Ecosystem Based Food Security Conference 2015
More than 1,400 participants gathered in Nairobi, Kenya for the second annual Ecosystem Based Adaptation for Food Security Conference. This year’s theme is “Re-imagining Africa’s Food Security Now and into the Future under a Changing Climate,” and the conference included round tables, discussions and plenary sessions that explored how to sustainably use African soils.

The overarching idea behind the conference was to generate discussion and propose solutions to Africa’s food crisis by focusing on using the resources at hand and capitalizing on existing adaptations in the food production chain that may aid food producers in the face of impending climate change.

The conference did not just focus on food production, however, but also addressed the labor behind food production, including supporting the expansion of local agricultural businesses and employment for women and youth in Africa.

Building on the thematic discussions throughout the conference, attendees had the opportunity to discuss how to maximize policy framework and develop an action plan to ensure not only food security, but livelihood security as well.

Organized in collaboration with a number of United Nations agencies, the conference took place July 30 and 31, 2015, at the U.N. Complex in Nairobi, Kenya.

Gina Lehner

Sources: International Policy Digest, 2nd Africa Food Security Conference
Photo: EBASouthE

At a recent fundraising gala, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) raised more than $40 million. This money was dedicated to preserve the last of Earth’s wildlife, habitat, and fragile ecosystems.

DiCaprio stated during the opening ceremony, “We’ve decimated our forests, wild lands, polluted and over fished our rivers and oceans; all the key ecosystems that not only serve as a home to our planet’s biodiversity, but also make life here for us possible”.

The event itself, an annual affair, focused its current efforts on protecting key species like the tiger, rhino, shark, and mountain gorilla by working with governments to conserve the jungles, coral reef and forests they call home.

The LDF was able to raise such a large amount of money in a single evening by holding a live auction, presented by the LDF’s long-term partner Julius Baer and other co-sponsors like Chopard and Armani.

The live auction sold an extensive collection of fine art, luxury items and uniquely memorable lifetime experiences. Some of the items sold were an estate home on Leonardo DiCaprio’s own Belize Island that was sold for over $11 million, a private concert with Elton John sold twice for a total of $3 million, and a limited re-edition of Rodin’s “The Thinker” sold for close to $2 million. This short list of expensive items were a few of the many auctioned off at the gala event. In addition, several key figures at the event donated simply out of the kindness of their hearts for this worthy cause.

Starting in 1998, the LDF has stated its mission of protecting the world’s last wild places. The LDF implements solutions that help restore balance to threatened ecosystems, ensuring the long-term health and well being of all Earth’s inhabitants. Since that time the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) has worked on some of the most pressing environmental issues. The LDF has made several strides with grant making, public campaigns and media initiatives to focus efforts on protecting the biodiversity of the world.

With accomplishments like this, it is truly satisfying to see the LDF tirelessly strive to make a difference.

Alysha Biemolt

Sources: Look to the Stars, Leonardo DiCaprio, Calfund
Photo: Flickr

Canopy, an NGO, commits to sustainability by targeting the marketplace to mitigate non-green practices. Canopy works with businesses, fashion brands, book publishers, magazine publishers, newspaper publishers and printers to protect the earth’s forests and fragile ecosystems.

CanopyStyle pledges to protect earth’s ancient and endangered forests from supply chains. It’s “Fashion Loved by Forest” campaign unites prestigious clothing companies to support Canopy’s mission of eliminating environmentally destructive materials from fashion production.

Among the fashion brands devoted to reducing their ecological footprint are Inditex/Zara, Levi Strauss & Co., Quiksilver, Patagonia, Stella McCartney, prAna, Aritzia, Portico/Under the Canopy, H&M, Marks & Spencer, lululemon athletica, EILEEN FISHER, loomstate, Stanley &Stella, ASOS and G-Star RAW.

1. H&M protects forests by choosing greener fabrics and by turning to alternate fiber sources. It’s goal is to avoid sourcing any materials from endangered sources by 2017. With the Forest Stewardship Council, it makes sure it uses green materials. H&M is also working to build transparency in its supply chains.

