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Community and microbes December 5th, 2021 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

“In grad school they taught us budding plant pathologists that the objective of agriculture was to ’feed the plants and kill the bugs,” my old friend Steve Sherwood explained to me on a visit to his family farm near Quito, Ecuador. “But we should have been feeding the microbes in the soil, so they could take care of the plants,”

When Steve and his wife, Myriam Paredes, bought their five-hectare farm, Granja Urkuwayku, in 2000, it was a moonscape on the flanks of the highly eroded IlalĂł Volcano. The trees had been burned for charcoal and the soil had been stripped down to the bedrock, a hardened volcanic ash locally called cangahua that looked and felt like concrete. A deep erosion gulley was gouging a wound through the middle of the farm. It was a fixer-upper, which was why Steve and Myriam could afford it.

Now, twenty years later, the land is covered in rich, black soil, with green vegetable beds surrounded by fruit trees and native vegetation.

The first step to this rebirth was to take a tractor to the cangahua, to break up the bedrock so that water and compost could penetrate it. This was the only time Steve plowed the farm.

To build the broken stone into soil, Steve and Myriam added manure, much of it coming from some 100 chickens and 300 guinea pigs – what they describe as the “sparkplugs of the farm’s biological motor.”

By 2015, Urkuwayku seemed to be doing well. The farm has attracted over 300 partners, families that regularly buy a produce basket from the farm, plus extras like bread, eggs, mushrooms, honey, and firewood, in total bringing in about $1,000 a week. Besides their four family members, the farm also employs four people from the neighborhood, bringing in enough money to pay for itself, so Steve and Myriam don’t have to subsidize the farm with their salaries, from teaching. The nasty gulley is now filled in with grass-covered soil, backed up behind erosion dams. Runoff water collects into a 500,000-liter pond, used to irrigate the crops during the dry season.

But in 2015 Myriam and Steve tested the soil and were surprised to see that it was slowly losing its fertility.

They think that the problem was too much tillage and not enough soil cover. Hoeing manure into the vegetable beds was breaking down the soil structure and drying out the beds, killing the beneficial fungi. As Steve explains, “the fungi are largely responsible for building soil particles through their mycelia and sweat, also known as glomalin, a carbon-rich glue that is important for mitigating climate change.” The glomalin help to remove carbon from the air, and store it in the soil.

Then Steve befriended the administrator of a local plywood factory. The mill had collected a mountain of bark that the owner couldn’t get rid of. Steve volunteered to take it off their hands. The two top advantages of peri-urban farming are greater access to customers, and some remarkable sources of organic matter.

So the plywood factory started sending Steve dump-truck loads of bark (mostly eucalyptus). To get the microbes to decompose the bark, Steve composts sawdust with some organic matter from the floor of a local native forest. The microbe-rich sawdust is then mixed with the bark and carefully spread in deep layers between the rows of vegetables, which were now tilled as little as possible. The vegetables are planted in trays, and then transplanted to the open beds.

No matter how much bark and sawdust Steve and his team lay down, the soil always absorbs it. The soil seems to eat the bark, just as in a forest. The soil microbes thrive on the bark to create living structures, like mycelia: fungal threads that reach all the way through the vegetable beds, in between the bark-filled paths. Steve and Myriam have learned that the microbes have a symbiotic relationship with plants; microbes help a plant’s roots find moisture and nutrients, and in turn, the plant gives about a third of all of its energy from photosynthesis back to the microbes.

Myriam and Steve have seen that as the soil becomes healthier, their crops have fewer problems from insect pests and diseases. In large part, this is because of the successful marriage between plants and the ever-growing population of soil microbes. Urkuwayku is greener every year. It produces enough to feed a family and employ four people, while regularly supplying 300 families with top-notch vegetables, fruits, and other produce. A community of consumers supports the farm with income, while a community of microorganisms builds the soil and feeds the plants.

