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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

Making Zero Global Deforestation a Reality

Volunteer Rich Kuhlman participates in tree planting at a stream restored by South River Federation in Annapolis, Maryland. Oct. 28, 2017 (Photo by Will Parson / Chesapeake Bay Program) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Volunteer Rich Kuhlman participates in tree planting at a stream restored by South River Federation in Annapolis, Maryland. Oct. 28, 2017 (Photo by Will Parson / Chesapeake Bay Program) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

ROME, Italy, March 8, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – Reporting on the status and trends of the world’s forest resources just got easier with a new online tool linked to Google Earth Engine launched this week by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The platform enables countries to boost the efficiency of their reporting and improve the consistency, reliability and transparency of forest data.

The platform developed by FAO with financial support from the European Union and the Government of Finland was presented Monday at a special high-level ceremony in Toluca, Mexico.

In September 2015, 193 world governments made an ambitious commitment. They unanimously adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with their associated targets.

Target 15.2 of SDG 15, Life on Land, boldly calls for halting deforestation worldwide by 2020.

Two years later, governments approved another bold goal. The UN General Assembly adopted the UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2017-2030, which calls for reversing the loss of forest cover and increasing forest area by three percent worldwide by 2030.

We know some progress toward reforestation is taking place. For instance, this week, China ordered 60,000 soldiers to pick up shovels and begin planting trees around Beijing. But how will we know whether or not these sworn goals are being achieved?

The new FAO online platform will allow efficient monitoring of and reporting on forest cover and land-use change to help governments monitor their progress towards these targets and is crucial as countries adopt measures to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

“Assessing the state of the world’s global forest resources requires consistent and reliable data,” said FAO Senior Forestry Officer Anssi Pekkarinen. “The new platform allows countries to improve their capacity to compile up-to-date and precise forest data, reduces reporting burden, and allows to better measure progress towards the 2030 Agenda.”

The new tool offers improved data entry and data visualization, plus review and analysis functions. A more user-friendly interface allows adding data, copying and pasting from existing entry sheets and documenting national data sources.

To help countries where forest information is limited or not available, the platform allows access to related external information as well as geospatial data from global remote sensing products.

The platform will be used for the next 2020 Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) report. The most comprehensive analysis of the world’s forest resources, the FRA is produced every five years through an inclusive and country-driven process.

For the first time, the new FAO platform will provide all 171 FRA National Correspondents – officially nominated national forest authorities who are responsible for compiling the country reports, and their collaborators – free access to vast global data repositories and analytical tools with the computing power of Google Earth Engine.

“This announcement builds on our productive three-year partnership with FAO that we signed at COP 21 in Paris,” said Rebecca Moore, director, Google Earth, Earth Engine & Earth Outreach. “We are excited to enable all countries with equal access to the latest technology in support of global climate action and sustainable development.”

Moore says the new tool makes it easy even for people without prior remote-sensing experience to access satellite imagery and other geospatial data to monitor national forest cover and land-use changes over time.

While global rates of deforestation have been cut in half over the last two decades – from a net annual forest area loss of 7.3 million hectares in 2000 to 3.3 million hectares in 2015 – deforestation and forest degradation still continue at alarming rates.

An estimated 80 percent of forest loss is driven by conversion of forest to agricultural land.

To explore ways of halting deforestation and accelerating the planting of new trees and forests, an international conference was held in at FAO headquarters in Rome in late February, with more than 300 stakeholders from many walks of life.

Organized by the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, participation at the conference, “From Aspiration to Action,” was by invitation only. Representatives of government ministries responsible for agriculture and livestock, environment, energy and extractive industries, the private sector and civil society organizations, especially of indigenous peoples, were invited.

“Over the past 25 years, the rate of net global deforestation slowed by more than 50 percent,” said Manoel Sobral Filho, director of the United Nations Forum on Forests, in his keynote address to the conference. “If the current trend of slowing forest loss, combined with forest restoration and plantation efforts continues, a future where we achieve zero net global deforestation can go from being an aspiration to reality.”

