Archive for the ‘Innovation’ Category

Feb26

Agricultural Population Growth Marginal as Nonagricultural Population Soars

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The global agricultural population—defined as individuals dependent on agriculture, hunting, fishing, and forestry for their livelihood—accounted for over 37 percent of the world’s total population in 2011, the most recent year for which data are available. This is a decrease of 12 percent from 1980, when the world’s agricultural and nonagricultural populations were roughly the same size. Although the agricultural population shrunk as a share of total population between 1980 and 2011, it grew numerically from 2.2 billion to 2.6 billion people during this period.

The world’s agricultural population grew from 2.2 billion to 2.6 billion people between 1980 and 2011. (Photo Credit: UNDP)

Between 1980 and 2011, the nonagricultural population grew by a staggering 94 percent, from 2.2 billion to 4.4 billion people—a rate approximately five times greater than that of agricultural population growth. In both cases growth was driven by the massive increase in the world’s total population, which more than doubled between 1961 and 2011, from 3.1 billion to 7 billion people.

It should be noted that the distinction between these population groups is not the same as the rural-urban divide. Rural populations are not exclusively agricultural, nor are urban populations exclusively nonagricultural. The rural population of Africa in 2011 was 622.8 million, for instance, while the agricultural population was 520.3 million.

Although the agricultural population grew worldwide between 1980 and 2011, growth was restricted to Africa, Asia, and Oceania. During this period, this population group declined in North, Central, and South America, in the Caribbean, and in Europe.

In 2011, Africa and Asia accounted for about 95 percent of the world’s agricultural population. In contrast, the agricultural population in the Americas accounted for a little less than 4 percent. Especially in the United States, this is the result of the development and use of new and innovative technologies as well as the increased use of farm machinery, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation systems that require less manual labor.

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Oct27

Zeer Pots: A Simple Way to Reduce Post-Harvest Food Waste

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By Stephanie Buglione           

Post-harvest food losses occur mainly in the developing world, and can be attributed to poor storage facilities, inadequate distribution networks, and low investment in food production. Improved storage conditions could drastically reduce this food waste, yet technologies must be affordable and realistic to be sustainable in these regions.

Zeer pots can help to prevent post-harvest food waste. (Photo Credit: FC Eco Camp)

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, in Guinea, where up to 80 percent of citizens depend on agriculture for their incomes, about 20 percent of crops are lost in the post-harvest stage. These losses reduce the profit for farmers and increase prices for consumers. In developing countries where the majority of disposable income is spent on food, post-harvest losses can be financially damaging.

In Zambia, storage containers are commonly built out of twigs, poles, or plastic bags. Unsealed, unrefrigerated containers such as these can allow contamination from pests, rodents, and fungi. In hot climates, perishable foods such as berries and tomatoes typically do not last longer than two days without refrigeration. Without proper storage facilities, rural farmers have to watch their ripened crops succumb to rot, infestation, and mold.

Practical Action, a nongovernmental organization that works with farmers in Southern Africa, Latin America, and South Asia, encourages the use of earthenware refrigerators called zeer pots to help prevent post-harvest food waste. The pot-in-pot refrigerator design keeps fruits and vegetables cool by harnessing the principle of evaporative cooling. These pots can extend the shelf life of harvested crops by up to 20 days by reducing storage temperature.

The design consists of a large outer pot and a smaller inner pot, both made from locally available clay. Wet sand is added between the two pots and is kept moist. Evaporation of the liquid in the sand draws heat out of the inner pot, in which food can be stored.

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May22

Innovation of the Month: Cereal Banks Protect Against Famine and Empower Women Across the Sahel

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By Caitlin Aylward

Drought and high food prices in 2012 threatened the food security of over 18 million people in the Sahel Region of Africa, which includes parts of Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Gambia, Cameroon, and northern Nigeria. The Sahel is prone to drought, and is becoming increasingly so with climate change. Consequently the people in this region are experiencing more frequent bouts of food insecurity and malnutrition.

Women-led cereal banks help reduce hunger and malnutrition in the Sahel. (Photo credit: World Food Programme)

Fortunately, organizations such as the World Food Program (WFP) and Care are joining forces to create all-women-managed cereal banks in villages throughout the Sahel that not only help protect against seasonal famine, but also empower women as agents of food security in their communities.

Cereal banks are community-led grain distribution projects that store grain after harvests, and then loan grain when food is scarce during what is known as the ‘lean season.’

In 2009, WFP and Care established exclusively women-operated cereal banks to help ensure the availability of grain supplies year round. These community cereal banks loan grain below market price, helping protect against market speculation, and enabling even the poorest women to purchase food for their families during times of scarcity. The women are expected to repay the loans, but at very low interest rates and only after they have harvested their own crops.

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Mar27

Aquaponics: An Interview with Sweet Water Organics’ Matt Ray

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Nourishing the Planet’s Kimberlee Davies spoke recently with Matt Ray, the principal farmer for Sweet Water Organics, an aquaponics training organization in Milwaukee, about his experience in the field of aquaponics.

Sweet Water Organics uses aquaponics technology to grow food in downtown Milwaukee.

What is aquaponics? How did you become involved?

Aquaponics has been around for centuries. It was traditionally a technique in tropical climates, using floating bamboo rafts with vegetation in fresh water pools. This was simply the adaptation of agriculture to the tropics. The technique has become cutting edge over the last 20 years. We can adapt aquaponics to today’s geographies and culture.

