Information and news about sustainability

Sustainability in the MENAThe Middle East and North Africa, or MENA region, is best known for its strategic location in relation to the lucrative fossil fuel market. Oil and gas have given many developing countries a fast track into wealth, causing rapid urbanization and social stratification. This is especially noticeable around the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, in places such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iran and Egypt. Now, more than 60% of the population lives in cities, but poverty is heavily concentrated in rural areas. Given the push to transition to renewable energy and the disaster potential posed by sea-level rise and other climate changes, sustainability in the MENA region is critical.

Recovery from Economic Crisis

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has started a significant economic downturn in this region. During the start of the pandemic and resulting financial crisis, the price of oil dropped sharply, even falling below $0 per barrel. This had a dramatic, negative effect on the overall economy and hinders the region’s ability to recover effectively.

In past financial crises like this one, carbon emissions routinely decreased, especially in 2009 by approximately 1.4%. In 2010, the decreases were more than offset, with emissions showing a growth of around 5.4%. An article published in Nature noted that during the COVID-19 lockdown measures global CO2 emissions decreased by 17%.

Programs for Sustainability in the MENA Region

This large decrease in emissions presents an opportunity to work toward sustainability in the Middle East and North Africa. One way is by designating the financial relief and stimulus money to restart the economy to projects such as the Egyptian Pollution Abatement Programme (EPAP) which funds environmentally friendly services and projects. They are currently developing more sustainable fuel, funding hazardous waste management efforts and supporting various other technological innovations to reduce pollution. Similar programs exist in Lebanon and several other nations.

Ideally, these programs and other emerging jobs in green technology will more than replace any jobs lost from the oil and gas industry and increase opportunities for employment outside the agricultural sector. Non-farming activities in the water-constrained MENA region, reduce poverty, according to a study conducted by senior economists at the World Bank Group.

Alternatively, there are other initiatives to invest in sustainable land management practices. These could increase the profitability of work in the agricultural sector and lower the risk of poor weather leading to extreme poverty. For example, the Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) program in Morocco aimed to diversify coastal economic activities in low-income areas. They encouraged algae cultivation and ecotourism in addition to normal fishing and farming. This made the community more resilient to potential unforeseen circumstances.

Looking Forward

In recovery from a crisis, the priority is usually to return to normal, but that kind of thinking sets back long-term goals that could greatly improve the quality of life and technological sustainability in the Middle East and North Africa. As another World Bank Blog article says: “Thinking ahead, therefore, the urgent focus on short-term needs should not overlook opportunities to achieve other longer-term goals (and avoid making longer-term goals even more challenging).”

– Anika Ledina
Photo: Flickr

South American Clothing Brands
Many young entrepreneurs in South America have employed local craftsmanship and design to create beautiful garments under ethical circumstances. These three sustainable South American clothing brands are not only exclusively elevating the fashion industry in the region, but are also providing jobs to locals.

VOZ – Santiago, Chile

The first of the South American clothing brands is VOZ, which is located in Santiago, Chile. This clothing brand’s main premise of employing Mapuche artisans is to create and design the garments. VOZ respects indigenous traditions and ancestral weaving techniques. As a result, it has become a pioneer brand in the region with ethical and sustainable business practices.

The designs are a product of collaborative and educational workshops for Mapuche women. In addition, VOZ has high-quality standards and sustainable materials. Furthermore, VOZ ethically and locally sources raw materials and fabrics from Temuco, Chile. These materials make sleek and elegant outfits for women. The entire supply chain employs Chilean work through this approach. Thus, local artisans are involved in the manufacturing procedure and the design processes of VOZ collections.

VOZ employed over 100 women artisans in its supply chain as of 2021. Additionally, these women have improved their quality of life as the brand pays them ethical and dignified wages. The CEO and founder of VOZ said, “A lot of brilliant women have not had the access provided to other Chileans, and this especially affects the way in which they can support their families. Offering a training program to these talented and motivated women is game-changing to the people here, and has a positive impact on the local economy.”

NIDO – Buenos Aires, Argentina

This slow fashion brand creates beautiful knitwear crafted from local sustainable wool. Additionally, this wool comes from the provinces of Chubut and Patagonia. Argentine weavers from the provinces of Santa Fe and Córdoba make NIDO’s clothes. The merino wool is hand-dyed and woven in spinning wheels.

