Posts Tagged ‘Innovation of the Week’

Mar04

Innovation of the Month: Food Fermentation for Biopreservation

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By Brandon Pierce

Although the word “bacteria” is usually associated with sickness and disease, it is the driving force behind fermentation, a food process on which humans have relied for millennia. Some of the earliest recorded instances of fermentation come from East Asia where, according to William Shurtleff, founder of the SoyInfo Center, the process was used as early as 300 BCE to ferment soybeans.

Fermentation has been used for millennia to preserve and improve the nutritional content of foods. (Photo credit: the DIY Gourmet)

Fermentation historically has had two purposes. Foods undergoing the fermentation process went through remarkable changes in taste, basically allowing for the creation of new foods. Fermentation also served as a way to prevent foods from spoiling. It is referred to as a biopreservation method, or a way to preserve foods using beneficial microorganisms.

In biopreservation, beneficial bacteria are used to prevent food spoilage and get rid of harmful pathogens. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) are probably the most commonly used due to their unique properties and because they are harmless to humans. As LABs compete for nutrients with other bacteria, they release antimicrobials that stop spoilage and inhibit the growth of potentially harmful pathogens.

In functioning as an effective biopreservative, bacteria do not necessarily have to also start the process of fermentation. Generally, bacteria are selected either for their metabolic properties, which cause fermentation, or for their antimicrobial activity, which is important for food preservation. LAB can be used for both.

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Feb01

Innovation of the Month: Gardens for Health

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By Carly Chaapel

Around the world, gardens provide food for local communities, serve as educational tools, and empower the poor. In sub-Saharan Africa, where 22.5 million people live with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), humanitarian and environmental organizations are turning to community gardens for nutritional and social benefits for HIV patients.

Rwandan farmer harvests plants for her family with the help of Gardens for Health. (Photo credit: Gardens for Health International)

In Rwanda, the most densely populated sub-Saharan country, the average citizen lives well below global average health, education, and income standards. The Human Development Index ranks Rwanda 166 out of 187 countries, indicating “low human development.” According to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), nearly 170,000 people (3 percent of adults) suffer from HIV in Rwanda.

Numerous organizations are, however, generating hope for the poor and the sick in Rwanda. Gardens for Health International, for example, partners with local health clinics to provide agricultural solutions for health problems, including malnutrition. Patients who arrive at rural clinics in need of food aid and emergency treatment often leave with the resources necessary to both address their immediate needs and sustain themselves and their families in the future. Gardens for Health experts routinely visit families in their homes, bringing the tools and knowledge needed (e.g., seedlings and market access knowledge) to increase yields, diversify diets, and prevent future malnutrition.

In Swaziland, the International Red Cross has donated money to support community gardens with similar goals. According to USAID, 25.9 percent of adults in Swaziland live with HIV, and nearly 70,000 children have been orphaned due to the virus. Although food crises are prevalent in this drought-prone country, donations from the Red Cross have enabled communities to both develop food gardens and access valuable adaptation technology, such as drip irrigation, which can increase agricultural productivity and boost year-round food security for families living with HIV.

By disseminating resources and information, organizations such as Gardens for Health and the International Red Cross can increase access to healthy foods for the poor, hungry, and sick, and enable families to develop productive and sustainable food gardens just outside their front doors.

Do you know about a garden that is used as a healing space for the sick? Tell us more in the comments below.

Carly Chaapel is a former research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Food and Agriculture Program.

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.

Sep11

Chase Campaign: Empowering Women

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By Devon Ericksen  

As the Worldwatch Institute celebrates women and youth in September, Nourishing the Planet highlights the many ways that women contribute to agriculture all over the world. Women play a crucial role in creating a just and sustainable future, but still face significant barriers around the world. They are underpaid, typically earning about 17 percent less than men, and undereducated, comprising two-thirds of the world’s 776 million illiterate adults. And although women make up over 40 percent of the world’s agricultural workforce, they own less than 15 percent of the world’s farmland. Because women make up such a large part of the agricultural workforce, and yet have significantly less access than men to resources such as education and technology, women’s empowerment must be an important part of future agricultural development policy.

Although women make up over 40 percent of the world’s agricultural workforce, they own less than 15 percent of the world’s farmland (Photo Credit: UNEP)

Our post, “Six Innovations Lifting the World’s Agricultural Workers out of Poverty,” shows that although women often lack access to the same educational and technological opportunities as men, they are just as innovative when it comes to solving problems, such as inventing safer and more efficient technologies that help female farmers.

In August we posted an article by Carolyn Raffensperger, Executive Director of the Science and Information Health Network, previewing the Women’s Congress for Future Generations to be held in September in Moab, Utah. Raffensperger and the Women’s Congress focus on the idea that women have an important role in restoring the ecology of the Earth, and that their voices must be heard in order to do so. From political discourse in the United States to the farms of developing countries, Raffensperger and the Women’s Congress call for a new civil rights movement where women’s voices can speak on behalf of future generations.

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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.

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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.

