Thursday, October 31, 2013

5 things the world could teach America about economic justice

By John D. Sutter, CNN

Income inequality is going up, up, up in America. In Brazil, meanwhile, it's been dropping for years.

The likely outcome?

"Perhaps both countries will meet halfway," said Pedro Ferreira de Souza, a researcher at Brazil's Institute for Applied Economic Research.

Brazil, while still incredibly unequal, has realized something the United States hasn't: That wealth and income inequality are threats to democracy, and that smart policies can help narrow the gap between rich and poor. We would be wise to adopt the cash transfer programs and minimum wage policies that economists say have helped Brazil reduce its income inequality.

But many U.S. politicians are reluctant to deal with this issue.

"I think that is perhaps the most important lesson from Brazil ... that inequality IS a legitimate political matter," Ferreira de Souza wrote in an e-mail to me. "That it does affect people's lives and that at the end of the day, inequality begets inequality ..."

To deny that, he said, would be "ludicrous."

Here are five unexpected tips for how the United States can and should curb its rising income inequality, pulled from Brazil and other foreign shores, as well as our own history books. Adopting policies from other countries always raises eyebrows. None will be a perfect fit. But the bottom line is that we need to do something before we turn into a society where, as Ferreira de Souza put it, "rags-to-riches stories become increasingly unlikely."

1. Scandinavia: Equality is safer ... and skinnier

Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway are the gold standards for economic equality and justice. It's not that everyone is equal -- it's that the gap between rich and poor is small enough that it doesn't cause all sorts of other problems. Violence, mental illness ... even obesity. All of these are associated with economically split societies, according to decades of research that went into the book "The Spirit Level," by two epidemiologists.

Another outcome of income inequality is that it's harder to move up in a society. This has been proved by data, but it's also logical. When the gap is wider, a person has further to go.

"If you want to live the American Dream," said Kate Picket, one of the researchers, "you'd better go to Denmark or Finland."

Their rates of economic mobility are much higher. They achieve this with higher tax rates and better social services. Norway, for example, provides 10 weeks of paid paternity leave. College and health care are free in Denmark. When these tools exist and are available to everyone, it matters less how rich you are at birth. You have the same tools for success as everyone else.

2. Iceland: Publish the names of the rich

Economic inequalities are somewhat invisible in the United States. They're masked by credit, as Harvard's Michael Norton explained it to me, and we tend to surround ourselves with people from the same tax bracket. We also don't tell each other how much money we make. An Esquire writer tested this idea by running around the country asking people, "How much do you make?"

"You mean money?" one man responded.

Money isn't something Americans discuss. And maybe that's holding us back. Iceland clears up all mysteries about the size of the rich-poor gap by making individual income tax records public, said Stefán Ólafsson, a professor at the University of Iceland.

"It reveals the differences," he told me. In the lead up to the financial crisis, "people could see how the bankers earnings were galloping ahead of everybody else ..."

3. Australia: McDonald's pays $15 an hour

Fast-food workers in the United States have been protesting for a higher minimum wage. The federal minimum is $7.25 per hour, which is worth less than the minimum wage was in the late 1960s, when you adjust for inflation.

Australia, meanwhile, manages to pay all of its workers $15 per hour -- and the economy, fast-food and otherwise, hasn't collapsed. The country also maintains a lower level of income inequality.

4. Brazil: Income inequality isn't forever

In 2001, Brazil's Gini index rating, one measure of income inequality, was 59.4, according to a government source.

By 2009, it had dropped to 53.9.

A score of 100 means one person earns all income in the country.

Zero means income is perfectly distributed.

Related: Is class the new race?

Brazil is still more economically divided than the United States, which had a rating of 45 in 2007, according to data compiled by the CIA, but Brazil's downward trajectory is encouraging, and it's at least partly the result of policies designed to lift people out of extreme poverty and to encourage equality of opportunity.

One much-touted program, Bolsa Familia, provides direct cash transfers to poor families on the condition that their children attend school. The program only costs 0.5% of GDP per year, Ferreira de Souza said. "It certainly will not solve all our problems," he told me, "but it has played an important role in bringing down inequality."

The country also adjusts its minimum wage for inflation and pegs social support programs to that amount. The minimum wage has increased in recent years, making it possible for people to work their way out of poverty.

5. United States: Clues from a time capsule

Finally, we in the United States need look no further than our own history for tips about how to run a country where prosperity is broadly shared.

Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich told me he's often asked which countries the United States should try to emulate to try to narrow the rich-poor gap. He always says 1950s or 1960s America. Back then, unions gave workers a voice; college was affordable; CEO pay wasn't off the charts; and the minimum wage was higher in relative terms.

Reinstating some of those policies might stop America from becoming more unequal than it already is. We're (barely) beating Zimbabwe. Let's keep it that way.

5 things the world could teach America about economic justice

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Caribbean Looks to the Sky for Water Security

By Jewel Fraser, IPS News

A centuries-old system for ensuring water security is making a comeback in the Caribbean.

It’s known as rainwater harvesting, and it is now becoming a formal part of the region’s strategic planning in the face of not only more and stronger storms, but droughts as well. By 2100, there could be a 20 to 30 percent decrease in precipitation, research shows, making every drop count.

“Rainwater harvesting is, in fact, seen as one of the important tools to ensure resilience and redundancy in Caribbean water supplies, in particular to augment existing municipal water supplies,” Dr. Natalie Boodram, manager of the Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C), told IPS. “Rainwater can provide a backup water supply in case of disruption.”

One advantage is that the technology is already in place, with many householders, especially in rural areas, creating catchments for rainwater running off of their roofs to supply them with water for daily household use. In the Virgin Islands, slightly more than half of homes use RWH to supply all their water needs.

An estimated 500,000 people in the region at least partially depend on RWH, with the heaviest users including Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos and the Grenadines.

Earlier this month, ministers from the Caribbean Community meeting in Barbados launched a Water, Climate and Development Programme for the Caribbean (WACDEP) that promotes rainwater harvesting as one of the approaches to secure the region’s water supplies.

