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Floods, droughts, accelerating global warming, food and
Floods are devastating Britain, the likes of which have not been seen in
one and a half centuries [1, 2]. Five have been killed, thousands left without
power, and hundreds of families without homes. Farming has been badly hit [2,
3]: an estimated 25 percent of Britain’s pea crop destroyed, along with potatoes,
cereals and other produce, and hundreds of livestock dead. Flood damages are
set to exceed £1.5 billion from insurance claims, and £3 billion when losses
from uninsured households and damage to roads and other public sector works
are included .
Meanwhile, the major breadbaskets of the world are suffering
prolonged drought. United States has been thirsting for seven
consecutive years , Australia is hit by its worst drought in 1 000 years
[6, 7] and China, its worst in 50 years [8, 9].
Extreme weather patterns are disrupting food production on
all the continents, when world grain yields have been falling for six of the
past seven years as the result of unsustainable agricultural practices as
much as from climate change; and the reserves are now at the lowest in more
than thirty years .
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There is general scientific consensus that the increasing frequency of floods
and droughts are down to global warming , which is caused by the increasing
release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere since
the industrial revolution  (Global Warming Is Happening,
SiS 31). The two main sources of CO2 emissions - burning fossil
fuels and industrial processes, and change in land use, mainly land clearing
for agriculture and industrial development - accounted for 7.9 Gt C and 1.5
Gt C in 2005; the former growing rapidly in recent years while the latter remaining
Consequently, the rate of increase in CO2 emissions has jumped from
1.1 percent a year for 1990-1999 to >3 percent a year for 2000-2004 ,
as consistent with scientists predicting a few years ago that climate change
is abrupt  (Abrupt Climate Change Happening, SiS
20), and many more recent signs that it is indeed accelerating . The
oceans are losing the capacity to soak up rising CO2 emissions, and
increasing the rate of global warming by 30 percent. There is also evidence
that the oceans may be turning from a carbon sink that soaks up CO2
to a source that emits it to the atmosphere  (Save Our Oceans, Save Our
Planet series, SiS 31).
As if all that is
not enough, fossil fuels are rapidly depleting, both oil  (Oil Running Out, SiS 25), and natural gas ; and the global
scramble for biofuels to make up for the deficit is set to make matters much
worse. Biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel compete directly with food for
feedstock like maize, soybean, oilseed rape, sugarcane etc., sending food
prices sky-high. They also compete for land to grow the crops, causing large
swathes of tropical rainforests to be razed to the ground, to be replaced
by oil palm and jatropha plantations; and in the process, releasing extra
megatonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, further accelerating global
warming  (Biofuels:
Biodevastation, Hunger & False Carbon Credits, SiS 33).
It is clear that
we must have a strategy for food and energy security if we are to survive
global warming. The good news is that we have all the means to do so, which
can be assembled together in one food and energy system we call Dream Farm
2  (Dream Farm 2 - Story So Far,
What is Dream Farm 2?
What exactly is Dream Farm 2? There are several answers.
First of all, Dream Farm 2 is a model of an integrated, ‘zero-emission’, ‘zero-waste’
highly productive farm that maximises the use of renewable energies and turns
‘wastes’ into food and energy resources, thereby completely obviating the
need for fossil fuels. It is indeed a solution to the energy and food crisis
that is capable of mitigating climate change, and more. It is a microcosm
of a different way of being and becoming in the world, and in that respect,
nothing short of a social revolution.
The idea of sustainable
systems as organisms was independently corroborated and practically implemented
in Günther Pauli’s zero-emission production systems  and George Chan’s
Integrated Food and Waste Management Systems (IFWMS), which I have described
as  Dream Farms
Dream Farm 2 incorporates
renewable energies explicitly into George Chan’s IFWMS, with emphasis on coupled
cycles of operation.
Dream Farm 1
Figure 1 is a very schematic
diagram of George Chan’s system, which I shall call Dream Farm 1. The farms
are very diverse, depending on local resources, ingenuity and imagination.
The anaerobic digester takes
in livestock manure plus wastewater, and generates biogas, which provides
all the energy needs for heating, cooking and electricity. The partially cleansed
wastewater goes into the algal basin where the algae produce by photosynthesis
all the oxygen needed to detoxify the water, making it safe for the fish.
The algae are harvested to feed chickens, ducks, geese and other livestock.
