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Putting Worms to Work

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Overuse of pesticides is now acknowledged as one of the gravest mistakes of the  Green Revolution, launched in the 1970s to dramatically increase food production in the developing world. Pesticides have polluted the environment, poisoned fertile soil, contaminated ground water and damaged human health.

According to Tata Energy Research, 57 per cent of India’s land is degraded. But the country, it is estimated, will need more than 45 million tons of grains to meet the country’s basic food requirements by 2030. There is little arable land left to cultivate, so it is crucial to develop plants that are more resistant to pests and other diseases.

Two innovations developed at  Patnagar University in Patnagar, India – the home of the first Green Revolution back in the 1970s – are now set to spark a second Green Revolution, eschewing harmful chemicals and instead turning to nature to help.

Drawing on the field of below-ground biodiversity (the study of all the nutrients and life forms in soil), scientists at the university are harnessing the elements within the soil, rather than placing chemicals on the soil.

Naturally occurring bacteria microbes have been isolated in the soil. It has been found that they are effective killers of pathogenic fungi diseases that affect plants. They do this by coiling around the fungi and destroying the cell walls of the pathogen. These naturally occurring bacteria effectively disinfect the soil of diseases, allowing the plant to flourish without the use of chemicals.

Patnagar University has patented this technique and sells the bacteria suspended in 200 gram packets of talcum powder to farmers. These so-called bioinoculants can be sown with the seeds or put in manure that is being spread as fertilizer.

Another natural innovation in this second Green Revolution uses common earthworms to tackle animal manure. There are about 1.3 billion cattle in the world, a billon sheep, a billion pigs, 800 million goats and 17 billion chickens (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [FAO]). This huge mass of animals produces vast quantities of manure – an estimated 3 billion tons.

In 2006, an FAO report called animal manure “one of the top two of three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems at every scale.” Too much of it, and groundwater is contaminated and wetlands destroyed.

India produces millions of tons of livestock manure. Dr. R.J. Sharma, dean of veterinary and animal sciences at the Patnagar university, has found a handy way to rid farms of manure and produce highly useful fertiliser (and extra income!) for agriculture by using epigeic earthworms, or vermicomposting.

Dr Sharma explains that his herd of 750 cows and buffalo on his dairy farm were becoming a big problem: “Previously we had a problem disposing this excreta, and we are dumping freshly in the fields and that fresh dung takes a lot of time to decompose and a lot of problems with insects and foul smelling,” he told the BBC.

The worms degrade the manure while increasing the manure’s fertiliser qualities, creating more nitrogen and phosphorus: two essential ingredients necessary for growing crops. They were found to be excellent in breaking down manure from cows, horses, sheep and goats.

And Sharma discovered an added benefit to getting rid of this foul-smelling manure: he can make 30,000 rupees a day selling the fertilizer, while he is only making 20,000 rupees a day from selling his milk. And it only takes the earthworms between 40 and 50 days to turn this manure to money.

Published: January 2008

Resources

  • Digital soil maps: The Food and Agriculture Organization has a CD-ROM soil map available  here, and the GlobalSoilMap initiative is building a real-time soil map here.

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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Mountain People: Innovative Ways to Help the World’s Most Vulnerable

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Physically isolated and socially and politically marginalized, mountain dwellers are among the most vulnerable in the world, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. A disproportionate number of the world’s 840 million chronically undernourished people live in highland areas — about 270 million mountain people lack food security, with 135 million suffering chronic hunger. Large numbers of additional people in lowland areas also depend on mountains.

In October in Rome, more than 60 representatives from mountain countries around the world called for a coherent approach to sustainable agriculture and rural development in the world’s highland areas to address this crisis. First identified as a problem back at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, the degradation of mountain eco-systems and the poverty of those living there, has only worsened with increasing conflict and war. Mountain forests are rapidly vanishing across the globe.

Mountains occupy 24 per cent of the earth’s landscape, and are home to 12 per cent of the world’s people; a further 14 per cent live beside mountains. Most are in the Andes, the Hengduan-Himalaya-Hindu Kush system, and a number of African mountains. Many mountain people are from ethnic minorities, and are often frozen out of political or commercial power. Poverty is common: more than 60 per cent of the rural Andean population lives in extreme poverty, and most of the 98 million Chinese considered to be among the world’s “absolute poor”, are ethnic minorities who live in mountains.