While RWH has existed for hundreds of years, Boodram says that municipal systems which depend on surface water supplies have displaced it in many parts of the Caribbean, so there’s a need to “re-establish a rainwater harvesting culture in the region.”

The GWP-C has undertaken a number of Caribbean rainwater harvesting projects, as part of its parent body’s worldwide initiative to support the integration of water security and climate change adaptation into development planning.

The aim was to eliminate some of the common problems associated with rainwater harvesting, such as “exposure to air pollution, animal droppings, contaminants from poorly maintained roofs, among other debris,” Boodram explained.

The technology promoted by GWP-C with the help of its partners, particularly the Caribbean Environmental Health Institute, involves a first-flush diverter.

“The first-flush system which forms the bottom part of the downpipe is used to divert the initial water with pollutants from the roof, ensuring that these do not enter the water tank/storage device being used. The first flow of water containing roof debris would then settle at the bottom of the downpipe with the cleaner water settling on top, allowing clean water to enter the storage component,” she explained.

That design was used by Trinidad and Tobago’s National Institute of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (NIHERST), which partnered with GWP-C to introduce rainwater harvesting technology to rural communities in Trinidad “with a focus on outfitting disaster shelters, namely, schools,” said NIHERST Senior Project Officer Lovaan Superville.

“Because of climate change, we need to be disaster prepared,” she said, adding that “the first thing to go in hurricanes is the water.”

NIHERST outfitted 15 schools with the rainwater harvesting technology, and provided a few of them with solar panels as a backup energy source as well. To ensure maintenance, Superville said they trained about 25 persons in each community, that is, Toco, Moruga, and Barrackpore.

“The materials used to make the rainwater harvesters are easily available, easy to clean. It’s out of local materials and so it is not expensive,” she said. “Any plumber or electrician, once trained in how our system works, can easily duplicate them.”

Interviews with the principals of some of the schools in Trinidad’s southeast communities of Moruga and Barrackpore confirm that the rainwater harvesters have thus far been a success.

Benjamin Santoo, the principal of Rochard Douglas Presbyterian school, told IPS that when the school cleaned the tap water tank, “it has four inches of slush. When we clean the rainwater tanks, we have no such problem.”

“Water used to come once a month [through the mains],” he added. “We depended on water trucks to give us water Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Because of the school population, 500-plus, the water that we had was not enough for both drinking and flushing toilets.”

In many instances, schools received pipeborne water from the municipal supply only twice a week, sometimes less. With the installation of the rainwater harvesters, they have been able to save the pipeborne water for drinking and use the rainwater for flushing toilets, watering gardens, and carrying out school projects.

Dr. Henry Smith is director of the Water Resources Research Institute, University of the Virgin Islands, where low groundwater resources have made it difficult to ensure a steady water supply.

“Rainwater harvesting at individual installations allows users access to a source that they can manage independently to their benefit as they develop a good understanding of their own needs, what they can expect from rainfall in their local area, and also what other sources of water might be available to them,” he told IPS.

“Harvesting can be a low-cost alternative, or supplement, that is based on relatively simple technology that could make a major difference to many people who might otherwise not be provided for as a result of climate change.”

Caribbean Looks to the Sky for Water Security

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Treaty to cut mercury pollution signed by 92 countries

A ground-breaking, legally-binding global treaty on reducing mercury pollution has been signed by 92 countries.

The treaty spells “the beginning of the end of mercury as a threat to human health and the environment”, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) executive director Achim Steiner, told a diplomatic meeting in Japan earlier this month (10-11 October) where the treaty was signed.

But much work remains to provide the funding and technical and scientific advice needed to implement the treaty, and to expand mercury monitoring capacity worldwide, experts say.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury will come into force once 50 countries have ratified it. It was agreed in Geneva in January.

“We’re hoping that it will take a maximum of three years for ratification and that we will have early ratification based on the overwhelming support we have seen here, with 92 signatories and 139 countries in attendance,” Tim Kasten, deputy director of UNEP’s Division of Environmental Policy Implementation tells SciDev.Net.

The treaty bans a range of mercury products by 2020 and will forbid the mining of fresh mercury and mercury emissions from new power plants within 15 years of the treaty coming into effect.Countries will also be required to draw up plans to curb artisanal and small-scale gold mining operations — one of the biggest contributors to mercury pollution, according to UNEP January report ‘Global Mercury Assessment 2013’.

The ministerial conference in Kumamoto, Japan, discussed what needs to be done in the interim period until the treaty comes into force, including identifying the assistance required to help developing countries draw up mercury inventories.

The work ahead “includes a thorough scientific review of the mercury problems in their country — where the sources are, what kind of products are being made, what kind of emissions they may have,” Kasten tells SciDev.Net.

Western nations and international funds will donate funds to assist with this and other treaty requirements.

“The provisions for capacity building and technical and financial assistance — for example via [financing organisation] the Global Environment Facility and voluntary contributions — provide pathways to assist poorer countries and communities to be part of this remarkable global effort,” Steiner said.

Funding pledges

Japan pledged at the meeting to provide US$1 million towards drawing up international laws to regulate mercury, build capacity in developing countries and assist in finding industrial technologies to replace the need for mercury in mining and industry.

Switzerland announced a contribution of 7.5 million francs (around US$8.3 million), up from a pledge in January of 1 million francs.

Six million Swiss francs will go towards improving conditions in the artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector, Switzerland’s energy minister, Doris Leuthard, said.

Switzerland “will support the introduction of environmental, social and legal standards and technology in this sector,” she told the delegates. The rest of the funding will support ratification and early implementation of the convention.

Sweden announced an unspecified amount and Finland pledged €300,000 (about US$332,000) for the interim period. China and Norway made funding promises earlier in the year.

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) had previously allocated US$15 million to mercury control measures. In June, it agreed another US$10 million under a funding round that lasts until 2014.

The US$25 million GEF funding and other pledges mean that upwards of US$30 million will be available to implement the convention before the treaty comes into force. But Kasten says this is well short of the US$100 million needed to assist countries with implementation before then.

