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Aeroponics Agriculture
In Nigeria, food insecurity is widespread. Although agriculture is the second most important sector in Nigeria after the petroleum industry, farmers make up about 70 percent of the labor force, meaning the base of the Nigerian economy is rain-dependent agriculture. Over the past 20 years, many factors including poor irrigation systems, droughts and a shortage of fertile land, have induced a steep decline in food production that has failed to keep up with the country’s rising population growth. There are currently 30 million hectares of farmland that farmers can cultivate in Nigeria, and much of this land is inarable. Estimates determine that to produce enough to feed Nigeria’s population of 190 million, the country would need 78.5 million hectares of land. This threat to Nigerians’ livelihoods has led to deadly competition between farmers and cattle herders over scarce resources. In the fight for land and water, hundreds in these rival groups kill each other every year. Now, aeroponics agriculture, a new technology that grows crops vertically, could be the answer to both of these struggles in Nigeria.

The Introduction of Aeroponics to Nigeria

Samson Ogbole recently introduced aeroponics to Nigeria. He is a Nigerian farmer with a degree in biochemistry who saw the need for more sustainable options for agriculture in his country. After beginning his work with aeroponics in 2014, Ogbole now co-owns an agri-tech company, PS Nutraceuticals, that works to implement more efficient agriculture techniques. Because of its ability to conserve space, water and soil, Ogole believes aeroponics has the potential to end conflicts over land and monumentally improve food productivity in Nigeria. Another benefit of soilless farming, Ogole has said, is that it prevents the risk of harmful pathogens that naturally exist in soil affecting crops.

The Science of Growing Crops in Air

Aeroponics is a process used for growing crops in a soilless environment by suspending the roots in the air. Aeroponics systems commonly use vertical and tower systems because they allow roots to spread out while saving space. In an aeroponic farming system, plants receive nourishment from low-energy LED lighting and periodic spraying with a solution of water and other nutrients. The nutrient-water mixture is dispensed using pumps or misting devices, which reduces the need for constant supervision and labor. The vertical structure lets gravity distribute the moisture to every part of the plant, from the top down.

Eco-Friendly Farming

Aeroponics is a more sustainable method of farming as well as the key to Nigeria’s land shortage problem. With traditional cultivation measures, evaporation causes the waste of a lot of water. In aeroponics farming, the roots directly absorb almost all the water vapour by the process of osmosis, so the process uses much less water than more traditional methods. Estimates determine that aeroponics saves 90 percent of water compared to traditional farming methods. Aeroponic crops also grow in half the time it would take for them to grow in soil and yields can be approximately 30 percent larger. The main premise of aeroponics is to use the minimum amount of resources to gain the maximum crop yield. Additionally, since it takes place indoors, aeroponics makes it possible for crops to grow at any time of the year, or year-round, irrespective of climate conditions, which could be a significant game-changer for Nigeria and other countries with continuous droughts.

Aeroponics Throughout History

Development of aeroponics first began in the 1920s by botanists who used it to study plant root structure. Despite its many efficient advantages, it has had a very slow start catching on. NASA began working with aeroponics in the 1990s, conducting experiments and concluding impressive results in productivity. NASA’s use of aeroponics brought it much needed attention and shed new light on the fact that this agriculture technology could sustain humanity’s growing population if people implement it where areas need it most. The low operating costs of aeroponics agriculture are one of its biggest appeals, which has made it attractive to innovative farms all over the world. Today, people utilize aeroponics agriculture in many places as a modern technique to increase productivity, eliminate waste, conserve space and energy and adjust to climate change.

Aeroponics Around the World

Newark, New Jersey, in the U.S. is home to the world’s largest aeroponics growing systems, Aerofarms. Since 2004, Aerofarms has led the way in battling the global hunger crisis through sustainable agriculture technology. The largest vertical farm facility in Aerofarms is 70,000 feet and produces two million pounds of food annually using 95 percent less water. Other aeroponics startups in the U.S. have cropped up in California, Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.

Indoor urban farming has taken off in Asia. In Japan, many consider aeroponics the future of agriculture. The largest Japanese vertical farm, a 3,000-square-meter facility outside of Kyoto, produces more than 20,000 heads of lettuce per day.

