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An effective microorganism (EM) refers to any of the predominantly anaerobic organisms blended in commercial agricultural amendments, medicines and nutritional supplements based on the trademarked[1] product originally marketed as EM-1 Microbial Inoculant, aka Effective Microorganisms and "EM Technology". These blends include:[2]

EM Technology is purported to support sustainable practices in farming and to improve and support human health and hygiene, compost and waste management, disaster clean-up (the Bangkok floods of 2011,[3] the Southeast Asia tsunami of 2004, the Kobe earthquake, and Hurricane Katrina remediation projects).

EM has been employed in many agricultural applications, but is also used in the production of several health products in South Africa and the US.[citation needed]


The concept of "friendly microorganisms" was developed by Professor Teruo Higa, from the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan. He reported in the 1980s that a combination of approximately 80 different microorganisms is capable of positively influencing decomposing organic matter such that it reverts into a "life promoting" process. Higa invoked a "dominance principle" to explain the effects of his "Effective Microorganisms". He claimed that three groups of microorganisms exist: "positive microorganisms" (regeneration), "negative microorganisms" (decomposition, degeneration), "opportunist microorganisms". In every medium (soil, water, air, the human intestine), the ratio of "positive" and "negative" microorganisms is critical, since the opportunist microorganisms follow the trend to regeneration or degeneration. Therefore, Higa claimed that it is possible to positively influence the given media by supplementing with "positive" microorganisms.

Validation attempts[edit]

The concept has been challenged and no scientific studies support all of its claims. This was acknowledged by Higa in a 1994 paper co-authored by Higa and soil microbiologist James F Parr. They conclude "the main limitation...is the problem of reproducibility and lack of consistent results.".[4]

Parr and Higa mention soil pH, shading, soil temperature and flooding as factors affecting the interaction of EM with local microorganisms and with each other. The approach that Higa and Parr recommend is maintaining pH and soil temperature within conditions known to be detrimental to negative microorganisms as well as the addition of EM to tip the balance of positive and negative microorganisms in favor of the former.[citation needed]

They dismiss inoculants that include only a single microorganism as generally ineffective due to the uncertainty about the conditions in which a single microorganism would be effective.[4] They cite the acknowledgment by the scientific community that multiple microorganisms (as in the case of Bokashi, invented and marketed by Higa) in coordination with good soil management practices positively influence plant growth and yield.

Lwini and Ranamukhaarachchi published in 2006 a paper[5] that discusses biological controls of bacterial wilt disease and showed that EM and EM Bokashi were most-effective as bio-control agents. Yamada and Xu examined the use of EM in making organic fertilizers.[6] Hui-Lian Xu studied photosynthesis and yield of sweet corn,[7] physiological characteristics in peanuts,[8] and fruit yield and quality of tomato plants.[9] Daiss, et al., looked at pre-harvest[10] and post-harvest [11] applications of EM-1.

Many earlier papers were on EM-X Rice Bran Supplement, a product sold for human consumption. Chui, et al., studied the apoptotic potential of microorganisms.[12] Datla, et al.,[13] and Ke B.[14] examined antioxidant-related microorganisms.

The use of EM in the bokashi-intensive composting process for home kitchen waste has been in use in Christchurch, New Zealand for years, backed by the local city council.[citation needed]

Use in sanitation systems[edit]


Effective microorganisms have also been advocated for use in sanitation systems, in particular in pit latrines and septic tanks. The concept has similarities to that of "pit additives" or "septic tank additives" although the claim of EM proponents is that EM includes a much wider range of constituents than most pit and septic tank additives. Most of these additives claim to be using some form of EM aspects, although some are simply used to improve odor or to reduce fat build-up. The products, consisting of packaged micro-organisms or enzymes or both, are marketed on their claimed ability to either reduce the pit or septic tank filling rate with faecal sludge, or to actually decrease the volume of material in the pit or septic tank.

Claimed beneficial impacts[edit]

The claims frequently made by manufacturers or sales personnel about the beneficial impacts of these additives include:[15]

  • The products contain micro-organisms that can biologically break down the material in the pit to harmless compost products.
  • Nutrients present in the additive ensure optimal growth conditions for micro-organisms to break down pit contents.
  • Additives stimulate the micro-organisms in the pit to break down pit sludge faster.
  • Addition of aerobic micro-organisms create aerobic conditions in the pit that result in rapid degradation.
  • Addition of non-pathogenic bacteria in the sludge out-compete and in fact eat disease-causing pathogenic micro-organisms in the pit sludge, rendering it safe.
  • Odours are reduced as a result of accelerated sludge breakdown.

