Fertilizing Europe’s Circular Economy

Productive fields in Altenhasungen, Hesse, Germany, June 18, 2008 (Photo by Evelyn Berg) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Productive fields in Altenhasungen, Hesse, Germany, June 18, 2008 (Photo by Evelyn Berg) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, December 13, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – Negotiators from the European Parliament, Council and Commission have just reached political agreement on new EU rules for fertilizers proposed by the Commission in 2016 as a key deliverable of the Circular Economy Package.

The Package consists of a 2015 EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy that establishes a concrete and ambitious program of action, with measures covering the whole cycle – from production and consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials and a revised legislative proposal on waste.

The proposals will contribute to “closing the loop”of product lifecycles through greater recycling and re-use, and bring benefits for both the environment and the economy, the Commission said in a statement.

The new rules will facilitate opening the EU Single Market to organic and waste-based fertilizers.

The agreement also introduces limits for cadmium and other contaminants in phosphate fertilizers. This is intended to help reduce waste, energy consumption and environmental damage, as well as limit the risks to human health.

Jyrki Katainen, vice president for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, said, “Unlike traditional fertilizers which are highly energy intensive and rely on scarce natural resources, bio-waste fertilizers have the potential to make farming more sustainable.”

“These new rules will also help to create a new market for reused raw materials in line with our efforts to build a circular economy in Europe,” said Katainen.

Spreading fertilizer, Bergen, The Netherlands, March 21, 2009 (Photo by Jon Anderson) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Spreading fertilizer, Bergen, The Netherlands, March 21, 2009 (Photo by Jon Anderson) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Under the 2015 Circular Economy Action Plan, the Commission called for a revision of the EU regulation on fertilizers to facilitate the EU-wide recognition of organic and waste-based fertilizers.

The sustainable use of fertilizers made from organic waste material in agriculture could reduce the need for mineral-based fertilizers, the production of which has negative environmental impacts, and depends on imports of phosphate rock, a limited resource.

Under current rules, only conventional, non-organic fertilizers, typically extracted from mines or produced chemically, can freely be traded across the EU. Innovative fertilizing products produced from organic materials are outside the scope of the current fertilizers Regulation.

Their access to the EU Single Market is therefore dependent on mutual recognition between Member States, which can be difficult due to diverging national rules. Such products have a competitive disadvantage which hampers innovation and investment in the circular economy.

The Commission points to estimates that show if more bio-waste was recycled, it could replace up to 30 percent of non-organic fertilizers.

Currently, the EU imports around six million tonnes of phosphates a year but could replace up to 30 percent of this total by extraction from sewage sludge, biodegradable waste, meat and bone meal or manure.

Elżbieta Bieńkowska, commissioner for internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs, said, “The new EU rules will open up new market opportunities for innovative companies producing organic fertilizers and create new local jobs, provide wider choice for our farmers and protect our soils and food. At the same time we are also making sure that our European industry will be able to adapt to the proposed changes.”

Mineral fertilizer is defined by a set of numbers with hyphens describing the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, the NPK ratio. 15-15-15 fertilizer is a fertilizer that contains equal parts of each element. November 1, 2012 (Photo by International Institute of Tropical Agriculture) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

Mineral fertilizer is defined by a set of numbers with hyphens describing the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, the NPK ratio. 15-15-15 fertilizer is a fertilizer that contains equal parts of each element. November 1, 2012 (Photo by International Institute of Tropical Agriculture) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

The agreement on the Fertilizing Products Regulation will open the market for new and innovative organic fertilizers by defining the conditions under which these can access the EU Single Market.

The Regulation will provide common rules on safety, quality and labelling requirements for all fertilizers to be traded freely across the EU.

Producers will need to demonstrate that their products meet those requirements before affixing the CE mark, a certification symbol that indicates conformity with health, safety, and environmental protection standards for products sold within the European Economic Area.

The Regulation for the first time introduces limits on toxic contaminants, including a new 60 mg/kg limit for cadmium which will be further reviewed four years after the date of application.

This is intended to guarantee a high level of soil protection and reduce health and environmental risks, while allowing producers to adapt their manufacturing process to comply with the new limits.

To encourage the use of even safer fertilizers, producers will also be able to use a low-cadmium label applicable to products with less than 20mg/kg cadmium content. These rules will affect those fertilizers that choose to affix CE marking.

A manufacturer who does not wish to CE-mark the product can choose to comply with national standards and sell the product to other EU countries based on the principle of mutual recognition.

On November 21 the industry group Fertilizers Europe released its Vision report defining the pathway for the evolution of the European mineral fertilizer industry to 2030.

The report, “Feeding Life 2030: The European Fertilizers Industry at the Crossroads between Nutrition and Energy,” lays forth a long-term vision for the industry.

The report aims at answering a key question – how to meet future food needs of a growing population in a more energy and environmentally efficient way, while at the same time meeting growing demand for clean energy and better use of resources.

Jacob Hansen, director general of Fertilizers Europe, said, “Under the right legislative framework, the fertilizer industry could play a vital role in the context of the EU’s ambition to lead sustainable agricultural production and to maintain a strong industrial base while at the same time shifting towards decarbonized economy.”

From the industry’s perspective, mineral fertilizers perform a fundamental role, feeding almost half of the global population. While globally undernourishment remains a major issue, Europe’s efforts are increasingly focused on enhancing the sustainability of agricultural practices.

“Digitalization of agriculture, new fertilizing products and better advice offers the prospect of meeting future food needs more sustainably. Applying more knowledge per hectare is what will drive the improvements in the fertilizer industry and in the entire agricultural sector,” said Hansen.

Feeding Life 2030 points out that the mineral fertilizer industry is a highly competitive global industry. “Large amounts of fertilizers are traded between continents and competition between producers is fierce. Policy-makers need therefore to pay attention to the competitive situation of the European industry,” for positive development to take place, the report states.

“Our Vision for the evolution of fertilizer industry is very ambitious. In order to deliver on its Vision, we call for a policy framework that supports farmers in optimizing the use of fertilizers, as well as enables the industry to continue to excel in the production of fertilizers while retaining its international competitiveness.”

The preliminary political agreement reached Wednesday by the European Parliament, Council and Commission, in so-called trialogue negotiations, has been confirmed by the Member States’ representatives and is now subject to formal approval by the European Parliament and Council.

Once approved, the Regulation will be directly applicable in all Member States and will become mandatory in 2022.              


Maxtraining

Climate Change Outlook: What Europeans Can Expect

UN Climate's top climate negotiators at the COP24 ministerial meeting in Krakow on October 23, 2018, Patricia Espinosa center in lavender. (Photo courtesy COP24) Posted for media use.

UN Climate’s top climate negotiators at the COP24 ministerial meeting in Krakow on October 23, 2018, Patricia Espinosa center in lavender. (Photo courtesy COP24) Posted for media use.

By Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, November 20, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – If global warming rises more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels and no adequate adaptation measures are taken, Europe is at risk of being exposed to more frequent, intense extreme weather conditions with serious economic impacts.

This outlook results from a detailed assessment of the impact of climate change on Europe’s economy, society and environment made by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the Commission’s science and knowledge hub and released on Friday.

The assessment, written by Ignacio Pérez Domínguez and Thomas Fellmann, shows that under a high warming (above 2°C) scenario:

  • Rising temperatures and increased hot spells could result in an additional 132,000 yearly heat fatalities, while labor productivity could drop by 10-15 percent in some southern European countries;
  • Shifts in flower/plant blooming, growing season and changes in soil water content will affect agriculture productivity and habitat suitability, with a potential doubling of the arid climate zone;
  • Sea levels will rise along Europe’s coastlines, resulting in a five-fold increase in coastal flood damages;
  • Three times more people will be exposed to river floods, while river flood damages could rise from 5.3 billion Euro/year to 17.5 billion Euro/year.
  • Energy demand for heating will decrease, yet energy requirements for cooling spaces will rise rapidly;
  • Southern parts of Europe may face increasing water shortage and more droughts, whereas water resources will generally increase in northern Europe;

Most of these climate damages would be greatly reduced under a scenario that keeps warming below the 2°C threshold.

The Joint Research Centre PESETA III report is an agro-economic analysis of climate change impacts in Europe.

The PESETA (Projection of Economic impacts of climate change in Sectors of the European Union based on bottom-up Analysis) project responds to the need to provide quantitative modelling support to the European Commission services regarding the impacts of climate change in Europe.

It brings together experts in economics, biology, physics and engineering to calculate the physical impacts and economic costs of climate change in Europe.

Understanding the possible consequences of climate change is important to design adaptation policies that can help to minimize negative consequences and maximize positive effects.

The European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete is reaching out to other high-emitting countries to foster understanding of the EU’s climate control policies. He spoke at the Tsinghua University in Beijing on November 9, explaining European climate policy and what actions the EU is taking to avert the most dangerous effects of rising temperatures.

Currently, the European Union is implementing its 2020 climate and energy package, said Arias Cañete. Agreed by EU leaders in 2007, this package has three key targets:

  • a 20 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to 1990
  • a 20 percent share of renewable energies in overall EU energy consumption by 2020
  • increasing energy efficiency in the EU so as to achieve the goal of saving 20 percent of the EU’s energy consumption

Southern Europe to Be Hardest Hit

It appears that the Mediterranean area will be the most impacted by climate change.

The PESETA III assessment shows that in several impact areas there is a clear geographical north-south divide; countries in southern Europe will be more affected by global warming than those in the north.

This is clearly the case for heat-related deaths, water resources, habitat loss, energy demand for cooling and forest fires.

Counting the Cost

The assessment analyzes the impact of climate change for 11 different impact categories: coastal floods, river floods, droughts, agriculture, energy, transport, water resources, habitat loss, forest fires, labor productivity, and heat-related mortality.

For most of these, the report compares a scenario where actions to limit warming to 2°C are successful, compared to one where they are not.

From the economic perspective, the losses associated with heat-related mortality represent “a very significant share of damages” in a high warming scenario.

Other shares, in order of importance, are: coastal flooding, labor productivity, agriculture and river flooding.

As the coverage of potential impacts is incomplete – damages due to possible climate tipping points and ecosystems services losses are not considered – the sum of the economic damage estimates is not equal to the total economic costs of climate change in Europe. The sum of the economic damage estimates is likely to be higher, the authors say.

The PESETA III report also estimates how climate change impacts in the rest of the world could affect Europe, considering four impact areas – residential energy demand, river flooding, labor productivity and agriculture.

The transboundary effect of these four impact categories was estimated to increase the EU welfare loss by 20 percent in a high warming scenario.

The authors stress that the boundary effects could be far greater when all potential impacts of climate change are considered.

In 2015, the world’s governments adopted the Paris Agreement on climate change, the first-ever universal and legally binding agreement to limit global warming, and deal with its dangerous impacts.

The Paris Agreement emerged after the world’s scientists concluded that global warming is happening, and that human activity – greenhouse gas emissions from our economies and industries – is the key cause.

Now, three years later, global negotiations are taking place to make sure that the Paris Agreement is properly implemented. In December, world leaders will gather in Katowice, Poland for the United Nations COP24 conference on climate, where they intend to finalize the Paris Agreement’s rules and guidelines.

Commitments Fall Short of 1.5°Celsius Goal

Miguel Arias Cañete Parlement européen Strasbourg 26 nov 2014 (Photo by Claude TRUONG-NGOC) Creative Commons license via Wikipedia

Miguel Arias Cañete Parlement européen Strasbourg 26 nov 2014
(Photo by Claude TRUONG-NGOC) Creative Commons license via Wikipedia

The 10-day COP24, which opens December 2, has a new global scientific assessment to guide policy-making and add urgency to negotiations. Released in October, the new special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), shows that a temperature rise of 1.5 degrees would avoid some of the worst climate impacts, and reduce the likelihood of extreme weather events.

But the IPCC report warns that current climate commitments are not enough to achieve this goal.

The IPCC report shows that, “… 1.5 degrees is achievable – as long as we act urgently, and use every tool at our disposal,” Commissioner Arias Cañete told his audience in Beijing. “So,” he said, “it is clear that we must work together and raise the collective global ambition.”

At the opening of a ministerial meeting in Krakow on October 23, designed to prepare for the outcome of COP24, the Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change Patricia Espinosa outlined her expectations for the conference.

“The Special Report by the IPCC unequivocally states that the world is not on track to limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C, as outlined in the Paris Agreement – and the window to achieve this is closing rapidly. We’re almost out of time,” Espinosa declared.

“It’s not rhetoric – it’s reality,” she said. “It’s not politics – it’s science.”

“And it’s not a suggestion – it’s a warning … a warning that we are in danger of running out of time before runaway climate change is beyond our control.”

“This is frightening – for everyone,” Espinosa said. “And people throughout the world have made it very clear. They expect their representatives – you – to do something about it.”

Espinosa, who hails from Brazil, is urging all nations to get to work immediately to begin resolving the climate crisis.

Success at COP24 means finalizing the Paris Agreement Work Program– period,” she said. “We no longer have the luxury of time, nor do we have the luxury of endless negotiations.”

“Let us never forget,” Espinosa told the ministerial meeting, “that climate change, if left unaddressed, will take almost every single challenge humanity faces and make it worse.”

“It will destabilize the global economy, which will affect all nations,” she warned. “By 2030, the loss of productivity caused by a hotter world could cost the global economy US$2 trillion.”

“It will create conflict over resources and impact migration. It’s estimated that climate change could displace between 50 million and 200 million people by 2050. Worse, it will result in incredible suffering and hardship for people and societies throughout the world,” Espinosa

But addressing climate change, and committing to a low-emissions future—one that is more resilient and sustainable—offers incredible opportunity.

It’s not just an opportunity to do the right thing—it’s an opportunity to completely transform the way we produce and consume, and the way we live.

And that means new markets, new businesses, and, for so many people throughout the world, new jobs…quality jobs…a just transition to a future that is just for all people.

Featured image source: Drought shrinks the reservoir at El Grado, a municipality located in the province of Huesca, Aragon, in northern Spain. August 2012 (Photo by Jorge Franganillo) Creative Commons license via Flickr


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Scientists Find 27 New Viruses in Bees

 A bee in the Agapostemon group of Western Hemisphere sweat bees, most of which are known as metallic green sweat bees for their color. Lakewood, California, April 13, 2018 (Photo by tdlucas5000) Creative Commons license via Flickr

A bee in the Agapostemon group of Western Hemisphere sweat bees, most of which are known as metallic green sweat bees for their color. Lakewood, California, April 13, 2018 (Photo by tdlucas5000) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis                                                                                                                           

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pennsylvania, July 12, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – An international team of researchers, led by scientists at Pennsylvania State University, has discovered evidence of 27 previously unknown viruses in bees. The finding could help scientists design strategies to prevent the spread of viral pathogens among these crucial pollinators.

“Although our study nearly doubles the number of described bee-associated viruses, there are undoubtedly many more viruses yet to be uncovered, both in well-studied regions and in understudied countries,” said co-author Zachary Fuller, a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University and a recent Penn State graduate.

To investigate viruses in bees, the team collected samples of DNA and RNA, which is responsible for the synthesis of proteins, from 12 bee species in nine countries across four continents and Oceania.

Next, they developed a novel high-throughput sequencing technique that efficiently detected both previously identified and 27 never-seen-before viruses belonging to at least six new families in a single experiment.

The results appear in the June 11, 2018 issue of the journal “Scientific Reports” under the title “Investigating the viral ecology of global bee communities with high-throughput metagenomics.

“Populations of bees around the world are declining, and viruses are known to contribute to these declines,” said co-author David Galbraith, a research scientist at Bristol Myers Squibb and a recent Penn State graduate.

Honey bees (Apis mellifera) Mwatate Sisal Plantation Dam, Kenya, June 13, 2013 (Photo by Peter Steward)

Honey bees (Apis mellifera) Mwatate Sisal Plantation Dam, Kenya, June 13, 2013 (Photo by Peter Steward)

Since the late 1990s, beekeepers around the world have observed the sudden disappearance of bees, and report unusually high rates of decline in honey bee colonies.

Bees are key to food production because they pollinate crops. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, spices and edible oils – a third of the food we eat depends on pollinating insects.

But now, due to the work of this team of scientists, there is a cheaper and easier way to identify bee viruses. Because the cost of high-throughput sequencing continues to decrease, Fuller says the team’s approach provides an inexpensive and efficient technique for other researchers to identify additional unknown viruses in bee populations around the world.

“Typically, researchers would have to develop labor-intensive molecular assays to test for the presence of specific viruses,” said Fuller. “With our method, they can sequence all the viruses present in a sample without having any prior knowledge about what might be there.”

In their article, the authors wrote, “…despite the importance of bees as pollinators of flowering plants in agricultural and natural landscapes and the importance of viruses to bee health, our understanding of bee viruses is surprisingly limited: despite the diversity of bee species and their worldwide distribution, the vast majority of the studies examining bee pathogens have focused on western honey bees (Apis mellifera) populations in North America and Europe.”

Among the new viruses the team identified was one that is similar to a virus that infects plants.

“It is possible that bees may acquire viruses from plants, and could then spread these viruses to other plants, posing a risk to agricultural crops,” said co-author Christina Grozinger, professor of entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State.

“We need to do more experiments to see if the viruses are actively infecting the bees – because the viruses could be on the pollen they eat, but not directly infecting the bees – and then determine if they are having negative effects on the bees and crops,” explained Grozinger.

“Some viruses may not cause symptoms or only cause symptoms if the bees are stressed in other ways,” she said.

Beyond identifying the new viruses, the team also found that some of the viruses exist in multiple bee species – such as in honey bees and in bumble bees – suggesting that these viruses may freely circulate within different bee populations.

“This finding highlights the importance of monitoring bee populations brought into the United States due to the potential for these species to transmit viruses to local pollinator populations,” said Galbraith. “We have identified several novel viruses that can now be used in screening processes to monitor bee health across the world.”

According to Galbraith, the study represents the largest effort to identify novel pathogens in global bee samples and greatly expands our understanding of the diversity of viruses found in bee communities throughout the world.

“Our protocol has provided a foundation for future studies to continue to identify novel pathogens that infect global bee populations using an inexpensive method for the detection of novel viruses,” he said.

This new method comes not a moment too soon, as bee viruses can spread quickly.

“Due to increased globalization,” the authors state in their paper, “it is likely only a matter of time before these viruses and other pathogens and parasites are spread to new regions. For example, recently a colony of an exotic stingless bee species (Plebeia frontalis) was found to be established in California, potentially harboring pathogens that could be spread to other bee species within the region.”

The National Geographic Society and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service supported this research.

Authors on the paper include: David Galbraith, Allyson Ray, Maryann Frazier, J. Francisco Iturralde Martinez, Harland Patch, Cristina Rosa, Joyce Sakamoto, Scott Stanley, Anthony Vaudo, and Christina Grozinger, Pennsylvania  State University; Zachary Fuller, Columbia University; Axel Brockmann, National Centre for Biological Sciences, India; Mary Gikungu, National Museums of Kenya; Karen Kapheim, Utah State University and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama; Jeffrey Kerby, Dartmouth College; Sarah Kocher, Princeton University; Oleksiy Losyev, National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine; and Elliud Muli, International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology, Kenya.

Featured Image: Honey bee (Apis mellifera) on a flower in northeast England, UK, July 23, 2016 (Photo by Joe Devereux)


MAXIMPACT_TRAINING

Climate Change Could Shock Global Food Markets

A pile of corn purchased at Kurtkoy Market, Istanbul, Turkey, June 19, 2009 (Photo by CCarlstead) Creative Commons license via Flickr

A pile of corn purchased at Kurtkoy Market, Istanbul, Turkey, June 19, 2009 (Photo by CCarlstead) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

SEATTLE, Washington, June 13, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – The warming climate is likely to result in increased volatility of grain prices, maize production shocks and reduced food security, finds new research published Monday in the U.S. journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

Volatility in the global grain market creates uncertainty for farmers and agribusinesses and can lead to price spikes that reduce access to food, warn researchers at the University of Washington, Stanford University and the University of Minnesota.

Corn, or maize, is grown more widely than any other crop. Used in food, cooking oil, livestock feed and vehicle fuel, corn is essential to the lives of billions of people. Price spikes could throw poorer people into hunger.

In their study titled, “Future warming increases probability of globally synchronized maize production shocks,” lead author Michelle Tigchelaar and colleagues estimated the probability of such shocks in maize production under future climate warming.

The study used global climate projections with maize growth models to confirm previous research showing that warmer temperatures will negatively affect corn crops.

“Previous studies have often focused on just climate and plants, but here we look at climate, food and international markets,” said Tigchelaar, a UW postdoctoral researcher in atmospheric sciences.

“We find that as the planet warms, it becomes more likely for different countries to simultaneously experience major crop losses, which has big implications for food prices and food security,” she cautioned.

Under 2°C of global warming, estimated mean yields declined, and yield variability increased worldwide, particularly in the United States, Eastern Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa.

The top four corn-exporting countries – the United States, Brazil, Argentina, and Ukraine – collectively account for 87 percent of global corn exports. Currently, the probability of all four of these countries experiencing simultaneous yield losses greater than 10 percent of the present-day mean yield is negligible.

But the authors estimate that the probability of such simultaneous losses might increase to seven percent under

2°C warming and to 86 percent under 4°C warming, triggering a higher frequency of international price spikes.

“When people think about climate change and food, they often initially think about drought,” Tigchelaar said, “but it’s really extreme heat that’s very detrimental for crops. Part of that is because plants grown at a higher temperature demand more water, but it’s also that extreme heat itself negatively affects crucial stages in plant development, starting with the flowering stage and ending with the grain-filling stage.”

The authors write that their results “underscore the urgency of investments in breeding for heat tolerance.”

“Even with optimistic scenarios for reduced emissions of greenhouse gases, results show that the volatility in year-to-year maize production in the U.S. will double by the middle of this century, due to increasing average growing season temperature,” said co-author David Battisti, a UW professor of atmospheric sciences.

“The same will be true in the other major maize-exporting countries,” he said. “Climate change will cause unprecedented volatility in the price of maize, domestically and internationally.”

The authors say their results emphasize the importance of aggressive carbon dioxide emissions mitigation and also breeding crops for improved heat tolerance. Efforts to pursue new agricultural technology to ensure food security for a growing global population would be worthwhile, they say.

 Vegetable display at the farmers' market, Hollywood, Florida, April 29, 2017 (Photo by Yellow Green Farmers Market) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Vegetable display at the farmers’ market, Hollywood, Florida, April 29, 2017 (Photo by Yellow Green Farmers Market) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Vegetables Shrivel as Climate Heats Up

A separate study, also published Monday in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” finds that the global production of vegetables and legumes could be “significantly reduced through predicted future changes to the environment.”

Led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), this research is the first to systematically examine how increases in temperature and reduced water availability could affect the production and nutritional quality of common crops such as tomatoes, leafy vegetables and pulses.

If no action is taken to reduce the negative impacts on agricultural yields, the LSHTM researchers estimate that the environmental changes predicted for the second half of this century in water availability and ozone concentrations would reduce average yields of vegetables by 35 percent and and legumes by nine percent.

In hot settings such as Southern Europe and large parts of Africa and South Asia, increased air temperatures would reduce average vegetable yields by an estimated 31 percent.

The researchers conducted a systematic review of all the available evidence from experimental studies published since 1975 on the impacts of changes in environmental exposures on the yield and nutritional quality of vegetables and legumes. Experiments were conducted in 40 countries.

Previous research has shown that raised levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide could increase crop yields, but this study identified for the first time that these potential yield benefits are likely to be canceled out in the presence of simultaneous changes in other environmental exposures.

Dr. Pauline Scheelbeek, lead author at LSHTM, said, “Our study shows that environmental changes such as increased temperature and water scarcity may pose a real threat to global agricultural production, with likely further impacts on food security and population health.

“Vegetables and legumes are vital components of a healthy, balanced and sustainable diet and nutritional guidelines consistently advise people to incorporate more vegetables and legumes into their diet,” said Dr. Scheelbeek. “Our new analysis suggests, however, that this advice conflicts with the potential impacts of environmental changes that will decrease the availability of these important crops unless action is taken.”

To lessen the risks that future environmental changes pose to these crops, researchers say that innovations to improve agricultural production must be a priority, including the development of new crop varieties as well as enhanced agricultural management and mechanization.

The LSHTM study was funded by the Wellcome Trust as part of its Our Planet, Our Health program.

Dr. Howie Frumkin, who heads Our Planet, Our Health at Wellcome, said, Improvements in agricultural technology have dramatically boosted the world’s food production over the last 80 or so years. But we mustn’t be complacent. Environmental changes, including more chaotic weather patterns and a warming climate, threaten our ability to feed the world’s people.”

“Some of the most important foods, and some of the world’s most vulnerable people, are at highest risk. This research is a wake-up call, underlining the urgency of tackling climate change and of improving agricultural practices,” said Frumkin.

The authors acknowledge the limitations of the study, including the shortage of evidence on the impact of environmental changes on the nutritional quality of vegetables and legumes. The research team identified this as an area requiring more research.

Professor Alan Dangour, senior author at LSHTM, said, “We have brought together all the available evidence on the impact of environmental change on yields and quality of vegetables and legumes for the first time.”

“Our analysis suggests that if we take a business as usual approach, environmental changes will substantially reduce the global availability of these important foods. Urgent action needs to be taken,” Dangour demanded, “including working to support the agriculture sector to increase its resilience to environmental changes, and this must be a priority for governments across the world.”

Featured images: A cornfield flourishes in Pennsylvania, July 18, 2010 (Photo by fishhawk) Creative Commons license via Flickr


Live Online Training

EU: Organics Springing Up, Farm Incomes Trending Down

Organic salad greens (Photo courtesy European Commission) Posted for media use

Organic salad greens (Photo courtesy European Commission) Posted for media use

By Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, May 24, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – The European Council Tuesday adopted new rules for organic farming, clearing the final hurdle for the modernization and harmonization of organic production both within the European Union and in non-EU countries.

