Information and news about sustainability

africa innovation challenge“What’s New?” This is the question engraved on a medallion for the Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research. Johnson & Johnson (J&J) created the award in 2014 to honor Janssen, a prominent pharmaceutical researcher who passed away in 2003. Janssen would pose this two-word question daily to his research and development lab. Now, every year, the award is given to an innovative and passionate scientist or team of scientists alongside a $200,000 prize as part of J&J’s Africa Innovation Challenge.

The Africa Innovation Challenge

The challenge is part of J&J’s Champions of Science initiative. Seema Kumar, J&J’s vice president of innovation, global health and policy communication, explains that the initiative is designed to “champion science” because “science needs champions.” The 2016 launch of J&J’s Africa Innovation Challenge 1.0 was part of a geo-specific initiative to support scientific advancements in Africa. Such developments are key to improving healthcare in impoverished areas.

J&J sought applications from Africa-based entrepreneurs who were creating new healthcare services and products in “early childhood development and maternal health,” “empowering young girls” and “overall family well-being.” Winners received mentorship from J&J’s team of researchers, engineers and scientists as well as up to $100,000 in funding.

The Need for Innovation

Access to healthcare is often a hurdle throughout Africa. Twenty-seven of the world’s 28 poorest countries are located in Sub-Saharan Africa. As of 2015, the majority of the world’s poor reside in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the average poverty rate is 41%. In comparison, data from 2018 suggests that approximately 8.6% of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty.

With such high rates of poverty, it is estimated that less than 50% of Africans have access to modern healthcare facilities. In 2009, sub-Saharan Africa spent only 6.1% of its GDP on healthcare. For the majority of African countries, less than 10% of their GDP goes toward health expenditures. The continent consequently has the highest mortality rates in the world and is the sole continent in which deaths from chronic diseases are outnumbered by deaths from infectious diseases.

J&J’s Africa Innovation Challenge aims to alter these statistics and improve healthcare in Africa through science-based initiatives. After naming three Africa Innovation Challenge winners in 2017, J&J launched the Africa Innovation Challenge 2.0 in 2018. This time, the six challenge categories were “botanical solutions,” “packaging innovations,” “mental health,” “health worker support,” “digital health tools” and “essential surgical care.” J&J announced six winners, who each received up to $50,000 in funding. These are the nine companies that have won the Africa Innovation Challenge since its launch in 2016.

Winners of the Africa Innovation Challenge

  1. 2017 winner SaCoDé makes washable and re-wearable pads that tie around the waist for girls and women in Burundi. The pads prevent infection among the many Burundian women who cannot afford disposable pads. Since winning the Africa Innovation Challenge, SaCoDé has opened two new manufacturing locations and created jobs for 20 women in Burundi.
  2. 2017 winner Innov Asepsis makes hands-free faucets. There is an approximately 60% chance of contracting an infection from unclean faucet handles in Uganda, but these hands-free faucets reduce the risk of infection by eliminating contact. PedalTaps fit onto existing sinks to reduce the spread of diseases related to faucet handles.
  3. 2017 winner J-Palm is a makeup and skincare brand made from cold-pressed palm oil. Makeup products imported into Liberia are affordable and popular but are often made with chemicals that may be toxic. J-Palm addresses this issue by providing customers with affordable, safe makeup products. The company supports local farmers and has created 330 new jobs in Liberia.
  4. 2019 winner LifeBank is a digital platform with the goal of increasing safety, efficiency and efficacy in Nigeria’s blood supply chain. Approximately 8% to 14% of HIV cases in Nigeria are a consequence of poor safety and regulatory measures in the blood donation system. LifeBank works to deliver the necessary blood for transfusions to Nigerian hospitals in less than 45 minutes to improve the quality of the blood supply chain.
  5. 2019 winner The Hope Initiative uses a validated metric to measure “hope among nurses and mothers” in Rwanda and to “understand how hope intersects with healthcare worker burnout and perinatal health outcomes,” according to the J&J website. An estimated 50% of healthcare workers are classified as “high risk” for experiencing burnout. Based on demonstrated research that hope decreases burnout, The Hope Initiative’s goal is to diminish burnout among emergency care workers by identifying the “interventions that positively influence hope.”
  6. 2019 winner Dreet is a Botswanan phone application that uses hearing device tests and remotely connects children in rural Africa to healthcare professionals. Approximately 67% of the world’s hearing-impaired population resides in developing countries. The Dreet application helps families navigate life with a hearing-impaired child while working to mitigate high or unnecessary healthcare expenses.
  7. 2019 winner Crib A’ Glow is a “solar-powered, foldable phototherapy crib provided to hospitals, health centers and parents” in communities across Nigeria to treat infant jaundice, according to the J&J website. Infant jaundice most commonly occurs when babies’ livers have not matured sufficiently in order to remove a chemical compound called bilirubin from the bloodstream. An estimated 6 million babies worldwide do not receive treatment for jaundice. Left untreated, jaundice can cause hearing loss, developmental issues, cerebral palsy and, in some cases, death. Crib A’ Glow helps to give poor infants a chance.
  8. 2019 winner Uganics manufactures mosquito-repelling soap that is both affordable and organic. Africa has the world’s highest rates of malaria transmission. In 2018, the continent was home to 93% of the world’s malaria cases and 94% of malaria-related deaths. Sixty-seven percent of those deaths were children. Uganics’s soap helps prevent malaria from spreading in Uganda.
  9. 2019 winner M-SCAN aims to help pregnant women in rural Ugandan communities who do not have access to ultrasounds. The company’s device uses a portable probe and smartphone, laptop or tablet to perform ultrasounds. This device helps healthcare professionals and/or midwives prepare for any risks that may arise during delivery.