NIDO strives to maintain a personal link with the artisans and weavers, as most women working for the brand come from vulnerable poverty situations. Additionally, NIDO grants them a craft to make a living and earn a fair wage for their work. In this way, the brand manifests itself against fast fashion supply chains that create their clothing in sweatshops.

NIDO manages to employ artisans who receive fair salaries by charging an honest price for their sweaters and blankets. Thus, it has become a pioneer brand in Argentina that maintains an ethical supply chain. The company launched the school of textile crafts in Buenos Aires in 2016. It trained more artisans in vulnerable conditions and spreading traditional Argentine weaving techniques to younger generations.

Artemera – Asunción, Paraguay

Artemera is a new sustainable clothing brand that provides feminine clothing for women and girls. It has now expanded its collections for men as well. Artemera has made 100% artisanal garments with colorful Paraguayan motifs and textiles since 2016. Furthermore, local artisans hand-make collections, while founder Luciana Abente creates the designs.

While the brand started by exclusively making t-shirts inspired by national folklore, art and customs, the brand has now broadened its line to include pants, dresses and sandals with excellent quality ideal for the hot tropical climate. Moreover, one can attribute Artemera’s uniqueness in design to its quick success among locals and foreigners alike.

Artemera has donated a significant amount of revenue to social and environmental projects, such as the #ConservemosLoNuestro campaign. This business committed itself to a reforestation campaign in the Morombí national reserve in Eastern Paraguay, which is home to more than 60 endangered species. Furthermore, this collaboration protects forest resources and promotes tourism in the region.

These three sustainable South American clothing brands have significantly improved the lives of women and the economy. These companies have provided jobs for locals who are living in impoverished areas. Furthermore, the companies hope to expand their reach for the future.

– Araí Yegros
Photo: Flickr

renewable energy sources in VietnamOn November 25, 2015, the Vietnamese government adopted the Renewable Energy Development Strategy by 2030 with an outlook to 2050, in effect approving renewable energy as a viable and necessary plan. At its core, the strategy shifts Vietnam’s energy policy from focusing on fossil fuels to renewable energy by setting specific goals. After five years, the strategy has resulted in some profound successes: renewable energy sources in Vietnam have gone from non-existent to growingly important.

Renewable Energy Sources in Vietnam

The main driver of this shift comes from Vietnamese electricity demand outpacing its supply. Due to Vietnam’s incredible economic growth, its energy needs have grown significantly. For example, in 2020, Vietnamese electricity needs were 7.5% higher than they were in 2019. Overall, its electricity demand has increased by an average of 10% per year for the last five years.

Vietnam’s Plans for Renewable Energy

The 2004 Electricity Law is the prime legislation governing Vietnam’s energy sector. The Electricity Law requires the establishment of national power development master plans for 10-year periods. As the law instructed, the Vietnamese government released its National Power Development Plan for 2011 to 2020 in 2011. One can sum up the plan’s goals as securing Vietnam’s energy needs, improving connectivity in rural areas and increasing the national reliance on renewable sources of energy. The plan estimated that $150 billion in renewable energy investment was necessary to meet Vietnam’s rising energy demand.

The Vietnamese government, in a bid to promote the goals set out in this plan, issued a decision in 2015, approving Vietnam’s renewable energy development strategy up until 2030. In 2016, the government further revised it. The revised version guaranteed that 10% of the Vietnamese energy (excluding hydropower electricity) would come from renewables. The decision reassured the government’s commitment to a reduction of coal-fired energy.

In addition to issuing guarantees, it also laid out some new incentive-based policies to promote investment in the renewable energy sector. For example, it promises:

  • Import duty relief on imported materials used for renewable energy projects
  • A reduced corporate tax rate for companies working on renewable energy production
  • Land use incentives such as reduced or waived fees

Improvements and Progress in the Energy Sector

As a result of these plans and strategies, Vietnam has made significant inroads in increasing wind and solar energy contributions to its overall grid. In 2014, solar, wind and biomass gasification made up only about one-third of 1% of the country’s total installed capacity. Fast forward five years and these renewable energies now make up about 10% of the total energy supply.