EU-wide rules covering the whole EU organic sector will apply – compared to an a la carte system of exceptions in the past. The new rules will replace today’s 60-plus different standards that apply to imported organic foods.

Any agri-food product carrying the EU organic logo will have the same production and quality standards, whether produced in the European Union or imported from other countries.

European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan said, “The organic sector has been steadily increasing in importance – by 125 percent over the past 10 years alone – but that growth was compromised by rules that were no longer fit-for-purpose.”

“The European organic sector is on an upward trajectory,” said Hogan, “and this regulation will support the sector’s growth by providing an appropriate legislation framework.”

The new rules will enter into force on January 1, 2021, so organic producers, operators and trade partners now have two-and-a-half years to adapt to the new legislative framework, which Hogan says is also designed to protect the interests of the European consumer.

“Organic farmland has more than doubled in the last decade and is still growing. Thanks to the rules we have adopted today, the organic sector will continue to thrive and consumers can trust that the organic products they buy are of the highest quality,” said Rumen Porodzanov, minister of agriculture, food and forestry of the Republic of Bulgaria and president of the Council.

Organic farming bans the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and focuses on the use of natural resources and cycles to support sustainable crop production. This is beneficial for both human health and the environment.

Typical organic farming practices include:

  • Wide crop rotation for an efficient use of on-site resources
  • Strict limits on chemical synthetic pesticide and synthetic fertilizer use, livestock antibiotics, food additives and processing aids
  • Absolute prohibition of genetically modified organisms
  • Choosing plant and animal species that are resistant to disease and adapted to local conditions
  • Raising livestock in free-range, open-air systems and providing them with organic feed
  • Taking advantage of on-site resources, such as livestock manure for fertilizer or feed produced on the farm

Organic food production and consumption is rapidly gaining popularity as a way of life across the European Union. Eurostat data shows that the EU-28 had in 2015 a total area of 11.1 million hectares cultivated as organic, more than doubled from 5.0 million in 2002.

During the last decade, the EU’s organically cultivated area has increased by about 500,000 hectares each year.

Yet the whole organic area, 185,000 farms across Europe, represents only 6.2 percent of the total active farming area in Europe. Roughly 306,500 organic producers, processors and importers were registered in the EU-28 in 2015.

Many of the current rules are more than 20 years old, so the European Union updated the rules in 2017 to help the organic sector to grow faster.

Benefits for consumers:

Certainty that all agri-food products bearing the EU organic logo sold in the EU, whether imported from third countries or produced in the EU, meet the same quality standards.

Reinforcement of precautionary measures taken by farmers to reduce risk of contamination by pesticides.

Contributing to global goals on climate change, biodiversity and environmental protection.

Benefits for farmers:

A level playing field: rules apply also to farmers from non-EU countries, who export organic products to the EU market

Rules cover new products such as salt, cork and essential oils, and it will be possible in the future to add new products to respond to consumer demands.

Simplification for farmers includes group certification for small farms, reducing certification costs.

The new rules will apply also to seeds and processed agricultural products used as food and feed.

This logo identifies organic produce in the European Union. (Photo courtesy European Commission) Posted for media use

This logo identifies organic produce in the European Union. (Photo courtesy European Commission) Posted for media use

Organic Imports Electronically Certified

A new system of electronic certification to better monitor imports of organic products took effect on October 19, 2017, making the EU a global leader in traceability and collection of reliable data on trade of these products.

The e-certification system is expected to enhance food safety provisions, reduce potential fraud, reduce the administrative burden for operators and authorities, and provide more comprehensive statistical data on organic imports.

Hogan said, “Our commitment to stringent certification and inspection measures is an important component in the EU’s food safety standards. These high standards have allowed us to become the best address for food in the world, but we must always strive to find new and better ways to do even more.”

He says the electronic certification will improve the traceability of organic products, facilitating the rapid reaction to health threats by tracing the movements of consignments and facilitating the risk management of contaminated foods.

European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan (Photo courtesy EPP Group / European Parliament) Creative Commons license via Flickr

European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan (Photo courtesy EPP Group / European Parliament) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Common Agricultural Policy Changes Coming

All this is happening as EU lawmakers are preparing a new budget for the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

On May 2, the European Commission presented its proposal for the Multiannual Financial Framework for the 2021-2027 period. Under this proposal, the CAP will have €365 billion funds to manage, a five percent budget cut.

Despite the five percent cut, the Commission maintains it has strengthened the direct payments pillar to ensure farmers’ income and leave smallholders unaffected.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Hogan said he is aware of farmers’ concerns about direct payments as crucial income support.

“I have listened very carefully to these messages and have therefore decided to prioritize the protection of direct payments in the new budget,” said Hogan. “As a result, direct payments will not fall by more than four percent in any member state.”

At a news conference, Commissioner Hogan said 16 member states will see a 3.1 percent reduction of direct payments. In another six member states, the reductions will be below this percentage, while five member states, including Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, will see an increase.

In Romania, Slovakia and Portugal there will be no decrease, while in Bulgaria direct payments will decrease by one percent.

But for rural development, the Commission proposed a 10 percent cut; it will be up to the member states to cover this gap.

“If a member state decides to move on to cover the gap, there will be no cut in rural development and farmers won’t be affected,” the Commissioner explained.

The Commission also wants a “more balanced distribution of payments” through compulsory capping at the farm level or payments decreasing with farm size.

The payments for each farmer will be capped at €60,000 while the savings will be redistributed to smaller farmers.

“This means support will be redistributed towards medium-sized and smaller farms,” said Hogan.

The EU farmers’ and cooperatives’ associations, Copa and Cogeca, disagree with any proposals to cut CAP spending in the future EU budget.

Copa President Joachim Rukwied told Euractiv, “Farmers’ incomes are already 40 percent below average EU earnings in others sectors of the economy. The proposed budget cuts threaten not only farmers’ livelihoods and vast parts of Europe’s rural areas but also the delivery of the EU’s environmental and social goals.”

Cogeca President Thomas Magnusson said the current budget costs each EU citizen less than a cup of coffee a day and in return ensures high quality, safe, nutritious food for 500 million consumers and contributes to environmental protection, growth and jobs.

“With the world population expected to grow and with the agriculture sector facing increasing challenges,” said Magnusson, “now is not the time to cut back on expenditure and jeopardize the multiple benefits of agriculture.”

While capping payments to farmers, the Commission has also decided to earmark €10 billion in Horizon Europe for research and innovation in food, agriculture, rural development and the bioeconomy.

EU Food Policy Missing in Action

Friends of the Earth Europe has today issued a new analysis of the EU’s food and farming system that concludes, “The European Union has no consistent, coherent or complete food policy to deal with the challenges and expectations.”

The new study was written by the University of Pisa and commissioned by Friends of the Earth Europe, the European Public Health Alliance, IFOAM EU  and Slow Food.

The report, “A transition towards sustainable food systems in Europe,“finds that “the lack of any overarching framework for food policy in the EU means that the current food and farming system is neither ethical nor resilient enough to cope with future challenges and public health is not being protected.”

Professor Gianluca Brunori of the University of Pisa said, “We assessed 10 different EU policies to judge how they contributed to a sustainable food and farming system. Available evidence shows that there are many inconsistencies, incoherencies or gaps. These should be addressed through an overarching policy framework, able to balance a mix of demand and supply side policy instruments, as well as food environment-oriented ones.”

“We hope our research contributes to building a more ethical and resilient food system in the EU,” Brunori said.

This study comes just before a major participative forum May 29-30 in Brussels organized by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES Food). It is focused on exploring concrete tools to deliver sustainable food systems in Europe.

Stanka Becheva from Friends of the Earth Europe said, “The current approach to food and farming is a hodgepodge of incoherent and competing policies that damage public health, the environment and the welfare of the farming community. The reform of the Common Agricultural Policy must be used to step back from the vested agribusiness interests instead as an opportunity to start building an agroecological food system that is fit for the future.”

Featured Image: Caption: Organic grapes on a farm in Italy, October 2014 (Photo by Oreeko) Creative Commons license via Flickr


MaxTrain

Restoring Ruined Lands Reverses Trail of Misery

Excessive erosion on the U.S. Prairie. An inch of soil can take hundreds of years to form, but it can be swept away in a few seasons. Sediment loads in rivers silt up fish spawning beds, degrade drinking water quality, and cause silting of productive estuaries and reservoirs. March 27, 2017 (Photo by Rick Bohn / U.S. Fish & Wwildlife Service) Public domain

Excessive erosion on the U.S. Prairie. An inch of soil can take hundreds of years to form, but it can be swept away in a few seasons. Sediment loads in rivers silt up fish spawning beds, degrade drinking water quality, and cause silting of productive estuaries and reservoirs. March 27, 2017 (Photo by Rick Bohn / U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) Public domain

By Sunny Lewis

MEDELLIN, Colombia, April 3, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – Human activities are degrading lands throughout the world, undermining the well-being of billions of people, driving mass migrations and violent conflicts, species extinctions and climate change, finds the world’s first comprehensive evidence-based assessment of land degradation and restoration.

Land degradation is now reaching “critical” levels in many parts of the world, the report warns.

Produced by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the report was approved at the IPBES Plenary in Medellín in March by the 129 IPBES member governments.

The dangers of land degradation, together with a catalogue of corrective options, are detailed for policymakers in the three-year assessment report by more than 100 experts from 45 countries.

The report draws on more than 3,000 scientific, government, indigenous and local knowledge sources. Extensively peer-reviewed, it was improved by thousands of comments from over 200 external reviewers.

 Sir Robert Watson, who chairs the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, is a British chemist who has worked on atmospheric science issues - ozone depletion, global warming and paleoclimatology - since the 1980s. February 2018 (Photo by NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Sir Robert Watson, who chairs the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, is a British chemist who has worked on atmospheric science issues – ozone depletion, global warming and paleoclimatology – since the 1980s. February 2018 (Photo by NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet) Creative Commons license via Flickr

“Through this report, the global community of experts has delivered a frank and urgent warning, with clear options to address dire environmental damage,” said IPBES Chair Sir Robert Watson.

“Land degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change are three different faces of the same central challenge: the increasingly dangerous impact of our choices on the health of our natural environment,” he said.

“We cannot afford to tackle any one of these three threats in isolation. They each deserve the highest policy priority and must be addressed together,” urged Sir Robert.

Dangerous to Humans and Wildlife

“With negative impacts on the well-being of at least 3.2 billion people, the degradation of the Earth’s land surface through human activities is pushing the planet towards a sixth mass species extinction,” said Professor Robert Scholes of South Africa, co-chair of the assessment with Dr. Luca Montanarella of Italy.

Rapid expansion and unsustainable management of croplands and grazing lands is the most extensive global driver of land degradation, causing loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services – food security, water purification, the provision of energy and other essential contributions of nature.

“Avoiding, reducing and reversing this problem, and restoring degraded land, is an urgent priority to protect the biodiversity and ecosystem services vital to all life on Earth and to ensure human well-being,” said Scholes.

“Wetlands have been particularly hard hit,” said Dr. Montanarella. “We have seen losses of 87 percent in wetland areas since the start of the modern era – with 54 percent lost since 1900.”

Land degradation manifests in many ways: land abandonment, declining populations of wild species, loss of soil and soil health, rangelands and fresh water, as well as deforestation.

Less than one quarter of the Earth’s land surface remains free from substantial human impacts, the report finds. By 2050 it is estimated that this will drop to less than 10 percent – and this will be mostly in deserts, mountainous areas, tundra and polar areas unsuitable for human use or settlement.

Habitat loss through transformation, and the decline in suitability of the remaining habitat through degradation, are the leading causes of biodiversity loss.

Between 1970 and 2012, the index of the average population size of wild land-based species of vertebrates dropped by 38 percent and freshwater species by 81 percent.

Who’s to Blame?

Underlying drivers of land degradation, says the report, are the high-consumption lifestyles in the most developed economies, combined with rising consumption in developing and emerging economies.

High and rising per capita consumption, amplified by continued population growth in many parts of the world, can drive unsustainable levels of agricultural expansion, natural resource and mineral extraction, and urbanization – typically leading to greater levels of land degradation.

Every five percent loss of gross domestic product, itself partly caused by degradation, is associated with a 12 percent increase in the likelihood of violent conflict.

Crop and grazing lands now cover more than one third of the Earth’s land surface, with recent clearance of native habitats, including forests, grasslands and wetlands, concentrated in some of the most species-rich ecosystems on the planet.

The report says increasing demand for food and biofuels will likely lead to continued increase in nutrient and chemical inputs and a shift towards industrialized livestock production systems, with pesticide and fertilizer use expected to double by 2050.

Avoidance of further agricultural expansion into native habitats can be achieved through yield increases on the existing farmlands, shifts towards less land degrading diets, such as those with more plant-based foods and less animal protein from unsustainable sources, and reductions in food loss and waste.

Strong Links to Climate Change

The IPBES report finds that land degradation is a major contributor to climate change, with deforestation alone contributing about 10 percent of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.

Another major driver of the changing climate has been the release of carbon previously stored in the soil, with land degradation between 2000 and 2009 responsible for annual global emissions of up to 4.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Given the importance of soil’s carbon absorption and storage functions, the avoidance, reduction and reversal of land degradation could provide more than a third of the most cost-effective greenhouse gas mitigation activities needed by 2030 to keep global warming under the 2°C threshold targeted in the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Human Health and Water Stress

Four-fifths of the world’s population now lives in areas where there is a threat to water security.

Transformation of natural ecosystems to human use can increase the risk of human diseases such as Ebola, monkey pox and Marburg virus, some of which have become global health risks by bringing people into more frequent contact with pathogens capable of transferring from wild to human hosts.

Modifications in hydrological regimes affect the prevalence of pathogens and vents that spread disease.

Land degradation generally increases the number of people exposed to hazardous air, water and land pollution, particularly in developing countries, with the worst-off countries recording rates of pollution-related loss of life higher than those in wealthy countries, the assessment shows.

Land degradation generally harms psychological well-being by reducing benefits to mental balance, attention, inspiration and healing. It has particularly negative impacts on the mental health and spiritual well-being of indigenous peoples and local communities.

Land degradation, especially in coastal and riparian areas, increases the risk of storm damage, flooding and landslides, with high socio-economic and human costs.

Land restoration also can increase food and water security and contribute to the avoidance of conflict and migration.

Looking Ahead to 2050

“In just over three decades from now, an estimated four billion people will live in drylands,” said Scholes. “By then it is likely that land degradation, together with the closely related problems of climate change, will have forced 50-700 million people to migrate.”

“Decreasing land productivity also makes societies more vulnerable to social instability – particularly in dryland areas, where years with extremely low rainfall have been associated with an increase of up to 45 percent in violent conflict,” he said.

Dr. Montanarella forecast, “By 2050, the combination of land degradation and climate change is predicted to reduce global crop yields by an average of 10 percent, and by up to 50 percent in some regions.

She pinpointed the locations where the worst land degradation would occur. “In the future,” she said, “most degradation will occur in Central and South America, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia – the areas with the most land still remaining that is suitable for agriculture.”

The report also underlines the challenges that land degradation poses, and the importance of restoration, for key international development objectives, including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

“The greatest value of the assessment is the evidence that it provides to decision makers in government, business, academia and even at the level of local communities,” said Dr. Anne Larigauderie, executive secretary of IPBES.

“With better information, backed by the consensus of the world’s leading experts, we can all make better choices for more effective action,” she said.

Restoration Options Do Exist

The report points to successful examples of land restoration that are found in every ecosystem, and the many well-tested practices and techniques, both traditional and modern, that can avoid or reverse degradation.

In croplands, soil loss can be reduced and soil health improved with the use of salt tolerant crops, conservation agriculture and integrated crop, livestock and forestry systems.

On rangelands, traditional grazing, maintenance of appropriate fire regimes, and the reinstatement or development of local livestock management practices and institutions have proven effective.

Successful responses in wetlands include control over pollution sources, managing the wetlands as part of the landscape, and reflooding wetlands damaged by draining.

In urban areas, spatial planning, replanting with native species, the development of “green infrastructure” such as parks and riverways, remediation of contaminated soils and those sealed under asphalt, wastewater treatment and river channel restoration are identified as key options for action.


BUSINESS_SERVICES

Bees With Backpacks

A researcher from Vale Institute of Technology tags one of the sensor-carrying honey bees. Brazil, 2017 (Screengrab from video by Vale Institute of Technology) Posted for media use

A researcher from Vale Institute of Technology tags one of the sensor-carrying honey bees. Brazil, 2017 (Screen grab from video by Vale Institute of Technology) Posted for media use

By Sunny Lewis

SYDNEY, Australia, March 15, 2018 (Maximpact.com  News) – Thousands of honey bees are flying around Australia and Brazil with mini sensors on their backs as part of a world-first research program to monitor their movements.

The point is to capture and analyze swarm sensing data so that farmers and fruit growers can maximize the benefit they receive from this free pollination service, courtesy of the bees.

And it will allow beekeepers and farmers to monitor for any biosecurity risks.

The tiny backpacks are just a quarter of a centimeter square. The tiny radio frequency identification sensor works by recording whenever a bee carrying one passes a particular checkpoint.

The information is then sent remotely to a central location and the researchers in Australia and Brazil can build a comprehensive three-dimensional model and visualize how the bees move through their environment.

“We have already attached the micro-sensors to the backs of thousands of bees in Tasmania and the Amazon and we’re using the same surveillance technologies to monitor what each bee is doing, giving us a new view on bees and how they interact with their environment,” said CSIRO‘s Paulo de Souza.

“Once we have captured this information, we’ll be able to model it,” he said. “This will help us understand how to manage our landscapes in order to benefit insects like bees, as they play such a key role in our lives.”

Bees are the world’s most prolific pollinators of food crops. Because roughly one-third of all human food relies on pollination, bees contribute billions every year to the global economy. Healthy bees are a sign of a healthy agricultural industry.

But honey bee populations in many parts of the world are at risk from interacting factors such as agriculture intensification, bee pathogens, changes in bee food supplements and pesticides.

Of great biosecurity importance is the dreaded Varroa mite, a parasite that feeds on the blood of bees and transmits pathogens that kill off bee populations.

While Varroa mites have not appeared in Australia, there is a very real risk, now that Varroa mites have spread to Australia’s neighbors in New Zealand and Indonesia.

The international team from Australia and Brazil fitting the bees with sensors and managing the data that results, includes researchers from Brazil’s Vale Institute of Technology and Australia’s CSIRO, the agency of the Australian federal government responsible for scientific research in Australia.

Thousands of bees in Australia’s island state of Tasmania are already tagged with the mini sensors developed by CSIRO.

CSIRO’s Swarm Sensing Project is a partnership with the University of Tasmania and receives funding from Vale, a global mining company.

Working with their partners at the Vale Institute of Technology in Brazil, CSIRO has taken the technology to the Amazon, allowing the team to monitor and compare behavior between bee colonies in the two regions.

The CSIRO sensors, which one day may be used on fruit flies and mosquitoes, will be able to capture information about our world with unprecedented density and in locations not previously accessible.

The sensors are 2.5mm x 2.5mm in size and weigh about five milligrams each. A new generation as small as 1.5mm x 1.5mm is being designed. Smaller sensors will interfere less with the insect’s behavior.

The next generation of sensors will be even more advanced, says CSIRO. It will be able to generate power from insect movement and store the energy in batteries. It might even have tracking capability that will follow an insect’s movement in real-time.

Bees return to the same point time and again on a very predictable schedule. Any change in their behavior indicates a change in their environment.

If they can model the movements, the research team says it can recognize quickly when their activity shows variation and identify the cause.

In Brazil, Gustavo Pessim of Vale explained via video, “Basically, what we have is an electronic tag that we stick on the bee’s thorax.”

“Every time a bee passes through a system of antennas that we have here, a reading of this movement is made. This way we can keep track of each bee and is doing on any particular day and also what its life expectancy is.”

Pessim said, “We have a computer that controls RFID tags reading antennaeas. It’s a radio frequency technology. It’s a lot like the badge system we have for getting in and out of the company.”

Besides controlling the antennaes, the Vale system stores all information on the behavior of the bees. “Eventually,” said Pessim, “when we do data analysis we bring in another computer and collect the information with a network cable.”

The Amazon region has more than 200 species of bees with great variation in size, body shape and floral visitation patterns.

They marked them with microsensors and released them in the field to study their behavior. How far they fly, how they return.

Pessim calls this technology innovative “in the sense that a similar technology did not exist in terms of size and cost.”

“I am very proud to be part of this project because it combines science and technological innovations both in terms of electronic and biological development,” said Pessim. “We can put them together to improve the life of small local producers who will have an income improvement when we get the results of this experiment.”

Featured Image: Bee fitted with a tiny sensor less than a quarter of a centimeter square explores flowers. (Photo courtesy CSIRO) Posted for media use


WasteManagementAD

COP23 Fertilizes Climate-Smart Agriculture

COP23LeadersHighLevel

COP23 leaders, from left: UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa of Brazil; President Emmanuel Macron, France; Frank Bainimarama, prime minister of Fiji and COP 23 president; Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany; and UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the opening of the High-Level Segment of the conference, November 15, 2017 (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin) Posted for media use

By Sunny Lewis

BONN, Germany, November 21, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – New commitments and initiatives in the agriculture and water sectors were announced as nearly 200 countries gathered at the United Nations Climate Conference (COP23) hosted by the government of Fiji in Bonn, November 6-17.

Delegates made concrete progress on turning the historic 2015 Paris Agreement into action on the ground across the world, ahead of next year’s UN climate conference in Katowice, Poland.

COP23 delegates aimed at motivating greater climate action by public and private stakeholders as the Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, enables countries to combat climate change by limiting the rise of global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius and strive not to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels.

About one degree of that rise has already happened, increasing the pressure on governments and the private sector to progress further and faster to cut the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

For the first time in the history of UN climate negotiations, governments reached an agreement on agriculture that will help countries develop and implement new strategies to both reduce emissions from agriculture and build resilience to the effects of climate change.

“Agriculture is a key factor for the sustainability of rural areas, the responsibility for food security and its potential to offer climate change solutions is enormous,” said Christian Schmidt, Germany’s federal minister of food and agriculture.

Investing more quickly and broadly in agricultural climate action and to support the sustainable livelihoods of small-scale farmers will unlock much greater potential to curb emissions and protect people against climate change, sector leaders and experts said.

New COP23 initiatives include a US$400 million fund established by the Government of Norway and the corporation Unilever for public and private investment in business models that combine investments in high productivity agriculture, smallholder inclusion and forest protection.

The European Investment Bank will provide US$75 million for a new US$405 million investment program by the Water Authority of Fiji. The plan will strengthen resilience of water distribution and wastewater treatment following Cyclone Winston, the world’s second strongest storm ever recorded, which hit Fiji in February 2016.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development signed up to free US$37.6 million of GCF grant financing in the US$243.1 million Saïss Water Conservation Project to make Moroccan agriculture more resilient.

The nonprofit World Resources Institute announced a landmark US$2.1 billion of private investment to restore degraded lands in Latin America and the Caribbean through Initiative 20×20.

“Climate change is a fundamental threat to the Sustainable Development Goal 2 that aims to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition,” said José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)  at a high-level event on hunger at the conference.

“To achieve SDG2 and effectively respond to climate change, we require a transformation of our agriculture sectors and food systems,” he said.

According to FAO’s “State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017” report, hunger has grown for the first time in over a decade, mainly due to conflicts and climate change. An estimated 815 million people are now hungry.

Extreme climate impacts come down hard on small-scale farmers and pastoralists as well as fishing and forest communities, who still provide the bulk of the planet’s food.

Supporting these communities with innovative solutions to reduce their emissions and protect their communities meets many of the objectives of every one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Over 70 percent of the world’s extreme poor live in rural areas. They are also the most vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition, natural resource scarcity, conflict, and climate impacts.

“The rural poor are part of a comprehensive response to climate change,” said da Silva. “They are key agents of change who need to be strengthened in their roles as stewards of biodiversity, natural resources and vital ecosystem services.”

Requests to direct more resources to the agriculture sector as a key strategy to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development were made during Agriculture Action Day November 10.

“Countries now have the opportunity to transform their agricultural sectors to achieve food security for all through sustainable agriculture and strategies that boost resource-use efficiency, conserve and restore biodiversity and natural resources, and combat the impacts of climate change,” said René Castro, FAO assistant-director general.

In the livestock sector, for example, FAO estimates that emissions could be readily reduced by about 30 percent with the adoption of best practices.

At COP23, the FAO released a new “Sourcebook on Climate-Smart Agriculture,” which recommends scaling up public and private climate finance flows to agriculture, spurring public-private partnerships, strengthening a multi-sector and multi-stakeholder dialogue, investing in knowledge and information, and building capacity to address barriers to climate action.

The book features knowledge and stories about on-the-ground projects to guide policymakers and program managers to make the agricultural sectors more sustainable and productive, while contributing to food security and lower carbon intensity.

The COP23 meeting agreed that land needs to be managed in ways to increase soil carbon, particularly in grasslands, and that robust protocols for assessing and monitoring carbon stocks need to be developed with stakeholders.

Rehabilitating agricultural and degraded soils can remove up to 51 billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere, according to some estimates.

For the livestock sector, FAO estimates that emissions could be readily reduced by about 30 percent with the adoption of best practices.

Tom Driscoll, director of conservation policy with the U.S. National Farmers Union, says, “Farming is one of the few professions with the ability to not only reduce ongoing greenhouse gas emissions, but to also remove existing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. National Farmers Union supports policies and programs that maximize agriculture’s GHG elimination potential by offering value to farmers for either climate-smart or emissions-reducing and carbon-sinking production and conservation practices.”

