The Frontiers of Crop Science

by Nico Snyman: B.Sc. Agric (Agron.)Pret.

Six years after we started farming in the tropics, in the upper catchment areas of the Congo basin, North Eastern Zambia, we discovered why farming in the tropics always goes along with constant deforestation. With cultivation, the nutrients are lost because everything captured in the biomass is removed. What we did not realize, was that the soil which is poor in nutrients is very rich in microbial life — and that is the important part.

With hindsight we now know that the first items you lose with cultivation of the soil are the different fungi, and then the bacteria. These fungi colonise the roots of the plants and help with the nutrient and moisture uptake by the roots and they have a tremendous effect on plant growth. These fungi are also the easiest to propagate and research. So that is why most firms that sell biological products sell fungi to farmers.

We then realized, because you need a certain amount of cultivation to produce commercial mechanized crops, that we must constantly replenish these cultivations.

For that purpose every commercial farmer needs access to a bio-bank. The problem was how to establish a bio-bank where one would have all these bacteria and fungi at hand when needed for application to the land.


After seven years of research and actually solving the problem we discovered that Rudolph Steiner had already proposed the same principles in East Germany in 1924. Only, his method is time consuming and not very complete. However that is where the compost tea idea comes from. The problem is that compost does not contain all the microbes that are necessary.

The Composition of Soil Bio-Muti

The Soil Bio-Muti is a solution product brewed by myself to affect a complete regeneration of degraded soils. I gave this unofficial name in South Africa, for the soil organism mixture, as Soil Muti means medicine for the soil in most of the African languages. The Bio comes from the bio-organisms from virgin soil and as the rest of the growth mixture also hails from the soil and goes back into the soil, we thus have the motto “From the Soil into the Soil”.

Bio-Muti is made from virgin soil which contains all the vital growth components: i.e. bacteria and fungi spores. In the Bio-Muti the bacteria is in a stabilised condition after having consumed food and becoming dormant. It can then survive for a few years but does not like high temperatures or direct sunlight. With an optical microscope you can’t see the bacteria in the Bio-Muti and they do not grow in a Petri dish with a growth medium. The only way to analyze the Bio-Muti is by costly molecular DNA analysis, or maybe with an electron microscope.

The laboratory test results of Bio-Muti Solution show that when it is still actively growing it contains more than 875 000 bacteria per millilitre. The reason for its success is that it is grown collectively.

A) Yeast and Fungi in Bio-Muti

Yeast is especially abundant on the roots of several plants, such as cabbage, corn, sugar beet, etc. Yeast is mostly found in the upper layers of soil, ranging from 2 to 10cms. Their numbers are increased by metabolizable substances. Yeast has been shown to promote plant growth, produce antibiotics, induce resistance of host tissues and produce plant growth regulators. The following were found in Bio-Muti: Saccaromyces cerevisiae, Candida glabrata, Issatchenkia sp. Issatchenkia orientalis.

B) Bacteria in the Bio-Muti

1. Symbiotic Nitrogen Binders

These are the bacteria that make nodules on plant roots. We all know them on Legume roots like Soya, groundnuts etc: Sinorhizobium ; Bradyrhizobiaceae

2. Open Nitrogen Fixers and Humus Makers

These are the most important components of the Bio-Muti and they are responsible for the dramatic growth in plants that we see: Acetobactor lovaniensis
& Acetobactor ghanensis.

The Genus Acetobacter is known for its ability to convert ethanol to acetic acid in the presence of oxygen. Acetobacter is an obligatory aerobic, nitrogen-fixing bacterium. Several species of this genus has been shown to promote plant growth although the exact mechanisms responsible for this are not yet fully understood. — Dr. A J K Surridge 2011

The following Bacteria families found are suspected of doing the same, but are still recorded as uncultured:

  • Marinobactor
  • Rhodobactor capsilatus
  • Limnobactor thiooxida.

