World Health Organization launches new tool to help combat malnutrition

By Graham Salinger

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO)  recently launched a web-based tool that gives governments and health-care providers guidelines for combating malnutrition.

This new e-library will advise governments on the most effective ways of dealing with malnutrition. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The e-Library of Evidence for Nutrition Actions (eLENA), developed by WHO in partnership with The Cochrane Collaboration, was launched in August. The new tool will help advise governments on effective ways to combat and prevent malnutrition says Ala Alwan, the WHO Assistant Director-General of Non Communicable Diseases and Mental Health. “Countries need access to the science and evidence-informed guidance to reduce the needless death and suffering associated with malnutrition,” Alwan explains. “[The e-library] can greatly improve how countries cope with the terrible health threats posed by malnutrition.”

More than 1 billion people worldwide are malnourished.  Undernourishment is an underlying cause in 35 percent of all deaths among children under five years old, according to the World Health Organization. Furthermore, the prevalence of underweight people remains the leading risk factor for many diseases in low-income countries and constitutes about six percent of the global disease burden.

 Micronutrient deficiencies also have a dramatic impact on human health.  Iodine deficiency is the world’s leading cause of brain damage. Anemia, which is caused by not having enough iron, affects nearly 2 billion people and is associated with 18 percent of maternal deaths.  Vitamin A deficiency , which is the leading cause of blindness in children and increases the risk of contracting infections, affects 190 million preschool childrenZinc deficiency causes problems with the immune system and claims the lives of 430, 000  children each year.

On the other end of the spectrum, obesity is a growing global phenomenon. An estimated 1.5 billion adults over age of 20 are overweight or obese while more than 40 million children under the age of five are already overweight or obese.

The e-library suggests several methods for effective health interventions that are required to tackle malnutrition including promoting breastfeeding, and fortifying staple foods with vitamins and minerals.

What do you think of this new tool? Tell us in the comments section!

Graham Salinger is a research intern for the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Preparing for Rio+20: Including Agriculture and Local Partners for Successful Solutions to Complex Problems

By Jenna Banning

At a briefing in September in Washington D.C. by the U.S. Department of State, three top government officials met with representatives of non-governmental organizations to share perspectives on the United Nations’ upcoming  Conference on Sustainable Development. The first Conference on Sustainable Development, or Earth Summit, was held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Rio+20 Conference in June 2012 will focus on the key themes of building a green economy and a framework for sustainable development.

The briefing brought together Celeste Connors, National Security Council (NSC) Director for Environment Affairs, Michelle DePass, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of International and Tribal Affairs, and Lawrence Gumbiner, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Oceans, International Environment and Scientific Affairs, who is in charge of coordinating the Department of State’s preparation for the conference.

The briefing highlighted three initiatives recently released in the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development – global climate change, global good security, and global health. Connors highlighted the role of weather-resistant seeds and other agricultural innovations in helping to alleviate the challenges of global hunger, and the importance of supporting research, training, and data sharing was a central issue throughout the discussion.

The Department of State’s Larry Gumbiner forcefully rejected the idea that approaches should be one size fits all, and stated, “Some of the most creative and innovative solutions are coming from our state and local partners.”  Answering the world’s challenges involves complex and interrelated issues, and Gumbiner discussed how effective solutions must take consideration of a number of issues: “This is more than just about the environment. The economic and social factors are just as integral.”

As policymakers gear up for the Rio+20 meeting next year, it is important that they realize that true sustainability can only be achieved when economic development and the environmental challenges that come with it are addressed in tandem. As Michelle DePass stated, “Growth at the expense of healthy people and land is not sustainable.”

To read more on building upon the knowledge and strengths of local actors, see African Biodiversity Network: Sowing Seeds for Grassroots Resilience and Working with local farmers to build local solutions

What agricultural issues would you like to see addressed at the UN Conference for Sustainable Development?

Jenna Banning is a research intern for Nourishing the Planet.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Making Smart Food Choices

In this new report by The Organic Center, they describe a new tool that will help consumers identify smart, nutrient-rich food choices. Despite the abundance of food, the United States is a nation that faces a complex problem – more than a 100 million people are obese at the same time that around 36 million people are hungry.

