India Announces Green Focus to Industrial Corridor, Renewable Roadblocks Remain

Last month, Farooq Abdullah, India’s Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy, announced that the planned Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) would be “totally green”. The corridor is aimed at strengthening the region’s infrastructure to attract foreign and real estate investment and jump-start local commerce. Minister Abdullah’s commitment to making the project environmentally sustainable is a positive sign for India’s development path given the potential boom in industry, commercial activity, and power production if the corridor is successful.

source: MNRE

Wind turbines in Gujarat

The DMIC is a US$90 billion infrastructure project funded by the governments of India and Japan to connect the political and financial capitals of India through freight rail, roads, and new power facilities. Plans to implement the massive DMIC project have been underway since a 2006 Memorandum of Understanding between India and Japan, but progress to date has been slow. Recent large infrastructure projects have a mixed record in the country, with bureaucratic roadblocks, multiple permitting requirements, and in some cases corruption and bribery, sometimes blocking plans.

Many of the barriers to general infrastructure development are the same barriers that stand in the way of renewable energy projects, despite a strong demonstrated political will to promote investment in renewables. Just this October, reports emerged that one of India’s largest solar power projects, the 125 megawatt (MW) Shivajinagar Sakri solar plant being implemented by the Maharashtra State Power Generation Company, has been blocked by the Forest Department of Maharashtra, which has laid claim to 180 of the total 350 hectares set aside for the project. This major administrative hurdle demonstrates the lack of coordination between agencies responsible for approving renewable energy projects, especially at this late stage of project development when major certifications and loans for the project have already been granted.

The future of renewable energy in India, including its role in the DMIC, will depend largely on the ability of the country’s policy and regulatory infrastructure to streamline administrative procedures and create a welcoming environment for new investments. India’s federal government and several state governments have established a multitude of laws and regulations to promote renewable energy, including feed-in tariffs (FiTs), renewable purchase obligations (RPOs), generation-based incentives, capital subsidies, accelerated depreciation, and tax incentives. Renewable energy capacity in India has grown rapidly in recent years, due in part to these measures. India ranks fifth in the world in installed wind capacity, with around 15 GW of wind capacity in August 2011. Installed solar capacity is growing rapidly and is expected to reach 200 MW by the beginning of 2012, with an ambitious national target of 20 GW of solar capacity by 2022.

Major policy barriers still need to be overcome in order to take full advantage of India’s renewable energy potential. Currently, multiple agencies (including the federal Ministry for New and Renewable Energy, Ministry of Power, Department of Environment and Forests, Department of Rural Development, as well as corresponding agencies in each state) oversee overlapping and uncoordinated aspects of approving and implementing renewable energy projects. Even renewable energy incentives developed at the federal level are usually implemented through state agencies and regulations, further adding to the complexity of the regulatory structure. State governments also often have limited capabilities for administering these programs.

In 2009, the Government of India took important steps to address some of these complexities and barriers. The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission published methodologies to help facilitate coordination of FiTs and renewable energy certificate trading to meet RPOs across states. The effectiveness of these measures remains to be seen, and further regulatory streamlining will still be necessary to coordinate state policies and establish clear administrative procedures.

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Walmart’s Sustainable Agriculture Strategy: A Model for the Private Sector and Sustainable Agriculture?

By Sheldon Yoder

Walmart hopes to base its sustainable agriculture strategy on its biggest strength: purchasing power. “What we do well is issue a purchase order,” said Beth Keck, the company’s director of sustainability during a roundtable event Friday at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “It’s our number one competency.”

Walmart plans to buy and sell $1 billion worth of product from small and medium farmers around the world. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

In order to do this, the company plans to purchase and sell $1 billion of food grown by one million small and medium farmers around the world. Walmart also plans to double its sale of locally purchased produce in the U.S by the end of 2015.

“Sustainability is a business strategy, not a charitable giving strategy,” said Keck, who has been instrumental in developing the goals. “We’re thinking about sustainability from the customer’s point of view. We don’t want customers to have to choose between products that are sustainable or products that are affordable.”