C) Forest Floor Bacteria

The compost makers: Mostly saprophytic bacteria that break down organic material

  • Lactococcus lactis; also isolated from the rumen of young cattle.
  • Lactobacillus coryniformis; also isolated from fermented food.
  • Lactobacillus dextrinicus;
  • Lactobacillus suebicus; also found in fermented tea leaves.
  • Lactobacillus manihotivorans; a starch-hydrolysing lactic acid bacterium also isolated during cassava sour starch fermentation.

There are many such bacteria present in the Bio-Muti and the product EM contains some of the Forest Floor Bacteria.
There are another 21 uncultured bacteria recorded in the Bio-Muti solution that we know nothing about.

Restoration of depleted soils

Because we have this Bio-Muti Bio-Bank now available we can bring depleted soils into full production in one year with 100 litres of Bio-Muti and 20 tonnes of organic material per Ha at a very low price.
The problem is we need a machine, to carry, incorporate and inoculate the organic material at the same time.

My theory on biological feeding of plants:

The Microbe composition of a farmer’s soil will change according to his farming practices.

A) In a no-till situation, where a lot of crop and weed residue is accumulated on the soil surface, forest floor bacteria will be abundant. Weeds and pioneer plants will be abundant, because humus is not formed and compost, manure and fertilizer favour pioneer plants. The deeper layers of the soil will be sterile because of all the nitrogen applied and chemical residues will also be rampant.
One kg of Ammonium Nitrate is enough to sterilize one cubic meter of soil.

B) Clean cultivated row crop: In this instance soil is bare for a long time every year. Crop residue is either removed or ploughed in. During this bare period the sun kills all the surface bacteria, so the forest floor bacteria will be virtually absent. If this soil is built up with Bio-Muti, the free Nitrogen Binders will be present and the amount of Nitrogen available for the next crop will depend on the amount of organic material worked in. We found that 20 tons of maize stalks supply enough nitrogen for a new crop of 20 tons of irrigated maize.

C) The humus-making bacteria works in a group collectively, like a hive of bees or a nest of ants. The Humus is a substance made mainly out of cellulose and lignin (dry maize stalks, dry grass, etc). This Humus is a complex organic molecule like an Amino-Acid, which is directly used by higher plants, whereas pioneer plants (most vegetables and weeds) cannot utilize humus. The presence of humus in the soil inhibits the germination of pioneer plant seeds, so we see the hybrid maize seeds germinate poorly when humus is present. This is because modern maize hybrids have lost the ability to use humus (or Ammonium Nitrogen) after 60 years of hybridization on biologically dead, fertilized soil.

D) The observations on the regenerated soil:

  1. When Humus is built up after a few years, the soil structure improves immensely, thus the water infiltration capacity increases dramatically and stays stable. This is very important for centre-pivot irrigation because water can be applied at a higher rate with lower losses to the atmosphere. Irrigation water is thus used more effectively. The water holding capacity is much improved, thus the growing plants have less stress periods.
  2. Because crops are less stressed, diseases are suppressed to a great extent resulting in a lesser use of chemicals.
  3. For the organic farmer the Bio-Muti is the missing link. It is now possible to produce healthy residue-free food with less insect and disease problems. Here is a lot of work for the plant breeder because commercial cultivars are not suitable in the most instances for this. The plant breeder must go back 60 years and start again.

Trials and photos

I have numerous trials and photos of this research that I’ve accumulated over the last seven years, which illustrate the above-mentioned facts and I would greatly appreciate anybody that can correct my ignorance (via comments below, so all can benefit from the discussion) and give me the academic explanations of the observed facts. The biological feeding of plants needs a lot of collective research by serious-minded researchers from at least eight different disciplines.

Out of this research it is clear to me that our commercial soils are in a terrible state and thus, since we are non-profit minded, we are supplying the micro-organisms in the Bio-Muti free of charge to people in our area who wish to solve their problems. They must only pay for the preparation in the bio-bank and supply their own containers.