Previous Agro-Insight blog stories

Reviving soils

A revolution for our soil

Enlightened agroecology, about Pacho Gangotena, ecological farmer in Ecuador who influenced Steve and Myriam

The guinea pig solution

Living Soil: A film review

Dung talk

A market to nurture local food culture

Experiments with trees

Related training videos on the Access Agriculture platform

Good microbes for plants and soil

Turning fish waste into fertiliser

Organic biofertilizer in liquid and solid form

Mulch for a better soil and crop

COMUNIDAD Y MICROBIOS

“En la escuela de posgrado nos enseñaron a los futuros fitopatĂłlogos que el objetivo de la agricultura era ‘alimentar a las plantas y matar a los bichos’”, me explicĂł mi viejo amigo Steve Sherwood durante una visita a su granja familiar cerca de Quito, Ecuador. “Pero deberĂ­amos haber alimentado a los microbios del suelo, para que ellos cuidaran a las plantas”.

Cuando Steve y su esposa, Myriam Paredes, compraron su finca de cinco hectáreas, Granja Urkuwayku, en el año 2000, era un paisaje lunar en las faldas del erosionado volcán Ilaló. Los árboles habían sido quemados para hacer carbón y del suelo no quedaba más que la roca madre, una dura ceniza volcánica llamada “cangahua” que parecía hormigón. Una profunda cárcava erosionaba un gran hueco en el centro de la granja. La propiedad necesitaba mucho trabajo, y por eso Steve y Myriam podían acceder a comprarla.

Ahora, veinte años después, el terreno está cubierto de una rica tierra negra, con camellones verdes rodeados de árboles frutales y nativos.

El primer paso de este renacimiento fue meter un tractor a la cangahua, para romper la roca para que el agua y el abono pudieran penetrarla. Esta fue la Ăşnica vez que Steve arĂł la finca.

Para convertir la piedra rota en suelo, Steve y Myriam añadieron estiĂ©rcol; mucho venĂ­a de unas 100 gallinas y 300 cuyes, lo que la pareja describe como las “bujĂ­as del motor biolĂłgico de la granja.”

En 2015, Urkuwayku parecía ir bien. La granja ha atraído a más de 300 socios, familias que compran regularmente una canasta de productos de la granja, además de extras como pan, huevos, champiñones, miel y leña, en total aportando unos 1.000 dólares a la semana. Además de los cuatro miembros de su familia, la granja también da trabajo a cuatro personas locales. Ya que los ingresos a la granja pagan sus gastos, Steve y Myriam no tienen que subvencionarla con los sueldos que ganan como docentes. Barreras de conservación han llenado el barranco con tierra, ahora cubierta de pasto. El agua de escorrentía se acumula en un estanque de 500.000 litros, usado para regar los cultivos durante la época seca.

Pero en 2015 Myriam y Steve analizaron el suelo y se sorprendieron al ver que lentamente perdĂ­a su fertilidad.

Creen que el problema era el exceso de labranza y la falta de cobertura del suelo. La introducciĂłn de estiĂ©rcol en los camellones hortalizas estaba rompiendo la estructura del suelo y secando el suelo, matando los hongos beneficiosos. Como explica Steve, “los hongos se encargan en gran medida de construir las partĂ­culas del suelo a travĂ©s de sus micelios y su sudor, tambiĂ©n conocido como glomalina, un pegamento rico en carbono que es importante para mitigar el cambio climático”. La glomalina ayuda a eliminar el carbono del aire y a almacenarlo en el suelo.

Entonces Steve se hizo amigo del administrador de una fábrica local de madera contrachapada (plywood). La fábrica había acumulado un montonazo de corteza y el dueño no sabía cómo deshacerse de ello. Steve se ofreció a quitárselo de encima. Las dos grandes ventajas de la agricultura periurbana son un mayor acceso a los clientes y algunas fuentes fabulosas de materia orgánica.

Así que la fábrica de contrachapados empezó a enviar a Steve volquetadas de corteza (sobre todo de eucalipto). Para hacer que los microbios descompongan la corteza, primero Steve descompone aserrín con un poco de materia orgánica del suelo de un bosque nativo local. Luego, el aserrín rico en microbios se mezcla con la corteza y se esparce cuidadosamente en capas profundas entre los camellones de hortalizas, donde ahora se mueve el suelo lo menos posible. Las hortalizas se siembran en bandejas y luego se trasplantan al campo abierto.

