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Prisons With Green Solutions

An ingenious solution is helping Rwanda reduce the cost of running its bursting prisons, while improving conditions for the prisoners and helping protect the environment.

The country’s prison population soared to a peak of 120,000 suspects awaiting trial for their role in the 1994 genocide, in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed. The traditional court system, gacaca, is being used for national reconciliation, but the process is slow and costly for a country where 90 per cent of the population exist on subsistence agriculture, and where food production has dropped below 70 per cent of the levels needed for self-sufficiency (USAID).

But thanks to enormous, bee-hive shaped human manure digesters, a steady supply of biogas is on tap for cooking and lighting at prisons – the first country in Africa to do this. Five of the country’s largest prisons – two at Gitarama and one each in Butare, Kigali and Cyangugu – now have biogas plants producing 50 per cent of the gas needed to cook for prisoners. It has also saved half of each prison’s US $44,000 a year firewood costs. The money saved is being ploughed back into renovations to the prisons to improve conditions, and to provide more services like healthcare.

Biogas is produced from the fermentation of household or agricultural waste or animal or human feces, and has become a viable alternative when traditional gas sources become more expensive. The waste is placed in a 150 cubic meter beehive-shaped digester and fermented until a gas is produced. According to lead engineer on the project, Ainea Kimaro, 100 cubic meters of waste is turned into 50 cubic meters of fuel by bacteria devouring the manure in just four weeks.

The digesters are a project of the Kigali Institute of Sciences, Technology and Management ‘s Center for Innovations and Technology Transfer.

“Biogas kills two birds with one stone,” Kimaro told the BBC. It gets rid of all the human waste and helps cover the enormous costs of feeding so many prisoners. Prior to the digesters, the quantity of human waste was a real problem: it was flooding down hillsides and leaking into rivers and lakes.

A school, the Lycee de Kigali , also has a digester. “The methane gas is used to cook for 400 students and for operating Bunsen burners in the school laboratories”, Kimaro said.

Many would think this a smelly affair, but in fact the whole process isn’t that pungent. Most of the digester is underground and the gas produced burns a clean, blue smokeless flame. It is much cleaner than the smoke from firewood. The remaining sludgy residue is used as an odourless compost for soil. This is used in the prison gardens to grow maize, mangos, bananas and tomatoes – all of which ends up back on the prisoner’s plates, improving the quality of their nutrition.

“The firewood savings are excellent – they really make a difference for us,” a Cyangugu prison warden said, adding that the odour-free compost had done wonders for the prison gardens. “Look at all these bananas! This fertiliser really is the best,” he said to the BBC.

In Uganda, human urine and feces are being mixed with banana peels, algae, water hyacinth and poultry droppings to make biogas. In Uganda’s rural Mukono district, biogas is used for cooking, lighting pressure lamps and to power engines. The slurry left over is then used to fertilise the soil. For Ugandans, most of whom are rural dwellers, electricity is rare and petrol to run generators and refrigeration units is expensive.

“It keeps the environment free of organic wastes, is convenient, time-saving and reduces smoke-related illnesses often associated with the use of firewood,” said Patrick Nalere, country director of the Heifer Project International, an American NGO which shares livestock and knowledge to reduce poverty. “If the majority of Ugandans adopted biogas, we would preserve our biodiversity. People should exploit decomposing raw materials, which are free. Therefore, no monthly power tariffs.”

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: February 2008

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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“Pocket-Friendly” Solution to Help Farmers Go Organic

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Interest in organic food and farming is high, and organics have become a growing global industry. The worldwide market for organic food grew by more than 25 per cent between 2008 and 2011, to US $63 billion, according to pro-organic group the Soil Association. That is an impressive accomplishment given the backdrop of the global economic crisis, and evidence that people value quality food, even in tough times.

One Kenyan company is hoping to help farmers benefit from this global surge in interest in organic food. The company is selling a healthy alternative to chemical fertilizers and is hoping it will soon be able to source its products in Kenya, too.

BioDeposit (http://biodeposit.lv/index.php?page=elixir-3) sells soil conditioner and natural fertilizer made from two ingredients: peat found in marshlands and silt dredged up from lakes, which is called sapropel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapropel). This naturally occurring resource is rich in all the elements required for abundant crops and has the added benefit of not poisoning the soil and water table when used on farmer’s fields.

It is sold as a solution to the multiple pressures hitting farmers, from chaotic weather patterns to soil damage and decreasing yields. It offers a way to boost farm productivity without damaging the soil in the long term.