Participants stressed that land-use competition between forests and agriculture could be solved by introducing diversified agricultural production systems that integrate trees, crops and livestock with a landscape approach.

Examples include agroforestry systems in which harvestable trees or shrubs are grown among or around crops or silvo-pastoral systems, combining agriculture, forestry and grazing of domesticated animals.

The participants highlighted the need to underpin the stability of livelihoods and the role of forests as providers of ecosystem services by recognizing the many “hidden” values of forests, such as pollination, and by enhancing simple and direct systems of payments for ecosystem services.

In his address, Amedi Camara, minister of environment and sustainable development of Mauritania and president of the Council of Ministers of the Pan-African Agency of the Great Green Wall, stressed the importance of the Great Green Wall initiative for combating desertification, sustainable management of natural resources and the fight against poverty and climate change.

Drought-resistant trees are being planted in a wall across the continent of Africa in an effort to halt the advancing Sahara Desert. (Map courtesy Great Green Wall Initiative) Posted for media use

Drought-resistant trees are being planted in a wall across the continent of Africa in an effort to halt the advancing Sahara Desert. (Map courtesy Great Green Wall Initiative) Posted for media use

The Great Green Wall is an African-led project that aims to grow a nearly 8,000 kilometer (5,000 mile) natural wonder of the world by planting trees across the entire width of Africa to hold back the spreading Sahara Desert. Once completed, the Great Green Wall will be the largest living structure on Earth.

In the final outcome document, participants stressed that the corporate responsibility of agri-business plays a vital role in halting deforestation, which should be supported by international trade instruments favoring deforestation-free commodities.

Small producers would also need better access to services, finance and markets.

Conference participants noted that scaling-up finance and investment for sustainable land use and forests requires positive incentives, improved governance, public-private partnerships and innovative financing instruments.

The indispensable role of youth as agents of change was highlighted, and participants underlined the need to strengthen education at all levels as an essential component of building capacity to halt deforestation and increase forest area.

The outcomes of the conference will be channeled to the UN Forum on Forests taking place in May, and through it, to the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development that will review progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 15 – Life on Land in July.

Featured image: Cathedral Grove of old growth forest in British Columbia, Canada, August 2011 (Photo by Sang Trinh)


GrantProposalTraining

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


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NGOs Grow With Maximpact’s Training-of-Trainers

Capacity building and NGO’s external benefits (accountability to donors and local communities)

For many years now, NGO sector has been acting as an agent of change empowering and fostering local communities towards sustainable socio-economic development.

NGO programs that focus on peace building, democratic governance, human rights as well as fighting poverty and inequality are implemented around the world.

Yet, no matter how many successful projects have been created, in the final phase of implementation the last challenge remains – ensuring project sustainability.

To increase the chances that activities and policies fostered by NGOs will be integrated and utilized within targeted community groups upon project completion, it is helpful to have people within the project target group who know how to maintain new practices and policies once the NGO staff has completed their mission.

One of the most effective ways to carry out this goal is capacity building.

Capacity building has become one of the most important measures for ensuring project sustainability and is requested by the donor community.

Building the capacity of NGOs and projects to change negative perceptions, inefficient practices, and harmful behavior of governments, decision makers and policy makers is an emerging requirement usually implemented by reputable, successful NGOs.

Ensuring that NGOs have the capacity to undertake this important outreach means training NGO staffers, who will then be able to effectively communicate with community members and train them to carry out the core necessary tasks to ensure project sustainability and positive impact.

NGOs can build upon the success of their core programs by sharing their skills with others in the community, whether that community is a village, town, state, country or the entire world.

But the sharing of skills is a skill in itself. It requires training to sharpen effective communications strategies, including active listening, outreach that will be accepted by the community, assessment and follow up.

Maximpact provides need-based and sector-specific tailored training to strengthen the capacity of NGOs, projects and programs worldwide. Organizations can carry out training in any area they need, such as fundraising, or select Agriculture, WASH and Waste Management Training-of-Trainers.