Science advice

The ministerial meeting also discussed establishing an experts group to provide technical and scientific guidance.

“It will be a fairly significant undertaking to help identify what the best available technology and best available environmental practice requirements will be,” Kasten says.

A number of partnerships with the scientific community running parallel to the formal convention will continue to operate, says Noelle Selin, assistant professor in engineering systems and atmospheric chemistry at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States.

“We need to get better at not only monitoring, but also the modelling tools and interpretation tools that allow us to figure out where the mercury is coming from.”

But monitoring will also be crucial for assessing compliance, says Nicola Pirrone, coordinator of the Global Mercury Observation System (GMOS), a project to establish a worldwide system for measuring mercury in the environment.

He says there are currently 45 monitoring stations around the world, but there is a lack of measurement in the Southern Hemisphere.

“What is needed for the convention is to have a global observing system that can provide data on mercury concentrations in all environmental areas,” including the oceans, he says.

If the system can be extended to a greater number of developing countries, it will help monitor whether the convention is effective, Pirrone says. “We are hoping to establish additional monitoring sites in artisanal gold mining areas, particularly Venezuela, Brazil and Chile.”

Treaty to cut mercury pollution signed by 92 countries

Friday, October 25, 2013

Future Development Goals: ‘The Tough Work is About to Begin’


Macharia Kamau, the Kenyan representative to the UN in New York, has taken up the co-chair of the open working group on sustainable development goals (SDGs), a relatively low-profile UN initiative set up after the Rio+20 conference in Brazil last year. The group’s large task is the design of a new set of ambitious, global goals that will apply to all countries and help orient international attention – and resources – towards tackling some of the world’s most pressing problems.

To do this, he and Csaba Kõrösi, his Hungarian counterpart, will have to bring together governments, NGOs, campaign groups, and civil society.

So far, Kamau says, discussions have stayed close to poverty, hunger, water and other topics covered by the millennium development goals (MDGs) – the UN’s flagship development campaign set in 2000 and structured around eight goals to be met by 2015. From November, however, Kamau says debates will have to move on to trickier territory.

“The tough work is about to begin. People will have to face up to that,” he says. Issues on the table range from trade and debt, through to human rights and conflict, to biodiversity, oceans and forests. “I mean, the WTO has been stuck on trade for years, and here we are wading into that, but we have no choice.”

Unlike the MDGs, which Kamau describes as a “top-down arrangement” focused on developing countries, this new set of goals will apply to rich and poor countries and has to be built on progressive, negotiated agreements by UN member states, he says.

“There is a growing realization that we are all in the same boat. On some of these issues – biodiversity, climate, environment – there is no getting away from the fact that everyone has to contribute,” says Kamau, though he concedes that rich countries did initially seem a bit surprised, and a little sceptical about goals applying to them as well. There remains “a bit of a wait and see approach” from some governments, he adds.

Between now and March, the working group is looking for broad consensus on what the main issues are and how they affect all countries, says Kamau. The group will then get into detail on specific goals, and by September 2014 should have a set of proposals ready to unveil at the UN general assembly.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

RELEASE: New Effort Launched to Measure and Monitor Global Food Loss and Waste | World Resources Institute

Source: World Resources Institute

The World Resources Institute (WRI) October 21, announced the first step in designing a global standard for measuring food loss and waste. The forthcoming guidance, called the “Food Loss and Waste Protocol,” will enable countries and companies to measure and monitor the food loss and waste that occur within their boundaries and value chains in a credible, practical, and consistent manner.

The announcement was made at the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF) conference in Copenhagen, with the leaders of UN Environment Programme (UNEP), World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), WRI, and others. The Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) also participated in the forum.

Food loss and waste refers to food intended for human consumption that is not ultimately eaten. WRI estimates that halving the rate of food loss and waste by 2050 would close more than 20 percent of the gap between the food available today and what is needed in 2050.

“Meeting the world’s growing food demand is one of the great challenges we face. But we can shift this dynamic by greatly reducing food loss and waste, a critical step in ensuring that all people have enough food to meet their needs,” said Dr. Andrew Steer, President and CEO, World Resources Institute. “Developing a consistent, global standard to measure food loss and waste will help create a more sustainable future for people and the planet.”

Globally, a significant amount of food is lost and wasted each year. One-third of food by weight (or one-quarter measured by calories) intended for people is not ultimately consumed. About two-thirds of the food calories lost in developing countries occurs immediately after harvest and in storage. About half of the food calories wasted in developing countries occurs at the point of consumption, whether at home or when eating elsewhere.

“The absurd reality that one third of all the food we produce is lost or wasted each year has significant impacts on people and the planet,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director. “Wasting and losing 1.3 billion tonnes of food annually is clearly an ethical issue given that 870 million people go hungry every day, not to mention the 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases this waste adds to the planet’s atmosphere.”

The Protocol will contribute to the “Think Eat Save: Reduce Your Food Print” campaign led by UNEP in collaboration with FAO, WRAP and other partners, as well as to FAO’s Save Food Initiative. The Protocol development will build on other programs, including engagement with EU FUSIONS, which is developing food wastage measurement guidance for the European Union.

“One of my priorities in FAO is opening our doors to potential allies. Fighting food loss and waste is clearly one area in which partnership is needed. Developing a global protocol can help provide clear measurements and indicators on which we can base guidance on how to reduce food loss and waste,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

The Protocol will provide guidance on multiple aspects of measuring food loss and waste. These include definitions, boundaries of what to measure, appropriate data sources and quantification methods, and how to evaluate tradeoffs between accuracy, completeness, relevance, and cost. By creating a global standard, the Protocol will ensure international consistency, enable comparability, and facilitate transparency by users. By using the Protocol, countries and companies will be able to identify how much and where food is being lost and wasted.