The winning companies, or “Champions of Science,” have helped increase healthcare access among Africa’s poor while also improving healthcare safety. Through J&J’s Africa Innovation Challenge, these sustainable solutions to public health problems have also created jobs, providing workers with stable incomes and helping boost countries’ economies. By expanding support and funding for public health innovations, companies, organizations and governments can continue to “champion” change.

– Zoe Engels
Photo: Flickr

Building Sustainable Healthcare

Qualified and experienced medical professionals traveling to developing countries and providing necessary healthcare may seem not only harmless but sensible for communities in need. However, if the ultimate goal is to improve sustainable healthcare in these countries in the long-term, the benefits of professional volunteers can be short-lived.

Nurses International

Nurses International is a non-profit organization that aims to build sustainable healthcare in developing nations by providing resources and education to local nurses in order to become qualified healthcare workers. Some of its work includes:

  • Ameliorating programs that are already in existence by providing necessary courses to complete the nurses’ training
  • Setting up new programs where they are non-existent
  • Removing obstacles, such as affordability, for students
  • Applying a curriculum that utilizes technology to increase productivity and efficiency
  • Educating nurses on their influence on community development
  • Multiple consultation efforts, such as reviewing curriculum, mentoring staff and aiding in policy development

Open Access

Nurses International also provides online courses intended to magnify the instruction for students in nursing programs. The courses may also act as preparation for those entering a nursing program. The online programs have been made available worldwide and include lectures, references for educators and students, assignments and assessments.

With all current courses relocated online due to COVID-19, there is a new course available for students to enroll in that discusses all aspects of the COVID-19 including testing, treatment and trajectory of the disease. Nurses International is also currently developing a teacher’s guide for Open Access and has the “worlds first Open Access BSN.”

Nurses International endeavors to do its work honing an anthropological perspective. Understanding and respecting the beliefs, values, traditions, and language of the patients and the community is at the heart of the organization’s work. Nurses International “respects and values multiple perspectives and finds that diversity allows them to their best work” towards building sustainable healthcare.

Nurses International’s productive efforts can be seen in Burundi, where volunteers teach students and develop learning materials while a new hospital is being built. Nurses International is making a teacher handbook and providing health checkups for women partaking in the program. In China, they are educating clinical instructors in the city of Quijing from 3 different nursing schools. In Egypt, Nurses International is providing a residency program for nurses to help them transition into clinical practice.

Challenges of Medical Tourism

Nurses International has an understanding that the demands of a developing country go far beyond the need for provisional healthcare. There is a growing interest from clinicians and medical students to travel to and temporarily practice in developing nations. The consequences of these visits can be damaging in multiple ways. For instance, countries hosting these international visitors must adapt resources that are already insufficient for their stay. Visitors often bring along supplies that are unnecessary or inapplicable. There is no evidence these missions create a stable healthcare model. By the end of their visits, substantial amounts of materials and money have been dedicated to solutions that are only temporary.

The Best of Both Worlds

Of course, volunteers can be helpful in developing countries. There is still a high demand for medical professionals and urgent care. The best solutions can come from an approach that is conscious of the community’s needs in both the short-term and the long-term. The Project Health Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE) and the Ghana Emergency Medicine Collaborative (GEMC) united in 2011 to accomplish this objective.

GEMC recognized the crucial need for specialization in emergency medicine since almost 6 million deaths around the world occur from injuries and acute illnesses. The collaborative realized that sending students away to developed countries for their training was ineffective in sustaining healthcare in the community because many students would remain in the developed countries that they were trained in, instead of returning home. To prevent such issues, GEMC brought emergency medicine specialists from the U.S and U.K. to Komfo Arioke Teaching Hospital (KATH) in Kumasi, Ghana.

The faculty coming from developed countries advise and train students who eventually graduate from the program and become qualified clinicians and instructors, allowing graduates from the local community to then lead the programs. Project Hope joined forces with GEMC’s methods by providing volunteers to perform direct and immediate health care services as needed at KATH, and also to strengthen a program with transitory medical volunteers. These programs work together to form an initiative to build sustainable healthcare in the community.

