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Farmers Weather Fertilizer Crisis by Going Organic

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Around the world, large-scale agriculture relies on the use of chemical fertilizers. But increasing expense and decreasing supply of fertilizer is driving up the cost of food, and in turn contributing to the overall food crisis.

According to a soon-to-be-released UN report, prices have shot up and will stay high for at least three years. Prices have almost doubled and in some cases risen by 500 percent over 15 months.

The fertilizer crisis is caused by several factors. Anhydrous ammonia, which is the source of nearly all nitrogen fertilizer, needs natural gas, and the price of gas has risen sharply. Other fertilizer ingredients like phosphorous, potassium and potash are also increasingly expensive. Fertilizer needs to be transported long distances to get to farmers, so costs have risen with the soaring price of oil. And finally, the rise in demand for food has put the price of fertilizer up, as countries hoard supplies for themselves.

The 1960s ‘Green Revolution’ in agriculture made developing-world farmers dependent on supplies of fertilizers, pesticides and artificial irrigation. Monoculture cash crops became the norm. Yields were doubled, but at the expense of using three times as much water by accessing groundwater using electric pumps. This and fertilizer pollution has caused widespread damage to soil and water. In India, for example, 57 per cent of the land is degraded, according to Tata Energy Research.

In Cambodia, farmers are reaching back to past practices for answers to the fertilizer crisis. One is to go organic. Taking this approach has many health and environmental advantages – and, best of all for farmers, it keeps costs down.

Khim Siphay, a Cambodian farmer, has found he gets bigger crops of rice and vegetables while paying a lot less for fertilizers.

“Using pesticide or fertilizers kills important insects, and causes the soil to become polluted,” he told Reuters. “I use compost and it helps keep the soil good from one year to another. All of my family members help make the compost.”

The push to organic methods for Cambodia’s 13 million people relying on agriculture for a living comes from a non-governmental organization, the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC). It has successfully moved to organic methods, starting from just a handful of 28 farmers in 2000, to the current 60,000 – and received an endorsement from the Cambodian Ministry of Agriculture.

CEDAC says farms using the organic methods have been able to increase rice yields per hectare, while the seeds needed have fallen by 70 to 80 percent. By using a “System of Rice Intensification”, the mostly small-scale farmers are able to get more out of the land, with less labour. Add to that the fact that organic rice gets a premium price on world markets, and the result for the farmers has been a rise in income from US $58 to US $172 per hectare.

“The important point of organic farming is that farmers don’t need to spend money on fertilizers and pesticide so they spend less money on farming,” said CEDAC official Yang Saing Koma.

“They can sell the produce for a higher price. Also they can avoid being infected by pesticides and they will be healthier. It is also good for the environment,” he said.

Rice and other produce can be used to feed chickens to produce organic poultry and eggs – another bonus for farmers looking to raise the value of their produce.

“I started doing organic farming outside my rice paddy, but then I noticed production was double, so in the next season, I decided to grow organically on all of my land,” said farmer Ros Meo. “I spend less money now and I can grow more and I am not sick as I was before, my health is now good.”

Going organic in Cambodia is something that is becoming more attractive to the country’s growing middle class, and the government hopes the country will gain a reputation as an organic producer.

Another approach to cheap fertilizer comes from Caracas, Venezuala. Marjetica Potrc, an artist and architect who works closely with impoverished communities, has come up with a “dry toilet” which collects human waste and converts it to fertilizer.

Developed after spending six months in the barrios of Caracas, the dry, ecologically safe toilet was built on the upper part of La Vega barrio, a district in the city without access to the municipal water grid. It is a place where about half the population receives water from municipal authorities no more than two days a week.

Published: March 2014

Resources

  • South African company Eat Your Garden: It provides urban dwellers and food businesses with their own food gardens bursting with juicy and tasty foods whilst at the same time reducing carbon footprints, and creating employment and provide training, helping poverty alleviation.
    Website: http://www.eatyourgarden.co.za/
  • Soil Association: The organization that establishes the standards necessary for food to be called organically grown.
    Website: http://www.soilassociation.org/
  • Patrick Kamzitu, a farmer in Malawi, on the impact of fertilizer prices:
    Website: www.guardian.co.uk/environment

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.