“We have committed to play a leading role in reducing food waste globally—not only in our stores but also in areas of shared responsibility from farm to fork," said Philip Clarke, CEO of Tesco, one of the world's largest food retailers. "Having a globally consistent standard for measuring food loss and waste will play an important role in taking effective, collaborative action to achieve our goals.”

WRI will convene numerous experts and stakeholders to develop the Protocol. Participants will include representatives from academia, the private sector, government, and civil society organizations.

“Public-private partnership will be a critical ingredient of this Protocol,” said Peter Bakker, President of the WBCSD. “We are delighted to be partnering with WRI again, supporting the development of this new Protocol. Bringing together experts and perspectives from a range of sectors is vital to ensuring that the measurement method is robust and will be widely adopted by the private sector, just as the Greenhouse Gas Protocol has been.”

Echoing the importance of collaboration, Richard Swannell, Director of Sustainable Food Systems for WRAP, said, “WRAP is delighted to lend its support to this ambitious project, availing of our extensive knowledge and practical experience of measuring food waste both in the home, the hospitality sector and the food retail and manufacturing sectors. Measuring the extent of food waste is a key requirement to engender action to reduce it, not only through highlighting the scale of the problem, but also to assess progress.”

During the 3GF session, Steer made an open invitation for interested parties to join the Food Loss and Waste Protocol development process.

To join or find out more, visit

Additional resources are available at: and

RELEASE: New Effort Launched to Measure and Monitor Global Food Loss and Waste | World Resources Institute

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

GGGI Marks Its One-year Anniversary as an International Organization


The Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) held the first Establishment Day Event at its Seoul headquarters on Friday, October 18 2013 to celebrate the one-year anniversary of GGGI since its official launch as an international organization. To mark the occasion, GGGI held several activities including the launch of the book called 'Post 2020 Climate Change Regime Formation' by Professor Suh-Yong Chung of Korea University, which is based on the GGGI International Expert Series, and the promotion of the Korea launch of the 'New Climate Economy Initiative', a new major global initiative on the economics of climate change.

In his welcoming remarks, Director-General Howard Bamsey said that "GGGI has become a truly international organization with membership from 20 countries and the ratification of GGGI's Headquarters Agreement by the Korean government. GGGI now operates in 20 countries assisting governments with development strategies that are more sustainable."

The Director-General added that "GGGI is the world's first and only international organization dedicated to green growth and its uniqueness helped the organization to be granted Official Development Assistance (ODA) eligibility status. The development has enabled GGGI to increase its ability to assist developing and emerging economies in green growth planning and implementation."

"As of mid-2013, GGGI has been developing, scoping, setting up or implementing over 20 green growth-related projects in developing and emerging countries across the world. On our work on the ground, we are seeing how countries increasingly recognize the potential of green growth to deliver wealthier, safer, more inclusive economies for their populations. GGGI is committed to continuously supporting them and sharing their experience with others," said Mattia Romani, GGP&I Deputy Director-General, GGGI.

DDG Romani explained that "GGGI is also supporting, together with other leading economic institutions in the world, the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, chaired by former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón. GGGI will work with the Commission, supported by a number of governments including the Republic of Korea, to produce a flagship report on the Economy and Climate Action in September 2014 at the UNSG Leaders Meeting in advance of COP 21 in Paris in 2015."

The Establishment Day Event was attended by distinguished guests including H.E. Dr. Dibaba Abdetta, Ambassador of Ethiopia; H.E Omar Al-Nahar, Ambassador of Jordan, H.E. Mr. Jose Luis Bernal, Ambassador of Mexico; H.E. Kaman Singh Lama, Ambassador to Nepal; H.E. Desmond Akawor, Ambassador of Nigeria; H.E. Bill Veri, Ambassador of Papua New Guinea as well as Boonam Shin, Ambassador to Climate Change, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea.

Embassy officials from Costa Rica, Finland, Denmark, France, Germany, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Norway, Sweden, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the UAE as well as representatives from the EU delegation and UNDP took part in the event to congratulate GGGI's first birthday as an international organization.

On 18 October 2012, GGGI officially converted into an international organization from a non-profit foundation under Korean law. On September 18 2012, the Pacific island nation of Kiribati became the third country to approve GGGI's conversion, following the ratification by Denmark and Guyana. International law stipulates that at least three countries must ratify a treaty for such a transformation, and the agreement takes effect 30 days after the third ratification.

13 of the 20 member countries that have ratified the GGGI Establishment Agreement to date are Denmark, Guyana, Kiribati, the Philippines, Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Qatar, Papua New Guinea, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom, Ethiopia, Norway.

GGGI is an international organization dedicated to developing and diffusing a new paradigm of economic growth -- green growth -- which simultaneously balances economic performance and environmental sustainability to help build strong and inclusive societies. Headquartered in Seoul, GGGI works in long-term partnership with developing and emerging economies through rigorous green growth planning, research and public-private cooperation. For more information see:

GGGI Marks Its One-year Anniversary as an International Organization

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Forestry and the forest industry in a green economy-10min32sec

An effort is under way worldwide to better manage our planet's forest resources and better enhance their role in mitigating climate change. Forest loss and degradation in developing countries account for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Monitoring and reducing these emissions has been the key goal for the international community in climate change negotiations and is important for the upcoming Rio+20 conference on sustainable development. Viet Nam is one example of a country that's taking important steps to manage and expand its forest resources. Previous loss of forested areas has been reversed and the country is now increasing forest area by about 1% every year.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Climate: Colombia - Green Transport | Global 3000

By deutschewelleenglish

The TransMilenio express bus network in Bogotá is considered a model for many megacities in developing countries: commuters fill up the free buses, and bus lanes and bicycle paths take the place of car-filled streets.

They're almost as effective as an underground railway system, but cost only a fraction to operate. CO2 emissions from passenger and goods traffic are rising steeply in developing countries. Colombia is trying out various projects to curb that growth.