In the Middle East, aeroponics is growing increasingly popular as a cost-effective option to reduce dependence on food imports. Jeddah Farm in Saudi Arabia, the first aeroponic system in the Middle East, is a highly profitable, self-sustaining indoor farm that provides produce to urban centers while minimizing carbon emissions.

In Europe, aeroponics on a grand scale is just beginning to catch on. The first vertical farm in Europe, located in Ibiza, includes storm-resistant outdoor aeroponic towers.

Aeroponics agriculture is a revolutionary food-growing technology with the potential to save millions of lives in Nigeria and other developing countries. In Nigeria, vertical farming could solve the devastating issues of infertile soil, drought-caused famine, land shortages, water scarcity and violent skirmishes over resources. As horticulturalists continue to introduce this practice in Africa and other areas with populations that suffer from malnutrition, aeroponics agriculture is bringing the world one step closer to eliminating hunger.

– Sarah Newgarden
Photo: Flickr

Satellites and Food Security
Nearly 800 million people in the world do not have enough food to eat. It is no secret that more efficient farming and agricultural practices can help yield more crops to feed more people as well as bring in more income to poor farmers. In conjunction with traditional ground-based data collection of farmland, satellite imaging and sensing can help farmers monitor their crops and land condition in real time. Satellite-based technology can map cropland area and crop type, estimate area planted, estimate product yield and even detect early signs of droughts and floods. With this kind of technology, farmers may be better equipped to make informed choices about their land to protect their products. With more informed farmers, better use of resources and ultimately more crops, satellites may be an important part of ensuring global food security.

A New Wave of Tech

Precision farming is the use of technologies to inform farmers about their products. This method is not new, however, the systems in place are changing. Traditional, ground-based tests, such as soil sampling, have long been used to test the arity, salinity, and other conditions of land. These tests help instruct farmers about the optimal mix of fertilizer, pesticide and water that should be used to yield the most crops. While these tests are useful, they are expensive, time-consuming and can only provide data for a small area of land.

Satellites may provide a comprehensive solution. Equipped with imaging and sensing technology, satellites may analyze entire fields at more regular intervals for a more timely and lower-cost option. With land-use mapping and monitoring technologies, satellites cater to a variety of farmers’ needs. Farmers are using satellite technology to:

  • Analyze soil fertility.
  • Map irrigated land.
  • Monitor crop growth.
  • Produce crop yield forecasts.
  • Track crop development.
  • Measure soil moisture content.
  • Test soil chemical composition.

Depending on the program and type of imaging, the costs of satellite data may differ. The Sentinel-2, a land-monitoring system of two satellites that the European Space Agency (ESA) controls, provides vegetation imagery and moisture maps to farmers for $0.20 per acre per two months of service.

Satellites: Prediction, Protection and Prevention

In places like sub-Saharan Africa where agriculture accounts for 64 percent of all employment, satellite-based technology is vital to the survival of farmers. Ninety-five percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s farmable land lacks irrigation systems, thus making the farmland more susceptible to drastic land conditions like droughts and floods. With satellite technology and remote sensing, farmers can shift their focus from reacting to disasters after they occur to planning response before the disasters cause damage. Because low soil moisture content is an indicator of drought, satellites can measure the soil’s moisture content using microwave radiation and send an early warning to farmers in the affected area.

With these early response mechanisms, insured farmers can apply early to their insurers and receive money. Programs like the Ethiopian Productive Safety Net Program provides cash-transfers to poor households using this satellite-based technology.

People have used satellite drought imaging combined with data on local market supply and demand to bring the right amount of food aid to countries in need. Molly Brown, a researcher for NASA, uses satellite images of cropland in Niger, where farmers not only grow food for markets but also eat the crops, to estimate rising market costs. During droughts, these farmers cannot grow enough food to feed themselves and sell locally, thus demand and market prices increase. Since many rural families in Niger live on only around $400 a year, drastic price increases may mean that they cannot get enough to eat.

