by Dr. Mark Edwards

Millions of environmental refugees will migrate from the food sparse south to north by 2020, fleeing food shortages sparked by climate change. The UN projects 50 million environmental refugees and other sources estimate several times that many. These migrants will affect the amount of food available—food security—and food safety.

Southern Europe has already seen a sharp increase in the steady flow of migrants from Africa. Many people have risked their lives to cross the Straits of Gibraltar into Spain from Morocco or sail in makeshift vessels to Italy from Libya and Tunisia. Food shortages were the tipping point that ignited revolution in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Hunger brought down Tunisia’s long-time ruler BenAli as well as Egyptian president Mubarak. The Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan pattern—a change in government and sudden mass migrations north—are becoming the norm.

Africans are leaving their strife-torn countries in hopes of finding jobs. When additional food stress occurs soon, many more will try to go north. In many Middle Eastern and North African countries, politics, religion and other factors play major roles in their daily lives but hunger, and the threat of starvation, move people to act—quickly.

Climate chaos

Climate chaos has affected food security by extending fall and spring by a week or ten days and making winters warmer. Perennial crops lose yield because they cannot set the fruit properly with warmer daily lows or highs. Temperature spikes destroy crops, which often are left in the field to rot, inviting pest infestations. Warmer winters enable pests that carry plant diseases to survive over the cold months and attack crops in the spring. Fungal pathogens caused by sporadic heavy rainfall can dramatically influence yield and quality. Higher and fiercer storm activity amplifies erosion and pollution.

Globally, higher heat will become most severe in the tropics. Already, many countries in the Mid-east and North Africa must import much of their food because they have insufficient fresh water to grow their own. Each ton of food grain imported saves 100 tons of fresh water for other purposes. As water becomes increasing scarce globally, due to overconsumption and global warming, the price of foods will rise.

Global Hot Spots

Floods not only ruin crops but also the infrastructure for growing crops, such as field leveling and the structures and equipment needed for irrigation. Returning flooded fields to productive cropland can take years—and is only possible if sufficient topsoil remains. Floods caused by heavy precipitation also spread diseases carried in animal waste, as well as fertilizers and agricultural chemical poisons.

Rising oceans will create additional millions of environmental refugees. Many of the most productive rice cropland produces near sea level on river deltas such as the Mekong. Tidal and storm surges are predicted to wipe out hundreds of thousands of hectares of productive rice paddies. When sea salt invades cropland, it destroys the fertility and the land must be abandoned. When salt enters the groundwater, irrigation becomes impossible and farmers and their families have to move.

Climate chaos also brings more hot winds that evaporate soil moisture and destroy crops. Dry conditions caused by higher temperatures and dryer winds cause wildfires that have devastated prime croplands in California, Australia and Russia.

Environmental refugees

As people move, they prefer to live in areas that otherwise might be used for cropland. When people settle on cropland, the land seldom returns to food production.

Additional people create more demand for resources to compete with food production including land, water, shelter, equipment and transportation fuels. Concentrations of people make several forms of industrial agriculture impossible because they drive up the price of land and forbid aerial spraying.

Environmental refugees will create high demand for locally grown foods. Food producers need a growing system that avoids the use of cropland and uses minimal fresh water and fossil fuels. Ideally, this food production system will not use expensive chemical fertilizers or agricultural poisons. Dense populations mean that food production should not pollute the air, water or soil. Of course, climate chaos dictates that the food production system must also be climate independent.

Abundance foods

Abundance foods meet the constraints for the needed new food system. Abundance cultivates protein and essential nutrients 30 to 70 times more productively per unit of land than industrial agriculture. Abundance growers produce food and other forms of energy using predominantly non-fossil inputs that are affordable, non-pollutive and will not run out. Abundance foods provide a diverse set of algae-based foods that can be eaten directly or used as a food ingredient, such as replacing low-nutrient flour or high fat oils.

Growers practice abundant agriculture as they produce a diversity of healthy, nutrient-rich foods, regenerate fields with nutrients and organics and remediate air, water and soil pollution. Abundance enables SAFE production: Sustainable and Affordable Food and Energy grown locally in nearly any geography.

Algae energy

Abundance cultivates the fastest-growing plant on the planet to provide portable energy that may be used in a multitude of ways, including:

  • People—organic protein, nutrients and micronutrients in food.
  • Animals—organic protein and nutrients in fodder.
  • Fowl—natural protein and nutrients for birds.
  • Fish—natural protein and nutrients in fish feed.
  • Land plants—rich, full spectrum organic fertilizer.
  • Fire—high energy algae oil for cooking and heating.
  • Cars—lipids and carbohydrates refined to biofuels.
  • Trucks and tractors—high energy clean, green diesel.
  • Trains, boats and ships —high energy clean diesel.
  • Planes—high energy, clean aviation gas and jet fuel.

Algae’s food value has been known for centuries and food potential for at least 100 years. Consider the annual protein production per acre for food grains calculated using half its theoretical photosynthetic capacity. Algae provide a superior set of vitamins and minerals than found in land plants. Algae are not a full solution for malnutrition because the biomass is low on calories. Fortunately, calories are cheap and easy to add to a diet.

Algae flours are extremely malleable in the sense that algae can substitute for wheat, corn, rice or soy products while providing higher protein and a higher quality nutrient profile. Algae foods may include protein-rich milk, ice cream, chocolate (with superb taste and 80% less fat), baked goods of any size, shape or texture such as tortillas, crackers or cakes. The biomass may be made into texturized vegetable protein with added fiber or extruded to make additives for meats that improve moisture retention and increase protein while lowering fat.

Processing algae can match the form of nearly any food such as peanuts, pasta, pesto or protein bars. Fortunately, years of food processing experience with terrestrial crops that have an unappealing natural taste such as soybeans make it easy to add colors, flavors, textures (fibers) and aromas.

Any product that can be made from fossil fuels can be made from algae because Nature chose algae as the primary feedstock for fossil fuels. Commercial producers are excited about replacing fossil fuels with algae. However, human societies survived for many millennia without the convenience energy sources derived from fossil fuels. The most critical energy source for humans is food because we survive only a short time when deprived of the vital energy supplied by food.

Abundance grower advantages

Microfarmers use cultivated abundance production systems, (CAPS) to grow algae. Growers cultivate microbial communities, which may be pure strains of algae but are often diverse communities of algae and the multitude of other microorganisms algae attract. Microflora communities thrive in aquatic and moist terrestrial settings and include algae, fungi, bacteria, viruses, slimes and other tiny organisms. This diverse array of microorganisms works symbiotically to produce compounds valuable to plants, animals, fish and humans.

Abundance gives growers a substantial cost advantage over industrial agriculture because the inputs are cheap and the yields and quality are very high. Industrial or organic farmers may use abundance methods to recover, recycle and reuse the energy and nutrients in the farm waste stream to reduce production costs while improving soil fertility, crop yields and produce taste, nutrition and quality. Urban gardeners may source nutrients from municipal and industrial waste streams to grow rich algae biofertilizers that speed plant growth and development as well as increase produce size, weight, taste, texture, color, nutrition and quality.

Abundance democratizes access to food because those with the most need—the poor, working mothers, elderly and disabled—can have access to food or the plentiful and cheap inputs for growing food. Abundance knowledge and capability diffused globally will enable all people to produce for the needs of their family and community locally.