In addition to developing solar and wind power, hydropower is already a renewable energy source that constitutes a substantial component of Vietnam’s energy sector. In 2019, it accounted for 46% of the electricity mix.

The government expects to build on this success by announcing the new 10-year National Power Development Plan 2021-2030 which will lay out the next steps and policies to further entrench renewable energy. The government has set renewable energy targets of 15-20% of total energy share by 2030 and 25-30% by 2045.

Even so, expectations have determined that coal will continue to be the dominant source of energy in the country. Although solar and wind power are a growing share of Vietnamese energy production, they have yet to grow faster than energy demand. Additionally, wind and solar energy are dependant on weather conditions and therefore only present intermittent solutions.

The Limitations of Hydropower

Additionally, although hydropower does generate more power than coal, its growth potential is stunted. Hydropower in Vietnam is mostly reliant on the Mekong-Delta, a river that many countries have access to. As a result, it is vulnerable to how other nation-states utilize the river with infrastructure projects that restrict the river’s flow and intensity. Hydropower projects are inherently limited because the government has only so much river access.

Meanwhile, coal presents a cheap and short-term solution to its supply deficit problem. In 2019, coal was 36% of Vietnam’s energy mix and is expected to remain around that proportion for the new National Power Development Plan 2021-2030.

The US as an Invaluable Partner

The United States is proving to be an invaluable partner in Vietnam’s transition to renewable energy as it has provided support, investment and guidance to the Vietnamese government. Specifically, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has committed to multiple projects to help Vietnam’s transition. These projects include:

  • Low Emission Energy Program (I): Providing support to the government in developing and implementing long-term renewable energy strategies (2015-2021, $16 million)
  • Low Emission Energy Program (II): Further support the government in transitioning to renewable energies (2020-2025, $36.25 million)
  • Urban Energy Security: Working with Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh cities to improve enabling environments for distributed energy deployment, mobilizing private investment and supporting the government in adopting innovative energy solutions (2019-2023, $14 million).

Renewable Energy Transition Progress

Vietnam still has a long way to go before renewable energy governs most of its energy sector. Still, it has made significant progress toward that goal. Renewable energy sources in Vietnam are growingly significant in energy policies and are a sustainable answer to electricity needs in developing countries.

Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Flickr

Liquid Petroleum GasIn North Darfur, a region of Sudan, 90% of families use wood and charcoal to stay warm and cook meals. Burning wood and charcoal, however, has several negative effects. Practical Action, an international development organization, has partnered with the Women’s Developmental Association to provide these families with liquid petroleum gas stoves, which are cleaner and more efficient. The Low Smoke Stoves Project has been ongoing since 2014, significantly improving the lives of families in the Darfur region.

Negative Effects of Burning Wood and Charcoal

  • It hurts the environment by causing pollution and deforestation.
  • It produces a lot of smoke indoors, which can cause infections and illnesses.
  • The materials are expensive to buy, putting a financial burden on poor families.

Wood and charcoal produce a lot of smoke when burned, contributing to bad air quality and causing a variety of health issues that mainly affect the women and children in the home. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, wood smoke causes particle pollution and releases pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde, acrolein and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The particle pollution caused by wood smoke can cause eye infections, chest infections and other illnesses that can be expensive to treat. Deforestation is also an issue in regions that rely heavily on firewood.

Other than the environmental and health concerns associated with burning wood and charcoal, there is also the financial burden it places on families. The materials are expensive to buy and do not cook efficiently. Women have to spend long amounts of time cooking instead of using their time for education and development.

Benefits of Liquid Petroleum Gas Stoves

Liquid petroleum gas stoves have a lot of benefits over traditional cooking methods with wood or charcoal. They produce less smoke and other pollutants, improving air quality and reducing infections and other illnesses in poor families. The stoves are more fuel-efficient, saving families 65% on their monthly bills. Liquid petroleum gas stoves also cook faster, giving women more time to engage in education and development.