The company plans to produce more food with fewer resources as part of its commitment to global sustainable agriculture. This involves focusing more on agriculture in its sustainability index, investing money in its supply chain to ensure product freshness, and reducing food waste.

Walmart is also focusing on a few key products that are sustainably grown and harvested, such as palm oil and beef. Keck said that palm oil and beef were selected because they are two of the main causes of deforestation in tropical areas. By 2015 Walmart will require only sustainably sourced palm oil in all its private brand products and beef that does not contribute to the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.

The company’s strategy does face challenges. Keck mentioned that it cannot invest much in small farmers who do not have the necessary technical and business skills, financing, or transport services to sell to Walmart. To incorporate these farmers, the company has to rely primarily on national extension services, local NGOs, and international development organizations.

Keck said that China, India, Mexico, and Brazil are the most important countries for the international component of the strategy because of the amount of farmers and product involved. Keck also acknowledged that $1 billion represents a small portion of the roughly $200 billion in revenue from food sales that Walmart generates yearly but that she hoped the company would exceed that amount.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of Walmart’s sustainable agriculture goals? Let us know in the comments section! 

Sheldon Yoder is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

To read more about the private sector and agriculture, see: Looking for an Answer in the Private Sector, Stimulating the Links between Agriculture and the Private Sector, and A Dynamic Duo: Collaborating Between the Public and Private Sectors.

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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Meet the Nourishing the Planet Team: Jeffrey Lamoureux

We have a whole new crop of staff and interns joining the Nourishing the Planet team this fall. Today, meet Jeffrey Lamoureux.

Jeffrey Lamoureux

Jeffrey graduated from the George Washington University in 2010 with degrees in anthropology and economics. He has worked for several non-profits and think tanks around D.C. Jeffrey has lived in East Africa and he has for a time run a small cafe. His interests are in agricultural policy, international trade, and the anthropology of development.

An experienced barista, coffee has sparked his interest in agricultural commodities and the global value chains around them. In his spare time he plays music, cooks, and reads. He can speak Swahili and has a collection of old food magazines.

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Honoring Leaders in the Fight against Hunger

By Supriya Kumar

At a recent event held in the U.S. State Department, Bill Gates and Howard G. Buffett were presented the World Food Program USA (WFP USA)’s 10th Annual George McGovern Leadership Award for their contributions to end global hunger.

Bill Gates and Howard G. Buffet were recently honored for their work to end global hunger. (Photo credit: Ralph Alswang, WFP USA)

Gates and Buffett are the joint recipients for their leadership in establishing the Purchase for Progress (P4P) program at the World Food Program (WFP).

P4P is an innovative public-private partnership helping small farmers in developing countries become suppliers for WFP’s large-scale food programs. The long-term goal of P4P is to help farmers connect to other markets and that’s already happening.  In Liberia, Sierra Leone, Zambia, and several other nations in sub-Saharan Africa (as well as in Asia and Latin America), WFP is not only buying locally, but helping small farmers gain the skills necessary to be part of the global market.

At next week’s G20 Summit in Cannes, France, Gates will deliver a report outlining how innovations and partnerships in health and agriculture can help increase global stability and put the poorest countries and people on a long-term path to economic growth and equality.

“I’ll be taking a message to the G20 that we can’t turn our backs on the world’s poorest, even in these tough economic times,” Gates said. “Our current fiscal crisis shouldn’t force cuts in programs like agriculture that build self-sufficiency, pay huge returns, and advance stability and economic growth.”

Please click here to read more about the George McGovern Leadership Award.

Supriya Kumar is a research fellow with 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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Momentum Gathering for Changes in Jamaica’s Energy Sector

Mr. Gerald Lindo is a Senior Energy Engineer with the Ministry of Energy & Mining in Jamaica

From left to right: Fitzroy Vidal, Senior Director, Energy, Ministry of Energy & Mining; Honorable Laurence Broderick, MP; Mark Konold, Caribbean Energy Roadmap Project Manager, Worldwatch; Gerald Lindo, Senior Energy Engineer, Ministry of Energy & Mining

On September 19th, a group of engineers met in Kingston, Jamaica during the Annual Conference of the Jamaica Institute of Engineers (JIE) to discuss the future of Jamaica’s energy sector. This year, the first two days of the week-long event were devoted entirely to discussing the country’s energy challenges and the way forward. The Principal Director of the Energy Division in Jamaica’s Ministry of Energy and Mining (MEM), Mr. Fitzroy Vidal, gave one of the keynote speeches detailing Jamaica’s National Energy Policy (NEP) and the progress towards its implementation.

