The EM eco revolution
In 1980, when Japanese horticulture professor Dr Teruo Higa threw away a series of common microorganisms, he was stunned to notice several days later that the grass had grown greener and denser. For more than a decade, Dr Higa had been exploring the regenerative power of microorganisms for use in agriculture. Deeply concerned about the earth’s environmental crisis and world hunger, he had been searching for a solution to revitalise soil and increase crop yields. His honed beneficial brew, called EM, contained 80 safe microorganisms including common food fermenters such as yeast, fermenting fungi, actinomycetes and photosynthetic and lactic acid bacteria.
To everyone’s surprise, EM not only regenerated soil and boosted crops in record time, it also emerged as an amazing water purifier, chemical-free cleaner, quick composter, deodoriser, preservative, health-boosting antioxidant and probiotic. The brown liquid blend, which is free from genetically modified material, is now used to nurture healthy homoeostasis within our internal and external environments.
EM excitement escalated in Japan with schools, farms, government bodies and households adopting it as an affordable, effective alternative to chemicals. Dr Higa patented the process and set up the EM Research Organization (EMRO), a non-profit organisation that researches and promotes EM technology throughout the world, with profits going to developing countries. Today, EM is employed in more than 120 countries as a low-cost, sustainable agricultural aid, water and sewage purifier, deodoriser, cleanser and health tonic.
How can a mix of everyday microorganisms have such magical effects? Though the merits of cultures such as acidophilus and kombucha are well documented, it’s now believed that a synergistic solution of microorganisms gives longer, stronger benefits than a single one. The genius of Dr Higa’s EM discovery is the happy marriage of both aerobic and anaerobic microbes, previously thought to be incompatible.
EM’s unique formula inhibits malevolent molecules and promotes beneficial bugs, enzymes, nutrients and proteins. This enhances regeneration and reduces degeneration to the degree that it was used in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (US, August 2005) to halt the spread of disease and odours.
EM’s phototrophic bacteria degrade harmful substances and release healthy organic complexes such as antioxidants. The same lactic acid used in yoghurt sterilises pathogens and decomposes organic matter. Fermenting fungi and yeasts secrete B vitamins, nourishing plant growth with phytonutrients that suppress odours and putrefaction. EM’s actinomycetes produce antimicrobial substances that suppress harmful microbes. These groups of microorganisms synergistically form a foundation on which beneficial life thrives.
EM intelligently enhances ecological harmony, adapting to each circumstance rather than being an indiscriminate antibiotic, antifungal, herbicide or insecticide. It trigger’s nature’s innate balancing mechanism to re-establish equilibrium in a sustainable way.
Dr Higa also attributes EM’s efficacy to the positive wave resonance it releases, evident from the superior colour and form of food and flowers cultivated with EM. Take, for example, the award-winning orchids, herbs and fruits of the Tropical Plant Resources Research Institute of Okinawa, Japan. Company President Toichiro Nago says, “As EM prevents oxidation and produces antioxidants it also cultivates produce that lasts longer and has higher nutritional value.”
Similarly, the International Nature Farming Research Center has found that crops grown with EM have less nitrate ions, decreasing the plant’s susceptibility to pests and pathogens, and higher vitamin C and carbohydrate levels.
Water purification and recycling
With around 1000 million people lacking access to safe drinking water in developing countries, it’s estimated that 80 per cent of deaths are due to contaminated water — at least 10 million a year.
EM may provide an answer. Wide-scale trials have proven EM can effectively purify water for safe consumption and recycle sewage and wastewater for agricultural irrigation. It also eliminates the foul odour from septic tanks, reduces sludge in sewerage systems and controls excess algae, slime and salination.
Australia’s VRM group is at the forefront of sewage spill management. Their successful EM treatment of a Mackay sewage flood led to less odour, toxic water and damage to wildlife than generally occurs with accidents of equal magnitude.
Rapid industrialisation in Japan has resulted in heavy pollution of its waterways. In attempts to reverse the damage, EM is being used by enthusiastic locals and government bodies to purify the Ainoya River (Ibaraki), Ariake Sea (Nagasaki) and Seto Inland Sea (Hiroshima). In these areas they are seeing increases in marine wildlife numbers (octopus, shrimp, cucumbers and crabs) in response to EM.
