Thursday, January 29, 2015

Conservationists Caution African Governments on the threats from Industrial Oil Palm Expansion to Equatorial Forests.

By Kimbowa Richard, Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development

The Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) – Africa Section has issued a statement on the Threat from Industrial Oil Palm Expansion to Equatorial Forests in Africa. The purpose of this SCB position statement is to build on these efforts and highlight the rapid and unsustainable destruction of forests due to industrial oil palm expansion in West and Central Africa, and the role of oil palm expansion in the attrition of biodiversity including flagship species such as apes, as well as associated human health and economic implications. This is a call on African governments, policy makers and societies to formulate effective policies that support ecological sustainability of African equatorial forests.

SCB notes that Africa contains about 675 million hectares of forests, corresponding to 17 percent of the world total. These forests support an estimated 1.5 million plant and animal species that in turn support local communities in terms of food, shelter, clothing, and medicinal needs.

However, it is estimated that Africa lost 3.4 million hectares of forests between 2000 and 2010 of which 572,000 hectares was primary forest. The decline has resulted mainly from the rising demand for agricultural lands, commercial harvesting of timber, urbanization, and industrialization

The statement notes that recent significant investments in African agriculture in the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) industry are likely to lead to biodiversity losses similar to those in Southeast Asia. Indonesia is projected to lose most of its natural rainforest by 2022. Oil palm production not only drives natural forest cover loss, but can also lead to direct mortality of endangered species, such as orang-utans (Rainforest Rescue, undated). Oil palm has become one of the most rapidly expanding equatorial crops in the world. The global extent of oil palm cultivation increased from 3.6 million ha in 1961 to 13.2 million ha in 2006

The SCB statement points out that many threatened and endangered species will be affected by oil palm expansion in Africa. ‘Africa’s apes, which include the gorilla and its sub‐species, the common chimpanzee and its sub‐species, and the bonobo, will be affected. Current great ape distribution in Africa substantially overlaps with current oil palm concessions (by 58.7%) and areas suitable for oil palm production (by 42.3%); 39.9% of the distribution of great apes species on protected lands overlaps with suitable oil palm areas’, the statement emphasizes.

‘There is a growing appreciation of the links between ecosystem alteration and human health. A critical example is a model of infectious disease demonstrating that recent epidemics – AIDS, Ebola, West Nile, SARS, Lyme disease and others – are due to alteration of ecosystems. Sixty per cent of emerging infectious diseases that affect humans are zoonotic (from animals) and more than two thirds of those originate in wildlife’ the Statement adds.

The statement further notes that Industrial oil palm expansion at unregulated and unsustainable rates is a threat to forests and biodiversity in equatorial Africa and urges African Governments and societies to put into place robust policies and laws to protect the remaining forests in the region.

The SCB statement recommends that African governments should play a proactive role by granting concessions only to companies that are part of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Furthermore, Government could stimulate the development of oil palm plantations on ‘degraded lands’ by providing incentives (e.g. tax breaks) to make this option more attractive to companies.

In addition, producers must be given access to information that will help them to locate new plantations in areas where they will cause the least ecological damage.

The SCB statement also urges African Governments that before expanding plantations over primary forests, an investment in high‐yield oil palm plantations, through better seed quality and best management practices could be investigated first in order to achieve higher production of crude palm oil in a less environmentally damaging way.

The Statement also calls on Financial institutions, buyers and consumers assist by continuing to demand detailed evidence that producers are doing all they can to minimise the negative impacts of palm oil production, and by denying finance and markets to those that are not.

The Society for Conservation Biology is an international professional organization whose mission is to advance the science and practice of conserving the Earth’s biological diversity, support dissemination of conservation science, and increase the application of science to management and policy. The Society’s 5,000 members include resource managers, educators, students, government and private conservation workers in over 140 countries.