It was a brisk and upbeat meeting, and Mr. Vidal’s speech was well received. Questions abounded on the direction of Jamaica’s energy sector and on the proposed considerations of innovative green technology solutions aimed at ensuring the country’s energy security and long term sustainability. However, underneath the cordiality and spirit of the conference was a smouldering worry, an elephant in the room: the tremendous price that Jamaicans pay for electricity.

The cost of electricity in Jamaica is just under US $0.40 per kilowatt hour (kWh) – about 4 times what the typical consumer pays in the United States. High electricity prices result primarily from Jamaica’s reliance on old and inefficient electricity generators that use imported petroleum – Jamaica generates over 90 percent of its electricity from diesel and heavy fuel oil, perhaps the most expensive and inefficient conventional fuel available. Most of the generation capacity in the island nation is more than thirty years old, with low efficiency and high maintenance costs. Energy imports amount to 13 percent of the nation’s GDP. The tremendous drag this has on the economy of Jamaica has resulted in strong public outcry for reform and modernisation of the energy sector. A large part of the outcry is targeted towards the Electric Utility Operator and the Utility Regulator – the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPSCo) and the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), respectively.

The Cabinet of the Government of Jamaica approved the country’s National Energy Policy in late 2009, and by 2010, the bicameral Houses of Parliament ratified it with an affirmative vote of bipartisan consensus. It was the first long-term policy for energy that the country had ever approved, with prescriptions up until the year 2030. The policy is context within Jamaica’s National Development Plan, Vision 2030, an ambitious policy plan designed to move Jamaica from the status of a developing nation to a developed nation by the year 2030. The policy is designed to create “a modern, efficient, diversified and environmentally sustainable energy sector,” and it provides a platform for Jamaicans to tackle the problem in a systematic way. A key aspect is ensuring the affordability of energy supplies through supply diversity, renewable energy and a regulatory environment that encourages new investment. The policy also encourages energy conservation and efficiency to mitigate the impact of energy prices and promote responsible use of energy throughout all sectors of the economy.

Even against this backdrop, there was optimism at the JIE meeting. Notwithstanding the challenges, immense opportunity exists in Jamaica. The country is ripe for large investments in energy, and there are ample opportunities for efficiency improvements. According to figures reported by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica and the US Energy Information Administration, the island nation uses about 15,000 BTU to produce one dollar of economic output – about twice the energy intensity of developed countries. Public and private investments in efficiency could substantially reduce the cost of energy while lowering Jamaica’s carbon footprint.

It was in this context that Mr. Vidal presented the JIE with the progress report on the government’s efforts in energy sector transformation – and it was clear that the Government was in the implementation phase. The Jamaican Government has been moving with urgency in the two years since the policy was approved. Projects currently underway with the support of international development partners touch on every goal and priority area of the National Energy Policy.

Jamaica is already on its way to increasing the share of electricity produced from renewable sources to 20 percent. This will involve expansions in biomass, small hydro and wind energy, and the government is taking an active role in promoting these ventures. The approach is multifaceted and includes the packaging of projects for investments to be undertaken by the private sector based on the resource feasibility assessments.

Simultaneously, progress is being made in energy efficiency. The Jamaican Government plans to reduce electricity consumption in the public sector by at least 15 percent (though Mr. Vidal indicated that the total could be as high as 39 percent once all projects are implemented). This is being done in part with a US $20 million investment in public sector energy efficiency improvements, supported by the Inter-American Development Bank over the next 4-5 years. Similar investments are being supported by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank), the PetroCaribe Development Fund and other international development partners.

