Building Roots in Environmental Education

rootsandshootsThis is the second in a two-part series about my visit to the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

After my initial disappointment of not being able to travel to Kigoma, Tanzania to visit the Jane Goodall Center’s projects in Gombe National Park—thanks to mechanical problems on Precision Air —I decided that there was still a lot to learn about the Institute’s work at the Dar headquarters. Nsaa-Iya Kihunrwa, the Director of JGI’s Roots and Shoots program, explained further how the Institute’s work has evolved over the last 15 years.

JGI first started working with school children in the early 1990s through Roots and Shoots, a program that trains students and teachers about conservation. They’re striving, according to Mr. Kinhunrwa, “to create a generation of conscientious adults” who care about the environment.

Through Roots and Shoots, JGI has worked with the Tanzania Ministry of Education to train teachers to use environmental themes in their classrooms. When children are learning about fish and other foods, for example, teachers are now using experiential learning—taking kids to fish markets, for example—to identify breeds and varieties and talk about conservation. These new ways of learning help students make the connections between what they eat and the health of the planet.

These skills will help train the next generation of farmers, teachers, laborers, and businesspeople in Kigoma and elsewhere in Tanzania not only to be more aware of environmental issues, but to also become conservationists and help preserve wildlife and biodiversity in the area.

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Cash for Culture Change: Could it Be?

What if everyone traveling along major highways this holiday season found another person with a similar trip to ride with, rather than simply hopping into their car alone—adding to traffic and greater air pollution? Those travelers could spend their weekends shopping away and eating extravagant feasts, but if they all successfully carpooled I would still call it a cultural transformation.

Shifting lanes & cultures

Shifting lanes & cultures

Businesses and government programs are cropping up all around this topic. Groups like Zimride and Trip Convergence are fueling the growth in carpooling with the power of online social networks. Washington D.C. ‘s own Commuter Connections program has recently launched on a program called “Cash for Carpools” that pays folks who usually commute alone on the highway to either join another car or recruit passengers of their own. The payment is two dollars a day over a 90-day period, giving carpoolers the chance to earn up to $130 over three months.

That doesn’t sound like much to me, but apparently this model has already been hugely successful elsewhere. An NPR feature on carpooling this week detailed the cash for carpools program in Atlanta, in place since 2002. Since its launch, 19,000 Atlantans have signed up to carpool to work and those that have stuck with the program no longer need payment for their gas, money, and climate-saving deed.

A carpooling pair interviewed about the program cited the huge benefit of having company in the car during long and frustrating commutes—it makes the time pass faster. “Some days we get into a conversation and go ‘oh, we’re here already—great!’” they mentioned.

The Washington D.C. program has a meager goal of getting 750 carpools signed up for their program and the resulting impact may be just as skimpy. However, the concept could be a significant cultural nudge in the right direction. Carpooling is an activity that can make life more enjoyable, foster community, and reduce pollution. If more people were to taste these benefits they might not only change their own ways but also become advocates of change to friends and family, eventually taking the burden off the city to advertise and pay for citizens to carpool.

Peter Newman, professor at the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute in Perth, Australia studied Perth’s TravelSmart program to reduce car traffic in the city.  Summing up the program’s success in his State of the World article entitled “Building the Cities of the Future” he says.

When people start to change their lifestyles and can see the benefits, they become advocates of sustainable transport policies in general. Governments find it easier to manage the politics of transformation to reduced car use and lower oil use when the communities they are serving have begun to change themselves.

The same goes for Cash for Carpooling in DC, yet the city remains far from achieving a culture of sustainability. As Newman says about TravelSmart, “This is not a revolution, but it has many synergistic positive outcomes.”

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Agro-Imperialism in the New York Times

In case you missed it, check out Andrew Rice’s piece on land grabs in Africa- a very new and potentially troubling consequence of our globalized economy- in the New York Times Magazine. Rice touches on some of the same things I’ve seen during my trip to sub-Saharan Africa—Chinese and the Middle Eastern investment in not only road construction, but also agricultural land, particularly in Ethiopia and Kenya. According to Rice, the global economic and food crises have spurred countries like China, Saudi Arabia, and India to invest heavily in African land. By controlling the areas of production, they hope to secure future supplies of food for their own populations. But as sub-Saharan Africa faces increasing hunger—at least 23 million people in the Horn of Africa are at risk of starvation—its role as a food exporter becomes increasingly hard to justify. And this increasing foreign investment in African land has largely stayed under the global radar. Stay tuned for more on land grabs in the upcoming State of the World 2011.