The Internal Benefits of Capacity Building for an NGO

Capacity building is required to demonstrate an NGO’s accountability for and sustainability of project results to donors and local communities. It also is essential in growing the internal abilities of an NGO to perform its mission in the most efficient and effective way.

In order to adapt to the fast-changing environment of development and humanitarian assistance, many NGOs require new skills of their staff members. Internal communication and coordination of complex programs can pose challenges to staffers. Strengthening their ability to collaborate with partners becomes even more important.

Through its Training-of-Trainers programs designed for NGOs, Maximpact offers solutions to these and other common challenges faced by the NGO community.

NGOs benefit through such programs. By becoming trainers, NGO leaders can extend their services, enhancing the reputation of their organization and generating new revenue streams.

While building their own skills as trainers, NGO leaders are empowered to motivate community members to become trainers themselves, expanding the knowledge of the whole community.

ToT in WASH, Waste Management and Agriculture / TRIPLE BENEFIT

Maximpact offers customized training programs designed to serve NGOs working in the field of AgricultureWASH and Waste .

These programs offer triple benefits. They train participants in: technical, operational and preparation skills.

The Maximpact Training-of-Trainers program will graduate a competent and enthusiastic staff of trainers equipped with the skills and resources to transform local areas through sustainable agricultural methods tailored to local conditions and cultures.

The Maximpact Training-of-Trainers program for WASH consists of 11 main modules covering water pollution, water scarcity and climate change; and the practical possibilities for sustainable financing.

The Waste Management Training-of-Trainers program will introduce recent technology and most advanced techniques in waste management.

All these programs are expected to raise the skills of the NGO sector to create and deliver their own WASH, Agriculture and Waste capacity building programs.

Based on the specific needs of an NGO, the Maximpact Training-of-Trainers programs offer the flexibility to select one or more of the presented modules and/or request training in any additional sector-related topics.

Maximpact will adapt the program to the local context where trainings take place, as well as to the nature and knowledge level of training participants.

All Maximpact programs are in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, incorporating the climate change and gender aspects of these ambitious goals.

To ensure sustainability, Maximpact has created a Post-Training Mentorship Program to further support the training participants in applying their training to their day-to-day work.

Participants of Maximpact capacity building training programs enhance the socio-environmental impact and sustainability of their NGO projects. Their communities experience upward economic mobility as the graduates, in turn, teach local enterprises the skills they need to succeed.

Implementation modalities and service conditions

Maximpact trainers can provide either virtual or in-house training, or both.

The training service fee will depend on:

  • the number of topics or modules selected
  • the mode of training delivery – in-house or virtual
  • the number of days during which the training will take place
  • the choice of national or international expert to conduct the training

To get started, the NGO fills in the pre-training assessment form, click for link: Maximpact Training Form

Then, Maximpact finds the right expert and submits a service proposal to that expert for review and approval.

To receive a quote for your organizations training, please contact info@maximpact.com.


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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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Our Drying Planet

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An aerial view of the Tigris River as it flows through Baghdad, Iraq, population 8.76 million, the second largest city in the Arab world, July 31, 2016. (U.S. Dept. of Defense Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro) Public domain

By Sunny Lewis

ROME, Italy, March 16, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – The world faces an acute water crisis within a decade that will affect food supplies, megacities and industry globally, warns Australian science writer Julian Cribb, author of the new book “Surviving the 21st Century.

The water crisis is sneaking up on humanity unawares. People turn on the tap and assume clean, safe water will always flow. But the reality is that supplies are already critical for 4.2 billion people – over half the world’s population,” says Cribb. “During times of drought, megacities like Sao Paulo, La Paz, Los Angeles, Santiago, 32 Indian cities and 400 Chinese cities are now at risk.

World water use is already more than 10 trillion tonnes a year. While the human population has tripled since 1950, our water use has grown six-fold,” says Cribb.

