Archive for the ‘agroforestry’ Category

Sep22

Innovation of the Week: A Low-Cost Composting Toilet

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By Sarah Alvarez

Across the Asia-Pacific region, millions of people have inadequate access to sustainable sanitation infrastructure—in other words, they don’t have a safe and sanitary place to go to the bathroom. In the Philippines alone, 28 million people do not have access to the sanitation services needed to prevent contamination and disease. As a result, millions of people suffer from preventable diseases like dysentery.

Low-cost composting toilets can improve sanitation in less developed areas. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The Water, Agroforestry, Nutrition and Development Foundation (WAND), a Philippine-based organization focused on eco-based solutions to human development challenges, has developed a low-cost composting toilet called Ecosan (Ecological Sanitation) that uses local materials to minimize water contamination and create fertilizers from human waste.

The WAND Foundation has developed several dry composting toilet models, some of which were recognized at the 2011 Tech Awards at Santa Clara University. At the conference, Cora Zayas-Sayre, executive director of the WAND Foundation, explained that by using local materials, the organization has been able to build 275 toilets at a cost of US$30 per toilet. She added that this innovation has already impacted the lives of 3,000 people.

This innovation simultaneously addresses two challenges that prevail in developing countries: the unsustainable and costly use of water-sealed toilets, and the hygienic management of human waste. Water-sealed toilets require pumping mechanisms to transport water and sewage between 300 and 500 meters away from the home, a method that is economically and environmentally unsustainable. Inadequate management of human waste can lead to a host of health problems in developing areas, and dramatically impact quality of life.

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Jan28

“The Man Who Stopped the Desert”: What Yacouba Did Next

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By Devon Ericksen

In the documentary film, “The Man Who Stopped the Desert,” a farmer named Yacouba Sawadogo struggles to maintain his livelihood in the increasingly harsh land of northern Burkina Faso. Part of Africa’s semi-arid Sahel region, Burkina Faso has suffered from desertification as over-farming, overgrazing, and overpopulation resulted in heavy soil erosion and drying. Desertification has affected many countries in the Sahel, including Senegal, Mali, Niger, and Chad.

Yacouba Sawadogo has worked for more than 30 years to reverse desertification in the Sahel. (Photo credit: 1080 Film)

In 1980, Yacouba decided to fight the desert’s spread by reviving an ancient farming technique called zai, which led to forest growth and increased soil quality. Zai is a very simple and low-cost method, involving using a shovel or axe to break up the ground and dig small holes, which are then filled with compost and planted with seeds of trees, millet, or sorghum. The holes or pits catch water during the rainy season and, when filled with compost, retain moisture and nutrients through the dry season.

Yacouba’s story attracted international attention when Mark Dodd of 1080 Films created the documentary in 2010, and the African farmer has since told his story around the world, including at an October 2012 United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) meeting in South Korea. 1080 Films recently released a short follow-up film about Yacouba’s life since the original film, called “What Yacouba Did Next…,” describing what Yacouba has done since the film’s release and giving an idea of the respect he has received from the international community.

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Nov14

Five Rainforest Ecosystem Services that Nourish People and the Planet

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By Ioulia Fenton

From wetlands to coral reefs, the Earth’s diverse ecosystems support and regulate many of the planet’s most critical natural processes. They also contribute important cultural, social, and economic benefits to human communities. These contributions, known more broadly as “ecosystem services,” are estimated to be worth trillions of dollars per year.

Rainforests provide vital ecosystem services that sustain all life on Earth. (Photo credit: National Geographic)

The world’s rainforest ecosystem services—such as increased rainfall, soil stability, and a regulated climate—are integral to the successful production of food in many parts of the world. Rainforests in the Amazon and the Congo, for example, support rainfall in key, surrounding agricultural areas.

Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights five ecosystem services that rainforests provide to people and the planet:

1. Nutrient cycling and soil formation. According to the Rainforest Conservation Fund, many of the world’s tropical rainforests live “on the edge,” meaning that they receive very few nutrient inputs from the outside and must produce most nutrients themselves. When left intact, a rainforest acts as a closed-loop system, recycling the nutrients it has created; without tree cover, however, these nutrients would be lost and the forest would not survive.

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Sep12

Citywatch: Forest Gardens in Honduras Make the Best of Two Worlds

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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. Click here to read more from Wayne.

