“We are here as local information harvesters, local problem-solvers in support of the integrity of eternally regenerative Universe.” –R. Buckminster Fuller
Food security, poverty, climate change and environmental degradation are the most significant challenges facing humanity. Small farmers produce over 80% of the food consumed globally and are stewards of much of the world’s arable lands, yet they are, especially in the “developing” world, among the poorest and most disenfranchised of social groups lacking access to technology, financing and capacity building to improve their productivity. This drives many of them off the land and into giant slums in the least desirable parts of urban agglomerations. Another 2 billion, mostly rural people lack access to reliable, dignified sanitation systems and waste treatment. The resulting waste creates an enormous human health and environmental burden. These poor rural communities also continue to rely on biomass fuels (such as wood collected from local forests) for their basic energy needs, driving deforestation and creating yet another devastating public health burden in the form of extremely poor indoor air quality, leading to an epidemic of serious respiratory problems, especially in women and children. As managers of households in most rural areas, women disproportionately bear the health, economic, and social brunt of these waste and energy crises.
Deep market failures in the agricultural industry distort the technological, educational and financial opportunities available to poor farmers, and efforts to produce local staples are compromised by the crushing scale of agricultural markets, which often prioritize export crops and encourage land and wealth concentration. The macroeconomic rational of the global economy does not serve a small farmer, and a persistent myth that scale increases productivity in agricultural systems helps justify the consolidation of agricultural lands for industrial agriculture. As economic boundaries are eliminated for increased trade, cultural boundaries blur, the traditions and community cohesion that protected the land are eroded, and more and more economic exploitation of hitherto protected or sustainably managed land devastates ecosystems for short-term gain. Cultural and ecological diversity are seen as obstacles to trade and are being systematically eliminated by markets favoring specialization and enormous scale. This same rational destroys the land, pollutes waterways and spews greenhouse gases. Our overall human progress has left over 2 billion people behind, still lacking access to basic sanitation systems and forced to pillage the world’s remaining forests for fuel.
Outdated narratives must be replaced with new thinking: what was once waste must now been seen as a valuable resource. Human systems must work more like ecosystems, where the by-products from one process are the inputs for another. This is the worldview embodied, by Sistema Biobolsa, which permits farmers to convert the least appealing substances into clean energy and non-toxic, synthetic chemical-free agricultural fertility.
Sistema Biobolsa permits small farms, rural communities, and urban settlements to convert organic waste into renewable energy and organic fertilizer. Based on a biomimetic model that originated in the early-20th century, Sistema Biobolsa has re-designed the common bio-digester to provide a state-of-the-art, robust system with a high-quality membrane comprising modular parts that is compact enough to be distributable via donkeys, motorbikes, or boats. This has allowed Sistema.bio to scale to serve farmers in Colombia, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Senegal and is growing virally, with plans for potentially near-global reach. The bio-digesters convert waste into fertilizer for agricultural application and produce natural gas used for clean cooking and heating water, thereby reducing indoor air pollution and combatting deforestation. The gas is also used to run small engines for mechanical and electrical needs, providing affordable, renewable, decentralized energy to hitherto electricity-deprived populations.
Sistema Biobolsa places a heavy emphasis on the monitoring and evaluation of their technology. Their replication package includes technical and communication tools that allow local representatives to track potential waste streams, calculate energy values, order systems, and track and report impacts over time. This highly effective, multi-dimensional project also includes very flexible 0% interest loans to farmers that permit them to afford the biodigesters and recoup their investments in 12 to 18 months, making the biodigester “the best investment a farmer can ever make.” It also offers farmers in-depth training and extremely responsive technical support, and engages in the socio-cultural lives of farming families and their communities. Sistema Biobolsa is truly a game-changing approach to boosting the livelihoods and wellbeing of small farmers throughout the developing world.