Practical Action’s Low Smoke Stoves Project

Practical Action’s ongoing Low Smoke Stoves Project aims to educate regional communities about the dangers of burning wood and charcoal as well as replace those methods with more environmentally friendly and cost-efficient liquid petroleum gas stoves. The organization, partnered with the Women’s Development Association, has already placed 12,080 liquid petroleum gas stoves into homes in the North Darfur region. Since the beginning of the project, the area had improved air quality, less deforestation and lower carbon emissions.

This program works by giving eligible households a microloan to help them buy a liquid petroleum gas stove. While there is an initial cost, the stoves are more fuel and time-efficient so they quickly pay for themselves with the savings they produce. The stoves not only help improve the quality of life for families in North Darfur, but they also have long-term economic benefits, thus helping to lift people out of poverty.

–  Starr Sumner
Photo: Flickr

Shrimp FarmingLong condemned by environmentalists and many others as a significant contributor to the loss and destruction of mangroves and subsequent damages to coastal communities and the environment, shrimp farming has developed the economies of many countries and is depended on by many. A difficult problem has been addressed by Selva Shrimp and can mean the conservation of mangroves as well as the shrimp farming industry, and thus, the livelihoods of many communities.

The Importance of Mangroves

Mangroves are found along coastlines and have adapted to live in salty and brackish waters with their own filtration systems that allow them to filter out the salt in their environment. They help prevent coastline erosion and are a vital part of ecosystems, serving as habitats and food sources for many organisms. In addition to water filtration and prevention of erosion, mangroves also serve as protection from storms and provide resources valuable to coastal communities such as food and timber. Mangroves are also highly effective carbon stores, making them an increasingly important shrub in the fight against climate change.

According to the Global Mangrove Alliance, to date, 67% of mangroves have deteriorated or been altogether eradicated. Already a rare tree, they are at risk of disappearing entirely.

Shrimp Farming and Mangroves

While aquaculture, specifically shrimp farming, is not the only threat to mangroves, it is one that, without sustainable alternatives will only continue to grow in the future as the demand for and consumption of shrimp increases. Shrimp farming, which is primarily practiced in South and Southeast Asia, requires the use of coastal lowlands which are then converted into shrimp ponds. Often, these areas are rife with mangroves which have to be destroyed for the creation of shrimp ponds or are left depleted and damaged as a result of the growing shrimp. The removal of these mangroves leaves these coastal zones vulnerable to erosion and damage from storms, which can endanger the livelihoods of coastal communities as well as destroy habitats for many fish and marine life. In fact, in 1991, a cyclone moved onto land in Bangladesh where a large area of mangroves had been destroyed. The 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean also served as a wake-up call as the damage was intensified by the fact that many coastlines were left exposed after the removal of mangroves.

Shrimp farming is a billion-dollar industry and there are many who rely on it as a livelihood and source of income. The reality is that it is not a practice that can be stopped without harsh economic and social impacts to many. On the other hand, it can be practiced sustainably in a way that does not harm mangroves and ecosystems that are valuable to coastal communities and the greater environment. That is exactly what Selva Shrimp intends to do.

Selva Shrimp Program

Using nature-based solutions (NbS), Selva Shrimp, a program developed by Blueyou Consulting and initially established in Vietnam, is working to create jobs and protect the livelihoods of those who depend on shrimp farming and mangroves. While the initiative still relies on mangroves to assist the growth of the shrimp and provide them with necessary nutrients, it also allows farmers to harvest some of the trees, sell them for wood and other uses and then promptly reforest those areas. The shrimp are not provided with any other feed or chemicals beyond what is naturally available through the mangroves, including small organisms. Thus, the production of shrimp relies on the upkeep and maintenance of healthy mangrove forests and incentivizes the small-scale farmers that Selva Shrimp works with to preserve these forests rather than leave them destroyed and move on to other areas for shrimp ponds. Additionally, this sustainable approach to shrimp farming means that prices for shrimp will increase and so will the incomes of these farmers, providing shrimp farmers with an incentive to practice sustainable shrimp farming and addressing the growing demand for shrimp while also conserving mangroves.

The Future of Shrimp Farming

Selva Shrimp comes at a time when mangroves are at dangerously low levels in many areas and global demand for shrimp is at an all-time high. While still a fairly recent initiative, it is able to tackle several issues at once, including creating jobs in the shrimp farming industry that can alleviate poverty in the many countries where shrimp farming is a prominent practice. This could mean a future where the growing consumption of shrimp and increasing need for mangroves are no longer mutually exclusive.