— Amy Schlagel
Photo: Pixabay

Sustainable Modes of Transport
What if one could raise their heart rate by walking to the grocery store or to see friends and cycling to university or work? Benefits may include becoming fitter and not spending as much time inside or using a car, as well as reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Reducing the number of cars by using sustainable modes of transport, including walking, cycling and public transport, could also help the poor leave a life of poverty behind. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has helped cities take action to incorporate sustainable modes of transport into their urban environments.

Social Sustainability

Many people may know of environmental sustainability, but social sustainability may be less familiar. As part of the Beyond 2015 briefs, the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) presented insight concerning the post-Millennium Development Goal (MDG) development agenda. The institute put forth that “[to] be socially sustainable, development must deliver material well-being, including good health, education, and access to goods and services necessary for decent living…”

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emerged in 2015. They build on the MDGs and are a manifestation of a universal agenda for people, planet and prosperity, numbering 17 goals and 169 targets. SDG 1 is “[to] end poverty in all its forms everywhere.” Meanwhile, SDG 11 is “[to make] cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

Cities

Cities play a large role in economic growth. Urbanization has been increasing; over half the world’s population lives in urban areas. The connection of people to the jobs, activities and services that are in or near cities is of significant importance. This connection can occur by means of transport. A U.N. 2014 literature review (Poverty and sustainable transport: How transport affects poor people with policy implications for poverty reduction) stated that in that same year, there were around 900 million passenger cars and light-duty vehicles and that by 2035, that number will more than double.

Higher vehicle numbers and lower urban density (think suburbs) have at least contributed to congestion and pollution, and have impacted the provision of public transport, all to the detriment of the poor. In developing countries, whether or not the three consequences exist, lack of sidewalks and cycle lanes make dangerous walking and cycling, both of which may be more affordable for and help the poor.

Cities of the Future and the Poor

City design is often more friendly to vehicles than to people, especially the poor. Cities have not always provided the poor’s interests with proper care, including sometimes resettling them due to a mobility project. Additionally, public transport fares are frequently too costly and there is sometimes a declining provision of public transport and/or aspects that hinder access to basic facilities. According to a SLOCAT (the Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport) 2016 literature review, “the urban poor are more likely to experience too many of the transport costs and too few of the transport benefits.”

Connecting social sustainability, cities of the future and the poor is the recent trend of cities around the world increasing space for pedestrians and cyclists. The U.N. review from 2014 presents that walking and cycling are an important part of urban transport, with 50% of the urban population doing the former and the poor doing so for at least 80% of their trips. If cities were to invest more in walking and cycling infrastructure and encourage both the non-poor and poor to do them, congestion, the loss of time due to congestion, pollution and poverty levels could decrease.

Countries could also deal with the geographical and social exclusion of the poor by giving public transport greater investment. In Medellín, Colombia, one may be able to say that the MetroCable cable cars have helped reduce criminal activity and cut down on time loss and costs. It began to operate in 2004. “By 2011, 3 lines of the system had transported more than 47 million people, which represent a total saving for the people of approximately 22.5 million euros.” This is an example of public transport that has been affordable to poor persons.

The implementation of transit-oriented development (TOD) in cities could encourage mainly the non-poor to walk, cycle and use public transport, possibly transforming the private vehicle-centric urban landscape into one that is more human-friendly and pro-poor. And while TOD concentrates jobs and housing around transport facilities, increasing property prices and gentrification, governments could intervene to ensure that there is affordable housing.

SLOCAT works to include sustainable transport in policy analysis and global discussions, which may help to address the two SDG aspects of inclusivity and endeavoring to reach the furthest behind first. The previously mentioned 2016 literature review, which was part of a SLOCAT initiative, points out accessibility (made up of mobility and proximity) as key in the transport-poverty nexus. If both non-poor and poor were to use sustainable modes of transport, and if goods and services were closer to them, poor persons would benefit.

Cities of the Future and the Pandemic

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, London, England implemented a congestion charge. The results have included fewer victims of road accidents and a rise in the use of bikes. During times of the pandemic, cities have taken advantage of the fewer number of cars on their streets. For example, Medellín, Colombia is working to nearly double its existing bike lanes within three years. Additionally, Kampala, Uganda is building walkways and bike lanes. If the consequences of these actions do not already do so, officials should act to ensure the poor make use of them.

Considering that the pandemic could destroy livelihoods of around half of the global workforce or around 1.6 billion people and that several of those workers could be both poor and unable afford to work from home, the connection between a more socially sustainable urban transport landscape and the prevention of the destruction of both livelihoods and national economies may be appropriate.

Sustainable mobility could enable savings totaling $70 trillion by the middle of this century. Investing in walking, cycling and/or public transport infrastructure at least possibly should allow for greater efficiency of movement in cities, allow the poor to travel more safely and, together with a reduction in private vehicle use, decrease the amount of time that people waste due to traffic. This should also help the poor reach basic facilities regarding health or education more efficiently. In an age where there are people conscious about their health and global poverty, a person can help the poor and stay fit by using sustainable modes of transport.