The Organic Center has just released a new guide to help consumers make healthy food decisions. (Photo credit: The Organic Center)

So how does a person lacking a degree in nutrition decide what foods are best to consume? By drawing on the strengths of existing systems, the authors of the report created “The Organic Center Nutritional Quality Index (TOC-NQI) – a comprehensive, data-driven nutrient profiling system that will help consumers make more informed food decisions.

Click here to read the report.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Industrial poultry production and reemerging avian flu

By Emily Gilbert

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), there are alarming signs that a new mutant strain of the avian flu, or H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, is spreading in Asia and beyond. H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is a potentially devastating virus, associated with a high mortality rate and high economic losses.   HPAI viruses can jump species barriers and infect humans, becoming a potential source of a future pandemic.

A chicken being vaccinated against the H5N1 virus (Photo credit: CRDF)

Although wild birds and small-scale poultry production have been blamed for the spread of avian flu, recent research conducted by Tour du Valat, a Mediterranean wetland conservation research center, has found that when the avian flu virus infects poultry, not wild bird species, it mutates into the highly pathogenic strains of the flu .  These findings are supported by separate research on outbreaks in Nigeria and Thailand, which found that human agricultural activity and industrial poultry production, or factory farming, are major sources of the global spread of the avian flu.

After a 2002 bird flu outbreak in Chile, a study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases  identified poultry as the primary species in which the more highly pathogenic strains evolved.  A separate study produced in part by the Joint Influenza Research Centre at Hong Kong University found that, “transmission within poultry is the major mechanism for sustaining H5N1 virus endemicity in this region.”  Interestingly, in the Southeast Asian countries where most of the bird flu outbreaks are concentrated, including Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, poultry production grew eightfold over the last three decades, from around 300,000 metric tonnes of meat produced in 1971 to 2,440,000 metric tonnes in 2001. In China where the H5N1 virus has also spread, poultry production tripled during the 1990s, with 15 billion ducks, geese and chickens raised in 2004.

In the crowded conditions of factory farms, the low pathogenic influenza virus typically found in wild bird species, can evolve into a more pathogenic and highly transmissible form of the virus, capable of spreading to other species.

The research conducted by the Tour du Valat research center also found that outbreaks tend to be clustered around densely populated commercial hubs, rather than solely dependent on wild bird migratory routes, making the chances of human transmission greater.  “When plotted, the pattern of outbreaks follows major road and rail routes, not flyways. And the absence of outbreaks in Africa, South and Southeast Asia and Australasia this autumn is hard to explain, if wild birds are the primary carriers,” says BirdLife‘ s Dr. Richard Thomas in 2006.  This close proximity of large numbers of poultry in factory farms to congested urban centers has been the primary result of unregulated zoning and subsidies that encourage livestock production.  According to Barcelona-based agriculture organization, GRAIN, of the 45 outbreaks that occurred in Laos in 2004, 42 of them occurred on factory farms, and 38 of them in the country’s capital.

While the H5N1 virus has been eradicated from the majority of infected countries, it has remained endemic in six nations, including China, Indonesia, India, and Thailand.  But since 2008, the number of outbreaks has risen progressively, with almost 800 cases of H5N1 recorded in 2010-2011, twice as many as the year before, and confirmed cases appearing in previously unaffected countries such as Israel.

Finding ways to prevent the impacts of factory farming in the transmission of the avian flu will be especially important as urbanization and meat consumption increase across the developing world.  In order to protect the global human and animal health, policy-makers will need to develop better, more holistic approaches, such increased international monitoring of both domestic and wild bird species and improved public awareness.

Are you concerned about the avian flu?  Want to know more?

Emily Gilbert is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Wigton Wind Farm: Jamaica’s Commitment to Renewable Energy Starts Paying Off

As previously reported, members of Worldwatch’s Climate and Energy team made the first country visit to Jamaica as part of the institute’s Caribbean Low-Carbon Roadmap work. During that visit I had the opportunity to visit Wigton Wind Farm, the island’s largest grid-tied, utility-scale wind power facility. Situated on the southern tip of the Don Figuerero Mountains, not far from the southern coastal town of Alligator Pond, the wind farm offers good lessons for successful promotion of renewable energy in Jamaica and how such projects are in the country’s best interests. But it has also shined a light on obstacles that should be resolved as the country pursues more renewable energy projects.

The entrance at Wigton Wind Farm in Manchester, Jamaica.