The fishpond supports a compatible mixture of 5-6 fish species. Water from
the fishpond is used to ‘fertigate’ crops growing in the fields or on the
raised dykes. Aquaculture of rice, fruits and vegetables can be done in floats
on the surface of the fishpond. Water from the fishpond can also be pumped
into greenhouses to support aquaculture of fruits and vegetables. The anaerobic
digester yields a residue rich in nutrients that is an excellent fertiliser
for crops. It could also be mixed with algae and crop residues for culturing
mushrooms after steam sterilisation. The residue from mushroom culture can
be fed to livestock or composted. Crop residues are fed back to livestock.
Crop and food residues are used to grow earthworms to feed fish and fowl.
Compost and worm castings go to condition the soil. Livestock manure goes
back into the anaerobic digester, thus closing the grand cycle. The result
is a highly productive farm that’s more than self-sufficient in food and energy.
George’s farms are strong
on animal welfare  (Dream Farm Power Point Presentations, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/onlinestore/av.php).
They are organically fed, and the pigs are especially easy to toilet-train
to deposit their manure directly into the digester, so the animals and their
living quarter are spotlessly clean, which makes for healthy and contented
Anaerobic digestion offers numerous advantages over other biofuels and supports
a burgeoning eco-economy in China
Anaerobic digestion, the
core waste-treatment and energy technology in Dream Farm 1, has numerous advantages
over other waste-treatment and energy technologies, including other biofuels
 (see Box 2 from How to be Fuel and Food Rich under
Climate Change, SiS 31).
The Chinese government is promoting the widespread use of biogas digesters
to support a burgeoning eco-economy  (Biogas China, SiS 32).
Advantages of anaerobic digestion to recover methane
Potential to provide 11.7 percent of all energy needs or 50.2 percent
of transport fuels in the UK
Methane can be used as fuel for mobile vehicles or for combined heat
and power generation
Methane-driven cars area already on the market, and currently the
cleanest vehicles on the road by far
Biogas methane is a renewable and carbon mitigating fuel (more than
Saves on carbon emission twice over, by preventing the escape of
methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere and by substituting for
Conserves plant nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous for soil
Produces a superb fertilizer for crops as by-product
Prevents pollution of ground water, soil, and air
Improves food and farm hygiene, removes 90 percent or more of harmful
chemicals and bacteria
Can be adapted to produce hydrogen either directly or from methane
Model of sustainable system as organism vs the dominant model
George Chan’s Dream Farm
1 gave me a lot of food for thought on how my theory of the organism and sustainable
systems contrasts with the dominant model.
The dominant model of infinite
competitive growth consists essentially in the bigger fish swallowing the
smaller ad infinitum, and it
describes equally how a person should behave and how a company should develop
in order to be successful.
A person grows at the expense
of other people; a company grows by taking over other companies.
A system engaged
in infinite competitive growth must inevitably swallow up the earth’s resources,
laying waste to everything in its path, like a hurricane. There is no closed
cycle to hold resources within, to build up stable organised social or ecological
structures. Not surprisingly, this is totally unsustainable, which is why
we are faced with global warming and the food and energy crises.
In contrast, the
archetype of a sustainable system is a closed lifecycle, like that of an organism,
it is ready to grow and develop, to build up structures in a balanced way
and perpetuate them, and that’s what sustainability is all about. Closing the cycle creates a stable, autonomous structurethat is self-maintaining, self-renewing
In order to do that,
you need to satisfy as much as possible the zero-entropy or zero-waste ideal
(Fig. 2). We tend towards that ideal, which is why we don’t fall apart, and
grow old only very slowly. If we were perfect, we’d never grow
old or die. In the same way, a sustainable system can remain vital and stable
indefinitely, and the closer it approximates to the zero entropy ideal, the
Figure 2. The zero-entropy
ideal of a sustainable system (see full version for illustrations)
More importantly, the ‘zero-waste’ or ‘zero-entropy’ model of
the organism and sustainable systems does
allow for growth and development, but in a balanced
way, as opposed to the unbalanced, infinite growth of the dominant model.
This immediately disposes of the myth that the alternative to the dominant
model is to have no development or growth at all.
Balanced development and
growth arises naturally in the organism, because the organism’s life cycle
is maintained by cycles within
that are coupled together to help one another thrive and prosper.
Similarly, the minimum integrated
farm is an example of a sustainable system. It consists of the farmer, livestock
and crops. The farmer prepares the ground to sow the seeds for the crops to
grow that feed the livestock and the farmer; the livestock returns manure
to feed the crops. Very little is wasted or exported to the environment. In
fact, a high proportion of the resources are recycled and kept inside the
system. The system stores energy as well as material resources such as carbon.