Lands of the Lake - Chapter 2/7: Cambodia Fisheries

This movie follows fish migration along the Mekong River down to the amazing fisheries of the Tonle Sap Lake. The influence of built structures on the water, on the environment, on fish and on people's livelihoods is presented in particular through 3D animations.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

World Food Day 2013: Ensuring “Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition”

By Kimbowa Richard, East African Sustainability Watch Network c/o Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development

The Official World Food Day theme for 2013 from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is “Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition”. Observance of the World Food Day every year raises the world’s attention to understand current problems and solutions in the drive to end hunger.

According to the Geneva Environment Network, today almost 870 million people worldwide are chronically undernourished. Unsustainable models of development are degrading the natural environment, threatening ecosystems and biodiversity that will be needed for our future food supply. Calls for profound changes in our agriculture and food systems are becoming more frequent and more insistent.

In light of the above challenges and in view of the 2013 World Food Day’s theme, I would like to share my thoughts about this theme: “Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition” which are based on experiences from the Lake Victoria region in East Africa.

What would a Sustainable Food System look like?

There are many different views as to what constitutes a 'sustainable' food system, and what falls within the scope of the term 'sustainability'. Strictly speaking sustainability implies the use of resources at rates that do not exceed the capacity of the Earth to replace them. For food, a sustainable system might be seen as encompassing a range of issues such as security of the supply of food, health, safety, affordability, quality, a strong food industry in terms of jobs and growth and, at the same time, environmental sustainability, in terms of issues such as climate change, biodiversity, water and soil quality (European Union, 2013).

Within the Lake Victoria basin and East Africa in general, the key foundation to such a system is the majority smallholder farmers. These are characterized by small pieces of land, large families, but poor crop yields. Their primary occupation is growing food, yet many do not grow enough to feed their families. Therefore as I see it a number of interventions need to be undertaken to address the small-scale farmers’ needs, key of which I highlight below:

1. Initiate Smallholder Farmer Resilient Actions as part of agricultural development 


Small holder farmers are increasingly susceptible to hostile weather patterns that have resulted in long droughts leading to food insecurity in many parts of East Africa, increase global energy prices that impact on their operations, and economic impacts arising from macro-level effects as well as disasters. A key aspect of securing a truly sustainable food system would require countries and the international community to put in place counter interventions to such occurrences. This could take the form of improved and expanded food storage facilities, specialized training and skills for affected farmers and extensionists, agro-processing to add value, incentives for small holder farmers to make savings for possible alternative investment and farmer-to-research linkages.

2. Importance of scaling up agricultural extension support

Agricultural extension in many parts of East Africa has been cut back due to Government and donor decisions to privatize this service. Though it sounded a feasible venture, in most cases it has alienated the poor farmers as they cannot regularly access the much needed agricultural information and technologies that could offset the current challenges including disease/pest control, sustained pockets of hunger and environmental decay. In this case a reasonable sustainable food system would need to scale up agriculture extension in crop (staples), animal production, fisheries, forestry, soil and water conservation in view of the huge climate change impacts.  

3. Emphasis on sustainable land management and other environmental considerations

A whole range of innovations, technologies and techniques that are environmentally sound, affordable and socially acceptable should be promoted as a package of options for small farmers to make a choice. These would range from conservation of local crop varieties and animal breeds that are resilient to climate stress, soil and water conservation, tree –crop – animal combinations for maximum land use, and alternative energy options to fuelwood. In addition, conservation of local watershed catchments (rivers, lake-shores, streams, wetlands, estuaries etc.) should be emphasized, as they moderate local climate, provide water for domestic use as well as for production. In current development discourse, healthy and productive landscapes provide people with the goods and services that form a basis for development

4. Targeted inputs to revive the poorest farmers agricultural produce

In view of the vulnerability of the poorest farmers – those that cannot afford private extension services, purchase of inputs, access to information (weather forecasts, market information and so on) in real time, some actions are required. One of these would be targeted time bound support to such groups in terms of farm inputs through appropriate non – exclusive social development models. This will enable this group to be elevated to the others so that they can access extensions services and appropriate technology, gain from resilience plans, food storage and marketing plans.

In conclusion, the 2013 theme on “Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition” has a direct bearing on rural livelihoods that are heavily dependent on agriculture. As I see it, the importance of addressing the needs and concerns of majority poor farmers in this quest cannot be ignored any longer.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Call for an IPCC-like science panel on food security

By SciDevNet

Setting up an impartial platform for the science of food security could be an important step towards improving the weak link between researchers and policymakers, an international meeting has heard.

The need for better engagement was a prevalent theme among researchers who attended the First International Conference on Global Food Security in Noordwijkerhout 29 September-2 October, 2013 said co-chair Martin van Ittersum during his concluding address.While some scientists suggest trying to engage more effectively with current processes, van Ittersum, who is a professor in plant production systems at The Netherland's Wageningen University, believes that an entirely new set-up similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) could be a better way to provide the visibility necessary to bring improvements.

"A mechanism to bring together the best science to explore the problems and solutions and to make our voice heard is critically needed," he tells SciDev.Net.

Although there is value in finding consensus as the IPCC tends to do, any new body would have to make room for varied opinions to reflect the complexities of the food security field, he says.

A desire to speak with a united voice when there are often "two sides to the story" has damaged the panel's reputation in the past, he adds.

Furthermore, steps to reduce the IPCC's "overly organised" structure, which is extremely demanding on scientists' time and leads to long gaps between reports, would have to be addressed in any food security-focused version, van Ittersum says.

The details of how to set up such a body was not discussed during the conference, but with the need for scientists to find ways to get their voices heard now established, van Ittersum was confident that the issue would be part of future discussions.

Others at the meeting believed that scientists' efforts should be focused on current initiatives that could be given more support.

One participant highlighted a meeting of the Committee on World Food Security, which is taking place this week (7-11 October) in Rome, Italy, as an existing mechanism around which scientists could rally.

At the meeting, this international and intergovernmental platform, which reports annually to the UN Economic and Social Council, will discuss how to optimise its influence within regional, national and international governance.

But van Ittersum says that, while undoubtedly a valuable resource, the committee is just one of many disparate forums, underscoring the fragmented nature of the food security science-policy interface.

