Agriculture, the Solution

Check out Nourishing the Planet’s latest powerpoint presentation from the recent Global Citizenship Symposium at Georgia College.

(Photo credit: Julie Carney, Gardens for Health International)

Project Director Danielle Nierenberg outlines the connection between sustainable agriculture and public health. She discusses agricultural initiatives that are cutting down on food waste, while producing nutritious food, such as hermetically sealed bags, which are helping to improve global health, while protecting the environment.

Click here to view the presentation.

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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Weighing Options for Haiti’s Energy Future: Is Jatropha a Realistic Alternative?

As discussed in a previous blog, Haiti remains largely dependent on charcoal and fuelwood for its energy services. This reliance has contributed to Haiti’s remarkable level of deforestation – only three percent of its original forest cover remains – and has led the government to begin considering energy alternatives. Previously, I described the costs and benefits of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and other energy alternatives like efficient cookstoves and waste paper briquettes. Below is an examination of another energy source that has gained some footing in Haiti recently: the jatropha tree.

Jatropha seedlings at a pilot project in Haiti (Source: Chibas).

The jatropha tree can grow in arid climates with poor soil quality, making it very suitable for a country like Haiti that has largely deforested and degraded lands. One study estimates that 1.114 million hectares of jatropha production could meet Haiti’s entire energy demand, and since 500,000 hectares of degraded hillside are available for jatropha production in Haiti, it could realistically replace much of the country’s current charcoal consumption without displacing food crops.

Jatropha could prove to be a useful crop, especially in the Haitian context, because of its diverse services. In terms of the electricity and transportation sectors, with some processing, jatropha oil can be blended into biodiesel and used for power generation or fueling cars. Unprocessed jatropha vegetable oil could also be used to fuel kerosene lamps and could even power households or small community electricity generators with little to no alterations.

Vegetable oil straight from the jatropha tree can also be used to replace charcoal or fuelwood, though this would require many Haitians to switch from traditional wood cookstoves to vegetable oil-fueled cookstoves, which was unpopular in a jatropha pilot project in Tanzania. Not to be forgotten, the fruit shells and hulls from the jatropha tree could be made into briquettes and used as a replacement for charcoal. The major benefit to briquettes is that they would require little to no alteration to Haiti’s traditional cookstoves.

Besides providing energy services, parts of the jatropha tree can be used to produce fertilizer, honey, and soap. Another exciting development being pursued by researchers in Haiti is the use of jatropha as feed for livestock. Although many strands of jatropha are toxic, livestock in Mexico already feed on varieties of the plant.

One lesson learned from a jatropha pilot project in Mali was that the value additions of jatropha production, such as using it for soap or fertilizer, are important to the project’s ultimate success. For Haiti, which lacks significant levels of domestic industry, these value additions could be very important to economic development, and should not be ignored if Haiti pursues jatropha for its cooking, electricity generation, and transportation services.

There are many challenges to developing jatropha, however. Food security is a major issue in Haiti, and as with any biofuel development, there is a risk of jatropha supplanting necessary food crops. This can be avoided, though, if Haiti manages jatropha development carefully and plants the trees in areas that are not suitable for food crops. This is realistic considering that jatropha can survive in arid and nutrient-poor regions. Also, when jatropha leaves fall to the ground, they add much-needed macro-nutrients (such as nitrogen) and micro-nutrients (such as iron and manganese) to the soil. Therefore, if jatropha is planted in nutrient-poor areas, it can actually improve the soil’s fertility and arguably increase Haiti’s food security.

Another challenge is that jatropha trees take five to seven years to mature, with estimates suggesting that it will take three years for Haitian farmers to break even on costs. Since most farmers lack access to capital and because there is a dearth of Haitian institutions to provide credible loans, high upfront costs and delayed revenue streams could present a significant challenge to jatropha development.

The non-existence of bio-energy legislation in Haiti also presents an obstacle. Potential investors worry about this lack of legislation, which creates uncertainty and reduced security for investments. With bio-energy legislation, businesses and non-governmental organizations involved in jatropha production would be given a uniform framework through which to operate, easing the worries of potential investors.

Experiences in India also highlight concerns about land ownership in relation to jatropha. When wastelands (such as deforested lands) are reclaimed and converted into profitable pieces of land through government sponsored programs, land tenure rights and ownership can become uncertain. Haiti’s government will need to pass legislation on finance, land rights, and other issues to build the governance structure necessary to achieve many of its development goals, including clean energy access.

