Posts Tagged ‘Sustainable agriculture’

Dec30

From Waste to Food to Fuel: Rice Production and Green Charcoal in Senegal

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By Andrew Alesbury

Inadequate management of human waste is a dire problem in much of the developing world. Swelling urban populations can make matters worse by exposing increasingly dense populations to illnesses carried by human waste. Some, however, are making good use of the surplus sewage. Rather than allow the urine and fecal matter to lie fallow, some have taken to utilizing it for agricultural purposes in lieu of synthetic or inorganic fertilizers. This practice not only makes fertilizer more readily available to farmers who might not have easy access to it in conventional forms, it is also significantly less expensive than using inorganic and synthetic fertilizers, which are often imported. Furthermore, the use of human fertilizer can sometimes be a crop-saving tactic when water is in short supply.

Leftover rice husks and straw can be used to produce green charcoal. (Photo Credit: agriculturalinvestments.net)

It is with these benefits in mind that groups like AgriDjalo, a small limited liability company focused on rice cultivation, are looking to start projects in Senegal that use urban biomass (primarily human waste) to fertilize rice fields. With over 40 percent of Senegal’s almost 13 million inhabitants living in urban areas, there is an abundant supply of human fertilizer.

AgriDjalo’s project could have the added benefit of decreasing reliance on rice imports. In 2012 alone, Senegal imported 820,000 metric tons of rice, accounting for over 6 percent of its total imports and presenting a considerable strain on the nation’s trade balance. As the second largest rice importer in Sub-Saharan Africa and one of the top ten worldwide, Senegal has much to gain, both in terms of income generation and decreased import dependency, from an increase in domestic rice production.

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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…)

Oct10

Oxfam’s GROW Method Engages Individuals in Building a Better Food System

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Oxfam International’s GROW campaign launched the GROW Method in July 2012 to encourage individual action toward a more just and sustainable food system.

The GROW Method’s fourth principle encourages individuals to support small-scale farmers through their buying habits. (Photo Credit: Oxfam)

The  campaign envisions a global food system that contributes to human well-being and ensures food security for all as the world grows to accommodate a projected 2 billion more people by 2050. As described in a previous blog post, GROW focuses on three major shifts: protecting and investing in small-scale farmers, ensuring a fair and safe food system that produces enough for all, and protecting the environment.

The GROW Method offers individuals “a brand new way of thinking about food—and the way we buy, prepare, and it eat,” according to Oxfam. The Method centers around five principles that can be incorporated into everyday life:

  1. “Save Food.” According to Oxfam, wealthy nations throw away almost as much food as sub-Saharan African nations produce each year. To combat food waste and the large expenditure of resources that accompanies it, the GROW Method encourages individuals to create shopping lists, to bring food home from restaurants, to label leftovers with “eat by” stickers, and to reuse leftovers in creative ways.
  2. “Shop Seasonal.” Oxfam encourages individuals to plant a garden or buy seasonal produce from local farms. Rather than simply promoting local foods, the GROW Method’s focus on seasonality can help reduce energy and resource losses. According to researchers at the University of Texas, “Eating locally is not always the greenest option if it means a food item is grown out of season…. For example, lamb grown in New Zealand with native rainfed grasses and shipped to the United Kingdom is less energy intensive than lamb locally raised in the United Kingdom on feed produced by use of energy-intensive irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides.” To find out which foods are in season across the United States, use this map.
  3. “Less Meat.” According to the FAO, livestock production is responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and according to Oxfam, urban households in the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Brazil could reduce emissions equivalent to taking 3.7 million cars off the road by swapping beans for beef once each week for a year. The GROW Method recommends replacing meat and dairy products with vegetables or legumes once a week.
  4. “Support Farmers.” This principle helps to ensure that small-scale farmers are paid fairly for the food they produce. Oxfam points out that many small-scale farmers in developing nations spend more money buying food for their families than they earn from selling their harvests. But, if Americans in urban areas bought Fair Trade chocolate bars twice each month, 30,000 small-scale cocoa farmers would reap the benefits. In addition to buying Fair Trade products, the GROW Method suggests buying produce from farmers markets.
  5. “Cook Smart.” This principle is aimed at saving water and energy when storing and preparing food. Oxfam points out that taking the following three steps when cooking vegetables on the stove could reduce energy use by up to 70 percent: using just enough water to cover the vegetables, using a flat-bottomed pan with a lid, and reducing the cooking heat once the pot begins to boil. The GROW Method also recommends preparing more cold foods and turning off appliances when able.