No importa cuánta corteza y aserrín que Steve y su equipo pongan, la tierra siempre la absorbe. El suelo parece comerse la corteza, como en un bosque. Los microbios del suelo se alimentan de la corteza para crear estructuras vivas, como micelios: hilos de hongos que llegan hasta los camellones, entre los senderos llenos de corteza. Steve y Myriam han aprendido que los microbios tienen una relación simbiótica con las plantas; los microbios ayudan a las raíces de las plantas a encontrar humedad y nutrientes y, a su vez, la planta devuelve a los microbios la tercera parte de toda la energía que obtiene de la fotosíntesis.

Myriam y Steve han comprobado que a medida que el suelo se vuelve más sano, sus cultivos tienen menos problemas de plagas de insectos y enfermedades. En gran parte, esto se debe al exitoso matrimonio entre las plantas y la creciente población de microbios del suelo. Urkuwayku es más verde cada año. Produce lo suficiente para alimentar a una familia y emplear a cuatro personas, al tiempo que provee regularmente verduras, frutas y otros productos de primera calidad a 300 familias. Una comunidad de consumidores apoya a la granja con ingresos, mientras que una comunidad de microorganismos construye el suelo y alimenta a las plantas.

Previos blogs de Agro-Insight

Una revoluciĂłn para nuestro suelo

La luz de la agroecologĂ­a, acerca de Pacho Gangotena, agricultor ecolĂłgico en el Ecuador quien ha sido una influencia para Steve y Myriam

Experimentos con árboles

Reviving soils

The guinea pig solution

Living Soil: A film review

Dung talk

A market to nurture local food culture

Videos sobre temas relacionados en la plataforma de Access Agriculture

Buenos microbios para plantas y suelo

El mulch mejora el suelo y la cosecha

Turning fish waste into fertiliser

Organic biofertilizer in liquid and solid form

 

Dung talk August 1st, 2021 by

Nowhere in the world do take people dung more seriously than in South Asia. For ages cow dung has been a valuable resource. In the countryside people collect fresh dung by hand, shape it into small balls and press it against the walls of houses to allow it to dry. Sometimes the dung balls are skewered onto one-meter long sticks. The dried dung is used as fuel to cook meals. In dryland areas where fuelwood is scarce, these dung sticks are especially important.

Dung is also used as fertilizer, and in India people prepare it in various ways. Sometimes they mix the dung with cow urine, chickpea flour, molasses and water and let it ferment for about a week to allow the microorganisms to multiply. Farmers use the solid or liquid preparations as a seed coating, to keep pests away and to help the seed to grow. Applied to crops as a fertilizer, the dung preparations also help to revive the soil. These and other traditional practices add organic matter to the soil while supporting a cover of vegetation year-round. This is increasingly seen as a way to achieve food security and cool our planet. The Community-Based Natural Farming Programme in Andhra Pradesh, India, has embraced these technologies and is promoting them to millions of smallholder farmers, setting an example to the world.

However, when sharing ideas between countries, sometimes deeply held practices need to be re-examined. As I mentioned in my previous blog it is important to understand the scientific principles underpinning technologies, so that farmers can then adapt these to their own context.

For example, a few years ago one of our Indian partners was developing a video on good microbes, and I insisted that he asked local experts if other dung could be used, not just from cows. A few weeks later he reported back that everyone had agreed, only cow dung should be used. Sheep or goat dung would be no good.

This set me thinking a lot. While we were still making that video, I was able to fix a meeting with Camilla Toulmin, former Director of the International Institute for Environment and Development. While her focus had been on policy research about agriculture, land, climate and livelihoods in dryland regions of Africa, I knew that her PhD research on natural resource management in Mali had touched on the use of manure. After an hour on skype, we had shared a lot of information, but were still unsure if sheep dung was as good a source of beneficial microbes as cow dung.