Despite these challenges, jatropha development could provide Haiti with many benefits. Environmentally speaking, planting jatropha trees in deforested hillsides would help to reforest the nation and combat erosion. Decreasing erosion would improve water quality and mitigate flooding risks. Because jatropha trees can also improve soil quality, food crops can be grown around them, increasing Haiti’s food security. Moreover, if toxic varieties of jatropha are grown near valuable food crops, they too can increase food security by keeping livestock like goats away.

It is estimated that one job is created for every two hectares of jatropha planted. Most of these jobs are in agriculture, which is important since Haiti has such a large rural population. Furthermore, if the jatropha industry were to partially replace the charcoal industry, it would need to generate jobs for these communities to offset the lost charcoal jobs. In addition to generating new jobs, jatropha production could enable rural farmers to enter new markets. Currently, Haiti needs to import much of its livestock feed, which is too expensive for many rural farmers and acts as a barrier to their entering the market.  Locally-produced jatropha could reduce feed costs and allow more Haitians to raise livestock.

Experiences in Mali highlight four major qualities that can drive jatropha development within a country: 1) high transportation costs due to poor road infrastructure and remoteness, 2) large amounts of wastelands unfit for food crops, 3) an abundance of available labor, and 4) a high dependency on expensive fossil fuels. Today, all four of these qualities are prevalent throughout Haiti, demonstrating why Haiti should consider jatropha when formulating its future energy policy.

In this series of blogs, Worldwatch aims to provide a discussion of the current options available to Haiti and to guide policymaking through informed, independent analysis. Please stay tuned!

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Running the Numbers II: One Artist Brings Hunger Statistics to Life

By Kamaria Greenfield

Chris Jordan is an acclaimed digital photography artist whose previous collections have included pieces such as Toothpicks, which depicts in toothpicks the annual number of trees cut down to make junk mail. In 2009, he embarked upon a new project called “Running the Numbers II: portraits of global mass culture.” Every piece in this collection is a digital image, some replicas of very well-known paintings or graphics.

Chris Jordan's modern art includes important societal messages that are hidden until the viewer gets very close. (Photo credit: PBS) Chris Jordan's modern art includes important societal messages that are hidden until the viewer gets very close. (Photo credit: PBS)

Closer inspection of Jordan’s work reveals the powerful social message. On first glance, Maya, created in 2011, depicts a brown-and-white circular Mayan artifact. But by moving closer to the art piece in real life (or by clicking the online image to zoom in), the viewer realizes that the tiny flecks of color are plant seeds—92,500 seeds, to be exact. The caption on Jordan’s site informs the viewer that the number is “equal to one hundredth of one percent of the number of people in the world today who suffer from malnutrition. To illustrate the entire statistic with 925 million seeds would require ten thousand prints of this image, covering more than eight football fields.” The larger version of Maya measures 5×5’. Other equally riveting works include a replica of Van Gogh’s Starry Night fashioned from 50,000 cigarette lighters, and John Sibbick’s famous charging T. rex composed of 240,000 plastic bags.

Every piece in Running the Numbers II was created to illustrate issues affecting the world.  Jordan acknowledges his dual role as artist and activist, saying that when viewed at first, his images are “like something else, maybe totally boring pieces of modern art. On closer view, the visitor has an almost unpleasant experience with the artwork. It’s almost a magic trick; inviting people to a conversation that they didn’t want to have in the first place. One visitor recently compared me to a ‘sleight-of-hands-magician’ that makes people face up to a difficult truth, I quite liked that.”

Jordan has not discussed future projects, but hopes that people will become conscious of the disconnect that exists between them and the happenings of the world—and work together to fix it.

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

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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Occupy our Food Supply

On February 27th, people around the world will be coming together for a global day of action to take back the food supply from corporations like Cargill and Monsanto.

Image credit: Rainforest Action Network

Prominent food leaders, farmers, and activists—including Navdanya founder, Vandana Shiva; author of What to EatMarion Nestle; and co-founder of the Small Planet FundAnna Lappé—will be adding their voices in support of sustainable farming and food justice for all.

Please click here for more information on how you can participate in the movement.

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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New York Times Discusses Farm Bill

The 2012 Farm Bill, which is currently being discussed in the U.S. Congress, is also being debated by many experts in the field.

Photo credit: TIME Magazine

Among the topics being talked about by lawmakers, farmers, and consumers are the continuation of government subsidies for commodity crops like soy and corn, and the role the government should play to tackle unhealthy diets, global hunger, and ineffective nutritional assistance programs,

Click here to follow the New York Times online debate on the Farm Bill.

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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Changing the Way We Eat: Thinking of Soil as More Than Just “Dirt”

On January 21st, TEDxManhattan featured a series of speakers with backgrounds in food and farming who shared their knowledge and expertise with thousands of audience members watching either in-person from seats at the event or virtually from around the world.

Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights a TEDxManhattan talk by Fred Kirschenmann, who discusses the importance of soil in our food production system.

In his talk, “Soil: From Dirt to Lifeline,” Kirschenmann notes that while we tend to think of soil simply as “dirt,” it is in fact a “vibrant living community” that we should instead learn to value as a precious resource. Our large-scale food production system currently uses many techniques that diminish soil quality and quantity, but Kirschenmann discusses several alternatives that are both more productive and better for the soil and the environment.

Click here to watch Kirschenmann and other TEDxManhattan 2012 speakers.

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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Weighing Options for Haiti’s Energy Future: Is Centralized Power Generation Really the Only Way Forward?

A World Bank report concludes that liquified natural gas is the least-cost option for powering Haiti by 2028, but notes that renewable energy sources may also be cost effective.

Less than 30 percent of Haiti's population has access to electricity © Worldwatch

What options are available for Haiti’s energy future? The office of the country’s new State Secretary for Energy is weighing the available options for energy supply and beginning consultations to plan the next steps for Haiti’s power sector. In doing so, decision makers should consider not only the short-term technical and economic costs, but also the long-term environmental and social costs and benefits for Haiti’s population.

A March 2011 report, commissioned to Nexant by the World Bank and the Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility, a multi-donor technical assistance facility, explores future electricity supply options for the Caribbean region. For Haiti, the Nexant analysis presents three scenarios and concludes that liquified natural gas (LNG) is the cheapest fuel option at nearly all capacity factors. (See table.) The report also notes that renewable energy technologies such as wind power and hydropower are economically viable in the country through 2028.

Scenarios for Haiti’s Power Supply, 2009–2028



Added Capacity by 2028


Import Infrastructure

Savings over Base Case Scenario

Base Case Scenario

540 MW

20 MW low-speed diesel (LSD) units (27 in total)


Fuel Scenario

540 MW

Liquified natural gas (LNG)

Imported through an LNG terminal in 2014

US$433 million

Interconnection Renewable Scenario

540 MW, including

81 MW wind

20 MW LSD units; 81 MW wind

US$76 million

“Comprehensive integrated”

540 MW, plus 81 MW wind


81 MW wind

Imported through an LNG terminal in 2014

US$476 million

Importing power from the Dominican Republic (DR) via landline

Heavy fuel oil or LNG

Building a 563 km transmission line between Port au Prince and Santo Domingo, US$242 million

Net savings US$235 million (increases costs for DR by US$322 million, decreases costs for Haiti by US$556 million).


Source: Nexant, 2011

All three scenarios recommend a centralized power-generation model, fueled by large imports of fossil fuels in response to a forecasted surge in domestic demand. Nexant projects that Haiti’s power demand will increase 5 percent annually from 2009 to 2028, due largely to population growth and to an increase in average consumption per capita. This translates into a more than doubling of net peak demand between 2009 and 2028, from 226 megawatts to 570 megawatts.

The report lays out three main options for Haiti to switch its dominant fuel source from diesel to a combination of liquified natural gas, wind, and diesel. In two of the scenarios, developing LNG in Haiti would require building an LNG import terminal to fuel new natural gas power plants. Electricity would then be generated at a few relatively large power plants and distributed throughout the country.

Although large and centralized power plants have often been viewed as the “gold standard” for electrification, due mainly to their cheaper generation costs per kilowatt-hour, there are barriers to their development in Haiti. A significant reliance on LNG and a few large generating plants would require building a centralized grid, an infrastructure project that would be both economically and logistically difficult to accomplish in Haiti.

Although the Nexant report provides useful first insights into the mix of power-generation options available for Haiti, the model falls short of giving a fully robust analysis. Policymakers should be aware of these limitations when interpreting the results of the study and making future energy plans.

For one, the analysis is based mainly on economic and technical comparisons of fuels, renewable energy technologies, and interconnections. It recognizes but does not quantify the political, institutional, regulatory, or financial risks associated with each option, even though these factors will affect a project’s feasibility in the long run. Issues like energy security (dependence on foreign fuels as well as the security of the fuel supply), environmental impacts, and potential technological and political risks may present real obstacles to implementation of any of the analyzed scenarios.

The relatively small size of Haiti’s power market, for example, would necessitate a smaller LNG import facility. The report acknowledges that there is little global experience with building small LNG terminals or a barge, which means that the technology used to ship LNG to Haiti would still be at its demonstration stage. Even though this would be a major limiting factor, the report fails to provide a quantitative assessment of its impact.

