Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tanzanian officials, drought-hit farmers exchange blame for crop failure

By Kizito Makoye, Thomson Reuters Foundation

In the remote village of Misigiri, every farmer has a story to tell about the worsening drought that has pushed them to the edge of disaster this season.

The grim reality for Majaliwa Mrisho, a peasant farmer, is that his entire maize crop has withered, despite his efforts to revive some dying plants with water from a borehole. He believes that farmers living on Tanzania’s central plateau now must adapt to changing weather patterns to survive.

”I am very shocked. This is a completely new phenomenon. The rain is usually enough to bring us good harvests but that is not the case this season,” he said.

Droughts are an increasingly frequent problem in the area and local officials said they have been trying for years to persuade farmers to grow drought-tolerant crops, largely without success. Farmers argue the government instead should have had contingency plans in place to cope with drought.

During the recent long dry spell, maize, a staple food in the area, was particularly hard hit, and thousands of farmers will need food handouts until the next harvest.

”We did not cause this situation. We have been made the victims of circumstances... (Now) we need assistance to support our families and keep hunger at bay,”said Mwajuma Zakayo, another Misigiri peasant farmer.

Iramba district is among several that have been badly affected by the drought, which has caused acute food shortages and pushed cereal prices sharply higher.

Interviews of 242 food traders and farmers in Singida’s Iramba and Kiomboi districts, by visiting reporters, showed that most ordinary people now struggle to afford to buy cereals.

Maize prices have doubled in the area since a year ago, and rice and bean prices have seen similar increases since the start of the drought.


Farmers admitted they have failed to heed government calls to grow different crops, such as cassava, to cushion their families from the threat of drought and hunger.

Mrisho, for instance, has been growing maize, beans and groundnuts for decades and did not see why he should grow sorghum or finger millet instead. ”I never grew it before, so I didn’t know its importance until drought struck... I find it too risky to try something new without knowing if it will thrive under these conditions,” he said.

Others said their families prefer maize to more drought-resistant crops, such as cassava. Several farmers told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Singida that they did not want to grow and eat food they were not used to, and said maize was their best bet because their families had been growing it for generations.

”My children like ugali (maize meal) more than anything else because it gives them a lot of energy. How on earth can I give them ugali made of millet?” asked Jaka Naligia, a 47-year- old farmer in Iramba.
Boniphace Temba, an official from the Singida regional administrative secretariat, said efforts to promote crop switches had failed.

”We have tried our best to advise farmers to change their mindset and start growing resilient crops, but the response is not that good. ... When you tell them about millet they simply ignore you,” Temba told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


The Agriculture, Food and Cooperatives Ministry said more than 37,000 households in Iramba district were facing food shortages, and the poorest families could not afford to buy any food.

While the annual cereals requirement for the district is 58,360 tonnes, the 2011/2012 season’s yield was only 14,380 tonnes, the ministry said. The ministry’s 2012 food assessment in Iramba showed that over 16,000 households were unable to feed themselves.

Parseko Kone, a Singida regional commissioner, said food distributions would fill the gap until the next harvest.

Tanzania Meteorological Agency data shows that Singida received 580 mm of rain last season, the lowest the region has ever recorded.

While local people point to drought as the primary cause of hunger, the government blames some hunger on failure to use manage harvests properly. “Some farmers had a good harvest but they did not use it wisely. Some people simply abused their harvests by making local (alcoholic) brew," Kone said.

But farmers said the government was to blame for not putting in place clear policies on dealing with drought. Some farming families have resorted to eating baobab fruits, they said, and some men have left their families to find work in towns.

Analysts said that if farmers refused to grow millet, they should be given drought-resistant maize with a short growing season. The government has failed to tap the potential of initiatives such as Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) which could reduce the farmers’ losses, they said.

”There are several varieties of drought–resistant maize which could be of great help to farmers in times of  drought. I don’t understand why we should not introduce them  to help these poor peasants (deal with) the dilemma of growing unwanted crops,” said Prosper Ngowi, an economist and lecturer at Mzumbe University in Dar es Salaam

Last year, farmers in Makutupora village, in Dodoma, said that by using drought-resistant maize they had managed to increase yields  by up to 50 percent.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Small farmers hold the key to tackling climate change

As a lifelong scientist I have attended climate change meetings for over 30 years. Our aim was to convince scientists and policymakers to take climate change seriously. The message was: ‘Take action now, to leave a better world for your grandchildren.’

In the past, many of my colleagues working in development were not convinced - poor and hungry people cannot afford to worry about climate change. Such was the conventional wisdom.

The conference on “Hunger-Nutrition-Climate Justice” that I attended in Dublin this month has shown a hugely significant development. Finally, grassroots activists, smallholder farmers, pastoralists and fishermen are being given a voice and placed at the centre of climate change discussions.

Participants from 60 countries, many from Africa and Asia, were not discussing some vague threat in the distant future, but the serious challenges of managing risks to their livelihoods from extreme weather events, droughts, floods and hurricanes happening today. Evidently, climate change has caught up with us.

I was inspired by the discussions in Dublin, where participants shared their experiences of employing successful strategies to increase their capacity to adapt to climate change.

We heard about farmers in Senegal working with extension officers and the meteorological service on seasonal weather forecasts that are directly useful to them. We learned about farmers in Ethiopia engaging in the development of drought-insurance schemes, and farmers in Malawi adopting new varieties of orange-fleshed, drought-resistant sweet potato to help overcome vitamin A deficiency in infants.

Today, at least 870 million people go to bed hungry. A quarter of the world’s children under five years of age are stunted by chronic malnourishment and will never reach their full potential. President Higgins of Ireland called it, “…the greatest ethical failure of our world.”

Climate change is exacerbating the hunger and malnutrition challenge - undermining the progress we desperately need for a food-secure future. And it’s hitting those that contributed least to greenhouse gas emissions the hardest - the smallholder farmers in developing countries who possess the least capacity to adapt. Ending hunger and malnutrition can only happen if we address climate change at the same time.


Agriculture not only multiplies risk for smallholder farmers. Food production and consumption also emits as much as 30 percent of all greenhouse gases. But in its evolution also lies the potential for fighting climate change. 

We need to develop more innovative climate-smart agricultural solutions. We require investments in research that produces innovations for our food systems – systems that will need to be both resilient to climatic changes and have low carbon emissions.

And agricultural research also needs to do so much more than issue academic publications; we are entering a new phase of partnering with those in the field to put scientific innovation into real-life contexts. 

The good news from Dublin was that we have a fair idea of what we have to do: Let the smallholder farmers, women in particular, tell scientists and policymakers about their needs and then empower those farmers with tools and policies to deal with climate risk in their own way.