2. Lululemon athletica avoids using raw metals like tin, tantalum, tungsten or gold, and signed the Responsible Sourcing Network’s’ Cotton Pledge to end forced child and adult labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton harvesting. The company partners with DOWNLITE, a company that provides ethically treated down products. It also prides itself on buying wool from transparent, ethical and green vendors.

3. Stella McCartney does not use viscose in production or fibers from forested areas. It is also trying to strengthen transparency in its supply chains.

4. EILEEN FISHER’s sustainable fibers collection uses “natural, recycled, and high-tech fibers in its eco collection.” It opts for tencel over viscose, which is more traceable, more responsible, less-processed, less-energy intensive, less chemical-intensive and less toxic. According to EILEEN FISHER, tencel is made from sustainably harvested trees, and its closed-loop production means that 99.5 percent of chemicals used in wood pulp-fiber converting are reused.

5. Patagonia uses an array of ethical and green materials. It uses PVC and phthalate-free inks for T-shirts, 100 percent traceable down insulation, Forest Stewardship Council-certified fibers and chlorine-free wool. Patagonia’s supply chain is extremely transparent, evident in its published reports: public factory list, factory scoring system, principles of fair labor and responsible sourcing, workplace code of conduct, social responsibility benchmarks, paper policy, water footprint, and packaging and merchandising policy.

6. Aritzia’s Social & Environmental Responsibility (SER) team takes care of protecting its planet, customers and workplace teams. It helps the environment by cutting back on paper in printing and dining, conferencing and packaging. It uses tech to override paper-based systems and also participates in donating extra fabrics to women and children in Yunnan, China. The program, in alliance with Eco Village of Hope and HANDA Rehabilitation and Welfare Association, works to train communities how to sew beautiful clothing. Aritzia also donates funds that, so far, have provided 130 hygiene packages, 25 sewing kits and 15 electric sewing machines.

– Lin Sabones

Sources: Canopy Planet, Canopy Style 1, Canopy Style 2, H&M, Lulu Lemon, Stella McCartney, Patagonia, Aritzia


This week, President Obama revealed a solution to a problem not many Americans knew existed: declining bee populations.

The plan, appropriately titled the “National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators,” was drafted by the Pollinator Health Task Force and runs for a solid 58 pages. It’s the sort of thing that prompts endless jokes and puns (“Plan B” is a popular one), but for farmers around the world, the decline in bees is serious business.

That’s because bees play an important role in our ecosystem. As pollinators, bees help plants reproduce by spreading pollen around, enabling the creation of seeds and fruit. Many crops rely on bee pollination, including coffee and apples. Larger farms rely on beekeepers who drive from farm to farm, leasing their bees for short bouts of pollination. All in all, 30 percent of the world’s crops rely on insect pollination, most often from bees.

If these pollinators were to suddenly disappear, the world would be in a lot of trouble. Yet that is exactly what is happening, in a mysterious phenomenon known to scientists as “colony collapse disorder.” Worker bees are vanishing and their hives are slowly dying off.

That’s leaving some farmers in the developing world scrambling to find new ways of pollinating their crops. In southeast China, for instance, bee populations have been diminished by habitat destruction and heavy doses of pesticides. Apple farmers in the region are now forced to pollinate their crops by hand. Armed with utensils resembling feather dusters, the workers climb along branches and pollinate the trees themselves.

It’s a painstaking and process that leaves Tang Ya, a researcher at Sichuan University, concerned about sustainability. “For fruit growers, artificial pollination can guarantee profits,” the scientist told China Daily. “But as more young people leave their homes to seek jobs in cities, I’m afraid that artificial pollination will be very difficult to achieve in less than two decades.”

But the problem goes beyond economics; it threatens to worsen global malnutrition as well.

A study published this year by Harvard University and the University of Vermont demonstrated how declining pollinator populations would disrupt human diets in the developing world. Vitamin A, for instance, comes from crops which mostly rely on insect pollinators. According to the World Health Organization, Vitamin A deficiency can have devastating consequences for children, including blindness and a much higher risk of illness and death from common childhood infections.

Though aware of the dangers involved, scientists aren’t entirely sure what causes colony collapse disorder. A wide range of explanations have been offered, including pesticide use, climate change, malnutrition and disease. Neonicotinoid, a type of pesticide, has attracted scrutiny recently and European countries have placed restrictions on its further use.

