Posts Tagged ‘social sustainability’

Nov01

Documentary Sheds Light on Thriving Community Gardens

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By Carol Dreibelbis

In A Community of Gardeners (2011), filmmaker Cintia Cabib offers an intimate look at the vital role that seven community gardens play in Washington, D.C.

Naasir Ali participates in the “Growing Food…Growing Together” program at the Washington Youth Garden. (Photo credit: Cintia Cabib)

At Common Good City Farm, a work-exchange program enables local residents to volunteer in the garden in exchange for fresh produce. One volunteer explains just how important the garden is for her: “The garden plays a big role in my life because it feeds me. I live out of this garden: whatever I get every Wednesday, that’s what feeds me for the whole week.”

At Fort Stevens Community Garden, an organic garden run by the National Park Service, gardeners from around the world grow fruits and vegetables that are native to their homelands in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The National Park Service also provides land and water for the Melvin Hazen Community Garden, which was once a World War II victory garden.

Nature’s Retreat at C. Melvin Sharpe Health School serves as an outdoor classroom. This handicap-accessible school garden enables physically and cognitively disabled students to undertake a more sensory approach to learning. One student remarks in the film, “I plant marigolds and I water the flower bed. I just like the fresh air.”

The Pomegranate Alley Community Garden fills an alleyway once known for little more than drug dealing. Neighborhood residents transformed the space into a garden that currently holds 13 plots. Similarly, at the Marion Street Garden, neighbors and volunteers cultivate once-abandoned land. This intergenerational garden offers educational opportunities for people of all ages. (more…)

Mar11

Argan Oil: Too Much of a Good Thing?

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Most people have heard of the health benefits of using olive oil instead of butter or other saturated animal fats. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil have been shown to reduce levels of harmful cholesterol, and as a result nutrition experts have touted it and other aspects of the Mediterranean Diet as heart healthy.

Photo Credit: Jane Alexander

But olive oil isn’t the only celebrated oil from that region of the world. In Morocco, argan oil has been consumed by the Berber people for centuries. Berbers add the deep yellow, toasty-flavored oil to couscous, serve it alongside bread, or eat it on its own. Argan oil has been shown to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, and recent research by France’s Institut Pasteur, Morocco’s Lipoproteins and Atherosclerosis Research Laboratory, and others suggests that it might contribute to the prevention of various cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes.

Beyond the health benefits of consuming argan oil, there are also important environmental benefits associated with its production. The same deep root systems that make argan trees well adapted to heat and frequent drought in southwestern Morocco also protect the land against soil erosion and desertification. Meanwhile, argan trees provide shade and protection for crops or pastureland, presenting opportunities for agroforestry.

Arguably, however, the most noteworthy impact of argan oil production is social. This rare oil has captivated a global audience, primarily because of its use in cosmetics. As a result, market prices have been on the rise (making it the most expensive edible oil in the world), and argan oil producers—largely local Moroccan women—have been reaping the benefits.

Because the process of extracting argan oil is extremely labor intensive (it can take 50 kilograms of seeds to produce just half a liter of oil), the women who produce it by hand are frequently part of production co-operatives, such as the UCFA (Union des Cooperatives des Femmes de l’Arganeraie). Founded in 1999, this innovative co-operative produces and markets argan oil and is supported by the Moroccan government as both a conservation and development strategy. Today, the UCFA unites 22 smaller women’s co-operatives. The women who make up these groups gain status, a steady income, and, in some cases, an education through their work.

Yet the argan oil boom has been a double-edged sword. Argan trees and the area in which they grow are threatened by overuse and deforestation. A study by the University of California, Davis finds that “the boom has predictably made households vigilant guardians of fruit on the tree, but it has not incited investments in longer term tree and forest health.” While the development of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Morocco is a step in the right direction, it will be both economically and environmentally critical for the same non-governmental groups, development agencies, and government offices that supported argan oil production in the first place to keep sustainability in mind.

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet Project.

 

Jan24

Documentary Sheds New Light on Thriving Community Gardens

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By Carol Dreibelbis

There are an estimated 18,000 community gardens in the United States and Canada, according to the group Why Hunger, and thousands more worldwide. Designing Healthy Communities, a project of the nonprofit Media Policy Center, notes that community gardens “can play a significant role in enhancing the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being necessary to build healthy and socially sustainable communities.”

Naasir Ali participates in the “Growing Food…Growing Together” program at the Washington Youth Garden. (Photo credit: Cintia Cabib)

In her 2011 documentary A Community of Gardeners, filmmaker Cintia Cabib offers an intimate look at the vital role that seven community gardens play in Washington, D.C.