The Jamaican government is also looking at making investment easier through regulatory reforms. With energy costs as high as they are, there is considerable space for the private sector to solve energy supply problems profitably, provided that the investment and regulatory environment is transparent and facilitatory. A US $15 million project funded by the World Bank is directed in part towards helping the Jamaican government in this regard. The MEM, Jamaica’s OUR, the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica’s Centre of Excellence for Renewable Energy (CERE) and the Bureau of Standards of Jamaica are all receiving considerable investment support that will allow Jamaica to better guide its policy development and implementation, to monitor the regulation of its electricity sector and to institutionalize energy efficiency standards. The Worldwatch Institute has been engaged with the help of the German Government to develop a Low Carbon Energy Roadmap for Jamaica. The Roadmap will examine regulatory and policy measures – such as feed-in tariffs, renewable energy financing models and building code reforms – that will facilitate investments which lower Jamaica’s carbon footprint and reduce costs to consumers.

A large part of the progress towards added renewable generation capacity, regulatory reforms and energy efficiency hinges on Jamaica’s ability to embrace a smart energy strategy. This includes smart metering, smart grid technology and the intelligent integration of electricity, transportation, telecommunication and water resource management. Mr. Vidal’s presentation included a vision of Jamaica’s renewable energy sector development over the next 5 years, where he described smart metering both as a means of demand management and for greater penetration of distributed generation. That this emerging technological approach to energy networks was specifically mentioned in Jamaica’s National Energy Policy is demonstrative of the long-term view that the policy takes.

Closing off his speech, Mr. Vidal was bombarded with the usual gamut of questions and comments from the conference attendees. There was excitement and hope, and maybe a touch of astonishment. As Jamaica moves towards a low-carbon, energy efficient future, there will no doubt be more discussion and excitement.

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Saving Our Soil to Feed the World: An Interview with Jake Blehm

By Emily Gilbert

Name: Jake Blehm

Affiliation: Assistant Executive Director, Ecology Action

Bio: Jake Blehm first became interested in sustainable and organic agriculture more than 25 years ago.  This interest led him to start his own bio-control and consulting business, helping farmers transition from conventional agricultural practices to organic. As a result, Blehm’s clients achieved a 90 percent reduction in pesticide use in the first 2 years.  Jake sold his business to eventually join the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania.   The Rodale Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of organic agriculture through research and outreach.  Through his work with Rodale, he began realizing that even organic producers were struggling with issues of soil erosion.  Spurred by the presentations and work of John Jeavons, a pioneer in biointensive agriculture and the founder of Ecology Action, and a desire to return to California, Jake joined Ecology Action in 2010, serving as the Assistant Executive Director.

Location: Willits, California

Jake Blehm at a GROW BIOINTENSIVE workshop in Mexico. (photo credit: Jake Blehm)

What is biointensive agriculture? 

While not as large a universe as “sustainable agriculture”, there are many different views on biointensive agriculture.   At Ecology Action, our Grow Biointensive program focuses on the concept of intensive mini-farming.  However, it ultimately comes down to the fact that biointensive farming is really the process of preparing the soil.  By using biointensive techniques successfully, we’re able restore soil sixty times faster than rates found in nature, all while producing two to four times the amount of food as conventional agriculture in a given plot.

Biointensive agriculture, in its different forms, has been around for thousands of years.  The Chinese were using these techniques several thousand years ago.  The form we see today was developed by Alan Chadwick , who first introduced the modern biointensive method to the U.S. in the mid 1960s, and it’s really exciting to see the different projects and initiatives that continue to evolve.

How is biointensive agriculture different from organic agriculture?

There are estimates that in 20 to 30 years, 2 billion people will be without access to potable water.  Compared to conventional agriculture and even different forms of organic agriculture, biointensive is incredibly successful at improving water retention in soils, and creating soils that need less of it.

In my opinion, even organic producers are struggling to adequately protect their soils.  Globally it’s estimated that we’ve lost about a third of our topsoil in the past 40 years.  Frankly, we just cannot afford that loss.  Biointensive agriculture has the ability to protect and strengthen soil, rather than depleting it.  For farmers living in marginal areas, this ability provides a huge boon for both food and economic security.

What have been historical impediments to more wide-spread adoption of biointensive agriculture?