Cap-and-trade programs, which limit ongoing emissions from major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, are one means of offering farmers value for climate-smart practices.

Cap-and-trade programs can drive emissions reductions where they can happen in the most cost-effective manner, and farmers can often achieve emissions reductions and sequester atmospheric greenhouse gases for less money than the emitters these programs primarily regulate, says Driscoll on the NFU website.

The state of California has implemented a cap-and-trade program that allows for the creation and transfer-for-value of offset credits that meet regulatory criteria. Regulated entities may meet up to eight percent of their triennial compliance requirements by purchasing these credits.

In California, each credit must be quantified using a compliance offset protocol approved by the California Air Resources Board. Currently, ARB will approve credits some U.S. farmers create by capturing and destroying methane from manure management systems.

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), an organizer of COP23’s Agriculture Action day, announced that the Coalition will work in the next few years to create the conditions for greater agricultural climate action.

The voluntary partnership of more than 100 governments, intergovernmental organizations, businesses, scientific institutions and civil society organizations aims to help give countries the confidence to set realistic yet ambitious targets through the next revision of their national climate plans – the Nationally Determined Contributions.

“Agriculture is a large source of powerful greenhouse gases like methane and other short-lived climate pollutants but has great potential to store carbon and reduce greenhouse gases in our lifetime, that’s why we support and advocate for countries to improve their livestock emissions inventories,” said Helena Molin Valdes, head of the CCAC Secretariat.

CCAC partners signed onto the Coalition’s Bonn Communiqué which prioritizes initiatives to reduce methane and black carbon emissions from agriculture and municipal solid waste.

These initiatives support broader efforts to reduce air pollution, end hunger, and build sustainable cities and communities, while helping to limit global warming.

James Shaw, New Zealand Minister for Climate Change, said he was pleased with the Communiqué’s focus on agriculture as it was a large source of his country’s greenhouse gases.

“We hope this encourages partners to develop policies to reduce emissions from agriculture, while at the same time improving the productivity, resilience and profitability of farmers,” said Shaw.

Other agriculture-based solutions for addressing climate change were also presented at COP23. Discussions involved people from governments, civil society, the private sector, small scale and young farmers centered on livestock, traditional agriculture systems, water, soil, food loss and waste, and integrated landscape management.

Among the recommended actions and initiatives were to:

  • Scale up public and private climate finance flows to agriculture, and use them in a catalytic manner. Climate finance flows continue to favor mitigation over adaptation, and focus overwhelmingly on energy systems and infrastructure. These imbalances should be addressed.
  • Incentivize public-private partnerships. Strong dialogue and collaboration between the public and private sectors is key to ensure alignment between public policy and private sector investment decisions in agriculture and throughout the entire food system.
  • Strengthen a multi-sector and multi-stakeholder dialogue towards more integrated approaches to landscape management. This will require enhanced coordination of policy and climate action across multiple public and private entities.
  • Invest in knowledge and information. Additional analyses are needed to better identify the institutional barriers and market failures that are inhibiting broader adoption of climate-resilient and low-emissions agricultural practices in individual countries, regions and communities.
  • Build capacity to address barriers to implement climate action. Agricultural producers require additional capacities to understand the climate risks and vulnerabilities they face, and respond accordingly.

In the water sector, most national climate plans with an adaptation component prioritize action on water, yet financing would need to triple to US$295 billion per year to meet such targets, said experts at COP23.

“Sustainable use of water for multiple purposes must remain a way of life and needs to be at the center of building resilient cities and human settlements and ensuring food security in a climate change context,” said Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, president of the Women for Water Partnership.

The international water community co-signed what it called a “nature based solution declaration” to encourage the use of natural systems in managing healthy water supplies.

Around 40 percent of the world’s population will face water shortages by 2050, accelerating migration and triggering onflict, while some regions could lose up to six percent of their economic output, unless water is better managed, warned Verhoef-Cohen.

She said, “Involving both women and men in decision making and integrated water resources initiatives leads to better sustainability, governance and efficiency.”


2-DAY GRANT

Featured Image: G.H. MUMM champagne 2017 harvest in champagne vineyard near Verzenay, France, September 7, 2017 (Photo by Intercontinental Hong Kong) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Billion-Dollar Climate-Smart Ag Fund Opens

A climate smart rice farm near Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 2016 (Photo by Aulia Erlangga courtesy CIFOR) Creative Commons license via Flickr

A climate smart rice farm near Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 2016 (Photo by Aulia Erlangga courtesy CIFOR) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

MEXICO CITY, Mexico, October 19, 2017 (Maximpact.com  News) – Using a combination of public and private funding, Rabobank and UN Environment have created a new billion dollar facility to finance sustainable, climate-smart agriculture.

Rabobank, a Dutch multinational banking and financial services company based in Utrecht, is among the 30 largest financial institutions in the world and is the second largest bank in The Netherlands. Food and agribusiness are the primary international focus of the Rabobank Group.

The bank has recently joined the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) as part of its Banking for Food strategy.

Rabobank now chairs the WBCSD Climate Smart Agriculture Finance Working Group and is working towards its statement of ambition – to make 50 percent more food available and reduce agricultural and land-use greenhouse gas emissions from commercial agriculture by 50 percent in 2030.

Rabobank CEO Wiebe Draijer and UN UN Environment Latin America Director Leo Heileman announced the new partnership at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Council Meeting on Tuesday in Mexico City.

“As the leading global food and agriculture bank, Rabobank recognizes its responsibility to combine long-term stability of food production for the growing global population and the transition to sustainable land use,” Rabobank CEO Wiebe Draijer told the WBCSD audience.

“Our aim is to substantially increase the quality of existing arable land while protecting biodiversity and reducing climate change worldwide,” he said.

The facility aims to provide grants, de-risking instruments and credit to clients involved in sustainable agricultural production, processing or the trade of soft commodities.

The requirements are that these clients must adhere to strict provisions for forest protection, restoration and the involvement of smallholders.

“We need more initiatives that go beyond just talking about the issues at hand,” said Peter Bakker, president and CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. “For this very reason this partnership is to be commended as it gives financing possibilities to feeding the world while using agricultural lands sustainably.”

Climate-smart agriculture is an approach that aims to tackle three main objectives: sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes; adapting and building resilience to climate change; and reducing or removing greenhouse gas emissions.

Together, the two organizations are inviting other financial institutions to sign up and work actively with global food companies to make sustainable, climate smart agriculture the global standard.

The coalition of two is beginning its activities in Brazil and Indonesia.

In Brazil the coalition has committed itself to the promotion and financing of integrated crop, livestock and forestry farming practices on the 17 million hectares of existing arable land under the management of Brazilian farmers financed by Rabobank.

This activity is part of the strategic WWF Rabobank partnership.

WWF Brazil and Rabobank are jointly exploring with farmers to what extent innovative systems can contribute to using agriculture as a strategy for combating deforestation in the Amazon. They found that both nature and farmers stand to benefit.

Rotating agriculture and livestock on the same land in Integrated Crop-Livestock-Forest (ICLF) systems, is effective according to the results of a joint study that Rabobank and WWF Brazil carried out in partnership with the farmers.

While the yield of ICLF systems may be the same as from regular agriculture, six times less land is required to achieve it. This reduces the pressure of demand for new production areas, helping to combat deforestation. The farmers do not have to maintain as much land, they invest less in herbicides and pesticides, and they contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In Indonesia the coalition will finance replanting plans for smallholders in partnership with corporate clients. Goals include forest and biodiversity protection, restoration, and they sustainability certification of oil palm plantations.

Erik Solheim, head of the UN Environment agency, said, “We want the entire finance industry to change their agricultural lending, away from deforestation and towards integrated landscapes, which provide good jobs, protect biodiversity, and are good for the climate.”

“Sustainable land use and landscape restoration is also fundamentally about sound investments and good business. We want to speed up this trend so that it becomes the ‘new normal’ for the finance industry,” said Solheim, a former Norwegian minister of the environment.

Halting climate change and an increasing agricultural footprint on the one hand, while ensuring growth in agricultural production to feed the estimated nine billion people who will be on Earth in 2050, are among the most defining challenges of the 21st century.

Agriculture is the second biggest driver of climate change related emissions, and represents about one-quarter of total annual greenhouse gas emissions.

As the world’s largest food and agriculture bank, Rabobank states on its website that it believes in enough and healthy food for all. The reality is different. Every day 800 million people go to bed hungry.

“It is clear that a different way of agricultural practices is needed that includes incentives and provisions to protect forest ecosystems and restore degraded lands if we are to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals as well as keep global temperature rises to below 2˚C as agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement,” Draijer said.

The two organizations intend to jointly stimulate existing and new best practices, decreasing agriculture’s footprint and restoring the quality of the land used for agriculture and forestry. And to measure progress, they say, generally accepted guidelines need to be established.

Bakker of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development said, “This is just the beginning. We need other WBCSD members and major global players in primary production, the food industry and financial institutions to join this initiative and keep working on finding business solutions for climate smart agriculture.”

Featured image: Girls work on a climate-smart farm in the East African country of Kenya, 2014 (Photo by Cecillia Schubert) Creative Commons license via Flickr


Maximpact_consulting

Biochar: ‘Black Gold’ With a Hundred Uses

SINTEF researchers Maria Kollberg Thomassen and Markus Steen hold handsful of biochar at the Skjærgaarden nursery. 2017 (Photo by Lisbet Jære courtesy SINTEF) Posted for media use

SINTEF researchers Maria Kollberg Thomassen and Markus Steen hold handsful of biochar at the Skjærgaarden nursery. 2017 (Photo by Lisbet Jære courtesy SINTEF) Posted for media use

 

By Sunny Lewis

OSLO, Norway, October 17, 2017 (Maximpact.com   News) – Biochar can help address many environmental challenges, as people in Norway are just now discovering. This form of carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and storage reduces the need for fertilizers and may lead to better crop yields. It also can remove heavy metals from the soil.

Biochar is plant matter, such as wood, straw, woody debris, or corn stalks, that has been heated to high temperatures in a no-oxygen environment. The result is a black, carbon-rich material similar to charcoal.

Biochar technology, which is not widely known in Norway, makes it possible to capture CO2 from the atmosphere and store carbon in the soil. It offers benefits to the agricultural sector because it makes soils more nutrient-rich and counteracts the effects of drought conditions.

Norway has taken on the ambitious climate goal to be carbon neutral by 2050. This will require major changes in many sectors, and Norwegian agriculture has moved into a central role in the national debate on climate change.

Among the greenhouses at the Skjærgaarden nursery is Norway’s first biochar plant. The nursery is hosting the first biochar demo plant in Norway, which has been installed in collaboration with the cross-disciplinary research project CAPTURE+.

“Our motivation for starting biochar production is to improve the soil,” says Kristin Stenersen, who runs the Skjærgaarden nursery together with her husband Bjørge Madsen. “We want more robust and healthier plants, and to reduce our use of synthetic pesticides and artificial fertilisers. Of course, the fact that biochar also binds CO2 is an added benefit,” she says.

“If 4,000 Norwegian farms and nurseries produced biochar and mixed it with the soil, we could halve our emissions from the agricultural sector,” says Erik Joner at NIBIO, one of the partners in the CAPTURE+ project.

NIBIO is the organization with the longest track record in biochar research in Norway. Entirely natural, this approach also produces robust and healthy plants.

“People are welcome to come and see for themselves how it works in practice,” says Maria Kollberg Thomassen, project manager for CAPTURE+ and a senior researcher at Trondheim-based SINTEF, the largest independent research organization in Scandinavia.

In mid-June, the nursery welcomed more than 70 representatives from both private and public sector organizations, research scientists, and representatives from the agricultural sector in connection with the opening of the new biochar production plant.

Kollberg Thomassen picks up a handful of biochar from the plant, which can convert biomass to biochar at a rate of about 300 kilograms per hour. This plant is designed for small-scale production and can be used by everyday farmers.

“The project is ground-breaking because, on the one hand, we’re looking into how biochar technology can be improved by applying bio- and nanotechnologies,” says Kollberg Thomassen. “On the other, we’re studying the economic, social and political aspects linked to the use of a new technology.”

Sweden, Norway’s neighbor, is utilizing biocoal to a much greater extent. Kollberg Thomassen has recently returned from a visit to the Swedish water and waste management company Stockholm Vatten. It utilizes garden waste to produce biochar which is used to help cultivate trees and other plants in Stockholm.

The process is profitable because the plants require less care. It also has the advantage of handling surplus water following heavy rain.

In 2010, a research article was published in the journal “Nature” estimating that 12 percent of human-caused CO2 emissions could be captured in biochar each year without conflicting with other biomass utilization objectives.

Joner says that biochar contains stable carbon that is bound in the soil and does not return to the atmosphere. Coalification changes the molecular structure of the material such that bacteria and fungi are unable to break it down. When mixed with soil it constitutes about one half of one per cent of soil content.

In the Amazon region, NIBIO has found charcoal, or biochar, formed from residual plant material in the soil that is between 1,000 and 1,500 years old. The soil here is still more fertile today than soils which have not been provided with such additions of carbon.

Joner compares biochar with humus, which he calls the “black gold in the soil.”

NIBIO has estimated that the first two million tonnes of CO2 that can be bound each year in biochar in Norway can be sourced from easily accessible forestry and agricultural waste.

“Norway’s natural vegetation is rewilding, and there’s a lot of forestry waste just lying around and rotting away,” says Joner. “Timber volumes in Norwegian forests have increased by 25 million cubic metres, but only 12 million of these are harvested. The forests will benefit from thinning aimed at promoting growth and healthy forests.”

Professor Stephen Joseph from the University of New South Wales has been researching biochar for years and has visited Skjærgaarden to demonstrate how the plant works.

He has seen how biochar is being used for everything from the removal of heavy metals from soil, to the positive results from tests carried out in Australia where cattle manure has been added, and how the Chinese have now started to invest in biochar, which they mix with artificial fertilizer.

At the Skjærgaarden nursery, the initial plan is to mix the biochar with compost as a means of providing nutrients for plants and crops. Stenersen believes that biochar is an excellent agent for returning nutrients to the soil, and that it is a more natural and sensitive approach, similar to the methods used before artificial fertilizers became the norm.

“We’re only in the starting blocks and it will take time for us to find our feet. But the possibilities are enormous,” she says. “Stephen Joseph has inspired us to carry out an experiment that involves mixing biochar with silicon-rich waste from larvikite quarries. This can be used in addition to, or as a replacement for, artificial fertilisers,” says Stenersen.

Another benefit of adding biochar is that it raises the pH of the soil. Currently, Norwegian farmers use lime to increase pH values.

Markus Steen is a research scientist at SINTEF looking into the kinds of political measures required if biochar is going to become a means of mitigating climate change. He has also been studying the barriers that arise when a new technology is introduced.

If biochar is to become a factor in Norway’s climate change bookkeeping, a certification plan must be established to make sure that the carbon remains in the soil. This is essential if a carbon compensation scheme, paying farmers to plough biochar into the soil, is introduced.

At SINTEF, the scientists call biochar a “kinder egg” on the basis of all the opportunities it offers. It has the potential to address many challenges, including reducing the need for fertilizers and increasing crop yields.

Steen believes that during the start-up phase, it is important to provide incentives for establishing test plants at different scales, and in different parts of Norway. Users should be closely involved because this promotes interaction and confidence in the product.

“The public sector has an important role to play, and can take the lead in creating a niche market,” says Steen. “A good example of this is the inter-municipal waste management company IVAR, based in Stavanger and Sandnes in western Norway. IVAR is planning to invest in a biochar facility, from which the surplus heat will be used to heat public buildings,” says Steen.

Jon Randby works in the agriculture division at the offices of the County Governor in Vestfold, and has been following developments at the demonstration plant at Skjærgaarden. He agrees with Steen that incentives to start testing must start now.

“Biochar offers major opportunities to farmers, and there is now a greater willingness in the farming community to test new initiatives than there was 10 years ago,” he says. “For this reason, intensive research is needed to demonstrate that it works. We’re seeing that soils are becoming increasingly nutrient-poor, so we have to act now. Not least, we need climate change mitigation measures.”

The chemical giant Elkem is one of the world’s largest producers of silicon and ferrosilicon and is planning to use more biochar in its production processes in Norway. Elkem intends to increase the proportion of biochar in its reducing agent mixtures to 20 percent by 2021 and 40 percent by 2030.

This is equivalent to emissions reductions in Norway of 450,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2). The emissions reductions will be achieved by replacing fossil coal with biochar.

“We’ve just started a four-year research project called PyrOpt, funded by the Research Council of Norway, in which our aim is to optimize the pyrolysis process used to manufacture biochar so that it meets Elkem’s requirements,” says Geir Johan Andersen, who is project manager for the PyrOpt project at Elkem.

The company is also aiming to exploit all pyrolysis by-products such as bio-oil, and surplus energy in the form of steam. There may also be some fractions of biochar that are more suited to purposes other than as a reducing agent.

Says Andersen, “We’re looking into opportunities to collaborate in the construction of a biochar plant of this type, and this is why it is useful to meet others and participate in demonstration projects such as that at Skjærgaarden.”

A world away in the U.S. state of Kansas, ICM Inc. plans to build a new state-of-the-art biorefinery next to its headquarters in Colwich. The US$175 million facility will showcase the company’s cutting-edge technologies.

The ICM patented gasifier there is capable of converting biomass and forestry feedstocks into producer gas or syngas, while cogenerating a biochar product with many applications.

In Texas, Rice University researchers have found that biochar from recycled waste may both enhance crop growth and save health costs by helping clear the air of pollutants.

Rice researchers in Earth science, economics and environmental engineering have determined that widespread use of biochar in agriculture could reduce health care costs, especially for those who live in urban areas close to farmland.

The study led by Ghasideh Pourhashem, a postdoctoral fellow at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, appears in the July 2017 issue of the American Chemical Society journal “Environmental Science and Technology.”

Pourhashem and his colleagues demonstrated that urban dwellers in the American Midwest and Southwest would gain the greatest benefits in air quality and health from greater use of biochar.

“Our model projections show health care cost savings could be on the order of millions of dollars per year for some urban counties next to farmland,” Pourhashem said. “These results are now ready to be tested by measuring changes in air pollutants from specific agricultural regions.”

“Agriculture rarely gets considered for air pollution control strategies,” said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice. “Our work shows that modest changes to farming practices can benefit the air and soil too.”

Cornell University research published October 2016 in the journal “Nature Communications” suggests that biochar can be part of an economically viable model to scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to thwart global warming until other removal methods become economically feasible and in regions where other methods are impractical.

“If we continue on current emissions trajectories, we will need to draw down excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere if we’re going to avoid catastrophic levels of climate change. We’re offering a mitigation model that can do that. It’s not a silver bullet, but it may be among the tools we need in a portfolio of carbon dioxide mitigation strategies,” said Dominic Woolf, Cornell University research associate in crop and soil sciences and lead author of the study.

Although it has been omitted from major atmospheric mitigation scenarios until now, the new model shows that including biochar in a suite of options unlocks the ability to achieve cost-effective CO2 removal earlier and deeper than would otherwise be possible.

But an environmental scientist at the University of East Anglia, UK warns that radical new ways of removing CO2 from the atmosphere – such as adding biochar to millions of hectares of soil – could prove to be a risky business.

Dr. Phil Williamson, employed by the Natural Environment Research Council at UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, published “Scrutinize CO2 removal methods” in the February 10, 2016 issue of the journal Nature.” He writes that much more research is needed before the wheels are set in motion on global-scale climate geoengineering’ schemes.

“Crucially, large-scale CO2 removal, by whichever means, will have knock-on effects for ecosystems and biodiversity. There could be benefits, but damage seems more likely,” says Williamson.

“For example, the amount of bioenergy crops we would need to grow could use up to 580 million hectares of land – or half of the land area of the U.S. This would in turn accelerate the loss of forests and natural grassland with impacts for wildlife, whilst also having implications for food security.”


Featured Image:  Biochar made from beetle-killed lodgepole pine, 2016. (Photo courtesy USDA Forest Service) Public domain.

Maximpact_consulting

What’s That in Your Fruit Salad?

 Fruits and vegetables for sale at Le Marché de Noailles, Marseille, France, October 1, 2014 (Photo by kixmi71) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Fruits and vegetables for sale at Le Marché de Noailles, Marseille, France, October 1, 2014 (Photo by kixmi71) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, October 12, 2017 (Maximpact.com  News) – A pregnant woman eating a salad of fresh fruit grown by conventional agriculture in the European Union may think she is providing healthy nourishment to her future baby, but in fact she might be exposing it to a cocktail of endocrine disrupting chemicals.

In an effort to protect women like her, the EU’s 2009 Pesticide Regulation was the first to address endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) as hazards. It requires the European Commission to establish a set of scientific criteria to identify which chemicals have endocrine disrupting properties by December 2013 and to remove them from the market.

But more than three years past the deadline, endocrine disrupting pesticides are still used in agriculture without restrictions. This means that they end up as residues in food, and people are exposed to them on a daily basis.

Eating the residue of endocrine disrupting chemicals sprayed as pesticides on fruits and vegetables has, in scientific studies, been linked to altered reproductive function in both males and females, increased incidence of breast cancer, abnormal growth patterns and neurodevelopmental delays in children, as well as changes in immune function.

A joint United Nations – World Health Organization study issued in 2013, the most comprehensive report on EDCs to date, links exposure to EDCs and health problems such as non-descended testes in young males, prostate cancer in older men, developmental effects on the nervous system in children, attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity in children as well as thyroid cancer.

Of special concern are effects on early development of both humans and wildlife, as these effects are often irreversible and may not appear as serious adverse effects and disease until later in life.

But which chemicals act as endocrine disrupters? Arriving at a list of criteria to answer that question has been difficult.

On October 4, the European Parliament rejected the Commission’s latest attempt at defining criteria for endocrine disrupting pesticides with 389 of the 694 MEPs voting No.

For the first time, the Parliament used its democratic right of “scrutiny,” the right to block a Commission proposal, which was based on World Health Organization criteria to identify endocrine disruptors,

The Commission now must change the proposal, working together with the representatives of the Member States in the Standing Committee.

The rejected criteria proposal has been characterized as scientifically unfit to protect people from the potential harms caused by endocrine disrupting chemicals.

With the vote, the criteria proposal was deemed unlawful, as the Commission went beyond its legislative power in implementing an exemption from the Pesticide Regulation for non-target organisms.

Following Parliament’s rejection, the Commission is now expected to delete the last paragraph of the draft criteria proposal, which introduced an exemption for pesticides designed to disrupt target pests’ endocrine systems even if these were causing endocrine disruption and consequent harm to non-target creatures.

This was not in the Commission’s mandate and contradicts the requirements of the pesticide regulation that specifically calls on regulators “not to approve substances that are considered to have endocrine disrupting properties that may cause adverse effects on non-target organisms” (Annex II, 3.8.2).

After the vote, Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis of Lithuania said he strongly believes that in this case “no deal is a bad deal for EU citizens.”

He said the scientific criteria propsed by the Commission “would have ensured better protection of human health and the environment as well as served as a stepping stone to a wider strategy on endocrine disruptors.”

The vote means that the scientific criteria put forward by the Commission that had been supported by Member States in early July after months of thorough discussions cannot be adopted. Andriukaitis said the Commission will now need to reflect on next steps to take.

Speaking from the Parliament in Strasbourg following the vote, Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness, first Vice President of the European Parliament, said urgent action is needed.

“We need the Commission to put forward legislation on this issue, as demanded some eight years ago by the European Parliament under the Pesticides Regulation,” said McGuinness, a member of the Parliament’s Environment and Agriculture Committees.

In McGuinness’ view, the issue is a wider one that cannot just be addressed at the EU level. “We need a globalised harmonisation of what chemicals are endocrine disruptors and whether they should be completely removed from use in agriculture. It is not enough for the EU to tighten up our legislation if we do not encourage non-EU crop producers to do likewise,” she said.

“The EU imports crops from across the globe – often grown using products not allowed in the EU or products which may in future be banned. If a chemical is harmful in the EU, it is harmful elsewhere and we should work to have high global standards.

The pesticide Chlorpyrifos for example, which acts on the nervous systems of insects, is at the top of the list and has been reported to cause neurodevelopmental toxicity in humans, affecting the brains of infants and children.

“Farmers inside and outside the EU need the same level of protection and so do consumers. There is an opportunity to address this in our trade relationships with other countries,” said McGuinness.

One-third of European fruit contains 27 endocrine disrupting pesticides, reported in scientific literature to cause endocrine disruption in animals and probably in humans, according to Pesticide Action Network-Europe’s latest analysis.

The analysis was based on 2015 monitoring data of fruit and vegetables from all EU Member States, which PAN-Europe obtained through a public access to documents request.

Mandarins, oranges, grapes, and peaches are all at the top of the list, turning a healthy fruit salad into a potentially toxic cocktail.

A smaller but still important amount (17-40 percent) of popular vegetables, such as lettuce and tomatoes, also were found to contain endocrine disrupting pesticides, and several fruit and vegetables contained not just one pesticide, but up to eight EDPs per sample. Their potential for combined toxic effects has not been assessed.

A high number of fruit and vegetables produced in southern European countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece contain endocrine disrupting pesticides, says PAN-Europe, while it’s mostly the fruit and vegetables sold in markets of Northern countries like Ireland, Sweden and The Netherlands that contain these pesticides.

It appears that no country remains unaffected.

PAN Europe congratulated the European Parliament for recognizing that the new derogation was illegal and would inevitably result in pesticides designed to be endocrine disruptors to stay on the market.