– Kylar Cade
Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Solutions
The United Nations recognizes the success of The Millennium Development Goals in decreasing the world’s extreme poverty in half. With the intention of contributing to that success, the UN has developed a 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that aim to ensure the prosperity of poor countries and secure environmental protection in these regions through the implementation of sustainable solutions.The SDGs were scheduled to begin being implemented on January 1, 2016, and continue over the next 15 years.

The first item on the list is ending poverty. The UN points out that accomplishing such a challenging goal requires strategies that foster economic growth as well as address core issues such as health, social protection and employment.

What is Biomimicry?

Biomimicry is a way of looking at design through engineering that occurs in nature. The idea is to mimic the way organisms have been adapting and surviving on this earth. These natural adaptations provide a guide to life on earth in the long haul.

Biomimicry can be used in favor of disenfranchised populations living in harsh climates. Finding water in deserts, for example, can be quite a difficult task. Biomimicry might be used to disclose a solution to this problem through observation of a Namibian Beetle which lives in the desert of southern Africa and collects water from fogs. This particular beetle has special structures on its wings scales that condense water out of the air. This beetle’s wing design is ten times more efficient at collecting eater than the fog-catching nets humans have used in the past.

New technologies developed out of Biomimicry provide more opportunities for green economies to flourish. Green economies are those in which all economic activities, such as exporting goods and services, occur with little environmental impacts. This would provide more opportunities for developing countries and improve global trade which, in turn, allows developing countries to acquire more technology.

The Global Design Challenge

The Biomimicry Institue inspired innovators from all over the globe to use biomimicry and apply nature-inspired designs as sustainable solutions to urgent global issues. The groups who made it to the final round presented their projects at the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge in 2015.

  1. Hexagro (Milan, Italy): The Hexagro team designed a “groundless” growing system made of recycled and biodegradable materials. The hexagon-shaped structure mimics the geometric pattern found in nature produces 342 lettuce plants per two square meters whereas ground farming produces only 80 lettuce plants in the same conditions. The project includes an automatic irrigation system that prevents plants from being dried out or overfed. The system will soon be connected to a digital application.
  2. Holonic Integrated Produce Swarm (South Africa): HIPS is a peer to peer networking app. It mimics the way flocks of birds and other well-coordinated groups of animals function. The app facilitates small scale intensive food production to be coordinated. A swarm of food producers allows people to share resources and conduct local transactions. The app connects these local swarms to create regional ones in order to establish a produce hub. It also records surplus produce for sale and helps members do the distribution logistics. Finally, the app provides a medium fair exchange value and provides incentives to food producers to employ the best practices.
  3. Biopatch  (Valparaiso, Chile): This project won first place in the design challenge for their soil restoration solution. Its design mimics the Yareta plant. This plant is known as a “nurse” plant that thrives in cold and windy conditions and provides shelter and nutrients to other species. Biopatch mimics the plant’s protective mechanisms to shield seedlings from the wind and ultraviolet radiation while enhancing the soil’s ability to retain water and nutrients. This design is biodegradable and low cost. After a year’s operation, the plants that have grown under its protection become independent and capable of maintaining the restored soil on its own.

The three aforementioned designs offer agricultural development and greater access to food. Other designs included devices that provide freshwater resources and nutrient sources that come from insects. All of these designs not only increase the amount of food available to those in need but guaranteed the freshness and nutritious qualities of the food offered.

The Sustainable Development Goals are a “call for action.” In order to fulfill the UN’s goal of eradicating poverty by 2020, it is necessary to help poor countries develop resilience and adopt sustainable strategies as they move out of poverty. With such solutions, the environment is protected and is sure to provide for future generations. Sustainable solutions offer an entirely new outlook on designs that could eradicate poverty. As new editions of the Global Design Challenge, more environmentally-friendly solutions for global poverty are developed each year.

– Zoe Schlagel
Photo: Pixabay

Lotus flowers are used to make lotus face masks in Cambodia to address PPE waste and a high face mask demand. Several activists and actors have raised alarm over the potentially devastating effects that personal protective equipment (PPE) can have in terms of increasing pollution around the world. There have been reports of PPE waste collecting on coasts around the world. Plastic pollution negatively impacts ocean health and, for maritime nations, this could translate to economic losses and the loss of livelihoods for those working within the ocean economy. One study by Plastics Hub found that if every person living in the UK utilized a single-use face mask for every day of 2020, it would contribute an additional 66,000 tons of plastic waste. It is unclear how much of this waste could end up in marine environments, but with 150 million tonnes already circulating the earth’s water, there is a pressing urgency to address the unsustainability of single-use face masks to fight the spread of COVID-19. As a result, an eco-friendly designer in Cambodia created lotus face masks to address this PPE waste.

Is There a Way to Combat PPE Pollution?

Cambodia is not exempt from the negative impacts that pollution can have on marine environments. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) identifies Cambodia as being highly dependent on its aquatic resources for both food security and the livelihoods of the Cambodian people.  In 2013, Cambodia averaged 700,000 tons of fishing and aquaculture production.  At a conference on maritime issues in Cambodia in 2015, hosted by the National University of Management in Phnom Penh, speakers highlighted the risk pollution poses to the economic livelihoods of those who depend on the marine economy.  The FAO has also spoken about the degradation of the marine habitat in the country due to pollution. Photographer Niamh Peren described one scene of coastal pollution in Sihanouk, Cambodia as “mountains and mountains of plastic.”