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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Tackling China’s Air Pollution Crisis: An Innovative Solution

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

China reached an undesired landmark in 2013. While the country’s impressive economic growth has amazed the world, it has come at a price: pollution. China recorded record levels of smog in 2013, with some cities suffering air pollution many times above what is acceptable for human health.

This is evidence of the perils of rapid industrialization using non-green technologies. China relies on coal burning, a highly polluting resource, for 70 to 80 per cent of its electricity. It also uses coal for factories and winter heating.

Burning coal causes smog, soot, acid rain, global warming, and toxic air emissions (http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/coalvswind/c01.html). Environmental group Greenpeace claims 83,500 people died prematurely in 2011 from respiratory diseases in Shandong, Inner Mongolia and Shanxi – the top three coal-consuming provinces in China.

Anyone visiting Beijing or other Chinese cities will notice the high levels of smog and how this interferes with access to sunshine and curbs visibility. Worse still for human beings and the environment, this level of pollution causes severe respiratory problems, and has the potential to cause a rise in cancer rates, among other health problems.

Beijing had record pollution levels in January 2013. That haze, according to China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, covered 1.43 million square kilometers.

Generated by industry and coal-fired power stations, particulate matter (http://www.epa.gov/pm/) or PM, is a complex mix of extremely small particles and liquid droplets. Particle pollution is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles.

In October 2013, Beijing announced a series of emergency measures to tackle the record high levels of pollution and smog (http://edition.cnn.com/2013/10/23/world/asia/china-beijing-smog-emergency-measures/index.html). The Heavy Air Pollution Contingency Plan uses a color-coded warning system if serious pollution levels occur in three consecutive days. This means kindergartens, primary and middle schools will need to stop classes. Eighty per cent of government cars must come off the roads and private cars can only enter the city on alternate days based on a ballot system. Emergency measures will come into play when the air quality index for fine particulate matter, called PM2.5 (http://www.epa.gov/pmdesignations/faq.htm#0) – very fine particles that lodge in the lungs and are very harmful to human health – exceed 300 micrograms per cubic meter for three days in a row. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the safe limit for human beings is 20 micrograms (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs313/en/).

The only serious, long-term solution is to switch to non or low-polluting green energy sources. But, meanwhile, some are coming up with stop-gap measures that also help to educate people about the necessity to do away with this major threat to human health.

Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde (studioroosegaarde.net) thinks he has a temporary solution to the pollution problem – a “vacuum cleaner” to clean up the sky. And the city of Beijing is taking the solution seriously.

The proposed technology works like this: a system of buried coils of copper produce an ion electrostatic field that attracts smog particles. The particles are magnetized and are drawn downwards, creating a gap of clean air above the coil.

Called the Smog project, it is already under discussion with the mayor of Beijing. An animation video explains how it works: http://studioroosegaarde.net/video/the-smog-project/.

Talking to CNN, Roosegaarde likened the science behind the invention to what happens when “you have a balloon which has static (electricity) and your hair goes toward it. Same with the smog.”

In a deal with the Beijing city government, the technology will be tested in the city’s parks.

Roosegaarde has successfully tested the technology indoors and found it worked in the experiment.

He told CNN: “Beijing is quite good because the smog is quite low, it’s in a valley so there’s not so much wind. It’s a good environment to explore this kind of thing.”

“We’ll be able to purify the air and the challenge is to get on top of the smog so you can see the sun again.”

Roosegaarde thinks that successfully running the experiment in a Beijing park makes a radical statement and shows the benefits of breathing clean air and being able to see the sun on most days.

But he is not deluded that this is the final solution for pollution: “This is not the real answer for smog. The real answer has to do with clean cars, different industry and different lifestyles.”

With many people resigned to the pollution, at least for now, China’s entrepreneurs are making the face masks and air filters people wear to protect their lungs from the pollution more fashionable and appealing to look at, the South China Morning Post reported.