Give a prominent role to local knowledge and combine it with cutting-edge science to fashion local innovations. Improve crop varieties that are productive, nutritious and resilient. Change the way pastures are used and the mix of livestock breeds. Manage landscapes, soils and forests to reduce emissions and conserve biodiversity. And finally, hold governments accountable to deliver on their commitments.

While this may be easy to say, we all know it is the hardest part to implement. It requires governments, the private sector, researchers, and producers working together in joined-up approaches. It requires close collaboration to ensure that agriculture and climate change adaptation issues are properly addressed in the creation of post-2015 development goals. 

It will require investments, even in tough times. The Irish government, hosting this summit as a key part of its EU Presidency, is an example for all. It will maintain its development commitment despite the domestic financial crisis – and it will allocate over 20 percent of its development budget to end hunger and malnutrition.
The Irish hosts, recalling their own history of famine, were calling on the world to address climate justice. They were giving a voice to the voiceless and putting their money where their mouth is.

While these challenges are far from insignificant, they are not insurmountable. In the words of former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who addressed the conference, “If we were to walk off that climate cliff, what does that say about our generation?”

Small farmers hold the key to tackling climate change

Friday, April 26, 2013

IPS – Carbon Credits Could Finance Improved Cookstoves in Mexico | Inter Press Service

By Emilio Godoy, IPS News

Environmental organisations in Mexico are hoping to finance the promotion of fuel-efficient wood-fired cookstoves, which reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, through the sale of carbon credits on the voluntary market.

Two non-governmental organisations are working in the municipality of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, in the southern Mexican state of Quintana Roo, to develop and promote these improved cookstoves, which would also reduce wood consumption as well as the incidence of respiratory problems caused by the smoke from traditional stoves.
“The majority of rural families in the region cook with firewood. We began with a series of workshops to find out what kind of stoves there are in the country,” said Dulce Magaña, the ecotourism and ecotechnology coordinator at U’yo’olché (“tree shoot” in the local Mayan language), which is leading up the initiative in conjunction with the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature (FMCN).

U’yo’olché, founded in 1999, works in the areas of community forest management, ecotourism and biodiversity monitoring in Quintana Roo and the neighbouring states of Yucatán and Campeche.
The cookstove initiative started off in 2006 with the distribution of Patsari stoves, one of the most commonly used models of efficient cookstoves in Mexico. They are made of clay and manufactured with federal and state subsidies.

But clay is scarce in the region, which led the organisation to adapt these stoves and develop a new model called Túumben K’óoben (“new stove”), made with local materials such as white earth, nopal (prickly pear) cactus juice, lime and corn husks.

In terms of design, the stove is basically a brick and cement structure with a combustion chamber where the firewood is placed, two or three metal burners, and a pipe through which the smoke is released.
More than 2,000 improved cookstoves have now been distributed, half of them based on this new model. A solar power cooker is included with each one.

Thirteen percent of Mexico’s 117 million inhabitants cook with firewood, which is used at an estimated rate of 2.5 kilograms daily per person.

And every year, over 4,000 deaths occur due to smoke exposure from traditional cookstoves or open fires, according to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, an association of governments, universities, the private sector and non-government organisations.

“The distribution of solar cookers and energy-saving cookstoves and training in their use has made it possible to reduce the consumption of firewood in the country’s rural communities,” Lorenzo de Rosenzweig, the general director of the FMCN, told Tierramérica.

In addition to reduced wood consumption and the elimination of hazardous household smoke, the improved stoves decrease the risk of accidents, cut down on household expenses, and give women more free time for other activities, such as education or work outside the home, thus strengthening women’s rights while improving quality of life.

In addition, a traditional wood-burning stove releases 7.14 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, while the use of a solar cooker and improved stove can reduce those emissions by up to four tons, according to the FMCN.

“Cookstove projects can be successful. Some have achieved stable development. The crucial component is the model of the stove, which must be adapted to the needs of the users, the quality of the materials, and follow-up of the adoption of the technology,” said Iván Hernández, the regional manager for the Americas of The Gold Standard.

This Geneva-based organisation certifies renewable energy, energy efficiency, waste management and forest carbon offset projects. In Latin America it has certified 63 initiatives so far. Nine percent of these have issued credits equivalent to between 150,000 and 200,000 tons of CO2, Hernández told Tierramérica. Only four of those projects are in Mexico.

Carbon credits are issued for activities that demonstrate a concrete and measurable reduction in CO2 emissions, and are traded on carbon markets. The buyers, while financing the clean energy project that generated the credits, can use them to demonstrate that they have contributed to the global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Utsil Naj (“clean house for everyone”), a programme that helps clean technology initiatives in Latin America to enter the carbon market, accepts projects aimed at the promotion of energy-efficient stoves, solar cookers and water heaters, photovoltaic panels and greenhouses, and operates in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Peru, as well as Mexico.

For Mexican initiatives, the voluntary carbon markets in the United States, Brazil, Chile, Australia or Japan could be better alternatives than the mandatory carbon markets established under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol.

In force since 2005 and extended until 2020, the Kyoto Protocol allows industrialised nations that are obliged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to invest in emission-reduction projects in developing countries, as a way of “offsetting” the emissions they have not managed to cut within their own borders.

As of this year, Mexico can only sell carbon credits in Europe from projects registered under the CDM up until 2012, which makes voluntary carbon reduction schemes an attractive option.

“Through the carbon credits we could earn income for maintenance or for activities with women, such as providing access to other technologies, as well as follow-up and monitoring of the cookstoves,” Magaña told Tierramérica.

U’yo’olché is preparing to conduct an assessment of the adoption of the improved cookstoves among their users. Each stove costs roughly 162 dollars. Through an interest-free microcredit loan, purchasers can pay for them in weekly instalments of eight dollars. They can also opt to pay part of the cost of the stove, with the remainder financed by an organisation, said Magaña.

The project would be the world’s second improved cookstove initiative certified by The Gold Standard to sell carbon credits on the international market. The first is the Peruvian initiative Qori Q’oncha, which also entered the market with the assistance of Utsil Naj and generates around 100,000 tons of carbon credits.

“The resources will be reinvested to expand the coverage of the project and to train community leaders. One it is underway and producing results, the initiative will be replicated with partners in other regions of Mexico,” said de Rosenzweig.

Hernández noted that “many regions and countries have undertaken individual or bilateral initiatives for the potential trade of emissions reductions. Their combination with voluntary markets will be key for the development of these new mechanisms.”

IPS – Carbon Credits Could Finance Improved Cookstoves in Mexico | Inter Press Service

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Women are silver bullet to ending extreme poverty - UNDP head

By Stella Dawson, Thomas Reuters Foundation

Improving political, economic and social opportunities for women is the single most important step countries can take to end extreme poverty worldwide by 2030, the head of the United Nations Development Program said.