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Rethinking Christmas

Tis the Season

'Tis the Season

This Friday is Black Friday in the United States, the frenzied shopping day that marks the start of the commercial Christmas season. Typically a day of sales and deep discounts, an observant Christian might argue that Black Friday would better be observed in 2009 by closing retail stores in honor of Jdimytai Damour. Damour is the Wal-Mart employee who was trampled to death at a Long Island store on Black Friday last year, as shoppers who had lined up overnight stampeded when doors opened at 6 am.

But store closings are not what Wal-Mart has in mind. Instead, the world’s largest retailer has cleverly ramped up its consumerist wattage with a new Black Friday policy: Wal-Marts will now stay open all night Thursday and into Friday, eliminating early morning lines, stampedes, and the memory of last year’s tragedy. Did I mention that the policy increases the firm’s revenue-raking hours?

As a committed Christian, I believe it’s time to move beyond the old Christmas season script that has been operational for decades of Decembers: 1) lament the loss of the “the true meaning of Christmas,” 2) shake our heads, 3) continue with Christmas business as usual. It’s time instead to take seriously the many ideas for minimizing the material side of the holiday and making room for the spiritual. Environmentalist and Methodist Bill McKibben has suggested limiting Christmas spending to $100 per family. The faith group Alternatives for Simple Living offers congregations materials to promote a simpler approach to the holidays; just last weekend it conducted a workshop called Unplug the Christmas Machine, for example. Others may consider observing Buy Nothing Day, which, strategically, is also set for (Black) Friday.

Personally, I think Christians should consider abandoning December 25 as our gift-giving day, as a way to escape the commercial season entirely. Were all Christians–some 80 percent of the U.S. population–to do so, the season would be deflated, commercially. And Advent, the season of restraint, reflection, and spiritual renewal, could recover its rightful place. (How about moving gift-giving to Epiphany in early January, which commemorates the visit of the gift-bearing Magi to the newborn Jesus. It’s already a gift-giving day to honor Jesus’ birth in parts of Latin America. And like the Magi, we might focus on a single, meaningful, gift–in honor of the Christchild.)

In a world in which global consumption of metals, wood, minerals, and other materials–a rough indicator of environmental impact–is projected to double by 2030 over 2005 levels, the Wal-Mart response to hyper-consumerism is too clever by half. Expanding store hours may reduce the danger to Wal-Mart employees, but stoking consumerism leads to greater environmental degradation–and threatens the livelihoods of people who depend on a healthy environment.

It’s time to practice living more simply. Those of us who call ourselves Christians have the perfect holiday to do so. We call it Christmas.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Kigoma, Tanzania

Danielle Nierenberg (left) with Pancras Ngalason of the Jane Goodall Institute

Danielle Nierenberg (left) with Pancras Ngalason of the Jane Goodall Institute

I arrived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania excited to catch a flight to Kigoma, a region in the northwestern part of the country to visit a Jane Goodall Institute Tanzania project working with small farmers to promote sustainable agriculture. Unfortunately Precision Air, one of only two airlines that flies to the remote region, has suspended all flights for the next several weeks and  the other airline is all booked. It’s the first major hiccup after traveling for the last month, so I really don’t have anything to complain about.

I did get a chance, however, to meet with JGI staff here in Dar and learn more about their work not only in Tanzania, but all over the world.

Pancras Ngalason is the Executive Director of JGI Tanzania and he explained how the Institute has evolved since it began in the 1970s. They’ve gone, according to Ngalason, beyond research to address questions of livelihood.

JGI started as a center to research and protect wild chimpanzee populations in what is now, thanks to their efforts, Gombe National Park. But in the early 1990s JGI realized that if it didn’t start addressing the needs of the communities surrounding the park, their efforts to conserve wildlife wouldn’t work. JGI first started by planting trees in the region, but soon found that communities cut them down, not because they wanted to, but because they needed them for fuel and for making charcoal. It was at that time, says Ngalason, that we “thought beyond planting trees” and more about community-based conservation.

JGI started working with communities to develop government- mandated land use plans, helping them develop soil erosion prevention practices, agroforestry, and production of value-added products, such as coffee and palm oil. They like to say that their products are “Good for All”—good for farmers by providing income, good for the environment by protecting natural resources, and good for the consumer by providing a healthy product.

They’re also working training community health practitioners about reproductive health and HIV/AIDS prevention, educating youth, establishing micro-credit programs, and working with UNICEF and USAID to supply clean water to communities.

“These are services,” says Ngalason, “people require in order to appreciate the environment,” and ultimately helps not only protect the chimps and other wildlife, but also helps build healthy and economically viable communities.