The criteria already require such a high burden of proof to identify a substance as an endocrine disruptor, that it remains unclear how many pesticides, if any, will be regulated, says PAN Europe environmental toxicologist Angeliki Lysimachou.

“A matter of such importance involving our food and affecting the most vulnerable demands immediate action, and if EU regulators fail to protect us then it’s down to Member States to take action, Lysimachou said. “These chemicals have no place neither on our table, nor in the production of our food.”


Consulant

Edible Food Packaging Takes the Cake

Shrilk

Shrilk, a biodegrable plastic made from silk and shrimp shells, is similar in strength and toughness to an aluminum alloy, but only half the weight. (Photo courtesy Wyss Institute) Posted for media use

By Sunny Lewis

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, June 22, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – As all grocery shoppers know, many meats, breads, cheeses, cakes and cookies come wrapped in plastic packaging to prevent spoilage. But plastic films are not great at keeping foods fresh, and some plastics are known to leach harmful compounds into the food they’re supposed to protect. High-fat foods such as cheese are particularly vulnerable.

Under pressure from environmental and health groups, in 2016 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned three grease-resistant chemical substances linked to cancer and birth defects from use in pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, sandwich wrappers and other food packaging.

But Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook points out that the ban does nothing to prevent food processors and packagers from using almost 100 related chemicals that may also be hazardous. Although the three chemicals were no longer made in the United States as of 2011, the possibility remains that food packaging with those chemicals made in other countries could be imported to America.

In addition, humans produce 300 million tons of plastic every year and recycle just three percent. When discarded, these plastics become non-recyclable, non-biodegradable waste, contaminating city streets, rural lands, lakes, rivers and oceans.

To address these issues, scientists are now developing edible packaging for food made with food products or byproducts.

Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University  have developed a new material that replicates the exceptional strength, toughness, and versatility of one of nature’s more extraordinary substances – shrimp shells.

Low-cost, biodegradable, and biocompatible, the material is composed of fibroin protein from silk and from chitin, extracted from discarded shrimp shells. It poses no threat to trees or competition with the food supply.

Shrilk is similar in strength and toughness to an aluminum alloy, but it is only half the weight. By controlling the water content in the fabrication process, the researchers were able to produce wide variations in stiffness, from elasticity to rigidity.

As a cheap, environmentally safe alternative to plastic, Shrilk can be used to make trash bags, packaging, and diapers that degrade quickly.

“When we talk about the Wyss Institute’s mission to create bioinspired materials and products, Shrilk is an example of what we have in mind,” said the institute’s Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who led the work that created Shrilk. “It has the potential to be both a solution to some of today’s most critical environmental problems and a stepping stone toward significant medical advances.”

In Pennsylvania, U.S. government scientists have developed an edible packaging film made from milk proteins.

A scientist with the U.S. Agricultural Research Service has a patent for her method of turning a milk

USDA chemist Tara McHugh displays edible food wraps designed to slow the spoilage of fresh fruits and vegetables. Similar wraps developed by McHugh also kill E. coli. (Photo courtesy American Chemical Society) Posted for media use

USDA chemist Tara McHugh displays edible food wraps designed to slow the spoilage of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Similar wraps developed by McHugh also kill E. coli. (Photo courtesy American Chemical Society) Posted for media use

protein into water-resistant films that can be used to coat or package foods.

The new extraction method removes the protein, called casein (say kay-seen), from milk by using carbon dioxide under high pressure. Casein, which solidifies when milk is acidified, is the main ingredient in cheese. It is used as a food supplement and as an ingredient in nonfood products including adhesives, finishing materials for paper and textiles, and paints.

Her method takes advantage of casein’s natural structure to form water-resisting films or coatings, says the inventor Peggy Tomasula, a chemical engineer at the ARS Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania.

“The protein-based films are powerful oxygen blockers that help prevent food spoilage. When used in packaging, they could prevent food waste during distribution along the food chain,” says Tomasula.

The new material remains intact when exposed to water, unlike water-soluble, protein-based films patented in the past. Tomasula says packaging films made from milk proteins are excellent oxygen barriers, up to 500 times better than low-density polyethylene, and completely food-safe.

In their presentation to the American Chemical Society meeting in 2016, Tomasula and her colleagues said the milk protein-based films repel grease, can be eaten with the food product, and dissolve easily in hot or cold water.

For these reasons, Tomasula said, “Milk-based films are ideal candidates to coat convenience food packaging; layer between synthetic films to block oxygen; coat foods to preserve them and carry additional nutrients; or, form increasingly-popular single-serve pouches, which can be either eaten or dissolved, generating zero waste.”

Flavorings, vitamins or minerals could be added to the edible coating to enhance the flavor and reinforce nutrition.

This casein coating could be sprayed onto food, such as cereal flakes or bars. Right now, cereals keep their crunch in milk due to a sugar coating. Instead of all that sugar, manufacturers could spray on casein-protein coatings to prevent soggy cereal.

The spray also could line pizza or other food boxes to keep the grease from staining the packaging, or to serve as a lamination step for paper or cardboard food boxes or plastic pouches.

The ARS research group is currently creating prototype film samples for a small company in Texas, and the development has attracted interest among other companies. This casein packaging could be on store shelves within three years.

Another USDA team, working with scientists from the University of Lleida in Spain, has improved upon an edible coating for fresh fruits and vegetables by enabling it to kill deadly E. coli bacteria while also providing a flavor-boost to food.

Composed of apple puree and oregano oil, which acts as a natural antibacterial agent, the coating shows promise in laboratory studies of becoming a long-lasting, potent alternative to conventional produce washes.

“All produce-cleaning methods help to some degree, but our new coatings and films may provide a more concentrated, longer-lasting method for killing bacteria,” says research leader Tara McHugh, Ph.D., a food chemist with the ARS Albany, California. As the films are made of fruit or vegetable puree, they also provide added health benefits such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, she says.

Besides apple puree, the antimicrobial films can also be made from broccoli, tomato, carrot, mango, peach, pear and other produce items. Non-antimicrobial versions of these food wraps are now being made commercially by California-based Origami Foods®  in cooperation with the USDA for use in a small but growing number of food applications, such as sushi wraps.

Manufacturers of foods packaged in glass bottles no longer have to ship their products in plastic foam. A Green Island, New York company by the name of Ecovative is making packaging made from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms.

Ecovative’s packaging made for shipping bottles of products, such as wine or maple syrup, is grown from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms. The custom molded protective packaging called Mushroom® Packaging is home-compostable and sustainable.

In 2015, Ecovative opened a full-scale 20,000 square foot manufacturing plant in Troy, New York for production of mushroom-based packaging.

The packaging is price competitive with most fabricated plastic foams and the company even has a Grow It Yourself Mushroom Material program to encourage open innovation.

Ecovative founder Eben Bayer blogged, “We spent a lot of time and effort conforming our natural products to existing expectations of materials to prove that we can grow natural products capable of displacing their toxic counterparts.”

“The uniform white mycelium aesthetic associated with Ecovative is a finish that naturally mimics the expanded polystyrene products that fill our landfills every day,” he wrote.

“We are committed to working with industry and consumers to rid the world of toxic, unsustainable materials,” says Bayer. “We believe in creating products that enable companies and individuals to achieve their sustainability goals, without having to sacrifice on cost or performance.”


Maximpact+WASTE

Woman Honored as Pesticide Workers’ Champion

WomanSpraysPesticides

A woman sprays pesticides over a field. (Photo by International Food Policy Research Institute) Creative commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

GENEVA, Switzerland, May 4, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – “The millions of rural women on the ground that are in the frontlines of the struggle against highly hazardous pesticides in their daily lives as farmers, workers, and consumers,” are the inspiration that drives Sarojeni Rengam‘s advocacy for the environment, agroecology, the elimination of pesticides, food sovereignty and social justice for women, she told a distinguished audience in Geneva on Wednesday.

Sarojeni Rengam

Sarojeni Rengam, representing Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific, speaks at the 2017 Meetings of the Conferences of the Parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, April 27, 2017 Geneva, Switzerland (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin) With permission for use to Environment News Service under long-standing arrangement.

Rengam was among the 10 women and men named Gender Pioneers for a Future Detoxified by the Triple Conferences of the Parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions meeting in Geneva this week.

Over 1,600 representatives from more than 180 countries as well as observers from civil society groups and the chemical and waste industries have been in Geneva since April 24 to negotiate measures for the sound management of chemicals and wastes.

A champion of women’s health and wellbeing in campaigns against toxic pesticides over the past 25 years, Rengam serves as executive director of the Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (PANAP) based in Penang, Malaysia.

In her acceptance speech, Rengam expressed how much the women she works with mean in her own life. “They have inspired me with their commitment to protect their children, their families, and their communities from hazardous pesticides and to work for non-chemical alternatives,” she said.

“The reality of pesticide use in the farms and plantations is horrendous and women as sprayers often do not have the information about what they are spraying and what the impacts are. When they are poisoned, there is no medical support. Their health issues, like issues of women in general, are rarely taken seriously,” said Rengam. “This is because as women, they are still in position of subordination in their homes and communities, and at the national level.”

Glorene Amala, executive director of Tenaganita, a Malaysia-based advocacy group working with migrants, refugees and women, described Rengam as an “embodiment of women’s empowerment.”

Rengam’s work has brought about what Amala called “tremendous changes” in the lives of those who have been affected by pesticides and chemicals.

Dr. Burnad Fathima Natesan of the Asian Rural Women’s Coalition said this is a proud moment for many rural women whose rights and interests Rengam has steadfastly supported in PANAP’s campaigns against harmful pesticides and for women’s rights to land and resources.

Rengam has initiated a PANAP program called Women and Agriculture to look into women’s land rights and to expose the role of corporations in promoting highly hazardous pesticides.

“The impact and awareness she has created in helping rural women understand the hazards of pesticide application in their fields and the impacts on one’s health, especially on women’s reproductive health, makes her the right person for this award,” said Natesan. “The rural women from India and from women’s movements in the region rejoice over this special moment.”

Delegates to the two week-long Triple Conferences of the Parties to the treaties known as the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm (BRS) Conventions now underway in Geneva aim to strengthen these agreements on the global management of hazardous chemicals and waste.

Staged under the theme “A future detoxified: sound management of chemicals and waste,” government Parties to the conventions will seek to reach consensus on a wide range of issues.

ConventionsHeads

At the Triple Convention meeting, from left: Sam Adu-Kumi, Stockholm Convention COP 8 President, Franz Perrez, Rotterdam Convention COP 8 President, and Mohammed Khashashneh, Basel Convention COP 13 President, share a moment, May 1, 2017 Geneva, Switzerland (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin) With permission for use to Environment News Service under long-standing arrangement

For the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, this includes eight proposals for adding carbofuran, carbosulfan, trichlorfon, fenthion, paraquat, chlorinated paraffins, chrysotile asbestos and tributyltin to the RC’s “watch list,” also known as Annex III.

Forty-seven chemicals make up the Rotterdam Convention’s current list of substances deemed hazardous to human health and the environment and which are subject to the Prior Informed Consent procedure. Parties also will consider ways to strengthen the effectiveness of the convention and seek to adopt compliance procedures.

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is a treaty to protect human health and the environment from chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically, accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans and wildlife, and have harmful impacts on human health or on the environment.

Issues for Stockholm Convention government Parties include proposals for listing decabromodiphenyl ether (commercial mixture, c-decaBDE) and short-chain chlorinated paraffins in Annex A for elimination as well as hexachlorobutadiene (HCBD) in Annex C, which targets the reduction and ultimate elimination of the unintentional releases of the chemical.

Among the other issues that will get priority attention of the Stockholm Convention Parties is the development of compliance procedures and mechanisms, and the first-ever evaluation of the effectiveness of the Convention, which entered into force in May 2004.

For the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, the Parties will consider prevention and minimization of the generation of waste.

This is the subject of new guidance to assist Parties, and a set of practical manuals for the promotion of the environmentally sound management of wastes and revised fact sheets on specific waste streams all of which have been prepared by an expert group on environmentally sound management.

Parties also will consider establishing a new partnership focusing on a major waste stream, household waste.

The conferences will examine progress in the implementation of the Conventions among participating Parties, in particular in developing countries and countries in transition where handling hazardous chemicals throughout their lifecycles presents greater challenges.

Delegates will attempt to make progress on the sharing of information on hazardous chemicals and strive to build further international cooperation and coordination regarding their use.

More than 40 side events are scheduled during the biennial event. Topics being presented include mercury waste management, pesticide risk reduction, hazardous work in agriculture, child labor and methods to safeguard the human rights of those facing exposure.

A technology fair showcases the importance industry and private sector groups play in developing new technologies for the safe management of chemicals and promoting opportunities for developing alternatives.


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Pesticide Alarm

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Children exposed to chlorpyrifos may develop autism, according to the petitioning groups. (Photo by hepingting) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

WASHINGTON, DC, April 6, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reversed its decision to protect children from developmental disabilities and autism resulting from exposure to a neurotoxic pesticide that was scheduled to be banned in March.

President Donald Trump’s new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt decided last week to backtrack on an Obama-era decision to ban chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate insecticide.

Chlorpyrifos was introduced in 1965 by Dow Chemical Company and is known by many trade names including: Dursban, Lorsban, Bolton Insecticide, Nufos, Cobalt, Hatchet, and Warhawk. It acts on the nervous system of insects by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase.

The problem is that chlorpyrifos also damages the nervous systems of fetuses, infants and children.

Chlorpyrifos is used around the world to control pest insects in agricultural, residential and commercial settings, although its use in residential applications is restricted in many countries, including the United States.

According to Dow, chlorpyrifos is registered for use in nearly 100 countries and is annually applied to an estimated 8.5 million crop acres.

Around the world chlorpyrifos is most heavily applied to cotton, corn, almonds and fruit trees including oranges, bananas and apples.

The pesticide also is applied to more than 30 percent of U.S. apples, asparagus, broccoli, cherries, cauliflower, grapes, onions and walnuts, among other crops.

On March 29, U.S. EPA Administrator Pruitt denied a petition to ban chlorpyrifos filed a decade ago by two nonprofit environmental groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pesticide Action Network North America.

By reversing the previous Administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making, rather than predetermined results,” said Pruitt, who called the pesticide “crucial to U.S. agriculture.

EPA has concluded that the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects “remains unresolved and that further evaluation of the science during the remaining time for completion of registration review is warranted to achieve greater certainty as to whether the potential exists for adverse neurodevelopmental effects to occur from current human exposures to chlorpyrifos,” says the Federal Register notice issued today denying the petition.

Pruitt took “final agency action,” which may not be revisited until 2022. Congress has provided that EPA must complete the chlorpyrifos registration review by October 1, 2022.

This is a welcome decision grounded in evidence and science,” said Sheryl Kunickis, director of the Office of Pest Management Policy at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “It means that this important pest management tool will remain available to growers, helping to ensure an abundant and affordable food supply for this nation and the world.

This frees American farmers from significant trade disruptions that could have been caused by an unnecessary, unilateral revocation of chlorpyrifos tolerances in the United States,” said Kunickis.

But the two petitioning groups are going to court in an attempt to overturn Pruitt’s decision.

NRDC and PANNA, represented in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals by Earthjustice, filed a motion April 5 to enforce a previous court order and require EPA to make a decision on the proposed ban within 30 days.

The groups argue that EPA cannot delay its decision on the ban until 2022 because the agency has not presented any new scientific research that reverses their 2016 findings that the pesticide is dangerous and widespread on U.S. produce.

EPA is refusing to take this chemical off the market, but it is not rescinding its own scientists’ finding that this pesticide is toxic to children,” said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, senior scientist at NRDC.

Parents shouldn’t have to worry that a dangerous chemical might be lurking in the fruits and veggies they feed their kids. The health of our children must come before chemical corporations,” she said.

Scientific studies show that exposure to low levels of the pesticide in early life can lead to increased risk of learning disabilities, including reductions in IQ, developmental delay, and behavioral problems, such as ADHD.

The Pesticide Action Network warns, “When mothers are exposed during pregnancy, their children have lower IQs, developmental delays and increased risk of autism.”

In 2011, EPA estimated that, in the general U.S. population, people consume 0.009 micrograms of chlorpyrifos per kilogram of their body weight per day directly from food residue.

Children are estimated to consume a greater quantity of chlorpyrifos per unit of body weight from food residue, with toddlers consuming the highest amounts.

Chlorpyrifos is not regulated under any international law or treaty.

PANNA and the NRDC state that chlorpyrifos meets the four criteria – persistence, bioaccumulation, long-range transport, and toxicity – in Annex D of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and should be restricted under this treaty.

Chlorpyrifos is used to control many different kinds of pests, including termites, mosquitoes, fire ants and roundworms.

But it has been found to be toxic to bees. Guidelines for Washington State recommend that chlorpyrifos products should not be applied to flowering plants such as fruit trees within four to six days of blossoming to prevent bees from directly contacting the residue.

Risk assessments have primarily considered acute exposure, but more recently researchers have begun to investigate the effects of chronic, low-level exposure through residue in pollen and components of bee hives.

A review of studies in the United States, several European countries, Brazil and India found chlorpyrifos in nearly 15 percent of hive pollen samples and just over 20 percent of honey samples. Because of its high toxicity and prevalence in pollen and honey, bees are considered to have higher risk from chlorpyrifos exposure in their diet than from many other pesticides.

When exposed in the laboratory to chlorpyrifos at levels roughly estimated from measurements in hives, bee larvae experienced 60 percent mortality over six days, which may partly explain why bees are dying out around the world.

Nevertheless, the American Soybean Association, an industry trade group, welcomed the EPA’s denial of the petition to remove chlorpyrifos from the market.

ASA President and Roseville, Illinois soybean farmer Ron Moore said, “The denial of the activist petition on chlorpyrifos came on the heels of statements from academia, farmers and consumers alike, all bearing out the safety of this product when used correctly and in accordance with the manufacturer’s label.

Dow AgroSciences, of course, supports U.S. EPA’s decision to deny the petition to revoke U.S. food tolerances and cancel the registration of chlorpyrifos.

The company said March 30 that it “remains confident that authorized uses of chlorpyrifos products offer wide margins of protection for human health and safety. This is the right decision for farmers who, in about 100 countries, rely on the effectiveness of chlorpyrifos to protect more than 50 crops. We will continue to cooperate with EPA under the established regulatory process in its scientific review of this vital crop protection solution.


Featured Images: Sign warning of pesticide spraying in Manito Park, Spokane, Washington. (Photo by jetsandzeppelins) Creative Commons license via Flickr

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BioNurse: Generating Spaces for Life

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Yareta plants live in the high altitude of the Andes Mountains. Some are estimated at 3,000 years old. (Photo by Pedro Szekely) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

by Sunny Lewis

MISSOULA, Montana, December 1, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – A team from the Ceres Regional Center for Fruit and Vegetable Innovation in Chile has won the first-ever $100,000 Ray C. Anderson Foundation “Ray of Hope” Prize in the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge .

The BioNurse team from Quillota, Chile created the BioPatch, a biomimicry solution that enhances soil’s capacity to retain water, nutrients, and microorganisms so that degraded land is restored for the next generation of crops.

At least 25 percent of the world’s soil is degraded, and the winning concept provides a new way to protect seedlings and restore soils to health, with inspiration from natural plant processes.

The BioNurse team was inspired by the way that hardy “nurse” plants like the yareta, ancient flowering plants in the high altitudes of Chile, Peru, and Bolivia, establish themselves in degraded soils and pave the way for new plant species to grow.

Many yaretas are estimated to be over 3,000 years old.

By mimicking biological principles, the BioNurse team’s design innovation provides a way to grow and protect new plants and ensure that the soil can be regenerated to feed the world’s burgeoning population.

The judges were impressed with the way that the BioNurse team utilized biomimicry on multiple levels,” said John Lanier, executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. “Moreover, we believe in their potential to commercialize and scale the concept to achieve a significant impact in areas of the world where farming is limited due to poor soil.”

Ray C. Anderson (1934-2011), a Georgia native, was recognized as a leader in green business when he challenged his carpet company, Atlanta-based Interface, Inc., to reimagine itself as a sustainable company with a zero environmental footprint. His foundation funds projects that advance knowledge and innovation around environmental stewardship and sustainability.

Team BioNurse’s winning project aims to establish a first step that changes the course of the current “geomimetic agriculture” to a “biomimetic agriculture.”

Their design proposes a change in the fundamentals of agricultural food production, heading towards increasing soil health and vitality.

The team says their biomimetic method “emulates nurse plants in biologic communities.”

The physical, chemical and biological fertility concentration of their soil “comes from a continuous formation of a vivifying mass which transforms, recycles, composes and decomposes the organic matter and mineral elements, fluffing the ground to make it a real sponge, light and soft, rich in spaces for developing life.

The biomimetic method stands in contrast to the way that humans have opened and plowed the land throughout history, causing cracks and breaks in the soil.

This geomimetic system has taken a lot of fertility, energy and minerals from the soil, which in turn has released huge amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere.

The team’s biomimicry starts with a device they have called BioNurse, made of a biodegradable container and the appropriate biologic contents for each site.

The container is fabricated from corn stalks, utilizing a resource that otherwise would be burned as waste. It biodegrades after one season.

The team has demonstrated that the plants growing within the container will be capable of reproducing the same conditions in a natural way and, after one year, the soil will be productive again.

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BioNurse Team members: front row: Camila Hernández, Camila Gratacos, back row from left: Nicolas Orellana, Victor Vicencio, Jean François Casal, Carlo Sabaini, Eduardo Gratacos (Photo courtesy Biomimicry Global Design Challenge) posted for media use.

The seven BioNurse Team members are: Camila Hernández, Camila Gratacos, Nicolas Orellana, Victor Vicencio, Jean François Casal, Carlo Sabaini, Eduardo Gratacos

The team had three objectives:

  • Restore degraded soils by carrying: biologically available energy, a high and diverse microbiological load, plants with rhizospheres rich in mycorrhizae, and detritus generators.
  • Create growing levels of food plants’ community structure with increased complexity and local biodiversity,
  • Improve the capacity of moisture retention and accumulation of energy and minerals available to be cycled.

Two principles — seeking harmony with nature and leveraging the power of business — are at the core of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge and the work of the Biomimicry Institute based in Missoula.

The Institute aims to “naturalize biomimicry in the culture by promoting the transfer of ideas, designs, and strategies from biology to sustainable human systems design.

A new round of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge has just launched, which offers another opportunity for teams to join and compete for the annual $100,000 “Ray of Hope” Prize.

The philanthropists at the heart of the Biomimicry Design Challenge take their inspiration from environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist, and author Paul Hawken, who said, “Biomimicry directs us to where we need to go in every aspect in human endeavor.


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 Featured image: Green Patch III – Yareta plants. (Photo by Magnus von Koeller) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

Cutting Food Loss and Waste Gets Easier

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Food waste exhibit at the National Museum of American History (americanhistory.si.edu), Washington, DC, April 2014 (Photo by Philip Cohen) Creative commons license via Flickr.

By Sunny Lewis

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, November 17, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – A new international framework that empowers businesses, governments and NGOs to measure and manage food loss and waste is in its first year of operation. About a third of all food produced each year is lost or wasted worldwide as it moves from field to table, enough food to feed two billion people for a year, even as more than 800 million people are undernourished.

Introduced at the Global Green Growth Forum 2016 Summit (3GF) in Copenhagen in June, the new Food Loss and Waste Standard (FLW) is the first set of global definitions and reporting requirements for companies, countries and others to measure, report on and manage food loss and waste.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that over 40 percent of root crops, fruits and vegetables are lost or wasted, along with 35 percent of fish, 30 percent of cereals and 20 percent of oilseeds, meat, and dairy products. Total food waste represents an economic value of some $1 trillion annually.

Food loss and waste generates about eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. If it were a country, food loss and waste would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China and the United States.

The FLW standard comes as a growing number of governments, companies and civil society groups are making commitments to reduce food loss and waste.

This standard is a real breakthrough,” said Andrew Steer, president and CEO, World Resources Institute based in Washington, DC. “For the first time, armed with the standard, countries and companies will be able to quantify how much food is lost and wasted, where it occurs, and report on it in a highly credible and consistent manner.

There’s simply no reason that so much food should be lost and wasted,” said Steer. “Now, we have a powerful new tool that will help governments and businesses save money, protect resources and ensure more people get the food they need.

The standard is voluntary and designed for users of all types and sizes, across all economic sectors, and in any country.

Peter Bakker, president and CEO, World Business Council for Sustainable Development, said the world has to stop destroying food. “Wasting a third of the food we produce is a clear symptom of a global food system in trouble,” he said.

The FLW Standard is pivotal to setting a reliable baseline for streamlined and efficient action on the ground for countries, cities, and small and big businesses along the food value chain,” said Bakker. “Together with tangible business solutions, the FLW Standard can help to significantly reduce food loss and waste around the globe.

The FLW Standard requires an entity to report on four components:

  • Timeframe: the period of time for which the inventory results are being reported
  • Material type: the materials that are included in the inventory – food only, inedible parts only, or both
  • Destination: where FLW goes when removed from the food supply chain
  • Boundary: the food category, lifecycle stage, geography, and organization

 Creating inventories that conform to the FLW Standard can form the foundation for effective strategies that can reduce food loss and waste and monitor progress over time.

The new standard can help governments and companies meet international commitments, including the Paris Agreement on climate change and UN Sustainable Development Goals. SDG Target 12.3 calls for a 50 percent global reduction in food waste by 2030, along with reductions in food loss.

Kristian Jensen, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Denmark, said, “Waste makes everybody poorer. I am pleased that a new strong alliance between public and private actors will provide an efficient answer to the global challenge of food loss and waste.