The goal of Brown’s research is to predict rising market prices before they occur based on satellite images of farmland. It is also to bring in enough food aid when people need it and to stop food aid when it is not necessary. Brown hopes satellites will be an important step toward ensuring food security.

Already at Work

Many organizations, large and small, have already begun harnessing the power of satellite technology and its use in agriculture. NASA has rolled out several satellite-driven initiatives to help combat food security. The Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS) Network, established in 2000, uses NASA’s Landsat satellite imaging and remote sensing to gather data, forecast weather trends and hazards and create maps for vegetation, rainfall and water use. In order to make satellite imaging and data more accessible to the communities that could best utilize them, NASA established a web-based visualization and monitoring system, for Africa and Central America, called SERVIR, in collaboration with USAID.

Working with more than 200 institutions and training around 1,800 regional support staffers, SERVIR provides previously inaccessible satellite data, imaging and forecasts to local governments and researchers. With this information, SERVIR hopes that developing nations will be able to respond better to natural disasters, improve their food security and manage water and other natural resources.

Even private companies like Planet Labs, are investing in satellite-based technology. Planet uses many smaller, relatively inexpensive satellites for its imaging force. The company has around 140 currently deployed, enough to capture an image of the entire Earth every day. It sells imaging and monitoring data to over 200 customers, many of whom are agricultural companies.

In 2015, at the U.N. Sustainable Development Summit, Planet Labs introduced its Open Regions initiative. By making $60 million worth of its satellite imagery for certain regions available to the global public and directly accessible online, Planet Lab’s imagery brings data vital to the health of crops directly to farmers. With the U.N. deadline to end global hunger and ensure global food security by 2030, it is important for governments and organizations to look for new, sustainable opportunities to increase productivity. By looking beyond conventional, ground-based agricultural solutions and turning to the skies, farmers may find that satellites may be an important part of ensuring global food security.

– Maya Watanabe
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Water bottle companies that give backOne of the most valuable resources people struggle to obtain is safe drinking water. According to the CDC, more than 2.5 billion people lack access to fresh and clean water — that’s more than 35 percent of the world’s total population. Fortunately, many water bottle companies have committed to the cause by giving a percentage of sales to charities that help supply water to people in need. Here are 10 water bottle brands that give back to people in need across the globe.

10 Water Bottle Brands that Give Back

  1. Drinkfinity- Drinkfinity is a monthly subscription box that contains a “Vessel” and a variety of flavored “Pods”. The Pods are composed of dry and liquid ingredients, which fills up a 20oz bottle when the Pod is popped. Drinkfinity’s mission is to reduce plastic waste and create a product with the “smallest possible environmental footprint”.  They have partnered with Water.org, a nonprofit organization that supplies developing countries with safe water. Through this partnership, Drinkfinity vows to donate 1 percent of every purchase to help reduce the global water crisis.
  2. d.stil– Chef’n, a company based in Seattle, Washington founded d.stil as away to give its functional and fashionable designs a bigger purpose. The bottle can be found in Targets across the country. With every bottle sold, d.stil donates 1 percent of the proceeds to Water.org. Through this partnership, d.stil hopes to fulfill their mission- “hydration with a purpose”.
  3. memobottle- Jesse Leeworthy and Jonathan Byrt founded memobottle after witnessing the damaging effects plastic water bottles have on the oceans and the environment. Memobottle’s reusable and unique flat design makes it easy to store water in a bag beside valuables. With every memobottle sold, one person receives two months of clean drinking water. To date, memobottle has supplied nearly six million days of clean drinking water.
  4. Bota- Bota is a stylish backpack that contains a hydration pack, which has the storage capacity of up to three water bottles. The founders, Alexa and Katie, hope their product will help reduce the number of plastic water bottles sold. Bota has partnered with Water.org and pledged to supply over 3.5 years of safe water to a person in a developing country each time the hashtag #letsbota is used alongside a photo of their backpack.
  5. ÖKO- ÖKO applies NASA technology to a water bottle by utilizing a three-layer filtration system. With a replaceable filter, ÖKO guarantees that each sip is safe and clean. ÖKO is BPA-free and Phthalate-free. The company donates $.50 from each water bottle sale online.
  6. Copper H2O- Copper H2O is a lightweight, hammered copper water bottle. This water bottle is handcrafted to increase the surface area of copper that comes in contact with the water. The website claims that there are many health benefits to drinking copper infused water which is known as Tamra Jal in Ayurvedic medicine. Copper H2O donates 15 percent of its profits to several nonprofit organizations that strive to provide developing countries with clean drinking water.
  7. blk. Water- blk. is a company dedicated to personal health and fitness. Through its water bottle line, blk. Water, blk. has partnered up with Water.org to help communities in developing countries access to clean water. With each purchase, a percentage of the sale will go towards Water.org and their global initiative.
  8. Love Bottle- Love Bottle was founded by Minna Yoo, who has a strong passion for health and love. After all, its logo is a heart, embedded in each of the bottles to encourage others to spread the love. The Love Bottles are made in the U.S., but its purpose reaches far across the globe. With a passion for helping others, Love Bottle donates 5 percent of its gross profits to charity: water, a nonprofit organization that supplies drinking water to developing countries.
  9. Corkcicle- Corkcicle was founded in 2010 when the creators wondered how to keep a glass of wine cool. Though its products were originally intended for wine, Corkcicle drinkware is perfect for any beverage. Corkcicle has partnered up with charity: water and will donate 5 percent of each purchase.
  10. Lifestraw- Despite its name, Lifestraw sells more than just straws. Lifestraw started out with a groundbreaking and lifesaving filtration system that can filter out bacteria, chemicals and other harmful elements. Lifestraw has now developed an array of products that will benefit people around the world. With each purchase, a school child receives clean water for the whole school year. Through the company’s humanitarian efforts, Lifestraw also participates in aiding those affected by natural disasters.