Sustained economic growth certainly is needed, especially after the financial crisis that pushed 400 million people back below subsistence level. But growth alone will not lift up the estimated 1.5 billion people, almost one fifth of the world’s population, who live on less than $1.25 a day, a group the UN and the World Bank are targeting to eliminate extreme poverty, Helen Clark, UNDP administrator, said in an interview.
 “The silver bullet is equal rights for women and girls, and that has to figure prominently,”  said the former prime minister of New Zealand and the first woman to head the agency.  
“Just headline GDP growth won’t do it. You have to target poverty, you have to target inequality. That means bringing in all the people who are excluded. Women are so often excluded, and people with disabilities, minorities in societies, people pushed to the fringes,” Clark said.
The scorecard for the Millennium Development Goals, the blueprint signed by 193 nations for tackling extreme poverty by 2015, shows that the least progress has been made on women’s issues. On Goal 3 for achieving Gender Equality, for instance, women’s equal representation in national parliaments has either stagnated or gone backward since 2000. Similarly Goal 5 on improving material health shows lowering maternal death rates has stalled in every region except eastern Africa and central Asia.
Clark called it “no surprise” that maternal mortality is furthest from reaching its goal. It reflects a failure to understand the widespread impact that holding back women from full social, economic and political engagement has on development outcomes. For example, if girls marry young, they lose out on education and are more likely to face health problems and poverty. 
Take Ghana. It declared women dying in childbirth a national emergency and gave pregnant women free access to health care and free transport to maternity centres. Yet its maternal death rate remains high, significantly among 12- to 15-year-olds -- girls marrying too young to bear children safely, Clark said.
Agriculture is another area where a woman-focused development approach would make a difference to poverty rates, she said. UNDP research shows that about 80 percent of the world’s agricultural workers are women. Giving women access to credit would allow them to buy fertilizers to increase crop yields, feed their families and lift 100-150 million people from hunger, the United Nations and the World Bank estimate. 
Today about six out of 10 of the world’s poorest people are women and 75 percent of women globally cannot get bank loans because they have no property rights or have unpaid or insecure jobs. Yet they are more likely to pay back loans then men, and more likely to invest extra cash in their families, improving their health, education and welfare, World Bank research has shown.   
These are some of the reasons why Clark wants women’s rights to have a central place in the next set of UN development goals. Gender equality, despite being built into the design of UNDP programs, is “not trendy enough”, and countries too often set targets that are not sufficiently ambitious, she said.
The greatest threat to the UN's goal of ending extreme poverty is conflict and fragile states, said Clark, who has headed the UNDP agency since 2009.  Huge strides India is making to reduce poverty will bear fruit in the next decade, but millions of people who live in regions riven by ethnic, religious or resource conflict could still be left behind, she said.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim already have identified fragile states as priorities, and they recently announced a joint trip to the Great Lakes region of central Africa with the goal of focusing their resources in a coordinated way on addressing the humanitarian disaster left from five years of conflict in the mineral-rich area. The coordinated effort is intended to pave the way for the private sector to enter conflict regions quickly once they are stabilized.
Clark said UNDP's role is to help develop governmental institutions, build justice systems and advise on social programmes. Her agency also will be pouring more resources into extractive industry governance to help communities better use the revenues they earn from oil, gas, mining and timber resources, and reduce conflict.
But she sees no quick results, and calls conflict areas one of the hardest development challenges. “It is the tough stuff, and there is no substitute for strong government leadership.”
Indeed the UNDP’s latest Human Development Report released last month identified a strong state government with a vision as one of three essential ingredients for achieving sustained development and reducing inequality that reduces the likelihood of conflict. The others were tapping into global markets, often by opening up gradually and in some instances protecting national industries as they develop; and an impressive level of public investment in infrastructure and social welfare policies. 
These policy prescriptions run counter to the usual Washington advice from multilateral institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund of free market liberalisation to reduce poverty and promote growth. Clark said this advice has to change, a message that increasingly is being heard as the austerity programs in Western Europe, first seen as essential to restore growth by bringing down debt levels, are raising poverty rates and stoking social unrest.

Women are silver bullet to ending extreme poverty - UNDP head

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Locals need more legal rights in big African land deals - report - AlertNet

Can legal reforms help affected communities have a bigger say about African land deals?
As negative impacts of large commercial land acquisitions are exposed, people who feel wronged by them are becoming more engaged and searching for ways to take action, research shows. Ensuring they have, and know about, legal rights could help, experts say.

Large-scale land deals in can offer benefits, such as job opportunities, market access and infrastructure improvements, supporters say. But critics note that they also can lead to local people losing control of land, and can spur economic conflict in local communities.

A report, published by the International Institute for Environmental Development (IIED) this month, looks at the ways citizens respond when they see land deals as unjust. These efforts include letter writing, requesting an audience with authorities, forming negotiating groups and using the courts to work through their legal options, as well as staging protests.

Looking at the legal frameworks in 12 African countries, including Mozambique, Tanzania and Liberia, and 16 large-scale land deals, the research found too few legal options available for local groups in comparison to laws protecting investors, governments and communities.  

“We need to understand more about the accountability weaknesses in different contexts – such as the imbalances in legal frameworks and the ways in which political interests affect deals,” said Emily Polack, the report’s lead author and an IIED researcher, in a press release. “We also need to understand what options citizens have to seek greater accountability – and how to strengthen the mechanisms they can use as well as their ability to use them.”

While legal frameworks provide some opportunities for protecting land rights of rural populations in Africa, many of the frameworks are linked to recent reforms recognising customary land rights, or to freedom of information legislation, human rights law and transnational litigation.

Reforms have provided a basis for some lawsuits aimed at challenging land deals, but the laws for the most part do not directly address many important issues. Many land deal negotiations happen between investors and governments behind closed doors without a say from landowners, the report’s authors said.

“On one hand, international investment law is strong and offers great protection to investors who seek to acquire large areas of land,” said Lorenzo Cotula, a senior researcher at IIED, in a press release. “On the other, international human rights laws tend not to be very effective in protecting the rights of poor communities.”

Meanwhile, some features of national laws provide the basis for recognising rights and accountability but they can also “legitimise abuses of power against the powerless,” he said.

Many communities have limited say in the processing of land allocation by government and customary authorities, the study said.

To seek more accountability about decisions being made, locals have sought action with farming associations, media attention, and help from local, national and international non-government groups. Some have registered complaints with local authorities, and reacted with public protests and even violence.

While some displays of citizen action were marked in all 16 case studies, it is not the case that citizens always mobilise when they see injustice in land deals. A lack of mobilisation could be rooted in low levels of local organization, little knowledge of rights, lack of understanding of authority and a weak capacity to express demands, the study found.