Oxfam’s report on the GROW Method indicates that household decision makers are receptive to changing their everyday habits. The report surveyed more than 5,000 women with families in six countries—Brazil, India, the Philippines, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States—on their willingness to implement elements of the GROW Method. The majority of respondents in all countries (except the United Kingdom) were concerned with how and where their food is produced. Likewise, the vast majority of respondents in all countries wanted to know how to make a difference in the food system through their food choices.

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Aug13

What Works: Farmers Increasing Resilience to Climate Change by Diversifying Crops

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By Molly Redfield

The loss of arable land due to climate change may amount to as much as 21 percent in South America, 18 percent in Africa, and 11 to 17 percent in Europe, according to scientists at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The potential of climate change to adversely impact food security in these regions is staggering.

Maurice Kwadha encourages crop diversity on his farm in Kenya.

Countries in Asia are also highly vulnerable. In Vietnam, for example, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) reports that by 2050, rice yield decreases associated with climate change may amount to 2.7 million tons. But the loss of arable land is just one of many climate change-related agricultural concerns. Many industrially produced crops are especially vulnerable to extreme weather conditions and the shifting demographics of pathogens. (more…)

Jun11

The Raw Campaign: An Interview with Jonty Whittleton

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Nourishing the Planet’s Carol Dreibelbis spoke recently with Jonty Whittleton, senior campaign manager at Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), a U.K.-based organization working to end factory farming and promote animal welfare, about his involvement with the Raw campaign. The Raw campaign focuses on exposing the true cost of factory farming and building a movement for alternative food and farming solutions.      

Jonty Whittleton, senior campaign manager at Compassion in World Farming (Photo credit: Jonty Whittleton). 

I jumped at the opportunity to join Raw. The campaign is well-aligned with my interests and presents a unique opportunity to create positive change. Fighting factory farming lets you tackle a host of environmental, social, and ethical challenges at the same time. Plus I love food, so championing tastier, healthier, higher-quality food is second nature to me!

What, in your opinion, are the most serious impacts of factory farming?

Factory farming has an impact on animals as well as on people and the planet, at a local, national, and international scale. The primary impetus for Compassion in World Farming is to end animal cruelty, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Factory farming is a chronic, worldwide problem: it is linked to antibiotic resistance, obesity, devastated communities, and choked, polluted waterways.

This is the beauty of Raw. Whether you’re an environmentalist, a humanitarian, or both, the fight against factory farming concerns you.

What strategies does Raw use to improve the global food system?

Raw is a long-term movement with an ambition to stamp out factory farming. We recognize that we won’t achieve widespread change overnight. Our first goal is to convince a critical mass of decision makers and the public that factory farming is a failed system of food production. Our work can be broken down into three distinct areas:

  1. Campaigns aimed at communicating critical food and farming issues in compelling ways, with the objective of capturing minds and encouraging focused action;
  2. Networking with relevant opinion and decision makers, and finding opportunities to collaborate; and
  3. Recruiting famous individuals who believe in the mission of Raw and are interested in spreading inspirational messages.

In the future, we would like to expand our networks into other countries where we see a real need for Raw. Compassion already has feet on the ground in the United States, France and the Netherlands. We would also like to broaden the Raw supporter base and deepen the level of interaction.

Raw is working toward a food and farming revolution. What would the global food system look if this were achieved?

Factory farming prioritizes maximum production at the expense of the welfare of animals, people, and the planet. Our vision is a world where all have access to sufficient, nutritious food produced by humane, sustainable farming systems. These systems would protect the environment, support livelihoods in developed and developing countries, and meet our needs without wasting precious resources.

What agricultural innovations have you seen in your work that are making food production more sustainable?

One innovation that we have been following is lab-grown meat, which is in fairly early stages of development and remains controversial. We believe that lab-grown meat has the potential to feed the world’s meat eaters while massively cutting the number of animals farmed worldwide and, therefore, diminishing the impacts associated with factory farming.

And if we provide farmers—some of the greatest innovators known to man—with the right policies and incentives, they will surely find more sustainable and humane ways to do business.

How can our readers help make the food system safer, fairer, and greener?

It’s easy to feel despondent given the vast scale of the task as hand, but we all have the power to help kick start a food and farming revolution. We can vote for better food three times a day, sending a clear signal to retailers and producers that we believe in better food and farming. I have tried cutting out meat, but my  current mantra is to enjoy smaller amounts of higher quality meat. That way, you often don’t have to spend any more and you get to truly enjoy and take pride in your food. There are also a vast number of organizations fighting for a better food system—whatever your interest, now is the time to get involved. And you can always choose how involved you want to be; whether you want to lobby decision makers, donate a few dollars, or just watch a video, the choice is yours. Here’s to a food and farming revolution!

