The Green Belt Movement is an environmental organization whose aim is to make the planet green again through fighting deforestation and preventing soil erosion. It engages the community, especially women, in its process and, in return, compensates participants with a small monetary payment. It has now become an international platform for women’s empowerment through the conservation of natural resources.

The Green Belt Movement was started by the late professor, Doctor Wangari Maathai, who founded the organization in 1977 in Kenya. Dr. Maathai is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, the first African woman to receive such an honor. She is also the first woman to receive a doctorate degree in East and Central Africa. Dr. Maathai witnessed the struggles of rural Kenyan women with finding drinking water, food and firewood, saw the connection between deforestation, scarcity of rainfall and food insecurity and wanted to address the problem as a whole. She encouraged men and women to practice reforestation, binding soil to prevent soil erosion, food processing, beekeeping and many more sustainable values.

The Green Belt Movement has also dealt with larger issues in the daily lives of Kenyans. It has protected public lands from private landowners, known as “land grabbing.” It has trained farmers with simple techniques to grow indigenous vegetables and fruits that are sustainable in harsh environments. It also uses a water-shed based approach to harvesting. Furthermore, the Green Belt Movement launched the Community Empowerment and Education program, which helped to educate common people on the environment, natural resources and civics.

Since its foundation in 1977, over 51 million trees have been planted across Kenya. The movement also invented a method of spreading ideas among the community through “trainers of trainers.” In 2015 alone, over 200 women who participated in training from the Green Belt Movement have gone on to train over 20,000 members of their communities, thus assisting in the spreading of the Movement’s ideas. The Green Belt Movement has addressed important issues such as deforestation, climate change and women’s empowerment, gaining international status in the process.

– Mahua Mitra

Photo: Flickr

Shell and GravityLight Illuminate Off-Grid Regions in KenyaWhile access to electricity does not yet span the globe, the force of gravity is universal. The GravityLight Foundation has taken advantage of Newtonian physics to create a cost-effective light source that runs on gravity. Simply by lifting a weight and letting it descend, GravityLight can provide light and transform impoverished homes.

In 2015, GravityLight’s inventive engineering earned it the Shell Springboard Award, a grant of nearly $200,000 used to fund innovative businesses with low carbon footprints. Together, Shell and the GravityLight Foundation have successfully put GravityLights into production and introduced them to 50 communities in Kenya.

Kenya, which has one of the largest economies in Sub-Saharan Africa, has expended considerable effort to create an impressive power sector. In just four years, Kenya has increased the amount of households with access to electricity from 25 percent to 46 percent. Kenyan companies such as KenGen are working to utilize renewable energy sources, and geothermal energy looks promising.

A capacity of approximately 2,295 MW is available on Kenya’s power grid. However, off the grid, in remote areas of the country, only 11.5 MW are currently available. The Shell and GravityLight partnership intends to provide electric light to those off-grid regions in Kenya.

Electricity is crucial to improving the lives of the world’s poor. Access to light alone improves education and the economy by allowing people to study and work after daylight hours. However, the resources required to produce light can be extremely expensive, especially for those living in poverty. The world’s poor spend an estimated 30 percent of their income on kerosene needed to burn in lamps. GravityLight eliminates the need for kerosene to produce light, which is not only cheaper but also safer. Kerosene fumes are known carcinogens that are toxic for both humans and the environment.

Because the GravityLight Foundation uses local people and businesses to organize the sale of its product, marketing for GravityLight supplies Kenyans with jobs. By providing employment, GravityLight is bringing bright futures as well as bright homes to off-grid regions in Kenya.

Shell and GravityLight are not the only groups seeking to improve energy accessibility in order to aid impoverished populations in Africa. In 2015, the same year GravityLight won the Springboard grant, the U.S. government passed the Electrify Africa Act. The act aims to provide 60 million households and businesses throughout Africa with electricity.

Around the globe, 1.2 billion people lack access to electricity. If GravityLight’s debut in Kenya is successful, the foundation plans to continue spreading light throughout the world.

Mary Efird

Photo: Flickr

Green Revolution in AfricaAs climate change threatens to alter weather patterns around the world, farmers face the challenges of increased frequency and intensity of droughts. Reliant on rainwater for crop production, these communities often struggle to produce food levels sufficient for even a subsistence farming lifestyle. However, drought-resistant crops may be the solution to negating the effects of these issues and ushering in the new green revolution in Africa.

In 2006, the DTMA (Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa) Initiative was launched with the aim of increasing crop output and negating the effects of drought in several countries across sub-Saharan Africa. The project has brought together all types of communities, from local agricultural groups and seed producers to research institutions and NGOs.