Pollution in the marine environment is a global problem. Due to the nature of the ocean’s currents, marine plastic pollution does not respect national boundaries and one country’s actions will not be enough to address the problem alone. However, Awen Delaval, an eco-friendly fashion designer, is implementing an innovative solution to tackling plastic pollution, while simultaneously diversifying the economy in Cambodia and alleviating poverty rates in the country.

Turning Unwanted Lotus Stems into Organic Fabric

Delaval’s lotus face masks are made utilizing ancestral techniques of producing lotus fiber from lotus stems, which are commonly regarded as waste within the country. The entire process of creating sustainable lotus face masks is entirely eco-friendly, as well as biodegradable.  The fabric produced using lotus fibers is remarkably efficient at filtration and, according to Delaval, is a superior fabric due to its light texture and breathability. The eco-textile company Samatoa, which Delaval manages, produces lotus masks that meet the standards of both the United States’ CDC and France’s Association Francaise de Normalization, making them an effective alternative to plastic single-use face masks.

Samatoa also values the tenets of fair trade and has made a positive impact on the livelihoods of poor Cambodians in the Battambang province. The company has provided employment that empowered thirty Cambodia women to be financially independent and provide for their families. According to Samatoa, the wages earned by company workers are twice what they would receive from other textile work in the country. Additionally, the company ensures that workers have access to a number of benefits, including trade union rights, paid leave and health insurance.

Impact of Lotus Face Masks

Delaval’s innovative solution to plastic pollution produced from single-use face masks gained international attention. The company he manages, Samatoa, is striving to increase production and capacity to improve the lives of an additional 500 women. Samatoa also provides educational opportunities to lotus farmers on sustainable farming practices, further improving the lives of the Cambodian people. Deval’s lotus face masks provide a sustainable solution to the problem of PPE waste while simultaneously providing economic development to rural communities in Cambodia.

– Leah Bordlee
Photo: Pixabay

Reaching SustainabilityIn recent years, numerous developing countries are attempting to reach a certain level of sustainability. Countries within Asia, Africa and South America strive to increase urban development in several ways including solar energy use, organic farming and an increase in job opportunities. This will allow numerous countries to improve their economy and living situations. Here are three ways developing countries are reaching sustainability.

Solar Energy

Used in millions of industries, solar energy has the capability to take sunlight from the sun and convert it to useful energy. Several countries are focusing on the implementation of solar energy to reduce carbon emissions and increase sustainability.

While solar energy can be quite expensive, Anzaga is a new technological platform that provides affordable solar systems for citizens within developing nations. Through flexible payment plans, the company has increased the usage of solar energy within 20 countries throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, allowing over one million African citizens to obtain energy. Within the last decade, there has been a vast improvement in solar energy usage. For example, the World Bank approved two projects within Bangladesh, beginning the installation of more than 1.3 million solar home systems.

Between 2006 and 2010, China updated its five-year plan in which a large portion of investments was dedicated to renewable energy and energy efficiency. China hoped to decrease the per-unit GDP energy consumption by roughly 20% in comparison to 2005.

Organic Farming

Numerous developing countries have focused on the use of organic farming to attain their goal of reaching sustainability. There is evidence that organic farming and agriculture yields approximately 80% more than conventional farming. Scientists believe that organic farming is one of the most effective ways for a country to farm sustainably.

Moreover, numerous developing countries have focused on the technique of precision farming. Precision farming is the ability to create large amounts of produce within small-scale farms. Millions of citizens in developing countries practice the technique of precision farming within organic agriculture to potentially increase revenue.

Uganda has transformed certain methods of agriculture and used organic farming to reach sustainability. Uganda currently has the world’s lowest usage of artificial fertilizers and hopes to increase organic produce immensely to boost revenue and its economy.

Job Opportunities

Lastly, the focus on creating unique job opportunities for individuals is one of the ways developing countries are reaching sustainability. Higher employment rates improve not only the livelihood of citizens but the overall economy as well.

New sustainable urban planning is practiced within cities of Brazil. Due to the increase in population, job opportunities increase as new and innovative systems for urban planning are necessary. Specifically, the Bus Rapid Transit system exemplifies dedicated planning. The UN Environment reported that the system “provides an example of integrated urban and industrial planning that enabled the location of new industries and the creation of jobs.”

In India, the government also focused on alleviating poverty sustainably. It created the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in which rural citizens receive enhanced security within marginalized households. Hoping to alleviate poverty within rural areas, the act promotes maintenance and growth of rural areas, while providing jobs for rural citizens.

As numerous countries continue to develop, solar energy, organic farming, and new job opportunities are three of the numerous ways in which development is possible. By investing in development that allows the growth of cities in a manageable, sustainable way, countries are more likely to reach a state of national sustainability.