As more people are made aware of water crises in developing countries, both small and large, the list of water bottle brands that give back continues to grow. While those who purchase from these water bottle companies receive a portable and reusable container, across the globe, families in need receive something much more precious.

– Emily Beaver
Photo: Flickr

Five Space Inventions Helping the Developing World
From non-stick frying pans to squirt guns to keeping our homes warm, innovations that originated as space inventions are used each and every day right here on earth. But, some space inventions have become even more useful than ever imagined, and are now helping fight poverty in the developing world. Here is a look at five space inventions and some of the ways each helps to alleviate human suffering.

Baby Blankets
From NASA’s efforts in the 1980’s to create a material that could both insulate and cool astronauts facing extreme temperatures during spacewalks came phase-change materials, or PCM’s. Although this material never made it into astronaut’s gloves, the space invention that emerged proved effective for insulating. In 2013, Jen Chen created a company called Embrace Innovations, which makes swaddles and blankets using PCM technology. The Embrace business model is simple: buy a blanket or swaddle for your baby and one is donated to a baby in need in the developing world. To date, 200,000 babies have been reached across 10 countries.

Solar Energy
When NASA began studying Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) to develop uninhabited aircraft that could sustain long-duration flights without interruption, the need for new innovative solar power sources became paramount. Among the space inventions that resulted: single-crystal silicon solar cells that significantly reduced the cost of solar power. With billions still living without electricity worldwide, solar power has proved effective in helping get clean water, mobile charging, and general illumination to the developing world.

Freeze-dried Food
Through an alliance with Nestle, in the pre-Apollo era, NASA developed a technique for freeze-drying food which made the transportation of numerous orbital delight feasible. Today, freeze-dried food is used to prevent spoilage while providing life-saving nutrient-rich substance to people suffering from hunger in the developing world. For example, Stop Hunger Now, a non-profit based out of Raleigh, North Carolina, operates meal-packing programs in 20 cities worldwide. They ship dehydrated rice and soy meals that are fortified with 23 nutrients and vitamins to not only help solve the problem of hunger in the world but also help provide essential nutrients to those living with a vitamin or mineral deficiency.