A friend recently recommended a book called Empires of Food by Evan D.G. Fraser and Andrew Rimas.  It’s absolutely fascinating.  It’s a detailed account of the interactions ancients civilizations had surrounding food.  Thousands of years ago, there was a “global” food trade in the Mediterranean.  And like today, you end up seeing the same issues and mistakes repeated over the centuries.  Politicians in ancient Rome, like modern politicians, were struggling with soil erosion and ways to feed their populations.  You end up seeing the most significant damage when societies begin exporting their nutrients through trade.

Exporting their nutrients? What do you mean by that?

Societies back then, just like today, were exporting the bulk of their food to outside areas.  So instead of allowing nature’s normal nutrient cycling systems to occur, all the energy stored in these crops is sent to other areas instead of being cycled back into the soil.  We end up seeing a net loss in soil nutrients.

Is there any indication that policy-makers’ attitudes are changing about biointensive agriculture?

Politics in the U.S. is so dependent on lobbying and special-interest pressure, that it’s hard to imagine any profound changes occurring in agricultural policy anytime soon.  So, on a national level, no. This is disheartening because it’s on the federal level that we see most of the money and large grants.  However, I’ve seen some really promising changes and attitudes on the local level.  Obviously, local governments don’t hand out subsidies, so there isn’t that outside pressure.  Some examples of really great local movements are in the Hudson River Valley in New York, and even my hometown of Sonoma County.

On the state level, I’ve seen some great work by former Pennsylvania State Representative David Kessler.  He helped draft legislation supporting organic agriculture and small farmers.  He also helped develop a half million dollar program to help farmers monitor nitrogen and nutrient loading into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Would you like to share any new developments happening at Ecology Action?

Ecology Action has been in East Africa over 20 years, primarily in Kenya.  What’s been exciting is seeing the increase in interest in our programs over the past several years.  We’ve started a partnership with an organization working in Rwanda on HIV/AIDS issues.  What they’ve found is that patients are not receiving the full benefit of the antiretroviral drugs because they’re diets are so lacking in vital nutrients.

We have also been hosting a man from a faith-based organization in Malawi that is working on hunger and food security issues.  He’s just finishing up his three month stay now.

Beyond that, we’ve begun expanding programs in East Asia, particularly the Mekong Delta region and the Himalayas.  Given the onslaught of climate change and the crucial role water systems play in these areas, we’re really excited to give these farmers soils that have better water retention and ultimately need less of it.

Emily Gilbert is a research intern with 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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Empower the Caribbean! Reflections on CREF 2011

Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at this year’s Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum (CREF), held in Bridgetown, Barbados. The two-day conference was a uniquely productive session that brought together more than 300 participants from 37 countries, including 11 government ministers. The exceptional vigor that the conference brought to the discussion was facilitated by a format that prioritized open, free form discussion over prepared remarks. I spoke on the last panel of the conference which analyzed the progress, problems and prospects of renewable energy development in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. I had the pleasure of being joined by technical specialists and representatives from both countries’ governments and the World Bank. I would especially like to highlight the contributions of our dear friend, Julián Despradel, whose work as the Coordinator of the Projects Division, in the Renewable Energies and Energy Efficiency Department of the Dominican Republic, I greatly admire.

Dominican Republic Wind Resource Assessment at 80 meters (Source: 3TIER).

I used my opportunity to speak to introduce a few insights contained in our solar and wind power roadmap for the Dominican Republic; the roadmap will be officially launched in November in Santo Domingo. While not without its challenges, the Dominican Republic has tremendous potential to exploit its rich solar and wind resources. Average Global Horizontal Irradiance (GHI, a measure of solar radiation potential applicable to solar photovoltaic technologies) across the country ranges from 210 to 250 watts per square meter, a figure comparable to the American Southwest and superior to those of the Mediterranean coast and East Asia, where solar power penetration is currently highest globally. While solar potential is greatest in the country’s southwest, the two most populated cities, Santo Domingo and Santiago, also compare strongly with global averages. The country’s west has demonstrable wind energy potential; our study identified six provinces and 78 sites that are particularly promising.

Global Horizontal Irradiance in Santo Domingo (Source: 3TIER).