In another methodological limitation, the report examines only large-scale and grid-connected systems and ignores the economics or viability of “distributed generation” systems in Haiti. This is a major shortcoming, as the country lacks a national grid to connect rural regions—home to a majority of the un-electrified population—to the proposed large-scale power plants. A centralized generation model would require massive investments in the grid. Yet Haiti’s government and private sector currently lack upfront capital for grid extension, and the state-owned utility Electricite d’Haiti (EDH) is already suffering from a US$219 million annual net deficit caused mainly by transmission and distribution losses.

With household budgets too small to pay for the full cost of recovering interconnection fees and tariffs, alternative solutions are needed. A recent study by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) shows that for typical rural households that use (on average) 2–5 lights, a television, a radio, and a cell phone, power generated by small, distributed alternatives to grid-power is often sufficient. According to the study, off-grid electrification is frequently the most cost-effective solution for un-electrified users in least-developed countries who live more than 5 kilometers from a small town or an existing low-voltage grid.

In the case of Haiti, distributed generation options offer the significant advantage of locating power consumption close to supply, thus reducing transmission and distribution losses, which are as high as 51 percent. Rural electric cooperatives are another cost-effective and socially beneficial option, as demonstrated by past experiences in developed countries (such as the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, or NRECA, in the United States) and in developing countries. By increasing community ownership of the project, such approaches can also help fight electricity theft.

Haiti’s people and government currently face multiple challenges in the energy sector. The January 2010 earthquake damaged the country’s already-fragile power generation and transmission infrastructure, adding to the gravity of an already precarious situation. Yet the country now has a significant opportunity to plan its energy future for the next few decades; at this critical time, it is important that all options—including distributed and renewable energy sources—be considered.

In this series of blogs, Worldwatch aims to provide a discussion of the current options available to Haiti and to guide policymaking through informed, independent analysis. Please stay tuned!



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Food Fasting for a Cause: Ash Wednesday

By Ronica Lu

According to a study by the United Nations World Food Program, over one third of the food produced for human consumption is wasted, mostly in developed countries. The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA) is leading an Ash Wednesday food fast campaign to end the cycle of food waste. They are inviting all to participate in its “Fast for Life” campaign to reflect on consumption patterns and global food waste.

The 1.3 billion tons of food thrown away each year by wealthy nations would be enough to feed the 1 billion who go hungry. (Photo credit:

The Lenten season this year starts with Ash Wednesday on February 22nd. On Ash Wednesday and during Lent, the EAA is encouraging consumers to find ways to increase their awareness and take action in changing the ways they buy and consume food.

One way to avoid wasted food is to be aware of the different food labels and what they mean: Sell By,” for example, is more of a guide for the store or seller than consumers, letting stores know how long they can display products for sale; “Best Before” or “Best if Used By,” refers to how the quality or flavor of the food is affected the longer it sits on store shelves; and “Use By” or “Expiration Date”  indicates that eating or consuming the food after the date is not recommended

In addition, EAA is encouraging to consumers to consider doing the following:

  • A food fast on February 22 to show solidarity and commitment for a more efficient food production system and consumption patterns.
  • Create a “waste tracker” sheet for consumers to post on refrigerators, helping them keep track of how much food is thrown away each day. At the end of each week, EAA encourages consumers to evaluate the amount of food wasted and consider alternatives, including composting.
  • Revise weekly shopping lists. For many consumers, their eyes are bigger than their stomachs. EAA encourages shoppers to think of what they already have at home and how it can be used, before going to the store to get more food.
  • Teach friends, family and the community how to make ‘recipes from waste’ at school groups or local functions.
  • Be a vehicle of knowledge to teach people the difference between sell by date, best before, and expiration date labels.
  • Pick up discarded packaged food and produce from your local grocer and host a “Cooking from Scraps” night at a community center or club.
  • Host a cooking competition with local chefs and restaurants to see what creative dishes can be made with food leftovers.
  • Support farmer cooperatives to help smallholder farmers with their marketing, efficiency, grant money, and financial fundraising.
  • Spark a discussion with local or state government representatives to advocate for infrastructure and transportation changes for better waste management.

Do you have any ideas of your own to curb food waste on Ash Wednesday or the Lenten season?  Use your creativity in adapting them to your local community or special situation!

Ronica Lu is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To read more about reducing our food waste visit: Love Food Hate Waste, London Chefs Campaign to Reduce Food Waste, and 10 Tips for Eliminating Food Waste.

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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Looking for Borlaug Field Award Nominations

The World Food Prize is currently looking for nominations for its first annual Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application.