Xiao Lu, a saleswoman at Panfeng Household Products, explained the varying fashion tastes in masks: “Young people tend to like bright colors. Men prefer blue or black masks. Right now, UV proof masks are popular.”

Lu told the newspaper that customers make their decisions based on comfort and price.

Popular brands include Respro (http://respro.com/), Totobobo (totobobo.co.uk) and 3M9010 (http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/3M-PPE-Safety-Solutions/Personal-Protective-Equipment/Products/Product-Catalog/?N=5022986&rt=c3).

But, why not just move out of cities and avoid breathing bad air? Things are not that simple from an economic perspective. The South China Morning Post quoted Rena from Urumqi in China’s western Xinjiang province, who came to Beijing for the better job opportunities.

“Going back to Urumqi means less job opportunities and the air is not necessarily better,” she said. “Staying in Beijing means wearing a mask most days. It’s not very comfortable.

“But I can’t cover my face forever,” she said. “I’d prefer to live in a cleaner environment.

Published: December 2013

Resources

1) eChinacities: Waiting to Exhale: Guide to Buying Face Masks in China. Website: http://www.echinacities.com/expat-corner/Waiting-to-Exhale-Guide-to-Buying-Face-Masks-in-China

2) Pollution-China.com: Living in China despite the pollution. Website: http://www.pollution-china.com/vmchk/RESPRO-masks/View-all-products.html

3) My Health Beijing: A family doctor’s evidence-based guide to wellness and public health. Website: http://www.myhealthbeijing.com/china-public-health/respro-vs-totobobo-which-mask-works-better-for-air-pollution/

4) Dutch Design in Development: DDiD is the agency for eco design, sustainable production and fair trade. We work with Dutch importers and designers and connect them to local producers in developing countries and emerging markets. Together products are made that are both profitable and socially and environmentally sustainable. Website: http://www.ddid.nl/english/

5) Coal power: A map of China’s 2,300 coal-burning plants. Website: http://world.time.com/2013/12/13/one-map-shows-you-why-pollution-in-china-is-so-awful/

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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African Fuel Pioneer Uses Crisis to Innovate

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Crisis, as the old saying goes, is also a window of opportunity. And there is one African entrepreneur who knows this better than most. Daniel Mugenga has been on a journey of innovation that has led him to become a pioneer in the emerging new field of algae technologies. The story of how he got there is a testament to the power of using business to both solve problems and make profits.

Kenyan entrepreneur Daniel Mugenga has found a solution to the problem of high fuel costs for the transport sector in his country. He has been making money from turning waste cooking oil and inedible vegetable oil into biodiesel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodiesel). He then discovered that he could boost his production of biodiesel by using marine algae as a source for oil.

According to the body that represents the algae fuel industry, Oilgae (oilgae.com), algae are “plant-like organisms that are usually photosynthetic and aquatic, but do not have true roots, stems, leaves, vascular tissue and have simple reproductive structures. They are distributed worldwide in the sea, in freshwater and in wastewater. Most are microscopic, but some are quite large, e.g. some marine seaweeds that can exceed 50 m in length.”

The U.S. Department of Energy has been investigating algae as a fuel source since 1978, and it is being investigated as a potentially transformative fuel source around the world. His business, Pure Fuels Ltd. (http://www.purefuels.co.ke/), is currently seeking venture capital funding for expansion and innovation. Pure Fuels is “a commercial producer of biodiesel and also manufactures biodiesel processors, which we sell to budding entrepreneurs,” says Mugenga.

The Pure Fuels website educates readers on biodiesel as well as offering opportunities for investors and news updates. Pure Fuels was registered as a business in Kenya in 2010.

The business was born out of crisis: in 2008 there were frequent fuel shortages in Kenya and prices were volatile. That was bad news for Daniel Mugenga’s job, working for a transport company with a fleet of trucks. Rising or volatile fuel prices can destroy businesses in areas like trucking, where the biggest expense is fuel.