In his book, Cribb cites some disturbing facts:
  • Groundwater is running out in practically every country in the world where it is used to grow food, posing risks to food security in northern India, northern China, Central Asia, the central and western United States, and the Middle East. Most of this groundwater will take thousands of years to replenish.
  • The icepack on high mountain chains is shrinking, emptying the rivers it once fed in practically every continent.
  • Around the world, large lakes are drying up, especially in Central Asia, China, sub-Saharan Africa and the South American Andes.
  • Most of the world’s large rivers are polluted with chemicals, nutrients and sediment.
  • 50,000 dams break up the world’s major rivers, sparking increased disputes over water between neighboring countries.

Pope Francis has warned that humanity could be moving toward a “world war over water.”

Addressing an international seminar on the human right to water hosted in February by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Pope said, “It is painful to see when in the legislation of a country or a group of countries, water is not considered a human right. It is even more painful when it is removed from legislation and this human right is denied. I ask myself if in the midst of this third World War happening in pieces, are we on the way to a larger world war over water?

Each of the last three UN secretaries-general – Ban Ki-Moon, Kofi Annan and Boutros Boutros-Ghali – has warned of the dangers of world water scarcity and of future water wars.

To counter this danger, José Graziano da Silva, who heads the Rome-based UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, is focusing on the cradle of civilization, the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, and the entire Gulf region, as one of the areas most exposed to the risks posed by climate change, particularly water scarcity.

In an opinion article written in January, Graziano da Silva cited research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as the authority for his warning, “The Gulf region is poised to experience a significant uptick in the frequency of consecutive dry days…

If we fail to keep average global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius, the region often known as the cradle of human civilization will increasingly face extreme heat waves of the kind that disable the human body’s ability to cool itself,” the FAO leader wrote.

He says avoiding that fate is within our means, but requires that governments muster the will to “increase food output by around 50 percent by 2050,” and we have to do that, he says, “without depleting strained natural resources beyond the tipping point.

Of course, food production requires plenty of water.

In the Gulf region particularly, says Graziano da Silva, no government can accomplish this alone. The region imports about half of all its wheat, barley and maize, and 60 percent of the region’s fresh water flows across national boundaries.

Graziano da Silva draws his hope for the future from the Near East and North Africa’s Water Scarcity Initiative , a partnership for water reform in the Gulf region.

This network of partners, which includes over 30 regional and international organizations, is working to provide member countries with opportunities to learn and share practices in the sustainable use and management of water.

Water scarcity in the Near East and North Africa region is already severe.

Fresh water resources are among the lowest in the world. They have fallen by two-thirds during last 40 years and are expected to drop at least more 50 percent by 2050.

Ninety percent of the region’s land lies within arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, while 45 percent of the total agricultural area is exposed to salinity, soil nutrient depletion and wind water erosion, according to the FAO.

At the same time, agriculture in the region uses roughly 85 percent of the available freshwater.

The Initiative is attempting to bring scientific tools to bear on these grim facts. Water accounting, food-supply cost curve, gap-analysis and regular monitoring of agricultural water productivity are some of the advanced tools that the Initiative will use to quantify the benefits and costs of alternative policy options to address food insecurity while sustaining water resources.

Data collection, management and analysis are the backbone of the Initiative that will support the strategic planning for water resources and provide evidence for policy formulation.

Making use of the expertise developed by FAO and its partners, the Initiative will advise governments and the private sector on the adoption of modern technologies and institutional solutions to increase the efficiency and productivity of water use in agriculture for the benefit of millions of farmers and rural communities in the region.

Options to save water all along the food value chain will be shared with the private sector, while governments will be encouraged to promote incentive frameworks that reposition farmers at the center of the sustainable management of land and water resources.

The Initiative will support the ongoing major policy processes in the region, including the Arab Water Security Strategy 2010-2030 and the Regional Initiative for the Assessment of Climate Change Impacts on Water Resources and Socio-Economic Vulnerability in the Arab Region.

FAO’s work in the region ranges from emergency efforts in response to the conflicts in Syria and Yemen to running Farmer Field Schools in Egypt and helping the United Arab Emirates develop their first national agricultural policy.