Of course, this ultimately raises the most the most important question of all: has the new green revolution in Africa succeeded?

“Green Revolution” is a term defined as the increased production of crop yields through the use of improved technological application, the use of pesticides and better management. There are a few areas where this definition applies more to the successes of the DTMA Initiative. In 2015, the drought-resistant maize improved crop output in 13 countries, including Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi and others. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) has reported that hybrid seeds will benefit an estimated 2.5 million people in the region.

“I was truly amazed. I harvested 110 kilograms of maize from the tiny demonstration plot,” 61-year-old farmer Jotham Apamo, whose farm previously yielded a mere 10 kilograms, told WIPO Magazine. “[Before] there was hardly any gain for me. I was pushed into debt. I couldn’t feed my family or pay for my children’s school fees.”

In the meantime, Kenyan scientists at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) have been studying and perfecting the creation and application of this crop (as well as studying disease-resisting properties) since 2013. Researchers have stated that the hybrid seed responsible for Africa’s next green revolution will be available later this year.

Brad Tait

Photo: Flickr

Environmentally Responsible Fishing
Around the world, the fishing community is particularly vulnerable. Just over 96 percent of fishers live in developing countries and many of them live in substandard conditions of poverty. However, environmentally responsible fishing has the potential to alleviate environmental concerns as well as the poverty of fishermen.

Part of the reason that fishermen face such tenuous financial circumstances is the unstable nature of the profession. The fisherman’s boat and equipment are the most valuable possessions but also their most vulnerable. The unpredictable nature of the sea means equipment may be damaged at any moment and halt the flow of income.

Furthermore, fishermen in Africa, Asia and Central America are at least five times more likely to be infected with HIV due to their mobility. These circumstances often lead to overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions and poor access to education and health services. Over and above these problems, the damaging environmental effects caused by this cycle of poverty has not even been explored.

It is understandable that many fishers are not focused on environmentally responsible fishing practices. People struggling to survive today are less likely to focus on long-term environmental effects. However, depletion of resources will ultimately push them further into poverty.

Therefore, it is imperative that fishermen consider how they can practice environmentally responsible fishing as it will help to alleviate the poverty that they face. Latin American nonprofit company MarViva aims to help fishermen with this objective. As the organization’s co-director said, “we are not dealing only with an environmental problem, but also with significant institutional, social, and economic challenges that require serious attention and integral long-term solutions.”

MarViva is working for these long-term solutions with a two-part initiative. First, they teach fishermen the advantages of responsible fishing practices that may appear as more expensive or labor-intensive in the short-term. For instance, investing in ice may seem like an unnecessary expense, but it ensures that fish stay fresh during transport and money is not lost due to a spoiled product.

They are also encouraged to use smaller hand lines instead of large gill nets. When gill nets are used, the caught fish are already dead and may be damaged. While gill nets seem to catch a larger amount of fish at once, they may sell for a lower price due to damage that may have occurred. Hand lines result in higher quality that will translate to a higher selling price.

The second part of the initiative focuses on the traceability of the product. If fishermen present the source and journey of their fish to the market, they can distinguish their product as one that was caught and handled responsibly. This means that it can sell for a higher price than fish of questionable or unknown origin.

Through its initiative, MarViva has increased the availability of high-quality products and the practice of responsible fishing. Raising awareness of how to protect the ocean’s precious natural resources is a highly important endeavor. Equally important is the fact that fishermen who depend on the ocean’s resources can protect those as well as alleviate the poverty that they face.

Nathaniel Siegel
Photo: Flickr

Bamboo BikesPedal Forward, a social enterprise company founded by Matthew Wilkins in 2012, is helping the poor in the U.S. and Africa ride into a brighter future. Wilkins and business partner Chris Deschenes wanted to create a reliable mode of transportation that was sustainably manufactured and cheap to buy. Their answer to the problem? Bamboo bikes.

“I remembered I had bamboo in my backyard growing where I grew up in Long Island, and I did some Googling and saw that people have been building bikes out of bamboo since the 1890s,” Wilkins said to the Hatchet. “It just never really caught on.”

Pedal Forward exclusively hired the underemployed and homeless for its workforce through the Back on My Feet organization, tasking them with the construction of the bikes themselves. Their New York warehouse was purchased through the $44,748 the duo earned on Kickstarter last February, and construction of the bamboo bikes is currently well underway.