Forest gardens are a great way to both produce food and mitigate climate change (Photo Credit: Veganic Agriculture Network)

Yorito, Honduras. The drought parching harvests in several of the world’s most productive food baskets is the summer’s hottest global food story. Eerily, it’s matched by the season’s hottest archeological finding, which comes across as a cautionary tale.

Benjamin Cook, who sifts through mountains of computerized data rather than dusting off shards of pottery like old-fashioned archeologists, developed a climate model that explains one of the great mysteries of Western hemisphere history — the sudden collapse of the advanced and mighty Mayan Empire roughly 1300 years ago.

Turns out that drought, human-caused drought, was the culprit that made Central America, home base for the Mayans, uninhabitable. The Mayans chopped down forests both to clear land for farming maize (corn) and to burn timber used to convert limestone into building blocks for Mayan temples, much like energy-intense process used to make today’s cement.

Once the region lost its dark forest canopy that previously absorbed the sun’s rays, the heat bounced back into the atmosphere, thereby evaporating clouds that once dropped rain needed to feed the first empire entirely dependent on a food supply centered around corn. History seems to be repeating itself, for the second of the western hemisphere’s great empires is entirely dependent on a food supply centered around corn and an energy system bent on deforestation.

But what I saw in Honduras confirms there is life after plantation-style fields of corn. It just takes a complete rethink of the standard polarization so common in “Western” thinking, which holds that forests need to be cleared into fields before they will be capable of producing agriculture and civilization.

The continued holding power of that myth influences today’s urban forestry ethic, which promotes city trees as ways to bring nature back to the city and provide pleasing and calming environments that improve air quality and boost mental health. But a new generation of city tree boosters see orchards and forests as ways to grow food, not just an escape from the Civilization Blues.

What I saw among the Indigenous peoples in Yorito and its surrounding mountain ranges certainly confirms the view that forest gardens have what it takes to provide food, as well as other benefits.

Of course, Honduras has some obvious advantages when it comes to food production. Aside from a tropical climate, it’s classified as a “center of origin” for many of the world’s major food crops, such as   corn. It enjoys plenty of genetic diversity of its own, as well as imports from other tropical colonies controlled by Spanish conquerors of Central America.

If Yorito, where I was based, gets on the tourist map for forest gardens, it will be the first time Yorito gets on the tourist map. The village is about a three-hour drive north on paved road from the capital city. The nearby mountain villages we visited every day are another two-hour lurching jeep drive over rib-crunching dirt and gravel roads (Note to self—never underestimate the value of high-quality country roads again).

We ate our morning and evening meals in the living room of Nelba Velasquez, one of Yorito’s leading micro-entrepreneurs, who started a water purification plant staffed by young single moms, as well as a landscape shop and forest garden in her own quarter-acre yard. Much of the food in the restaurant comes from the garden. Like many people in town, she grows beans and squash on raised beds and hosts a number of chickens, who live up to the free in free range.

The first thing I notice is that the temperature in her forest garden drops about five degrees, partly thanks to shade and partly due to the evaporation of cool water from broad-leafed trees. Nelba says she sometimes comes here for a cool afternoon snooze in a hammock tied between two trees – the latest must-have in forest gardening.

Here in one overgrown parcel of a quarter acre lot, I see a beautiful and scrumptious answer to climate chaos, hunger, and the chronic disease pandemic created by deficiency of micronutrients suffered by rich and poor alike. Nelba has been tending this garden for 26 years ago, when she bought the abandoned livestock pasture she turned into a home.

If this were a supermarket, no-one would complain about lack of choice in the produce or medicine aisles from a hundred-foot diet.

Here is my count of what fits in her backyard besides a hammock, a clothes line, a baking oven for bread, a catchment basin for rainwater, two heaps of Japanese-style super-powered compost called Bokachi, a woodpile, a raised bed garden for vegetables, and a showroom for landscape plants: four avocado trees, two of two different kinds of guava trees, a papaya tree, a mandarin orange and lemon tree, a tree bearing yellow Nanci berries for juice, a plum, 60 coffee plants, a tamarind and an allspice tree, with sweet grass (for Thai soup and tea), balladania (a herbal that soothes anxiety), allspice and passion fruit hanging out of the fence lining her neighbor’s property.  Did I almost forget ten varieties of banana?

The entire garden is organic and requires no plowing, which keeps all the carbon stored by trees and in the soil intact, a powerful measure to mitigate global warming.

Nelba puts the diversity down to a personality quirk. “I always want to diversify everything. My hands are in everything,” Nelba tells me after our tour.