However, research studies in South Africa by the Water Research Commission during 2010-2012 as well as in the Netherlands in 2013-2014 have conclusively shown that it is very unlikely that any of the claims frequently made about the beneficial impacts of these additives are actually true.[15][16] The main reason why pit additives do not change the pit or septic tank filling rate is that the quantity of bacteria introduced to the pit or septic tank by dosing additives is insignificant compared to the number already present in the faecal sludge.[15]

Use in wastewater treatment plants and septic tanks[edit]

Supporters of EM technology also claim that the addition of effective organisms to wastewater ahead of both aerobic and anaerobic treatment processes can result in significant improvement in effluent quality. Some claim reduction in sludge build-up, some reduction of organic load and/or pathogen concentrations and others reduction of foul odours. One source, for instance, claims that the addition of EM can reduce production of hydrogen sulphide and ammonia production.[4] However, these claims are vague and there seems to be little experimental data to support them. Processes are described rather than scientifically analysed.

Australian scientists investigated the effect of the addition of EM to a wastewater treatment plant and a number of septic tanks.[2] Their aim was to test the hypothesis that EM reduces sludge volumes. They found significant reduction in pH levels at the wastewater treatment plant together with improved settlement of sludge but with a significant increase in organic matter (measured as biological oxygen demand). Their results for the septic tanks showed a homogenization of conditions in the tanks after EM application, which they suggested was due to domination by a particular type of micro-organism. However, they found no reduction in suspended solids concentration in the effluent and concluded that there were not sufficient changes in sludge volume in the wastewater treatment plant or suspended solids in the septic tanks to indicate a clear benefit from the use of EM in wastewater.

Cost aspects[edit]

Based on the research conducted so far, it is fair to say that individuals and local authorities spending money on such additives for their sanitation systems are generally wasting their money. A fifth of South African municipalities indicated in 2011 that they purchased additives as part of their sanitation management programmes but the Water Research Commission in South Africa is advocating against this practice saying the money would be better spent on effective pit sludge management through mechanical emptying of the pit.[15]

As the costs and health risks associated with manual pit emptying are huge, if a product was ever developed which significantly impacted the filling rate of pits, e.g. based on EM, this would be of enormous significance.[15]


  1. ^ "Trademark Guidelines". emrojapan.com. 2011. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Szymanski, N.; Patterson, R.A. (2003). "Effective Microorganisms (EM) and Wastewater Systems in Future Directions for On-site Systems: Best Management Practice." (PDF). In R.A. and Jones, M.J. (Eds). Proceedings of On-site '03 Conference. Armidale, NSW, Australia: Lanfax Laboratories. pp. 347–354. ISBN 0-9579438-1-4. Retrieved 2006-11-14. 
  3. ^ http://www.nationmultimedia.com/national/EM-balls-produced-by-royal-project-30169033.html
  4. ^ a b c Higa, Dr. Teruo; Dr. James Parr (1994). Beneficial and Effective Microorganisms for a Sustainable Agriculture and Environment. Atami, Japan: International Nature Farming Research Center. p. 7. 
  5. ^ MYINT LWIN1 AND S.L. RANAMUKHAARACHCHI. Development of Biological Control of Ralstonia solanacearum Through Antagonistic Microbial Populations. International Journal of Agriculture & Biology. 8(5), 2006. Pp 657–660.
  6. ^ Yamada, K.; Xu, H. L. (2001). "Properties and Applications of an Organic Fertilizer Inoculated with Effective Microorganisms". Journal of Crop Production 3: 255. doi:10.1300/J144v03n01_21.  edit
  7. ^ Xu, H. L. (2001). "Effects of a Microbial Inoculant and Organic Fertilizers on the Growth, Photosynthesis and Yield of Sweet Corn". Journal of Crop Production 3: 183. doi:10.1300/J144v03n01_16.  edit
  8. ^ Pei-Sheng, Y.; Hui-Lian, X. (2002). "Influence of EM Bokashi on Nodulation, Physiological Characters and Yield of Peanut in Nature Farming Fields". Journal of Sustainable Agriculture 19 (4): 105. doi:10.1300/J064v19n04_10.  edit
  9. ^ Xu, H. L.; Wang, R.; Mridha, M. A. U. (2001). "Effects of Organic Fertilizers and a Microbial Inoculant on Leaf Photosynthesis and Fruit Yield and Quality of Tomato Plants". Journal of Crop Production 3: 173. doi:10.1300/J144v03n01_15.  edit
  10. ^ Daiss, N.; Lobo, M. G.; Socorro, A. R.; Brückner, U.; Heller, J.; Gonzalez, M. (2007). "The effect of three organic pre-harvest treatments on Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris L. Var. Cycla L.) quality". European Food Research and Technology 226 (3): 345. doi:10.1007/s00217-006-0543-2.  edit
  11. ^ Daiss, N; Lobo, M. G.; Gonzalez, M (2008). "Changes in postharvest quality of Swiss chard grown using 3 organic preharvest treatments". Journal of food science 73 (6): S314–20. doi:10.1111/j.1750-3841.2008.00842.x. PMID 19241576.  edit
  12. ^ Chui, C. H.; Hau, D. K.; Lau, F. Y.; Cheng, G. Y.; Wong, R. S.; Gambari, R; Kok, S. H.; Lai, K. B.; Teo, I. T.; Leung, T. W.; Higa, T; Ke, B; Tang, J. C.; Fong, D. W.; Chan, A. S. (2006). "Apoptotic potential of the concentrated effective microorganism fermentation extract on human cancer cells". International journal of molecular medicine 17 (2): 279–84. PMID 16391827.  edit
  13. ^ Datla, K. P.; Bennett, R. D.; Zbarsky, V; Ke, B; Liang, Y. F.; Higa, T; Bahorun, T; Aruoma, O. I.; Dexter, D. T. (2004). "The antioxidant drink effective microorganism-X (EM-X) pre-treatment attenuates the loss of nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons in 6-hydroxydopamine-lesion rat model of Parkinson's disease". Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 56 (5): 649–54. doi:10.1211/0022357023222. PMID 15142343.  edit
  14. ^ Ke, B; Xu, Z; Ling, Y; Qiu, W; Xu, Y; Higa, T; Aruoma, O. I. (2009). "Modulation of experimental osteoporosis in rats by the antioxidant beverage effective microorganism-X (EM-X)". Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy 63 (2): 114–9. doi:10.1016/j.biopha.2008.03.008. PMID 18930627.  edit
  15. ^ a b c d e Foxon, K., Still, D. (2012). Do pit additives work? Water Research Commission (WRC), University of Kwazulu-Natal, Partners in Development (PiD), South Africa
  16. ^ Grolle, K. (2015) Laboratory investigations into solids solubilisation of black water and faecal matter: Effect of additives and internal physical chemical pit latrine aspects, Department of Environmental Technology and Research, University of Wageningen, Wageningen, The Netherlands