Wigton Wind Farm is actually composed of two separate projects, one built in 2004 and the other in 2010. The first phase – or Wigton I as it is referred to – comprises 23 NEG-Micon 900/52 turbines, each with an installed capacity of 900 kilowatts (kW). The second phase, Wigton II, consists of 9 Vestas V80 turbines, each with an installed capacity of 2 megawatts (MW). Their respective capacity factors are 35 percent and 33 percent, which means together they generate around 115 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity per year. In total the wind farm is expected to offset 60,000 barrels of oil per year and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 85,000 tons.

Wigton Wind Farm is a subsidiary of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), a state energy corporation housed within Jamaica’s Ministry of Energy and Mining. Dr. Raymond Wright, a former managing group director at PCJ, became Wigton’s first strong supporter in the late 90’s. When construction started in 2004, PCJ was fortunate in securing a good location for the project. Much of the land on which the wind farm is sited is owned by Alcoa, which is the managing partner of Jamalco, a partnership between the Jamaican government and Alcoa Minerals of Jamaica. There is still enough land to build a possible third phase of Wigton just to the north of the first two project locations. This remaining land also happens to be located in an area that, according to studies, is a strong wind resource. A quick look at 3TIER Inc.’s Dashboard tool shows that the area has an annual mean wind speed around 8 meters per second (m/s).

The Wigton project has also experienced some challenges, especially with regard to finance, technical issues, and logistics. Wigton I was originally financed partially with an Oret Miliev Grant from the Netherlands, partially with equity from the Petroleum Company of Jamaica (PCJ), as well as with debt financing through the National Commercial Bank of Jamaica (NCB) that would be serviced with revenue from the sale of wind-generated electricity. By law, independent power producers must sell any surplus electricity to Jamaica Public Service Co. (JPS), the country’s sole provider of electricity transmission and distribution. In December 2001, an agreement was signed stipulating that JPS would purchase wind-generated electricity at a price of USD $0.05 per kilowatt-hour (kWh). This price, known as the “avoided cost,” represents the long-term incremental cost of capital, operation & maintenance, fuel, and depreciation. This figure was calculated by the Office of Utility Regulation (OUR), but did so using the 1999 average price of USD $16.50 per barrel. By the time Wigton Wind Farm was operational in 2004, that price had nearly doubled, making the off-take price inadequate to meet the wind farm’s financial obligations.

When Wigton was expanded in 2010, funding came again through NCB, but the money was actually from a fund connected with the Jamaica’s PetroCaribe agreement with Venezuela. The special arrangement of monies in this fund meant that the traditional interest rate of 11 percent could be reduced to 6 percent. Additionally, the off-take price was negotiated such that the initial price was around USD $0.14 per kWh, and would be reduced over time resulting in an average price of USD $0.10 per kWh over the lifetime of the payback period. This resulted in the entire operation becoming profitable. In fact, new estimates are showing that after one full year of operations following Wigton II’s commissioning, the wind farm may see net profits around US $240 million. Original estimates were just over US $180 million.

Overlooking the Caribbean Sea, turbines from Wigton's first phase are deactivated while repair work takes place.

Aside from financial difficulty, Wigton Wind Farm has also experienced technical challenges, mainly with grid reliability. The day before I visited, the area had experienced a severe thunderstorm. Lightning had caused a power surge that damaged the on-site substation. All of the turbines of Wigton I were turned off while it was repaired. The turbines of Wigton II, however, are connected to uninterrupted power supplies (UPS) – large batteries that can mitigate such disturbances – and were therefore operational.

Finally, Wigton also experienced logistical difficulties related to Jamaica’s roads as they can only accommodate loads of certain sizes. The towers were relatively easy to transport because they could be delivered in pieces. However, the nassels were brought in through a carefully orchestrated process that involved closing down certain sections of main roads in towns where the roads were especially windy. The transportation of parts also required the construction of a special road that turned off from a main highway and connected to a road used exclusively by bauxite companies for hauling mined ore. This “road load” restriction means that the turbines used for Wigton II are the largest the country can import. Should bigger and better turbines come into play in the future, Jamaica might be unable to utilize them.