The UAE is planning to roll out water meters on farms, while at the same time introducing smart subsidies targeting those who consume less water than average.

Benefits range from better diagnostic data on actual water use and incentives to actual conservation practices to allocating the savings to farmers who can invest in their businesses for even more efficiency.

That climate change poses such threats to an area known as the cradle of civilization underscores the need for urgent action to put agriculture at the center of the sustainability agenda,” says Graziano da Silva.

World Water Day, on March 22 every year, is about taking action to tackle the water crisis. Today, there are over 663 million people living without a safe water supply close to home, spending countless hours queuing or trekking to distant sources, and coping with the health impacts of using contaminated water.

This year’s theme: Why waste water? is in support of Sustainable Development Goal 6 – to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030.

And now it’s not just a day, or just a week, like the prestigious annual World Water Week in Stockholm in September, but the United Nations has designated another decade to mobilize for water conservation and sustainable use.

The UN Water for Life Decade 2005-2015  a knowledge hub, a best practices program, encouraged communications regarding water and integrated into its work the accomplishments of the UN-Water technical advisory unit.

In December 2016, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the resolution “International Decade (2018–2028) for Action – Water for Sustainable Development” to help put a greater focus on water during 10 years.

Emphasizing that water is critical for sustainable development and the eradication of poverty and hunger, UN Member States expressed deep concern over the lack of access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene as well as concern over water-related disasters, scarcity and pollution worsened by urbanization, population growth, desertification, drought and climate change.

The new Decade will focus on the sustainable development and integrated management of water resources for the achievement of social, economic and environmental objectives.

To set the agenda in motion, UN-Water, in its 26th meeting in Geneva in February, decided on the establishment of a Task Force to facilitate its support to the planning and organization of the International Decade for Action – Water for Sustainable Development.

The Decade will commence on World Water Day March 22, 2018, and end on World Water Day, March 22, 2028. It could be the last decade that humanity can use to avert the predicted water crisis.


Featured Image: Mullah Neoka and his sons are wheat farmers in Afghanistan’s Herat province, once the bread basket of central Asia before land mines made farming impossible. HALO Trust, a UK-supported project to clear land mines has restored the land for agriculture. 2011. (Photo by Catherine Belfield-Haines / UK Department for International Development) Creative Commons license via Flickr

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 Maximpact’s consultant network has a wide range of water experts that can help your organization with water related environmental protection and water projects. Contact us at info(@)maximpact.com and tell us what you need.

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.

Investing in Water for Life

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Water is returned to Australia’s Murray River through a Nature Conservancy Water Sharing Investment Partnership, 2016. (Photo by Brian Richter) Posted for media use.

By Sunny Lewis

 STOCKHOLM, Sweden, September 1, 2016 (Maximpact.com) – Water scarcity is a top risk to global prosperity and ecological integrity. But creative impact investment solutions, such as Water Sharing Investment Partnerships, can shift water back to the environment, while supporting irrigated agriculture and meeting urban needs, finds new research presented during World Water Week in Stockholm.

The new study  from nonprofit The Nature Conservancy, “Water Share: Using water markets and impact investing to drive sustainability,” shows that through new approaches to water markets, the planet-wide problem of water scarcity can be managed.

The WSIP concept was created by The Nature Conservancy’s water program and impact investment unit, NatureVest, to advance the strategic trading of water-use rights within river and lake basins.

The establishment of high-functioning and well-governed water markets – in which a cap on total use is set; rights to use water are legally defined, monitored, and enforced; and in which rights can be exchanged among water users – can provide a powerful integration of public and private efforts to alleviate water scarcity,” the report states.

This model takes advantage of the motivations and incentives for trading water,” says Brian Richter, the lead scientist for the water program at The Nature Conservancy, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia with offices in 30 countries.

As water assumes a value, it provides a huge incentive for water conservation and water savings,” he said.

The Nature Conservancy launched its first Water Sharing Investment Partnership in Australia in 2015 in the Murray-Darling river basin, which drains one-seventh of the continent. As of May 2016, about A$27 million had been invested in the Murray-Darling Basin Balanced Water Fund , with a target of A$100 million within the next four years.