– Manika Ajmani
Photo Flickr

Harmless HarvestHarmless Harvest is an organic coconut brand that guarantees nonpesticide, chemical or GMO supplements in its young Nam Hom coconuts, harvested from Thailand. Known to be the first brand to introduce non-thermally pasteurized coconut water in the United States, its mission is to “create remarkable coconut products through sustainable farming practices while having a positive community impact,” says Harmless Harvest CEO, Ben Mand. Utilizing organic-certified Nam Hom coconut farms, Harmless Harvest ensures growing coconuts without “persistent pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or sewage sludge.”

Fair Wages for Workers

In addition to its commitment to clean practices and natural coconut products, Harmless Harvest guarantees social accountability through its Fair for Life certification. Fair for Life certification demonstrates the organization’s efforts to provide fair wages for its workers in Thailand. Fair for Life advocates for financial resiliency for all its workers and reallocates funds to support communities of farmers to found mobile health clinics and provide dental checks and water filtration systems. The certification promises social responsibility and fair trade to all the people involved in the production, which starts with farmers that harvest in the very beginning to the consumers that take home the products. 

Regenerative Coconuts Agriculture Project (ReCAP)

In December 2020, Harmless Harvest announced its partnership with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to introduce a new agricultural project called the Regenerative Coconuts Agriculture Project (ReCAP). This project aims to ensure a sustainable farming model with innovative coconut harvesting and the training of farmers to maximize their overall productivity. With plans to implement new regenerative farming methodology and agricultural management training for Thailand farmers, ReCAP considers many aspects of the harvesting process other than just the coconut’s quality.

Sustainable Farming and Education for Farmers

The main aspect of the project is to reinvent coconut farming and produce more eco-friendly efficiency. Harmless Harvest aims to implement new sustainable coconut harvesting practices by utilizing cover crops, which then increases the soil’s water absorption and reduces soil erosion during heavy rainfall. Other methods such as intercropping, bee-keeping and organic inputs were included in the coconut farm regeneration in efforts to promote clean farming.

The project also seeks to provide farmers with education in farm management and innovative agricultural practices that target longevity and resistance against climate change. By teaching farmers new strategies to increase biodiversity and resilience, sustainable coconut harvesting becomes a stepping stone to transitioning modern farming to regenerative agriculture. The brand’s overall goal is to rediscover a more environmentally sustainable and resistant farming methodology while also promoting farmers’ wages by the end of 2023.

Addressing Poverty Through Coconut Farming

Harmless Harvest’s project ReCAP shifts the coconut industry and other farm-dependent brands away from chemical-laden monoculture crop farming, which is susceptible to climate change and is inefficient environmentally. The project alleviates ecological stress and utilizes a more efficient system of production, which corresponds with Harmless Harvest’s overall mission of ethical practices. ReCAP seeks to encourage new methods of sustainable coconut harvesting and aims to increase the income of farmers by 10% or more by the end of 2023. From celebrating zero coconut waste in September 2020 to up-cycling and utilizing all parts of the coconut up to the husk, the brand continues to introduce techniques to better the planet and help farmers lift themselves out of poverty.

– Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Lentil as AnythingRecently, The Borgen Project spoke with Emilie Elzvik. She is a 21-year-old student at Northeastern University and former volunteer at Lentil as Anything. Elzvik never imagined herself serving gourmet vegan meals to a table filled with backpackers, refugees and homeless people in Newtown, Australia. But Lentil as Anything changed everything for her.

The Company

Lentil as Anything embodies a rare business model. The menu does not have any set prices. Everyone is welcome to “pay as they feel,” either through a financial donation or volunteering their skills. The founder, Shanaka Fernando, was born in Sri Lanka before becoming a restauranteur and world traveler. In 2000, Fernando began the first Lentil as Anything in St. Kilda to provide a space for local communities to come together and share a meal “disregarding any existing economic and social barriers.”

At the time, Fernando’s concept was a wild idea. Twenty years later, and it has become a booming success. The restaurant chain now claims four restaurants around Australia. Additionally, Lentil as Anything provides over 1000 free meals a week to those people most in need.