The FLW Standard is expected to help reduce food loss and waste in the private sector. In 2015, The Consumer Goods Forum, which represents more than 400 of the world’s largest retailers and manufacturers from 70 countries, adopted a resolution for its members to reduce food waste from their operations by 50 percent by 2025, with baselines and progress to be measured using the FLW Standard. Some leading companies, like Nestlé and Tesco, are already measuring and publicly reporting on their food loss and waste.

Dave Lewis, CEO of Tesco, a British multinational grocery and general merchandise retailer, likes the new standard. “We are pleased to have been the first UK retailer to publish third party-assured food waste data for our own operations and will continue to do so every year. This transparency and hard evidence is a cornerstone of our food waste work.”

Not only has this allowed us to identify where there are food waste hotspots in our own operations, it has also helped us to take action in those areas of food loss and waste,” said Lewis.

Last December, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) , the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the CGIAR program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets launched a new initiative to enhance global cooperation on measuring and reducing food loss and waste. The program was requested by the G20 agriculture ministers.

The Technical Platform on the Measurement and Reduction of Food Loss and Waste is an information-sharing and coordination network involving international organizations, development banks, NGOs, and the private sector.

 Platform partners work together to enhance the measurement of food loss and waste, exchange knowledge and information, and share best practices to tackle the global challenges of food loss and waste.

The G20 Platform will enhance our capacity to accurately measure food loss and waste, both in the G20 countries and in low-income countries,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. “It will bring new expertise and knowledge for improving metrics. It will also respond to countries’ need for knowledge and good practices.

In Japan, an estimated 6.42 million tons of food loss and waste is generated every year, about twice the 3.08 million tons of food provided by the United Nations World Food Programme as humanitarian aid in 2014.

To address this, Tatsuya Sekito, the CEO of the Japanese consulting company Glaucks Co., opened Kuradashi.jp, an online shopping website, in February 2015.

Kuradashi.jp sells products supplied by cooperating manufacturers that endorse its objectives. They provide their products at special prices, so most of the products are priced at half the regular price or lower. After free membership registration, anybody can visit the website and make a purchase.

The greater the sales on Kuradashi.jp, the greater will be the reduction in food waste, because these are products that would otherwise be discarded.

In 2020, the Olympics will be held in Tokyo. After the success of the London Olympics on the theme of sustainability, Tokyo will be seeking global attention for its efforts in managing the Tokyo Olympics to create systems for a more sustainable society.

Sekito says, “We can’t miss this opportunity. We want to use the power of business to reduce food waste and make progress toward improvements and solutions for this issue.


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Featured image: Young Georgia girl enjoys a Georgia peach (Photo by Bruce Tuten) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

Citizen Science Earns Respect

pollenbeeaustriaBy Sunny Lewis

VIENNA, Austria, September 20, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – “Citizen Science is one of the latest trends in science,” said the Medical University of Vienna late last month at the height of the pollen allergy season.

The Austrian Pollen Monitoring service at MedUni Vienna’s Department of Ear, Nose and Throat Diseases is founded upon active citizen participation and relies on continuing citizen monitoring every day.

In Austria, more than a million people suffer from a pollen allergy. Through the Austrian Pollen Monitoring service, the public is involved in defining questions and problems and in data collection.

This way, researchers receive considerable input from interested parties and affected laypeople.

MedUni Vienna’s Pollen Monitoring Service  headed up by Uwe E. Berger keeps a pollen diary that has been in use since 2009.

Our personalized pollen alert is possible because of the entries made by the thousands of people who use our service. It is the only one of its kind in the world,” says Berger.

Every pollen allergy sufferer has an individual threshold, a unique level of sensitivity and reactions to pollen counts. Together in a huge database, they provide a forecast of the expected situation for any individual, on a day-by-day basis.

By making accurate entries in the pollen diary, people can help themselves in the evaluation of therapies and everybody else as well.

A Pollen App has been available since 2013 and has been downloaded 320,000 times worldwide. Since March 2012, a total of around 1.3 million people have accessed the Pollen Monitoring Service website.

This service for pollen allergy sufferers is already available in 13 European countries: Austria,  Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Serbia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Each country claims more than 150,000 users.

An important aspect of citizen science is the need to keep the sensitive details of the participating public secure, Berger believes.

MedUni Vienna’s Pollen Monitoring Service does this in compliance with strict European Union standards, so that it is virtually impossible for data to be passed on to unauthorized parties, in addition to biometric security.

Citizen Science can be a simple form of involvement, such as crowdsourcing, where people provide specific data, to advancing the long tradition of lay research in astronomy and ornithology.

The National Audubon Society’s annual Great Backyard Bird Count, for instance, asks citizen scientists to count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the four-day February event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org.

Audubon’s Chief Scientist Gary Langham said, “This count is so fun because anyone can take part —we all learn and watch birds together—whether you are an expert, novice, or feeder watcher. I like to invite new birders to join me and share the experience. Get involved, invite your friends, and see how your favorite spot stacks up.

People participate from their backyards, or from anywhere in the world.

Last year, more than 160,000 participants submitted their bird observations online, creating the largest instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations ever recorded.

Each checklist submitted during the bird count helps researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and at Audubon learn more about how birds are doing, and how to protect them and the environment.

The 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count will be held Friday, February 17, through Monday, February 20, 2017.

In a related Audubon citizens science project, the National Phenology Network created Nature’s Notebook for people to record and contribute their own observations of plants and animals.

Phenology is the study of seasonal changes in plants and animals from year to year – the flowering of plants, the emergence of insects. migration of birds – especially their timing and relationship with weather and climate.

Assistant Director Theresa Crimmins says participants have identified changes such as lilacs leafing out earlier than normal, bees buzzing before there are flowers, spread of invasive species.

A group of researchers looked to see whether the range of an invasive plant, ragweed, was likely to change in the future,” said Crimmins, “and they showed that ragweed is only going to spread and get worse.

Crimmins says contributing to Nature’s Notebook is simple. People select which plants or animals to observe on a weekly basis, and answer yes-no questions about them.

Scientists can then use this data in their research. Land managers may use the data to make better-informed decisions about natural resources in their care, and decision makers use it to shape policy.

The Zooniverse is the world’s largest and most popular platform for people-powered research. Volunteers, hundreds of thousands of people around the world, come together to assist professional researchers.

Zooniverse projects combine contributions from many individual volunteers, relying on the “wisdom of crowds” to produce reliable and accurate data.

The goal is to enable research that would not be possible, or practical, otherwise. Zooniverse research results in new discoveries, publications, and datasets useful to the wider research community.

There is now a Citizen Science Alliance – a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop, manage and utilize internet-based citizen science projects to further science and the public understanding of the scientific process.

These projects use the time, abilities and energies of a community of citizen scientists – from classicists to climate scientists and ecologists to planetary scientists – spread out around the world.


Featured Image: Snowy Owl by Great Backyard Bird Count participant Diane McAllister. Posted for media use by Audubon Publication of source website prohibited.

Main Image: Pollen coats a bee in Klagenfurt, Austria (Photo by Christian Feenstaub) Creative Commons license via Flickr

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EU Patent Office Under Siege Over Seeds

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An organic garden in Walhain, Walloon Brabant, Belgium (Photo by Simon Blackley) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis,

MUNICH, Germany, July 12, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – More than 800,000 signatures against patents on plants and animals were handed to officials of the European Patent Office on June 29, as the EPO’s Administrative Council held a meeting in Munich.

By the signatures they have collected, civil society organizations are demanding that the EPO change its rules.

European patent laws do prohibit patents on plant and animal varieties, and on the conventional breeding of plants and animals.

But the civil society organizations behind the petition warn that the European Patent Office is undermining these prohibitions by granting more patents on food plants, including vegetables, their seeds and the harvested food crops.

In total, some 1,400 patent applications on conventional breeding have been filed at the EPO, and around 180 patents have been granted.

The petition comes in the context of a resolution passed by the European Parliament in December calling for a ban on patents for conventionally bred products; a groundswell against a patent requested by Syngenta for a conventionally bred tomato; and the recent revocation of a patent that had been issued by the European Patent Office to Monsanto in 2011 for a conventionally bred melon that resists viruses – “The Melon Case“.

The signatures were handed over to the president of the Administrative Council of the European Patent Office Jesper Kongstad, who also serves as director general of the Danish Patent and Trademark Office (dkpto), and to the chair of the Committee on Patent Law of the EPO, Sean Dennehey.

The signatures were collected in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Portugal and France.

The petition was organized by civil society organizations, including Campact from Germany, Arche Noah from Austria, Berne Declaration in Switzerland, Bionext in The Netherlands, the EU-wide group WeMove and dozens of organizations that are members of the international coalition No Patents on Seeds!.

The organizations are jointly calling for a change in the European Patent Office rules.

It is time for a change,” said Lara Dovifat for Campact, an organization that collected many signatures for the petition.

The patent system has become unbalanced. The interests of society at large, which does not want to become dependent on huge companies such as Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta, have to be given priority. Now is the time to stop patents on our food, seeds, plants and animals,” said Dovifat.

OrganicTomatoesFrance

Conventionally bred organic tomatoes for sale in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, France (Photo by Philip Haslett) Creative Commons license via Flickr

In 2015, the European Patent Office granted a patent to the Swiss company Syngenta for tomatoes with a high content of flavonols, compounds the company claims are beneficial to health. The patent covers the plants, the seeds and the fruits.

Opponents say this tomato is a product of crossing tomatoes originally from Peru and Chile with varieties currently grown in the industrialized countries, but is not an original invention.

European patent law is meant to prohibit patents on plant varieties and on conventional breeding. For this reason, the opponents want the patent to be revoked completely.

The members of the EPO’s Administrative Council are delegates from the 38 contracting states of the European Patent Convention. They have control of the Implementation Regulation, which defines the rules on how to apply current European patent law.

The civil society organizations are demanding that these rules are changed in order to stop further patents on plants and animals derived from conventional breeding.

They claim to be seeing support from many member states of the EPO, as well as from the European Commission and the EU Parliament.

An increasing number of member states such as Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Spain and The Netherlands are becoming increasingly aware of the problems that go along with seed monopolies and are unhappy with current EPO practice,” said Maaike Raaijmakers, speaking on behalf of Bionext, which represents the Dutch organic food sector. “Some of these countries have already changed their national patent laws or are invalidating these patents.

There is strong support from the EU Parliament and also some movement within the EU Commission. However, legal certainty will only be achieved if the rules and regulations at the EPO are corrected in a way that strengthens the current prohibitions to stop patents on plants and animals derived from conventional breeding,” said Raaijmakers.

In mid-May, members of the European Patent Organisation refused to accept a meeting requested by the opponents.

In May a symposium on patents and plant breeders’ rights was hosted by the Dutch Minister for Agriculture Martijn van Dam.

The International Foundation for Organic Agriculture (IFOAM) EU welcomed the Dutch Presidency initiative and urged the Commission to take concrete, legal action to put an end to patents on seeds.

Thomas Fertl, IFOAM EU Board Member and Farmers’ Representative, said, “The European Commission should urgently clarify that seeds and genetic traits that can be found in nature and obtained through conventional breeding cannot be patented.

The patent legislation has increasingly been used to grant patents on natural traits, which is a complete misuse of the patent system. This kind of patents fosters further market concentration in the seed sector and hamper competition and innovation,” Fertl said.

Today, only five companies control 75 percent of the seeds sold throughout the world and own most of the patents. This is corporate control over farming and the food chain at its most dangerous,” warned Fertl.

Raaijmakers said, “We are cooperating with conventional farming associations, NGOs and many concerned citizens to put an end to patent claims on our food. Farmers constantly need new varieties, as growing conditions on the fields and market demands change rapidly. Climate change makes it even more urgent for farmers to have access to a wide range of adapted varieties. Patents on seeds hinder the development of new varieties, reduce choice and increase prices for farmers and consumers. This threatens our food security in the long term.

Eric Gall, IFOAM EU Policy Manager, concluded, “Patents on seeds hinder innovation in breeding and block the circulation of genetic resources. Access to genetic biodiversity is essential for creating new varieties and should not be blocked by patents. Organic and smallholder farmers are particularly at risk of losing the varieties they need to farm.”

The Commission must issue a legal interpretation that clearly prevents these types of patents,” said Gall, “and should revise the biotech inventions Directive 98/44 in order to protect farmers from intellectual property rights claims regarding the plants and animals they save and breed.

The EPO has made no comment on the petition


Featured image:  123 RF stock footage

Sustainable Agriculture: Vertical Farming [INFOGRAPHIC]

By 2050 the global population is expected to reach nine billion, the world’s current food systems and agricultural technologies may not be enough to feed the world.   Combine population growth with climate change and global water shortages, the outcome may have the potential to cause wars over food shortages, and the lack of food security for both developed and under developed countries.

Biodiversity and sustainable agriculture, maybe the key to long term solutions for feeding the world.  One viable technology that is starting to show promise is vertical farming.  Vertical farms range from small indoor farms within peoples own garages or bedrooms to the world’s largest vertical farm based in New Jersey.

Vertical Farms may even be found in your local supermarket one day or at least in Berlin supermarkets. The Kräutergarten (‘herb garden’) uses hydroponic principles to grow plants out of nutrient-rich water.

Even the military are looking into using vertical farm technology on Navy submarines to ensure their crew have fresh fruits and vegetables on long hauls.

Vertical farms hydroponically grow plants using a nutrient solution instead of soil, often Sphagnum peat moss or coconut coir plugs.  They use 70% less water than traditional agricultural practices, effectually use space, have high yields that are not reliant on seasons and reduce the usage of pesticides in the environment.

Energy efficient LED lights are used to save energy as all vertical farms require 24hr energy for their grow lights a necessary element to the growing process.  Many vertical farms, especially industrial sized farms are using solar, wind, or biofuels as their net energy producers to ensure sustainable energy consumption.

In the world’s fastest growing urban areas vertical farming is being taken in to consideration by urban planners and policymakers as a viable solution to enhance urban food security and make more productive use of our urban spaces.

Investors interested in sustainable agriculture or new technologies that are socially and environmentally sustainable are looking at vertical farming as a viable investment. Though vertical farming has an infinitesimally small share of the existing agriculture market in the U.S., and as an emerging industry there will be struggles or failure, investors must do their due diligence.

For an more in-depth look into vertical farming read  “The Vertical Essay” and below is an great overview on How Vertical Farming Works, original infographic by: Futurism

Interested in investing or listing impact deals/ ventures within the sustainable agriculture sector visit: Maximpact Deal Listing Platform

Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist

Smallholder Diaries Open Doors to Financial Services

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Men cultivating land following heavy rain in Endulen, Tanzania (Photo by Geoff Sayer / Oxfam) Creative Commons license via Flickr)

By Sunny Lewis

DAR ES SALAAM, Tansania, June 23, 2016 (Maximpact.com) – Smallholder households, cultivating less than five acres, have financial needs that have been ignored until now, yet without this information, it’s tough for financial service providers supply smallholders with services, such as mobile money.

 About two years ago, the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a financial inclusion think tank of 34 organizations housed at the World Bank, decided to bridge this gap and gather smallholders’ information.

So, in June 2014, CGAP launched a year-long project “Financial Diaries with Smallholder Families,” known as the “Smallholder Diaries.”

These diaries offer an in-depth look at ways smallholders are affected by the agricultural cycle and how they manage their money in response to seasonal ebbs and flows.

 Conducted between June 2014 and July 2015, the diaries documented the financial and in-kind transactions of 270 households in impoverished northern Mozambique, the fertile farmlands of western Tanzania, and in Punjab province, the breadbasket of Pakistan.

The findings “National Survey Details Financial Lives of Smallholders in Tanzania” were released at an event held in Dar es Salaam late in May. Among the organizers and panelists were people from CGAP, from research firms Financial Sector Deepening Trust–Tanzania (FSDT) and InterMedia, and from a global strategy consulting firm, Bankable Frontier Associates.

 The diaries point to ways that financial service providers might better meet smallholders’ needs.

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Smallholder Diaries participants in Mozambique record their lives in images. (Photo by Erin Scronce) Posted for media use.

Some of the diaries were written and others were photographed. CGAP equipped a small group of Smallholder Diaries participants in Mozambique with cameras and asked them to record images from their daily lives that represent challenges and successes.

 Smallholder households face many risks: weather, pests, theft, illness and death all threaten the livelihoods of smallholder families by disrupting agricultural activities and depleting financial, emotional, and human resources. In most cases, smallholders are not equipped with the financial tools they need to cope with these risks.

In collaboration with the Financial Sector Deepening Trust–Tanzania (FSDT), CGAP conducted a nationally representative survey of Tanzania’s smallholder households between August and September 2015.

The survey found the next generation of farmers in Tanzania is uncertain and facing many challenges. At least 62 percent of smallholders are over 40 years old, and about 13 percent are under 30. Many live in extreme poverty, depend on their land and have few other income sources or financial tools.

“Smallholders are the backbone of rural Tanzania and as such, their engagement in the financial sector is very important,” said Mwombeki Baregu, head of rural and agriculture finance with the research firm FSDT.

 “Through this forum we want to discuss how to better service smallholder farmers to provide them with the products and services they need and want,” Baregu said. “Financial diaries and surveys give us insights into these needs and wants and what we will try to do is use them to develop solutions.”

In Tanzania, 98 percent of farmers are smallholders who work on less than two hectares of crop land, according to the Tanzania Agriculture Census of 2010, the most recent data available.

Access to basic financial services, mobile phones and other innovative tools can help these families, particularly the most vulnerable, lowest income households, to transition out of extreme poverty.

Mobile money services can be a powerful tool to bring the unbanked and those using only informal financial services into the formal financial sector.

They transform a mobile phone from a communications tool into a channel for low-cost financial services such as payments, transfers, insurance, credit, and savings.

Mobile money is established and maturing in Tanzania overall, serving new business areas and enabling a wider range of digital payments, including among some smallholder households, the CGAP study found.

CGAP financial sector specialist Jamie Anderson said, “This national data collection and research could spark better understanding of smallholder households and hopefully lead to financial innovations for this important group of people. The research provides greater insights into how these families transact, make financial decisions and deal with challenges they face on a daily basis.”

The CGAP study says, “Major advances in financial inclusion will be driven by solutions for the lowest income smallholder families who make up a third of the smallholder sector in Tanzania.”

“This group lacks knowledge of mobile phones, providers or banks and they are not aware of the benefits of financial services. Providing relevant financial solutions that address the priorities and needs of these smallholder families is key to breaking the financial exclusion barrier,” finds the study.

Mobile money is an entry point for broader financial services, the survey concludes. Nearly half of smallholder farmers, 49 percent, have a mobile money account and this tool can be expanded to offer other more sophisticated financial options.

Some smallholders are using mobile money for more advanced services such as savings and merchant and service payments. Providers have the opportunity to offer more and better products to this growing group of customers.

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Tanzanian smallholder uses her mobile phone, Oct. 2014 (Photo by Cilia Schubert) Creative Commons license via Flickr)


2/3 Food Cans Test Positive for Toxic BPA

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Karen Grubb empties cans of corn at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. (Photo courtesy USDA) Public Domain

 

By Sunny Lewis

WASHINGTON, DC, March 31, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – ConAgra Foods beat them all to it. The American packaged foods giant announced last July that all of its facilities in the United States and Canada had completed the transition to cans with linings that don’t contain Bisphenol A, a hormone-disrupting chemical linked to increased risk of breast and prostate cancers, infertility and type-2 diabetes.

Gail Tavill, ConAgra’s vice president, packaging and sustainable productivity, said then, “We recognize consumer interest in removing BPA from our cans and are pleased to be able to respond to that desire and offer food that our consumers can feel confident in.”

On Wednesday, a new report from six health and environmental groups found that 67 percent of nearly 200 food cans from dozens of brands and retailers tested positive for BPA, and now other companies are scrambling to remove the offending chemical from the linings of their cans.

Companies such as Campbell’s Soups. The study found 100 percent of the Campbell’s cans tested (15 out of 15) contained BPA-based epoxy.

On Monday, Campbell’s outlined the company’s plans to remove Bisphenol A from the linings of its cans by the middle of 2017 and transition to acrylic or polyester linings in all its soup cans.

Campbell’s first announced its intention to move away from BPA can linings in February 2012. Mark Alexander, president of Americas Simple Meals & Beverages, a Campbell’s company, said Monday that the technical and financial challenges have proven daunting and the company is still dealing with the “enormity of the task.”

“We ship nearly two billion cans each year, comprising more than 600 different recipes. Making a change of this magnitude requires input from hundreds of employees across the company,” Alexander said.

A particular challenge is cans containing tomatoes, which are naturally acidic and can react with some linings over time, said Alexander.

He emphasized that Campbell’s does not plan to pass the costs of making these changes on to consumers.

“Our priority throughout this transition has been, and will continue to be, food safety,” said Mike Mulshine, Campbell’s senior program manager, packaging. “We have tested and conducted trials with hundreds of alternatives to BPA lining and believe the acrylic and polyester options will ensure our food remains safe, affordable and tastes great.”

The report, “Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA & Regrettable Substitutes in the Linings of Canned Food,” was researched and written by: the Breast Cancer Fund; Campaign for Healthier Solutions; Clean Production Action; Ecology Center; Environmental Defence (Canada); and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families’ Mind the Store campaign.

“Our findings were alarming,” the authors say. “We expected that the explosion in consumer demand for BPA-free packaging would have resulted in swifter action by canned food brands and retailers. However, 67 percent of the 192 cans tested 129 contained BPA-based epoxy in the body and/or the lid.”

Hundreds of scientific studies have linked low levels of BPA, measured in parts per billion and even parts per trillion, to an increased risk of breast and prostate cancer, infertility, type-2 diabetes, obesity, asthma, and behavioral changes including attention deficit disorder.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration claims that BPA is safe for adults to consume at current levels, but in 2012 the agency banned the sale of baby bottles and children’s cups containing BPA.

“Food manufacturers refused to tell us what chemicals were in their cans, so we reverse engineered and tested them ourselves,” said Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center’s HealthyStuff.org research director. “Since they can’t hide these chemicals from consumers anymore, perhaps they will be more motivated to use safer materials.”

The “Buyer Beware” report is intended as a wake-up call for national brands and retailers who are eliminating BPA in favor of other harmful chemicals that the authors call “regrettable substitutions.”

“Consumers want BPA-free food cans that are truly safer, not food cans lined with materials comprised of known or possible carcinogens, such as vinyl chloride used to make PVC, or styrene, present in some acrylic coatings,” the report states.

Watchdog groups, including the authors of this report, are now calling on the canned food industry to make full ingredient disclosure, and conduct publicly transparent hazard assessments of BPA-replacement chemicals using the GreenScreen® for Safer Chemicals, to ensure that they are safe for human health and the planet.

The GreenScreen® method uses research and data collection coupled with expert judgment to find safe substitutes for hazardous chemicals.

“BPA-free doesn’t mean a can lining is safe, as the substitute could itself be harmful. That is why we are asking companies to take the GreenScreen Challenge and work with us to demonstrate the chemical safety of their can liners,” said Clean Production Action’s Beverley Thorpe, who helps companies understand the value of the GreenScreen® as a tool for replacing toxic chemicals with safe alternatives.

To conduct a meaningful assessment, suppliers must be willing to fully disclose the chemical ingredients – including polymers, additives or resins – of their can-lining materials to an independent GreenScreen® Profiler.

Profilers who conduct GreenScreen® assessments can offer Non-Disclosure Agreements to manufacturers and suppliers to keep chemical identities confidential.

The GreenScreen® challenge asks companies to publicly report their GreenScreen® hazard results with redacted chemical names to shield their proprietary recipes.

The hazard scores provide the information most needed by consumers, retailers and the brands themselves if they wish to reduce business risk.

BPA is in the linings of canned foods sold around the world.

Eighteen out of the 21 food cans purchased from three of the largest retailers in Canada – Walmart, Loblaws and Sobeys – contained BPA in their linings. These are popular products such as beans, tomatoes, chicken broth, and cranberry sauce.

A national survey shows that 95 percent of Canadians have BPA in their bodies, and food contaminated with BPA from cans is a major source.

“The fact that many food cans contain endocrine-disrupting BPA means that Canadians may be eating food contaminated with the hormone-mimicking chemical,” said Maggie MacDonald, Toxics Program manager with Environmental Defence. “This is very disconcerting as Canadians who rely on canned foods in their diets may be at continuous risk of developing serious health problems.”

Canada banned the use of BPA in baby bottles in 2010. Costa Rica also banned BPA in baby bottles and other child feeding containers in 2010.

The European Union banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups in 2011, but the ban was rescinded in 2015 after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a contentious re-evaluation of BPA exposure and toxicity.

Some EU nation states – Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France and Sweden – continue to regulate BPA strictly, despite the EFSA ruling, but only France has banned BPA from the lining of all food cans.

To ensure food is not contaminated with BPA, the “Buyer Beware” report recommends that consumers:

  • Look for soups and sauces in glass or other safe packaging.
  • Use glass, ceramic and stainless steel food storage containers and water bottles.
  • Use glass and ceramic in the microwave.
  • Avoid canned foods and choose fresh and frozen foods instead.
  • Skip the can and make foods from scratch.

“Most people in the United States are exposed to BPA every day, largely from food packaging, despite the negative health impacts. It shouldn’t be a buyer beware situation for shoppers every time they set foot in the canned food aisle,” said Janet Nudelman, director of programs and policy for the Breast Cancer Fund.

“Campbell’s and other major national brands need to get BPA out of food can linings and fully disclose the identity and safety of any BPA alternatives they’re using,” Nudelman said. “Consumers deserve protection from the toxic effects of this hormonally active chemical and the likelihood of exposure to unsafe toxic alternatives.”