Baby Formula
In an effort to alleviate some of the challenges of eating in space while also reducing waste, NASA, with the contracted help of Marietta Laboratories, worked with micro-algae to develop a special three-in-one food source. The invention didn’t work out as space-food; however, Marietta’s research provided the technology used to place nutritional supplements into infant formula and baby food. One in four children around the world suffers from chronic malnutrition that stunts their growth. And, due to poverty and poor nutrition, an estimated 200 million children under age five suffer from under-developed cognition. With nutrient-enriched baby food, organizations helping to fight poverty and malnutrition in the developing world have a better chance to reach children during the most critical stages of development— conception to two years.

Satellites
Some space inventions have not only changed the world but also changed the way we look at it. While the link between satellites, NASA and space are obvious, their ability to help feed those living in the developing world is a bit more complex. Satellites can generate images of vegetation that, in turn, can measure “greenness” and provide real-time rainfall data and imagery. Thus, this space invention helps officials and policy makers monitor for potential crop failures throughout the developing world. With better prediction capabilities comes better awareness, and with better awareness comes the ability to prevent food shortages. NASA has even teamed up with the USAID through a new environmental monitoring program in West Africa called SERVIR-West Africa. The program plans to enhance the use of data collected from satellite imagery to help fight hunger by helping officials better manage climate issues that affect crop harvesting and nutritional planning.

Ashley Henyan

Photo: Flickr

PEER Research
Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research is a competitive, international grants program that offers scientists researching funds in developing countries to address global development challenges.

PEER Research is designed to leverage federal science agency funding from NASA, NIH, NSF, Smithsonian Institution, USDA and USGS by supporting scientists from impoverished countries in areas including water resource management, climate change, agriculture, nutrition and maternal and child health.

Since its launch in 2011, PEER has supported more than 200 projects in over 45 countries, with a total investment of more than $50 million. These projects address gaps in scientific knowledge to combat global poverty.

PEER not only catalyzes collaborative research between scientists in developing countries and their U.S.-funded counterparts but also elevates the use of science and technology to further USAID’s development objectives.

“Collaboration is key for accelerating the impact of scientific research on development,” said Ann Mei Chang, USAID’s chief innovation officer and executive director of the U.S. Global Development Lab.

Besides scientific collaboration, PEER Research also hopes to see scientists from developing countries improve their negotiating skills, innovation and commercialization as well as different methods of communicating research to policymakers in their home countries. In this approach, PEER strives to strengthen the research ecosystem in developing countries and enable partners to become better collaborators in development.

PEER significantly helps strengthen the global scientific research community by providing opportunities for the best scientists to collaborate on crucial development issues. The following are PEER’s past successful stories:

Climate Change
In Southeast Asia, researchers successfully built emissions models for predicting air quality scenarios. The findings have effectively informed policies in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia to reduce emissions.

Education
In Morocco, researchers have developed a computer-based instructional tool that helps translate Modern Standard Arabic into Moroccan Sign Language in real time, aiding hearing-impaired students in learning and accessing to education.

Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission
In Malawi, researchers work together to evaluate the effectiveness of Option B+, a promising antiretroviral treatment to mother-to-child HIV transmission and inform the public and the government of the results of their work.

“The research partnerships nurtured through this program are crucial to building capacity among local scientists and research institutions, strengthening linkages with international research institutions and finding solutions to global development challenges,” said USAID Vietnam Mission Director Mike Greene.

Yvie Yao

Photo: Flickr

Space Missions to the Developing World
The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) has partnered with Sierra Nevada Corporation to bring space missions to the developing world by 2021. The unmanned missions are intended to make space exploration affordable for developing nations while fostering peaceful collaboration between nations with no space program.

Dream Chaser will fly for two weeks in low Earth orbit with 20-25 lab stations containing microgravity experiments from countries around the world. The experiments will remain in orbit for the duration of the trip and will return to Earth intact.

UNOOSA plans to solicit proposals and select winning submissions via scientific panel by early 2018 for inclusion on Dream Chaser in 2021. Any U.N. member country is eligible to apply, but the program is aimed at developing countries.

Dreamer Chaser is 30-feet long and has been called a “mini-shuttle” with the ability to carry up to seven passengers. The aircraft has also been used by NASA for crewless missions such as resupply and trash disposal services for the International Space Station.