Elzvik’s Story

Elzvik began working for Lentil as Anything when she was studying abroad for a semester. “It’s like every hippie’s dream cafe, except customers are not just wealthy teenagers. They are from various socio-economic backgrounds. Some live on the street outside. Some are just traveling through.”

Elzvik points out that many of the volunteers were once customers themselves. “When they can’t pay, they offer their time,” said Elzvik. Lentil as Anything provides just as many employment opportunities as they do meals. Elzvik comments, “I think many people come to volunteer because it gives them a sense of purpose.”

According to Elzvik, there is no such thing as a boring day at Lentil as Anything. “It is no gloomy soup kitchen,” she states. Spices like nutmeg and cinnamon waft through the kitchen. Volunteers twist lemons and grate ginger. Servers dance around the floor, jotting orders down on their notepad. It is always noisy inside; laughter bounces across the walls. On some late nights, there is yoga or an open-mic night in the upstairs space.

So how exactly does this seemingly utopian cafe operate?

Sustainable Food Sourcing

Elvzik recalls that the kitchen being full of “bruised apples” and “funky looking eggplants” that would get thrown out by most restaurants or stores. “Lentil as Anything takes them and turns them into something beautiful,” says Elzvik.

The Department of Agriculture in Australia reports that food waste costs the economy around $20 billion each year. That amounts to about 300kg per person or one in five bags of groceries.

To stock their kitchen, Lentil as Anything takes in the unwanted leftovers from nearby stores. The chain stands by it’s all-vegan menu. The diet is both inclusive and nutrient rich. Elzvik mentions that many visitors would not be able to afford something as “dense and hearty” as a Lentil as Anything meal. Fast food is typically the most affordable option and Lentil as Anything aims to change that.

Volunteership

The restaurant relies heavily on volunteer servers and cooks, like Elzvik.  CNBC reports that around 60% of new restaurants fail within the first year. By a restaurant’s fifth year, that rate jumps
to 80%.

Lentil as Anything is not an exception. The restaurant can’t stay afloat on its own. The Daily Telegraph reports that “it costs Lentil as Anything up to $23,000 a week to keep their doors open – and customer contributions do not come close to covering costs.”

Before coming to Lentil as Anything, Elzvik had no prior customer service experience. She says that volunteering at the restaurant requires no experience at all. Volunteers attend an orientation and receive the necessary training. “What you learn at Lentil can be applied to any future job, especially working with people in a busy environment,” states Elzvik.

Location Matters

Restaurants like Lentil as Anything might not work anywhere. “You need the perfect equilibrium,” claims Elzvik. She explains that in order for this business model to work there has to be enough people donating above the requirement to cover those who cannot afford it.

One of Lentil as Anything’s strategic locations is Newton in Sydney. Newtown is a diverse neighborhood, socially and economically. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals that 67% of the Newtown population works full time, 24% part-time and only about 10% identify as unemployed for away from work.

Looking forward

Like many businesses, the pandemic hit Lentil as Anything deeply. On September 25, the restaurant reached out to their social media followers and asked for help to keep Lentil alive.

Lentil as Anything is facing its most significant financial challenge to date. The restaurant is working to raise $300,000 by the end of October. If they don’t reach their goal, they may face closing their doors forever. Donations can be made through their GoFundMe campaign.

The restaurant’s motto is that everyone deserves a seat at the table. Hopefully, Lentil as Anything can serve as a successful business model for many restaurants around the world to address food insecurities.

Miska Salemann
Photo: Unsplash

EcovillagesGreen growth refers to economic growth through the use of sustainable and eco-focused alternatives. These “green” alternatives benefit both the economy and the environment all while contributing to poverty reduction. Ecovillages are a prime example of an environmentally conscious effort to address global poverty. They are communities, rural or urban, built on sustainability. Members of these locally owned ecovillages are granted autonomy as they navigate a solution that addresses the four dimensions of sustainability: economy, ecology, social and culture.

The Global Ecovillage Network

The Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) recognizes that all four facets of sustainability must be addressed for maximum poverty reduction. Solely focusing on the economic or environmental impact will not yield optimal results. Embracing, not eliminating, the social and cultural aspects of sustainability should the aim of all communities in order to move toward a better future.