At Common Good City Farm, a work-exchange program enables local residents to volunteer in the garden in exchange for fresh produce. One volunteer explains just how important the garden is for her: “The garden plays a big role in my life because it feeds me. I live out of this garden: whatever I get every Wednesday, that’s what feeds me for the whole week.”

At Fort Stevens Community Garden, an organic garden run by the National Park Service, immigrant gardeners from around the world grow fruits and vegetables that are native to their homelands in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The Park Service also provides land and water for the Melvin Hazen Community Garden, which was once a World War II victory garden.

(more…)

Jan22

An Interview with Ela R. Bhatt, Founder of the Self Employed Women’s Association in India

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In September 2012, Nourishing the Planet’s Carol Dreibelbis spoke with Ela R. Bhatt, founder of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India. SEWA is a national trade union that helps women working in informal sectors, like agriculture or childcare, gain the same rights, securities, and self-reliance as those who are formally employed. Ms. Bhatt, a Gandhian practitioner of non-violence and self-reliance, has dedicated her life to improving the lives of India’s poorest and most oppressed women workers.

Ela R. Bhatt (Photo credit: Mihir Bhatt)

In addition to founding SEWA, Ms. Bhatt is the founder of India’s first women’s bank, the Cooperative Bank of SEWA, and one of the founders of Women’s World Banking, a global microfinance organization that works to economically empower women. She served in the Indian Parliament from 1986 to 1989, and is a member of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights, among many other roles.

You gave a speech to the United Nations Development Programme in 2011 on your “100 Mile Principle”; since then, you completed field testing on the Principle. Can you explain what it is? 

The 100 Mile Principle urges us to meet life’s basic needs with goods and services that are produced no more than 100 miles from where we live. This includes food, shelter, clothing, primary education, primary health care, and primary banking.

The 100 Mile Principle ties decentralization, locality, size, and scale to livelihood, suggesting that the materials, energy, and knowledge that one needs to live should come from areas around us. Seed, soil, and water are forms of knowledge that need to be retained locally. Security stems from local innovations, not distant imports. Essentially, the link between humans and nature has to be restored; the link between production and consumption has to be recovered.

The Principle also focuses on the ideas of community and citizenship. I think citizenship has two levels: it is both membership in your community and membership in your nation-state. The social space defined by national citizenship is inadequate, and the nation-state alone can be alienating and coercive without membership in a community. Take food as an example: food has to be grown locally and made locally. When food is exported, the producers have no access to the fruits of their labor.

A community is autonomous when it controls food, clothing, and shelter. Communities lose control when they go beyond the local. When food is exported, when technology is centralized, when shelter depends on some remote housing policy, we lose our freedom as a community. So the 100 Mile Principle guarantees that citizens retain control, inventiveness, and diversity.

Why did you choose a distance of 100 miles?

One simple reason is that you can travel 100 miles and return home by dinner time. But 100 miles does not need to be taken literally—it represents the distance that can provide essential goods and services for a district or state. It could be 200 miles in a desert or hilly region, 50 miles in a dense, produce-rich location, or 10 miles near a town. The distance may also vary for different goods and services: food may come from within a 10-mile radius, but specialized healthcare may require 100 miles or more.

The distance of 100 miles is a starting point for thinking in local terms. Whenever we have used the term “100 miles,” people from all walks of life—students, rural women, economists, academics—have understood the focus on local goods and services.

How did you field test the 100 Mile Principle, and what were some of the most important results?

The field study involved over 100 households in 10 rural villages from Surendranagar and Anand/Kheda districts in Gujarat, a state in Western India. We spoke with households about how they meet their basic needs and how far they would need to travel for primary education, health care, and banking.

The study revealed that rural populations have some amount of control over their food through a combination of growing their own, bartering, community and caste practices, and the Public Distribution System. A great deal of local food production and consumption is already occurring. In the case of clothing, though, most prefer cheaper, easier-to-maintain synthetics and ready-made garments from outside of 100 miles. The study showed that many desire “city-type” homes: this could be achieved with use of local material and local manpower, meeting the 100 Mile Principle and maintaining freedom of choice.

Primary education is available in all of the villages, but there is limited capacity for technical or skill-related education. Very few of the villages have a local trained doctor, meaning residents must travel to the nearest town for health care. Home herbal remedies are still used but are now less favored than medicinal tablets from the village grocer.

How can the 100 Mile Principle help communities deal with some of the most pressing issues they face, such as food security?

Food security cannot be guaranteed by foreign imports. Instead, we encourage local seed banks, owned and run by small and marginal farmers. Local, small-scale warehousing would largely overcome the problem of food scarcity, as well as rampant waste of edible food products due to lack of storage. The possibility of setting up smaller grain storage units owned by and managed by a group of small-scale farmers needs to be explored. There should also be local tool banks so that farmers can borrow these when required.