Mountains make up a quarter of the world’s landscapes, and mountain watersheds are critical to water supply – up to 80 per cent of the planet’s fresh surface water comes from mountains. Over half of the world’s population depend on mountains for water, food, hydro-electricity, timber and mineral resources (UN University Mountain Programme).

By their way of life, mountain peoples have expertise in small-hold farming, medicinal uses for native plants, and sustainable harvesting of food, fodder and fuel from forests.

In China, the MinYiYuan company has developed a model to help the millions of impoverished Chinese in the countryside who are being left out of the country’s current economic boom. While many are migrating to the cities to work as labourers, mostly women and children are left behind in villages, with few options to support themselves.

Cai Tingfen saw an opportunity to help the ethnic minority population of Liupanshui City in Guizhou Province. Founded in 2005, MinYiYuan bridges the handcraft culture of the region with the bigger national economy. Its model is unique: rather than buying ready-made handicrafts from craftspeople, MinYiYuan sets the design standards for the quality of the raw materials and sources them itself. This avoids problems with inconsistencies and guarantees customers get a reliably high-quality product. The craftspeople use these raw materials to make handcrafts in their homes, and the finished goods are bought back by the company.

The company buys cotton, hemp and Chinese herbs from local farmers, luring them away from livelihoods that cause deforestation. In 2006, the MinYiYuan Folk Art Centre sold 60,000 (batik) wax prints, 8,000 embroideries, and 20,000 ethnic handicrafts. It made 1.13 million yuan (US $149.319). The company is ambitious, and is already looking to building a research and development base to integrate design, manufacturing, packaging and sales.

Another model that is working is in the Philippines. After the Mount Pinatubo volcano eruptions in the early 1990s, the Aetas people of Luzon found their community was buried under ash and stone. Unable to work the land anymore and live off of the fish and wildlife, the Aetas were close to starvation. Many migrated to the cities to look for work: And without many relevant urban skills, most ended up living in squalor.

One by-product of the volcanic explosion was vast quantities of pumice stone, used in the garment industry to produce ‘stone-washed’ denim. Entrepreneurs were soon turning up to gather the stones.

The Asian Institute for Technology helped the Aeta people organize themselves in marketing social enterprises to gather, market and sell the stones to the many garment makers in the Philippines. By forming cooperatives, the Aeta are able to change the power dynamics with the garment companies: where they had to sell very cheaply to middlemen, the cooperatives enable them to charge more and make a liveable income, allowing them to stay in the community and avoid environmentally more harmful ways to make a living.

In Peru, coffee growers in the mountains have banded together as a social enterprise and use market solutions to increase living standards. The Cepicafe brand in the Piura Mountains, promotes its Fair Trade practices to secure higher prices for the growers. It does this by countering the increasing competition in the coffee market and lower world prices for the beans, with better quality coffee grains and bypassing middlemen to access markets directly.

Cepicafe raises the skills of the growers by providing education to increase productivity and quality, while reducing the farms ecological impact. The premium that fair trade is able to get is then used to improve the farmers’ lives with better housing, new clothes, shoes, better diets, and access to medicine.

They have 51 grassroots member organizations, totaling to 4,800 small-scale coffee producers. Over 18 per cent are women. By introducing a business culture and using radio programmes to further spread knowledge, productivity and quality have increased.

Cepicafe’s access to markets in the US and Europe means it can pay between 60 and 80 per cent more than local buyers.

Published: November 2007

Resources

  • Mountain Forum: created in 1995, it is a great resource for sustainable mountain development and conservation.
  • The Mountain Institute: A non-profit organization dedicated to conservation, community development and cultural preservation in the Andean, Appalachian and Himalayan mountain ranges.
  • Adelboden Group: Established in 2002, it exists as a forum to discuss mountain policies, exchange experience and coordinate planning.

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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Thai Organic Supermarkets Seek to Improve Health

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

A Thai business is working hard to expand access to organic food in the country. It sees this as part of a wider campaign to improve health in the country – and its success has caught the attention of the government, which wants to turn Thailand into a global health destination.

The Lemon Farm chain run by Suwanna Langnamsank (http://www.lemonfarm.com/lmf/) was started 13 years ago and has grown to nine organic supermarkets in the capital, Bangkok. Lemon Farm works with 200 organic farms in Thailand and employs 160 people.