Sierra Nevada Corporation refers to Dream Chaser as a Space Utility Vehicle. It is the smaller, updated version of the Space Shuttle intended for smaller loads. It can land at any airport where a 737 can land. The Dream Chaser is not owned by NASA or the U.S. Government, so it can be leased to other countries or agencies interested in space exploration and experimentation.

UNOOSA and Sierra Nevada Corporation are seeking sponsors for the program. Countries submitting an experiment are charged a fee, but the goal is to make this fee affordable so that participation is accessible to countries with limited resources.

The goal is not only to design successful experiments but to also further the development and preparation process as a valuable scientific learning experience. According to Luc St-Pierre, the chief of UNOOSA’s Space Applications, the preparation for such an endeavor will leave a lasting impact on participating countries with the potential to foster an environment of exploration and development.

Programs and research in space can assist with human issues such as climate change, natural disasters, managing resources and global health. However, could investments in space programs also spur new types of development thereby reducing global poverty?

The goal of Dream Chaser is to bring space missions to the developing world. Space technology has the potential to support development in these areas contingent on partnerships rather than aid. Dream Chaser is an exciting project and could represent a new frontier in the developing world.

Mandy Otis

Photo: Flickr

Feeding the World

About 800 million people (one in nine) worldwide are still undernourished. Creating food sustainability is a growing need across the globe. In recent reports by the Guardian, Africa could face the worst food crisis since 1985, with 50 million people going hungry.

Continued droughts have spread across Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Madagascar, Angola, Swaziland and South Africa, causing the season’s crops to fail.

Even worse, unsustainable farming practices have been destroying fertile lands necessary for food production. Soy production, for example, destroys 55 million tons of topsoil in Brazil each year. Similarly, destructive crops are coffee, palm oil, tobacco, wheat and corn. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, 30 percent of global arable land has already been degraded.

While nearly a billion people still need proper access to food, expensive appetites and irresponsible corporations have been abusing land and practicing unsustainable farming methods.

The practice of raising livestock for meat has contributed to global warming by deforesting areas that would otherwise cleanse the air of carbon dioxide, and by adding methane to the air. Raising livestock also requires the use of massive amounts of water. Agriculture accounts for one-third of global greenhouse emissions and 80 percent of water usage in the US.

Because of the lack of sustainability of many current farming practices, and the need to feed much of the developing world, scientists have proposed new technologies to tackle these challenges. One proposed controversial method of sustainability is in vitro meat production — producing meat in a laboratory.

In theory, the practice would rid the food production industry of all the traditional worries of raising livestock and handling the waste produced. However, the procedure may be extremely energy-intensive in keeping the meat sterile and the process may eventually also contribute to global warming. Once optimized, the world’s growing desire for meat may have the chance to shift to this laboratory product.

Another technology currently under development by NASA is 3D food printing, which would convert basic proteins, carbohydrates and fats into actual foods. The technology could utilize alternative ingredients like insects or algae to source sustainably but also satisfy our specific appetites.

Genetically modified foods (GMOs) have the potential to be sustainable  and help end hunger, although they are also very controversial. In Uganda, the World Bank has helped introduce a non-native, biofortified sweet potato that would combat the stunting of children’s growth and help empower women farmers with economic independence. The sweet potato provides a child’s daily dose of Vitamin A in less than two ounces and gives women the opportunity to grow and sell the food.

While scientists have proposed many ideas for feeding the world in a sustainable manner, public opinion has been the crux to progress. With such bitter backlash to GMOs and other non-natural foods, funding will always be limited. These technologies will have to be supported and developed in the richest nations before they can safely and effectively be implemented for the poorest.

Henry Gao

Photo: Flickr


What do you think of when you think of NASA technology? “Space” is probably going to be the answer most people give, unless they’ve heard of SERVIR, the result of a partnership between NASA, USAID, the World Bank in Washington, and several other organizations.

Daniel Irwin, the director of the program, knows this better than anyone. “When people think of NASA,” he says, “they think of Mars Exploration Rovers or finding water on the moon, but a big part of our mission is to study earth from space, to advance scientific understanding and meet societal needs.”