Over 70 percent of the world’s poor lives without adequate transportation, according to Pedal Forward’s mission statement. Wilkins hopes to manufacture bikes in Tanzania and Uganda to bring affordable transportation to the poor there. In the meantime, however, Pedal Forward has been buying bikes from local vendors and distributing them to orphaned children and farmers so they can sell goods in markets.

“It’s combining my two favorite things which are bikes and building things, but at the same time it has a huge impact to a ton of people around the world,” Wilkins said to the Hatchet.

The bamboo used by Pedal Forward has been treated to make it four times more shock absorbent than carbon fiber and has higher tensile strength than steel. It also grows at a sustainable rate of one meter per day, earning it the name Iron Bamboo.

On top of being strong, the bamboo is good for the environment and easily recycled, making it cheap, green and created for a good cause. It took Wilkins three years to perfect the prototype of the bike after he won best business idea at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in 2012, thus delaying Pedal Forward’s commercial start to 2016.

The first bamboo bikes are set to sell for $499 this September on their website.

Regina Park
Photo: Flickr

Leonardo DiCaprioLeonardo DiCaprio’s charity work spans a wide range of worthy causes. He has used his celebrity status to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS, conservation efforts, disaster relief and poverty alleviation. According to the celebrity news source Look to the Stars, DiCaprio has made charitable contributions to 20 different foundations in support of 17 causes.

In 1998, when he was 24 years old, DiCaprio recognized the importance of protecting the environment and the need for building a sustainable future. He established the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) to contribute to this cause.

Since 2010, the LDF has donated over $30 million to fund high-impact environmental projects in more than 44 countries, according to the organization’s website. “I play fictitious characters often solving fictitious problems,” DiCaprio said in an interview with the Telegraph in January 2016. “I believe mankind has looked at climate change in the same way, as if it were a fiction. But I think we know better than that.”

DiCaprio’s unwavering commitment to the environment earned him the role of United Nations Messenger of Peace in September 2014. “[DiCaprio’s] global stardom is the perfect match for this global challenge,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at a press conference at that time.

Charity Navigator, an organization known for guiding intelligent giving, noted DiCaprio’s involvement in the National Resources Defense Council, WildAid and the World Wildlife Fund on their list of celebrities who put their star power to good use. The LDF raised over $25 million at its inaugural gala in July 2014 thanks to auctioned items from Bono and Simon de Pury, according to Vogue Magazine.

DiCaprio’s charity work extends beyond the realm of fundraising galas or speaking to world leaders. While most celebrities use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for self-promotion, DiCaprio’s accounts are devoted to causes he cares about.

“Leonardo’s website and social media platforms are also dedicated to inspiring the public to take action on key environmental issues,” the LDF website says, regarding DiCaprio’s social media channels. “Growing in reach from just 500,000 followers in 2007 to over 25 million in 2015, Leonardo’s fans have engaged on an array of issues protecting key species — sharks in California, tigers in Asia, elephants in Africa — and calling on world leaders to address climate change.”

Leonardo DiCaprio’s ability to leverage social media for good has not gone unnoticed. Complex Magazine cited DiCaprio as one of 11 celebrities that used social media for good in 2015.

Summer Jackson

Sources: Complex, Look to the Stars, Telegraph, UN, Vogue, Charity Navigator
Photo: Google Images

HomeBioGasAround three billion people in rural areas still utilize simple stoves that require burning wood, crop refuse or coal. These resources create dangerous air pollution, causing over 3.8 million premature deaths annually. The HomeBioGas startup aims to change this.

HomeBioGas, an organic renewable energy system created by an Israeli startup, aims to reduce the death toll in rural areas while at the same time helping farmers and families reduce their carbon footprint.

The machine safely converts food waste and animal manure into cooking gas and liquid fertilizer. The machine serves as a sustainable tool for urban and rural families living off the grid.

According to the company’s website, the 88-pound machine starts by adding a bacteria to a combination of waste and water, which triggers a fermentation process. The reaction then produces a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide, which can be used as energy.

The system can break down up to six liters of food waste, including meat and dairy. It can also dissolve 15 liters of animal manure, yielding about three hours worth of cooking gas and about 10 liters of liquid fertilizer. Families then can use the resulting gas to cook around three meals a day.

One of the few problems with HomeBioGas, however, is its dependency on warm temperatures. Under 64°F (17°C), the system will decrease its productivity, and it will cease to function at 32°F (0°C).

After a year, though, users eliminate one ton of organic waste, as well as decreasing toxic emissions going into the atmosphere.

Oshik Efrati, CEO of HomeBioGas, told Reuters that the system “will be available to everyone [who] needs it in the developing world.”

The company has already dispensed systems to underserved locations in order to cut back reliance on other types of fuel.