Stay tuned for more about JGI’s Roots and Shoots program.

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A Vision for Combating Hunger

From left to right, Angie Tagtow, Hans Herrren, Dena Hoff, Francis Thicke, Alexandra Spieldoch and Mary Hendrickson

From left to right, Food and Society Fellow Angie Tagtow, the Millenium Institute's Hans Herrren, Dena Hoff of the National Family Farmers Coalition, Food and Society Fellow Francis Thicke, Alexandra Spieldoch of IATP and the University of Missouri's Mary Hendrickson

The following is a guest post by Mark Muller, IATP Food and Society Fellows Program Director. Mark has worked at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy since 1997, and has written on several domestic and global food and agriculture issues.

For several years now I have heard about this enormous, multi-stakeholder effort (aka, lots of different people coming together) to provide a comprehensive assessment of global food and agriculture issues, but never gave it much thought. The power of this report, “Agriculture at a Crossroads: International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development” (IAASTD), however, became apparent last month during World Food Prize week.

The IATP Food and Society Fellows partnered with the Worldwatch Institute and the Community Food Security Coalition to sponsor a lecture titled “What will the World Eat? US Impact on Global Food Security.” Angie Tagtow, a Food and Society Fellow based in Iowa, envisioned the event as a way of connecting the attendees of the Community Food Security Conference with the World Food Prize attendees, all of whom converged on Des Moines in the middle of October. The CFSC conference featured discussions on topics like farmers markets and farm-to-school efforts. The World Food Prize events focused on global crop production and the genetic potential to increase yields. Angie wanted to explore the compatibility of these two visions.

Approximately 400 people showed up for the discussion at the Polk County Convention Center, quickly wiping out the array of wonderful local foods appetizers.  The event featured Dr. Hans Herren, 1995 World Food Prize Laureate and co-chair of the IAASTD report. Dr. Herren provided some of the same sobering statistics that we often hear when discussing global hunger issues: the number of undernourished people in developing countries is increasing, the need for increases in future food production is considerable, and climate change and water shortages will make that increased production all the harder.

But Dr. Herren and the IAASTD’s vision for addressing global hunger go well beyond the commonly held premise that we need to do whatever it takes to increase yields; inequities really matter. In other words, part of the reason that people are undernourished is because of the disconnects between consumers and farmers, between policies and consequences, and between agriculture and the environment. The very uneven agricultural investment in different regions of the world has contributed to dramatic differences in yield, discrepancies in health and nutrition, and increased dependency on food imports.

Many of IAASTD’s proposed solutions come back to empowering the hundreds of millions of the world’s small scale farmers that produce the bulk of the world’s food and provide stewardship over a huge swath of cultivated acreage. If production on these farms can be increased sustainably, and commodity markets and other institutions be managed in a manner that supports small scale production, we can go a long ways toward addressing global food needs in future decades.

After Dr. Herren’s speech several other experts provided commentary about hunger issues and the role of the United States. University of Missouri sociologist and past Food and Society Fellow Mary Hendrickson pointed out the U.S.’s role in international investment and market power. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Alexandra Spieldoch commented that food reserves could help curb excessive market speculation and price fluctuations.

Nobel Prize winning economist Dr. Amartya Sen documented nearly 20 years ago that famine not only results from a lack of food, but from inequalities in food distribution and income. The IAASTD report provides further evidence that we cannot win this battle against hunger by solely focusing on yield increases. Farmers markets and other simple innovations that connect farmers to the larger local community are an important part of the solution.

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It’s more than about trees at the World Agroforestry Centre

(From left to right) Frank, Dennis Garrity, Danielle Nierenberg, Delia, Melusa, and Bernard Pollack

(From left to right) Dr. Frank Place, Dr. Dennis Garrity, Danielle Nierenberg, Dr. Delia Catacutan, Dr. Maimbo Malesu, and Bernard Pollack.

This is the second in a two-part series about my visit to the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, Kenya.

I’m always excited to meet with researchers who are passionate about their work. Dr. Dennis Garrity, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre, assembled three members of his team to meet with me last week to talk about some of the innovations the Centre is helping support in Africa.

Dr. Maimbo Malesu, the director of Water Management Research, described the Centre’s work on water. “One of the biggest challenges in Africa,” says Maimbo, “is the lack of rainwater harvesting.” Many countries, he says, are only utilizing 2 to 5 percent of their rainwater potential. To help reverse this, the World Agroforestry Centre is helping train farmers and agricultural extension officers in places like Rwanda to build lined ponds that can catch and store rainwater. In 2007, there were just 65 of these demonstration ponds in Rwanda; now there are more than 400.