SERVIR is actually not an acronym – it is taken from the Spanish word meaning “to serve,” because the goal of the initiative is to do just that.

By combining NASA’s technology and humanitarian groups’ understanding of what areas need what resources and what would benefit people the most, SERVIR is able to better serve the needs of populations.

The NASA website says that the resources developed by SERVIR can help governments and other agencies to more effectively “respond to natural disasters, [improve] food security, safeguard human health, [and] manage water and natural resources.”

SERVIR has hubs at locations throughout the globe, ad just this August, SERVIR-Mekong was launched in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Mekong river is located in Southeast Asia that acts as a major trade route to China. Depending on the seasons, the Mekong sometimes floods the surrounding area, leaving the residents of the Mekong area in severe need.

This is one of the reasons why Mekong was chosen as a location for this SERVIR project.

The Mekong center in particular was the result of NASA and USAID partnership with the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC.) This is a partnership that will work to make land use more sustainable and to monitor and (hopefully) decrease the effects of climate change.

For example, the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) is something that can be monitored with NASA technology. It is an indicator that comes from the amount of light reflected off of the surface of the earth based on the quantity and quality of plant life.

Areas that have lots of healthy vegetation will have a high NDVI and vice versa. Understanding the NDVI of an area can provide everyone from small farmers to forestry service personnel a better understanding of where to plant crops, develop urban centers, and more carefully preserve vegetation.

The power to help individuals and populations all over the world better respond to the effects of climate change extends to areas of food security and water resourcing as well. It truly is a remarkable innovation.

NASA technology can also be used to chart the course of natural disasters. For example, in the past, during hurricanes, it has allowed scientists to map out the paths of mudslides, which allowed them to understand which areas would be most affected and need the most help.

SERVIR’s track record has been vastly successful. Its team has worked with over 200 institutions in over 30 countries to develop local solutions, and to link local offices all over the globe in a network of ideas and innovations. Over 40 custom tools have been developed through the work of SERVIR.

It’s an excellent example of many of the tenets of humanitarianism: utilizing technology, creating partnerships, thinking big (even beyond the global scale) and dedicating existing resources towards a worthwhile cause.

As Irwin says, NASA technology and USAID’s resources together are helping to create “real time, real world applications that are changing the lives of people where they live.”

Emily Dieckman

Sources: USAID, NASA, Servir Global, Washington Post
Photo: AmericaSpace

climate_change

For years we have all heard that climate change threatens the sustainable future of our environment. After studying the changes and effects of the climate on the biosphere, 97 percent of climatologists agree that these climate-warming trends will only continue, especially since human activities are the most likely cause of these trends, according to NASA. Reducing these trends will not only provide a safer and healthier environment for future generations, but it will also help those living in extreme poverty.

Especially in developing countries, the poor rely heavily on their environment. According to the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization, the use of forest resources contributes to the livelihood of almost 1.6 billion people globally. Forests provide essential resources such as food, fuel, medicine and even income, showing that these billions of people and the environment in which they live share an interdependent relationship with one another.

With the effects of climate change and environmental degradation on the rise, the livelihoods and habitats of these people could soon disappear completely. It is for this reason that USAID announced the plan to give 45 million Kenyan shillings to a global climate change initiative, which will address a variety of environmental concerns, such as the loss of biodiversity, deforestation and other vulnerabilities to climate change.

With this initiative and other programs already in place, researchers are hopeful that poverty might also decrease along with the effects of climate change. Purdue University researchers announced on May 29 that global malnutrition — one of the key causes of poverty — could decrease by 84 percent by 2050. This would be a huge decrease, since the U.N. currently estimates that approximately 870 million people suffer from malnourishment globally.

However, this percentage decrease relies heavily on the improvements to be made in agricultural productivity and if climate change does not damage that productivity. Although researchers at Purdue University agree that an increase in temperatures and carbon dioxide could benefit agricultural productivity for some time by lengthening the season and improving water proficiency, they also agree that these possible benefits would only be temporary.