Organic food (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_food) – grown without chemicals and artificial fertilizers and not irradiated or subjected to other tampering – is believed by many to be healthier because it avoids the harmful effects of accumulating chemicals. It is also thought to be richer in vitamins and minerals because of the use of non-chemical fertilizers on the soil.

Lemon Farm sells made-in-Thailand organic vegetables and fruit, natural gift sets, soap and tea. There are also macrobiotic cafes in the supermarkets called Be Organic.  A macrobiotic diet avoids foods containing toxins (http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-help/about-cancer/treatment/complementary-alternative/therapies/macrobiotic-diet).

The supermarkets use eye-pleasing modern design to set themselves apart from more conventional supermarkets.

According to Lemon Farm’s website, it is a social enterprise and practices fair trade. It is using market-driven solutions to increase the availability of healthy food in the country. It seeks to support small-scale farmers and champion change in farming methods, encouraging a move away from dependence on harmful chemicals that damage human health and the environment and promoting “agricultural and economic self-sufficiency”.

The macrobiotic restaurant operates to six values, among them using fresh vegetables and only using produce from associated farms. The restaurants do not use added sugar, they cook using a pressure cooker, and use natural ingredients such as sea salt, ginger, fermented soy sauce and natural miso. They do not use any artificial preservatives or flavour enhancers such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), a common practice in Asian cooking.

Lemon Farm’s success as an organic food pioneer has caught the attention of the Thai government. The Ministry of Commerce (http://www2.moc.go.th/main.php?filename=index_design4_en) has contracted Lemon Farm to join its campaign to offer organic food in schools and hospitals.

By promoting organic food, the government is hoping to boost farmers’ incomes while improving health in the country and bolstering the country’s thriving medical services industry serving foreign patients.

“We need to promote healthy food and a healthy environment,” Piramol Charoenpao, deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Commerce, told Monocle magazine. “Thailand is a medical hub. The idea is to have retreat-style hospitals serving organic food. We’re increasing organic food production and educating people about it.”

Thailand has already built a good reputation with its medical and health services. More than 1.6 million non-Thais are treated in Thai hospitals annually, with an estimated 500,000 travelling specifically for medical treatment (The Guardian).

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra mooted the idea of making the country an international leader in medical tourism in 2003. It is expected providing medical services to overseas patients will make the country US $3.3 billion by 2015 (The Guardian).
 
It is hoped that offering organic food in hospitals and health facilities will boost the attractiveness and effectiveness of using health services in Thailand.

Medical tourism is considered one of the fastest-growing sectors in the world. Estimates place it as a market worth US $100 billion. Three countries that compete in this market by offering medical services in the English language include India, Singapore and Thailand. They compete by offering services comparable to wealthier countries but at considerably less cost.

Lemon Farm says it is on a mission to develop the marketplace for organic food in Thailand by educating consumers and producing “innovative natural food”.  It looks like it has already made a big impact.

Published: February 2013

Resources

1) Whole Foods Market: The world’s leader in natural and organic foods, with more than 340 stores in North America and the United Kingdom. Website: wholefoodsmarket.com

2) Conscious Capitalism: A book by Co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, John Mackey. Website:http://consciouscapitalism.org/resources/538

3) Live Plan: A step-by-step online resource for creating a business plan for an organic supermarket. Website:http://www.bplans.com/organic_food_store_business_plan/company_summary_fc.php

4) Start your own: Health food store: Advice and business tips on starting a health food store. Website:http://www.startups.co.uk/health-food-store.html

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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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Dodging the health insurance minefield

By David South

Today’s Seniors (Canada), 1992

Don’t leave home without it. No, not American Express Travellers cheques but health insurance. With changes to OHIP coverage for out-of-country hospital visits and rising U.S. health care costs, any snowbird who pays a visit to an American hospital will face hefty bills. To make things even more complicated, the recent growth in competing travel health insurance schemes in Canada has created a minefield of policies that must be entered with caution.

Luckily for snowbirds, the newly formed Canadian Snowbird Association is trying to make these changes a little easier to cope with. Formed in March, the Association boasts 8,500 members and is looking for more. They hope to advocate for the rights of snowbirds and collect information on private insurance plans to help seniors make the right decisions.

Communications co-ordinator Don Slinger says he will have a list of appropriate private health insurance policies ready by the end of August. The Association has been meeting with private insurance companies to find out the best plans.