For more information on Raw’s work to end factory farming, please visit www.raw.info. What steps are you taking to work toward a humane, sustainable food system? Please let us know in the comments section below.

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

 

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.

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Jan15

U.S. Ag Education Groups Make Soil Health a Priority

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By Carol Dreibelbis

In the United States, some agricultural organizations are beginning to recognize the value of training new leaders in sustainable farming practices. In the state of Nebraska, Nebraska Agricultural Education and the Nebraska Future Farmers of America Association (FFA) are in their second year of providing teachers and students with the skills they need to conserve and restore the local landscape, thanks to a three-year, $200,000 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

Nebraska educators gain skills to take back to their classrooms as part of the Soils Project’s “Excellence in Ag Science Day” 20workshop. (Photo credit: National Cooperative Soil Survey)

With the awareness that the world may need to feed an additional 3 billion mouths by 2050, Nebraska Agricultural Education aims to “prepare students for successful careers and a lifetime of informed choices in the global agriculture, food, and natural resource systems.” The organization provides in-class and experiential instruction to more than 13,000 students in 148 schools each year.

With 93 percent of its land devoted to agriculture, Nebraska is one of the United States’ most productive agricultural areas. In 2012, it ranked first nationally in terms of commercial red meat production, the area of irrigated land harvested, and Great Northern beans production. In 2011, it ranked second in ethanol production capacity, with 24 operating plants having production capacity of 2.2 billion gallons (83,279,059,600 liters). In 2010, total cash receipts from farm marketings were over $17 billion, representing 5.5 percent of the U.S. total. In 2008, it was ranked eighth nationally in certified organic cropland acres (52,551 ha) and eighth in certified organic pasture acres (21,518 ha).

The Nebraska FFA Association supports Nebraska Agricultural Education’s leadership and career development roles, with the understanding that “today’s agriculture education students will be…responsible for ensuring a safe and stable food and fiber supply for the growing world.” The FFA reaches more than 6,500 high school students in Nebraska.

During the 2011–12 grant year, 100 schools in Nebraska received free soil testing kits and professional development training for teachers through the Nebraska Agricultural Education Soils Project. More than 100 FFA educators attended a two-day workshop in June 2011 on soil science, where they received soil guides and participated in field- and lab-based exercises to learn how to use the kits.

The soil quality kits, which include buckets, vests, gram scales, measuring wheels, soil probes, spades, measuring tapes, and other equipment, enable the educators to teach their own students how to assess important soil properties, including moisture, electrical conductivity, temperature, phosphate, nitrate and nitrite, pH, aggregate stability, organic matter, respiration, bulk density, and infiltration. Proper soil management can prevent land degradation (i.e. erosion), which can impact agronomic productivity, the environment, food security, and even quality of life. According to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, “Global efforts to halt and reverse land degradation are integral to creating the future we want…Sustainable land use is a prerequisite for lifting billions from poverty, enabling food and nutrition security, and safeguarding water supplies. It is a cornerstone of sustainable development.”

The soil science workshop received overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants. “There is so much great information and materials to help me teach soil science. Thank you so much for allowing me to be part of it,” said Amber Endres, an agricultural educator in Hartington, in northeast Nebraska. Beyond the trainings, follow-up sessions provide resources and education to additional teachers.

Ed George, the Soils Project coordinator, views the initiative as a way to boost students’ confidence and engagement both in and out of school. He notes that the Soils Project enables students to recognize the impact that humans have on the environment, to engage with local environmental concerns, and to grow into “future leaders, with the skills to sustain Nebraska’s land productivity and soil health.

What is your region doing to develop future leaders in agriculture and conservation? Please let us know in the comments section below.

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

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.

Nov29

UN Conference Connects Food, Agriculture, and Climate Change

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By Carol Dreibelbis

This week and next, international decision makers are meeting at COP18/CMP 8, a UN conference on climate change in Doha, Qatar. Several events taking place today consider the relationship between agriculture and climate change, including a session entitled, “Climate Change & Ensuring Sustainable, Humane, Equitable Food Systems: Views from the North & South.”

Check out today’s issue of Outreach, a magazine published in conjunction with the conference. It features further discussion on food, agriculture, and climate change, including articles such as “China, Food Security, Climate Change, and the Future” and “Livestock and Climate Change: Intensification is Not the Answer.”

What topics in food and agriculture do you hope are addressed at the conference? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern for the Nourishing the Planet project.