“Improved public accountability is critical to democracy as it enables local people to voice their concerns about large-scale land deals,” said Adrian Di Giovanni of the International Development Research Centre, which contributed to the report. “It discourages harmful investments and makes it more likely that everyone involved will gain from incoming investment.”

Sunday, April 21, 2013

How Africa can solve its food crisis by growing more crops sustainably

Does sustainable intensification mean large-scale, industrial agriculture, or can it build on the traditional methods of many African farmers?
This week in Dublin, world leaders, policymakers and civil society representatives met to discuss the urgent and interrelated issues of hunger, nutrition and climate justice that are faced by the poorest people and nations. In parallel, the global community is already discussing the goals and metrics that should shape sustainable development once the millennium development goals expire in 2015.

It is time to place sustainable intensification at the heart of African agriculture, and ensure that development goals deliver on the agenda opened in Dublin. Sustainable intensification involves producing more crops, better nutrition and higher rural incomes from the same set of inputs – such as land, water, credit and knowledge – while reducing environmental impacts on a sustained basis.

Sub-Saharan Africa faces specific and complex challenges. The number of hungry people in the continent rose to 239 million last year and 40% of children under five years old are stunted due to malnutrition. Africa's population is expected to almost double by 2050, bringing it to almost 2 billion people. Based on present trends, the current African food production system would be able to meet only 13% of the continent's needs by 2050.

Despite this urgent need, African crop yields have been largely stagnant over the past 50 years. Less than 4% of farmland in sub-Saharan Africa is irrigated. Almost three-quarters of its soils are degraded (pdf) due to years of planting crops without replacing nutrients; fertiliser use is by far the lowest in the world with most farmers unable to afford it.

Yet the carbon footprint of African smallholder farming is low, and problems of eutrophication and other forms of agricultural pollution are less prevalent than elsewhere.

Sustainable intensification is sometimes viewed as a Trojan horse for the implantation of large-scale, industrial agriculture – increasing yields through a dramatic increase in the use of fertilizers and pesticides while paying lip service to the environment and local farming conditions. As such, sustainable intensification polarises opinion.

But the term needs to be understood in a more balanced way and reinterpreted as relevant to the realities of smallholder agriculture and the need for strengthening food security.

A report released on Thursday by the Montpellier panel – international experts in agriculture, sustainable development, trade, policy and development from Africa and Europe – aims to demystify sustainable intensification and show its relevance to addressing food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty.

Agricultural intensification can take many forms, including current systems, many of which are not sustainable. With increasing pressure on natural resources and the impact of climate change, intensification must be made more sustainable. It can follow many paths, such as reducing reliance on fertilisers and pesticides; generating lower greenhouse gas emissions, and contributing to the maintenance of critical public goods, such as biodiversity and clean water.

Sustainable intensification is achievable for African smallholder farmers, and builds on many of their traditional practices. It includes: "micro-dosing" by which smallholder farmers use the cap of a drinks bottle to measure out small amounts of fertilisers, boosting yields significantly while keeping costs down for farmers and reducing the risk of fertiliser runoff into waterways; combining mixed field and tree crops, such as nitrogen-fixing varieties; harvesting and managing scarce water for supplementary irrigation; and promoting regeneration of diverse natural species in common lands.

But sustainable intensification requires more than just inputs and technology – it demands greater co-operation and organisation in rural areas. For instance, supporting village "grain banks" run by local farmer associations helps smallholders to protect their grain. Farmers deposit grain and the bank keeps it protected against pests and diseases, so that farmers can access it as needed or sell later in the season when prices are typically higher. This type of network is supported by the Kenya Agricultural Commodity Exchange, a private-sector firm that provides farmers with prices and other market intelligence by SMS text.

We are calling on governments, in partnership with the private sector and NGOs, to recognise the huge potential for sustainable intensification as a driver of development – in terms of food security, better nutrition and more resilient rural livelihoods.

While many parts of the world have experienced large increases in crop yields over the past 50 years, production has not always been intensified sustainably. Intensification is often associated with the ills of modern agriculture seen in the west – over-use of chemicals and fertiliser, pollution of rivers and water bodies, monocrops and biodiversity deserts.

But African agriculture does not need to follow suit. Helping African farmers to increase their production and incomes while safeguarding the environment – in short, sustainable intensification – offers a balanced and practical way forward.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Namibian: Wild lions near extinction

The Namibian

FORGET about the rhino for a moment and spare a thought for the lions. When the rhino poaching problem subsides in five to 10 years, wild lions will be gone.

The continent’s lion population has shrunk by 75 percent in the past two decades, according to wildlife experts.

They are currently “vulnerable” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s list of threatened species.

 In west and central Africa lions are classified as “endangered”.

“The facts are these lions are declining at such a tastpace. We will have nothing left in a few years,”
conservation group Walking for Lions (WFL) founder Marcus Roodbol says.

“Have we ever thought what we will do when we realise the last lion has been shot or poisoned? What will we do when we sit in the African bush and not hear the lion roar?”

Trophy hunting, human encroachment, poaching, lion poisoning, and human/lion conflict have become a grave concern, prompting educational and awareness campaigns to save “the king of the jungle.”

In Asia, lion bones have become a popular commodity for healing and traditional purposes.

“This is a huge concern as the market is increasing for lion bones... to make lion soup or lion wine. Its properties are believed... to provide medicinal remedies, which is medically unfounded,” says Roodbol.
The expanding agricultural sector has led to lions confining themselves to isolated areas, increasing their risk of extinction.

“We as humans have this ideal image that we can reintroduce lions back into the wild once they are gone. What makes us think this? If we cannot even save the last remaining wild lions and support the local communities living with these animals, what makes us think we can do it later?”

Wildlife photographer and conservationist Christina Bush says the most urgent threat to lions today is widespread use of pesticides and poison by farmers in retaliation for the loss of livestock.

“Every year more lions die as they are forced to make room for Africa’s growth. In Botswana alone over 100 lions are killed each year in an attempt to protect livestock.”

In South Africa around 1500 lions are killed each year in the name of trophy hunting, she says.

“By killing the dominant male in the pride... hunters set off a chain reaction of instinctive behaviours in which the subsequent dominant male kills all the offspring of the previous dominant male lion. It is estimated that six to eight feline deaths results from each dominant male that is shot.”

A lot more needs to be done to prevent the species’ extinction.

“Wild African lions are at risk of extinction by the year 2020 unless drastic measures are taken to save them,” she warns.

WFL in South Africa has taken up the plight to help preserve wild lions.

Roodbol and several others will embark on a 500km walk from Windhoek to Ghanzi in Botswana over two months starting May 1.

