My special guest last night on Voices from the North was scientist Andreas Kurmann. Now here’s a man on a mission.—to restore health, harmony and productivity to farms, rivers and the coastline of the Far North. Rarely have I interviewed anyone with such contagious enthusiasm and with the qualifications and experience to physically create the simple, biological, low-tech solutions to do the job.

Andreas Kurmann grew up in Switzerland near Central Europe’s largest body of fresh water—Lake Constance. He watched with dismay as that lake’s water became less fresh by the year, reaching a pollution peak in the late 1970s. School children in shore-hugging communities had to spend a week each year collecting and carting away algae that proliferated in response to the pollution. The lake was dying and many species of fish (like trout) were dying with it in the oxygen-depleted waters.

The three countries bordering the lake – Switzerland, Germany and Austria – spent many arduous years hammering out a solution. In the end they did so, by monitoring ammonia (nitrate) and phosphate levels from all sources (domestic, industrial and waste water treatment facilities). Everyone had to meet the same standard or risk being fined; it was as simple as that.

At the time, Kurmann worked with water treatment for a local body council and was admittedly sceptical of the ability of everyone involved to restore the health and cleanliness of the lake. But, in the end, these three countries and all pertinent parties were successful. The water quality really turned the corner in 1997 and presently the lake is as clean as it was back in the early 1950s. Once again trout and other endemic species of fish abound. It is a true environmental success story.

Lake Constance and Mainau Island: It's Clean Today!

Andreas Kurmann claims New Zealand’s ‘Clean Green’ image is a myth. Many of our rivers are filthier than Lake Constance was at its worst. Our major polluters are, in most cases, farmers. But Andreas sees clear, simple solutions to the messy waters. And he doesn’t think it will take long to implement and attain positive results. I tend to agree. The monitoring of water quality has been practiced here for years. All we need now is the will to get things done. The job should be easier than it was in Europe. We are only one country and we only need to make one significant change—in the way we farm and fertilize our pastures and orchards.

Kurmann’s passion is for microbes, the bacteria, enzymes and other tiny creatures we can’t see with the naked eye, but which make up the life of the soil, water, plants and animals and which perform countless vital functions. The average human adult contains 3 kilograms of microbes, without which we wouldn’t be able to digest and assimilate our food or make it bio-available to the trillions of cells ion our bodies. Similarly microbes in the soil are critical to the retention and movement of minerals in the soil, making them available and absorbable for plant life.

Conventional farmers have had to use increasing amounts of chemically derived urea (nitrates) and super phosphates (these are sometimes made of naturally-occurring phosphates enhanced with sulphuric acid) to get the same positive results on their farms as they did when they first began to use chemical fertilizers. Why? Because these products kill soil microbes, thereby increasing erosion (water is held in the soil by micro-organisms) and the leaching of minerals.

Andreas recently performed an experiment. He pounded 40cm long tubes into the ground of five naturally-managed farms (those applying naturally-occurring fertilizers) and brought the tubes containing cross-sections of soil into his laboratory. He did the same for five adjacent conventionally-managed farms (those using chemical fertilizers). He added enough water to saturate each soil sample and tested mineral content in leached water. He then added natural rock phosphate to each sample and retested the leached water. The results were astounding! In the worst case, the organic farm’s soil had 60% less leaching of RPR (Reactive Rock Phosphate) than soil from its neighbour. In the best case it was 170% better. As Andreas says, conventional farmers need spend no more than they are now to get better results and to cause less pollution. All they need to do is change the fertilizers they use. That’s all.

“Nothing happens unless first a dream”

 – Carl Sandburg

Andreas Kurmann is a man with a dream to change the ways in which we live and use the earth’s resources and thereby improve the environment and, coincidently, our quality of life. And he has the enthusiasm, knowledge and skills to get the job done.

Taipa As Seen from Above

Current projects include the building of a prototype algae reactor which he envisions vastly improving the water being released from waste water treatment plants (like the one near Taipa in Doubtless Bay) and at the same time producing ethanol for fuel (Kurmann stated during the interview that post 1999 vehicles can run on fuel containing up to 85% ethanol without any engine conversion) and organic fertilizer for the garden. From waste come riches. This is a much needed possibility as, sadly, today most treatment plants in the Far North don’t comply with regulations.

Lake Constance Sunset

Finally, Andreas would like to see us change the way we flush the toilet. As my previous guest, Richard Robbins of the Far North Environment Centre stated, our current system of flushing is Victorian technology using huge amounts of clean water to deal with solid and liquid wastes. Kurmann would like to see us using wormerators instead. For those interested in finding out more follow the link.