– Elizabeth Balicanta
Photo: Flickr

Sustainability in Curitiba
Sporting a population of 1.9 million, Curitiba is Brazil’s eighth-largest city. Many also tout it as one of the greenest cities in the world, earning praise for its eco-friendly urban planning. Curitiba’s creative, environmentally friendly solutions to urban planning issues have been effectively alleviating poverty in the city. Curitiba has also done well curbing emissions and protecting the area’s biodiversity. This is a quick look at the story of sustainability in Curitiba, Brazil.

Background

Curitiba has had a long and rich history. From a “sleepy” city surrounded by farmland to a hub for European immigrants in the 19th century, Curitiba, the capital of Brazil’s state Parana, was long a cultural and economic center in the region. The mechanization of soybean agriculture in the 1940s was a turning point for Curitiba. Within a span of 20 years, the population of the city doubled, leaving Curitiba a hectic and polluted municipality. This changed in 1972 when Jaime Lerner became mayor of Curitiba and instituted his plan for a sustainable city.

Sustainable Solutions

  1. Bus Rapid Transit System: One of the biggest innovations that Curitiba put in place was a bus rapid transit system. Roads with express lanes for buses, specially designed buses for quick boarding and cheap and uniform ticket prices have helped Curitiba maintain a quick, cheap and low-emission transit system. Streets that the city allocated for pedestrians only and designated bike lanes have also contributed to this.
  2. Green Space: Since the 1970s, Curitiba has planted 1.5 million trees and built 28 public parks. To combat flooding which had previously assaulted the city, Curitiba surrounded the urban area with fields of grass, saving itself the cost and environmental expense of dams. To maintain the fields, the city uses sheep rather than mechanical means, saving its money and oil while providing manure for farmers and wool.
  3. Recycling: Curitiba recycles around 70 percent of its garbage thanks to a program that allows for the exchange of bus tokens, notebooks and food in return for recycling. Not only does this protect the environment, but it also boosts education, increases food access and facilitates transport for the city’s poor.
  4. Education: Curitiba houses the Free University for the Environment, which empowers the city’s poor and teaches them about sustainability. Signs and information panels provide citizens with information about the city’s green design. Encouraging a culture of pride around sustainability and promoting knowledge helps to maintain the city’s greenness.

Population and Poverty

Not only has Curitiba’s creative urban planning helped it become one of the world’s leading green cities, but it has also resulted in poverty alleviation and population growth. Its 30-year economic growth rate is 3.1 percent higher than the national average, and its per-capita income is 66 percent higher. In the last 60 years, the population of Curitiba has increased by 1,000 percent to a staggering 2 million people due to this. With such a quick population rise and migrant population, one would expect a great deal of wealth inequality and poverty within Curitiba. Indeed, 10 to 15 percent of Curitiba’s population lives in substandard housing. However, this is a trend that Brazil’s other large cities and affordable housing plans match. The city’s above par per-capita income is also evidence of this. These numbers are likely to lower and help Curitiba continue its mission of poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability.

Ronin Berzins
Photo: Flickr

Securing Water for Food
Water is the most basic necessity. Every living thing on this planet requires water in distinct quantities. Water as a diminishing resource seems like a distant nightmare for the great-great-grandchildren of this generation. However, in actuality, civilizations could be closer to having too little fresh water than they realize. People use approximately 70 percent of the world’s fresh water for agriculture and Dr. Ku McMahan stated that more than half of the world’s population could be without enough fresh water to meet basic needs like hygiene, growing food and having enough to drink by 2025. Luckily, the Securing Water For Food: A Grand Challenge for Development (SWFF) came into being to help solve this emerging problem.

At World Water Week in Stockholm in 2014, USAID and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency came together to pose crucial questions about how to grow more food while using less water and simultaneously supporting small farms. They determined the answer to be sustainable agriculture.

USAID and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, along with the Foreign Ministry of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Republic of South African Department of Science and Technology, came together to launch an experimental program to help tackle the problem. Together they have gathered inventors and innovators working to improve farming and water usage with the resources and expertise to refine and test their inventions, help them reach more farmers and develop financially sustainable businesses.

The Program

SWFF is one of USAID’s 10 Grand Challenges. As of 2018, this program has in most cases exceeded the expectations of the program at its inception. According to the SWFFs semi-annual report in 2014, it expected the program to reach 3 million customers with sponsored innovators by 2018 (the original end-date of the program). Before the end of the program, SWFF innovators reached a combined 3.6 million smallholder farmers, their families and other customers.

SWFF’s 2017 annual report states how difficult it is to create financially sustainable enterprises while meeting the needs of extreme-poor and low-income households. Taking on the challenge of measuring poverty for specific innovations across an innovation portfolio, SWFF continues to make progress toward improving incomes and yields of farmers who are at or near their country’s poverty line. Estimates determine that 62 percent of innovation customers and end-users in the program at this time are at or near their country’s poverty line. SWFF more often focuses its efforts on assisting customers and end-users near the poverty line who could fall back into poverty easily with an economic shock or prolonged economic stressors.