Their aim is to educate people, including farmers and schoolchildren, along the way about the importance of lion conservation.The group will walk 30km per day and film the campaign to promote global awareness through social networking sites.

Students from the University of Botswana and Cheetah Conservation Botswana are expected to join the march for a few days. Topics such as poaching, canned hunting, the illegal lion bone and fur trade, lion consumption, lion mitigation methods, and volunteering will be discussed.

“We would like to create global awareness and give people something to think about when it comes to various aspects of lion conservation,” he says.

If enough money is raised through the walk, it will be used to help communities living with lions to ensure their survival.

“Through the years of working with wild lions and hand-raised lions we finally came to our senses that if we as a younger generation do not start working on the future of our wildlife, our children will not experience the beauty of Africa,” Roodbol says.

According to Panthera, a wildcat conservation group, lions have vanished from over 80 percent of their historic range and are extinct in 26 countries. Only seven countries, Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe are believed to each contain more than 1000 lions.

On its website, Panthera says lions are increasingly coming into closer contact with humans as their habitat is converted for human use.

Kenya alone loses around 100 wild lions every year due to human contact. Experts believe there will be no more wild lions left in Kenya by 2030.

Panthera says there is a scarcity of wild prey due to over-hunting by humans. When wild prey are over-hunted, lions are forced to feed on livestock. This drives further conflict with humans in which the lion ultimately loses.Beverly and Derreck Joubert, National Geographic explorers based in Botswana, say there will be environmental havoc if lions go extinct.

“They are the most vital centre point in many ecosystems. If we lose them we can anticipate eventual collapse of whole environments, right down to the water systems, as prey shifts or migrations stop, and species overgraze and destroy the integrity of important vegetation, especially along rivers.”

It could also hurt the economic systems of people who rely on tourism to survive.

“Many come to Africa to see the big cats in the wild. Losing that could devastate areas where this tourism is the sole source of income,” the pair believes.

“Saving the lions from extinction is a cause that not enough people know about. Lions are incredibly powerful cats, but even they need help from those who care about preserving wildlife for the future.” – Nampa-Sapa

Friday, April 19, 2013

Small farmers take the stage to sway climate justice debate - AlertNet

By Megan Rowling

In northern Kenya's impoverished and drought-prone Turkana region, a group called Kenya Climate Justice Women Champions is encouraging local women to grow hardy, nutritious crops like amaranth, sorghum and cassava, to improve their own health and that of their children. The vitamins and minerals from these foods means mothers are less likely to die in childbirth and can better breastfeed their babies. The micronutrients help kids avoid growing up stunted and give them the energy to attend school.

The nationwide network decided to act after seeing too many women without the strength to give birth, too many infants undernourished because they didn't get enough milk and too few children in school because they were hungry. Coordinator Cecilia Kibe can’t forget one baby who carried on suckling at her dead mother's breast. "It is as pathetic as that," she told a major conference on hunger, nutrition and climate justice in Dublin this week.

Her group promotes local women who are actively tackling these issues in their communities as "champions" at county level and beyond, so they can influence responses to climate change. "When a woman suggests something, it should be taken up, because (she) would like to see that child she carried grow to be where she is and even beyond," said Kibe.

Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the U.N. World Food Programme, said empowerment has no value as an abstract concept in global conversations. It must be driven down to national and then local level, and backed up by laws, "so that at the centre is (a) woman who...is ultimately empowered to make a difference in her own life".

A series of electronic votes during the two-day conference flagged up the importance of using local knowledge in finding solutions to climate-linked food insecurity, as well connecting local voices to decision making processes and enabling local people to hold governments to account.

With some 350 participants from around 60 countries, the main aim of the gathering - co-hosted by the Irish government - was to get representatives of small farmers, fisherfolk and herders together with the heads of international agencies, government officials and other top-level policy makers to share experiences and ideas on tackling hunger, nutrition and climate problems.

Former Irish President Mary Robinson, whose foundation jointly organised the event, insisted that the people grappling with hunger and climate change on the ground must be brought to the negotiating table to hammer out a new development agenda to replace the Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015. "They are articulate, and convincing, and experts. They know the problems and they know the solutions," she told the closing session of the conference.

There was undoubtedly a much higher representation of food producers from developing countries than is usually the case at such meetings, especially from East and Southern Africa and small island states. And they were frequently given the stage, alongside representatives of the United Nations and northern governments.


Dolsie Lorna Kalmatak spoke about how women in Vanuatu are using solar dryers to preserve fruit and nuts so they can be stored and sold when market prices are higher.

William Ole Seki Laitayock, coordinator of the Ngorongoro Pastoralist Development Organisation in Tanzania, appealed for international help in protecting herders' right to graze their animals on land that's being increasingly leased for tourism or fenced off for conservation. Some pastoralists have already started growing crops or sending family members to towns to find work, in order to survive the water and fodder shortages that are decimating their livelihoods, he said.

In Malawi, farmers are diversifying away from tobacco and maize, planting legumes to improve soil fertility and trying out no-till agriculture, said Dyborn Chibonga, CEO of the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association (NASFAM).

And Augustine Njamnshi, head of Cameroon's Bioresources, Development and Conservation Programme, described how people in his country - including his own mother - are going back to cultivating indigenous vegetables and plants from the forest because they are much more resistant to extreme weather than newer varieties.

Frank Rijsberman, chief executive of the CGIAR, a partnership of 15 international agricultural research centres, told AlertNet from Dublin that attitudes among scientists have shifted to recognise that local knowledge and concerns must play a part in helping farmers adapt to climate change. It is no longer a question of researchers delivering new plant varieties and growing techniques in a one-way process.

"Farmers do have important knowledge that needs to be combined with modern science," he said. But Rijsberman noted that 60 percent of people at the conference had voted 'no' to a question on whether there is enough local knowledge to tackle hunger and climate change, adding that there is still a need for innovation.
In many dry areas, farming systems are already quite resilient, with traditional varieties adapted to drought. The problem is they produce low yields, while new varieties capable of bigger harvests can be more vulnerable to climate extremes, Rijsberman noted.

"The challenge is to try and combine that understanding of traditional, local knowledge (and) the diversity of robust systems with the higher productivity that we clearly also need," he said.

More work should also be done on how agriculture can improve nutrition, such as the breeding of orange sweet potato varieties that are high in vitamin A, he added. At the same time, he noted a rapid increase in willingness among farmers to deal with climate change as a pressing concern.

"It will be impossible to have a food-secure world if we don't deal with climate change at the same time (as other issues)," he said.


In a speech to the conference, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said changes in rainfall, due to climate change, are "colliding" with knowledge passed down to subsistence farmers through generations, making it harder for them to predict the best times to plant and harvest crops.

