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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.

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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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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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Cleaner Stoves To Reduce Global Warming

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

The use of polluting fuel-burning stoves by half the world’s population – including 80 percent of rural households – is a documented contributor to a host of health problems. Poor households not only have to contend with the ill health effects of dirty water and poor sanitation, the fumes from burning dung, wood, coal or crop leftovers lead to the deaths of more than 1.6 million people a year from breathing toxic indoor air (WHO).

The polluting stoves have also been identified as major contributors to climate change. The soot from the fires produces black carbon, now considered a significant contributor to global warming. While carbon dioxide is the number one contributor to rising global temperatures, black carbon is second, causing 18 percent of warming.

Getting black carbon levels down is being seen as a relatively inexpensive way to reduce global warming while gaining another good: cleaner air for poor households. The soot only hangs around in the atmosphere for a few weeks while carbon dioxide lingers for years, so the impact can be seen quickly.

A flurry of initiatives across the South are now designing, developing and testing clean-burning stoves to tackle this problem. The number of initiatives is impressive (see list of clean-burning stove initiatives by country: http://www.bioenergylists.org/en/country), but the test will be who can develop stoves that poor households will actually use and find the right model to distribute them to half the world’s population.

In India, the Surya cookstove project is test marketing six prototypes of clean burning stoves with poor households. Developed by the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, the six stoves are still undergoing field testing. Initial criticisms from users have focused on the stoves’ durability and overly clinical appearance.

Cost will be critical to success no matter what the stove’s final design: “I’m sure they’d look nice, but I’d have to see them, to try them,” Chetram Jatrav in Kohlua, central India, told the New York Times. As her three children coughed, she continued that she would like a stove that “made less smoke and used less fuel” but she cannot afford one.

Envirofit India – founded in 2007 as a branch of the US-based Envirofit International – is at a more advanced stage, already selling clean-burning stoves across India and the Philippines. It claims to have already sold over 10,000 stoves to poor households.

They have developed high-quality stoves in four models: the B-110 Value Single Pot (a simple stove for one pot), S-2100 Deluxe Single Pot (a sturdier design), S-4150 Deluxe Double Pot (two burning surfaces), S-4150 Deluxe Double Pot with Chimney. They have been designed to be visually appealing for households – in tasteful colours like blue and green – and using high quality engineering for durability.

They have been tested by engineers at the Colorado State University’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory and are certified for design and environmental standards.

The stoves are on sale in 1,000 villages in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh. The stoves have already successfully undergone pilot testing in Chitradurga and Dharmapuri. The manufacturer uses a network of dealers, distributors, village entrepreneurs and not-for-profit organizations to make the stoves commercially available for purchase. They hope to have 1,500 dealer outlets by the end of 2009.

“Envirofit clean cookstoves have received an overwhelming reception in India,” said Ron Bills, chairman and chief executive officer at Envirofit. “Our cookstoves are not only meticulously engineered to reduce toxic emissions and fuel use; they are also aesthetically designed and durable. Envirofit takes great pride in offering high-quality, affordable products to typically underserved global markets.”

But once again price comes up as a major issue: Envirofit’s stoves are designed to last five years, and thus they cost more than other stoves for sale in India. An Envirofit stove costs between 500 rupees (US $10) to 2,000 rupees (US $40): existing stoves sell for between 250 rupees (US $5) and 1,000 rupees (US $20), and last a year at most.

As one blogger complained: “The envirofit stoves … are way beyond the capacity of the low income households who form 65% of the Indian population. Only the 10% of the middle to higher income segment can go for them… perhaps the price can be brought down by reducing the showy part of the stove to help the poorest.”

Envirofit is part of the Shell Foundation’s Breathing Space program, established to tackle indoor air pollution from cooking fires in homes and hopes to sell and place 10 million clean-burning stoves in five countries over the next five years.

Resources

A video shows the installation of clean-burning stoves in Peru, South America. It also has links to many other videos of clean-burning stoves and how to build and install them.
Website: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=neZZvvnL8Lg

Designing a clean-burning dung fuel stove.
Website: www.bioenergylists.org

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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