“Snowbirds shouldn’t be in a hurry to get insurance,” says Slinger. “Many insurance companies are using the situation to exploit panic-stricken seniors.”

Slinger warns snowbirds never to go down to the U.S. without extra insurance on top of OHIP. “OHIP is just a drop in the bucket of the cost of a stay in an American hospital. Unfortunately, a lot of people still take the chance.

“I had been going south for 12 years without a problem until a ruptured appendix. It ended up costing me $12,000 for an eight-day hospital stay.

“When we met with the government they weren’t sympathetic. They said snowbirds are a wealthy group and can afford the payments. However, a lot of people are on fixed incomes and won’t be able to afford to go south with these higher costs.”

Slinger advises against buying coverage after arriving in the U.S. The Snowbirds Association emphasizes that it believes in medicare and will fight hard to ensure it provides full coverage for seniors.

Gerry Byrne, a vice-president at non-profit insurers Blue Cross warns against buying U.S. insurance because companies require a medical exam and skim off the healthiest people for full coverage. But Blue Cross itself will introduce rates based on age and medical conditions in September.

American health insurance plans have long been criticized for hurting older seniors and those with ongoing medical conditions. In these schemes, the healthiest seniors pay low premiums while seniors with chronic conditions are saddled with higher rates or, worse still, refused coverage. Unlike medicare – which covers everybody regardless of their health – private insurers are tempted to reduce their costs by covering only the lowest risk group – favouring the young and healthy.

Unfortunately, a quick survey of travel health insurance plans shows this trend to be in full bloom in Canada. Credit card companies, which have recently begun to offer travel health insurance, are revising their conditions. The Royal Bank’s Visa Gold card will drop coverage for seniors over 65 starting Nov. 1. The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Scotia Bank Visa cards still offer coverage to seniors – but both are revising this. American Express’s annual plan has no age limit, while its per trip plan has a higher rate for seniors between 60 and 74 and doesn’t cover anybody 75 and over.

Suzanne Deul, who helps market the Toronto Dominion Bank Visa card, blames the insurance companies for changes. “Because of high costs, the pressure is on to change policies. We are trying to be more equitable but the insurers want age restrictions. In some ways it could be justified to charge more for people who attract higher costs.”

With so many health insurance companies losing money covering seniors, the challenge for private insurers is to make covering seniors profitable without excluding people. To this end, Robin Ingle, president of John Ingle Travel Insurance, has instituted changes to increase the money available for more expensive hospital stays.

“About one-third of our policy holders are over 65, and we have a lot of snowbirds. This group is only getting bigger, so instead of raising rates and placing restrictions, we increased the number of policy holders to include a broad range of people young and old.”

Ingle blames rising U.S. health care costs for making it unprofitable to provide health insurance to seniors. His company has set up an office in Florida to prevent hospitals overcharging Canadians and has negotiated deals with some hospitals for lower rates. John Ingle Travel Insurance offers special rates for seniors’ groups and gives a 10 per cent discount to members of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons.

Three years ago there were 10 companies in Canada offering travel insurance; now there are over 50.

According to Ingle, many of the neophyte companies are losing money. “I predict the whole industry will shrink because they have had high losses and can’t take care of their clients. I would advise seniors to watch out for companies that might not be around a year from now.”

Ingle says seniors should also beware of glitzy marketing and flashy pamphlets and read the fine print to make sure the policy covers their age and medical condition.

Irene Klatt of the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, which represents all private for-profit insurers, advises seniors to look for insurance plans that have toll-free numbers that can be called 24 hours a day in an emergency. This will cut down on hassles with American hospitals which will not admit patients without insurance. The Association also has its own toll-free advice line staffed by seniors from the insurance industry. Klatt warns that her association represents all for-profit insurers and can’t favor one scheme over another but does have a pamphlet that offers advice on choosing insurance.

Insurance, of course, isn’t enough to ensure a healthy stay. Irene Turple of the Canadian Association on Gerontology has some helpful health tips: “Discuss your trip with the family doctor. Make a list of all your medications; and remember – the names of the drugs can be different in the States. If you have an echocardiogram handy, bring it along. Make a health diary listing your medical history. Remember that physicians aren’t all-knowing and if you can provide as much medical information as possible it can make a difference.”

Turple also stresses getting immunized for the flu before going to the States and remembering to cover up from the sun.

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