More extra carbon is sequestered in the soil as the soil improves, and in
the standing biomass of crops and livestock, which also increase as the soil-carbon
The farm can perpetuate
itself like that quite successfully and sustainably, or it can grow by engaging
more cycles. These other cycles, such as the fish, fowl, algae, earthworms,
mushrooms, etc., are units of devolved autonomy that help one another do better.
old paradigm, organisms are predominantly seen to compete for resources and
for space. But we’ve got three space dimensions and the time dimension too.
We’ve got space-time that we can fill up more thickly with life cycles of
different sizes that occupy different space-times. That is exactly what organisms
in a naturally biodiverse ecosystem do to maximise the reciprocal, symbiotic
relationships that benefit all the species. So adding the fish, algae, poultry,
worms, mushrooms, etc., essentially turns the ‘waste’ from one cycle into
resource for another.
lifecycles incorporated, the more energy and standing biomass are stored within
the system, and the more productive the farm. It will also support more farmers
or farm workers.
Productivity and biodiversity
always go together in a sustainable
system, as generations of farmers have known, and recent academic researchers
have rediscovered. It is also the most energy efficient. Why? Because the
different life cycles are essentially holding the energy for the whole system
by way of reciprocity, keeping as much as possible and recycling it within
in contrast, is the least energy efficient in terms of output per unit of
input, and often less productive in absolute terms despite high external inputs,
because it does not close the cycle, it does not have biodiversity to hold
the energy within, and it ends up generating a lot of waste and entropy and
depleting the soil, thereby reducing soil fertility and food quality.
In a visit to
China in 2006 as part of the Dream Farm 2 project, I was delighted
to discover that something very similar to the model of sustainable systems
as organisms is in the official Chinese mainstream discourse; they call it
the “circular economy”. Chinese farmers have perfected it over the past two
thousand years  (Circular
Economy of the Dyke-Pond System, SiS
32) especially in the Pearl River Delta of southeast China. This
integrated agriculture and fish farming system is a key component of George
Chan’s IFWMS, and as he will tell you, that’s where he got the idea. This
really disposes of yet another myth: that there is a constant carrying capacity
for a given piece of land in terms of the number of people it can support.
There is a world of difference between industrial monoculture and circular
integrated farming. The Pearl River Delta sustained an average of 17 people
per hectare in the 1980s, a carrying capacity at least ten times the average
of industrial farming, and two to three times the world average.
The ideal Dream Farm 2
‘Dream Farm 2’ is a particular
implementation and extension of George Chan’s IFWMS concept, in that it consciously
integrates food and energy production, emphasising consumption of both at
the point of production.
The ideal Dream Farm 2 operates
as a farm, and also serves as a demonstration, education and research centre,
and incubator for new ideas, designs and technologies. The aim is to promote
and support similar farms springing up all over Britain and the rest of the
world not only through publicity of Dream Farm 2 itself, but also by collating
and analysing data from all similar farms, by acting as resource centre and
centre for information exchange (see Box 3) [20, 27, 30] (How to Beat Climate Change & Post
Fossil Fuel Economy, SiS
Most significant of all,
it runs entirely without fossil fuels. As Robert Ulanowicz says, “I’ll bet
people will be surprised at how quickly the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere
can come down if we stop burning fossil fuels.” I think he may well be right.
Benefits of Dream Farm 2
Assembles in one showcase all the relevant technologies that can deliver
sustainable food and energy and a profitable zero carbon economy
Generates all its own energy for heating and electricity, including
clean fuel for transport
Energy use at the point of production enables combined heat and power
generation improves efficiency by 70 percent
Runs entirelywithout fossil fuels
Saves substantially on carbon dioxide emissions, by preventing
methane and nitrous oxide escaping, by substituting for fossil fuels
and by improved energy efficiency
Increases sequestration of carbon in soil (up to 4 tonnes CO2
per ha per year ) and standing biomass, thereby significantly mitigating
Reduces wastes and environmental pollution to a minimum
Conserves and purifies water and controls flooding
Produces a diversity of crops, livestock and fish in abundance
Fresh and nutritious food free from agrochemicals produced and consumed
locally for maximum health benefits
Provides employment opportunities for the local community
Provides a showcase and incubator for how appropriate new energy and
food technologies are implemented
Provides hands-on education and research opportunities at all levels
from infants to university students and beyond
Supports and promotes similar farms in the UK and all over the world
The ideal model of Dream
Farm 2 is presented in Figure 3. The diagram is colour coded to emphasize
the major components: Pink is energy, green is food, blue is water purification,
conservation and flood control, black is waste in the common sense of the
word, though in Dream Farm 2, it rapidly becomes transformed into resources
for producing energy or food. Purple is the analytical laboratory on site,
which links to many other labs. It will be able to do water, gas and soil
analyses on site, to monitor how the system is working. Modelling and forecasting
could be done on site as well.
