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  • Writer's pictureCecilia Wandiga

Kenya Sustainable Cities - Industrial Health as Conservation of Pre-historic Species

When we think of industrial health and occupational safety, we typically think of factories and chemical safety procedures and a lot of regulations as well as audits.   

However, how many times do we think about natural conservation? Industrial health can also be interpreted as the conservation of the minerals and resources we need to remain healthy.

Let us take a play on words: Phosphate fertiliser plants (biological plants versus human made factory plants/facilities).

Phosphates and the NPK balance 

Whether you live in a rural area or an urban environment, chances are you eat some type of plant material (wheat flour, rice, cabbage, tomatoes, carrots...). Plants need a combination of nitrogen, phosphorus, and, potassium in order to grow. We are right now focusing on phosphorus which plants need to grow roots, fruits and flowers (the parts of plants we either tend to eat or use for consumer products such as fragrances).

If we need to mass produce crops to feed growing populations, we also need to mass produce the nutrients. In other words, our production of soil nutrients has to keep pace with our production of crops whether the crops are use for food, biofuel, or, sustainably harvested wood. 

The problem we are having with the NPK balance is that P (Phosphorus) is nearing non-existence.  

Natural versus Biosynthetic Phosphorus

Thus far we have been relying on natural phosphorus sources. However, human population growth and the corresponding consumption have exceeded natural phosphorus supplies. 

The good news is that phosphorus depletion is a human made problem that can be fixed. We now enter the knowledge realm of phosphorus biomineralization (how biological organisms produce minerals like phosphorus). 

We know some information, we are rushing to learn more. The study of Conservation Agriculture enables us to know that cover crops (grains, legumes and oil crops) that grow close to the soil are beneficial and can be effectively intercropped.  

Even more important than just using them to protect soil health (so we have healthy biological plants), cover crops should be managed in the same way we manage cash crops (we need to use cover crops as part of the financial value chain in sustainable agriculture).

Now let us compare the biological techniques from the strategies and technologies article to the current industrial techniques for sustainable phosphorus production.  

A view of the safety processes for human phosphate plants:

Are there any similarities between the two approaches?  

As you can see, the answer is no and this is the problem with our industrial manufacturing systems. They have not yet been designed with biological safety standards in mind.

We humans are biological. Hence, when we design manufacturing systems without biological safety standards, we are deliberately designing manufacturing systems that are not meant for our safety.  

Where is the logic in the lack of biological safety? 

Biomineralization in industry is an approach that can fix the lack of biological safety. We know petroleum comes from fossil fuels and we have almost exhausted global petroleum supplies. 

What is less known is that a few of the prehistoric species that created our industrial minerals still exist. One of these species is brachiopods. We now must conserve these species and figure out how to increase their numbers so that we can continue to use the minerals we are used to.  

In the case of phosphorus biomineralization, lingulid brachiopods are very promising but we still have a lot to learn.

Now, as citizen scientists, you can explore to find brachiopods in your local area and develop conservation teams to ensure that we have these prehistoric gifts around for the foreseeable future.

Genomics research is the knowledge tool we use to understand the phosphorus biomineralization process. Activity Based Costing (ABC) is a tool companies can use to improve sustainable performance.

The University of Nairobi Centre for Biotechnology and Bioinformatics (CEBIB) can help companies with Activity Based Costing 

We have previously talked about wealth as the practice of a legacy mindset. Specifically, the practice of preserving what is good so that we can bestow our children and those we love with an abundance of resources. Instead of limiting abundance to financial resources, we need to include knowledge and natural resource abundance as well. 

How will you practice conservation and biological wealth bequeathing in your daily industrial activities? 

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