How can we build the Green Friendship Bridge?
May 22, 2016 — by Mark Edwards
Green Friendship Bridge composed of 8,600 algae microfarms sprinkled throughout Mexico and Central America offers substantial advantages to all stakeholders, compared with a $20 billion border wall.
The GAO estimates the additional wall will cost roughly $16.6 million/mile. Rather than build more wall, the Green Friendship Bridge project proposes funding from 13 miles of wall, $216 million, be invested in microfarms for farmers and families throughout Mexico and Central America. Microfarms offer many benefits including enabling families and communities to grow enough food and valuable bioproducts that families do not have to migrate north.
Algae microfarms will be optimized for easy and efficient production of various types of algae but especially for spirulina. Spirulina has been eaten by humans for thousands of years, is easy to grow and has benefited from the most research on production and consumption.
Under-nutrition and food insecurity constitute serous public health problems in Mexico and Central America. In some countries, over half the children under five suffer from malnutrition that can be alleviated by locally produced microfarm nutrients. The use of algae, particularly spirulina, as a functional food and nutritional supplement, was suggested decades ago by several experts due to its extremely high nutralence – nutrient density, diversity and bioavailability.
Spirulina offers a protein-dense food source with very few calories. Delicious and healthy spirulina foods deliver a superior amino acid profile compared to meat or other vegetables. Spirulina foods contain nutrients with substantially higher biologic-value (due to higher nutralence) than other vegetables or meat.
Spirulina provides essential fats (e.g., gamma-linolenic oleic acids), associated to low content nucleic acids. It has an exceptionally high content of vitamin B and delivers high levels of beta-carotene, iron, calcium and phosphorous. Consumer research shows spirulina’s organoleptic properties, taste, sight, smell and touch, makes it attractive as a food or nutrition supplement. Spirulina has exhibited neither acute nor chronic toxicities, making it safe for human consumption. Several companies market spirulina in the U.S. with a GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) certification from the FDA.
The Friendship Bridge Foundation will put out a call for microfarm trainers in the target countries. Foundation members will train trainers in microfarm construction and operations. Foundation members will help build and operate initial microfarms in each country and communicate lessons learned via YouTube, Skype, Facebook and other social media.
The Foundation will partner with Antenna Technologies, the World Bank, Spirulina Source, Smart Microfarms and other similar organizations in communicating the value of spirulina and other algae species for food, nutrition, animal feed, biofertilizer, medicines and other bioproducts. The Foundation will link microfarmers and create a Friendship Bridge Cooperative, funded from a small percentage of the microfarmers revenue, to share R&D and additional training.
The Cooperative will become a focus for education, insights and innovation. It will provide training for future microfarmers and provide a stock of selected spirulina cultivars as well as other viable algae species.
The Coop, networked to all participating microfarmers, will house educational videos and materials on best-practice methods of cultivation, harvesting and consumption. Microfarmers will coach one another through the network on topical issues. The Coop network will include schools where students can view webcams of live microfarming operations. Restaurants and home cooks will showcase their algae recipes, which will increase algae demand and consumption. Universities, hospitals and medical professionals will create studies to validate the substantial nutrition and health benefits from various forms of algae.
Microfarms can be built in a variety of shapes and sizes to match the geography, climate and target algae species grown. The three raceways on the top of the picture below may become the standard model, with the size options shown in the center picture.
The Friendship Bridge Foundation’s role includes communicating the value of spirulina for food, nutrition, animal feed, biofertilizer and medicines. The Foundation will also provide a stock of selected spirulina cultivars with educational videos and materials on best-practice methods of cultivation, harvesting and consumption.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS,) Department of Agriculture (USDA,) or donors would provide funding for the $25,000 cost of each microfarm. The project team will source large orders for the required materials:
- Plastic liners for microfarm bottoms and plastic sheets for sides.
- Paddlewheels, harvest filters and other basic equipment.
- Flasks and beakers to supply a basic on-site lab for inoculants.
Farmers or families will receive their microfarm kit after they have been trained in microfarming and have passed a competency exam. Kits will be nicely packaged so they can be shipped anywhere. Local labor will assemble the microfarm, supplemented where needed, by readily available local materials.
MicroBio Engineering’s prefab algae raceways that are available in many sizes provide excellent microfarm models. John Benemann, CEO of MicroBio Engineering, was recently elected an Algae Ambassador by the algae industry. John Benemann has over 50 years experience in designing algae projects, including especially wastewater treatment.
Algae raceways will be delivered as complete packages that include the walls, pre-cut liner, paddle wheels with motors, and extensive monitoring and control systems. All components are specially designed for durability, chemical compatibility, and high performance based on decades of algae industry experience.
The primary microfarm inputs required are agricultural fertilizers, water and, optionally, electricity. Some microfarms may use non-potable water such as waste or brine water. Another input, soda or bicarbonate of soda, is typically easy to source locally. Soda may be replaced by solid wood ashes.
The simple growth medium can be made from fertilizers that are usually available in farm communities. Contrary to some expectations, the volume of water required is less than for any other traditional form of agricultural production. With its high productivity and the small amounts of spirulina required per person, the growing surface required is relatively small. The modest microfarm footprint is similar to an urban garden.
The first harvest is ready within 30 to 44 days after starting operations. Harvest uses a simple filtration of the growth medium. Farmers can harvest daily or several days a week. The filtered rich green biomass is then dried during the day and processed late afternoon.
When the dried mass has been crushed to powder, it can be eaten immediately, or added to traditional foodstuffs. Given its ease of use, spirulina is accepted quickly by mothers when they witness for themselves how their children’s health improves. Spirulina tastes best fresh or fresh frozen.
With adequate packing, spirulina or spirulina-enriched products can be stored for two to three years. These high-value bioproducts have a long shelf life in local or regional markets.
A Green Friendship Bridge composed of 8,600 algae microfarms distributed throughout Mexico and Central America will enable our food insecure neighbors to grow affordable healthy food for their family and community locally. The Friendship Bridge will dramatically advance the cause of freedom and peace. DHS could take the lead in diffusing algae microfarms that enable people to grow foods locally that eliminate childhood (and adult) malnutrition and give families and communities new food security. Farmers and their families could stay on their land and not have to try to cross the U.S. border to provide food for their family.
We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
The Green Friendship Bridge will transform DHS from a defensive agency to an organization that exposes the “belief that freedom and security go together and that the advancement of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace.”
The action to match those words: “Build the Green Friendship Bridge.” DHS has the opportunity to make algae microfarms a core strategy for reducing illegal immigration, disaster relief and building national resilience for the U.S. and our neighbors.