NatureVest plans to replicate the success of this fund in other areas of the world and is now in the process of scoping various river basins across the western United States and Latin America, where a similar model of water reallocation through investor-funded solutions can be applied.

 The Nature Conservancy is now building off its track record of using philanthropic dollars to purchase water on behalf of the environment in North America, to craft Water Sharing Investment Partnerships (WSIPs) and other water transactions and investment mechanisms to help rebalance water use in stressed basins.

 A WSIP operates within an existing water market, using investor capital and other revenue sources to acquire water-use rights.

These rights can be reallocated to nature, or sold or leased to other water users seeking more supplies, generating financial returns for investors.

The report identifies investor funded solutions, some of which may serve as the basis for a future WSIP such as long-term water trades within farming communities by establishing a complex of water sharing agreements: “…farmers’ water markets, long-term trades between farmers and cities, short-term trades within farming communities and short-term exchanges between farmers and cities.

As water assumes a value, it provides a huge incentive for water conservation and water savings,” Richter says.

Freshwater ecosystems are the most imperiled on the planet, and their condition is getting worse. More than 30 percent of Earth’s water sources are being over-exploited, some to near exhaustion.

A sense of urgency pervades the conference hall as 3,000 people from 120 countries are gathered in Stockholm this week for the 26th annual World Water Week under the theme “Water for Sustainable Growth.”

Torgny Holmgren, executive director of the organizer, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), said, “Without reliable access to water, almost no Sustainable Development Goal will be achieved. To make that happen, we must ensure water’s centrality to the entire Agenda 2030. This will show the power water has a connector.

Water connects not only sectors, but also nations, communities and different actors. Water can be the unifying power, the enabler for progress in both Agenda 2030 and the Paris Climate Agreement,” said Holmgren.

Stockholm Mayor Karin Wanngård told delegates that cities struggle with some of the biggest problems, but also have access to powerful solutions.

We have the job growth, the universities, the creative ideas,” she said. “We also face the biggest emissions, the social problems, and housing shortage. Our participation in the struggle for sustainable solutions is key for global success. And that means a growing responsibility, a moral responsibility towards future generations and their ability to live in cities where it is possible to work, live in security, breathe the air and drink the water.

Addressing the opening session, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallström reinforced the message that water is a connector and an enabler in realizing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 6 – clean, accessible water for all.

Successful realization of Goal 6 of the 2030 Agenda will underpin progress across many of the other goals, particularly on nutrition, child health, education, gender equality, healthy cities and healthy water ecosystems and oceans,” said Wallström.

 Angel Gurría, secretary general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said that water now has come to the front and center of international deliberations. “Water now has the place it needs to have in international priorities,” said Gurría.

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Professor Joan Rose is awarded the 2016 Stockholm Water Prize by H.M. Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden, during a ceremony in Stockholm City Hall, August 31, 2016 (Photo courtesy Stockholm International Water Institute)

Professor Joan Rose from Michigan State University received the 2016 Stockholm Water Prize on Wednesday, for her tireless contributions to global public health; by assessing risks to human health in water and creating guidelines and tools for decision-makers and communities to improve global wellbeing.

The prize, worth $150,000, was presented to Professor Rose by H.M. Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden, during a ceremony in Stockholm City Hall during World Water Week.

Professor Rose said, “As an individual it is an honor and I am overflowing with gratitude. But it means even more, because it is a prize that honors water, it honors the blue planet and it honors the human condition. Therefore, I am very proud.

Rose and her team, whom she calls “water detectives” investigate waterborne disease outbreaks globally, to determine how they can be stopped and prevented.

She is regarded as the world’s foremost authority on the microorganism Cryptosporidium, an intestinal parasite that in 1993 killed 69 people and sickened more than 400,000 others who drank contaminated water in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

More than two billion people still lack adequate sanitation, and over one billion lack access to safe drinking water. Hundreds of thousands of deaths from diarrhoeal diseases each year could be prevented by improved water, sanitation and hygiene,” said Holmgren.