But he argued there is no excuse for inaction in the face of climate shifts that are causing yields to fall, food prices to rise and more poor people to go without enough to eat, because solutions are available. "We know how to prevent more damage being done, and we know how to assist those who need more assistance in adapting to the deterioration in agricultural conditions that has already taken place," he said.

Effective methods - many of them presented by small farmers at the conference - include crop rotation and diversification, agroforestry and underground irrigation, he added.

Irish government ministers promised delegates that their views would be injected into international policy processes, such as the G8 summit in June and the U.N.-led consultations on the post-2015 development goals.

But it was clear there is a long way to go before the small farmers who are struggling with climate impacts on a daily basis get their fair share of seats at the global decision making table, despite the opportunity to be heard at the Dublin conference.

"It is all too rare in this world for those who are representing the communities most vulnerable to climate change…to have the ear of policy makers and to serve as true experts,” Gore said. Gatherings of this kind “should be done more often”, he urged.

Small farmers take the stage to sway climate justice debate - AlertNet

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Scientists struggling to put land degradation into SDGs - SciDev.Net

By Jan Piotrowski, SciDev.net

Lack of data and poor communication by scientists may be keeping land degradation and desertification off the sustainable development agenda, experts warned the UN Convention to Combat Desertification's (UNCCD) 2nd Scientific Conference last week (9–12 April).

The fear is that these challenges could cause land management issues to be under-represented in the UN's next set of development targets, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are planned to replace the Millennium Development Goals after 2015.

"The science is not strong enough to make a case to policymakers and we need to fight to develop this area," says Sergio Zelaya, a global policy coordinator at UNCCD.
The shortage of case studies showing the environmental and economic causes and effects of land degradation — particularly at a local level — as well as a scarcity of indicators and targets to measure the process, make it hard for politicians to include these issues in the development agenda, he tells SciDev.Net.
His calls for more research were repeated by experts throughout the conference, including by UNCCD executive secretary Luc Gnacadja in his closing address.
The scientific community's biggest shortcoming has been its failure to frame the land degradation debate as a development issue, says Jonathan Davies, a global coordinator for the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Global Drylands Initiative, and chair of the conference's Scientific Advisory Committee.

The boost that fighting land degradation can have on development, not just on the environment, must be made clear if it is to be championed by decision-makers, particularly in the developing world, he says.

Furthermore, unlike climate change, which has rising carbon dioxide levels as a clearly defined global issue to fight against, land degradation lacks a concise target for the international community to rally around, Davies adds.

People are fighting land degradation at a national level, but so far the case has not been made strong enough for it to be viewed as a problem in need of a global strategy, he says.

But Davies says the situation has been "improving significantly" and that efforts to inform policymakers have become more effective since 2007, when the UNCCD's ten-year strategy document highlighted land degradation as a development issue.

"What we are doing differently now, is that we are showing that you cannot have any development unless you start with sustainable environmental management," he says.

The changing nature of the conversation is reflected by land degradation being clearly raised as an issue in the outcome document for last year's UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), he adds.

Davies and Mohamed Bakarr, a senior environmental specialist for the Global Environment Facility, both see the UNCCD as central to future success.

By providing a forum to draw together the disparate strands of land degradation research through its scientific conferences, UNCCD is greatly improving conversations and collaboration, says Bakarr.

The UNCCD Secretariat, along with South Korea, will also be arranging an expert meeting this June to discuss how to push forward with a Zero Net Land Degradation recommendation for the SDGs, which would require any land lost through degradation to be matched by the restoration of other degraded areas.

It will also produce policy briefs targeted at governments and business that would evaluate existing policies and suggest changes. These will be presented at the UNCCD Conference of the Parties in Namibia in September.

These activities will allow science to be firmly embedded within the UNCCD's framework and make it a more effective body for combating land degradation, says Bakarr.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Data dearth impeding fight against desertification - SciDev.Net

By Jan Piotrowski, SciDev.Net

The lack of location-specific scientific data on the degradation of land, and the dearth of networks through which to share such data where it does exist, are hampering the fight against desertification, a conference has heard.
The absence of such data means that the global models that map land degradation and are used in policy and funding decisions misrepresent the situation in many regions, particularly in developing countries, heard the UN Convention to Combat Desertification's (UNCCD) 2nd Scientific Conference in Bonn this week (9-12 April).

Klaus Kellner, South Africa's science and technology correspondent to the UNCCD, tells SciDev.Net that the World Atlas of Desertification, as well as similar maps for climate change and biodiversity, understate the severity of the situation as a result.

For example, a model presented to the conference indicated only minimal land degradation in the Sahel — a claim contradicted by scientists from the African region who attended the event, he says.
"These global maps often overlook areas that have a lack of data, which are often the poorest and most in need," he adds.

The effect of land degradation, especially in the developing world, is significant, according to a UNCCD report, presented at the conference. 

Africa's agricultural GDP is reduced by four to 12 per cent because of environmental damage, the vast majority of which is due to land degradation, the study estimates.

In Guatemala, this figure rises to 24 per cent, it adds.

Yet despite these impacts, inaccurate mapping can lead policymakers to underestimate some areas' vulnerability to land degradation, says Kellner. 

While this underrepresentation can be due to a dearth of data on such things as soil quality, plant cover and land use, or a lack of capacity to collect this information, often data exists but is inaccessible, he adds.
For example, Morocco, Senegal and intergovernmental organisation the Sahara and Sahel Observatory have "huge" data sets, he adds. But these are not used, he adds.

Kellner believes that inadequate networks between scientists and institutions, as well as a lack of commitment by these institutions to incorporate data in their models, are to blame for this underutilisation.

Michael Cherlet, a senior researcher at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission — the body responsible for the World Atlas of Desertification — broadly agrees on both counts.

The centre did indeed overlook local data when developing its atlas, but this was more down to resource limitations than preference, he says.

Nonetheless, even if modellers had wanted access to data, the networks necessary to provide it were inadequate, he adds.

Cherlet says that two possible remedies are for the UNCCD to act as a channel through which countries can pass their data or as an open-access digital repository.

"What I dream of is to have an online platform where people can upload data linked to a model that can be applied on specific scales," he says.

But Cherlet defends global mapping projects, even those based on incomplete data, saying that they are a vital way for international institutions, politicians and other stakeholders to develop wide-scale solutions.
They also allow links to be made with other global data sets, such as for climate change and biodiversity, he adds.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Opinion: 'Quick-fix' development gives away more than it gets back

By Samuel Nguiffo, Al Jazeera

The "land grabbing" in Africa and elsewhere often triggers conflict, an underreported financial risk.

In Cameroon, as in many African countries, the question of economic development is not just an abstract concept. Rural communities, mostly consisting of subsistence farmers struggling to feed their families, welcome the possibility of brighter prospects.