Aside from running the water purification plant next door one day a week, Nelba is also on the local public health board and is treasurer of her local “cial,” which promotes seed diversity as a tool of empowerment for low-income communities. Forest gardens are sprouting among the hilltops dominated by beans and corn, wherever cial chapters flourish.

I believe these kinds of forest gardens are becoming the next new thing in North America’s local food movement. Earlier this summer, Seattle claimed to have North America’s first, only to be jumped on by a score of cities and towns claiming they were first. The nice thing is that edible forest gardens don’t have to compete with trees grown for beauty, shade and animal habitat. Forests are all-inclusive presences.

We don’t need a prophet to lead us out of the wilderness, my solar engineer friend Greg Allen likes to say. We need a prophet to lead us back. Food production can be part of that restoration.

Wayne Roberts is on the board of Unitarian Service Committee of Canada-Seeds of Survival, which funds “cials” in Honduras, and he toured Honduras as one of their delegation.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Aug10

“Living with the Trees of Life:” Innovative Solutions to Solve the Food Crisis

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By Katie Spoden

Dr. Roger Leakey, an expert in tropical agroforestry, recently published a new book titled, Living with the Trees of Life, Towards the Transformation of Tropical Agriculture. A mixture of personal narrative and scientific research, Living with the Trees of Life presents a roadmap of simple and inexpensive solutions to hunger and poverty. The world’s population will reach 9 billion by 2050; with 1 billion people currently malnourished and another billion overweight or obese, the global system of food production would benefit from solutions like the ones proposed by Dr. Leakey.

Living with the Trees of Life: Towards the Transformation of Tropical Agriculture, a book written by Dr. Roger Leakey, explores the evolution of agroforestry and the possibility to use trees to nourish the planet. (Photo credit: Centre for Environmental Living & Training)

In his book, Dr. Leakey explores a particularly promising innovation—agroforestry. Agroforestry consists of a wide range of practices that integrate trees in farming systems.

Agroforestry is already practiced around the globe. In the mountains of Costa Rica, trees are used as living fences. Live trees replace their dead wood counterparts to serve as shade for livestock and increase biodiversity. In the mountainous area between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, a nonprofit environmental organization began the Tree Bank to encourage local farmers to participate in conservation practices to restore native forests, while cultivating shade-grown coffee exclusively grown by farmers involved with the program. And in Jamaica, Trees That Feed is reforesting areas with trees that produce edible fruit, primarily breadfruit. Breadfruit trees provide both a nutritious potato-like product and provide economic opportunity through the production and sale of breadfruit flour.

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Aug08

The Tree Bank: Forest Restoration as Rural Development

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By Angela Kim

Based in the mountain area of Los Cerezos, between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the Tree Bank/Hispaniola project is helping to improve the incomes of impoverished smallholder farmers and restore native forests in the region. Earth Sangha, a nonprofit Buddhist environmental organization committed to forest conservation, started the Tree Bank in 2006 and recently launched its blog series called First-Hand, following the project’s work with local farmers in the Dominican Republic-Haiti border.

The Tree Bank/Hispaniola works with local Dominican partner organization, the Asociación de Productores de Bosque de Los Cerezos. (Photo credit: The Tree Bank/Hispaniola)

The Tree Bank’s mission is to create a system in which tropical farming is more compatible with native forests. By encouraging local family farmers to participate in conservation practices while producing their conventional crops, the Tree Bank strives to expand the function of smallholder farming to include ecological restoration services. Currently, the Tree Bank is working with twenty small farms and five programs, including a community nursery, native tree plantings, a farm microcredit system, an agroecology model, and the Rising Forests coffee brand. The coffee is shade-grown under the forest canopy of the region and produced exclusively by farmers involved in the program. Sales may come in the form of crops such as Rising Forests coffee, carbon or biodiversity credits, and direct donations for conservation.

Matt Bright, the Tree Bank’s Coordinator and author of First-Hand, writes the blog to show the concrete process and results of the Tree Bank’s efforts, from coffee development to conservation easements. Moreover, he connects readers and viewers to the local people working together on the rural development programs, from smallholder farmers to schoolteachers and doctors as well.

To read more about Earth Sangha, check out this post: “Earth Sangha Announces ‘Rising Forest Coffee”

Angela Kim 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.

Jul19

Nourishing the Planet TV: Taking Breadfruit from the Lab Into the Field

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In this week’s episode, Nourishing the Planet discusses how the Breadfruit Institute is working to provide farmers with a sustainable, low-input, and nutritious crop.