"There are bits and pieces that try and bring different stakeholders together, but one comprehensive mechanism could be much more effective," he says.

Paulus Verschuren, special envoy for food and nutrition security for development at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, saw the almost total lack of politicians at the conference as an indicator of the disconnect with food security researchers.

"Where are the politicians?," he asked the audience.

"This place should be crawling with policymakers on a subject that is so high on the political agenda."

But van Ittersum says this imbalance was deliberate: as the meeting was the first time that researchers from virtually all the relevant disciplines met to examine global food security, the organisers mainly invited scientists with the aim of giving the scientific community time to consolidate their views on the subject ahead of future meetings which could involve more politicians.

Eliodomestico - a very simple way to produce healthy, bacteria-free water

Italian designer Gabriele Diamanti (@GabDiamanti) has invented Eliodomestico,
an eco-distiller running on solar power, to provide safe drinking-water for people in developing countries: a very simple way to produce healthy, bacteria-free water. Eliodomestico is an open source project. Winner at Core77 Design Award 2012 - social impact category; Finalist at the Prix Émile Hermès 2011 competition.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ghandi and Urbanism | Sustainable Cities Collective

Navdeep Asija, SustainableCitiesCollective

Recently, India celebrated the 144th birth anniversary of its greatest leader, Mahatma Gandhi, a visionary whose fundamental principles and vision are universally applicable – especially to sustainable transport. As an individual working in this field, I felt I must share my interpretation and compiled wisdom about Gandhi, his philosophy, and its relevance to the sustainable transport sector.

Gandhi was strong supporter of cycling and walking, who can perhaps be credited with starting the sustainable transport movement in India. In his book Hind Swaraj, he defined the principle of sustainability as, “More from less for more”. I would like to share a few anecdotes about Gandhi, and some of his famous quotes, because they reflect his concern and vision for a great cause: sustainable urban mobility.
Gandhi’s daily routine embraced sustainable modes of transport

Gandhi’s daily routine included walking nearly 18 kilometers (11.2 miles). He averaged 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) during the Dandi march, and walked a total of almost 80,000 kilometers (49,710 miles) throughout his campaigns from 1913 to 1938. That’s enough to walk around the world twice! Gandhi loved walking and often called it the “prince of exercises”. As a student in London, he saved money by walking several miles every day.

Gandhi also had a strong passion for cycling. When he moved to Ahmedabad in 1915, he rode his bicycle from Gujarat Vidyapith to Sabarmati Ashram. In Johannesburg, South Africa, he was the first person to oppose and protest a law which discriminated against people cycling on the streets. He wrote in the journal Indian Opinion opposing a move by the Johannesburg Town Council requiring every native who held a cycle permit and rode a cycle within the municipal area to wear a numbered badge on his left arm. Interestingly, two post-independence laws, the Delhi Municipal Act of 1960 and Punjab Cycle Rickshaw Act of 1976, kept similar restrictions and licensing systems in place for cycle rickshaws until this year – they were recently declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of India.

Using walking to organize

Gandhi’s famous Salt March, also known as the Salt Satyagraha, began with the Dandi March on March 12,1930. This march became an important symbol of the Indian independence movement. As he traveled on the 24-day-long, 390 kilometer (240 mile) march to produce salt without paying a tax imposed by the British, a growing number of Indians joined him along the way. When he broke the salt laws at 6:30 am on April 6, 1930, it sparked widespread acts of civil disobedience against the British Raj salt laws by millions of Indians. Simply put, Gandhi used walking as a tool to organize his fellow Indians.

Gandhi continually emphasized the importance of walking and cycling. When asked for advice, he once told someone, “I hope you are careful about eating. You may use a bicycle, but you should also walk daily”. After a small incident on bicycle Gandhi wrote to his friend about bicycle maintenance, “The bicycle incident yesterday was not a happy one. A carpenter will always keep his tools ready for use. A typist will keep his typewriter in good repair and a rider will keep his horse in good stead. Similarly a bicycle should always be kept clean, oiled and ready for use. Otherwise don’t have a bicycle at all”. Another time, Gandhi wrote to a friend, “If, however, you are determined to work in the city, you should stay in the city. You are not strong enough to go to the city and return on bicycle”. With this comment, Gandhi referenced the size of cities and their human scale.

Applying Gandhi’s principles to urban planning

Today’s urban planning is dominated by motorized vehicles, and as a result, the distance we travel between work and home is constantly increasing. The quote above from Gandhi reflects his concern for better urban planning, and where people should live. Today most of our Indian cities face similar challenges. Gandhi’s principle, “More from Less for More” (MLM) is all about getting greater performance from fewer resources for more people, and not just for bigger profits – this principle should be followed with the goals of creating a more equitable society and realizing a sustainable future for mankind in mind. That’s what Gandhi would want us to aim for in today’s urban planning.

It’s impossible to imagine what might have happened if had India followed Gandhi’s ideals on sustainable transport and urban planning from its founding, and given support to the local informal sector, which includes non-motorized transport. Although it’s sad to see that none of the principles given by Gandhi are currently being adopted into India’s transportation policies, it’s not too late to implement them. It’s time for India to revive the spirit of our cities by examining the strengths and weaknesses our own existing transport system, rather than blindly accepting all western models. It is high time we act in order to create a sustainable future for our present and future generations by practicing the principles of someone whose vision was way ahead of his time.

Ghandi and Urbanism | Sustainable Cities Collective

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Namibia battles worst drought in decades

Source: Al Jazeera

Almost half of Namibians face food insecurity as drought devastates southern African country.

The Tjikundi family sits around a small fire boiling a tin pot filled with water and maize - the only food that's available this day. A band of children crawl about, chewing on plastic tubing, and chase the visitors with animated curiosity.

The homestead is spectacular in its bareness. Soft, dry sand interrupted only by rocks and boulders fashion a molten envy for a lighter, brighter time. The livestock kraal is empty. So too are the granaries.