Read the full SCB Africa Section Statement from here: Position Statement on the Threat from Industrial Oil Palm Expansion to Equatorial Forests in Africa

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Give India IPR-free Technology to Fight Climate Change: Prakash Javadekar

By Climate Himalaya

Environment minister Prakash Javadekar on Sunday urged rich nations to provide India technology “free of IPRs (Intellectual Property Rights)” to help it tackle climate change, saying it can be a “win-win situation for all”. “If the developed world is ready to provide technology free of IPRs, it can be a win-win situation for all. We’ll walk our own path on INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) but if technology free of IPRs is provided, we will walk the extra mile,” said Javadekar while speaking at a session on sustainable development at the “India-US dialogue”, jointly organized by the Observer Research Foundation and Network 18.

This was the first time that the environment minister had officially spoken of India’s willingness to walk the “extra mile” in exchange for technology free of IPR burdens.

He also announced that India would declare its INDCs in two parts—one set of actions that it would carry out with its domestic resources and another with funds and technology made available under a possible international agreement.

INDCs are plans that every country is expected to undertake to tackle climate change, keeping in mind their domestic circumstances and goals. These submissions will then form the basis of talks aimed at striking a global climate change agreement in Paris in December. Javadekar sought to buttress his call for free technology by citing the example of the fight against HIV/AIDS—if the world could collaborate and undertake joint research on HIV, he said, why couldn’t something similar be attempted for tackling climate change?

He said India’s priorities for sustainable development lie in providing clean air, clean water and clean energy while committing itself to strong and transparent action on emission reduction and renewable energy. He also ruled out an India-US climate deal along the lines of the US-China climate change deal, saying India’s commitments are more ambitious. On a query on dealing with domestic politics for striking a global climate deal, he said he had already written to all state chief ministers for their views and suggestions in the run-up to the Paris negotiations in order to evolve a consensus view. Earlier, during a panel discussion, Sumant Sinha, chairman and CEO of ReNew Power Ventures, said a “global climate deal can only work for India if it manages to solidify its renewables sector and set a peaking year.”

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Ban Ki-moon: Lack of focus on green investment “troubling”

By Ed King,  RTCC

UN chief confident “robust” climate deal will be delivered in Paris but demands end to high carbon infrastructure projects

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon says he finds the lack of focus on investments green infrastructure among world leaders “troubling”.

Speaking at a televised event at the World Economic Forum, Ban said forums like Davos and the G20 had failed to treat sustainable development seriously.

“We see this at the G20 and even here – we need to address this troubling disconnect,” he told a panel which included IMF chief Christine Lagarde and Rwanda president Paul Kagame.

“If we do not we will lock ourselves to bad long term investments which will make it impossible to hit the sustainable development goals and put ourselves at risk of costly climate change.”

Last year a panel including climate economist Lord Stern and former Mexico president Felipe Calderon reported US$ 90 trillion would be invested in infrastructure by 2030.

Without greater focus on greening financial flows from governments and business, the panel warned it was “near certain” that global temperatures would pass 2C, a level deemed dangerous by scientists.

Ban urged finance ministers to start ensuring that their domestic budgets allocated significant sums of capital to low carbon investments over the next three decades.

And he repeated his belief that countries will deliver a “robust climate change agreement” at a scheduled UN meeting in Paris at the end of 2015.

The UN’s chief impassioned plea came on the penultimate day of the annual summit, which attracts leaders from business, government and civil society to the Swiss resort.

Speaking at the same event, the chief executive of consumer goods multinational Unilever Paul Polman said economic growth was already being stifled because of climate change.

Polman – whose business reported a 2.7% downturn in sales for 2014 – said business leaders had a responsibility to declare their commitment to low carbon growth.

“We’ve been too long the silent majority – we have given the voice to the vocal minority,” he said.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Broken Landscape: Confronting India’s Water-Energy Choke Point

In resource-rich Meghalaya, India, the demand for coal is transforming the environment and the people who depend on it. Coal mine owners are prospering from booming production, but few laws regulate the dangerous and polluting practice of rat hole coal mining. Until now. State officials recently banned rat hole mining in the region, shutting down the economy. Coal mine owners and workers staged protests, while people living downstream from the mines are trying to cope with a dead river that once provided their livelihoods, food, and drinking water. Nepalese migrants who crossed the border to mine coal are stuck in the middle.