Mugenga began to do research into fuel alternatives in the crisis and came upon biodiesel. He then set about training in how to produce biodiesel. A period of testing, trials and research ensued between 2008 and 2010, which enabled Pure Fuels to build confidence they had something that was high  quality. The company started producing 120,000 litres of biodiesel in 2010 and increased production to 360,000 litres in 2011 and 700,000 so far in 2012. In 2011, Pure Fuels had revenue of US $230,000 from selling biodiesel.

“We started off using jatropha oil, but when its price went up it was no longer profitable,” Mugenga told the VC4Africa website blog. “Having invested in the machinery, we switched to the next quickest alternative which is used cooking oil. We source it from several of the tourist hotels along the Kenyan coast.”

Turning to cooking oil for biodiesel at first was a good idea. The company was able to get enough waste cooking oil from Kenya hotels and tourist resorts to meet demand. But as demand rose, the thorny problem of Kenya’s tourism business being seasonal arose.

“For about five months of the year, many hotels in Mombasa temporarily shut down or operate at lower capacity. Of course this is affecting the amount of waste cooking oil,” Mugenga said. This is where algae (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algae) comes in.

Pure Fuels found a biotechnologist in Kenya to help develop a solution using algae as a source for fuel. While the company is keeping details of its innovation secret, it is currently hunting for investors to help increase the quantity of biodiesel it can make – and in turn, revenues.

Investor funds would be used to import non-edible vegetable oil and also to continue the company’s work on extracting oil from marine algae.

Pure Fuels make a bold statement on algae fuel development: it “may actually be Kenya’s next cash crop.”

Pure Fuels sells several products: there is the biodiesel itself, as well as a processing machine called the GXP-200, which can turn customers into biodiesel manufacturers themselves. The company also builds large, industrial-scale processors that can produce between 1,000 litres and 5,000 litres a day.

Pure Fuels currently sells fuel to truck, bus and tuk-tuk companies, and also operates biofuel stations.

The firm has patented its biodiesel and makes all its fuel go through seven quality checks for purity. An in-house laboratory ensures adherence to international standards, and the company is certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (http://www.kebs.org/).

Mugenga is a passionate advocate of biodiesel’s advantages: he believes it is cheaper, and better for engines and for the environment. He admits it does have a disadvantage: it gels below 13 degrees Celsius and must be mixed 50-50 with conventional diesel to stay fluid.

Pure Fuels encourages others to use biofuels for business, throwing in a home training kit with the biodiesel processors it manufactures and sells, complete with DVDs, manuals and a business plan. The GXP-200 biodiesel processor was developed after years of experience, and Pure Fuels hopes it will be bought by people who then set up businesses – especially youth, women and the disabled. As a further incentive, Pure Fuels promises to buy the biodiesel produced. The GXP-200 was recently awarded “Most Innovative Product 2012” at a small and medium business entrepreneurs event in Nairobi.

In Israel, there are a number of pioneers working on further developing algae as a biofuel source too. Isaac Berzin of Seambiotic (seambiotic.com) sees algae as a good source for biofuel because it does not compete with food crops like other biofuel sources (sugar, potatoes, corn etc.). Algae is among a group of so-called second-generation biofuels that includes jatropha, wood and castor plants.

The disadvantage of plant-based fuel sources is they need arable land and water. This seriously holds back their ability to meet the world’s demand for fuel since they would just take up too much land and water. Algae takes up less space and produces a higher yield per acre than conventional crops.

Seambiotic makes marine microalgae using the CO2 from electric power plant flue gas. It pioneered making large quantities of fuel algae in the United States, creating the first gallons of bio-diesel and bio-ethanol from marine microalgae.

Seambiotic is also working on a US $10 million commercial microalgae farm in China, partnering with China Guodian (http://www.cgdc.com.cn/), one of the country’s largest power companies. Another Israeli company in this field is UniVerve (http://www.univervebiofuel.com/). Its CEO, Ohad Zuckerman, runs the10-person company in Tel Aviv, Israel. It is developing a new biofuel from a special strain of algae that can grow quickly in a wider range of temperatures.