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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 Children, have endorsed SUN since 2010, when the Road Map for Scaling Up Nutrition was released. In the last two years, these organizations have actively worked with governments and organizations, and achieved measurable, long-term reductions in malnutrition. 1,000 Days, a SUN partner organization that launched in 2010, has focused on targeting malnutrition during a critical period of childhood: conception to two years of age. The organization works to inform women and policy makers at every level about the vital importance of appropriate nutrition early in life, and to encourage them to take immediate and appropriate action.

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Aug01

Innovation of the Week: Aqua Shops

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By Eleanor Fausold

Aquaculture has potential to stimulate economic growth and increase food production in Kenya. (Photo credit: Lilian Kamola Kaivilu)

In Western Kenya, where nearly 60 percent of households depend on fish as a source of income, dwindling fish supplies are hurting the economy and those who rely on fish as a source of food. Lake Victoria currently provides over 90 percent of Kenya’s fish supply, but a combination of overfishing and pollution have led to a decline in fish stocks, causing prices to rise because supply is not keeping up with demand.

As a solution, Kenya’s government is supporting the development of aquaculture in an effort to promote economic growth and stimulate food production. In addition to providing basic infrastructure and supporting research and development, the government is also providing funding for the construction of 46,000 fish ponds in 160 of the country’s 210 constituencies and has given farmers catfish and tilapia fingerlings, or very young fish, and fish feed to help get them started. Despite these governmental efforts, however, many farmers still lack access to the support and inputs required for long-term success.

In an effort to supplement and further the Kenyan government’s initiatives, FARM-Africa, in partnership with Natural Resources International, the University of Stirling, Imani Development, the U.K. Department for International Development Research Into Use Programme, and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, has established a series of six Aqua Shops in western Kenya. These shops provide farmers with technical advice about aquaculture practices and give them the materials, including fish feed and manure (for fertilization), needed to set up and maintain healthy fish ponds and lakes.

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Jul12

Innovation of the Week: Small Plot Intensive Farming

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By Laura Reynolds

Earlier this year Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, submitted a report arguing that agroecological farming methods “outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production,” particularly in developing countries where access to resources is limited. Practicing this low-input, diversified farming style on a small scale has been gaining popularity in the U.S. in recent decades due, in part, to rising fuel and land prices.  Farming intensively on tiny acreages, particularly in urban areas, may offer a sustainable solution to many of the U.S. food system’s ills.

Densely planted farms are springing up around the country. (Photo credit: SPIN Farming LLC)

Farmers Wally Satzewich, Gail Vandersteen, and Roxanne Christensen have created SPIN Farming, a business that trains would-be farmers how to farm profitably on as little as 5,000 square feet, or roughly the size of two 4-bedroom homes. SPIN farming, or Small Plot INtensive Farming focuses on the business side of farming, from keeping overhead costs low to finding easy-to-access markets. Using SPIN’s model, farms are cropping up in unlikely spaces. Somerton Tanks Farm, for example, operates in the shadow of two five-million-gallon water tanks on land owned by the Philadelphia Water Department. And in Wilkes-Barre, PA, students at Wilkes University founded the first-ever campus-based SPIN farm by reclaiming an abandoned lot on the edge of the campus.

In addition to giving tips on how to maximize space efficiency on land, SPIN leaves much of the actual growing decisions in the hands of the farmer. According to SPIN, its system “is not predicated on any one set of life principals or philosophy, or any one method of soil prep or maintenance. It can be combined with biointensive, biodynamic, permaculture, vermaculture, aquaculture, double dig, [or] no till.”

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Jul05

Innovation of the Week: Increasing Breastfeeding Rates and Improving Global Health

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By Emily Gilbert

According to the World Health Organization, poor breastfeeding rates contribute to over a million avoidable child deaths each year. La Leche League International (LLLI) was established in 1956 with the goal of supporting mothers and breastfeeding through improved education, encouragement, and mother-to-mother support. LLLI has worked for over five decades to improve breastfeeding rates in the United States and since 1960, worldwide.

La Leche League Guatemala at a breastfeeding workshop in Guatemala. (Photo credit: World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action)

While breastfeeding rates in the United States have steadily climbed since the 1950s, breastfeeding rates in the developing world have been declining until recently. This decline has been attributed to changing socioeconomic factors and the perception that infant formula is superior to breast milk. For example, exclusive breastfeeding rates in countries such as Nigeria, Mali, Bolivia, and Thailand, were 4 percent or below by 1988, and have slowly risen since then.  While synthetic formula has been developed to mimic some of the nutrients of breast milk, it can never achieve the overall benefits of breast milk.  Nutritionally, breast milk is the optimal combination of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and vitamin, providing anti-bodies, bacteria, and white blood cells known as leukocytes, that help babies fight off infections and improve overall digestive health. Infant formula is able to supply some of the fats, proteins, but none of the antibodies.  In countries suffering from high infant and child mortality and malnutrition, improved breastfeeding would help address these issues, leading to a generation of healthier children and adults.

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