Broken Landscape examines the lives of those on the front lines of India's water-energy-food choke points.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Food security: is it time to recognise the nutritional value of human waste?

By , The Guardian

Urine and faeces contain precious nutrients that could fuel farming. Fortunately NGOs are getting over the yuck factor

The average person produces 500 litres of urine and faeces in a year, which contain enough nutrients to grow the crops that person would need to feed themselves entirely for that year.

“Human waste is filled with nutrients from the food we eat, nutrients that were taken from the soil as the food was grown and harvested, and the same nutrients that are essential for restoring soil productivity post-harvest,” explains Sasha Kramer, director of Haiti-based not-for-profit Soil, an initiative that transforms human waste into resources.

The challenge for the development sector is recognising human waste’s economic value to improve food security and building a business case to support it in under-resourced communities.
Identifying the challenges

Kramer explains that the primary obstacle to this potentially win-win situation is health concerns. Any bacteria that pose a danger to humans need to be eliminated from the waste during the treatment process. “When human waste composting is carried out at the household level it becomes more difficult,” she says.

The other obstacle is overcoming end-users’ fears over, or objections to, the reuse of faecal matter. NGOs could play a key role in getting communities to discuss the taboo subject and educating them on the potential of poo power.

“Given this natural aversion to human waste, it takes rigorous research, careful implementation and skillful social marketing to overcome the ‘yuck’ factor,” says Kramer. “That said, we found that, in Haiti, once people are able to see, smell and touch the final product they are more than eager to test it in their gardens.”

The organisation treats 240,000 US gallons of waste every year and has sold 75,000 US gallons of compost, Kramer says. It’s been bought by nurseries, backyard gardeners and large-scale agricultural projects run by non-profits to improve reforestation and soil quality. Kramer says human waste-based compost can bring “huge economic returns for farmers growing high-value crops, such as spinach and peppers”.
Feeding the food chain

Sanergy, an organisation that focuses on improving sanitation in urban slums in Nairobi, is working with agricultural start-up AgriProtein to recycle human faeces into animal feed via insects. Since 2010, AgriProtein has been working on developing technology that sees insects fed on streams of biowaste, including slaughterhouse waste, and then processed into flakes which can be fed to pigs and sheep. According to Teun Veldkamp, a senior researcher at the Centre for Animal Nutrition at Wageningen University, insects are ideal because they can feed on any biowaste.

The collaboration, known as the BioCycle, is still in its infancy. Tests are ongoing to to ensure that any feed produced from insects that have been fed on faecal waste is fit for human consumption further down food chain. Once the tests have been completed, the focus will be on how to turn into a sustainable business that can help locals to make money and improve community sanitation.

The BioCycle’s programme manager, Marc Lewis, says local NGOs could help to roll out the technology into rural communities. “NGOs can provide the training around small-scale fly rearing practices,” says Lewis. “This will help farmers to better utilise waste for the benefit of animal rearing.”

By building their capacity to provide support to smallholders, NGOs can help communities avoid the potential health problems of composting at home without any safeguards. They can also provide smallholders with market opportunities they might not otherwise have access to.
Creating a business model

Another initiative to recycle human waste is Peepoople. It’s built around the Peepoo bag, a personal, single-use, self-sanitising, fully biodegradable toilet that can be used in post-disaster situations and others where no other sanitation is available. It has a strong business model: local women can become micro-entrepreneurs by selling bags; customers receive a monetary incentive for each bag that is returned after use and the human waste collected is turned into a sanitised solution that is sold to farmers as a cheap fertiliser.

Peepoople is also developing is a piece of machinery that will help farmers spread fertiliser – traditional methods involve spreading it by hand which is a barrier to acceptance of using human-waste compost.

“Normally, faecal waste is just a very difficult waste, but properly used, it becomes an asset,” says founder Anders Wilhelmson. “You get rid of a problem and gain a possibility.”