But instead of leading to greener pastures, economic development too often consists of large-scale projects that take away property and community land, leaving farmers with little compensation. Their governments - often the ones who sold the land - either look the other way or play the role of enforcer. If the communities are compensated, it is hardly adequate, and the few resulting jobs do not pay enough to make up for the permanent loss of livelihood and way of life.

In Southwest Cameroon, for example, New York-based Herakles Farms plans to clear 73,000 hectares for an oil palm plantation that the local communities are protesting. Once the land is cleared of their crops and the surrounding forest, they will have nothing - and nothing to lose by contesting this development.

Yet the financial media is full of reports of new large-scale land transactions. An aluminium mine in Northern Cameroon, supported by a hydropower plant and two railroads, would bring the country $4bn in investment from companies in the US, Dubai and India.

An iron mine in Southeast Cameroon, being bought by a Chinese firm planning to build port facilities and a railroad, would bring $4.7bn into the country.

And an even bigger oil palm plantation, developed by an Indian conglomerate, is expected to transform the landscape of over 200,000 hectares, a development worth more than $1.7bn.

The desire for these projects is understandable: the world needs more minerals and food, governments need revenues, and local people want jobs. But by encouraging such investments and thousands more like them around the world, governments are giving away land that belongs to the people who live on the land, determining their future with neither consultation nor consent.

Giveaways trigger land-based conflicts 

This has become known as the "land grab", but it might be better called the "great land giveaway". Governments, eager to capture the cash promised by large-scale agriculture, timber, or mining operations, all too willingly hand over their only resources to large multinational corporations to catalyse development. But in reality it is not the "quick-fix" they were hoping for. 

Instead these projects often trigger community resistance, and governments often respond to those standing in the way of these deals with an onslaught of legal harassment, violence and worse. For example, after objecting to the actions of Herakles, the palm-oil producer, Nasako Besingi and four other Cameroonian advocates were jailed for three days in November 2012. Other activists have faced longer prison sentences. Fa'a Embolo, a village leader from Central Cameroon, spent four months in jail; in other countries they have been beaten and killed.

These stories are repeated across Africa, as weak governance and a lack of legal recognition and support for customary rights continue to inhibit any real progress.

Michael Richards, a natural resources economist, authored a report recently for the Rights and Resources Initiative, examining 18 large-scale African land acquisitions in the agriculture sector. He concluded that the local communities had been lied to, subjected to coercion or political pressure, or tricked with documents that were either falsified or misleading. In 17 out of 18 cases, Richards said, local communities would have said no to the land transfers, if they had been given the information needed to make an informed decision.

Risks to investors 

But the communities and their defenders are not alone in facing risks. After the inevitable pushback from the communities whose land has been sold out from under them, a growing number of investors have lost more than they have gained. This financial risk is completely underestimated and underreported despite the widespread havoc it can wreak on corporate balance sheets.

One of the world's largest palm oil producers, Sime Darby, was forced to suspend the development in 2012 of a planned 220,000-hectare oil palm and rubber plantation in Liberia because of protests on the part of local communities that claimed the land under customary law.

In Cameroon, by clearing rain forest and other illegally occupied lands and then arresting protesters who trespass onto the land, palm-oil producer Herakles has become the subject of a global advocacy campaign that has tarnished its reputation. The impact on the company's bottom line has not been assessed, but the project delays do not come cheaply.

And the story does not end in Africa. 

In India, Vedanta's failed aluminium mining venture led to a negative financial outlook rating from Standard & Poor's and other agencies. In Chile, a failed hydropower project forced SN Power to write off $23m. And in Bolivia, a failed highway project cost the national government a $332m development grant from a Brazilian development bank.

The assumption behind such investments is that they will provide rapid growth in the host countries. While in some ways effective, this "quick-fix" development exacerbates a growing gap between the rich and the poor and multiplies the risk of conflict.

These land-based conflicts could well begin to take the glow off the investment picture for the companies involved and those that finance them. But the growing appetite for land - and the growing speed of land acquisitions - means that tenure problems and the financial risks associated with them are not going to disappear.

Rather than giving away land and resources to companies to the detriment of their citizens, African governments - Cameroon included - must respect the rights of citizens and let them negotiate with investors on their own terms. And the companies themselves should be asking who owns the land they obtain on such good terms.

To do otherwise is ultimately too high a risk, not just for advocates, but also for investors, communities, and the governments themselves. 

'Quick-fix' development gives away more than it gets back

Friday, April 12, 2013

Organic pollutants poison the roof of the world

Accumulation of DDT in Himalayas exceeds that seen in Arctic.
Toxic chemicals are accumulating in the ecosystems of the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau, researchers warn in the the first comprehensive study to assess levels of certain organic pollutants in that part of the world.

“The rigour and quality of the work are impressive,” says Surendra Singh, an ecologist at the Forest Research Institute in Dehradun. “It’s the first study to quantify the accumulation of [persistent organic pollutants] in ecosystems in the region.”

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are carbon-based compounds that are resistant to break-down. Some originate from the burning of fuel or the processing of electronic waste, and others are widely used as pesticides or herbicides or in the manufacture of solvents, plastics and pharmaceuticals. Some POPs, such as the pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and the herbicide Agent Orange, can cause diseases such as cancers, neurological disorders, reproductive dysfunction and birth defects.
Many POPs are volatile and insoluble, and can travel a long distance. “They tend to evaporate in hot places, hitch a ride on winds, and then condense in cold regions,” says Xu Baiqing, an environmental scientist at the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research in Beijing.

In 2008, Xu and his colleagues first reported the presence of DDT, hexachlorocyclohexanes (HCHs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the East Rongbuk Glacier near Mount Everest1. “Their levels correlate well with human use of those chemicals,” says Wang Xiaoping, an environment scientist at the ITP who was lead author of that study. For instance, the amount of DDT fell sharply during the 1970s, when many European countries started to ban its use, but rose again after 1990s, when its use rose heavily in the Indian subcontinent. Other POPs continue to be commonly used in many developing countries.

That was not an isolated incident. At the fourth Third Pole Environment Workshop, held on 1–3 April in Dehradun, India, Xu reported that ice cores from across the Himalayas and Tibetan plateau are rife with those toxic compounds.

To trace the sources of those pollutants, Xu and his colleagues correlated meteorological measurements with chemical compositions of air parcels sampled at 16 locations across the region. They found that POPs in the western Tibetan plateau were transported by the westerly winds from Europe and Africa, whereas those in the southern and southeastern regions were brought by the Indian monsoon from South Asia2, 3.

More alarmingly, the researchers also detected large amounts of POPs in various components of the ecosystems such as soil, grass, trees and fish in the Himalayas and in the Tibetan plateau, especially at the highest elevations. “Their levels increase in orders of magnitude as they move further along the food chain,” says Xu. The amounts of DDT in leaves are up to four times higher than those found in boreal forests in the Arctic. “If the trend continues, the forests might reach a critical threshold in the next a few decades,” he says.