Overall, Wigton Wind Farm has faced a great deal of challenges but has nonetheless been quite a technical success. In fewer than ten years, 40 MW of wind power have been brought onto the grid and the project is starting to see healthy profit. Both are notable. The first commercial wind generator installed on the island was a Vestas 225 kW turbine. It was installed at Munro College in the parish of St. Elizabeth in 1996. In 2010, JPS installed 4 Unison turbines, each with an installed capacity of 750 kW in Malvern, St. Elizabeth. Projects like these are what will help move Jamaica towards realizing the renewable energy goals set by the Ministry of Energy and Mining (MEM). However, considering Jamaica has more than 800 MW of installed generating capacity, the goal MEM established in the 2009 energy policy – 20 percent of the country’s energy coming from renewable sources by 2030 – is still a long way from being realized.

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Nourishing the Planet TV: Using Small Businesses to Create Local Markets

In this week’s episode, research intern Christina Wright discusses Sylvia Banda’s entrepreneurial efforts in Zambia. Since 1986, Banda has created small businesses like Sylva Professional Catering Services Limited. Her businesses have successfully created markets for local farmers and emphasized local cooking methods.


To read more about how small business are helping local communities, see: Innovation of the Week: Using Small Businesses to Create Local Markets

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Short Video Underscores the Role of Organic Agriculture in Uganda

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have put together this short video highlighting the important contribution that organic farming is making to rural livelihoods in Uganda.

Uganda has an organic certification program that offers local and international certification services for a variety of fruits and vegetables. The program was developed by the National Organic Agricultural Movement of Uganda (NOGAMU), a body that works across the nation to promote organic agriculture and the export of organic products around the world. And the organization hasn’t forgotten about the importance of staying local, working to sell the produce in cities around the country as well.

Chief executive officer of NOGAMU, Musa K. Muwanga, says forty seconds into the video that the “green economy” is important for Uganda because it allows different actors, such as small farmers and traders, to create wealth in a way that is more sustainable and protects the environment. Ultimately, this holds promise not just for Uganda but other developing countries as well. As the narrator mentions at the beginning, “Organic means many things to many people, but for organic farmer[s in Uganda]… organic simply means a better life.”

What do you think about the potential for organic agriculture to improve living standards in the developing world? Let us know in the comments section!

To read more about organic agriculture and certification in the developing world, see Organic Agriculture’s Resilience Shows Untapped Potential.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Natural Gas-Fired Electricity May Be Cleaner than Coal, But Substantial Progress to be Made on Methane Emissions

Photo: Coyote Springs Generating Station by Portland General Electric

On August 25, my colleagues at the Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors and I released a new greenhouse gas (GHG) life-cycle analysis of U.S. coal and natural gas-fired electricity. If you have been following my posts on ReVolt over the last year, you’ll know we began studying this issue after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced revisions to its methodology for estimating emissions from natural gas systems (basically from the production, processing, transmission, and distribution of natural gas) that resulted in a more than doubling of its estimate for methane emissions from those sources. Methane, in addition to being the primary component of natural gas, is a GHG some 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a hundred-year period. Consequently, some analysts have raised concerns that when the actual amount of methane emitted during the entire life cycle of natural gas (an amount which the EPA’s previous methodology apparently underestimated) is taken into account, natural gas might lose its GHG advantage over coal.

Over the past year, a number of new life-cycle analyses have come out that all ask different versions of the question, “How clean is natural gas really, on a life-cycle basis?” Some focus on GHG emissions from shale versus conventional natural gas, while others focus on all natural gas produced in the United States. The life-cycle analyses use different underlying assumptions, methodologies, and sources of data, and nearly all comment on the implications of their findings for the GHG comparison between coal and gas. After all, if the Obama administration is (or at least was) considering a clean energy standard that gave natural gas-fired electricity a half-credit on the basis of its GHG savings over coal, this should be reflected by actual GHG savings.

The studies have offered a bewildering array of answers to this question. A March 2011 study by researchers from Cornell concludes, “Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20 percent greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years.” On the other hand, a May 2011 presentation from the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) concludes, “Average natural gas baseload power generation has a life-cycle [GHG footprint] 54 percent lower than average coal baseload power generation on a 100-year time horizon.” And an August 2011 study by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University finds, “Natural gas from the Marcellus shale has generally lower life-cycle GHG emissions than coal for the production of electricity in the absence of any effective carbon capture and storage processes, by 20-50 percent depending upon plant efficiencies and natural gas emissions variability.”