We also suggest that every primary school at the rural level develop an agricultural training center. Here, young people can learn improved farming techniques, farm-related IT skills, food processing, and on-farm processing. Prompt actions should also be taken to release the mortgaged land of small and marginal farmers. Land is their only source of livelihood.

Many small and marginal farmers can grow enough food for their own needs as well as some surplus to sell. But, for a number of reasons—including increasing cultivation of cash crops instead of food crops, animal pest management problems, and the rapid sale of land for industry—the situation is changing.

To combat hunger and to achieve food security for all, we have to protect ways of life and livelihoods of the farming communities. This is the fundamental policy point. Growing food grains should be a viable and profitable occupation for the farming community. But, broadly speaking, the producer currently gets about 60-70 percent of the price paid in the market, and the balance goes to the middleman or the enterprise that sells the products. Therefore, middlemen should be removed where possible. It is also important to bring down the input costs, including the costs of irrigation, seeds, and fertilizers.

As the founder of the Self Employed Women’s Association, you work to organize women for full employment and self-reliance. What role does the 100 Mile Principle play in women’s success?

After field testing the 100 Mile Principle, I am convinced more than ever that without the active participation of women farmers, hunger cannot be reduced. When the 100 Mile Principle is put into action, productive work opportunities and income will increase, the health of women and girls will increase, infant and maternal mortality will decrease, and housing will improve. In addition, there will be a decline in compulsive migration of youth from villages to cities, increasing local assets. Local farmers will take active interest in crop planning and learning new agricultural skills. Farmers, artisans, and village officials will strengthen their community.

What criticisms has the 100 Mile Principle faced?

We have received a variety of criticisms. Some people consider the Principle to be too theoretical, or irrelevant to urban areas. Others feel that it is inhibiting progress in this era of globalization. And others have suggested that it goes against the ideas of freedom of choice and the power of market forces—particularly competitive advantage.

Despite this criticism, we know through SEWA experience that ideas can be translated into a measurable influence on the lives of people. At the same time, I want to make clear that the Principle is a guide or a philosophy rather than something to be forced on anyone.

What are your plans to continue refining and spreading the 100 Mile Principle?

At some point I would like to carry out fieldwork in other parts of India to gain more data on the Principle. In the meantime, my major aim is to propagate this idea, especially among young people and urban consumers. Some of the findings also have implications for public policy, especially measures that help small-scale farmers and family farms.

There are some policies and government schemes already in place for health care and nutrition, but there is a large communication gap that prevents these policies from being as effective as possible. Control and implementation of these schemes need to be in the hands of local people who are aware of the realities on the ground. I am in the process of putting the field study results in the form of a book.

Now it’s your turn: How important do you think it is to keep basic goods and services on a local scale? Please let us know in the comments below. 

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

Oct05

Take Part in a Worldwide Dinner Party for Good

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By Carol Dreibelbis

The Feast, an organization that fosters social innovation for a better future, will be holding a Worldwide Dinner Party for Good as part of its first-ever Social Innovation Week in October. The Feast aims to engage the next generation of innovators and creative thinkers in solving some of the world’s most pressing problems through the Worldwide Dinner Party and other events.

Hundreds of people on six continents have already signed up to host a Worldwide Dinner Party on October 5th (Photo Credit: the Feast)

The Worldwide Dinner Party for Good will take place on October 5, 2012 at 7 p.m. local time. According to The Feast, each dinner party will center on a challenge: “Pick a challenge and by the end of your meal, commit to a project to make the world work better. On the big day, all diners will post their commitments online to create a giant feast on good.” The Feast both provides a number of challenges to choose from and allows diners to define their own.

The Data Challenge—presented by John Sherry, Director of Business Innovation Research at Intel—asks diners to, “design a tool that utilizes the data that is being or could be created in the public and private realms,” to improve people’s lives. Cell phone data, for example, has already been used to help farmers manage their land and animals.

The Open Design Challenge—presented by Beth Comstock, Chief Marketing Officer at GE—asks diners to “use the open tools available today…to empower a new group of people to make something that improves their physical environment.” This challenge comes at a critical time, as climate change continues to alter the global environment, requiring farmers to adapt through innovation.

(more…)

Jan11

Nourishing the Planet TV: World Neighbors, Communities, and Sustainable Agriculture

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In this week’s episode, we discuss World Neighbors, a non-profit that works in farming communities around the world to teach sustainable agricultural practices, including drip irrigation and terracing techniques. With help from World Neighbors, these farmers are learning how to overcome challenges, including drought and poor soil, to feed their families, while conserving valuable natural resources.

Video: http://youtu.be/vhtMtOWmttw

To read more about World Neighbors work, see: Innovation of the Week: World Neighbors Relies on Community Participation for Sustainable Agriculture.