The development of sustainable communities around the globe is a commitment of the GEN. The organization’s outreach programs intend to fuel greater global cooperation, empower the citizens of the world’s nations and develop a sustainable future for all.

Working with over 30 international partners, GEN focuses on five defined regions. GEN Africa was created in 2012 and has overseen developments in more than 20 communities across the continent.

A Focus on Zambia

Zambia is one the countries garnering attention. Over half of Zambia’s population — 58% — falls below the $1.90 per day international poverty line. The majority of the nation’s impoverished communities live in rural regions.

Zambia’s government addresses these concerns by integrating the U.N.’s sustainable development goals into its development framework. With a focus on economic and ecological growth, Zambia could lay the groundwork for the success of its’ ecovillages.

Planting the Seed

The Regional Schools and Colleges Permaculture (ReSCOPE) Programme recognizes youth as the future keepers of the planet. As well as Zambia, the program has chapters in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The focus is on establishing regional networks to strengthen sustainable efforts. The Zambia chapter along with its 17 newly joined organizations work toward the goal of educating and encouraging communities to find sustainable methods of food production.

ReSCOPE seeks to connect schools and their local environments through the Greening Schools for Sustainable Communities Programme. The program is a partnership between GEN and ReSCOPE and has received funding from the Scottish government. Through education and encouraging sustainable practices, Zambia’s youth have an active role in ensuring future growth.

Greening Schools

Greening Schools strengthens the communities of four schools — the centers of resilience and a source of community inspiration. Beginning with nutrition and food security, students are able to play a part in developmental change. Their hard work includes planting of hundreds of fruit trees. The schools became grounds for hands-on agricultural experience and exposure to the tending of life.

However, the impact was not restrained within the schools. The greening schools inspired local communities to make seed security and crop diversification a commitment. In 2019, these communities “brought back lost traditional crops and adopted intercropping and other agroecological practices.”

As part of their sustainable development goals, the U.N. recognizes the value of investing in ecovillages. Goals 11 and 12 stress the importance of sustainable communities and responsible consumption and production respectively. Educating and advocating for youth to take part in ecovillages addresses this matter.

Coming generations will determine the future, and the youth wield the power to address global concerns like sustainability and poverty. Ecovillages are a great new way to break the cycle of poverty.

Kelli Hughes
Photo: Unsplash

solar microgridsThe United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) helped establish three solar microgrids in rural Yemeni communities. Earlier this year, the British charity Ashden honored the scheme as one of 11 recipients of its prestigious Ashden Awards. These annual awards recognize initiatives whose efforts to deliver sustainable energy have produced important social and economic advantages.

Solving a Fuel Shortage and Economic Crisis

Yemen’s energy infrastructure cannot transport power to rural towns and villages. Thus, many of these communities depend upon highly-polluting diesel generators. However, longstanding conflict and crippling embargoes have made fossil fuels scarce and expensive. Moreover, oil prices have fluctuated in recent years, and poverty has skyrocketed. This crisis has affected approximately three-quarters of Yemen’s population. Current estimates indicate that more than two out of five households have been deprived of their primary source of income. It’s also been found that women are more acutely impacted than men.

Now, the energy situation is shifting. The UNDP has provided funding and support to three different groups of entrepreneurs that own and operate solar microgrids. The three are located in Abs in the district of Bani Qais in the northwest and in Lahij Governate in the south. Their stations provide clean, sustainable energy to local residents and at a much lower price. The solar microgrids charge only $0.02 per hour as opposed to the $0.42 per hour that diesel costs.

Such savings for households and businesses have greatly impacted the local economies. Not only can people work after sunset, they also possess more disposable income. According to Al Jazeera, approximately 2,100 people have been able to save money and put it toward creating their own small businesses. These include services for welding, sewing, grocery stores and other shops. So far, a total of 10,000 Yemenis have benefitted from the energy provided by the three solar microgrids.

Empowering New Leaders in Business

The entrepreneurs who founded and now run the microgrid facilities in Bani Qais and Lahij Governate are young men. However, the power station in Abs is completely owned and operated by women. These Abs women receive training in necessary technical skills and study business and finance.