About 40 kilometers outside of Nairobi, the Centre is working with UNEP on a multidisciplinary project that incorporates water storage tanks, agroforestry, more efficient stoves, and microfinance projects to help communities deal with water shortages, deforestation, fuel shortages, and lack of credit for women.

Dr. Frank Place, an economist and head of impact assessment, explained the World Agroforestry Centre’s research on fertilizer trees—leguminous trees and shrubs that are grown along with or before or after crops—can improve soil, increase yields, and eliminate the need for artificial fertilizers. In some places, intercropping fertilizer trees with crops can be most beneficial for farmers who want to add nutrients to maize and other crops that need fertilizer, while in other areas indigenous trees that shed their nitrogen-rich leaves during the rainy season are the best way of increasing yields.

In addition, Dr. Place explained how fodder shrubs can help increase milk production in Kenya. There are nearly two million small dairy farmers in the country and lack of high quality food is their biggest challenge. And concentrated grain feeds are too expensive for most producers. But growing nitrogen-fixing fodder shrubs can provide a nutritious—and inexpensive—feed that helps dairy producers increase their income. Five hundred shrubs can feed a cow for a whole season and increase daily milk production by one to two liters a day, which, says Dr. Place, results in an additional income of $USD .50 per day and $USD 100 per year.

Dr. Delia Catacutan, a social scientist, is working with the Centre and Landcare International to help farmer and community groups work together to decide how land should be managed. In Uganda, Land Care has helped 40 different community-based organizations to negotiate and access services from the government. In addition, they’ve helped with conflict resolution and eased the tension between farming and wildlife. “Innovations,” Dr. Catacutan said, “don’t walk by themselves.” But by helping farmers work together and giving them a greater voice in decision-making, agricultural innovations such as agroforestry, are more likely to spread, as well as raise farmer income and protect the environment.

Stay tuned for more stories about how agroforestry can help improve food security in Africa.

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Survey Says: More Innovations for Sustainable Ways to Alleviate Hunger

"Vertical gardens:" a version of a micro garden being used in Kibera, Kenya to grow vegetables.

"Vertical gardens:" a version of a micro garden being used in Kibera, Kenya to grow vegetables.

For the past few months, we’ve been collecting information about agricultural innovations from all over the world (survey in English and French). We shared the initial responses in September but continue to receive interesting information and recommendations from farmers, NGOs, research groups, and policymakers in a multitude of countries. Below are a few tidbits we’d like to share:

From our friends at the World Vegetable Center in Arusha, Tanzania, which Danielle plans to visit later this month: “The world currently depends on a few exotic vegetable species such as tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, cauliflower, etc., and yet hundreds of other species of indigenous vegetables exist but are not properly exploited. In many cases they are much more nutrient-dense than the common exotics, which is of substantive importance in areas in which malnutrition — both under-nutrition and obesity — are serious problems. The difficulty at present resides in the fact that seed of such species are difficult to get, breeding programs are rare or absent, and the supporting agronomic research to maximize their quality and performance has not received sufficient investment.

This innovation needs both a change in policy environment by governments and other supporters of agricultural research to embrace a much greater investment in crop diversity rather than relying on funding only a few staple crops…. [T]he introduction of improved indigenous vegetables has a considerable chance of not only allowing farmers to grow and market themselves out of poverty but also to ensure that the poor, vulnerable, and disadvantaged and their families have a much better chance of attaining a sensible balanced diet than at present.”

From a member of our Advisory Group in Senegal: “The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) introduced the Micro Gardens in Senegal. Rodale International was contracted to train women and implement micro gardens in neighborhoods in Thies. The practice rapidly spread in Thies and other cities. A medical doctor from the Fann Hospital in Dakar established a micro garden and is now feeding his patients and monitoring its impact on their health and recovery.”

From the International Rural Poultry Centre and Kyeema Foundation in Mozambique: “Mortality due to Newcastle Disease (ND) is a major constraint to village chicken production and, consequently, impacts on household food security and livelihood…. With support from the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), the European Union, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the FAO, the International Rural Poultry Centre is supporting veterinary laboratories to produce quality vaccine and veterinary services [and] local NGOs and communities to implement ND vaccination campaigns…. Impact studies have demonstrated a significant increase in village chicken flock size, and poultry consumption and sale in participating households. As women and children are frequently the owners and carers of village chickens, they benefit directly from the vaccination program. Increased village chicken production also contributes to wildlife conservation and HIV/AIDS mitigation.”