Attention To Detail

Through research and attention to detail, the Securing Water For Food program was able to realize that 41 percent of its customers and end-users own their land and have multiple income streams. However, they have a very limited income overall, with little to spend on anything outside of their agricultural necessities. These low-income farmers caused a few difficulties within the experiment by selling the fish feed the program provided to them in order to make a quick profit.

To make its product more affordable, the SWFF innovator Water Governance Institute (WGI) introduced a prototype of its semi-commercial unit with an improved design. It has the same capacity as the older model at a 67 percent reduction in price. With this, WGI has helped generate nearly $30,000 in farmer income during the last two years.

The Result

SWFF innovators used every $1,000 of donated funds to impact 156 customers, produce 282 tons of crops, reduce water consumption by more than 832,000 liters and improve water management on 86 hectares of agricultural land, all while generating more than $200 in sales. They also used more than 2.4 million hectares of grazing lands and cropland under improved practices to help produce nearly 4 million tons of food. Expecting to reduce water consumption by 3.6 billion, the Securing Water For Food program outdid itself by tripling that amount and reducing 11.4 billion liters compared to traditional practices by the project’s target end date in 2018.

Sweden has more than a dozen ongoing water-related projects, including but not limited to its Less is More project focusing on the energy-efficient removal of micro-pollutants in wastewater and Aquanet, which studies the resistance and resilience of an ecosystem due to disturbances and environmental disturbances. Through SWFF’s partnership with the USAID, the Foreign Ministry of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the South African Department of Science and Technology, it has been able to make strong, positive strides in producing sustainable agriculture.

– Janice Athill
Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Solutions for Developing Countries
When discussing issues such as sustainability, one should keep in mind that everyone has a different experience. Throughout the world, all people count on various resources, environments and cultures, amongst other things, that make it impossible to find a one-size-fits-all solution.

In today’s world, it is essential to look at the common denominators when trying to find environmental solutions. Doing so provides a guide to finding solutions that are sustainable in diverse circumstances. This mindset becomes particularly relevant when referring to developing countries because solutions accessible to people in developed countries might not be an option for those in nations that are not. To find truly sustainable solutions, it is important to take into account the planet, as well as how these solutions would impact the people. This piece will discuss three sustainable solutions that developing countries have implemented and why these have been successful.

WeCyclers

WeCyclers is a for-profit company in Lagos, Nigeria. Lagos is on track to become the third-largest economy in Africa. However, 8.5 percent of the population is still poor and 20 percent is vulnerable to poverty. WeCyclers offers a recycling service using low-cost bikes. The organization allows homes to generate value from the waste they produce. WeCyclers began in 2012 when the city collected only 40 percent of its waste and recycled only 13 percent.

Recycling firms in Lagos face many supply constraints, so the WeCyclers solution is vital for both the environment and the people. When people live in conditions that do not involve a formal system of waste collection, they are at risk of diseases such as malaria and cholera. Trash can create water pools that are optimal conditions for disease vectors to breed. In addition to this, they are also at risk of property damage and psychological stress. Waste that places do not deal with forces residents to walk through obstructed roads and come across frequent trash fires.

WeCyclers built its platform on a fleet of cargo bikes called wecycles. Today, it also includes tricycles, vans and trucks and its collectors use them to pick up waste from people’s homes. As people give material, the service rewards them with points per kilogram of recycled waste. People can exchange these points for things such as food and household items.

Netafim

Netafim, the second of the sustainable solutions for developing countries, is a precision irrigation solution in Israel. It increases yields while saving water and cutting costs. The system consists of dripping precise amounts of water right at the root of the crops through a tank that uses gravity. Therefore, it minimizes not only water waste but electricity use as well. It is also commercially viable considering that it has a payback time of about a year.

The company is facing three challenges that are essential to the future of the planet. These include water scarcity and contamination, growing demand for food and the need for arable land. Netafim has spread across 110 countries and has 17 manufacturing plants worldwide. It has irrigated over 10 million hectares of land, as well as produced over 150 billion drippers.

Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha

Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha implements school boats in Bangladesh. This initiative grew from the recognized need to take action against worsening floods around the world. This particularly relates to the prediction that rising sea levels could displace over a million Bangladeshis by 2050.

One of the flooding consequences is children not being able to attend school for long periods. This challenge, in turn, makes it difficult for them to escape poverty, as they are not receiving a quality education. Therefore, by building these solar-powered school boats, the initiative secures learning even in flood-prone regions. Nigeria, Cambodia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Zambia have all replicated this model. The organization “teaches women and girls on new skills, sustainable agriculture, climate change adaptation and women’s rights.” A doctor and a farmer are also on board, which allows them to grow vegetables and raise fish and ducks.

Solutions such as WeCyclers, Netafim and Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha not only help the environment but people too. The common denominator that results in their success is seeing them as mutually exclusive: there is no sustainable way to help the environment without helping society as well.