 

Food Supplies At Risk as Pollinators Vanish

ButterfliesThistlesBy Sunny Lewis

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, March 1, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Apples, mangoes and almonds are delicious, pollinator-dependent foods, but these dietary staples are at risk because bees and other pollinators worldwide are disappearing, driven toward extinction by the pressures of living with humans.

The holes they are leaving in the fabric of life threaten millions of human livelihoods and hundreds of billions of dollars worth of human food supplies, finds the first global assessment of pollinators, published Friday.

Conducted by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the two-year study highlights ways to effectively safeguard pollinator populations.

Based in Germany, IPBES was founded four years ago with 124 member nations to develop the intersection between international scientific understanding and public policymaking.

The organization’s first biodiversity assessment, “Thematic Assessment of Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production” was compiled by a team of 77 experts from all over the world. It underwent two rounds of peer review involving experts and governments.

The final assessment was presented at IPBES’ 4th Plenary meeting, which took place February 22-28 in Kuala Lumpur, hosted by the government of Malaysia.

With citations from some 3,000 scientific papers, it is the first such assessment based not only on scientific knowledge but also on indigenous and local knowledge. Information about indigenous and local practices comes from more than 60 locations around the world.

“Pollinators are important contributors to world food production and nutritional security. Their health is directly linked to our own well-being,” said Vera Lucia Imperatriz Fonseca, PhD, co-chair of the IPBES assessment and a senior professor at University of São Paulo in Brazil.

The study finds that more than three-quarters of the world’s food crops are pollinated by insects and other animals. Nearly 90 percent of all wild flowering plants depend on animal pollination, the study notes.

Each year, at least US$235 billion and up to US$577 billion worth of global food production relies on the actions of these pollinators.

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Honey bee in the apple tree, Ontario, Canada, 2007 (Photo by Mike Bowler) creative commons license via Flickr

There are more than 20,000 species of wild bees, plus other species: butterflies, flies, moths, wasps, beetles, birds, bats and other animals, that pollinate the foods we love best.

Crop yields depend on both wild and managed species, the researchers found.

Pollinated crops are fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and oils – important sources of vitamins and minerals for human health and well being.

Chocolate, for example, comes from the seeds of the cacao tree. Two distinct kinds of midges are essential for the pollination of cacao trees, the study notes. No midges, no money. The annual value of the world’s cocoa bean crop is roughly US$5.7 billion.

“Without pollinators, many of us would no longer be able to enjoy coffee, chocolate and apples, among many other foods that are part of our daily lives,” said Simon Potts, PhD, the other assessment co-chair and professor of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading, UK.

Historically, bees have inspired art, music, religion and technology. Sacred passages about bees occur in all major world religions.

Food crops are not the only kind that need pollinators – there are the biofuels, such as canola and palm oils; fibers like cotton; medicines, livestock forage and construction materials. Some bee species make prime quality beeswax for candles and musical instruments, and arts and crafts.

But pollinators are disappearing. The study team estimated that 16 percent of vertebrate pollinators are threatened with global extinction, a number that increases to 30 percent for island species, with a trend toward more extinctions.

Global assessments are still lacking, but regional and national assessments show high levels of threat, especially for bees and butterflies. Often more than 40 percent of invertebrate species are threatened locally.

“Wild pollinators in certain regions, especially bees and butterflies, are being threatened by a variety of factors,” said IPBES Vice Chair Sir Robert Watson.

“Their decline is primarily due to changes in land use, intensive agricultural practices and pesticide use, alien invasive species, diseases and pests, and climate change,” said Watson, a British atmospheric chemist who has served as a chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPBES study confirms declines in regional wild pollinators for North Western Europe and North America.

Local cases of decline have been documented in other parts of the world, but data are too sparse to draw broad conclusions.

José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, said, “Enhancing pollinator services is important for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as for helping family farmers’ adaptation to climate change.”

The assessment found that pesticides, including the notorious neonicotinoid insecticides outlawed in some countries, threaten pollinators worldwide, although the long-term effects are still unknown.

Pests and diseases pose a special threat to managed bees, but the risk can be reduced through better disease detection and management, and regulations on the trade and movement of bees.

The effects of genetically modified crops on pollinators are poorly understood and not usually accounted for in risk assessments.

The decline of practices based on indigenous and local knowledge is a factor too. The traditional farming systems; maintenance of diverse landscapes and gardens; kinship relationships that protect specific pollinators; and cultures and languages that are connected to pollinators are all important in safeguarding the tiny creatures.

“The good news is that a number of steps can be taken to reduce the risks to pollinators, including practices based on indigenous and local knowledge,” said Zakri Abdul Hamid, elected founding chair of IPBES at its first plenary meeting in 2012.

So, one solution is supporting traditional practices that manage habitat patchiness, crop rotation, and coproduction between science and indigenous local knowledge, the study finds.

Safeguards include the promotion of sustainable agriculture, which helps diversify the agricultural landscape and makes use of ecological processes as part of food production.

Achim Steiner, executive director, UN Environmental Programme, thinks humans have to take this situation seriously, saying, “The growing threat to pollinators, which play an important role in food security, provides another compelling example of how connected people are to our environment, and how deeply entwined our fate is with that of the natural world.”


Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Main Image: In Lorton, Virginia, the Meadowood Special Recreation Management Area’s pollinator garden attracts butterfly species like these Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, Papilio Glaucus. (Photo by Jennifer Stratton, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, BLM Eastern States) public domain
Featured Image: Red-belted Bumble Bee, Bombus rufocinctus, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, August 2014 (Photo by Dan Mullen) creative commons license via Flickr

Gates Funds Climate-Smart Rice Development

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By Sunny Lewis

LOS BANOS, Philippines, January 6, 2015 (Maximpact.com News) – Climate change-ready rice seeds of several varieties have reached millions of farmers in Asia and Africa under a forward-looking program known as Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia, or STRASA.

Developed by the Los Baños-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the program distributes new rice varieties tolerant of stresses such as the droughts and floods, salinity, and toxicity, to millions of farmers coping with these stresses.

STRASA began at the end of 2007 with IRRI in collaboration with AfricaRice. Conceived as a 10-year project with a vision to deliver the improved varieties to at least 18 million farmers on the two continents, the first two phases of the project have been funded with about US$20 million each.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funding the third phase of the IRRI-led project with US$32.77 million through 2017.

Rice is the most important human food crop in the world, directly feeding more people than any other crop. In 2012, nearly half of world’s population, more than three billion people, relied on rice every day.

Rice is produced in a wide range of locations and under a variety of climatic conditions, from the wettest areas in the world to the driest deserts. Thousands of rice varieties are cultivated on every continent except Antarctica.

But as the climate changes, more varieties are being developed to help farmers produce their crops regardless of droughts that shrivel the rice plants and floods that rot them.

About three years into the STRASA program, in May 2011, Bill Gates described how he sees the revolution in rice production.

“What’s going on right now in Africa and South Asia is not a collection of anecdotes about improvements to a few people’s lives,” Gates said. “This is the early stage of sweeping change for farming families in the poorest parts of the world. It’s an historic chance to help people and countries move from dependency to self-sufficiency – and fulfill the highest promise of foreign aid.”

STRASA in Africa

Gary Atlin, senior program officer with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told the 3rd Africa Rice Congress held in October 2013 in Yaoundé, Cameroon, “The best adaptation to climate change is a breeding and seed system that rapidly develops, deploys, and then replaces varieties so that farmers will always have access to varieties adapted to their current conditions.”

This strategy is at the heart of STRASA, which helps smallholder farmers who are vulnerable to flooding, drought, extreme temperatures, and soil problems, such as high salt and iron toxicity, that reduce yields.

Some of these stresses are forecast to become more frequent and intense with climate change.

Climate change is already having a negative impact on Africa through extreme temperatures, frequent flooding and droughts, and increased salinity according to Baboucarr Manneh, irrigated-rice breeder at Africa Rice Center and coordinator of the African component of the STRASA project.

More than 30 stress-tolerant rice varieties have already been released in nine African countries with support from the STRASA project, said Dr. Manneh.

“One of the key impact points for STRASA will be the quantity of seed produced and disseminated to farmers,” said Dr. Manneh. “As seed production continues to be a major bottleneck in Africa, the main thrust of our recent STRASA meeting was to help countries develop seed road maps.”

Sometimes, various stresses, such as salinity, cold, submergence, and iron toxicity, can occur at the same time.

“That’s why the third phase of the STRASA project will focus on breeding for multiple stress tolerance,” Dr. Manneh explained.

STRASA in India

“Use flood- and drought-tolerant rice to get maximum profit from your small landholdings in the stress-prone areas of Bihar,” said Radha Mohan Singh, Union minister for agriculture and farmers welfare, to a gathering of more than 1,000 farmers at the foundation ceremony of the National Integrated Agriculture Research Centre in Motihari, Bihar, India last August.

Minister Singh told the farmers of how scientists from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research took him to a pond planted with a new flood-tolerant rice variety that was fully submerged in water for 15 days. “I immediately asked them, ‘Why this much water? Wouldn’t the rice rot?’”

But the crop variety that survived 15 days of submergence had “very good yield,” the scientists said.

These flood-tolerant seeds now are available for farmers in Motihari. Trials of a drought-tolerant rice variety are also being conducted in several Motihari villages.

“Following the Minister’s speech, the IRRI booth received a rush of inquiries from farmers,” said Dr. Sudhanshu Singh, International Rice Research Institute scientist and rainfed-lowland agronomist for South Asia, who represented the Institute during the foundation ceremony and exhibit.

About 10 million of the poorest and most disadvantaged rice farmers have been given access to climate-smart rice varieties.

“Swarna-Sub1 changed my life,” said Trilochan Parida, a farmer at the Dekheta Village of Puri in Odisha, India.

Floods ravage Parida’s rice field every year. Flooding of four days or more usually means a loss of the crop as well as of any expected income. But in 2008, Parida saw his rice rise back to life after having been submerged for two weeks.

Swarna-Sub1 is a flood-tolerant rice variety developed by the Philippines-based IRRI. It was bred from a popular Indian variety, Swarna, which has been upgraded with SUB1, the gene for flood tolerance.

“Under the past phases of the project, 16 climate-smart rice varieties tolerant of flood, drought, and salinity were released in various countries in South Asia. About 14 such varieties were released in sub-Saharan Africa. Several more are in the process of being released,” said Abdelbagi Ismail, IRRI scientist and STRASA project leader.

In addition to improving varieties and distributing seeds, the STRASA project also trains farmers and scientists in producing good-quality seeds. Through the project’s capacity-building component, 74,000 farmers, including 19,400 women farmers, underwent training in seed production.

3,000 Rice Genomes Sequenced

Now a scientific advance has made even more progress possible.

A remarkable 3,000 rice genome sequences were made publicly available on World Hunger Day May 29, 2014.

This work is the completion of stage one of the 3000 Rice Genomes Project, a collaborative, international research program that has sequenced 3,024 rice varieties from 89 countries.

The collaboration is made up of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), and is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology.

IRRI Director General Dr. Robert Zeigler said, “Access to 3,000 genomes of rice sequence data will tremendously accelerate the ability of breeding programs to overcome key hurdles mankind faces in the near future.”

“This collaborative project,” said Zeigler, “will add an immense amount of knowledge to rice genetics, and enable detailed analysis by the global research community to ultimately benefit the poorest farmers who grow rice under the most difficult conditions.”

The 3000 Rice Genomes Project is part of an ongoing effort to provide resources for poverty-stricken farmers in Africa and Asia, aiming to reach at least 20 million rice farmers in 16 target countries – eight in Asia and eight in Africa.

Dr. Jun Wang, director of the Beijing Genomics Institute, said, “The population boom and worsening climate crisis have presented big challenges on global food shortage and safety. BGI is dedicated to applying genomics technologies to make a fast, controllable and highly efficient molecular breeding model possible.”

“This opens a new way to carry out agricultural breeding. With the joined forces with CAAS, IRRI and Gates Foundation, we have made a step forward in big-data-based crop research and digitalized breeding,” said Dr. Wang. “We believe every step will get us closer to the ultimate goal of improving the wellbeing of human race.”


Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

 

Editors note: Dr. Jun Wang is no longer the director of the Beijing Genomics Institute, although he was at the comment quoted. Dr. Jun Wang is now a scientist and research group leader with BGI.

Head image: A farmer planting rice in Pangkep, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, 2014 (Photo by Tri Saputro / Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) under creative commons license.
Featured image: Sample seeds from among the 127,000 rice varieties and accessions stored in the International Rice Genebank at the International Rice Research Institute.​​ (Photo courtesy IRRI)

Sustainable Standard Set for Half the World’s Main Dish

RicePlantingJapan

MANILA, Philippines, November 11, 2015 (Maximpact News) – The world’s first standard for sustainable rice cultivation debuted late last month, presented by the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP)a global alliance of agricultural research institutions, agri-food businesses, public sector and civil society organizations.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the United Nations Environment Programme convened the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) five years ago in order to promote resource use efficiency and climate change resilience in rice systems so important to global food security.

At its 5th Annual Plenary Meeting and General Assembly in Manila October 27-29 the Sustainable Rice Platform welcomed representatives of its 29 institutional stakeholders.

Isabelle Louis, Deputy Regional Director and Representative UNEP Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, opened the meeting by reminding the more than 120 delegates that at least half the world’s people rely on rice.

“With more than half the world’s population, 3.5 billion people, depending on rice for 20 percent or more of their daily calories, and almost one billion of the world’s poorest people dependent on rice as a staple, we are reminded of the critical importance of rice,” she said, “rice as a source of livelihoods and food and nutritional security for billions; rice as a consumer of land, water and other natural assets; and on the other hand, rice as a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.”

“According to IRRI, by 2050, we are going to need 50 percent more rice to feed the world’s population,” said Louis, “and most of this increase will have to come from intensification and increased productivity.”

The new Sustainable Rice Standard is made up of 46 requirements, covering issues from productivity, food safety, worker health, and labor rights to biodiversity protection.

One requirement, for instance, is documented proof that the soil is safe from heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury, and lead.

Another that inbound water is obtained from clean sources that are free of biological, saline, and heavy metal contamination.

A third requirement is that measures are in place to enhance water-use efficiency.

An attached set of quantitative Performance Indicators enables farmers and market supply chain participants to gauge the sustainability of a rice system, and to monitor and reward progress or the lack of progress.

“The SRP Standard represents the world’s first initiative that will set environmentally sustainable and socially responsible rice production management standards,” said Robert Zeigler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

“Our key challenge now,” he said, “is to incentivize and scale up adoption, especially among resource-poor small farmers.”

The SRP says a fifth of the world’s population depends on rice cultivation for their livelihoods.

The SRP Standard uses environmental and socio-economic benchmarks to accomplish three things: maintain yields for rice smallholders, reduce the environmental footprint of rice cultivation, and meet consumer needs for food safety and quality.

Development of the standard draws on global experience in other sustainable commodity initiatives such as sugar, cotton, coffee and palm oil, said the developers: UTZ Certified, Aidenvironment and IRRI and members of the Sustainable Rice Platform.

They took into account the unique challenges rice cultivation presents for environmental protection.

Growing rice uses 30 to 40 percent of the world’s freshwater and contributes between five and 10 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, especially the potent greenhouse gas methane (CH4), according to the IRRI.

The crop yield is declining from 2.2 percent during the 20 years from 1970-90 to less than 0.8 percent since then.

And the global rice production area also is declining due to land conversion, salinization and increased water scarcity.

To complicate matters, pesticides used on rice kill nontarget rice field fauna, accumulate in the food chain, runoff from the ricefields, pollute the water table, and take their toll on farmers’ health.

Paddy fields and irrigation systems facilitate breeding of mosquitoes that act as vectors of malaria, lymphatic filariasis, Japanese encephalitis and dengue.

All these effects can be more extreme in tropical and subtropical environments, where climatic and cultural conditions are more favorable to vector-borne diseases and CH4 production.

Kaveh Zahedi, director of the UNEP Regional Office of Asia and the Pacific, has confidence in the effectiveness of the new standard to solve many of these problems.

“For most of Asia Pacific, rice is a staple. It is part of the social fabric and influences many aspects of our lives – economic, social and religious,” Zahedi said.

“The SRP Standard and Indicators will help ensure that the cultivation of this vital commodity becomes more sustainable and benefits people, communities and the planet.”

RicefieldBali


Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Main image: Caption: Spring rice planting in Chiba Prefecture, Japan (Photo by Phil Hendley under creative commons license via Flickr)
Featured image: Harvesting rice in northern Vietnam (Photo by Tran Thi Hoa / World Bank under creative commons license via Flickr)
Image 01: Rice terraces in northern Bali, Indonesia (Photo by Patrik M. Loeff under creative commons license via Flickr)

Honors to Women and Girls Who Feed the World

  • AbedQatar

By Sunny Lewis

DES MOINES, Iowa, October 28, 2015 (Maximpact News) – Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder and chair of BRAC, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, was honored earlier this month as the 2015 World Food Prize Laureate for improving the world’s supply.

And for building one of the world’s largest and most effective anti-poverty organizations.

Sir Fazle is first to acknowledge that the success of BRAC is built on empowering women and girls.

“We have focused attention on women so far because we felt that women could actually play a much bigger role than they have in the past,” Sir Fazle said in his Laureate Address in Des Moines October 16.

“If there is no food in the household and there are children hungry, what is the mother going to do? We deliberately focused our attention on women as change agents in our societies,” he said.

Empowering and educating women and girls has been central to BRAC’s success in confronting hunger and malnutrition and releasing millions of people from poverty in Bangladesh and 10 other countries.

The global reach of BRAC is unique, with more than 110,000 employees around the world, and a further 150,000 BRAC-trained entrepreneurs providing low-cost seeds, medicines and training to their rural neighbors.

“It is difficult to express in words how honored and deeply touched I am by this recognition,” Sir Fazle said upon receiving the award.

“The real heroes in our story are the poor themselves and, in particular, women struggling with poverty who overcome enormous challenges each day of their lives,” he reminded the audience.

“Through our work across the world we have learnt that countries and cultures vary, but the realities, struggles, aspirations and dreams of poor and marginalized people are remarkably similar.”

AbedGirl

Sir Fazle, who was knighted by the British Crown in 2009, has grown BRAC from a 1972 wish to help Bangladesh recover from a deadly tropical cyclone and war of independence, until today it employs over 100,000 people, 70 percent of them women.

BRAC now operates 18 financially and socially profitable enterprises, across the health, agriculture, livestock, fisheries, education, green energy, printing and retail sectors.

BRAC enterprises that reduce hunger and poverty are seed production and distribution, feed mills, poultry and fish hatcheries, milk collection centers and processing factories, tea plantations and packaging factories.

These enterprises generate income that is used to subsidize primary schools and basic healthcare.

In these ways, BRAC has been a leader in empowering women and girls through microfinance, education, healthcare, and encouraging their active participation in directing village life.

BRAC has just increased its commitment to girls’ education in low-income countries with a five-year pledge to reach 2.7 million more girls through primary and pre-primary schools, teacher training, adolescent empowerment programs and scholarships.

World Food Prize President Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, a former U.S. ambassador to Cambodia, appreciates the emphasis BRAC give to women and girls.

“At a time when the world confronts the great challenge of feeding over nine billion people, Sir Fazle Abed and BRAC, the organization he founded and leads, have created the pre-eminent model being followed around the globe on how to educate girls, empower women and lift whole generations out of poverty,” said Quinn.

The World Food Prize award ceremony and Laureate Address are part of the annual Borlaug Dialogue, a food security conference named for Norman Borlaug, who was awarded the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his work to feed the world.

ClintonChelsea

Chelsea Clinton, vice president of the Clinton Foundation, was one of the keynote speakers during this year’s Borlaug Dialogue, held in downtown Des Moines. Her focus was the empowerment of girls and women.

“Women are a crucial, vital and necessary part of solving the challenge of alleviating hunger,” said Clinton, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

About 800 million people “aren’t getting the nutritious food they need. And we’re not on track to feed the nine billion people we expect to have on our planet by 2050,” she said.

“We’re squandering our potential,” Clinton said, when we send signals to young girls that their looks are more valuable than their brains.

Through BRAC, Sir Fazle has been a leader in empowering women and girls not through their looks, but through microfinance, education, healthcare, and encouraging their active participation in village life and community cohesion.

“We have always used an approach to development that puts power in the hands of the poor themselves, especially women and girls,” he said. “Educated girls turn into empowered women, and as we have seen in my native Bangladesh and elsewhere, the empowerment of women leads to massive improvements in quality of life for everyone, especially the poor.”


Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

 Featured image: Sir Fazle Hasan Abed speaks at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative, New York City (Photo by Taylor Davidson / Clinton Global Initiative via Flickr)
Slide-show images: A) At the World Food Prize Award ceremony Oct. 16, 2015, from left, Mrs. Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi (2012-2014), Sir Fazle Hasan Abed holds the World Food Prize, John Ruan III, World Food Prize Chairman. (Photo courtesy The World Food Prize) B) His efforts are respected in the Arab world. Here, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed receives the first-ever WISE Prize for Education given by the Qatar Foundation, a windfall of $500,000. From left: Sheikh Hamad bin Khalife Al-Thani, Amir of the State of Qatar; Sir Fazle, Dr. Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani, Chairman of the World Innovation Summit for Education, WISE. Doha, Qatar, Nov. 1, 2011. (Photo courtesy WISE Qatar)
Image 01: Sir Fazle Hasan Abed reads with a girl in Bangladesh. (Photo courtesy World Food Prize)
Image 02: Chelsea Clinton speaks at the C2MTL Montreal, May 28, 2015, Montreal, Quebec, Canada (Photo by Mila Araujo@Milaspage via Flickr)

Much more than just a conference – Lilongwe Malawi, 14-17 April 2015

World Vision AUS

We need your help to raise $122,000

in order to restore land and change lives

Maximpact is reaching out to its network to assist World Vision  in raising  the remaining $122,000 for the 2015 Beating Famine Conference in Africa.

This is your opportunity to be part of a global movement

In 2012 the first Beating Famine conference was held in Kenya, with incredible results. The conference introduced cost effective land regeneration techniques and instigated the roll out of ground-breaking projects across the East Africa region. These projects are now actively restoring land, regenerating trees, increasing crop yields and ultimately improving livelihoods and food security for people across East Africa.

  • Contributed to NEPAD/Africa Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance’s decision to cast FMNR as a foundation of Climate Smart Agriculture.
  • Helped convince the Australian Government overseas Aid program to invest $1.5 million matching funds to the FMNR for East Africa project.
  • Contributed to the Dutch Government decision to fund the Euro 40m DGIS project in five Sahelien countries.
  • Resulted in strengthening World Agroforestry Centre – World Vision collaboration, helping to scale up activities East Africa and opened up new opportunities around the world.

In 2015 we want to offer you the chance to be involved in the second Beating Famine conference, to be held in Malawi. Our 2012 event was the catalyst for huge changes in the region. In 2015 we want to provide Southern Africa with the same opportunity. We cannot do this without your help.

World Vision Malawi, World Vision Australia, and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) will deliver the ‘Beating Famine’ conference from 14-17 April 2015. It will showcase leading global land restoration techniques and will feature world class speakers from the private sector, NGOs, research institutes, governments and more,. This conference is more than just a way to reach out to local farmers and communities, it is also a vibrant platform for knowledge sharing and developing new partnerships in the sector.

About the 2015 Beating Famine Conference

The conference will showcase leading global land restoration techniques and will feature world class speakers from the private sector, NGOs, research institutes, governments and more.

This conference is more than just a way to reach out to local farmers and communities, it is also a vibrant platform for knowledge sharing and developing new partnerships in the sector.

How you can help

There are many ways that you can actively support this conference and Southern African communities. Your attendance will not only involve you in a global movement, it will provide you with networking and knowledge sharing opportunities.

Alternatively your donation can go towards co-sponsoring this conference, which will secure your promotional material and presence throughout.

To be involved 

If you would like to support, attend or donate the Beating Famine Conference please contact us on +61-3-9287-2604 or email us at info@beatingfamine.com

For more information please visit www.beatingfamine.com

world Vision

The Evolving Meaning of Sustainability

By Marta Maretich  @maximpactdotcombaby hands plant

Sustainability is a key concept for our times. For impact investors who want to put their capital behind better ways of doing business, it’s an important indicator of investability. But what exactly do we mean when we say “sustainability” or “sustainable”?

The dictionary sheds a little light.

Sustainability:
1. Conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.
2. Able to be upheld or defended.

Originally taken from the biological sciences, the term sustainability first referred to conservation of natural resources. Though it retains this meaning, sustainability today can mean different things in different contexts. Sustainability in its classic sense and new uses of the term are proliferating as sustainability goes mainstream in business and popular culture.

The mainsteaming of classic sustainability

The definition is changing as the movement goes mainstream. More businesses are taking steps to incorporate sustainability into their operations as well as their performance metrics; national governments are regulating and incentivizing it in a number of new ways. Meanwhile investors are increasingly making non-financial performance, including sustainability, a priority when choosing where to place capital.

All this means that “sustainability” is an evolving idea with increasingly diverse interpretations. Most sustainability efforts still focus on the environment, however, with an emphasis on maintaining ecosystems and conserving natural resources for future use.

Sustainable forestry: Saving forest habitats has been an active area for impact investors. Despite the collapse of carbon markets, organizations like Rainforest Alliance are expanding their activities. Certification schemes like the FSC are helping sustainably sourced wood to become standard in building and consumer goods.

IrrigationSustainable agriculture: Impact intermediaries like Root Capital and development organizations like OPIC have developed successful models for promoting sustainability in agriculture. Encouraged by government regulation and subsidies, big agribusiness companies like Monsanto and multinationals like Coca Cola, are now pursuing sustainability strategies.