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.

May05

Innovation of the Week: World Neighbors Relies on Community Participation for Sustainable Agriculture

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By Amanda Strickler

Rural farming in Guatemala presents many challenges. The steep hillsides used for growing crops make soils prone to erosion—the hills also make regular agricultural practices such as seed sewing, irrigation, and tilling more difficult.

world-neighbors-innovation-hungerIn the face of these difficulties, a young man named Julian Vasquez of the Polochic Valley has not only improved his farming capability, but he has helped others to do the same. By working with partners from World Neighbors (WN), Julian learned how to apply drip irrigation and terracing techniques to his farmland. Julian’s success inspired his neighbors, and he now teaches them about these conservation farming practices.

World Neighbors is a non-profit organization that works with communities worldwide to inspire positive, lasting changes in hunger, poverty, disease, and the environment. Their approach to development is unique—WN operates by inviting all residents of an area to participate in identifying community needs. By doing this, WN programs address interconnected issues rather than individual problem areas. WN works to keep new ideas simple, scalable, and community-supported. And because WN’s average time spent on a community project is eight to 10 years, locals and WN staff form unique relationships with communities and wider stakeholder groups. (more…)

May04

Fracking Proposal Worries Farmers in South Africa’s Karoo Region

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By Matt Styslinger

Shell Oil Company is planning to drill for natural gas over a large section of South Africa’s Karoo region using a controversial method known as fracking. Local landowners worry that the impact from Shell’s drilling operations will have environmentally damaging effects, including chemical contamination, a drop in the water table, and even explosions. “It [would be] the end of our livelihood, not only ours, but all the people we employ as well,” said Douglas Stern, a fourth generation Karoo farmer in a television interview about local opposition to the plans.

natural-gas-drilling-fracking-nourishing-the-planet-worldwatch

Proposed natural gas drilling in South Africa’s sensitive Karoo region could threaten the livelihoods of local sheep farmers. (Photo credit: SA-Meanders)

The fear is echoed by many in the Karoo, a vast semi-desert region of South Africa that traverses the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, and Northern Cape provinces. Although farmers may own their land, the state owns the rights to underground minerals in South Africa and can grant permits for drilling without the consent of landowners. Pockets of natural gas are known to exist within shale rock thousands of meters below the Karoo’s surface. Shell believes that fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, will allow significant amounts of natural gas to be mined there. But the effect that the technique could have on the region’s scarce water resources, as well as soil quality, has created strong opposition among Karoo’s farmers and communities.

Shell is hoping to supply natural gas to power plants in South Africa, a country struggling to address growing energy needs. Most of South Africa’s electricity is generated through coal-fired power plants, which contribute around 80 percent of the country’s carbon emissions. The South African government is eager to curb its greenhouse gas emissions and the burning of natural gas emits half as much carbon as coal. Shell alone hopes to extract gas by fracking almost 100,000 kilometer2 in the Karoo, and other companies—including Falcon Oil & Gas and Bundu Gas & Oil Exploration—have also applied for permits. (more…)

Apr30

Thirty Innovations that are Nourishing the Planet

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Over the last two years Nourishing the Planet has traveled to 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, meeting with farmers, farmers groups, scientists, researchers, academics, NGOs, and other experts to identify the innovations in agriculture that are helping alleviate hunger and poverty while protecting the environment.

ICRISAT-Mail&Guardian-Nourishing-the-Planet

(Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The projects highlighted by Nourishing the Planet show how agriculture can help restore local economies, improve livelihoods, and protect natural resources. Thirty of these innovations are featured in a photo slide show by the Mail & Guardian.

In Niger, for example, a group of 50 women in a small village, Tanka, have started farming using solar drip irrigation with the help of the International Crops Research Institute of the Semi-Arid Tropics’ (ICRISAT) Market Garden project. The women each manage their own plots, but share tools, water, and skills with one another. By selling their vegetables at nearby markets, most of the women have tripled their incomes.

To check out more innovations that are nourishing both people and the planet, check out the Mail & Guardian’s website. 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.

Apr30

Creating a Roadmap for a More Sustainable Future Food System

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Check out this review of the Catalan version of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet on the environmental project blog Regulación Eólica con Vehículos Elèctricos (REVE).

REVE-Nourishing-the-Planet-State-of-the-World“With input from some of the most important agricultural experts, to hundreds of examples of innovations that are being used by farmers on the ground today, State of the World 2011 describes 15 environmentally sustainable ways that have proven their success,” says the review of the report.  Calling these examples “imaginative” and “eloquent,” the review describes State of the World 2011 as a “roadmap to the alleviation of hunger for the agricultural funding and development community.”

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.