – primarily solar energy, CO2 and sterilized waste stream nutrients.
- Freedom foods redesign our food supply from the foundation of the food chain with microcrops. Freedom foods free consumers for smart food choices, growers from fossil resource cost and consumption and ecosystems of waste and pollution.
Peace microfarms liberate growers from dependence on increasingly expensive cropland, fresh water and other non-renewable resources. Peace microfarms avoid conflicts over diminishing natural resources by growing microcrops using abundance methods. Abundance allows affordable organic food production in any practically any climate, altitude, latitude or geography.
Microcrops include the full spectrum of microorganisms such as algae, yeast, fungi, bacteria, archaea, plankton and many others. Microcrops deliver sustainable advantages over field crops, including that they grow food with almost no waste and zero pollution. Microfarms leave a positive carbon, water and ecological footprint. Abundance methods do not compete with industrial agriculture because microfarms avoid, to the degree possible, the use of finite resources.
Microfarms scale to any size and may be sited practically anywhere, including cities. Growers recover low cost nutrients from sterilized waste streams and transform them into valuable freedom foods and other products. Growers use abundance methods to assure a sustainable food supply for many generations.
Societies that use peace microfarms to grow freedom foods do not have to go to war over food or the fossil resources required to produce food. Of course, countries go to war for reasons other than their food supply, but peace microfarms eliminates a primary reason for war.
Peace microfarms enable societies to grow good food and avoid war by employing the tiniest plant on the planet—algae.
Note: Peace microfarms are under development and need your help. Please follow our progress on microfarm R3D and contribute your ideas for designing effective microfarms at www.AlgaeCompetition.com. Peace microfarms can be developed and deployed for less than the cost of one day of modern war.