Inefficiencies in the current national grid necessitate investment to improve its reach and capacity, and to curtail transmission and distribution losses. However, the declining costs of both wind and solar technologies make the promotion of decentralized energy generation particularly attractive. Many private homes, businesses and tourist resorts already keep backup generators. The challenge then is to create an environment that encourages the implementation of renewable technologies. The government has adopted a great framework for action (one that is “long, loud and legal”) and many positive policies. But only the full implementation and better administration of these support mechanisms will bring renewables to their full potential. Other recommendations include a one stop window for project developers and investors to reduce bureaucratic hurdles, greater outreach to the private and financial sectors to improve buy in, and the creation of new, more attractive credit lines.

I left the conference thoroughly enriched and extremely hopeful. My interactions with its many committed and forward-thinking participants give me reason to believe that the future of renewable energy in the Caribbean is more promising than ever. This is good news because there will be no sustained economic development and improvement of the quality of life for the Caribbean people without the creation of a sustainable energy system built on renewable, domestic energy production, greater efficiency and smart grid solutions. Worldwatch has posted video clips from my panel to the website: of my opening remarks, of Julián’s remarks, and of a bit of the discussion. Click through to view. I am eagerly anticipating next year’s CREF conference for another chance to discuss, debate and develop ideas with the region’s policymakers.

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Innovation of the Week: Calling for a More Secure Livelihood

By Janeen Madan

In the Tominian district of eastern Mali, farmers have to rely on the short, three-month rainy season to grow the crops they need for the rest of the year. The region’s dry season lasts up to nine months, leaving farmers vulnerable to unpredictable weather patterns.

Tominian farmers protect a shea tree seedling in their fields. (Photo credit: Sahel Eco)

But farmers are finding ways to cushion themselves from these uncertainties and ensure a steady source of income to feed and care for their families. They are selling nuts, fruits, and honey that they collect from trees in the surrounding forest. Growing trees can be more reliable than cultivating crops because they are more resistant to drought. And, they have a different growing pattern, enabling farmers to sell their products year round.

Farmers are growing a variety of fruit trees, including shea—a popular tree across the dry Sahel region that stretches from Senegal to Sudan at the southern fringe of the Sahara desert. Women farmers collect shea nuts, which they process into shea butter products, such as creams, lotions, and soap, that they sell at the local market. And, because the shea fruit ripens at the beginning of the rainy season, it is an important source of food security at a time when families may not have much to eat.

Tree Aid, a U.K.-based non-profit, is collaborating with Sahel Eco, and using cell phones to help communities advertise these forest products to potential buyers.

Farmers use their cell phones to call Sahel Eco’s local hub office with information on the type and quantity of items they want to sell. The local team based at the hub office sends this information, including the telephone number for the seller, to local radio stations and newspapers. Interested buyers are then able to contact the farmers directly on their cell phones.

Using this system, Tominian farmers are successfully connecting with small businesses in urban areas, including Mopti, and the capital Bamako. The access to technology and the ability to advertize their products, allows producers to reach a wider customer base, providing a steady and reliable source of income. This extra income helps them feed their families better, send their children to school, and pay for medical costs.

And while the Tominian area has no electricity, farmers are using solar panels to recharge their cell phones. Energy from the solar panels is also helping to run the equipment they use to process shea nuts.

And, this technology also brings another added benefit. According to Tony Hill, program support director with Tree Aid, farmers are realizing that they have an incentive to reinvest in the trees. They are planting new trees and promoting the natural regeneration of these forests, securing an important source of food and income for themselves, their families, and surrounding communities.

Do you know of other technologies that are helping farmers in developing countries? Let us know in the comments section!

Janeen Madan is a communications associate 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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Citywatch: Occupy Movement Identifies Food Movement Common Inspiration and Options

By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well-being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. 

Protesters at the recent Occupy Wall Street movement. (Photo credit: CNN)

Move over, Bill Shakespeare. The whole world is no longer just a stage, and we merely players with our entrances and exits.