Scraggy roosters gawk and peck at the dust with fraught expectation while a domestic cat, at total odds with the environment, purrs and curls around people's ankles.

"This year is very bad because we have lost all our cattle," Mukaokondunga Tjikundi, in her early 20s, told Al Jazeera. "Sometimes the children go to bed with empty stomachs. Sometimes they just drink some water and go to sleep."

Hunger and hardship are recurring themes in Kunene, the northwest province in Namibia, considered the hardest-hit region by a drought many consider the worst in decades.

Almost one million people out of Namibia’s 2.3 million population face moderate to serious levels of food insecurity. The Namibian government in May estimated this year's harvest would yield 42 percent less than 2012.

In Kunene, two years of failed rains have devastated millet and maize plantations, dried up watering holes for livestock, and forced a population to search for precarious water supplies. Animals drink stagnant water in dry riverbeds, while some Namibians dig for water across the province and guard any source found with little wooden fences.


"If people can resort to [drinking] dirty water, more are likely to suffer from water-borne diseases and the health situation is likely to deteriorate for animals and humans," Jack Ndemena, water and sanitation officer with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told Al Jazeera.

"There is nothing and if the rains don’t come, it is going to be a catastrophe."

In May, Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba was forced to declare a state of emergency and requested $33.7 million in international support to avert a crisis. Recognising the strain across the country, the IFRC and UNICEF launched appeals for $1.2m and $7.4m, respectively.

But little aid has arrived.

On September 2, Algeria donated $1m in food aid but the reaction from the rest of the international community has been poor.

Experts say Namibia’s status as a middle-income country hasn’t helped its appeals. Despite its wealth, the country suffers from high levels of income inequality. One-third of the population lives on less than $1 a day, and Namibia ranked 120 out of 187 countries on the 2012 UNDP Human Development Index.

Malnutrition is the second-most common cause of death recorded for children under five, even in non-drought years. And with the onset of this year’s drought, an estimated 109,000 children under five are at risk of acute malnutrition.

"Namibia still does not feed itself, and the middle-income classification comes from livestock, mining and fisheries industries - [this] does not provide an accurate situation on the ground," Cousins Gwanama, head of the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Namibia in Windhoek, told Al Jazeera.

And it is unlikely the situation is about to get better.


With little rainfall predicted for later this year, farmers have described the drought as among the harshest in a generation. Granaries are empty as few crops were planted last year. With plateaus unsuitable for grazing, many pastoralist farmers have been forced to leave their homes and families and herd their livestock to higher ground with more vegetation, often involving a few days’ walk.

Accustomed to little rainfall, farmers have survived in semi-arid regions of Namibia for decades. But the total absence of precipition has left many perplexed and concerned, their farms lurching towards economic ruin.

"I thought we understood the environment, nature, but we are almost confused and don’t know what to expect," farmer Toivo Ruhozu told Al Jazeera.

"If the government doesn’t help, we will just have to face death."

Members of one family in Otjikati village, also in Kunene province, said they lost 20 cows this year alone. An elder at another village said they "would die with the animals" if they did not receive adequate help.

Despite the Namibian government's attempts to tackle the problem, officials admit they need help.

"I think it might not be possible to cover everybody at the same time," Japhet Iitenge, director of the Disaster Risk Management office, told Al Jazeera .

"Our needs start with food to feed the people. It is the ultimate goal to provide food and water for both animals and people, but there are other needs to avert the suffering of our population," Iitenge said.

Climate change?

Farmers say they were not convinced by a government proposal to buy their cattle and other livestock in an attempt to help alleviate the situation.

"I look at the cows and think I would leave it in God’s hands and let them die [rather] than give it to others for such a low price," Karikohua Ngombe, 35, said.

Namibia - considered the driest country in southern Africa - is not the only one affected by drought. At least 1.5 million people in neighbouring Angola are also suffering it effects, but the government there insists it has the situation under control.

In September, the Famine Early Warning Network Service said lowered corn production throughout the region had raised prices and advanced acute food insecurity in Zimbabwe and Malawi as well.

Officials have been quick to attribute the latest drought to rising desertification caused by climate change. Others, however, say rainfall patterns over the past four years suggest it is part of cyclical drought in the region.

"Data indicates that average rainfall over the past 50 years hasn't shifted, so claims of climate change being the cause of this drought are exaggerated. It appears to be merely a case of cyclical drought," said Gwanana from University of Namibia.

But given that the country was devastated by flooding in 2009, and Caprivi province also experienced floods as late as March 2013, such extreme shocks within a few years are likely to give credence to theories that hold climate change responsible for the severe drought.

Back of the queue

Meanwhile, farmers across the country wait for food rations and for the international community to take the situation more seriously.

But in terms of international assistance, Namibia’s middle-income status, low population, and inconsequential geography places it at the back of the queue on a continent that includes DR Congo, Somalia and Malawi.

Ignacio Leon, the head of the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for southern Africa, said there was an international perception that southern Africa was a low-risk disaster area.

"But the reality is that, since 2000, there have been 47 emergencies in the region that have demanded international assistance. These crises have affected at least 14 million people," he said in a press statement .

Without people dying en masse and absent images of decaying cattle skeletons across the sand, the world is unlikely to respond Namibia's desperation anytime soon.

"Given that we are human beings, we wait for that moment when people start dying," said IFRC's Ndemena. "But this is a situation that can be arrested. We can try to help now in order not to go to that extreme situation when people start dying."

Back at Okapare village, a partly filled 20kg bag of maize meal hangs from a tree above women watching over a steaming pot. Its contents are unlikely to last much longer. Some women are busy stitching goods, others are out trying to gather firewood to sell.

With its brittle mud huts, empty granaries, and malnourished children crawling about the dirt, the homestead is a microcosm of the impending devastation now predicted by drought experts.

Mukaokondunga Tjikundi says the family have no expectations of receiving help from anyone. "We are just collecting wood, selling them, trying (to survive). We have no expectations of government, of anyone, because you can never know when the help will end."