In the United States, President Obama’s plan calls for setting aside land for pollinators, further restricting pesticide use and increasing funding for research. How the developing world will cope, however, is less clear.

– Kevin Mclaughlin

Sources: Berkeley News, China Daily,, University of Vermont, World Health Organization
Photo: Flickr

On January 2, 2010, a devastating earthquake hit the mountainous country of Tajikistan. Seven thousand people were affected by this natural disaster. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that 20 villages in the Vanj district in the eastern Gorno-Badakhshan region were badly damaged. Estimates suggest that more than 140 houses were destroyed and 950 were left partially damaged.

Nancy Snauwaert, a humanitarian coordination officer in the office of the U.N. Resident Coordinator in Vanj reported that, “There is urgent need for the total reconstruction of houses. Technical guidance is crucial as over 1,000 houses have been damaged and are in need of becoming earthquake resistant.”

Currently, buildings are being constructed using  concrete reinforced with steel rebar. Unfortunately, 50 percent of the country lives on less than $2 a day and rebar is financially out of the reach for many of the families residing in this earthquake prone area.

Starting in 2008 Habitat for Humanity Tajikistan and the Tajik Institute of Seismology began to research alternate means of creating an inexpensive and sustainable house-reinforcing technology. The design created won them the FedEx Award for Innovations in Disaster Preparedness in 2013.

The design has been coined as “Sinj-technology”. Mulberry trees are cut down seasonally to harvest silk cocoons. The twigs of the tree have no other purpose and are free to use. Researchers tied mulberry branches into grids. These grids are then attached to a structural wood frame in mud walls. The grid is plastered with a mix of mud, straw and wool. This design effectively makes the walls able to resist lateral forces.

Preliminary Tests have proven that mulberry grids provide tensile strength equivalent to 80 percent of that of steel rebar. The first earthquake to test this new technology occurred in December of 2008 when the Rasht district was shaken by a 5.8 earthquake. Eighty homes in this region had been previously reinforced with Sinj-technology.

The next earthquake occurred in January of 2009 when a 6.0 earthquake was felt in the Kumsangir district. Over one hundred homes were reinforced with Sinj-technology. A post disaster survey found that none of the reinforced houses were damaged.

Another large advantage to this technology is that homes do not need to be rebuilt with the mulberry grids. The structures can be added to existing structures, saving homeowners as much as five times the expense of new construction. It is also 30 percent cheaper to use these materials than the standard techniques used in other seismically unstable regions.

Since receiving the FedEx Innovation Award, Habitat for Humanity Tajikistan has reinvested the money into proof of concept in an effort to create a new business strategy for Sinj-technology. Their intention is to pair this technology with local training of masons and construction workers. This would also effectively provide opportunities for affordable financing of home retrofits through micro loans.

This comes as promising news for the 70 percent of people living in Tajikistan’s rural communities. The materials for earthquake disaster mitigation is easily accessible since it is produced by trees. The communities are now learning the trade in order to create a more sustainable future.

Frederick Wood II

Sources: Interaction, Habitat 1, Irin News, Habitat 2
Photo: Habitat for Humanity


committee on forestry
Forests are one of the world’s most crucial ecosystems, providing a large portion of the world’s population with energy, shelter and aspects of primary health care. However, despite the importance of forests to the development agenda, they are routinely ignored in national policies.

The vast socioeconomic benefits of forests and the need to protect them were discussed at the 22nd Session of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Committee on Forestry (COFO) this month.

The United Nations agency report The State of the World’s Forests (SOFO) credits forests with the preservation of biodiversity and acknowledges their key role as carbon sinks. Forests are indispensable to environmental preservation, performing erosion control, pollution, natural pest and disease control and climate-change alleviation.

According to this report, the formal forest sector employs some 13.2 million people across the world and at least another 41 million in the informal sector.

Forests are especially important in less-developed regions, where roughly 840 million people, or 12 percent of the world’s population, collect wood fuel and charcoal for their own use. Wood fuel is oftentimes the sole source of energy for impoverished people. The SOFO report estimates that about 40 percent of the population of less developed countries cooks with wood fuel.