Today’s world is otherwise occupied, as people in over 1000 centers around the globe play their role, take their entrances and exits around platforms, portals and places— the Three P’s of 21st century movement politics—as in Occupy Wall Street. The city-based food movement is based on many similar principles, so city officials and food advocates should take a close look and wave their jazz fingers when they see an idea that can be adapted.

In the interconnected and webbed world created by the Internet, platform-providing, rather than content-promoting, organizations have come to the fore—as in Google, Yahoo and Facebook, some of the biggest, most powerful and richest businesses in the world.

As social movements catch up, community-based power will gravitate toward organizations featuring platforms, portals and places, rather than specific content—which is why the people who lament the lack of content in various occupations are out of it. Something is happening and you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. Jones.

Platforms are about opening discussions, not closing them and about providing options not mutually exclusive options. Ours is a movement of ands, Vandana Shiva has said, and that abundant and-ness is what makes the platform format so foodworthy.

The world has been edging toward platform mentalities since 1991, when US president George Bush the Elder proclaimed a new world order, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. He didn’t identify any rising  competitors to unrivalled the global power of the US government. He certainly didn’t foresee the Internet, coincidentally emerging at the same time,  which offered abundant and shared information as a means to move toward parallel power as distinct from competing power.

A further coincidence: the 1990s is the period when the modern food movement, the last of the great social movements to take shape during the 20th century, took off—or rather, webbed off.

Most grassroots food organizations since 1991 have been platform-based, rather than content-specific. Rather than coalescing around specific pre-defined issues, organizations, they tended to serve as forums for open-ended discussion and hosts of initiatives and experiments. I’m thinking of organizations such as Community Food Security Coalition in the US, Sustain in the UK, and Food Secure Canada.

Food policy councils, the fastest-growing institution in local governments across North America – from three to 150 since the early 1990s—have all presented themselves as tables that make room for everyone—the metaphor and subject coincide nicely—thanks to portals for engagement around a wide range of collaborative projects. Just as the Internet made information sharable and abundant, so food councils made local initiatives sharable and abundant.

Despite this new platform-oriented trend among food organizations of the 1990s, most early activists, including myself, carried over our old mindsets from pre-platform days. This explains why so many of today’s food orgs are cursed with such uninspired and  non-descript names that produce no ring in the ear or mind. There’s no food organization with a name that matches the energy, catchiness or welcoming platform-style invitation of Yahoo or Google. There’s no  Chowhound, Great Eats, Come for Dinner or Real Grub. Any effort to have a name with a ring sooner or later bounds down over the need to specify food sovereignty or security or whatever. So we can all learn to loosen up and get with the program of platform organizing.

Platforms provide what York University environmental studies professor Deb Barndt calls “space” or “space for resistance”—space which need not be located in a specific location, thanks to the Internet.

When space does coincide with location, it becomes Place, which has also enjoyed an enormous boom in usage, often in conjunction with local food enthusiasms. Local food commonly refers not just to a specific negative—fewer polluting miles travelled from California to New York, for example, Local food is a positive, a place and cultural terroir and set of relationships—in a word, platform—that local food expresses.

Catching the mood, the Toronto food strategy of 2010, which I had a hand in developing, is called “Cultivating Food Connections.” It is specifically designed to ignite energy to create opportunities, rather than specific programs.

In my view, the work of the next era of new social movements will be pre-occupied (pardon the pun) with platform-construction and portal- offering rather  than content-specificity.

Community food centers are the big project of Nick Saul of Toronto’s Stop Community Food Centre. The developing Canada-wide movement for community food centers offers a platform for food-centered social development that each neighborhood will adapt to its specific needs and possibilities and spell out for itself.

Toronto’s FoodShare, which is more a hub than a food center, opens its doors to a wide range of individuals and organizations that empower people on low incomes to partner with others to to share opportunities food generosity and abundance make possible.

Likewise, Toronto-born Local Food Plus sees its big idea as certifying and promoting local and sustainable food while building “collaborative infrastructure”—relationships that bring former opposites (city and country, food producer and consumer, for example) into an endless variety of partnering relationships.

The Internet and social media have facilitated such developments over the last 20 years, at the same time that what might be loosely called “failed states” have made them necessary.