As I mulled over my conversation with Camilla, I kept thinking back to one time in a village in northern Ghana when we had screened a video about using animal manure in farming. A woman in the audience had asked, “Why do you only show cow manure? Cows belong to men! As we women, do not have cows, but only sheep and goats, can we not do anything with this dung to fertilize our land?”

That was a few years ago. Now that I have a few sheep of my own, and can try out things myself, I have some new insights. Microbes need food and water to grow. In dryland areas, or when animals graze on dry pasture, their droppings dry out pretty fast. The good micro-organisms in the dung may start to die. On lush vegetation, the droppings of my sheep are much larger than the typical small balls one imagines when thinking of sheep droppings. When I prepare my solution of good microbes I collect the dung when it is still fresh.

Indian farmers and experts may be right about cow dung being the most suitable resource in the drylands. Sheep droppings may just dry out too fast to keep the good microbes alive. But in the rainy season or in more humid countries, sheep dung may have lots of beneficial micro-organisms. And for women in northern Ghana, who don’t have cow dung, sheep and goat droppings may still add much needed nutrients to their soil. As soil microbiologist Walter Jehne said: “We should promote the principles and not be dogmatic about it. If you only have reindeer, you may as well make organic manure from their dung, and do not need cow dung.”

Communicating technologies to farmers cross-culturally requires that we move beyond time-honoured recipes. We need to understand the underlying principles and explain them as well as we can. There is gold in more than one type of dung.

Related blogs

Principles matter

Trying it yourself

Reviving soils

Effective micro-organisms

Friendly germs

Earthworms from India to Bolivia

A revolution for our soil

Related videos

Good microbes for plants and soil

Organic biofertilizer in liquid and solid form

Coir pith

Mulch for a better soil and crop

Vermiwash: an organic tonic for crops

Making a vermicompost bed

Inspiring platforms

Access Agriculture: hosts over 220 training videos in over 90 languages on a diversity of crops and livestock, sustainable soil and water management, basic food processing, etc. Each video describes underlying principles, as such encouraging people to experiment with new ideas.

EcoAgtube: a social media video platform where anyone from across the globe can upload their own videos related to natural farming and circular economy.

Principles matter July 18th, 2021 by

In this age of restricted travel, when webinars have taken the place of conferences, at first I missed face-to-face meetings a lot. But virtual events do allow one to get exposed to far more ideas than before. This is also the case when digital learning is introduced to farmers. Farmers are increasingly getting information online, like videos. But the videos have to be properly designed. Unlike following a cooking recipe on a Youtube video, in agriculture, recipes must be accompanied by basic principles, so that farmers can decide how to experiment with the new ideas.

I was reminded of this recently during a webinar on the Community-Based Natural Farming Programme in Andhra Pradesh, India. One of the speakers was Vijay Kumar, one of the driving forces behind the programme, which aims to scale up agroecology to millions of farmers in Andhra Pradesh. Vijay is a humble, highly-respected former civil servant. He is much in demand, so meeting him in person would be a challenge, but introduced by a mutual colleague, I was fortunate to have already met him several times on Zoom. Vijay appreciates that Access Agriculture stands for quality training videos that enable South-South learning. According to him, the collaboration with Access Agriculture offers opportunities to help scale community-based natural farming from India to Africa and beyond. It is fortunate to have strong allies who understand the challenges of scaling and that to be cost-effective, one cannot simply visit all the world’s farmers in person.

Still, many people think that farmers can only learn from fellow farmers who live nearby and speak the same language, and that training videos are only useful when they are made locally. The many experiences from local partners with Access Agriculture training videos show that farmers do learn from their peers across cultures, on different continents. Farmers are motivated when they see how fellow farmers in other parts of the world solve their own problems. Access Agriculture videos are effective across borders in part because they explain the scientific principles behind technologies, and not just show how to do things. Vijay is convinced that scientific knowledge and farmer knowledge need to go hand in hand to promote agroecology.