The results “are another warning of the way we use chemicals”, says David Molden, director of the Integrated Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Kathmandu.

Because some persistent compounds accumulate at the top of the food chain, humans can be exposed to POPs by eating meat and fish. And the mountain communities are hit hardest, researchers say. “They do not emit any of those toxic compounds,” says Xu, “but are forced to shoulder the burden of their impact.”

Turning plastic to plus

Two City-based entrepreneurs have come up with a sol­u­tion to reuse plastic bottles as an alternative to bricks in rural house construction.

The average time for a plastic bottle to completely degrade is at least 450 years. It can even take some bottles 1,000 years to biodegrade! Ninety per cent of bo­ttles are not even recycled and are simply thrown around, which is not only cau­sing environmental hazards but also indirectly responsible for various problems like clogging of drains. Bottles made with Po­ly­ethylene Tereph­thalate (PET or PETE) will never biodegrade.

To find a solution to this growing problem, City-based entrepreneurs; Ar­u­na Kappagantula and her husband Prashant Lingam, foun­ders of Bamboo House India (BHI), have come up with a sol­u­tion to reuse these plastic bottles as an alternative to bricks in rural house construction. The duo, known for th­eir eco-friendly and social innovations such as bamboo structures, wants to prove that bottle can be alternative for brick.

“A 225sqft house of 15ft x 15ft size was constructed with around 4,000 bottles in 15 days at a cost of `65,000. We procured these bottles from scrap dealers in for a rupee initially, and even spend `3-4 per bottle towards the end due to scarcity of bottles, says Prashant.

Explaining the costs involved, he said, “The same house can be constructed at a cost of `35,000-`50,000 based on the availability of resources in villages and can sustain for at least 30 years like any other house. We took this as an experiment and constructed the house to show this will be a feasible and viable alternative. With abundance of mud, cow dung, low cost labour and local sourcing of bottles, this method can definitely evolve as affordable housing.”

The basic skeleton was built with bamboo, and entire walling was done with vertical and horizontal placement of bottles with mud for thermal insulation and strength and plastering was done with mud and cow dung with final coat of cement plaster.

“A plastic bottle costs a rupee, whereas each cement brick costs around `10 and each red brick costs around `5 apart from high consumption of cement. The amount of heat bricks generate is higher. With the heavy usage of mud and cow dung, the house has a natural cooling effect and fan is not required in non-summer days,” he explains.

“In terms of strength, performance is equal to bricks and may be better. We have requested IIT Delhi for further testing of this process and we will be shortly sending bottle wall panels for testing to the campus to further refine the process,” says Prashant.

“Usage of plastic bottles in construction is practiced globally. Schools and houses are constructed with these bottles in Africa. In India, nothing much happened on this front. Earlier, there were two similar experiments as part of education and NGO initiatives in the country. However, nobody took this an alternative for mainstream rural housing.

“Initially people might have apprehension about building bamboo and bottle houses, but we are sure that with time this concept will surely catch up.

BHI wants to substitute bricks with bottles for our current eco-friendly green house orders like guest houses, pent houses and restaurants. It also has plans to help villagers of Rampachodavaram (agency area) with the know how and construction of bottle-bamboo houses.

When asked about practicing it in to mainstream apartment constructions, he said, “It is not bricks but beams and columns take the weight of the house. Plastic bottle walls can be confidently integrated especially where the wall acts as a partition, such as bathroom walls.

“There is a desperate need for government bodies to test and validate these methods by which this can taken in to a larger scale for not only affordable but also for sustainable eco-friendly housing,” says Prashant. BHI has also plans to promote the concept among schools and colleges to make the next generation think beyond bricks and cement.

  1. Low cost
  2. Non-Brittle – Unlike bricks
  3. Absorbs abrupt shock loads
  4. Bio climatic
  5. Re-usable
  6. Less construction material
  7. Easy to build
  8. Green Construction

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Researchers make bricks from waste, desert sand - SciDev.Net

Wagdy Sawahel, SciDevNet

Algerian and Malaysian researchers have designed cheap eco-friendly bricks that can be made from waste materials.

Population growth in many urban areas of the developing world is outstripping available housing, prompting interest in making bricks from cheap and durable local materials. Fifty six per cent of the African population is expected to live in urban areas by 2030 (up from 18 per cent in 1950).

Malaysian scientists at the Tenaga National University have produced prototype bricks using waste from the mining, coal and steel industries. They mixed the materials — including quarry dust, the iron oxide that forms on steel during production, and ash from furnaces — with cement and water.
Traditional brick manufacturing uses high pressure or firing in a kiln to shape the bricks. But the scientist formed the bricks within moulds without applying pressure, reducing costs and simplifying the brick-making process, they say.

The researchers add that using waste materials rather than clay or shale conserves resources and maintains the soil quality needed for sustainable agriculture development.
According to the scientists, whose findings are published in the April edition of Construction and Building Materials, the new bricks have a variety of promising properties, including resistance to corrosion and compression.

Mohamed Heikal, a professor of inorganic chemistry and building materialsat Egypt's Benha University, tells SciDev.Net that the new bricks can be used as an alternative to conventional bricks, as they are more durable than traditional bricks in resisting weather-related freezing and thawing. They also have lower water absorption properties.

Elisa Adorni, a researcher at the Italy-based University of Parma's Department of Civil–Environmental Engineering and Architecture, says: "The use of waste materials for the production of bricks and concrete blocks is an optimal method to solve the problem of storing waste materials and to optimise the cost for the production of building materials."

But it is important to take into account the chemical reactions that may occur when the bricks swell upon coming into contact with moisture, Adorni says.

Elsewhere, Algerian scientists at the University of Kasdi Merbah and the Polytechnic School of Algiers have also developed and produced prototype bricks. Theirs are made from concrete made from desert sand, and are strong, and provide good heat and sound insulation.

The bricks could be produced cheaply in the southern region of Algeria, where Saharan sand is especially plentiful and available at minimal cost, according to the study, which was published in December 2012 issue of the Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering. The researchers carried out 750 laboratory tests to hone the brick.

"If the compression and the thermal resistance of [the brick] are validated by Algerian building material codes, it could solve the building material crises which Algerian builders are suffering from," Ali Zaidi, a researcher in the Department of Civil Engineering of Algeria's University of Laghouat, tells SciDev.Net.

Zaidi explains that bricks in Algeria are often stressed by the hot summers and cold winters, and assailed by sandstorms.

Mohammed Hebasha, who manages an Egyptian building construction company, says firms should be established to exploit the commercial potential of both brick types.