EM zealots gather in groups to baptise Japan’s waters with EM. Environmental teams such as the one at Kyushu Island are dedicated to “ecological cleaning activities”, which include using at least one litre of EM each month to purify water and soil. In Akitsu, Hiroshima, since 60 per cent of the population started using EM for domestic cleaning and gardening, the town’s water quality has improved significantly. In Zamami Village, Okinawa, after EM reduced the foul odour of 60,000 tons of dam water, 60 per cent of residents reported improved quality of water, and the previously toxic readings of trihalomethane were lowered to a harmless level.
EM can also effectively eradicate serious pathogens, as illustrated in Iwaki City, Fukushima, Japan, where E. coli colony counts were reduced from 275 to 12.
EM’s cost-effectiveness is evident at Gushikawa City Library in Japan where, since they started processing sewage with EM, annual costs have been reduced from US$10,000 to $500. And when Hotel Nikko Alivila, Okinawa, switched from chemicals to EM to treat their water they reduced expenditure by 5 million yen per year.
Rivers and lakes overloaded by runoff containing agricultural fertilisers, household detergents, organic waste, urban stormwater drainage and the occasional oil and chemical spill can be treated effectively with EM. The German government successfully applied EM after the Elbe River flood disasters of 2002 to decontaminate the toxic waters and prevent mould growth in the flooded buildings.
Agricultural wastewater not only pollutes waterways but is a massive waste when not recycled. EM is being used innovatively to convert wastewater sludge into potent fertiliser. Compost company Green Sun Co Ltd mixes wastewater sludge with EM, rice bran and chicken manure and makes it into pelletised organic fertiliser.
One of the biggest problems in agriculture is the lack of nutrients in the soil due to chemicals, row-crop production and intensive tillage. EM solves this problem by reinstating millions of microorganisms to the soil. This sustainable soil (zymogenic soil) creates the most conducive growing conditions.
When EM is introduced to the soil it competitively excludes pathogens, pests and weeds, nurtures nutrients and earthworms, decomposes organic matter and detoxifies chemicals. This rich soil environment promotes plant germination, flowering and ripening and increases crop quality and quantity — all without chemicals.
According to Dr Higa, “Average yields for rice grown using conventional methods are currently running at nine bales per 10 acres. Within only a few years of instigating the use of EM, we have seen rice yields rise to 14 to 15 bales per 10 acres.”
As developing countries prone to food shortages need EM technology urgently, EMRO is channelling profits into agricultural projects in India, Sri Lanka, Africa and South America.
Throwaway, consumer societies are accumulating more garbage than the earth can accommodate. The US alone creates 222 million tons of garbage annually and at least 60 per cent of that goes to overflowing landfills. Food scraps comprising about 11 per cent of this decaying landfill stink, attract rodents, emit dangerous greenhouse gases and don’t decompose completely.
EM is proving garbage can be easily converted to valuable soil-enriching compost. A good example is the Izumiohtsu factory of Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd in Japan, which used to pay for garbage removal until 1999, when it began converting the waste from 14,000 meals a month and selling it back to employees as compost. Also in Japan, Funao Town converts 22 per cent of its garbage to compost, reducing its annual garbage by 300 tons and saving vast sums on disposal costs.
In Pune, India, since 2002, the city garbage has been sprayed daily with EM from a fire engine and compost is made ready to go to farmers within 50 days. In Hanoi, Vietnam, since 2001, the Cau Dien Compost Factory has been collecting 160 tons of organic waste a day from the city market and, with EM, converting it into compost within 38 days.
Householders are finding that EM composts organic waste in a month as opposed to six months when using conventional composting methods. There is only a very mild sour smell and none of the heat, gas or bugs associated with aerobic compost methods.
Since 1996, the composting concept has been taken to many schools in the US by the Bokashi Outreach Network Program, which aims to train kids to take steps towards an environmental solution rather than perpetuate the problem. At Pusch Ridge Christian Academy in Tucson, teacher and “Recycle Queen” Nancy Gifford has introduced EM in a schoolwide program to compost cafeteria waste. She also uses EM in the school’s small garden.