 

Video: http://youtu.be/wylO9wAhyVs

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.

Jul13

What Works: Rebuilding Degraded Ecosystems through Farming

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By Matt Styslinger

According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) some 60 percent of the world’s ecosystems have been degraded over the past 50 years. With increasingly scarce land and water resources expected in the coming decades, as well as rising demand for food, farmers will need to find ways to produce more on the world’s remaining arable land. Without alternatives, expansion of agriculture can lead to deforestation and loss of other vital ecosystems that millions of people rely on for their livelihoods. But some innovative farmers are producing more food by using agriculture to rebuild ecosystems and turn degraded land into productive farms.

Some innovative farmers are producing more food by using agriculture to rebuild ecosystems and turn degraded land into productive farms. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Severe droughts and rapid population growth in the 1970s and 80s significantly degraded the farmland of the Sahel, a region of Africa running along the entire southern edge of the Sahara desert. Traditional management practices are now being revived to reverse the trend, including farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR). By pruning shoots that periodically and naturally sprout from below-ground root webs in and around their fields, farmers promote the re-growth of trees. The trees reduce erosion, improve the ability of the soil to hold moisture, offer partial shade, and are a source of fuel, food, and animal fodder. The Web Alliance for the Re-Greening in Africa (W4RA) project is helping to create web-based information exchanges between farmers to promote awareness of FMNR. The organization SahelEco has initiated two projects—Trees Outside the Forest and the Re-Greening the Sahel Initiative—to encourage policymakers, farmers’ organizations, and government leaders to provide the support and legislation needed to put the responsibility of managing trees on agricultural land into the hands of farmers.

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Jun23

Saturday Series: An Interview with Mary McLaughlin

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By Olivia Arnow

Today, Nourishing the Planet kicks off a new Saturday Series, in which we interview inspiring people that our readers have nominated. These people are working on the frontlines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone? E-mail your suggestions to Danielle Nierenberg!

Trees That Feed Foundation reforests tropical areas with edible fruit trees. (Photo credit: Trees that Feed)

Name: Mary McLaughlin

Affiliation: Trees That Feed Foundation

Bio: Mary is the founder of Trees That Feed, a non-profit foundation dedicated to maintaining affordable and sustainable food for tropical countries, including Haiti and her homeland Jamaica. The foundation strives to feed people and benefit the environment by reforesting areas with trees that produce edible fruit to improve diets, reduce foreign dependency, and restore ecological balance to the land.

What type of trees does the foundation plant?

I grew up eating breadfruit in Jamaica and I believe it to be one of the most sustainable tropical foods. Our organization plants a variety of trees that produce avocado, mango, papaya, pomegranate, acai, almonds, and cashews, but we primarily focus on planting breadfruit trees.

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May28

Senna obtusifolia: From the Sidelines to Center Stage

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By Philip Newell

Senna obtusifolia (or Cassia obtusifolia) is a hardy and indigenous leafy vegetable (ILV) that grows in the Sahel. To better understand it, The International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Africa (ICRISAT) studied the plant to determine the best planting density and preparation techniques, as well as its potential cultivation among Acacia trees.

ICRISAT is helping farmers perfect indigenous crops on less-than-ideal soil. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

ICRISAT’s research found that this protein-rich vegetable, which is used as a meat substitute, grows well at a high density. Using three different planting densities (.5x.5m, .5 x 1m and 1x1m), they found that the highest density resulted in the highest per-acre harvest weight – meaning that it is not highly competitive for water or nutrients. Generally the plant is grown by women around the edges of maize or millet fields. According to ICRISAT, concentrated, intentional planting can result in a significant harvest during the “hunger period.” This period is the months, generally June-October, when farmers have exhausted their store of grain and money, leading to the threat of starvation.

While it is common to collect wild Senna obtusifolia during the hunger period, the cultivation of this crop is not widespread. The leafy quality of the plant means that harvests can be small and ongoing, leaving the plant to continually grow new leaves. While women may sow this crop along the edges of the field or in other marginal land, the scaling up of production is seen as a potential way to increase food security at a low cost.

The study also looked into the nutritional effects of the traditional cooking method for Senna obtusifolia. They found that the traditional three-hour boil serves to not only reduce the pungent odor of the leaves, but also increased the concentration of lignin and did not adversely affect the other nutrient concentrations.

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