All this shows that climate change could have a direct impact on not only nutrition levels, but also the environments of the poor in developing countries. Since these issues are so closely connected, U.N. advisor Professor Jeffrey Sachs warned the New Environmentalism Summit that “We have to tackle climate change if we are to have any hope of tackling poverty.” Sachs also stressed the idea that climate change is not a problem for future generations, but a problem that we must address in today’s society.

Global leaders are experimenting with ways to address this issue, and many, like Sachs, hope that climate change will be a central element in the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, which will expand on the current Millennium Development Goals, to continue global progress in a variety of health and societal issues after 2015. Regardless of disagreements over how to best resolve this problem, climate trends must be addressed in some way to not only help the poor, but also the planet.

— Meghan Orner

Sources:
Sources: NASA, FAO, All Africa, Purdue University, Business Green, U.N.
Photo: The Guardian

 

Soybeans and Global Food Security
A recent study by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California has shown that soybeans can be re-engineered to grow in more arid environments without losing standard crop yield. If the new varieties prove durable, the cultivation of soybeans in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia will help address food insecurity issues in the region. Here are five reasons why soybeans are important in addressing global food security:

1. Food production must increase by 70 percent to meet the world’s food needs by 2050.

There are a number of factors that will affect global food security in the coming decades including: population increase, movement away from rural areas and toward urban centers, food production and climate change.

Today, undernourishment affects 870 million people worldwide. Between now and 2050, there will be an additional two billion people on our planet, with around 24 million children pushed into hunger due to food security issues.

2. Soybeans are one of the world’s most important protein crops.

Soybeans have a protein content of over 35 percent, as well as healthy unsaturated fats and carbohydrate fibers, making them some of the healthiest food sources around. They are also one of the least expensive sources of protein when compared to eggs, milk, beef and cow peas.

Due to the use of soybeans in both the food and animal feed industries, soybean farmers can earn a substantial amount of cash because the crop can be successfully grown at a low cost of production.

3. Modifying soybeans can address both climate challenges and food insecurity.

In a recent study led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL,) computer models have been applied to look for a super soybean. The research study determined that soybean plants can be redesigned to increase crop yield by 7 percent without using more water. The study also demonstrated that soybeans can be redesigned to use either 13 percent less water, or reflect 34 percent more light back into space without reducing crop yields–good for both food security and climate change.

While other geo-engineering solutions for climate change tend to be expensive, such as spraying sulfates into the upper atmosphere in order to reduce incoming sunlight or loading the ocean with iron in order to increase plankton photosynthesis, modifying annual crops is inexpensive and can be implemented quickly.

4. Soybean cultivation is growing in Africa.

Research by the University of Agriculture Makurdi in Nigeria in collaboration with the International Institute of Agriculture (IITA), aims to help improve the lives and livelihoods of small-hold farmers in the drought-prone areas of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia by providing more durable soybean varieties that can stand up against more arid conditions. Like the redesigned varieties in the JPL study, new varieties being promoted in Africa can help increase crop yields without using more water.

Soybean production remains relatively isolated in Africa, with Nigeria as the largest soybean producer, followed by South Africa and Uganda. However, the new, more durable varieties may allow for more countries to begin cultivating soybeans, helping improve the health of their populations as well as reducing local poverty.

5. Soybeans could have a long-term impact on poverty.

Food and water security will be a major national security focus in the coming decades as both climate change and population increases affect food production worldwide. Countries lacking basic food resources to feed their growing urban populations may become hotbeds for conflict, unrest and terrorist activities.

While many solutions for food insecurity should be addressed and considered by lawmakers, scientists and farmers alike, soybean technology is a first step in addressing the needs of poverty stricken regions by providing a modified crop that can meet multiple goals.

Re-engineered soybeans are an innovative (and healthy) way to help address local food security issues worldwide. Not only do they provide a good food source, but their wide use in products from oils to food to animal feed guarantee a lucrative market for local farmers. Reducing poverty through innovative changes in the way staple crops are traditionally grown is an economical and feasible way to bring food security, in light of climate and population challenges, to developing regions of the world.

– Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: Daily Trust, United Nations Conference on Trade And Development, Intech, NASA, VOA News, World Food Programme, Stop Hunger Now
Photo: HD WAll IMG