Namibia battles worst drought in decades

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Rice Duck Farming | Practical Action

Rice-duck farming is an eco-friendly farming system different from the intensive chemical based rice farming. In this farming system ducks are raised in the rice field which provides opportunity to exploit symbiotic relationship between rice and ducks for higher productivity and better net income with positive impact on ecology.

"Rice Duck Farming" is being piloted as an integrated farming system to challenge the problems of malnutrition. Currently, it is being implemented in three different locations in Chitwan district covering approximately 1.5 hectare of land, including 30 farmers.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Investments in land restoration must start with farmers

Jean-Marc Sinnassamy from the GEF explains why projects aimed at encouraging land restoration in developing countries must develop clear buy-in from rural farmers. The GEF aims to target farmers who can take ownership and maintain productivity in the long term.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Pakistan's Punjab eyes biogas bonanza amid power crisis

By Aamir Saeed, Thomson Reuters Foundation

As Pakistan struggles with a growing energy crisis, the authorities in Punjab province are planning to exploit biogas as an alternative energy source to overcome power shortages.

Hundreds of families in villages and remote areas of the province have set up small-scale biogas plants with government support, providing fuel for use in their kitchens.

Baz Khan, a 46-year-old farmer in Chakwal district, has installed a 4 cubic-metre biogas plant to cater for the energy needs of his eight-member family. “It used to take a lot of time and money to collect wood from the forest for cooking in our kitchen before we put in the biogas plant,” said Khan, who keeps more than two dozen cattle. “Biogas has made my family’s life easy and comfortable.”

As his farm is located outside the village, Khan’s house is not connected to the national grid. He is planning to install a bigger biogas plant with financial assistance from the Punjab government, to provide power for running other equipment. “I can also set up a tube well to irrigate my land if the biogas helps me run a small engine,” he said.

The Punjab government converted some 50 tube wells from diesel to biogas last year in a successful experiment. Around 1,500 family-size biogas plants were also set up in rural areas through a balloting process, with the government paying 30 percent of the cost of each plant.

Punjab’s Agriculture Department now intends to convert 50,000 tube wells to biogas in the next three years. “Each farmer who runs a tube-well engine of 16 horsepower to irrigate his land can save around $3,000 and 2.88 tonnes of fuel annually if the engine is converted to biogas,” said Punjab agriculture secretary Ijaz Munir.

Biogas is generated by putting biomass - including animal or human faeces, and organic waste from forestry, industry, hospitals or hotels - into a digester. Under anaerobic conditions, micro-organisms convert the biomass into methane gas, which can be used to heat cooking stoves, drive engines or produce electricity.


Iftikhar Ahmad Randhawa, chief power engineer for the Punjab Power Development Board, said the province has huge potential to generate biogas. The livestock census of 2006-07 showed there were 34.5 million animals in Punjab. Their daily dung amounts to an average of 690 million kilogrammes, he said.

“Each house with two cows can be provided with a biogas digester that would give cooking gas for a family of four to five people,” he said.

A small-size digester that can produce 2 to 15 cubic metres of gas per day costs around $650. The Pakistan Council of Renewable Energy Technologies is providing $200 as a subsidy to help families in Punjab install the plants.

Even if Punjab collects only half of its animal dung, it could produce 17.25 million cubic metres of gas per day through the installation of 5 million family-size biogas plants, Randhawa said. “This can meet the cooking needs of around 30 million people,” he added.

Alternatively, 27,600 megawatt-hours of electricity could be generated from this gas each day by installing small or medium-sized power plants, he said. “At the moment, the biogas is being used at domestic level only, but we are planning to use it on a commercial and industrial level as well,” he explained.

The renewable energy source could help Punjab eliminate load-shedding if village biogas power generation plants were installed and people trained to make productive use of them, experts say.

Aamir Anjum, an engineering consultant for a private power company, told Thomson Reuters Foundation that a village with 1,000 cows could easily generate 200 kilowatts, which would be sufficient to meet its electricity needs.

Poultry farms and rice, vegetable oil and paper mills could be disconnected from the national grid as they could provide all their own power from their waste, Anjum said. “If the government fully exploits all the potential available for biogas, it can meet around 13 percent of the country’s total energy consumption,” he added.

The government could also generate millions of dollars in revenue each year if biogas were stored and sold in bottles and cylinders, as in many other countries, Anjum said.


Biogas has become a popular source of energy in numerous developed and developing economies, including the United States, Germany, Austria, Britain, China, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Compressed biogas is also being used to run vehicles in Switzerland and Sweden.

Experts say Pakistan should focus on expanding its production of biogas urgently because its natural gas reserves are fast depleting.

Arshad H. Abbasi, an adviser on water and energy at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, an independent research organisation in Islamabad, said Pakistan is in dire need of biogas as an alternative energy source.

Pakistan’s total of 63 trillion cubic feet of explored natural gas reserves now stands at only 21 trillion cubic feet, he noted. “The available natural gas reserves are likely to end in the next 10 to 12 years if we can’t find alternative energy resources to meet growing demand,” he said.

Abbasi said the country is facing worse gas shortages because of a large gap between supply and demand. “The total production of natural gas is 4.24 billion cubic feet (per year), while demand varies between 6 to 6.75 billion cubic feet,” he said.

Pakistan lacks a federal-level policy on biogas, meaning little headway can be expected in the next couple of years, despite the initiative in Punjab, Abbasi said.

Pakistan has nearly 8,000 biogas plants, while Bangladesh, a smaller and less-resourced country, is home to more than 2.4 million such plants, he emphasised.

Pakistan's Punjab eyes biogas bonanza amid power crisis

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

CIFOR scientist Louis Verchot urges swifter action on IPCC climate report

Louis Verchot, director of forests and environment research at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has called on negotiators at an upcoming climate summit in Warsaw to move ahead with a U.N.-backed mechanism to safeguard the world's forests in order to slow climate change in reaction to a new report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report raised the probability to the 95 percent level that human activities, led by the burning of fossil fuels, are the main cause of climate change since the mid-20th century.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013