The results of our life-cycle analysis are generally consistent with the findings of NETL and Carnegie Mellon. Since the most important question for us was how new information about methane emissions from natural gas systems changed the GHG comparison between natural gas- and coal-fired electricity, we analyzed the impact of EPA revisions on the average GHG footprint of a unit of electricity produced from natural gas versus coal. We found that, on average, U.S. natural gas-fired electricity emits 47 percent less GHGs than coal over a hundred-year timeframe.

It’s important to note that looking at the emissions associated with average U.S. natural gas is different from looking at those associated with shale gas only, which currently accounts for 15 percent of U.S. natural gas production but whose share is projected to rise to more than 45 percent by 2035. Although all three life-cycle studies mentioned above attempt to estimate shale gas emissions alone, all acknowledge significant uncertainty around certain segments of the life-cycle stemming from inadequate data. This lack of data is due in part to the relatively recent expansion of shale gas development, but it is compounded by the rapid evolution of technologies, practices, and regulations. For example, one of the main drivers of the increase in EPA’s methane emissions estimates was the amount of emissions during the flowback period of wells that receive hydraulic fracturing treatment—emissions that new EPA regulations will require to be captured.

A major push to collect better data on the methane emissions from shale gas production will be necessary before we can develop a truly accurate picture of the life-cycle GHG footprints of shale versus conventional natural gas—beginning but not ending with the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program. More robust data will make it possible not only to more clearly assess the GHG footprint of natural gas production, but also to identify where in the life cycle of natural gas control technologies and practices can most cost-effectively reduce methane venting and leaking. Many such control technologies and practices have been documented by the EPA’s Natural Gas STAR program and are already being employed in the industry today.

Methane emissions during the entire life cycle of natural gas may not be enough to negate the GHG savings that natural gas has over coal at the point of combustion, but they still pose a serious risk to the climate. Rather than allowing significant quantities of methane to escape during production, companies should be capturing it for sale—and indeed, those who have done so have often reported payback times of less than three years through Natural Gas STAR. Moreover, because some of the same technologies that prevent methane from entering the atmosphere also reduce emissions of smog-forming compounds, tackling methane emissions is a win-win-win proposition for the natural gas industry, local air quality, and the climate.

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UN and African Officials Discuss Role of Agriculture in Rural Development

By Kamaria Greenfield

In May, in Cape Town, South Africa, a panel discussion organized by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the South African Institute for International Affairs (SAIIA) met to address the future role of agriculture in rural development. Kanayo Nwanze, keynote speaker and president of the IFAD, outlined the main points covered in the organization’s Rural Poverty Report 2011.

It is fundamental to invest in the education that will allow future generation of farmers to bring themselves and their families out of poverty. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

“Agriculture offers enormous promise for Africa. Numerous studies show that GDP growth generated by agriculture is more than twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth in other sectors,” said Nwanze to the group of agricultural ministers and experts. He also expressed confidence in the ability of Africans to help themselves, saying that the transition out of rural poverty must be a transformation from within. “Change cannot be imposed from the outside. But when it is cultivated from within — with, as we say in agricultural development, some external inputs—then every tree and every plant will be able to root itself in its own soil and flourish.”

The new Rural Poverty Report indicates that over two thirds of people living in extreme poverty today (those living on less than US$1.25) live in the rural areas of developing countries. The report also highlights that four-fifths of households in these parts of the world do some degree of farming. With access to knowledge about better farming practices, these people could see a significant improvement in their quality of life. Nwanze emphasized the importance of giving impoverished people access to the resources they need, not seeing them as victims in need of endless foreign charity.

The Rural Poverty Report highlights four main courses of action: the overall improvement of rural environments, including infrastructure and governance; the management and reduction of agriculture-related risk; the education of populations about economic opportunities; and the support of collective endeavors, which increase security, power, and confidence.

According to Nwanze, “we know that when poor people are empowered, when they are seen and treated as the productive resources that they are, they can be the agents of sustainable and lasting change…. At IFAD, we know that there is no magic bullet, no secret formula that will eliminate poverty and hunger over night. But there are solutions that, when tailored to the realities of a specific region, or even a specific village, can transform lives.”

Kamaria Greenfield is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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