Archive for the ‘Innovation of the Week’ Category

Sep04

Innovation of the Month: Aeroponic Technology

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By Carolyn Smalkowski

As the world’s urban population continues to grow, the demand for food in urban areas continues to expand. To meet this demand, urban agricultural innovations are sprouting up in countries and communities around the world. Aeroponic farming—the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil—is one such innovation.

Aeroponic farming—the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil—can help to meet rising demand for food in urban areas. (Photo Credit: The Young Agropreneur)

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Association (NASA), aeroponic systems allow for clean, efficient, and rapid food production. In aeroponic systems, crops, which are isolated from seasonal change, can be planted and harvested year round without interruption and without contamination from soil, pesticides, and residue. And because aeroponic growing environments are clean and sterile, the chances of spreading plant disease and infection are less common than in soil-based systems. As a result, aeroponic farming systems can yield high-value crops—such as leafy greens, herbs, and micro-greens—quickly and reliably.

According to AeroFarms, a producer of aeroponic systems in Ithaca, New York, aeroponic production is superior to conventional and greenhouse production for a variety of reasons: the produce does not require washing after harvest; can be delivered fresh to stores and restaurants on a daily basis; has a shelf life of 3 to 4 weeks; offers year round seasonality; has a faster growth cycle; and does not need to be treated with pesticides.

When asked about the benefits of aeroponics, AeroFarms’ Founder and CEO Ed Harwood said, “What I plant is what I harvest, so I can predict what I’m going to have two or three weeks from now, which is much more difficult when the circumstances aren’t controlled.” For farmers whose livelihoods depend on successful harvests, the control and predictability associated with aeroponic production can be a major boon.  (more…)

Jan03

Innovation of the Month: iDE Brings Water to Dry Soils Around the World

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By Molly Redfield

Approximately 1.2 billion people live in water-scarce areas of the world, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Farming, a water-intensive endeavor, is responsible for nearly 70 percent of human water use worldwide and can exacerbate situations of scarcity, the FAO says. Meanwhile, improved water management could double crop yields in many parts of the world, according to the International Water Management Institute. With this in mind, organizations such as International Development Enterprises (iDE) strive to improve water management practices around the world.

In Bangladesh, a woman irrigates her family’s rice field using a treadle pump. (Photo credit: iDE)

iDE, whose mission is to create income and livelihood opportunities for poor rural households, is dedicated to increasing the availability of affordable micro-irrigation technologies. The organization promotes technologies such as treadle pumps, rope pumps, drip irrigation, sprinkle irrigation, water storage systems, multiple water use systems, and ceramic water purifiers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In these regions, iDE also champions greater gender equality, nutrition, and sanitation, providing women and the rural poor with greater access to both education and technological resources.

The treadle pump is perhaps iDE’s most famous technological innovation. The pump, which ranges from US$20 to $100, attaches to a well and draws groundwater to the surface by way of a manually powered suction system. Not only do treadle pumps increase farmers’ access to water in areas where surface water is scarce, but they enable farmers to grow crops during both the wet and dry seasons. Increased access to water, particularly in water-scarce regions like rural Zambia, can enable subsistence farmers to produce enough food to create a surplus, helping poor farmers to generate income, according to iDE.

iDE’s success with the treadle pump has inspired similar projects led by the FAO, individual Kickstarter campaigns, and Enterprise Works to expand treadle pump use in poor parts of the world. To date, more than 2 million pumps have been sold and are in use worldwide. In recognition of its achievements, iDE has received the 2004 Tech Award: Accenture Economic Development Award, the 2010 Nestlé Prize in Creating Shared Value, and the 2010 International Design Excellence Award.

Molly Redfield is a research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project.

Sep20

Innovation of the Week: Gathering Waste and Making Good of It

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By Jeffrey Lamoureux

In most of the world’s slums, sanitation is a daily challenge. In the absence of sewage systems, people living in slums in Nairobi, Kolkata and São Paulo rely on rows of pit latrines shared by hundreds of other people, while others use “flying toilets” to dispose of waste. Disease and infection spreads easily in such environments.

Sanergy units can be built quickly and easily with affordable materials (Photo Credit: Sanergy)

But some social entrepreneurs in Nairobi are picking up where the government has left off and attempting to provide sanitary options to the slums. Sanergy, for example, is a company launched by a group of students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Sloan School of Management. The group has designed low-profile sanitation centers that can be constructed anywhere to provide hot showers and clean toilets. These facilities can be built quickly and easily with affordable materials. Waste from the centers is deposited into airtight containers that are collected daily. Then it’s brought to processing facilities that can convert it into biogas. The biogas generates electricity, while the leftover material is made into fertilizer.