The World Food Prize is currently looking for nominations for its first annual Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application. (Photo credit: World Food Prize)

This award aims to recognize exceptional, science-based achievement in international agriculture and food production by an individual under 40 who has devoted time, effort and stamina towards the fight to eliminate global hunger and poverty.

Nominations for the award will be accepted online through June 30. The chosen recipient will be honored during a ceremony as part of the World Food Prize international symposium, the “Borlaug Dialogue,” and related events taking place October 17-19, 2012, in Des Moines, Iowa.

If you know someone who should be nominated for this award, please click here for more details.

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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Five Agricultural Innovations to Improve Biodiversity

By Graham Salinger

According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a quarter of the world’s known plant species—some 60,000 to 100,000 species—are threatened with extinction. And even though plants may not receive as much attention as endangered animals, they are essential. Among their many attributes, plants are a vital source of food, they can help stabilize the climate, and they also provide shelter, medicines, and fuel.

Seeds of diversity; seed banks are one innovation that helps increase biodiversity. (Photo credit: GREEN Foundation)

Today, Nourishing the Planet introduces five agricultural innovations to improve biodiversity and protect these important providers.  

1. Seed banks:  Seed banks help preserve seed varieties, while protecting against famine and disease. Storing seed varieties in seed banks helps protect farmers from seed loss while reducing their overreliance on monoculture crops that makes agricultural economies vulnerable to price shocks.

Seed Banks in action: In Norway, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault protects thousands of seeds that farmers in developing countries can rely on to help re-harvest crops that have been affected by disease, climate, or conflict. And in Karnataka, India, community seeds banks are open to any member of the community as long as they don’t use pesticides or chemical fertilizers when farming.

2. Permaculture:  Designing a farm based on the principles of permaculture helps increase biodiversity. Permaculture refers to designing land to take advantage of natural ecological processes by integrating a variety of crops, animals, and pests into one farming system.

Permaculture in action:  In Lilongwe , Malawi,  Stacia and Kristof Nordin have developed a permaculture project that teaches farmers about methods to  incorporate composting, water harvesting, and intercropping to help build organic matter in soils while conserving biodiversity. In Botswana , the Mokolodi Wildlife Reserve teaches students and the community about conserving and protecting wildlife in a way that is in harmony with an agricultural system that helps produce spinach, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, green peppers, garlic, basil, parsley, coriander, and other crops. Students come to learn how to grow nutritious food as well as how to protect their native wildlife.

3. Cultivating indigenous cropsAs a result of the Green Revolution many countries started relying on growing western crops, such as maize, instead of local crops. To help increase biodiversity, farmers are going back to their roots and growing more indigenous vegetables, fruits, and grains.

Cultivate indigenous crops in action:  In South Africa, Richard Haigh discovered that by cultivating more indigenous crops he was able to improve biodiversity on his farm. His 23 acre farm saw higher yields than ever before when he started integrating indigenous vegetables, fruits, and livestock into his production. And in Tanzania, farmers learned that growing native trees not only helped improve soil fertility but also helped to increase biodiversity. The tree planting project was part of a strategy implemented by CARE International’s Equitable Payment for Watershed Management that aimed at improving ecological farming methods in the region.

4. Protecting indigenous livestock breeds: The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns that around 1,710 breeds of livestock—21 percent—are at risk of extinction worldwide. Indigenous livestock are often better suited to local conditions and are better at resisting pests and disease than exotic breeds.

Protecting indigenous livestock in action: In Uganda, cattle herders have learned about the benefits of raising indigenous cattle and started introducing local breeds into national parks for grazing. This helps raise healthier animals while also increasing the health of local eco-systems through the use of the cattle’s manure.

5.  Crop Breeding : Breeding crops that are resistant to pests and diseases and better adapted to drought or flooding can help make sure that many crops don’t  disappear.  In some parts of Africa, if a disease strikes wheat before breeders are able to make a strand that is disease resistant, for example, as much as 80 percent of the breed can be lost.

Crop breeding in action: The FAO’s Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building works to introduce biotechnologies to developing countries, train farmers in breeding practices, and develop national breeding strategies for target countries. The Global Crop Diversity Trust, whose executive director Cary Fowler is an adviser to Nourishing The Planet, focuses on increasing biodiversity through an endowment that funds projects aimed at crop diversity. The trust, working with the FAO, helps fund pre-breeding programs that help farmers identify which traits are useful to improving crop resistance to disease and pests.

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

To read more about the importance of preserving biodiversity, see: USDA Genetic Resource Database Expands Opportunities to Conserve Global BiodiversityAfrican Biodiversity Network: Sowing Seeds for Grassroots ResilienceInnovation of the Week: Banking Today to Conserve Plants for the Future, and Who’s Counting?

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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