Here’s a link to Andreas Kurmann’s own website:

http://www.envirolab-ltd.co.nz/

Our complete interview is below:

 

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Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives, a startlingly poignant and inspiring real-life endorsement of the power of thought, belief and synchronicity in one’s life.

In Search of Simplicity is a unique and awe-inspiring way to re-visit and even answer some of the gnawing questions we all intrinsically have about the meaning of life and our true, individual purpose on the planet. I love this book.”

Barbara Cronin, Circles of Light. For the complete review visit: http://www.circlesoflight.com/blog/in-search-of-simplicity/

In Search of Simplicity is one of those rare literary jewels with the ability to completely and simultaneously ingratiate itself into the mind, heart and soul of the reader.”

Heather Slocumb, Apex Reviews

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Raglan Harbour Kayak

New Zealand is not always as clean and green as the image NZ Tourism has so successfully presented to the world. Abundant orthographic rainfall and a varied and dramatic landscape have given this ‘lucky green country’ rare natural beauty. The green persists despite the best unintentional efforts to undermine it.

There are vast plantations of mono-cropped pine trees, serving to further acidify the already acid volcanic soils. Much of the country is planted in grass—familiar to viewers of the Lord of the Rings trilogy—and this grass is covered with animals—sheep, stock and dairy cattle mostly. In many places, certainly where we live in the Far North of the North Island, these animals are not fenced from waterways, leading to pugged and broken river and stream banks and abundant erosion. Each time we experience heavy rain our beautiful Doubtless Bay becomes temporarily brown with silt and ugly foam fringes the beaches near estuaries, evidence of pollution leaching down to the sea. This results in damaged shell fish beds and adversely affects the coastal oceanic food chain from snapper to dolphins and orcas. The fisherman is not as happy as he once was. The bay is no longer teeming with the life it had when Captain Cook arrived in 1769 and proclaimed, as legend has it, ‘Doubtless it’s a bay.’

Enter modern day Robin Hood Fred Lichtwark of Raglan Harbour Care, who recently addressed a group of local citizens concerned about the present and future state of Doubtless Bay. Fifteen years ago Raglan Harbour was in a sorry state, rated as one of the most polluted in the country. A study showed it took on average 18 hours to catch a fish.

Fred, an ex-third generation farmer, turned his attentions to the plight of the harbour after a horrendous motorcycle accident partially crippled him and he found farming and commercial fishing just too difficult. Armed with a spade instead of a bow, in the mid-90s he spearheaded the fencing of waterways to keep out stock, propagation of native species and the planting of those hardy seedlings between the new fences and the waterways.

Before

Before

 

Farmers were initially reluctant to come on board but the success of Fred’s merry band on a demonstration farm in Raglan changed their minds. Something like 30% of the land was retired and stocking rates were still able to be increased. Erosion stopped, the waters cleared, and the health of the animals was restored once they stopped drinking from the very water they had been defecating in. Veterinary bills decreased and farmers made more money. The payback time was quick—just over a year.

After

After

The tree propagators and planters had originally been mostly unemployed (Fred referred to some as ‘government surfers’) and some, with little better to do, had been troublemakers. Now, fifteen years on Fred’s team takes great pride in their work and the Raglan police have had to let one officer go—not enough work!

The harbour is far cleaner. It and the rivers and streams feeding it have deepened and no longer turn brown with silt each time it rains. Fred exclaims, ‘I never thought I’d see clear water on low tide.’ Two fish per hour can now be caught (Fred claims he and other locals ‘in the know’ can catch their quota of snapper in an hour) and ecotourism businesses have sprung up like water-based mushrooms to take visitors to experience the dolphins, whales and diverse bird life that have returned to the area now the sea is again teeming with life.

Fred Lichtwark and the rest of the Raglan Harbour Care team have demonstrated New Zealand can truly be clean and green. Let’s hope other areas, including our beloved Far North, cotton on to Raglan’s example, get planting and fencing, and re-green this beautiful land.

For further information and startling before and after photos visit:

http://www.harbourcare.co.nz/information.php?info_id=7

 

Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and the recently released Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See http://www.JohnHainesBooks.com

 

“In Search of Simplicity is a unique and awe-inspiring way to re-visit and even answer some of the gnawing questions we all intrinsically have about the meaning of life and our true, individual purpose on the planet. I love this book.”

 

Barbara Cronin, Circles of Light. For the complete review visit: http://www.circlesoflight.com/blog/in-search-of-simplicity/

 

“In Search of Simplicity is one of those rare literary jewels with the ability to completely and simultaneously ingratiate itself into the mind, heart and soul of the reader.”

 

Heather Slocumb, Apex Reviews

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