The company won a USD $100,000 grant from MIT and has been building its first units in Nairobi. It charges a low pay-per-use fee and hopes to grow by franchising the operation of its units, creating an income opportunity for enterprising residents. As the number of toilets proliferates, so too will the amount of energy the company is able to generate from its processing facilities. It hopes to eventually generate enough energy that it can sell its power to the national grid.

The company’s unique and innovative approach is notable for the way it combines the decentralization of waste collection with the centralization of waste processing. Retrofitting the slums with proper sewage drains is a near impossibility and can be an expensive and potentially politically volatile effort in areas where landownership is at best ambiguous. The self-contained units grant access to sanitary facilities to even those far off the grid. But by centralizing the processing of waste, Sanergy’s facilities will take advantage of the economies of scale present in the waste conversion process.

By creating products of value out of the waste, the company creates an incentive for others to set up their own facilities in partnership with Sanergy. The company hopes that there may eventually be facilities on every neighborhood block, significantly increasing the number of people with access to clean sanitation. The energy generated through the waste production will be a clean option to power a growing economy, and the fertilizer is a nutrient-rich alternative to expensive petroleum based fertilizers.

Do you have any other examples of innovations that are addressing the problems of sanitation within urban slums? Share them with us in the comments below!

Jeffrey Lamoureux 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.

Sep06

Innovation of the Week: Tunnel Farming to Boost Food Security

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By Carly Chaapel

In places where severe weather and pests threaten crop yields, farmers are turning to tunnel-shaped greenhouses that improve the quality of their vegetables, decrease the need for pesticides, and promise higher yields by protecting the plants from severe wind, frost, and hail.

Tunnel farming can increase food security in regions with harsh environmental conditions (Photo Credit: Hartwood Farm)

CEDE Greenhouses manufactures greenhouses and tunnels to be implemented throughout southern Africa. Over the past 30 years, they have helped over 350 farmers start their own greenhouse businesses. Recently, CEDE partnered with Klein Karoo Seed Marketing Company to create the Africa Tunnel. Its simple design consists of plastic cloth and supporting beams, and makes it possible for new farmers to enter the business.

Greenhouses can be valuable tools for protecting plants from harsh environmental conditions while also extending the growing season. Where sunlight is lacking, the structure can optimize what light it receives by trapping the long-wave-length heat radiation that is reemitted by objects within the greenhouse walls. In arid or semi-arid regions such as Kenya, greenhouses can lower temperatures by blocking some light with shade cloths and encouraging swift ventilation. Greenhouses may also limit the amount of water that plants lose through transpiration, which can significantly improve yields where water is in short supply. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 0.2 percent of the total agricultural land is irrigated.

In addition to manufacturing the materials necessary for tunnel farming, CEDE also offers training sessions for sustainable crop production. The company teaches farmers how to sow seeds, manage plant growth, and finally market their own fruits and vegetables.

(more…)

Aug30

Innovation of the Week: Policy Analysis at Your Fingertips

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By Ronica Lu

The Farm Bill Budget Visualizer, recently released by the Center for a Livable Future (CLF) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is an innovative, web-based application that provides a visually pleasing, interactive breakdown of Farm Bill legislation spending.

A screenshot of the Farm Bill Budget Visualizer’s homepage (Photo Credit: Food and Tech Connect)

The Farm Bill is a comprehensive omnibus bill, first passed in 1973 and updated every four or five years, that deals with food and agricultural affairs under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Farm Bill is the primary food and agricultural policy tool of the U.S. federal government and addresses issues from numerous perspectives—including everything from food assistance and nutrition education, to efforts to improve access to fruits and vegetables.

With the upcoming release of the updated 2012 Farm Bill from Congress later this year, the Budget Visualizer helps the general public, advocacy groups, and policymakers make connections between the provisions of the bill and the amount of federal spending allotted to each program.

The visualizer displays Farm Bill programs in collapsible and expandable boxes. The sizes of the boxes are proportional to the amount of funding the programs receive. The use of the app does not require a software download, but does use the latest versions of Java and Adobe Flash.

(more…)

Aug23

Innovation of the Week: Scaling up Nutrition

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By Isaac Hopkins

Scale Up Nutrition (SUN), a program of the United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition, is part of a broader effort to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing poverty by 50 percent by 2015. SUN helps various organizations coordinate efforts to combat malnutrition in women and children—particularly malnutrition in children under two years old—by helping to maximize efficiency.

SUN helps various organizations combat malnutrition in women and children (Photo Credit: Martine Perret)

SUN emphasizes two approaches to solving hunger. The first involves immediate, direct intervention for malnourished pregnant women and children via food aid and nutritional supplements—intervention that could be provided by agencies from a local to a national scale. The second approach is broader, and emphasizes food security, access to health care, and other “support structures” such as information distribution and microfinance. The second approach is intended to promote long-term solutions, which are essential to the success of the MDGs.

More than 100 organizations, including Bread for the World and Save the C