Aquaponics is a blending of aquaculture (the raising of aquatic animals) and hydroponics (growing plants in water without soil). In aquaponics, aquatic animals serve as the nutrition base for the plants. The great thing about aquaponics is that it is a closed system; it doesn’t have to flow in one pipe and out of another.

I saw it begin to pop up in the late 1980s, starting with the Virgin Islands, Australia, and even Asia, where fish are grown symbiotically with rice paddies. Forward-thinking farmers and activists began to develop the practice in non-tropical climates, and academics began researching the field. Twenty years later, we have a lot more people doing it. Scientific data has emerged to support the spread and success of this technique. It’s possible to take the nuts and bolts and adapt them to wherever you are. It’s going to work and it can be replicated.

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Mar14

Readers’ Responses: Curbing Food Waste to Improve Human and Environmental Health

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In our February newsletter, we wrote about the environmental and humanitarian consequences of food waste. Worldwide, 30 to 40 percent of all food produced is either lost or wasted between the stages of production and consumption. We asked readers to send us their ideas on how to curb food waste, and we got many thoughtful and innovative responses.

Many readers responded to our February newsletter about how to reduce food waste. (Photo credit: Zero Waste Europe)

Some of our readers who own or work on farms wrote about their methods of recycling excess organic matter. Jan Steinman of Vancouver, Canada, wrote: “I live on a co-op farm, and nothing is wasted. We have a ‘three bucket’ system in the house. What people don’t want goes in the goat bucket, as appropriate (vegetable trimmings, etc.). If it isn’t suitable for the goats, it goes in the chicken bucket (moldy bread or cheese, cooked grains or legumes, etc.). Finally, if neither humans nor goats nor chickens will eat it, it goes into compost.”

Noting that many readers do not raise their own goats or chickens, Jan added, “If they go to a farmers market, they can surely find someone who will put their ‘waste’ to a higher use.”

For farmers who have more produce than they can sell or eat, organizations are cropping up to help get this food to hungry consumers. Peter Burkard wrote, “Here in Sarasota, Florida we have a food gleaning project run by Transition Sarasota which saves food from the fields that would otherwise go to waste and donates it to the local food bank.”

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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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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.

Nov11

An Interview with Seth Itzkan: Using Holistic Management to Address Desertification and Climate Change

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By Carol Dreibelbis

In this series, we interview inspiring people that our readers have nominated. These individuals are working on the front lines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone? E-mail your suggestions to Laura Reynolds!

Name: Seth Itzkan

Affiliation: President of Planet-TECH Associates, a consultancy focusing on trends and innovations.

Bio: Seth has 25 years of experience consulting with private and public agencies on strategies for success in changing times. He is interested in the mitigation of climate change and is investigating new approaches to the problem, particularly focusing on the role of soils and grassland restoration through “holistic management.”

In 2011, Seth spent six weeks at the Africa Center for Holistic Management in northwest Zimbabwe, the sister organization of the Savory Institute in Colorado. While in Zimbabwe, he saw firsthand the restoration of degraded lands through improved land and livestock management. Since his return to the United States, he has advocated for holistic management to be considered as a methodology to address both desertification and global warming.

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Oct23

U.S Food Day: 25 Innovations in 25 U.S. States

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Tomorrow is U.S. Food Day, a yearly nationwide celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. Watch our short, fun video about Food Day by clicking here!

In honor of Food Day 2012, we’d like to showcase 50 state-by-state programs, projects, individuals, and organizations that are innovating to make the nation’s food and agricultural system more sustainable. This week, we bring you the first 25, from Alabama to Missouri. Keep an eye out for the second 25 next week, where we will highlight innovations taking place from Montana to Wyoming!

 1. Alabama. The Jones Valley Urban Farm in Birmingham, Alabama has been in operation since 2007. Occupying 3.5 acres of once vacant space in downtown Birmingham, Jones Valley Urban Farm grows organic produce and flowers and offers hands-on education to the community about farming and nutritious foods.

 

2. Alaska. The Fish to Schools program, created by the Sitka Conservation Society, is a school feeding initiative dedicated to serving local and nutritious seafood to students in Sitka, Alaska. As the ninth largest seafood port in the United States, Sitka’s economy and community is strongly interconnected with seafood. Through the Fish to Schools program, Sitka youth gain knowledge about local seafood resources by integrating seafood into their diets and by attending educational seminars on marine life and the process of harvesting seafood.

3. Arizona. The Sunizona Family Farms in Wilcox, Arizona started growing cucumbers in 1996. Today, not only do they sell nearly 95 percent of their organic produce, ranging from tomatoes, to kale to beets, to chard, locally, they also use growing methods which rely strictly on plant-based products. No animal inputs are used in any part of the farming process, they make their own fertilizers out of vegetable components, and even use waste pecan shells to create wood pellets, which they use to heat their greenhouse.

 

4. Arkansas. The City of North Little Rock, Arkansas has been given $1.5 million to encourage healthy nutrition and lifestyles in low-income neighborhoods. The mission is to make the City of North Little Rock a Fit 2 Live community that is committed to healthy eating and active living by creating an environment that recognizes and encourages citizens to adopt healthy life choices. (more…)

Oct19

Danielle Nierenberg Speaking at World Food Prize Foundation’s “DialogueNEXT”

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On Wednesday, October 17, Nourishing the Planet Director Danielle Nierenberg spoke about the role of innovation in agriculture at the World Food Prize Foundation’s “DialogueNEXT” in Des Moines, Iowa. Watch the full video here!