Some expected the scheme to fail due to the sophisticated knowledge it required and the relative inexperience of the facilities’ operators. Well, one year has passed, and the solar microgrids are running at full capacity. The project thus offers a valuable model for creating jobs in a country where civil war has shattered the economy and hobbled basic infrastructure.

Specifically for the women in Abs, though, a steady income and the ability to provide a much-needed service have increased their self-confidence. These women can feed their families and use the university educations they each worked for to a great extent. As the station’s director explained, their work has even earned them the respect and admiration of those who used to ridicule them for taking on what was once considered a man’s job.

Looking to the Future

The success of the UNDP’s project’s first stage shows a possible solution to Yemen’s problem of energy scarcity. The UNDP now works to find funding for an additional 100 solar microgrids. Since civil war began in 2015, both sides have tried to limit each other’s access to the fossil fuels that Yemen depends upon. Pro-government coalition forces have prevented ships cleared by the U.N. from unloading their cargoes in the north. On the other side, Houthi-led rebels have recently suspended humanitarian flights to Sanaa, the country’s largest city and its capital. This is all in the midst of hospitals struggling to care for patients during the pandemic.

The UNDP’s solar microgrids are a source of hope among the many conflicts plaguing Yemen. More still, it is likely others will soon follow in the footsteps of the three initial young entrepreneurs. These solar microgrids stations have empowered Yemeni communities to build better and more sustainable futures and will for years to come.

Angie Grigsby
Photo: Flickr

Snack Against Hunger and PovertyPeople can often feel hopeless nowadays when addressing global poverty and hunger on a personal level. One can only donate so many times before it feels pointless. For decades there was a decrease in poverty and hunger all around the world. However, with the pandemic in full force, the numbers are once again increasing.

So what should can each individual consumer do to help those in need and bring these statistics down? They must change daily patterns, so nearly all of their “normal” actions start benefitting someone else. One way is to switch up the food consumers eat. Many brands in a variety of food categories use their profits to fight global poverty and hunger. Switching to one of these brands allows people to effectively snack against hunger and poverty. Below are just a few of the brands aiding in poverty and hunger-reduction.

1. Bobo’s

Bobo’s donates their profits from selling oat-based products to eight organizations. Two of the organizations focus on food security in the U.S. (Community Food Share and Conscious Alliance), and one nonprofit provides housing for low-income families (Habitat for Humanity). Get in a dose of nutritious oats to snack against hunger and poverty.

2. This Saves Lives

This Saves Lives has something for everyone. They have 10 different flavor options, a variety of kid’s options and five types of crispy treats. For each purchase, This Saves Lives provides a calorie-dense packet of paste filled with nutrients to a child in need. So far, over 24 million packets have been sent out!

3. Barnana

Barnana is a company that produces plantain-based chips in normal chip form, tortilla style and flavor bites. All consumers can find a chip that will satisfy whether that’s salty or sweet. The plantains used for the chips are upcycled from those that were deemed not perfect enough for mainstream market standards. By upcycling the produce, Barnana fights food waste and secures extra income for small scale farmers that depend on every sale.

4. Project 7

Project 7 is a healthy candy brand that makes gummies, lollipops and everything in between. They partner with nonprofits to help the seven areas of need: healing, saving, housing, food, drink, teaching and hope. Make chewing a life-giving activity and snack against hunger and poverty.

5. Beanfields

Beanfields is another company that creates chips both sweet and salty, similar to Barnana. The company — centered in a kitchen and not a boardroom — cooks up a variety of bean-based tortilla chips and cracklings. They get creative by producing an environment-conscious snack while also supporting people in need. Beanfields partners with Homeboy Industries, an organization that helps ex-gang members find peace and stability in their new lives. Homeboy Industries partners with many nonprofits fighting hunger and poverty that provide ex-offenders jobs and a sense of community.

Buying snacks and snacking are often mindless activities. Helping people should have that same ease and it does. Yet, it often falls on the back burner and gets forgotten. Buying from companies donating to those in need is one easy solution. People can enjoy their favorite foods in a more effective way. Why just snack when one can snack against hunger and poverty?

Anna Synakh
Photo: Flickr