In 2011 the amount of farmland that was organic reached 37.2 million hectares in 162 countries – but this is still just 0.86 per cent of the world’s agricultural land (Research Institute of Organic Agriculture and International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements). If BioDeposit has its way, Kenyan farmers could help to grow the number of hectares being farmed organically.

Presenting the solution in October 2013 at the Global South-South Development Expo (southsouthexpo.org) at the headquarters of the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya, BioDeposit communications and media chief Nelly Makokha (http://ke.linkedin.com/pub/nelly-makokha/29/a08/634), explained that the company is hoping to bring the technology behind BioDeposit to Kenya, if they can get permission.

At present, the source materials for the products are dredged from lakes in Latvia in Eastern Europe. Because of the political structures of Kenya, it means a long political process is ahead to gain permission to dredge any of the country’s lakes. BioDeposit’s Latvian scientists conducted research on the potential for Lake Naivasha (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Naivasha) in the Rift Valley and claim it has enough deposits to provide Kenya’s farmers with organic fertilizer for the next 200 years.

“If the government agrees, the fertilizer is basically cheaper than any other fertilizer the farmer [will] have ever used in a long time,” said Makokha. “It will be pocket-friendly for them. As they earn more money from the more yields, they are spending less on the fertilizer.

“Our slogan is ‘smart agriculture for health and wealth’  – health in terms of you become organically grown, and if you are looking for organic certification, we will organize that for the certifiers. Right now most countries are looking for organic food and cannot find it.

“So when you become organic that means you earn more money on your products so it means you are healthy and you are wealthy!”

The fertilizer comes in 12 milliliter packets that cost 200 Kenyan shillings (US $2.30). A farmer would need two packets for each quarter acre of farmland.

Based on a Russian discovery from the early 20th century, BioDeposit draws on naturally occurring resources.

Its products include BioDeposit Agro, described as a “biologically active soil conditioner,” and BioDeposit Elixir, described as a “humic plant growth stimulator.” The Elixir is a “sustainable, water-soluble” concentrate made from peat and can be used to soak seeds prior to planting, increasing the germination cycle. For the farmer, it means more seedlings in a shorter time. It also can be poured on compost piles to boost humic content to speed compost decay. Peat is formed from above-ground marsh plants, either on the surface or under a layer of water.

BioDeposit Agro is made from sapropel from the sediment at the bottom of freshwater lakes. It is a renewable, naturally-occurring resource as it has been formed from the accumulated settling of plants such as reeds, algae, trees, grasses and animals over time as they decay.

Unlike other chemical fertilizers, using the BioDeposit product does not require special protective clothing and does not harm human health. Children are also not at risk if they accidentally ingest the product.

“Most farmers have small farms – quarter acre, half acre, at most three acres,” said Makokha. “For a quarter acre you spend five dollars and you get more yields. Two of them would be approximately five dollars – that’s enough for a whole season – so it is pocket friendly.”

And if the company is able to harvest the material in Kenya, it would be even cheaper.

“You can imagine if we dredge here – probably (get the cost down to) a dollar – so it makes more sense for the farmers.”

The dredging has another positive impact: it helps with managing flooding by making the lake deeper once the silt is dredged out, making life better and safer for people living nearby.

BioDeposit has been operating in Kenya for a year and, Makokha said, “the response is awesome.”

BioDeposit organizes workshops for farmers through cooperative societies, helping to guide farmers through the whole process of becoming organically certified.

The company believes its products will help avert problems such as what happened recently when the European Union prevented some flowers – a major source of overseas income for Kenyan farmers – from entering the EU because of banned pesticides.

Cleverly, BioDeposit does most of its business digitally through mobile phones. It conducts its business with sales representatives by phone and conducts training by phone as well. All payments and bank transfers are done by phone using the M-PESA system (http://www.safaricom.co.ke/?id=257).

“It is the easiest way to do business in Kenya,” said Makokha. “Everybody right now owns a mobile phone. When we get the M-PESA, we transfer directly to the account. You get the money and transfer to the bank account and you are done, very easy for everybody … doing wonders for us.”