In the summer of 2014, Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection bought and installed multiple units at Umm Batin, a Bedouin village without access to clean energy and garbage removal.

The Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Energy and Mining, aiming to reduce the impoverished population’s overdependence on wood, recently signed a contract with HomeBioGas to purchase 50 biodigesters.

The pilot program’s prior success in the two countries, led their governments have decided to purchase even more biodigesters to combat poverty in these locations.

John Gilmore

Sources: Huffington Post, Israel 21c, IndieGoGo
Photo: EcoWatch

 Carbon_Credits
The city of Lagos is working to reduce the levels of greenhouse gases emitted from their landfills using a state-of-the-art composting facility. This facility is dramatically reducing the volume of waste ending up in landfills by 10-20 percent.

It is Nigeria’s first composting project to be registered as a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), earning the nation carbon credits that can be cashed with the World Bank.

Carbon credits, also known as carbon offsets, are becoming a fresh incentive for countries to become more environmentally sustainable.

As a financial instrument representing a tonne of CO2 (carbon dioxide) or CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent gases) removed or reduced from the atmosphere, the greener a nation’s industries are, the more financial carbon credits the nation will amount.

Since Nigeria’s industrial and commercial centers are home to more than 17 million, Lagos City’s population is expected to grow steadily to more than 21 million by the end of 2015, bringing an increased amount of unsorted waste.

Unfortunately, the city already has a problem with its landfill management practices, including poorly regulated methane emissions.

Still in the phase of its first verification, the project is expected to have approximately 30,000 carbon credits issued by the end of 2015. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the project. While operating at maximum capacity, the compost facility can process 1,500 metric tons of mainly organic waste per day. It has been projected that over the course of the next 10 years, greenhouse gas emissions will be cut by 253,800 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year as a result.

That translates to a lot of money through carbon credits for the Nigerian government to work on other sustainable development throughout the nation, benefiting all levels of society. But the monetary benefits of the carbon credits project are intended to stretch beyond the government, and trickle down in particular to the industrial and agricultural working classes.

In the industrial sector, the project is anticipated to create approximately 90 jobs at landfills throughout the city. In the agricultural sector, the byproduct of composting organic waste in landfills is extremely nutrient-rich soil. This soil is cheaper and more environmentally sound than the chemical fertilizer alternative that Nigerian farmers currently have available to them.

This increase in organic farming has been proven to improve soil quality and crop yields, increasing the productivity and profitability of farming throughout the region. As harvests improve and stabilize, there is a strengthening of national food security and increase in the region’s sustainable development.

Claire Colby

Sources: Carbon Planet, World Bank
Photo: Pixabay

A Green Colombia

Humankind has achieved a level of greatness unknown to its predecessors: today we freely traverse the globe as we please and live comfortable lifestyles, infatuated with the belief that we live in a place where almost anything is possible.

Unfortunately, this whimsical attitude cannot last in a world unable to keep up with each and every whim and passing fancy of the human heart. With the inevitable effects of climate change ravaging the one and only planet in which we live, a growing endeavor to find sustainable approaches and solutions for countries around the world continues to be a top priority on the nation’s agenda.

Recognizing this importance, the World Bank Board of Executive Directors approved a $700 million loan which supported green growth in Colombia as well as environmental developments within the country. It was through this Development Policy Loan (DPL) that Colombian administration’s budgetary program was supported.

The National Development Plan for Colombia has several initiatives in support of a green growth strategy which include “reducing water and air pollution as well as the final disposal and recycling of solid waste,” states an article by the World Bank.

Challenges that Colombia faces in this effort include an aversion to adaption in the face of climate change and a “reduction in the costs of environmental degradation on health,” says the World Bank. However, this loan will present a unique and golden opportunity to promote social, economic and environmental developments for this country.

According to the World Bank, “the rate of exploitation of Colombia’s natural resources is greater than the average for Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) countries. For example, extensive cattle raising, mostly undertaken in unsuitable lands, has caused significant deterioration in land use. Equally, the industrial sector is one of the biggest culprits behind organic pollution and the deterioration of water quality in Colombia.”

With the poorest and most vulnerable people suffering the most from environmental degradation issues, advances in environmental sustainability will be welcomed and embraced throughout this region. This loan will not just benefit the very poor but also seeks to improve productivity and overall quality of life for all Colombians.

Future endeavors will focus on strengthening the response capacity to climate change and natural disasters that affect the country. As often as this is repeated, its message stays true: only by investing in these issues today can we create a future for tomorrow.

Nikki Schaffer

Sources: DNP, World Bank
Photo:Flickr