Additionally, the report reveals, “at least 1.3 billion people, or 18 percent of the worlds population, live in houses built of wood.” Wood homes are key for developing countries, because they are oftentimes the most affordable building option.

Although these figures give us a sense of the world’s use of forests, it does not begin to capture the significance of trees to the poor.

As the SOFO report insists, “Evidence is critical to inform policies on forest management and use, and to ensure that the benefits from forests are recognized in the post-2015 development – not only with respect to the environment but for their contribution social issues as well.”

FAO Assistance Director-General for Forests, Eduardo Rojas-Briales, suggests “countries should shift their focus, both in data collection and policymaking, from production to benefits, in other words, from trees to people.”

Rojas-Briales hopes that when more data is collected to confirm the importance of wood to the poor, policy makers, donors and investors will be more willing to protect forests.

In order to strengthen forest and farm producer organizations, FAO signed a four-year agreement with AgriCord to collaborate with the Forest and Farm Facility, and these forest protection issues will be discussed further at the joint World Health Organization global intergovernmental conference on nutrition, to be held in Rome in November 2014.

– Grace Flaherty

Sources: UN News CentreFood and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Photo: World Wild Life

Patagonia Dam Project
On June 10, 2014, Chile’s government rejected the HidroAysén plan for the creation of five dams across the Baker and Pascua rivers.

For eight years, developers have struggled to complete the Patagonia Dam project. Even after obtaining permits and approval for construction in 2011, opposition from environmentalists at home and abroad continued to hinder development.

Chile’s Council of Ministers chose to overturn the permits for the $8 million project after accepting 35 complaints against it.

Had the dam been completed, approximately 5,900 hectares (14580 acres) would be flooded. The consequences of flooding would have resulted in the relocation of 36 families, the habitat loss of numerous flora and fauna and of the endangered Southern Huemul deer and damage to the local tourism industry. Additionally, to power the dams, over 2,000 meters of transmission lines would need to be laid down, possibly encroaching over protected areas, indigenous community lands and private property.

Another concern was the future implications of the dam. Critics worried over the likely possibility of other projects that would follow considering the scope of the dam.

A large factor that contributed to the government’s decision to reject the proposal was the legal inconsistencies. After evaluation, the permit process was said to contain irregularities and possible charges of misconduct. Many components of the environmental impact assessment were incorrect or failed to fully assess the impact of the dam.

However, the most important factor that led to the rejection of the plan was the civil opposition toward the dam, said Monti Aguirre of NGO International Rivers.

Now that the dam project has been rejected, the question of energy remains. The dam would have met one-third of Chile’s current energy needs. In addition, Chile will need to triple its current 18,000 mega-watt power generation within 15 years. A point of criticism brought up by environmentalists is that most of Chile’s energy costs are required for copper mines, not consumers.

To compensate for the energy the dam would have provided, Chile intends to add new terminals to receive liquid natural gas and invest in energy efficiency and renewable sources. They hope to cut the expected energy consumption of 2025 by 20 percent while also producing 20 percent of the country’s electricity with renewable sources by 2025.

These renewable sources would take advantage of the numerous geographical distinctions that can be found in Chile. Ranging from solar panels in the Atacama Desert to geothermal plants around the many active volcanoes, Chile has a number of possibilities to further expand its renewable energy output.

The rejection of the Patagonia Dam project was a victory for many Chileans. The government’s dismissal of the project demonstrates a conscious awareness and consideration toward its people and their concerns.

— William Ying

Sources: DW, National Geographic 1, National Geographic 2, The Guardian

indoor air pollution
The World Health Organization estimates that 4.3 million people lose their lives every year due to indoor air pollution. A report from the U.N. Climate Panel has further stated that the “worldwide burden of human ill-health from climate change is relatively small compared with effects of other stressors” – between 30 and 150 times more people die from indoor air pollution than from global warming.

Around the world, 3 billion people still cook food and heat their homes using solid fuels – such as wood, charcoal, coal, dung and crop wastes – on open fires or traditional stoves. These inefficient cooking and heating practices contribute to a dangerously high level of indoor air pollution, including fine particles and carbon monoxide. In poorly ventilated homes, the amount of smoke produced can exceed acceptable levels for fine particles by 100-fold.