The second speaker at the natural farming conference was Walter Jehne, a renowned Australian soil microbiologist, who talked about the need to build up soil organic matter and micro-organisms as a way to revive soils and cool the planet. I was pleased that he also stressed the importance of principles. When one of the Indian participants asked Walter if he could provide the recipe, he smilingly and patiently explained: “We should focus on the underlying principles, as principles apply across the globe, irrespective of where you are. You need organic matter, you need to build up good soil micro-organisms and make use of natural growth promotors. If a recipe tells you to use cow dung, but you don’t have cows, what can you do? If for instance you have reindeer, their dung will work just as well. You don’t have to be dogmatic about it.”  In two of my earlier blogs (Trying it yourself and Reviving soils) I did exactly do that back home: use ingredients that were available to me: sheep dung, leaves of oak trees in the garden, wheat straw, and so on, but building on ideas from Indian farmers.

Farmers have creative minds and this creativity is fed by basic principles: while recipes surely help, a better understanding of underlying scientific principles are what matter most when it comes down to adaptation to local contexts. We, at Access Agriculture are thrilled to join Andhra Pradesh’s efforts to spread Community-Based Natural Farming across the globe.

Related webinars

365 Days Green Cover & Pre-Monsoon Dry Sowing (PMDS) – Walter Jehne – Streamed on 6th July 12:30 pm

Restoring the water cycles to cool the climate

Related blogs

Trying it yourself

Reviving soils

Effective micro-organisms

Friendly germs

Earthworms from India to Bolivia

A revolution for our soil

Damaging the soil and our health with chemical reductionism

Related videos

Good microbes for plants and soil

Organic biofertilizer in liquid and solid form

Coir pith

Mulch for a better soil and crop

Vermiwash: an organic tonic for crops

Making a vermicompost bed

Inspiring video platforms

Access Agriculture: hosts over 220 training videos in over 90 languages on a diversity of crops and livestock, sustainable soil and water management, basic food processing, etc. Each video describes underlying principles, as such encouraging people to experiment with new ideas.

EcoAgtube: a social media video platform where anyone from across the globe can upload their own videos related to natural farming and circular economy.

Coconut coir dust July 4th, 2021 by

Many years ago, I wrote one of my first articles, on “Coconut Coir Dust Mulch in the Tropics” and published it in Humus News, a trilingual (Dutch, French, English) magazine from Comité Jean Pain, a Belgian non-profit association that has trained people from across the globe on compost making since 1978.

So recently, when one of our Indian video partners decided to make a training video on composting coir dust, I dug up my old article, and was pleasantly surprised to see that it still contained useful information.

Coconut coir dust or coir pith is the material that is left over after the fibres have been removed from the coconut husk. Coconut factories often have no idea what to do with this waste, so in many coastal areas in the humid tropics one can find heaps of this natural resource.

Whether economical or ecological motives are the driving force, in low external input agriculture systems in the tropics, farmers often use biowaste for soil conservation and sustainable land use.

While coir dust has negligible amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous, calcium and magnesium, making it a poor source of nutrients, it can store up to 8 times its dry weight in water. By applying a 15 cm thick layer of coir dust mulch around coconut seedlings in Sri Lanka, irrigation needs could be reduced by up to 55 %. In a pineapple coconut intercrop during the dry season, my coir paper reported that the top soil layer had a moisture content of 49 % under the mulch, compared to 10 % under a sandy ridge of the same height.

When coir dust mulch is applied to salt-sensitive plants care, has to be taken that the concentration of salt is not too high. The highest salt concentrations, though still low, are mainly observed in coir dust which is fresh and from coastal coconut trees. This salt concentration can be reduced by leaving the material in the rain, before applying the mulch in the field or nursery.

In a commercial tree nursery in Kenya, germination of cashew seeds is enhanced by applying a coir dust mulch. Besides, roots are not damaged after transplanting, thanks to the loose structure of the coir dust. Weeds in cashew plantations in India are suppressed by applying a layer of 7.5 cm of mulch in a 1.5 m radius around the trees. In Sri Lanka, this kind of mulch is mainly used in semi-perennial crops like pineapple and ginger. Coir dust mulch suppressed some of the world’s worst weeds, namely goatweed, purple nutsedge and the sensitive mimosa plant.