Because this is an organic
system in the sense I have described, we don’t have to have all the elements,
or all at once. We can have a very simple system consisting of biogas digesters,
livestock, crops, algae basins without fishponds, as that essentially does
the water purification already and closes the cycle. The algae can be used
to feed livestock, as an alternative to grain or soybeans.
The more experimental
and innovative technologies, for example, hydrogen production either directly
from wastes  (Bug Power, SiS 27) or from methane, fuel cells for combined
heat and power generation, conversion of methane to hydrogen, and using Green
Algae for Carbon Capture  etc., can all be added on and perfected
while the farm is running and producing,
which is very important
with woody wastes that don’t break down easily in the biogas digester is to
turn them into charcoal by pyrolysis (smouldering) and burying them to encourage
crops to grow. Scientists now agree that the exceptionally fertile black earth,
found in prehistoric settlements in the Amazon is where indigenous tribes
have buried the ashes and charcoal intentionally to help crops grow. The
particles of char produced in this way are able to retain nutrients and water
that might otherwise be washed down and away from the roots, and they harbour
micro-organisms that turn the soil into a spongy, fragrant, dark material
. Eprida, a “for-profit social-purpose enterprise” in Athens Georgia
in the United States is marketing an improved process to farmers. Its selling
point is to increase crop productivity to quite remarkable extents, and sequester
a lot of carbon in the soil at the same time. This prehistoric process is
still not completely understood scientifically, and there are research opportunities
as well as business opportunities. The process is now commercially exploited
to produce bio-oil (for fuel use) as well as bio-charl .
Figure 4. The Eprida process and productivity of crops (see full version for illustrations)
Four in one biogas digester
One abiding philosophy of
Dream Farm 2 is to combine the best of indigenous and western science to serve
people in all local communities.
We can learn a lot from a project  in the northwest of Yunnan Province
in Southern China covering 69 000 square kilometres (the size of Ireland)
of high mountains, deep gorges, and indigenous forest containing some of the
world’s most diverse and threatened plants and animals. The area also contains
the upper reaches of important rivers like the Yangtze, Mekong, Salween
and Irrawaddy on which the livelihoods of many millions of people further
About 3.2 million
live in the region, from 15 distinct ethnic groups. The main threats to the
ecology of the region comes from tree cutting mostly for fuel wood, insensitive
tourist activities, unmanaged collection and use of plants and animals, and
over-grazing of animals on grasslands.
The Chinese branch
of the international conservation organisation, The Nature Conservancy, helped
set up the China Rural Energy Enterprise Development programme, working with
local entrepreneurs to develop businesses making, selling and installing fuel-efficient
cooking stoves, fuel briquettes made from crop wastes, and ‘four in one’ biogas
digesters, solar water heaters, solar cookers and micro-hydropower plants.
They are already doing what we plan to do in Dream Farm 2, but on a household
The ‘four in one’
biogas production incorporates an underground biogas digester, a greenhouse
for growing vegetables, a pigpen and a latrine. The open cover for the digester
is close to the pigpen and latrine. The greenhouse also covers this area,
so it gets heated and this accelerates the fermentation process in the digester.
Human excreta falls directly into the digester from the latrine and a shovel
is used to put the pig waste into the digester.
The biogas digester
is built of concrete, and has a capacity of six to eight cubic metres. This
is sufficient to meet most of the cooking and lighting needs of households,
except when it is too cold. The cost of the four in one system varies from
US$250 to 800, depending on the size of the greenhouse.
ISIS is currently
developing an implementation/planning model with the Third World Network and
other organisations that can be adapted to a dream farm 2 of any size, anywhere
in the world. It will provide projected costs and benefits, not only in financial
terms, but especially also in terms of savings in energy and carbon emissions
(including carbon sequestered in the soil and in standing biomass). We believe
this is the best way forward to a greener, cleaner, healthier and more fulfilling
life without fossil fuels  (Which Energy?, ISIS 2006 Energy