Published: July 2012

Resources

1) A website with all the details on biodiesel and how to make it. Website: http://www.biodiesel.org/

2) How to make your own biodiesel. Website: http://journeytoforever.org/biodiesel_make.html

3) Oilgae is the global information support resource for the algae fuels industry. Website: http://www.oilgae.com/

4) Algae as a superfood and cancer-fighter: Chlorella. Website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chlorella

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

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Web 2.0 to the Rescue! Using Web and Text to Beat Shortages in Africa

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The beep-beep of a received text on a mobile phone is now becoming a much-needed lifeline to Africans. Zimbabweans, who continue to struggle every day with inflation that has shot to 3,731 percent (Zimbabwe Central Statistical Office), have usd African ingenuity and 21st century technology to survive another day.

New website services have become a literal lifeline for millions suffering from economic and social hardships. At least four new web-based services have stepped in to link expatriate Zimbabweans working outside the country with their relatives back home. All share a common service: people can log into the websites and shop and select what they like to purchase or transfer to their relativs. Once a purchase has been made, a message is sent by mobile phone text to Zimbabwe, either transferring money credits or credits for fuel, food or medical services.

Mukuru.com is the most elaborate and ambitious of the services, and is expanding across Africa (currently in Zimbabwe and South Africa, it is expanding to Kenya, Malawi and Zambia). Started in 2006, it now boasts 8,000 customers and is averaging 1,200 orders per month, ranging from money transfers to fuel and digital satellite television subscriptions. A voucher number sent by mobile phone also allows the recipient to swap a PIN (personal identification) number for coupons redeemable at certain garages.

One of the great advantages of this new technology is its ability to give real-time updates and tracking throughout the transaction. Senders are informed about every stage of the transaction, right up until the gas is gushing into the car’s tank.

“Basically anybody who is able to work will do their best to support family back home,” said Mukuru’s UK-based Nix Davies. “Mukuru’s birth is the result of our inability to sit back and watch, as well as the desperate need to help those back home. The power of an instant SMS being able to provide value to its recipient is inspiring.

“Launching Mukuru.com has not been without its hurdles,” continues Davies. “Promoting a brand with one foot in the first world and having to deal with third world inconsistencies is always challenging.” Mukuru also has plans to expand into travel, freight, mail (letters are printed out and sent within Zimbabwe), and music to help local musicians.

Over at another website, Zimbuyer.com, expatriate Zimbabweans can buy groceries for their relatives at home and make sure that the money is not spent on the wrong thing.
“They’re a lot of people who left Zimbabwe and, for example, have left their children over there,” a spokesman told the BBC’s website. “But sometimes the money they have sent home for the care of the children is diverted into other things. With our service, people buy the stuff – and we deliver them to the recipients so they know what they’re buying.”

Zimbuyer’s website is similar to food shopping websites in developed countries. Prices are listed in British pounds, but the food items are Zimbabwean staples like sadza maize, Cashel Valley Baked Beans and Ingrame Camphor Cream – all delivered to people living in Harare, Chitungwiza and Bulawayo.Zimbuyer’s most popular products are cooking oil and sugar, while “power generators are proving popular because the electricity always goes off nearly every day.”

Another service is Zimland.com, which has a network of 52 supermarkets nationwide. As it starkly boasts on its website, it gives Zimbabweans abroad “a quick and efficient way of ensuring their families do not starve in Zimbabwe.”

The Zimland Superstore offers a variety of hampers of food and essentials for families, from the Madirativhange to the Mafidhlongo to the Hotch Potch Delux, and boys and girls ‘Back to School’ hampers.

Yet another service has taken on the problem of paying for medical and health services. Beepee Medical Services allows Zimbabweans to pay for doctors’ appointments, prescription drugs and surgery for relatives.

Launched in September 2006 by Dr Brighton Chireka and his wife Prisca, a nurse, the business is small but growing.

“Mostly we’re running it as a service to help people,” said Dr Chireka, adding he gets about two consultation bookings a day (US $30 an appointment). “It should be able to pay for itself… We’ve employed people who are working full-time in Zimbabwe. This side (the UK), it’s on a part-time basis to answer the calls.”

Please visit the following link for more information:

An up-to-date report from The Economist magazine on the country situation in Zimbabwe: www.economist.com

Published: November 2008

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022