Sustainable water use: With changing climate in places like California driving the adoption of more sustainable water policies, businesses and services are springing up to meet a newly-defined demands. Driven by regulation, large multinationals including Unilever are beginning to look at water sustainability from a number of angles: their own use, water use by suppliers, and the water needed to use their products.

Sustainable mining: Mineral extraction is a sector with a raft of social and environmental issues and has been avoided by many social investors. That may change as groups like the IIED work to build the commitment to sustainability across the industry.

Sustainable energy: The focus is on wind, water, solar and other forms of generation and storage, such as hydrogen cell batteries. A popular area for impact investors, even designer Vivienne Westwood has committed GBP£1 million to sustainable energy. Big fossil fuel companies are also putting money into it. Though their motives are often questioned, it is a sign of how far the notion of sustainability is becoming part of the fabric of corporate life in the developed world.

Sustainable consumer goods

Sustainability has taken on a new meaning in consumer markets as it has become a persuasive selling point for everyday goods and services. Public enthusiasm remains high for brands with sustainability credentials and sustainable practices, far from being unusual, are now what consumers expect of businesses.

Sustainable fashion: The fashion industry has been thriving in a throwaway culture, but the photograph of a lady in a dress of flowerssustainable fashion movement hopes to change attitudes and move toward sustainability. To keep up with this vibrant movement, follow top tweeters in fashion sustainability and check out the five top sustainable fashion stories of 2014.

Sustainable building: Changing the way we build and design cities could make a huge difference to our future and, increasingly, governments are regulating for sustainability in construction processes, materials and design. This is reshaping the construction industry, especially in the developed world. Construction companies are adapting the way they source and use products and materials and new education centers, like this one at Harvard, and this one in Edinburgh, are training the sustainable builders of the future.

Sustainable tourism: More people are taking vacations than ever before, but increasingly tourists want to avoid damaging the environment, squandering natural resources or hurting local communities. The global travel industry is waking up to this fact and offering sustainable tourism to the masses. Portals such as Sustainable Tourism Online provide go-to resources for the public and professionals who want tourism to be good for the planet and the communities in host countries.

Evolving meanings: Financial sustainability

Beyond its original, environmental meaning, sustainability has recently developed a financial meaning that applies in some sectors. Governments strive to make public services “sustainable”. Non-profit organisations try to create “sustainable” programs to deliver mission. In this context, sustainable can mean both environmentally sound or financially viable for the future or both.

Sustainable healthcare: Concerns about being able to afford healthcare for citizens in the future is driving innovation in healthcare delivery and finance models.In a bold move, the UK health service, the NHS, is embracing both environmental and financial sustainability.

Sustainable transportation: Concerns about climate change, contracting budgets and public pressure are encouraging many governments, including China’s,  to organize public transportation policies around sustainable principles, in both the financial and evironmental senses.

Sustainable finance: In a final evolution, “sustainable finance” seeks to apply the principles of sustainability to banking and investment. Impact investing and its sister disciplines across the spectrum of social finance including responsible investing, ethical investing, social investing and microfinance form part of this growing movement, which seeks to revolutionize the use of market methods to create better social and environmental outcomes.  Sustainable finance methods are now being put to use in a wide, and growing, range of contexts, with new techniques and approaches developing across the sector. For more on sustainable finance,  browse the top five stories in sustainable finance for 2014.

Conclusion

Sustainability has moved from the margins to the mainstream and is now a widely-accepted approach being incorporated into many areas of business, finance and the consumer marketplace. As it continues to expand its influence, sustainability will continue to evolve new meanings and serve as a paradigm for conservation and wise stewardship of the environment, human and natural resources and, now, capital. This movement is positive, but for impact investors seeking sustainable investments, it will mean taking a closer look at all claims for sustainability and determining exactly what is meant.

Want to comment? Tell us how you are innovating in sustainability? Tweet us @maximpactdot com

Root Capital Proves the Business Case for Social and Environmental Due Diligence

by Marta Maretich

Like most social investors, Root Capital assumed the social and environmental due diligence it carried out when assessing potential loan clients was a necessary cost to the organization. When they took a close look at their loan book, the truth took them by surprise.

“We initially set out to build the impact case for social and environmental due diligence,” says Willy Foote, founder and CEO of Root Capital. “Along the way, we started to notice an emerging business case for social and environmental due diligence in the form of reduced risks and new growth opportunities.”

Analyzing its own data from a well-established and diverse portfolio of social lending projects, Root Capital was able to identify five areas where there were compelling synergies between social, environmental and financial interests:

1. Identifying and mitigating credit risk Social and environmental due diligence proved key to mitigating supply risk; related to smallholders selling their harvest to other buyers; and the risk of product rejection due to inadequate quality or certification violations, leading to financial losses.

2. Generating new business Root Capital found it attracts new clients because of their track record of caring about social and environmental factors. Their good reputation in the communities where they operate boosts their business.

3. Identifying businesses with growth potential Businesses at an early stage may not be able to present compelling financial statements. In these cases, due diligence can uncover growth potential; for example, a strong base of producers and the existence of potential higher-value markets.

4. Strengthening businesses Social and environmental due diligence provides an opportunity for clients to identify ways to improve their relationships with suppliers and manage their natural resources more efficiently, improving the viability of their businesses.

5. Deepening relationships with existing clients The social and environmental due diligence process reveals unmet financial needs among existing clients; and gives Root Capital an opportunity to meet them, thus building their loan portfolio with trusted clients.

All this sounds terrific; but what do the numbers tell us about the financial value of social and environmental due diligence?

According to the briefing, early analysis suggests that Root Capital’s social and environmental due diligence program covers its own costs. With five percent of their loan officers; time devoted to it; across a loan book of $120.8 million to 205 enterprises in 2012; initial analysis concludes that social and environmental due diligence helped Root Capital avoid write offs and generated enough incremental revenue to pay for itself.

This is potentially game-changing news for the impact and social investing sector which has long thought this kind of due diligence was a financial cost, not a benefit. It turns out that due diligence can be a means to bring local market knowledge, environmental awareness and community engagement into the financial equation, leading to better decisions for the lender and better impact outcomes.

The impact case for social and environmental due diligence is already strong; Root Capital, with its commitment to measurement and transparency has done much to validate it. With this briefing, and more like it planned for the future, Root Capital is now taking steps toward building the business case. For the impact sector, it is a further sign that the practice of impact and social investing is advancing and at the same time becoming a mainstream way of doing business.

It is also something of a challenge to the rest of us: When will other impact investors choose to reveal and make useful sense of their numbers? When you see how unexpected the results can be, you know that the sooner we all do it, the better.

For more on this and future briefings, go to Root Capital’s website.

Sustainability Drives Impact Investment in Natural Resources

by Marta Maretich

Natural resources have always been precious to mankind. Today, they are more in demand than ever. Population growth, climate change and the rising affluence of developing nations are putting a strain on the planet’s limited resources. Water, arable land, food, fuel and raw materials are seeing a period of unprecedented demand and there is worldwide concern about future shortages and the destruction of ecosystem services, such as photosynthesis, pollination, flood prevention and climate stabilization, that results from over-exploitation.

But while the pressures on our resources are getting bigger; and the consequences of depleting them are getting clearer; there are positive developments, too. A global movement for sustainability is now maturing and this is encouraging an explosion in the kind of responsible resource businesses that belong in our impact portfolios.

Sustainability goes mainstream

Once a thing of the green fringe, sustainability is now mainstream and this is one of the factors that makes natural resources attractive investments now. Governments are the key drivers of today’s sustainability agenda as they increasingly use policy, regulation and subsidy to support the development of new kinds of businesses and convert existing businesses to more sustainable practices. Working in concert with governments, international bodies like the UN, the WEF and the World Bank are launching programs designed encourage sustainability and establish standards in a range of resource sectors. Natural resources are seen as key to development for some of the world’s poorest communities; including rural smallholders and indigenous peoples; and this puts them at the center of international efforts to raise living standards.

Meanwhile, public awareness of sustainability issues increasingly drives consumer choices. Businesses; even those that once ignored the idea; now know that being able to demonstrate sustainability makes economic sense. Jobs in sustainability are multiplying as businesses hire analysts, consultants and other specialists to manage their sustainability and reporting commitments.

Resources take center stage

With sustainability a growth area for world markets; and a priority for many world governments; there is a new focus on natural resource investing. The emphasis now is on finding ways to make more of nature’s gifts while preserving and maintaining them for the future. New businesses; and new ways of doing business; are springing up, encouraged by government policy and shaped by the expertise of development and philanthropic organizations who have blazed trails in the areas of sustainable use of resources.

This is good news for impact investors looking to place their capital in the natural resources sector. Here are some of the trends and developments in four resource areas: Oceans, Minerals, Forestry and Land.

Oceans

The world’s salty waters have been a focal point for resources-based activity in recent months. Concerns about overfishing and acidification, a consequence of the seas absorbing high CO2 emissions, are leading governments, environmental campaigners and business leaders to place a new emphasis on the oceans and this is changing the investing landscape.

On the governmental side, 2013 saw the US instituting the National Oceans Policy, joining other governments including Australia, South Africa, Namibia and the Philippines in establishing comprehensive, future-focused policies for ocean resource management. The social enterprise sector kept in step, highlighting the issue by including an ocean themed “track” at SOCAP13. For the first time veteran campaigners and ocean champions discussed ocean topics along with journalists, entrepreneurs, and impact investors from other sectors including small scale agriculture, health, and poverty alleviation; all of which are connected to ocean and coastal issues. Meanwhile, in the private sector, The Economist is throwing its weight behind sustainability issues as it plays host to the World Oceans Summit in California in February of this year.

These developments set the stage for a mini-boom in sustainable marine businesses in areas like fishing, aquaculture and energy and mineral extraction. New government regulations will also drive growth in compliance industries, such as environmental remediation and business-to-business services providing sustainability reports and the like.

Minerals

Mining; and its products, mineral; have a bad reputation in the world of sustainability. Mineral extraction is widely associated with human rights violations, environmental damage and conflict. For those reasons it remains a largely unexplored sector for impact investors. Yet in the mainstream financial markets, mining is big business, with growth driven by demand from the resource-hungry emerging economies like China, India and Brazil; demand that is not going away anytime soon. This fact, plus the alluring possibility of helping to bring change to the mining sector, means that impact and sustainable investors should think again about minerals when looking for places to commit their capital.

The tools for change may already be in our hands. An excellent piece of research conducted by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) charts the significant progress made in mining policy, oversight and governance over the last decade, especially by the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), a coalition of mining companies that has embraced sustainability standards and put issues like indigenous rights, community development and climate change on its agenda.

The IIED report indicates a rising awareness and acceptance of sustainability in the industry itself; a hopeful sign for the future. The challenge for the next 10 years, it concludes, will be implementing those standards we now have more widely. Such a move could transform the mining industry; and impact investors, with an insistence on standards and reporting, could play an important part in this transformation.

Groups like the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM), which works on behalf of an estimated 20 million small-scale and artisanal miners worldwide, are already hard at work bringing change. They have developed supply chains for sustainably mined products and created the Fairtrade and Fairmined gold standards for the industry. Deals have already been struck with jewellery manufactures and, like conflict-free diamonds before them, these ethical products should find favor with consumers as they hit the marketplace in the near future.

Conflict minerals have been a contentious issue for some time and a measure of progress has been made in addressing the human and environmental costs of mineral extraction in places like the Congo. Electronics industry giant Intel has now moved to make all its microprocessors free of conflict minerals. The industry pressure group, the Electronics Industry Citizen Coalition (EICC), has compiled a useful list of conflict-free smelters and refiners, while the NGO the Enough Project has ranked companies for their use of conflict-free minerals.

Yet the path ahead is not yet clear for sustainable mining; and this is another reason for impact and social investors to enter this market. A powerful coalition of business leaders recently petitioned a panel of federal judges to overturn a provision of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law that requires companies to disclose their use of minerals from Africa. This would be a major setback for the movement for sustainable mining. However, the presence of more social investors and conscientious corporations in this resource sector could make all the difference to the way mining develops in the future.

Forestry

Unlike mining, forestry is already a popular focus for impact investors. Many sustainable forestry enterprises have cropped up in recent years, working to conserve; and sustainably exploit; wooded environments across the globe and these remain attractive investments.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing, though. Carbon offset schemes were central to many forestry enterprises and the collapse of the world carbon markets in 2012 was a blow to the sector. Some forestry sustainability accreditation programs have come under fire, too, and there has been a shakeout in certification schemes that many hope will lead to a more reliable system.

Despite this, impact investors, like the Packard Foundation, have largely stuck with forestry because of its many wider benefits. Sustainable forest management supports biodiversity and habitat conservation, creates local jobs, protects indigenous communities, fosters eco-tourism and recreation, contributes to food stability, and aids climate stabilization; as well as having the potential to generate diverse revenue streams and attract tax breaks.

Meanwhile new technologies are expanding the horizons of sustainable forestry. Innovations, such as the use of drones and sophisticated geo-mapping techniques, are advancing the science of forest management, making it possible to do more with woodlands while we protect them. Eco-tourism and boutique woodland businesses are taking off in many parts of the world. The link between agriculture and forest habitats is contributing to the search for ways to bring prosperity to some of the world’s poorest communities. At the same time, big multinationals such as paper manufacturers are bowing to regulatory pressure and seeking ways to develop more sustainable supply chains, a shift which will have implications for sustainable forestry businesses.

Land

Land is a resource that offers a host of opportunities for impact investing both in emerging and developed economies. Essential to human life and prosperity, land produces food, water, wood, fibre, fuel and minerals and, when managed responsibly, it also provides vital ecosystem services such as photosynthesis, pollination, nutrient cycling, water purification, soil formation, climate stabilisation and flood prevention.

Increasingly, land use and ownership is seen as the key to solving many of the world’s most pressing environmental and social problems. Large international organizations like the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) are now promoting responsible land investments as a way to halt land degradation and preserve the integrity of our natural capital. Land and property rights are also central to poverty alleviation, and securing land for use by rural populations is a priority for many development organizations.

Yet, as is true across the natural resources sector, there is a right way and a wrong way to invest in land. Oxfam has raised concerns about a global land grab where big investors, often foreign governments and pension funds, buy up large tracts of farmland, especially in parts Africa, Latin America and Asia, squeezing local people out. Their report drew attention to the negative impact on local communities of the wrong kind of investing and led to a call to the World Bank to end its participation in these deals.

To make sure they are part of the solution, not part of the problem, impact investors need to be aware of the issues. The right kind of investing respects the rights of locals to “Free and Prior Informed Consent”, promotes land rights and good land governance and fosters food security both locally and internationally. To avoid possible pitfalls, investors would do well to tune into the conversation about land use here and here, and subscribe to sets of principles like these and these.

In the developed world, land investment is often part of a move to a more green and sustainable lifestyle. Iroquois Valley Farms, chosen as one of the Impact Assets 50, leases farmland to organic farmers, while Beartooth Capital acquires western ranches for conservation and use as eco-tourism destinations. In cities, land acquisition plays a part in neighborhood regeneration and community home ownership schemes. With these models turning profits, and the movements behind them gaining popularity, we can expect to see more opportunities for land investment in developed economies in the future.

Conclusion

Natural resources have long been a promising sector for impact investors, especially those with an emphasis on the environment. What’s new is the increasing involvement of governments in supporting sustainability. For some natural resource industries, this is putting sustainability on the map for the first time. For others, government support and improved standards are advancing the development of sustainable practices and sparking innovation. All of this is good news for impact investors who want to put their capital behind businesses that contribute to the future health and prosperity of the planet and its inhabitants.

Image credit: 123RF

The IPCC Summary Report on Climate Change: What it Means for Impact Investing

By Marta Maretich

On 27 September 2013, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the first of three volumes of its fifth Assessment Report (AR5). The long-awaited report summary emerged amid a flurry of media coverage and a volley of commentary, both pro and contra. Its main conclusions were clear, however: climate change is real, its effects are already measurable, and it is being caused by human activity.

AR5 Summary Highlights

– Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident in most regions of the globe.

– Warming in the climate system is unequivocal.

– Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is projected to be likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 in all but the lowest scenario considered, and likely to exceed 2ºC for the two high scenarios

– Projections of climate change are based on a new set of four scenarios of future greenhouse gas concentrations and aerosols, spanning a wide range of possible futures. The Working Group I report assessed global and regional-scale climate change for the early, mid-, and later 21st century.

Source: the UK government

The summary report has sparked controversy worldwide.

Some rushed to embrace the findings while others immediately set out to disprove the science and question the motives behind it. The world’s reaction is a measure of how emotive; and divisive; the issue of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change has become for governments, businesses and individuals in the years since the first IPCC report in 1990. With passionate feelings on both sides, the controversy is set to continue.

Challenging times for believers

The report’s publication follows a rough period for those who believe that climate change poses a threat to life on earth. In 2001, the US, under the administration of George W. Bush, rejected the Kyoto agreement on global warming. Flaws in the AR4, IPCC’s 2007 report; among them the apparent claim that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035; drew intense fire from critics and distracted attention away from AR4’s core findings. They provided more fuel for the so-called climate change deniers; those who hold that global warming is a hoax or a conspiracy to slow progress.

From 2008, the economic crisis prompted world leaders to put economic growth ahead of environmental protection, with many governments backing away from previous emission-lowering commitments. The worldwide carbon market, including the EU’s cap-and-trade scheme, essentially collapsed in 2012, leaving questions about its efficacy as a means to control emissions.

Against this background the summary report comes as a wakeup call from the most respected source of climate science the world has. The new report has been widely accepted as the most convincing body of evidence of climate change and the human role in it so far. For impact investors, it could have profound importance on many levels.

What does it mean for the impact investing sector?

It’s fairly safe to say that most of those involved in the impact investing sector are already convinced of the reality of climate change. Many already focus their investing activity on areas relating to climate change such as agriculture and agribusiness, food security, forestry, land and water use, waste management and reduction, clean and renewable energy, energy efficiency and cleantech. For this reason, it’s likely that impact intermediaries, impact investing funds and social entrepreneurs will take the IPCC report as a renewed call to action.


However, the new IPCC report will change the impact investing landscape for everyone. Impact investors will see the effects of changes in government policy, the attitude of big business and international public opinion.
What will be some of the main currents affecting our impact investing strategies?

Governments respond with policy

The release of the summary report was a huge event, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the IPCC findings. The 19th annual meeting of the UN Climate Change Convention will be held in Warsaw from 11-22 November. At this meeting, the IPCC will deliver further scientific evidence to diplomats in order to facilitate policy decisions. A new legal commitment with respect to carbon emission will then be drawn up, replacing the 1994 accord. This is scheduled to take effect by 2015.

In preparation for these events, governments across the world are already formulating their policy stances. There are questions about how individual governments will react in the face of the new evidence. Climate change remains highly controversial in some developed countries, notably the US and Australia where it has become an issue that divides the political left and right. India, China and other rapidly industrializing countries are also wary: they have so far been unprepared to agree emissions cuts unless more developed countries do the same. Meanwhile island nations like Tuvalu, and South Asian countries like Bangladesh, both highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, argue for a robust international response.

For impact investors, one thing is certain: there will be a new legal framework guiding climate change policy worldwide in 2015. Whatever the shape of this framework, it will change the investing landscape in many countries and have far-reaching effects for impact investors in many parts of the world. Much will depend on the structure and extent of the new laws, which will be hotly debated by governments. Regardless of the outcome, things will change for impact investors. The direct effects will be felt through the policies, programs and incentives governments create in response.

Where governments take a lead

In places where government policy supports pro-climate investing there are likely to be more opportunities for collaborative investments working across government agencies, impact intermediaries, impact funds and private investors.

Collaborative cross-sectoral arrangements are already a characteristic of the impact investing world. In the UK, Sustainable Development Capital was awarded £50 million by the UK government’s Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to invest in energy efficiency infrastructure projects. Big Society Capital, an independent fund created by the government, invests in many climate-friendly initiatives, especially in cleantech, energy efficiency, and sustainable energy for disadvantaged communities in Britain.

The UK provides what is probably the best current example of a dynamic government-lead approach to market-based social investing. As other governments take action to meet new policy commitments, they will be looking for solutions and partners.

Seasoned impact intermediaries and funds; of which there are a growing number; can bring specialist skills and knowledge to collaborative cross-sectoral arrangements for financing impactful businesses. They are also in position to benefit from government subsidies and tax incentives focused on meeting carbon reduction targets. For these reasons, the ability to work for and with government could prove essential for impact investors and the businesses they finance.

..and where they don’t

Where government leadership is lacking; and incentives such as tax breaks, subsidies and government co-investment are not forthcoming; global development agencies, philanthropic organizations, activists and impact investors will have to take the initiative in catalyzing the response to climate change. This may not be a bad thing: some commentators believe that private action, not government intervention, will be the key front in the fight against human-caused climate change. There’s already evidence that governments have been scaling back their commitments to climate change action and pushing responsibility onto NGOs and private companies, while private investors have been picking up the slack.

Many organizations and activists have been operating this way for decades and will continue to do so regardless of what governments do in response to the IPCC findings. The US provides many examples. The same country that rejected the Kyoto Protocol; and produced some of the most virulent and well-funded examples of climate change denial; has also given the world some of the most progressive models of local and state support for climate-friendly businesses and approaches.

This independence has made parts of the US leaders in areas like clean energy, energy efficiency, renewables, organic and sustainable agriculture and sustainable forestry. The States boasts some of the most mature markets in these new kinds of businesses, proving that federal government policy needn’t be an obstacle to progress.

The new markets remain volatile and, despite everything, still subject to the effects of government policy and subsidy (the rollercoaster of cleantech provides one example). Yet it looks as though these market areas will grow as communities and values-driven businesses, if not governments, look for new ways to react to climate change. This could be a growth area for impact investors and businesses.

Mainstream businesses go greener

Large multinational corporations and mainstream business will also feel the effect of the new climate change policies at ground level; and this will have a knock-on effect for impact investors and the businesses they capitalize.

All businesses will need to respond to the international regulations that grow out of the new IPCC report findings. More directly, they will need to meet national and regional standards set locally, and these too will be affected by the report. There also seems to be a feeling in the corporate sector that an upturn in the economy will leave them freer to take steps toward carbon emissions reduction. Many see a “green” profile as key to their corporate image. A growing number of organizations in the developed world are making sustainability a core value in their operations and employing sustainability professionals to help them achieve it.

All this will drive the market for services that support sustainability and carbon emission reduction in companies; for example, consultancies that help organizations shrink their carbon footprint and conserve resources. This will create a possible growth area for impact business-to-business providers, offering services that embed sustainability and carbon-thrift into corporate operations practice.

CSR, now a norm for business, will continue to play a key role in the business/government/climate change triangle. Already an important factor, CSR will become more central as the need for businesses to meet emissions targets increases under new regulations; and new, very real resource pressures anticipated by the IPCC report. A closer relationship between CSR and impact investing could open new avenues for corporations to use their considerable resources for good. Supports like the impact business CSR Hub, which helps track the effectiveness of CSR efforts, will help businesses hone their choices and give the public information about the real effect of corporate claims.

Beyond this, there’s a trend toward mainstreaming businesses that once were considered alternative. Words like sustainability, clean or green technology, renewable and clean energy; all important areas for lowering carbon emissions; already feature prominently in the reports of large multinational companies. General Electric invests in renewable energy projects, while ExxonMobile has programs for reducing its greenhouse emissions and innovating carbon capture technologies and biofuels made from algae. This is largely an effect of earlier government regulation on emissions. But it’s partly due to public pressure and, for some of the companies, canny strategic positioning for a future where business will have to be energy efficient to be successful.

The fact that these companies continue non-climate friendly business practices alongside these progressive ones leaves them open to the accusation of greenwashing from some quarters. Nonetheless, these examples are evidence of a mainstreaming of climate-friendly technologies and approaches in business. This trend suggests that the demand for them will continue and increase, especially as resources, such as fossil fuels, arable land and water become more scarce, as the IPCC findings seem to indicate they will.

This “greening” trend among multinationals could create opportunities for impact intermediaries, dynamic impact enterprises and engaged impact investors. Those who successfully bridge what’s been called the “pioneer gap” and manage to scale up socially and environmentally beneficial businesses to the point where they can join the mainstream, will be able to attract investment by multinationals and a wider pool of “neutral” investors; those for whom positive impact goals are not a motive for investment. This could increase the flow of capital into beneficial enterprises exponentially; and finally establish impact investing as a normal way to do finance.

Reducing Carbon Emissions: Key sectors for impact investment

(Maximpact Deal Listing)Agriculture

Agribusiness

Cleantech

Biotech

Renewable Energy

Energy Efficiency

Forestry

Waste Reduction

Land Remediation

Water

Sanitation

The public demands change

Another important consequence of the IPCC report will be its influence on public attitudes toward climate change; this too will have consequences for impact businesses and for the practice of impact investing.

Some recent surveys of public attitudes in developed countries have recorded a shift toward a more skeptical view of human-generated climate change. Pro-climate-change commentators put this down to the success of a well-organized media campaigns by special interest groups opposed to more government regulation.

But there is also a common-sense issue: people doubt the science when they don’t perceive significant climate change around them. Extreme weather events, such as the last year’s heavy snowfall in the US and the high temperatures in Australia, have been shown to produce large swings in public opinion in favor of belief in climate change. As events such as these become more common, as the IPCC report suggests they will, it’s likely that the climate will make its own case for action.

Still, there’s plenty of evidence that suggests that the public already accepts the idea of anthropogenic climate change and wants to see governments, businesses and individuals do something about it. The IPCC report will strengthen the convictions of many who already feel that we need to change tack. As impact investing becomes more accepted as a means of effecting positive change, this group will be supportive, buying products and services from impact businesses and providing funding, through micro-lending and crowdfunding platforms. The popular movement for divestment from fossil fuels could create a whole generation of small investors looking for more climate-friendly ways to deploy their capital.