From Premier Organic Farms Corporation in the United States: “Premier’s Pod Unit is a Closed-Loop Food Tilapia Fish RAS (recirculation aquaculture system) that provides a nutrient source to grow a Vegetables & Food Production greenhouse system, which in turn filters water through root uptake; it then re-cycles purified water back into fish tanks for re-use. Rainfall is harvested to conserve water and reduce system water requirements. The Pod Unit is designed to grow organic vegetables and foodstuffs based on regional needs. The system uses approx. 70% less water than a conventional farming system, with subsequent water conservation accumulation each time the water is filtered and re-cycled through the system. The fish produce nitrogen-rich water used as the nutrient and water source for growing vegetables; the vegetable root system filters the nitrogen out of the water creating a symbiotic relationship between the two growing segments. Methane gas biofuels from excess fish effluent can be used to produce electricity to operate the system. The system is also designed for adaptation for use with solar and wind power, or can use downstream scrubbed/filtered waste energy from power plants in the form of steam and water.”

From Martindale Farm in Zambia: “Holistic Management (started by Allen Savory) came about to deal with environmental degradation but has potential to reverse global warming as well. It has been most applicable to grazing land but the principles can be applied to anything successfully.”

From Rainbow Sustainable Solutions in the Netherlands: “[One practice is] turning coconut waste into added-value products like cattle feed, fish feed, and fertilizers. Continuing R&D in the Netherlands includes the establishment of a certification system. Through a fermentation process, coconut waste is turned into cattle feed and fish feed, which makes it possible to set up cattle farms and aquaculture in coconut regions.”

Stay tuned for more updates from the survey, and please fill it out or pass it on to others who might be interested!

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An Evergreen Revolution? Using Trees to Nourish the Planet

This is the first of a two-part series on my trip to the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, Kenya.

The World Agroforestry Centre is located in Nairobi, Kenya, but you wouldn’t know it from the surroundings. Located on a lush campus, thick with vegetation, it offers a quiet oasis that seems far from the city of racing matatus and pollution ubiquitous in the city.

We were there to meet with the Director General, Dr. Dennis Garrity, and his colleagues to talk about the Centre’s work and learn more about how the types of innovations they are promoting for agriculture in Africa. We also had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Roger Leakey, the former head of the Centre.

“We’re trying,” said Dr. Garrity, “to build the case that what farmers are doing with trees on farms is important.” What they’re doing is integrating trees with crops, a simple approach that can have huge benefits.

According to Dr. Leakey, “agro-forestry is an interface,” combining social, institutional, policy, and scientific approaches, making it more holistic. “All the other single approaches,” he says, “end up not working.”

One particularly innovative example Dr. Leakey talked about was a Centre project in Cameroon. There, he explained, combining agroforestry with horticulture, the processing of value-added products, and marketing has helped strengthen the community. In fact, the project has resulted in more than 30 “measurable positive impacts.” Now, for example,young men are no longer leaving the farms to find jobs in towns, because they can make a good living by continuing to farm. (See “A Pathway out of Poverty. Good News from Africa.”)

The Centre is hoping to help farmers respond to the many challenges they face—low use of agricultural inputs, degraded soils, and food insecurity among them—through what they call “Evergreen Agriculture.” Both conservation agriculture with trees—a system that uses minimal tillage practices to increase soil fertility—and maize agroforestry (the practice of growing leguminous trees along with maize that replace the need for inorganic fertilizers) have been successful in terms of raising productivity and reducing costs for farmers, but they also have their limitations.

Maize agroforestry, according to the Centre report “Creating an Evergreen Agriculture in Africa,” has improved soil health and allowed farmers to double or even triple their yields, but it’s also extremely labor intensive. Conservation agriculture, on the other hand, can reduce labor requirements and costs of preparing the land initially, but can require more time later on for weeding crops.

Evergreen agriculture would combine the best of both these approaches. Its intention, according to the Centre, “is to dramatically improve soil conditions and crop yields, while keeping labor requirements to a minimum.” Garrity acknowledges that the system is still under development and needs much more investigation, but, he says, “Our hypothesis, however,. . . is that it will increase maize yields and provide greater household food security, while significantly reducing the smallholders labor and lowering overall investment in maize production. We also have evidence that it will improve drought resilience and increase above and below ground carbon sequestration as well”– An increasingly important component of any agricultural system as the impacts of agriculture on greenhouse gases becomes more evident.

I’ll be writing more about our visit to the Centre—stay tuned for blogs about their work on rainwater harvesting, Land Care International, and more about fertilizer trees.

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