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The Hindu
Fri, 16 Jan 2015 03:38:57 -0800

On a Saturday it organised the bio-remediation of some raw sewage entering the lake by pouring Effective Microorganism (EM) into the lake. More than 200 litres of EM was added one Saturday to reduce odour and clean up the lake waters. The lake is a ...

Ahram Online

Ahram Online
Fri, 17 Oct 2014 00:41:15 -0700

The Environment Ministry's role in the project, said Fahmi, was to support the recycling programme by providing technical support and basic materials, including an effective microorganism (EM) solution, while the Ministry of Agriculture, which has ...
Namibia Economist
Thu, 02 Oct 2014 23:54:34 -0700

Sam Shilongo Director of Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Kenneth Uiseb, Deputy Director of Scientific Services at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Holger Kolberg, Senior Conservation Scientist and MET Ornithologist and Elizabeth Komen, ...
VietNamNet Bridge
Tue, 09 Dec 2014 15:15:00 -0800

All ORFARM fresh and cold meat products satisfy the guidelines set out by Japan's EMRO trademark using EM technology™ (Effective Microorganism). The technology is based on the idea of a coexistence with native and originally-dominant microorganisms, ...


Thu, 28 Aug 2014 07:35:29 -0700

One of my officemates heard about what I wanted to do and introduced me to Rina Papio of Earthventure Inc, a local company that is using EM (effective microorganism) technology for naturally cleaning up polluted bodies of water. Another meeting was ...
Namibia Economist
Fri, 17 Oct 2014 00:23:15 -0700

Organic training for the future of Namibian agriculture. A delegation from the Namibian Organic Association (NOA) recently attended an African Union course on organic agriculture. Pictured FLTR are John Mufikidza (NOA), Diana Akullo (AUC), Martha ...
Huffington Post
Wed, 23 Apr 2014 12:18:12 -0700

Wisconsin-based cheesemaker Landmark Creamery showed us that you don't need to have fancy facilities or expensive technology to contribute to the eco-friendly cause. And lastly, Spanish Santa Gadea taught us about the amazing effective microorganism ...

The Nation

The Nation
Sun, 07 Sep 2014 10:15:00 -0700

Students learn how to make effective microorganism balls (EM balls) at the Poolcharoenwittayakhom School in Samut Prakan province as a part of an integrated class. While the activity focuses on science, their teacher includes an element of history, tellin.

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