People in developing countries; some of whom will be the worst hit by the effects of climate change; may need more convincing. As mentioned before, the governments of countries like China and India look on moves to limit carbon emissions as curbs to their growth by developed nations. Similarly, people in the developing world focus on the need for economic growth and view the talk of controlling emissions and resource consumption with suspicion.

There is some evidence that this is beginning to change. As in the developed world, people in economically emerging countries are beginning to see the effects of climate change for themselves; often in disastrous forms. Extreme weather events such as droughts and floods have the power to change opinions there, too. And there is anecdotal evidence that those who work on the land, farmers, are seeing the changes firsthand. These local observations, plus the hard lessons of extreme natural forces, may shift world opinion in time to make a difference.

For people in the developing world, the impact investing model could offer a middle way between economic development and climate stewardship. Its market-based approach encourages economic growth, while its commitment to positive impact has the power to channel that growth in climate-friendly directions. In this sense, the multiple bottom line of impact investing holds out hope for developed countries, too, who also need to find new ways to thrive economically without further damaging the planet.

Impact: a powerful tool to counter climate change

It looks likely that the IPCC report will generate a new groundswell of activity around the issue of climate change and this could be a boon for the growing, diversifying impact investing sector.

Impact investing’s pragmatic approach to finance, and its commitment to capitalizing impactful businesses, make it a powerful weapon in the fight to save the planet from the effects of global warming. Its market methods translate across borders and geographies, providing solutions for developed and developing countries alike. Its flexible techniques can be used in many contexts to support the kind of businesses, processes and technologies that can help minimize climate damage while supporting economic development.

All this means that it’s time to for the impact sector to get to work. There are still market infrastructure issues that need to be solved: impact metrics and the lack of exits are two important examples. More research is needed; investment models need to be tested, honed and replicated. Education for impact professionals, now in its early days, still needs to be developed as the sector expands, professionalizes and becomes, in time, part of mainstream finance.

However, if some of these limitations can be overcome, impact investing could play a key role in helping mankind develop an effective response to the threat of climate change. Let’s all hope the warning has come in time; and we are up to the job.

How to Find Impact Investors to Finance Your Sustainable Business

By Marta Maretich

Originally posted on the OpenForests blog. OpenForests is a consultancy specializing in sustainable forestry projects.

So, you’ve written the business plan. Congratulations! (And thanks to OpenForests for their useful guide to writing a business plan for a sustainable forestry enterprise.) Now you’re ready to look past the trees and focus on the forest; the wide world of impact investment. It’s time to go out and raise capital. But where do you start?

Decide what kind of investment you’re looking for

Capital is capital, right? Not exactly. There are many different ways of structuring finance and many different ways a business can relate to its investors. Writing your business plan has given you an idea of the amount of investment you need. Now it’s time to think about the kind of investment you’re looking for.

Are you looking for debt or equity? How long will you need the money for? Do you want partners who will offer more than just capital, who will give you advice and contacts, for example? Do you need pure capital, or a blend of capital and grants?

To find out which model might work for you, tune in to the wider world of impact investing and learn about your options. Find projects similar to your own and research how their funding is structured and who their investors are. Websites and company reports can help you form a picture of what’s out there and develop more knowledge about funding choices.

Build impact measurement into your business plan

In the world of impact investment, impact measurement is as important as financial return. Impact investors look for financially viable businesses that have clear, defined and above all measurable social and/or environmental outcome targets.

To succeed with impact investors, impact metrics need to be prominent in your business plan and your pitch. You’ll need to decide which measures will mean success for you, then define how you will measure and report them. This blog by Jonanthan Kuo shows how important metrics are to Acumen, a successful impact investing pioneer.

How do you know which metrics to include? There are several systems on offer right now but IRIS, from the GIIN is a good starting place for those new to impact metrics. This standardized system offers a broad range of metrics that can be adapted to suit the needs of your business. The key is to choose metrics that are realistic, practicable, fit into your operations and serve your strategic goals. For more on the best way to “do metrics” see my recent blog post for Maximpact.com.

Research investors

The range of impact investors is growing and so is their spectrum of approaches. Some impact investors simply provide capital, others mix catalytic capital with grants to promote growth. Still others work as venture philanthropists, bringing hands-on expertise and networks to help businesses grow. Getting familiar with the different types of investors will help you target the ones that can help you most.

Conferences like SOCAP are a good place to learn about and meet potential impact investors; and if you can’t be there in person, they make videos of many of their discussions and panels available on the web.

Industry blogs like OpenForests, media streams like FastCoexist or Huffpost feature stories about impact businesses and the investors that support them. Our impact deal portal, Maximpact.com, hosts all of these types of investors on it, all of them actively looking for deals. Do your groundwork and understand your options.

Types of impact investors

  • Accelerators, Hubs and Intermediaries
  • Angel Investors
  • Venture Philanthropists
  • Enterprise Capitalists
  • Large corporations with sustainability agendas
  • Foundations
  • Family offices
  • Governments
  • International development agencies

Cultivate relationships

Business, like life, is all about relationships. Cultivating good relationships with a number of potential investors will pay off now and in the future.

Make a short list of impact investors to approach with your business plan and research them carefully before you set up a meeting. Identify their impact mission- do they want to stop deforestation, protect indigenous communities, promote synergies between agriculture and forest habitats?

Find out what investments they’ve made in the past and learn the names and backgrounds of key personnel; impact investing remains a sector where personal values matter, even at the highest levels.

Once you understand your investor, you can speak to their interests and demonstrate how your project will help them meet both their financial and social or environmental impact goals.Be prepared for a two-way dialogue. Your investors may have strong views about your business model and impact goals. Keep an open mind and be prepared to negotiate.

For more insights into how impact investors think about business, see this post by Tilman Ehrbeck.

Find out more about Maximpact.com or list a deal on our global platform.

[Image credit: 123rf]

Spotlight Deal: Composting Adds Value for Mali Farmers

In the rural areas of some developing countries, bio-waste is a problem and so is the degradation of arable land through soil erosion and moisture loss. A new deal on the Maximpact platform offers a solution to both of these challenges for farm communities in rural Mali.

Working with the Malian government, Transcarbon, a consulting firm that advises on sustainable development, has come up with a plan that will allow farmers to add value and increase production by transforming bio-waste into fertilizer.

It consists of a program to construct small-scale, efficient, low-cost composting stations to treat waste that is normally left to decompose without control or recovery. The compost can be used to restore soil fertility, increase crop yields and reduce consumption of chemical fertilizers while at the same time improving sanitation in the villages.

The economic benefits to Malian rural communities include job creation – an average of five jobs will be created in each village; and increased incomes through selling the compost. There’s also potential to earn carbon credits from methane reduction.

For private sector investors, the outlook is also positive. The per-feasibility analysis carried out by Transcarbon shows that the project carries a low technical risk, has both strong commercial viability and value proposition, and has solid potential for replication and scalability. Desk and field due diligence are complete and the detailed project proposal has been finalized.

For more information, log in to Maximpact.com and use the Deal Search function to find deal D000461. Not a Maximpact member? Register today.

[Image credit: michelealfieri / 123RF Stock Photo]

Where Are the Opportunities for Impact in Agriculture?

The big corporations, governments and NGOs will continue to be active in agriculture, but there are still opportunities for impact investors.

Scaling up existing models

Impact investing already has a track record of success in agriculture. Over years of experience organizations like Root Capital have developed models that have proved their effectiveness in providing impact finance to key rural smallholder communities. Now these methods are ready to be brought to scale, applied to new parts of the world and extended to new crops and new markets. GEXSI, Toniic and Total Impact Advisors are some of the intermediaries currently listing smallholder finance deals on the Maximpact platform now.

This could be an important avenue of growth for impact investing and for world agriculture with a ready-made demand for capital, a group of experienced financiers and proven models for making the finance work. And, because these seasoned financiers are good at sharing their knowledge, possibilities for replication and franchising make more impact possible.

Pioneering longer-term finance

These providers are also taking their investing into new territory and this could be another area to watch for investors. So far, most of the tried-and-true models have provided short-term finance for specific agricultural activities. Yet there’s a need for longer-term finance for a greater range of activities.

Some experienced lenders, including Triodos, are beginning to establish longer-term funds for just these cases. The buzz is that we may see other organizations joining forces and coordinating their efforts to create a bigger impact in the sector. This is a riskier approach,yet it has the potential to catalyze food production in many parts of the world and have an impact beyond any seen so far. Watch this space.

Moving from “alternative” to mainstream

The taste for sustainably produced,responsibly sourced and organic and Fair Trade certified food is growing in all parts of the world, as is the interest in locally produced food. Banks in many places are still reluctant to lend to small and mid-sized producers on terms they can afford.

This creates another area of potential profit for impact investors. Some already have a track record of providing finance to small and medium-sized, local producers of high-quality food. In the US, Iroquois Valley Farms is one example of a company tapping into this part of the market. Iroquois ValleyFarms buys land then leases it on a long-term basis to mid-sized local and organic farming businesses. In New Zealand, Agro-Ecological offers a range of supportive finance for organic and sustainable producers, while in Canada Investco Sustainable Food Fund does the same.All these companies currently have live deals on the Maximpact deal site.

Embracing agribusiness

Impact investors should look beyond farmers to find opportunities in agribusiness in its widest sense. The term agribusiness embraces every aspect of commercial food production, from growing, to processing,to market delivery. It includes new and high-tech methods and equipment as well as services to producers, including financial ones. It links agriculture with rapid growth areas like cleantech, renewable energy, water technology, bio-technology and sustainable forestry.

This broad sphere provides multiple opportunities to invest for impact a snapshot of Maximpact’s platform demonstrates this with its range of agribusiness deals: a business that caters to the information management needs of coffee farmers; an off-grid cold storage system that allows farmers to get their perishable produce to market in good shape; a eco-lodge that combines sustainable cocoa production with tourism. Several deals combine forest stewardship and agriculture; and important theme for impact. Agribusiness even extends into the ocean, with a deal for Hawaiian company innovating new ways to produce seafood.

For more information on any of the deals mentioned here, log in to Maximpact and navigate to the deal platform. Not a Maximpact member? Register now.

Mike McCreless Reveals the Secrets of Root Capital’s Success

Root CapitalBy Marta Maretich

Root Capital is one of impact investing’s success stories.This nonprofit social investment fund grows rural prosperity in poor, environmentally vulnerable places in Africa and Latin America by lending capital, delivering financial training, and strengthening value chains for small and growing rural businesses. Since 1999, Root Capital has disbursed more than $500 million in loans to more than 425 borrowers representing nearly 750,000 farmers and artisans in 40 countries in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa while maintaining a repayment rate of 98% for borrowers and a 100% repayment rate to investors.

But what lies behind this impressive record? Mike McCreless, Root Capital’s director of strategy and impact, talks to Maximpact about the importance of agriculture, the secrets to Root Capital’s success and what’s coming for agricultural impact investing in the future.

Maximpact: Why is agriculture such a key sector for impact investing?

Mike McCreless: The first reason is that the need is so great. There are 2.6 billion people living on less than $2 a day, which is the international poverty line. 75% of these people live in rural areas and most of them are involved in agriculture. If you want to reach these people, agriculture is a good place to start

The second reason is that agriculture has been a neglected area for decades in international development circles. Beginning in the 80s and through the 90s there was a trend of disinvestment in agriculture. Foreign aid for agriculture dropped from 18% in 1979 to 3% in 2004. Root Capital began work in1999, when investment in agriculture was near its lowest ebb.

Today, investment in agriculture is making a resurgence. Foreign aid agencies and commercial capital are getting back into the picture; the New Alliance for Food Security, Feed the Future and World Bank Global Food Crisis Response Program are some examples. Policymakers are beginning to realize the power of agriculture to both to achieve food security at a national level and to transform livelihoods for the rural poor. At the same time, it’s becoming clear that any approach to mitigating climate change must involve agriculture given its large carbon footprint, especially as practiced in many developed countries. Finally,better agricultural practice is needed to feed a global population that will reach 9 billion by 2050.

Maximpact: You say the funding picture is improving for agriculture. Is there still a role for impact investors?

Mike McCreless: The funding, both public and private, is beginning to come back. However, the private capital is drawn primarily to the bigger deals, for large-scale commercial agriculture. Most of that money is not reaching down to the 2.6 billion living on $2 per day, mainly smaller farmers with one to four acres of land. This means there’s still an important role for impact investors to play.They can place their money with the agricultural businesses that engage directly with those smallholders who may not be benefiting from the large-scale influx of agricultural monies.

Maximpact: There are many ways of doing impact investing. How does Root Capital do it?

Mike McCreless: We invest in emerging agribusinesses that have the potential to connect smallholder farmers to markets but cannot access loans locally because they are considered too small, too risky, and too remote by commercial banks. Many of our clients are cooperatives, owned and managed by the farmers themselves. Others are private businesses that source product from smallholders or sell them agricultural inputs such as seeds.

In most cases, the businesses we invest in aggregate the harvests of 100, 1000 or even a few thousand farmers. With access to credit,they can purchase more volume from farmers and more reliably supply their buyers, which often leads to larger purchases the next year and, over time,price premiums tied to improved quality. When farmers can connect to markets in this way they’re able to get a higher share of the end price than if they sold to a local trader.

We don’t establish new agricultural businesses ourselves. Rather,we build on the strength of pre-existing, locally-driven initiatives. Where there is already momentum for change and a market-based approach but a financing constraint, we can unlock latent potential with our loans and financial management training. We have found that capital by itself is often not enough. Fledgling agricultural businesses also need support in managing cash flows, assembling financial statements, and building a credit history, and our financial advisory services team helps businesses to these things.

Maximpact: What are the special challenges for impact investing in agriculture?

Mike McCreless: There are a lot of not very glamorous specifics that are key to making it work. There’s a lot of technical knowledge related to agricultural risk and small-scale farming; harvest cycles, perish ability, quality standards in the market. An investor needs to understand these.

You also have to be able to scope the whole agricultural value chain from the farm to the end buyer. You need a good feel for who the buyers are and for the relationship between buyers and a given agricultural business. Likewise, you need a sense for the strength of the relationship between the agricultural business and the smallholder farmers whose harvest it purchases. This informs how much of that product it makes sense to finance and how to structure the finance to support the business and mitigate risk.

Maximpact: Root Capital has been very successful as an impact financier. What are the keys to your success?

Mike McCreless: Honestly, the financial tools are not complicated. The key for us is choosing the right businesses to invest in. The way our model works from an impact and finance perspective is that we are able to identify clients in an early-stage sweet spot, where they’re ready for external capital but not yet able to access it, and we provide the capital they need to grow. We look for agricultural businesses that really can’t get a loan anywhere else because they’re too small or because local banks often don’t lend to agricultural businesses. Then we give them that first loan that helps them achieve their potential.

Having the right personnel is also key. A lot of our loan officers, our founders and early employees came from backgrounds as farmers. Others came out of a farmer cooperatives or agribusiness, often in the finance function. Their expertise makes it possible for them to assess the risks and the credit worthiness of agricultural businesses. Today we still hire loan officers who have that combination of agriculture and finance backgrounds. We favor people who grew up in the country where we’re operating, who have local knowledge, know local languages, and are familiar with the agricultural businesses in that region.

There’s been an interesting evolution over the course of the last several years where intuitively “knowing how to pick-em” has been translated into formal systems and processes that can guide people how to do that on a larger scale.

Right now we’re trying to formalize and crystallize the process of how to pick businesses to invest in. We’ve developed a social and environmental due diligence process that is embedded into our credit evaluation process. Our social and environmental due diligence is based on what our most mission-driven and perceptive loan officers knew intuitively to look for, buttressed by additional research and consultation with outside experts. We are preparing our first issue brief on the topic.

Maximpact: What’s in the future of impact investing for agriculture?

Mike McCreless: We think there will be a formalization of what’s been happening in this sector over the last ten years, a re-emergence of a formal sector around agribusiness investing and smallholder agricultural finance. For instance, just last year the Dalberg Group published an important report that suggests several paths forward for this sector. This report has gotten great traction and we anticipate that increased collaboration will follow as a result.

We also see an extension of impact investing to new frontiers such as longer-term investments linked to increasing productivity. An example: coffee rust in Central America is wiping out coffee crops. This is a bigger problem than Root Capital can tackle alone so we’re working with a range of partners that can bring different types of expertise to address the problem.

Fundamentally, the idea is to provide finance for farmers to”renovate” their coffee farms or replace aging and often sick plants with young, healthy ones. Although many of Root Capital’s loans are for one year or less, we are increasingly offering long-term loans, for instance for major capital expenditures. Coffee renovation loans would be even longer-term investments because it takes three years for a coffee tree to start to produce coffee, and longer to reach full productivity.

A lot can happen in that time. It’s a riskier but a higher impact investment, because without renovation the farmer would eventually be left without any income from coffee as the trees age and die. To stay on the leading edge we need to find new ways to bring financial tools to meet new challenges. Even as we keep on offering familiar products in familiar sectors, finding the next frontier of unmet needs is key for the sector.

Maximpact: Who do you admire in this sector?

Mike McCreless: Good question! Financiers such as Root Capital can always improve practice by learning from organizations on the sourcing and production side. We learn a lot from organizations like Catholic Relief Services who have been very active in tackling the coffee blight. They understand the cutting edge of best practice in terms of production methods, processing and farmer engagement. They are finding new ways to help farmers re-invest in themselves and contribute the time and the money to capitalize their cooperative for long-term success. These are all things we need to understand to be successful.

We also admire; and learn from; many of our buyers. For this reason identifying the buyers that deliver benefits to smallholder farmers is the way forward. Good buyers are, for us, the best value chain partners.

As for buyers we admire? One company that springs to mind is Theo, an ethical chocolate company. We admire their progressive sourcing programs and ways of engaging with farmers. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters has led the way in raising awareness of the problem of chronic hunger among coffee farmers, and in investing in programs to address the problem. Sustainable Harvest has done a lot to strengthen the livelihoods of farmers it buys coffee from. Falcon is doing great work sourcing from difficult, often post-conflict environments. And of course, folks like Equal Exchange and Coop Coffees were at the front of the ethical sourcing movement. Engaging with buyers and other partners in the value chain is always an educational opportunity for us.

Find out more about Root Capital and how their approach works.

For impact investing opportunities in agriculture, login to Maximpact and navigate to Deal Search. Or register today.

Cultivating Change: Why Agriculture Needs Impact Investing

By Marta Maretich

There’s a global food crisis looming, according to many commentators. The food price crisis of 2008 spooked world markets and gave us a taste of what may be to come in the future: commodity prices went through the roof and people in many parts of the world panicked. This lead to a reappraisal of food and agricultural policy in many quarters,spurring international aid organizations to action and attracting private investment to agriculture. This changed the agricultural investment landscape; but not enough. There remains an urgent need for impact capital in agriculture today.

The lay of the land

One thing is certain: agriculture is a sector set for growth it has to be. Global populations are rising and adopting new dietary patterns as income levels increase in developing countries. Researchers predict that by 2050 the demand for crop foods will increase by 100% by 2050 and for animal foods by110%. Yet food stocks in many countries are dropping to some of the lowest levels yet seen and food production is not increasing fast enough to meet future demand.

Other related factors are driving change. Rising oil prices continue to exert an upward pressure on food prices while at the same time the diversion of cropland for use in growing biofuels is limiting the amount of land used for producing food. Political and economic in stability in some regions, changing weather patterns and plant diseases, such as the coffee rust now affecting Central America, are contributing to a sense of scarcity that is driving food prices higher; and fuelling markets in agricultural futures, agribusiness and land.

Large investors buy in to agriculture

As a result, agriculture is very much on the map for large multinational corporations and traditional investors. One indicator is that agricultural ETFs (electronically traded funds) such as MOO, PAGG and CROP have been hot property in recent months. These funds are typically populated by agricultural giants such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Cargill and Deere. Multinational corporations such as these have been actively expanding their agribusiness holdings and penetrating new markets, especially in developing countries, in preparation for a future where food is in more demand than ever before.

The actions of governments, arguably the biggest buyers of food, are still extremely important in this sector. Food supplies are a political issue across the world and many governments maintain stores of staples as a matter of policy; a factor not set to change in the foreseeable future. Beyond this, many developing countries are also investing more in agriculture in a move to increase production: China for example upped its agricultural budget 27% in 2007, 38% in 2008, and about 20% in 2009. At least some of this money is going into increasing production outside of China in countries such as Africa, further turning up the heat under agriculture as an investment.

The Global Food Crisis

This heated market activity is not necessarily good news for a hungry world. In 2007-2008 high market volatility driven by the export policies of some governments and commodity speculation resulted in a global food price crisis. Prices for staples such as corn and rice shot up by as much as 217%, sparking food riots in several countries. The complex reasons for the crisis are explored in this podcast from NPR’s Planet Money. One of its effects was to galvanize the international aid community to action.

After “decades of disinvestment in agriculture” (to use the words of Root Capital’s Mike McCreless) agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Bank and others hurried to establish a slew of new aid programs to support agricultural development including the Global Agriculture and Food Security Fund, the US government’s Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, Feed the Future, and US AID’s Investing in Sustainable Agriculture program. According to Official Development Statistics, aid for agriculture rose 19% between 2005-2010, and this trend toward more investment is continuing.

Yet the need for impact investment remains

Given this increased global interest in agriculture by governments, international agencies and multinational corporations, is there still a role and, importantly, are there still opportunities for impact investors?

A majority of impact investing thought leaders think the answer to both questions is yes. The establishment of GIIN’s Terragua working group, whose membership includes the IFC, OPIC, WK Kellogg Foundation, Omidyar Network, the Tony Emelelu Foundation, Calvert, Accion, IGNIA and many more serious impact players, is one indication of the continued importance of sustainable private investment in agriculture. Terragua’s focus is agriculture in Africa, but the principles behind the need for impact investing are similar in other parts of the world.

Toward a healthier marketplace

When it comes to creating global food security there are indications that the markets, at least as they stand, may not be our best tools. Government food policy and commodity speculation were widely blamed for the food price crisis of 2008; and these have not gone away. With all the drivers still in place, further volatility is predicted with some commentators predicting another full-blown food crisis for 2013. The stage is set for more instability in the food markets and more serious global consequences as a result.

The fickle nature of the markets is not helping. The recent vogue for agriculture and agribusiness investing seems to be fading while the problem of food security persists. According to an article in the Financial Times, many private investors didn’t see the big profits they were lead to expect from agriculture and are now getting cold feet. Forbes recently declared those agriculture ETFs mentioned earlier to be “oversold”.

And it’s important to point out, that while the levels of investment in agriculture went up, there’s little evidence that global food production increased significantly. That seems to indicate that the private investment money pouring into the market has done little to change the reality of food availability in the world. Clearly, this capital did not reach the places where it could make a real difference, a fact that highlights the need for a more sustainable market-based approach.

Tapping the potential of the poor smallholder

Another serious failing seems to be that the recent boom in agricultural investment has hardly touched the world population of rural poor. This group makes up 75% of the 2.6 billion people living on less than $2 per day, the international measure for poverty,according to UN figures. Some 80% of them live by farming or farming-related activities. A2012 research report by the Dalberg Group estimates that there are 450 million poor smallholders worldwide.

Large multinationals tend to invest in only the largest and most profitable farm businesses in the developing world.They also tend to acquire only the best land, leaving the less productive farmland to the locals. This means that these poorer farmers, tilling the poorest patches, are excluded from the commercial equation. Also left out are those who can’t afford the products sold by the big multinationals. For many corporations, the goal in the developing world is simply to increase the market for their western-style products; for example equipment (such as harvesters) and inputs (such as seed and herbicides); to those farm businesses that can afford them.

Yet ignoring these rural small holders may prevent us from solving the bigger problem of food security on both local and global levels. Rural smallholders represent an untapped, underdeveloped resource that has the potential to change the global food picture. There is evidence now that multinationals are looking to smaller producers to source commodities, especially sustainably produced and certified ones. Yet small holders won’t be able to connect with this global marketplace if they can’t increase yields, improve the quality of their produce and get their products to buyers. To do this they need capital; the Dalberg report estimates the demand at $450 billion, now largely unmet. And, to be effective, that capital has to be the right kind of capital, and it has to reach the right places.

Keeping sight of the big picture

Development agencies and NGOs have long known that agriculture holds the key to more than just food supply. A healthy agricultural economy has the power to transform rural prosperity, strengthen social stability, empower women, protect health, and nourish economically productive urban centers. The right kind of agricultural development can also provide a means of improving environmental stewardship (for example fighting deforestation) making it a powerful tool in the struggle to adapt to climate change. This is as true in the developed world as it is in the developing one.

Many of the multinational corporations now active in agriculture are making the right noises in these areas. The growing global demand for sustainable, responsibly sourced and organic and Fair Trade certified food products, has lead a number to make commitments to sustainable sourcing. (The top five chocolate manufacturers have all publicly committed to sourcing sustainable cocoa, for example.) Recent statistics from the Rabobank, a Dutch agricultural lender, say 70% of US farmers now report using sustainable methods.

There’s hope that this heralds a new approach to investor responsibility among big agribusiness corporations.Yet it’s unlikely that multinationals will ever put social and environmental benefit on par with profit in their investment strategies. At the same time, international aid agencies and charitable NGOs are putting social and environmental benefit first, but their grant-based, philanthropic approach may not be enough to turn the tide of a global food crisis. More capital and smarter, more sustainable capital; will be needed to change the future of food.

All of these factors mean the time is right for impact and sustainable investing in agriculture and its broader category, agribusiness. The need for a new approach is evident. The tools, at least some of them, are in our hands. Meanwhile, a global community of impact investors and social benefit investors of all stripes are finding new ways to put those tools to work. But we’d better hurry. Our peace and our survival depends on getting it right.

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