What is Lemna?
I admit I’d never heard of it, but lemna is a free-floating duckweed that can be cultivated as an animal feed, supplementing soybeans as the main source. Why is this important? Predictions seem to indicate that worldwide consumption, and demand for meat products will increase by over 70% by 2050 – particularly in developing countries – and there is bound to be an exponential increase in demand for animal feed too. Currently, soybeans provide the main source but if we want to decrease deforestation, clearing more areas for farming should not be the answer.
As long ago as 1995 the potential for lemna to replace soybeans as the main source of animal foodstuffs was identified by an Australian study. Lemna is extremely fast-growing, it thrives within a wide range of temperatures, is high in protein and can even be grown organically. The study estimated that in optimal conditions a duckweed farm could produce as much as 30 tons per hectare annually. But sadly, very little has happened since, with production methods proving to be inefficient and product quality inconsistent.
Now a UK company, DryGo, is aiming to change all that and has developed sealed containers in which water is recycled continuously and lemna is grown in those ‘optimal conditions’ envisaged by the study’s authors all those years ago. The company is trialing its invention in Kenya right now and has a number of 200 metre long containers in place whilst strict monitoring of the results can be carried out – and the results are encouraging. Crucially, the containers can be placed on arid land, so forested areas do not need to be cleared. The system is also said to be almost 100% more water-efficient than soybean production.
This development should be welcomed as it appears to solve a number of problems facing us. Lemna could provide a much needed income for farmers in impoverished areas of the world where crops are difficult to cultivate, and not a single tree needs to be cut down to achieve it. It’s also encouraging that the trial has caught the eye of the UN and one can only hope this could go on to be a great success.