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The Duckweed Project
Feeding the Hungry
Years ago, after leaving the United Nations and before being elected Mayor of Atlanta, Andrew Young was working as a consultant for a large engineering company – and found himself in one of the most unusual situations of his life. A hydroelectric dam in Uganda had malfunctioned, and Ambassador Young was sent to inspect it. Lowered deep inside, he discovered a “green slime” clogging the turbines was preventing them from generating power.
The fast-growing substance was the plant commonly known as “duckweed” – and he would not notice it again for over 20 years.
Then, during a visit to Louisiana, he met the late Freddie Herbert, an entrepreneur who had managed to extract ethanol from a bayou plant Ambassador Young immediately recognized as duckweed.
Herbert’s primary aim was to produce a sustainable energy source. However, Ambassador Young was fascinated with a byproduct of that process: Duckweed as a source of nutrition.
“It just sparked my imagination,” Ambassador Young explains simply.
Since then, the Andrew J. Young Foundation funded a pilot plant in Louisiana to refine duckweed for independent testing. The results have proven duckweed to be the richest source of vegetable protein on the planet – substantially more so than soy.
Now, with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Andrew J. Young Foundation is completing a feasibility study for a commercial scale bio-refinery to be built in the United States, the first of its kind anywhere. A second USDA grant is being used to train and empower small farmers to grow and harvest duckweed – until now seen as a nuisance – on ponds throughout the Southern U.S.
Ambassador Young’s ambitious vision is nothing less than to eradicate hunger and malnutrition around the world.
“And we now know that is possible,” he says.