Failed states was originally coined by US diplomats to refer to countries where the state lost its monopoly over coercion and control to the likes of terrorist or gangsterish groups. Noam Chomsky and others have successfully turned the term back on the policy establishment of wealthy nations.

To my mind, wealthy states of Europe and North America have proven themselves incapable of using their monopoly over coercion and control to assert public interest regulation over bankers and other profiteers. Nor can they use their command of legislation, wealth and power to respond to such obvious, fundamental and compelling hazards as global warming, child obesity, global hunger or youth unemployment.

Leaving aside bailouts for bankers and others among the world’s “one per cent” of super-sized wealth,  governments of the world subsidized the fossil fuel industry last year to the tune of $409 billion, according to the United Nations International Energy Agency. Such astonishing commitments of public money are not mere inactions in the face of global warming. They are strident actions that subsidize global warming. If such is not the  behavior of failed states, what is?

The Occupy movement is just the platform needed to promote public discussion on such matters. Those with a taste for action as well as talk might think of developing local food-based platforms, portals and places where such matters can be discussed around the table over a meal.

To purchase 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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As Global Population Surpasses 7 Billion, Two Clear Strategies for a Sustainable Future

As the global population surpasses 7 billion people sometime around the end of October, addressing the challenges associated with a still-growing world population will require a two-pronged response. The combined measures of empowering women to make their own decisions about childbearing and significantly reducing global consumption of energy and natural resources would move humanity toward rather than further away from environmentally sustainable societies that meet human needs.

A two-pronged effort is necessary to address the challenges that a growing population will bring. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Roughly 4.5 billion people have been added to the world population in just the last 60 years, according to United Nations estimates, putting increased strain on the world’s ecosystems and resources. Because humans interact with their surroundings far more intensely than any other species and use vast amounts of carbon, nitrogen, water, and other resources, we are on track not only to change the global climate and deplete essential energy and other natural resources, but to wipe out thousands of plant and animal species in the coming decades. To some extent, these outcomes are now unavoidable; we’ll have to adapt to them. But in order to improve the likelihood they will not be catastrophic, we need to simultaneously work to influence the future path of population and to address the environmental and social impacts that continued population growth will have.

Earlier this year, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched 7 Billion Actions, a campaign to highlight positive actions by individuals and organizations addressing global development challenges. By sharing these innovations in an open forum, the campaign aims to foster communication and collaboration as the planet becomes more populated and increasingly interdependent.

Addressing global population growth is not the same thing as ‘controlling population’. The most direct and immediate way to lower birth rates is to make sure that as high a proportion as possible of pregnancies are intended, by assuring that women can make their own choices about whether and when to bear a child. Simultaneously, we need to rapidly transform our energy, water, and materials consumption through greater use of conservation, efficiency, and green technologies. We shouldn’t think of these as sequential efforts—dealing with consumption first, then waiting for population dynamics to turn around—but rather as simultaneous tasks on multiple fronts.

Worldwatch recommends two main approaches to mitigate the impacts of a soaring global population:

Empower women to make their own decisions about childbearing. More than two in five pregnancies worldwide are unintended by the women who experience them, and half or more of these pregnancies result in births that spur continued population growth. Engelman has calculated that if all women had the capacity to decide for themselves when to become pregnant, average global childbearing would immediately fall below the “replacement fertility” value of slightly more than two children per woman. Population would then move onto a path leading to a peak followed by a gradual decline, possibly well before 2050. Women must be able to make their own decisions about childbearing free from fear of coercion or pressure from partners, family, and society. And they must have easy access to a range of safe, effective, and affordable contraceptive methods and the information and counseling needed to use them.

Consume fewer resources and waste less food. Humans appropriate anywhere from 24 percent to nearly 40 percent of the photosynthetic output of the planet for food and other purposes, and more than half of the planet’s accessible renewable freshwater runoff. In addition to overuse of finite resources, humans waste large quantities of food every year. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, industrialized countries waste 222 million tons of food annually. If fewer resources and less food were wasted, the world would be able to feed more people and use fewer resources. With nearly 1 billon hungry people worldwide, wasting less food would also mean utilizing existing resources—not new ones—to feed them.

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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