Besides suppressing weeds, coir dust mulch also helps to establish cover crops. Herbaceous legumes are often used as cover crop under coconut in Sri Lanka, but they are suppressed by weeds in dry weather. Applying coir dust tackles the weeds, but favors the leguminous cover crop during the dry season.

Coir dust consists mainly of lignin, a woody substance which is poorly biodegradable. About 90 % is organic matter and the C/N ratio is extremely high (> 130). The low pH of 4.5 – 5.5 offers an extra protection against biodegradation, as many micro-organisms do not survive once the pH drops below 4. Slow biodegradation of organic mulches has been recently more and more looked for, especially in the humid and sub-humid tropics, where fast mineralization of the organic matter and leaching of minterals are big problems. While coir dust can easily be applied as a mulch, the recently produced video suggests that it is better to compost the coir dust first when one wants to use it to improve the soil structure. The video shows how one can easily make one’s own organic decomposer that is rich in good microbes to break down the lignin.

Coir dust, being important to control weeds, improve soil physical conditions and increase water retention capacity, should be regarded as an important resource for soil conservation and sustainable land use in integrated cropping systems, and not as waste. The use of coir dust in the tropics, however, is not only hindered by a lack of knowledge, which the video aims to share, but is also seriously threatened as coir dust is increasingly exported to Europe where it is used as an horticulture substrate.

Further reading

Van Mele, P. 1997. Utilization of Coconut Coir Dust Mulch in the Tropics. Humus News, 13(1), p. 3-4.

Related blogs

Reviving soils

A revolution for our soil

Damaging the soil and our health with chemical reductionism

Related video

Coir pith – from waste to wealth

Inspiring platforms

Access Agriculture: hosts over 220 training videos in over 90 languages on a diversity of crops and livestock, sustainable soil and water management, basic food processing, etc. Each video describes underlying principles, as such encouraging people to experiment with new ideas.

EcoAgtube: a social media video platform where anyone from across the globe can upload their own videos related to natural farming and circular economy.

A Life of Learning from Nature March 14th, 2021 by

When knowledge is blocked from being freely shared, humankind can lose a lot of precious time to make the world a better place. This dawned on me once more after I stumbled upon The Secrets of Water, a video documentary about the life of Viktor Schauberger.

Born in 1885 as the son of an Austrian forest superintendent, Viktor spent many hours in nature observing and reflecting upon what he saw, always trying to keep an open mind. Later, he went on to study forestry and got inspired by poets like Goethe who instilled in him the importance of making full use of our senses to better understand the Ur-phenomenon or the essential quality of what one observes.

Wikipedia describes Schauberger as a naturalist, pseudoscientist, philosopher, inventor and biomimicry experimenter. While pseudoscientist sounds like a dishonest version of a scientist or someone who stands for “fake science”, Schauberger’s insights from nearly a century ago have proven far more influential than what most modern-day scientists could aspire to achieve in a life-time, even with the help of advanced technologies and nanosecond computing devices.

Science  ̶  and technological innovations  ̶  have often ignored local knowledge and even obstructed its dissemination. In 1930, the Austrian Academy of Sciences confirmed the receipt of a sealed envelope entitled “Turbulence”. In it, Schauberger described his theory of interdependency of water temperature and movement. The Academy kept it concealed for 50 years, probably partly because Schauberger continued to criticise their water resource management strategies. His work became the basis for many eco-technological innovations.

For instance, instead of protecting river banks with boulders, Schauberger explained that it makes more sense to control the flow of the river from the inner part of the river, not from the sides. Some unconventional engineers have taken this to heart and have meticulously placed lines of boulders like a funnel inside the river to convert the energy of the river from the sides to the middle. When water accelerates in the middle rather than on the sides, it is a far more cost-effective way to control river bank erosion. Besides controlling floods, it also improves the quality of the water and creates perfect habitats for different fish species.