Resources

1) Soil health crisis threatens Africa’s food supply. Website: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn8929-soilhealth-crisis-threatens-africas-food-supply.html

2) 2050: Africa’s Food Challenge: Prospects good, resources abundant, policy must improve: A discussion paper from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Website: http://www.fao.org/wsfs/forum2050/wsfs-background-documents/issues-briefs/en

3) State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet. Website: http://www.worldwatch.org/sow11

5) Integrating Ethno-Ecological and Scientific Knowledge of Termites for Sustainable Termite Management and Human Welfare in Africa by Gudeta W. Sileshi et al, Ecology and Society, Volume 14, Number 1. Website: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss1/art48

6) Soil Association: The Soil Association was founded in 1946 by a group of farmers, scientists and nutritionists who observed a direct connection between farming practice and plant, animal, human and environmental health. Website: http://www.soilassociation.org/marketreport

7) Research Institute of Organic Agriculture: FiBL is an independent, non-profit, research institute with the aim of advancing cutting-edge science in the field of organic agriculture.  Website: http://www.fibl.org/en/fibl.html

International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements: Since 1972, IFOAM has occupied an unchallenged position as the only international umbrella organization of the organic world, i.e. all stakeholders contributing to the organic vision. Website: http://www.ifoam.org/

9) BioDeposit on Facebook. Website: https://www.facebook.com/BioDepositAfrica

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

© David South Consulting 2021


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Development Profile: UNDP In The Southern Gobi Desert | May-June 1998

By David South, Blue Sky Bulletin (Dalanzadgad, Mongolia), May-June 1998

Development Profile: UNDP in the Southern Gobi Desert

In late May UNDP visited its environment and poverty projects in Omnogobi or South Gobi on the border with China and in the heart of the Gobi Desert. The aimag (province) is home to 45,000 people spread over a territory of 165,000 kilometers. It is a harsh environment where temperatures can plummet to minus 40 degrees Celsius in winter and shoot up to plus 40 in summer. What is striking about the capital of Omnogobi, Dalanzadgad, is how well things are working. It is a garden capital – despite being in the desert the central boulevard is covered in trees – and trade with China has brought a prosperity for some herdsmen, many of whom buzz around the town on Planeta motorcycles. The offices of the Malchin television company are hidden by a bouquet of white satellite dishes – it is not an uncommon sight to see a ger with a satellite dish in South Gobi. 

“Dishing up development news on Mongolia”: a UNDP Mongolia Communications Office poster campaign from the late 1990s. Photo: David South.
In 1998 Der Spiegel’s “Kommunikation total” issue profiled the global connectivity revolution underway and being accelerated by the Internet boom of the late 1990s. It chose my picture of a satellite dish and a ger in the Gobi Desert to symbolise this historic event.

“The transformation of Mongolia from a largely rural nomadic society of herdsmen to a community dominated by the increasingly ultra-globalized city of Ulan Bator, where almost a third of the population lives, is nothing short of astounding.” The New Mongolia: From Gold Rush to Climate Change, Association for Asian Studies, Volume 18:3 (Winter 2013): Central Asia

Der Spiegel is a German weekly news magazine and is one of Europe’s largest publications of its kind. It chose my photo taken in the Gobi Desert for its profile of the Internet revolution in 1998.

English translation: “Total communication: the seventh continent – 
The cell phone society was just the beginning: Experts see a new continent emerging in the spheres of the Internet. The information elite live here, surrounded by PCs, pagers and power books. The multimedia industry is becoming the key industry of the 21st century – with serious consequences for society.” (http://t-off.khd-research.net/Spiegel/10.html)

Electricity in the air – 85 women discover the Women’s Development Fund

The Mongolian Human Development Report singled out South Gobi for having the highest poverty incidence in Mongolia (41.9 per cent). While this ranking is hotly debated by locals who say it is a statistical anomaly resulting from their low population, there is no question life is hard in the Gobi. 

In a crowded room in the Governor’s building, 85 of the poorest women in Dalanzadgad have gathered to hear about an innovative UNDP-initiated fund. The meeting, organised by the NGO the Liberal Women’s Brain Pool, is introducing the Women’s Development Fund. Many questions are asked as to why some of the women were passed over when the local government started distributing poverty alleviation funds. 

With the assistance of the British Government who donated Tg 12 million, these women are getting a chance. The Women’s Development Fund was founded in partnership with the Poverty Alleviation Programme Office to take account of the unique role women have in the prosperity of families. Support is key and the women will be assisted by community activists as they develop their project ideas and begin to implement them. In early June they started to receive funding for their projects. 

Note: This story was part of a series highlighting life and the state of human development in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert after the publishing of the country’s first human development report in 1997

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

© David South Consulting 2020