Have you ever wondered why some people experience a successful and satisfying life while others just seem destined for poverty and misery?
You may consider that it’s a good education, hard work, and rich parents.
And there’s no doubt, they can all help.
But very often it’s nothing more than a question of fate.
Fate is often defined as forces outside of one’s control that make things happen – for better or worse. It seems she looks benevolently upon some people while dealing out devastation to others.
Take, for example, Norman Borlaug and Mark R McMurtry.
Norman Borlaug was an American agronomist who led worldwide initiatives that contributed to the extensive increases in agricultural production termed the ‘Green Revolution’.
During the mid-20th century, Borlaug’s team introduced high-yielding grain varieties and modern agricultural production techniques to Mexico, Pakistan, and India. As a result, Mexico became a net exporter of wheat while Pakistan and India doubled their grain production.
Borlaug enjoyed the support of the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the World Bank and a host of Big Ag conglomerates that benefited directly from his work.
He is often called “the father of the Green Revolution” and he’s credited with saving millions of people worldwide from starvation.
Mark R McMurtry
As a young man, Mark McMurtry had a love affair with Africa. His enjoyment of the harsh beauty of the continent was overshadowed by the poor nutrition of impoverished villagers living in arid areas – and the effect that their food-provisioning had on their environment.
In 1983, he sold his successful architectural woodworking business and, funding his own research, he went off to university to research an idea – which was subsequently investigated, analysed and published in multiple peer-reviewed journals.
Long story short, the result was the ‘Integrated Aqua-Vegeculture System’ (iAVs) about which the late Dr. H. Douglas Gross (Professor Emeritus – North Carolina State University) said:
“The IAVS is a tightly coupled, symbiotic system of producing both fish and vegetables on a small area of land and which employs extremely conservative water-management practices.
Our continuing research reveals that one can realize both fish and fresh vegetable produce sufficient to feed a family of four – year-long – on a plot merely big enough to park the typical family car.”
Water IS Life
It was established that each unit volume of available water is re-used between 140 – 300 times (subject to climate and species being grown) before being ‘lost’ to evapotranspiration or incorporated into biomass (food).
If we were to characterise IAVs in as few words as possible, it would be more food for less water…making iAVs well-suited to a world that is quickly running out of freshwater – the most invaluable resource on Earth.
But the good news doesn’t end there
iAVs was found to be scale-neutral…enabling its use for a small house or village gardens right up to broad-acre controlled environment greenhouses.
Dr Gross, speaking of the village (low tech) iAVs, stated…
“Yields from the research conducted in Raleigh NC indicate that over 50 kilograms of tilapia may be harvested per year for each cubic meter of water cultured (individual fish harvested periodically as they reach 250 grams), plus about 360 kilograms of tomatoes or other vegetable fruits.”
iAVs was demonstrated to be:
- extremely efficient in its water use – from 20,000 to 50,000 times more calories per litre than industrial corn in the US Midwest.
- simple to build and easy to operate – putting the ability to feed themselves back in the hands of those who need the food most.
- sustainable – no synthetic herbicides or pesticides – no chemical fertilisers – no pollution – no waste stream.
- scalable – backyard gardens – village/community scale units – broad-acre controlled-environment cropping operations.
- particularly well-suited to arid regions and places where the soil is absent, polluted or deficient in nutrients.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s he presented every detail of the method to over 30 US universities, many institutions and governments across Africa and the Middle East.
The United States Department of Agriculture funded a commercial trial of the iAVs method that far exceeded all expectations. The university declared iAVs ready for implementation. Following tense legal proceedings, Mark retained all rights to iAVs – which he then gifted to humanity.
USAID committed $7.5 million to the implementation of iAVs across the then newly formed nation of Namibia.
It was clear that iAVs was a game-changer with a very bright future.
Then fate took a hand and the bright future descended into hell.
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Bureaucratic and intergovernmental malfeasance killed the plan to implement iAVs across Namibia….and he returned from Africa to discover that the university had terminated his tenure because he’d thwarted its plans to sell iAVs off to large food production conglomerates.
Mark returned home – bankrupt and with his mental and physical health in ruins – to try to rebuild his life at an off-grid mountain refuge near Yellowstone.
Several years later, the Likud government and Israeli lobby in the US thwarted the World Bank’s (IBRD) and UN/FAO intentions to “feed a million Palestinians” with 100 hectares of iAVs polyculture at Jericho by sourcing fossil water from deep below the Dead Sea.
Without institutional support, income – and pre-internet – he was no longer able to support the dissemination of iAVs and it lapsed into obscurity.
In 2010, he returned to working in earnest (again, at no cost) with those expressing interest in the iAVs method.
But fate wasn’t yet done with him.
In 2018, he fled a wildfire (injuring himself in the process) with his dogs and whatever he could carry … while the flames destroyed the substance of his past and the simple but survivable life that he’d eked out for himself.
His pain and torments intensified.
But again, he returned to his mountain…and again in he started to rebuild his life…and again fate has pushed him to the edge.
Norman Borlaug’s work may have ‘saved’ millions from starvation, but the alleged productivity of the Green Revolution was illusory.
What we now know is that the use of chemical fertilisers, synthetic herbicides and pesticides – and mechanised farming – turned out to be at the expense of the environment – to the point where the continued existence of humanity hangs in the balance unless we are able to find new ways to source nutrition.
The threat of starvation was never resolved; it was simply postponed.
In the process, the Green Revolution poisoned and depleted soils and aquifers. It devastated indigenous farmers’ lives and rural communities across several continents.
Its achievements can be summarised as adding billions of people to the world population – and billions of dollars in profits for industrial agriculture conglomerates.
By contrast, Dr. McMurtry invented a means by which impoverished people could feed themselves without harming their environment.
Indeed, iAVs is one of the most productive, resilient and sustainable food production methods ever devised.
Dr. H. Douglas Gross quantified the performance of the method with the following:
“At these yield rates, a “parking space” sized unit with 3 cubic meters of water and 14 square meters of vegetable filter bed could yield 150 kg of fish and 1100 kg of vegetable fruits per year (an average of 3 kg (7 lb) fish and 21 kg (46 lb) vegetables each week).”
Dr. McMurtry subsequently estimated that a ‘higher-tech’ approach to the ‘car parking space’ model would see annual production of at least 200kg of fish and 1400kg of fruit and vegetables.
The USDA-funded iAVs commercial trial demonstrated that these figures were merely a starting point…and that much larger quantities of fish and fresh produce were possible.
As such, it stands as one of the big-ticket solutions to the industrial farming that has pushed humanity to the brink of a continuing existence.
For his efforts, Borlaug was awarded honours that included the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal…and he enjoyed all of the material comforts and the lifestyle that generally accrue to those in such esteemed positions.
For his work, McMurtry has received nothing but pain, anguish, betrayal and poverty. He’s given freely of himself – but never had a payday – and never received so much as a moment’s recognition for his achievement.
Is it possible to imagine a greater contrast?
Even if the respective contribution of Borlaug and McMurtry had equal humanitarian value the situation would have been grossly unfair.
That the so-called Green Revolution turned out to be an existential threat, makes it nothing short of a travesty.
The Good News
Dr. Mark R McMurtry created a truly transformative technology that really can save millions of lives – and, in conjunction with other strategies like waste transformation farming and regenerative farming…it can help to roll back the terrible legacy of industrial farming.
In a world where arable land and potable water supplies are diminishing – but populations are increasing – iAVs provides more food for less water
And it’s available to anyone concerned with human nutrition and sustainable food production – right now!.