Johanna Leo
Photo: Flickr

Agriculture Technology
Agriculture is a cornerstone of human development and one of the most easily accessible methods of generating food. However, agriculture is also one of the riskiest ways to feed a community due to the unpredictability of the weather and pests that could spontaneously destroy an entire year’s worth of crops. Many countries, like India, struggle to maintain farms due to a lack of water, infrastructure and storage facilities. It is no surprise, then, that experts across the world argue that advancements in agriculture technology could prove invaluable in the fight against poverty due to larger crop yields and more success during harvests. Although no one has found a definitive solution to effectively grow enough food to feed those in poverty, numerous organizations have developed potential solutions to the problems that plague agricultural communities.

5 World Leaders in Agriculture Technology

  1. Farmmi: One organization making efforts in agriculture technology is Farmmi, an agricultural product supplier responsible for most of China’s supply of Shiitake mushrooms and other fungi. Recently, Yefang Zhang, Farmmi’s CEO, announced a partnership with the China Democratic League on Poverty Alleviation Initiative. During this partnership, Farmmi plans to provide new job opportunities for those living in impoverished village communities, give agriculture technology advice to farmers free of charge and sell local agricultural products in Farmmi Stores. Representatives of Farmmi will also meet with the China Democratic League continuously to discuss optimal ways to help poor villages in China with their farming, and ways to implement new action plans for agriculture effectively.
  2. Yunshang Agricultural School: In the Gui’an area of Beijing, China, citizens have a large selection of programs in which they can improve both the dependability of their crops and the amount of food they produce during harvest. One example lies in the Yunshang Agricultural School, an institution to help educate the farmers of the area on scientific planting. In these classes, farmers learn the most optimal ways to grow their crops by planting seeds in different formations or at optimal times. Citizens of the Gui’an area have also been utilizing smartphone technology to monitor their agriculture, like installing cameras to check the growth of greenhouse crops instead of examining them one by one. This education on agriculture and utilization of technology in farming sparked the construction of the Gui’an Agricultural and Tourism Industry Demonstration Park in 2015. This park contains several greenhouses and many different agricultural activities for tourists, including tropical fruit picking halls and a demonstration on smart agriculture, but the biggest impact lies in the park’s efforts to fight poverty. Currently, the Gui’an park is collaborating with 11 villages in the area through the Big Data Agricultural Precision Poverty Alleviation Agreement. With this agreement, the Gui’an Park aims to help poor villages grow high-value crops through the teachings of the Yunshang Agricultural School. As long as the people of the Gui’an area continue to focus on agricultural technology and education, more and more farmers will have the resources necessary to feed the people in their communities.
  3. Internet of Things: As the agriculture technology market grows, so does general interest from corporations. One example is Internet of Things, a tech company that has developed sensors to monitor the soil moisture of crops. These monitors can connect to a smartphone or personal computer, allowing farmers to save time that they would usually spend testing the soil. Internet of Things also plans to provide irrigation sensors and actuators, which will maximize water efficiency with crops. This should ensure that crops never receive too much or too little water, and minimizes water waste. The International Business Machines Corporation predicts that these tools from Internet of Things will improve crop yield by 70 percent by 2050. With these innovations Internet of Things has made a massive advancement in agriculture technology and its application in impoverished areas could prove invaluable in the fight against world hunger.
  4. H2Grow: Established in 2017 as part of the World Food Programme, H2Grow is an agriculture technology organization dedicated to helping poor communities build their own hydroponic systems so that they can grow food in previously barren areas. In areas with little to no soil, like a desert, traditional farming is nearly impossible. Hydroponic farming, however, involves no soil because the farming occurs either entirely in water or with some soil substitute like moss or peat. The removal of soil in the farming process allows the plants to receive their nutrients directly from the water while they grow and generally results in larger, healthier plants. With this practice, H2Grow has helped many communities grow their own food since its inception, sourcing 714 applications for hydroponic farming systems in 2019. As H2Grow installs more and more hydroponic farming systems, the world may see a day when every country has the ability to grow its own food.
  5. GrainMate: Launched in December 2017 by Sesi Technologies, GrainMate is an electronic meter invented to help impoverished farmers and businesses test the moisture levels in their grains. Monitoring the moisture level of grains helps a farm prevent detrimental losses during storage. If a farmer uses GrainMate and finds that his wheat is drying out, he can take the necessary steps to restore the grains to a safe moisture level, preserving them for as long as possible and maximizing the effectiveness of his crop yield. Sesi Technologies has received many orders for GrainMate, like one from Vinmak Farms in Ghana, that stated that its device is a good quality product to use on farms. With GrainMate in its arsenal, the farms of Africa have an advantage in the unpredictable nature of agriculture.

The use of agriculture technology is the most effective way to minimize world hunger. Whether it is a device that monitors the moisture level of crops or an initiative to educate citizens on optimal farming techniques, programs and innovations like these will continue to grow and develop to provide the quickest, cheapest access to food for disadvantaged communities.

Charles Nettles
Photo: Flickr