At Yoetsu Junior School, Kamakura City, students are excited to see that their EM-composted garbage makes their school corn crop grow faster, larger and tastier. In Australia, the “Scraps from Lunch to Lunch from Scraps” program run in 10 Adelaide schools has shown children how to recycle food scraps into fertiliser.
When Japan’s Tamaki dairy farm fed its cows EM fodder and sprinkled it in their stalls, they noticed remarkable changes: within two weeks the bad odour disappeared, the milk increased and mastitis was almost eradicated. Other benefits of using EM with livestock are that it discourages flies and pests, improves the animal’s digestion and produces great dung for fertiliser.
Research from ARC-Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute, South Africa, also demonstrates the ability of EM to prevent the growth of pathogenic microbes, including those causing botulism and salmonella poisoning. In The Netherlands, 1000 farmers using EM agree that it reduces livestock illness, improves milk quality and creates cleaner water and living conditions.
Fish farms are notorious water polluters. In Bangkok, they’ve been using EM for years to reduce the foul odours and toxic water of shrimp farms, treat waste and improve water quality. Shrimp farms in Thailand and fish farms in Cairo, Austria and Japan report cleaner water, increased fish numbers and natural weed control after converting from chemicals to EM. The Spital/Pyhrn Fish Farm in Austria found fish numbers doubled after employing EM and farm maintenance costs were significantly reduced.
“Sick house syndrome” is a phenomenon whereby chemical fumes from carpets, paints, building and decorating materials create debilitating symptoms in susceptible people. To prevent sick house syndrome, 150 EM houses have been built by Sansyodo Inc, Aichi, Japan. Residents report fewer flies and mosquitoes and reduced symptoms of asthma, eczema, migraines and allergies. EM also increases a building’s longevity and prevents concrete cancer, termites, rising damp, mould and wood rot.
Not only is EM an effective substitute for pollution-causing chemical cleansers, it also purifies the air and waterways. From large-scale environmental clean-ups to domestic kitchens, EM is used to remove mould and grime, eliminate foul odours, replace washing powders, reduce insects, clear pipes and cleanse everything from pets to floors and walls.
EM in its many forms
EM is a living technology with many applications and forms. The most common name for the original ferment is EM-1; subsequent cultures from this are often called “activated” EM. All authentic products made with permission from EMRO bear the EM logo. Here’s a list of EM in its many forms:
- EM-X is a health tonic fermented from EM-1, antioxidant herbs and organic rice.
- EM-5 (Sutochu) is a natural pesticide and insect repellent made from fermented EM-1, alcohol, vinegar, molasses and antioxidant plants.
- Fermented Plant Extract (FPE) is a plant fertiliser made from freshly cut grasses, weeds and crop residues fermented with EM-1.
- EM Togishiru is starchy water, molasses and EM-1 used as a domestic cleanser and air freshener.
- EM mud balls are used for water and soil remediation.
- EM Bokashi is a dry composting mix combining EM-1 and organic material to convert food into fertiliser. It may include rice bran, corn bran, wheat bran, maize flour, rice husk, bean husk, rice straw, animal dung, sawdust and coconut fibre.
- EM ceramics: Because EM survives very high heat it can be baked into silica clay ceramics. These ceramics can be added to cooking rice, deep frying food and fish tanks and powdered into paints and soil. An innovative dentist is adding EM ceramics to cavity fillings.
- EM toiletries infused with EM-1 include soap, toothpaste, shampoo and face cream. EM’s natural yeasts, amino acids and alpha hydroxy acids support the skin’s natural renewal cycle and pH balance.
- EM salt: Okinawan seawater is harvested at Full Moon and fermented with EM-X. Drying the seawater results in a health salt containing all the bio-available trace minerals from the sea.
- EM Bokashi Rub Oil is a liniment combining EM and fermented herbal oils used for arthritis, aches and fungal infections.
- EM paint has been shown to reduce mould, termites and toxic fumes and enhance the paint’s durability.
- EM clothes make the body warmer, according to infrared ray research.
- EM Glass-stone (Super Sol) is used as a foundation filler in roads, floors and walls. This protects a structure from deterioration, pests, chemical fumes and radiation.
Further references available from the author on request.
Caroline Robertson is a naturopath and Ayurvedic practitioner based in Sydney. T: (02) 9904 7754, W: www.ayurvedaelements.com.