Since indoor air pollution is mostly attributed to activities in the kitchen, women and young children who “spend the most time near the domestic hearth” are especially exposed to the health dangers – acute and chronic respiratory conditions (like pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,) lung cancer, ischemic heart disease, stroke and cataracts. Other risks include adverse pregnancy complications, tuberculosis, low birthweight, perinatal mortality, asthma, middle ear infections and cancers of the upper aero-digestive tract and cervix. These negative health effects are only exacerbated in developing countries.

The cooking and heating practices that are responsible for indoor air pollution are indirectly linked to other health hazards as well. Poorly lit homes and kitchens may contribute to deaths, lifelong disabilities and disfigurement from fire-related burns (which are common when using solid fuel and kerosene stoves.) In low and middle-income countries, kerosene is widely used and stored in soft drink or milk bottles, causing many young children to be poisoned from unintentional ingestion.

Indoor air pollution has adverse environmental effects as well. The reliance on wood fuel can heighten deforestation and put “considerable pressure on forests,” leading to forest degradation and a loss of habitat and biodiversity. Additionally, using biomass and coal stoves is inefficient, and a large percentage of energy is lost as products of incomplete combustion. Incomplete combustion produces pollutants like black carbon and methane, both of which have a significant impact on climate change.

In addition to creating indoor air pollution, traditional biomass fuels and appliances limit the time available for families to concentrate on generating income and educating their children, contributing to a “vicious cycle of poverty and reliance on polluting.” For instance, those who rely on inefficient fuels may spend a large portion of the day on fuel collection, and homes with limited access to a clean and reliable source of lighting would not be able to pursue economic and educational opportunities outside of daylight hours.

To reduce exposure to indoor air pollution, solid fuels should be replaced by cleaner and more efficient fuels: liquid petroleum gas, biogas, producer gas, electricity and solar power. However, biomass is still the most realistic fuel source for poor communities due to the scarcity of alternative fuels. In those areas, indoor air pollution could be downsized through improved stoves and ventilation.

— Kristy Liao

Sources: Eco-Business, Forbes, WHO
Photo: WordPress

Economists, public officials and humanitarian leaders across the globe are all echoing a new stance on foreign aid: treat it like an investment.

Sure, many areas of the world still require immediate relief in the form of solid goods, but what these communities absolutely require is the stability and means to sustain themselves long-term. In order to break the cycle of poverty, impoverished people need a new cycle altogether characterized by improved economic infrastructure and stability.

The best aspect of the investment approach is that it promises profit. Business executives are now realizing the untapped workforce potential of the world’s destitute. By developing interest in these areas from an economic standpoint, companies are not only opening up access to the world market, but they are seeing positive returns as well.

Companies like Samasource, a Silicon Valley-based startup, have illustrated success in the private sector. Samasource’s model involves big data projects that they break down into manageable tasks for their overseas workers. American tech giants such as Google and LinkedIn benefit from the work and finance of the paychecks of their outsourced employees. As a result, Samasource is profitable and growing while people in rural areas have new access to the technological world market.

Now, imagine taking the approach a step further and funding industries that directly address the critical issues impoverished people face, such as global health investments. Could financing ventures that treat HIV, malaria and infant mortality help those in need and actually boost the economy? More and more people are answering this question with a solid “yes.”

The solution won’t be so simple, however. Devex editor Rolf Rozenkranz recently sat down with Annie Baston who is the chief strategy officer at PATH, an international nonprofit that specializes in long-term solutions to break cycles of poverty. Baston explained the common challenges faced when determining a “best buy” for global health investment. Multiple factors come into play involving technological solutions and systemic reform. These elements need to be carefully orchestrated and illustrated to investors to generate interest and maintain longevity.

In fact, organizations such as The Lancet and their team of researchers have laid out a complex global health investment plan, titled “Global Investment Framework for Women and Children’s Health,” that will secure high health, social and economic returns. Through simulation modeling, The Lancet has found that “increasing health expenditure by just $5 per person per year up to 2035 in 74 high-burden countries could yield up to nine times that value in economic and social benefits.” Their models, published late last year, approach maternal and newborn health, children’s health, malaria, HIV/AIDS, family planning and immunization.

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: DEVEX(1), DEVEX(2), The Lancet, Samasource
Photo: University of Delaware