Monday, January 19, 2015

How sugar affects the brain - Nicole Avena |TED - ED Originals

When you eat something loaded with sugar, your taste buds, your gut and your brain all take notice. This activation of your reward system is not unlike how bodies process addictive substances such as alcohol or nicotine -- an overload of sugar spikes dopamine levels and leaves you craving more. Nicole Avena explains why sweets and treats should be enjoyed in moderation.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Why we must invest in local food storage in sub-Saharan Africa

By Emmely Wildeboer and Paul Bosch, The Guardian - UK

We often associate the term “food loss” with spoiled food in our kitchen fridges or overflowing bins behind restaurants. However, when we look at developing regions, food loss has more to do with grain slowly spilling from an aging truck as it bounces around on pothole-marked roads on its way from farm to market.

Post-harvest food losses are particularly high in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where a third of all food produced is lost before it reaches the marketplace (pdf). Grains and oilseeds are one of the main staples in SSA, representing the basis for food security for most of the population.

According to data supplied by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 30m tonnes of grains and oilseeds are lost each year in SSA (pdf). Of this, 85% is lost in the production, harvesting, handling and processing stages of the supply chain. Reducing food loss is important because it makes more food available for consumption, and this is crucial in low-income and food-deficit countries.

Farmers’ productivity could also increase: their incomes will rise, and this in turn allows for investments into inputs such as fertiliser and seeds needed to boost food production. At the moment, many farmers don’t have sufficient cash to buy high-quality inputs at the start of the growing season.

There is no simple quick fix to eliminating food losses in SSA. The approaches, tools and technologies required are just as varied as the causes themselves. However, significant steps towards loss reduction can be taken by focusing on a specific part of the supply chain, and investing in the storage stage of the supply chain – the distribution point right after harvesting – can yield significant gains over the next decade. Building local storage (or in the language of financial markets: securing a physical asset, such as safely stored grain) provides the collateral that local farmers can use to help them access commercial finance.

Many storage facilities in SSA are in poor condition, contaminated or infested with pests such as the larger grain borer, or their capacity is inadequate to meet local production. New storage technologies can reduce food losses by capturing a greater proportion of crop production and better preserving crop quality.

There are three opportunities for improving storage to reduce losses in grains and oilseeds. First, small-scale farmers could use sealed bags and low-capacity plastic or metal silos that accommodate the actual annual harvest, enabling a reduction in losses of up to 40% compared with current crop management practices.

Second, farmer collectives and commercial parties could install larger-capacity storage facilities, which would allow more harvested crops to be stored by an independent party. These larger facilities could be added to existing systems, or they could replace older systems that are in poor condition.

Third, traders could build large-scale warehouses in central locations. These could then be used for import or export purposes.

Unsurprisingly, such investments will incur costs. If we throw around a few numbers, how much would be needed to reduce food losses by 8m tonnes? In practice, a reduction of this magnitude would require investments of roughly $4bn (£2.65bn) over the next decade. While seemingly a huge sum of money, this amount is comparable to investments made in stadiums and public transport for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. $4bn would build approximately 4m small-scale storage facilities, 600 medium-scale storage facilities and 100 large-scale warehouses.

In order to realise this financial investment, collaboration and cooperation is needed. The private sector would need to take a primary role in setting up larger-scale storage facilities. Not only do they have the capital, they also have the knowledge and long-term focus to make these businesses more profitable.

The private sector would also need to work with local farmers’ groups and NGOs to deliver training programmes, helping farmers to understand the benefits of using and upgrading storage systems. Commercially-oriented farmers and local businesses would also play a central role when it comes to the smaller storage options.

In a continent where grain consumption is growing at the same speed as its dependence on staple imports, fighting food losses can make a major impact on food availability. Aside from improving food security, investments in SSA’s storage infrastructure can both professionalise and improve the organisation of food supply chains. We have the opportunity to turn millions of tonnes of lost food into real gains: more food becomes available for the people of sub-Saharan Africa, and we can foster sustainable economic development by creating new business opportunities.