Schauberger’s writings carefully explained the underlying principle of his theory on turbulence, namely that it is influenced by differences in temperature. The warmer layers of river water flow faster than the colder ones, creating friction, which is the source of turbulence. According to Schauberger: “a river doesn’t just flow, but winds itself forward. It rotates in its bed, or put simply, it swirls.” This principle applies to any moving water, even to a raindrop running down a window.

By understanding that the swirl or turbulence of water is the most natural way in which water flows with least resistance, Schauberger applied this to many prototype technologies for which he registered patents. He developed a machine to replicate spring water, which later formed the basis for water vitalising equipment. Among the many benefits, some are more unexpected than the others. For instance, when vitalised water is used in bakeries it retards the development of moulds.

Instead of letting water simply enter a pond through a pipe, Schauberger made it pass through a specially designed funnel to let the water whirl and gain energy. The water quality in the pond improved and algae growth reduced.

Schauberger reflected on many things. He claimed that crop productivity was declining because of the use of iron tools, saying that the rust destroys soil life. Instead, tools made from copper and copper alloys do not disturb soil magnetism and contain useful trace elements which are brought into the soil through abrasion. This improves soil micro-organisms and apparently also reduces problems with snails.

In 1948, Schauberger developed a copper bio plough, known as the Golden Plough, to loosen the soil without disturbing soil layers and micro-organisms. By copying the mole, he designed a plough that pulls the soil inward rather than pushing it outward. While this technology currently attracts quite some attention on social media, it is still not available on the market.

Jane Cobbald’s book Viktor Schauberger. A Life of Learning from Nature gives some interesting insights as to why the bio plough never made it. Apparently Schauberger wanted to go into commercial production, but he had poor negotiation skills. Fertilizer companies realized that the new plough would diminish the need for chemical fertilizers, so they approached Schauberger, asking him if he was willing to share profits if they would promote the plough. Being a convinced environmentalist his answer was a definite “no”, saying he did not want to make deals with criminals. According to his son, shortly after that Schauberger faced problems obtaining copper, so he had to abandon the project.

Using the whirl or vortex principle Schauberger also suggested that electricity could be generated without losing energy, making use of just air and water. These and many other ideas tested by a careful observer of nature, and documented in detailed writings, drawings and photographs, have continued to inspire later generations of scientists and engineers. Until today, for instance, innovators continue to deposit patents for energy-efficient desalination systems, including Schauberger’s vortex principle.

Schauberger’s guiding principle for experimentation was his intuition, which was based on his own observations of nature, his reading of old philosophers and poets, as well as on the deep knowledge of the mountain men who had spent their lives in the forests. As the story of Schauberger has shown, technological breakthroughs are often the result of holistic thinking that incorporates ideas from different disciplines and people, including artists, philosophers, farmers, foresters and engineers.

While research is needed to develop new technologies that will make our planet a better place to live for us and future generations, we also need an enabling environment that supports experimentation with novel ideas, both technical and social.

Further information

Cobbald, Jane. 2009. Viktor Schauberger. A Life of Learning from Nature, Floris Books, pp. 176.

Schauberger, Viktor – The Fertile Earth – Nature’s Energies in Agriculture, Soil Fertilisation and Forestry: Volume 3. Translated and edited by Callum Coats, 2004. pp. 212.

The Secrets of Water, The Documentary of Viktor Schauberger “Comprehend and Copy Nature”: https://www.ecoagtube.org/content/secrets-water-documentary-viktor-schauberger-comprehend-and-copy-nature

Inspiring platforms

Access Agriculture: hosts over 220 training videos in over 85 languages. Each video describes underlying principles, as such encouraging people to experiment with new ideas.

EcoAgtube: a new social media platform where anyone can upload their own videos related to ecological farming and circular economy.

Honey Bee Network: this platform gives a voice to traditional knowledge holders and grassroots innovators. Primarily based in India, it has sparked products, inventions and innovations in many countries.

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