Joan Rose, our water hero, is a beacon of light in the quest for securing a better, healthier life for this and future generations,” he said.

Speaking of what she views as the world’s greatest water challenge, Professor Rose said, “I think it is going to be the reversal of water quality problems around the world; the algal blooms in fresh water and coastal waters, and the pollution, not just associated with humans, but also with disease outbreaks among our wildlife, like amphibians and fish. I also think reconnecting water and food security will be a major challenge. We are starting to do it but it will definitely continue to be a challenge.”

Water Facts from the United Nations:

  • Some 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, but 663 million people are still without.
  • At least 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water that is fecally contaminated.
  • Water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of the global population and is projected to rise. Over 1.7 billion people are currently living in river basins where water use exceeds recharge.
  • Of the world’s 7.5 billion people, 2.4 billion lack access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets or latrines.
  • More than 80 percent of wastewater resulting from human activities is discharged into rivers or sea without any pollution removal.
  • Every day, nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diseases.
  • Hydropower is the world’s most important and widely-used renewable source of energy and as of 2011, represented 16 percent of total electricity production worldwide.
  • Roughly 70 percent of all water drawn from rivers, lakes and aquifers is used for irrigation.
  • Floods and other water-related disasters account for 70 percent of all deaths related to natural disasters.

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Featured Image: The Jordan River runs along the border between the Kingdom of Jordan, Israel and Palestine. The 251-kilometre (156 mile)-long river flows through the Sea of Galilee and on to the Dead Sea. (Photo by Tracy Hunter) Creative commons license via Flickr

Carbon Budgets Ignore Trees on Farms

Agroforestry Iowa

Trees and grass established as part of a riparian buffer on the Ron Risdal farm in Story County, Iowa. The Iowa State University AgroEcology team has helped landowners along this stream, Bear Creek, establish miles of buffers and earn the stream recognition as a U.S. national demonstration site, June 6, 2016 (Photo by U.S. Dept. of Agriculture) Public domain

By Sunny Lewis

NAIROBI, Kenya, August 30, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Globally, 1.2 billion people depend on agroforestry farming systems, especially in developing countries, the World Bank calculates. Yet, trees on farms are not even considered in the greenhouse gas accounting framework of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Agroforestry systems and tree cover on agricultural lands make an important contribution to climate change mitigation, but are not systematically accounted for either in global carbon budgets or in national carbon accounting, concludes new research conducted by a team of researchers in Africa, Asia and Europe.

The scientists assessed the role of trees on agricultural land and the amount of carbon they have sequestered from the atmosphere over the past decade.

Their study, titled “Global Tree Cover and Biomass Carbon on Agricultural Land: The contribution of agroforestry to global and national carbon budgets,” looks at biomass carbon on agricultural lands both globally and by country, and what determines its distribution across different climate zones.

Robert Zomer of the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, lead author of the study, said, “Remote sensing data show that in 2010, 43 percent of all agricultural land globally had at least 10 percent tree cover, up from eight percent in the preceding decade.

 “Given the vast amount of land under agriculture,” Zomer said, “agroforestry may already significantly contribute to global carbon budgets.

Large forest areas in the tropics are still being cleared for agricultural production to feed the world’s swelling population, now approaching 7.5 billion.

The researchers found that while tropical forests continued to decline, tree cover on agricultural land has increased across the globe, absorbing nearly 0.75 gigatonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) every year.

Study results show that existing tree cover makes a major contribution to carbon pools on agricultural land, demonstrating the potential to add to climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts,” said Jianchu Xu of the World Agroforestry Centre.

If tree cover is accounted for, the total carbon stock is over four times higher than when estimated using IPCC Tier 1 estimates alone,” said Xu.

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Acacia tree seedlings in Ma Village, Vietnam, May 30, 2016 (Photo by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture) Creative Commons license via Flickr

In the IPCC system, a tier represents a level of complexity used for categorizing emissions factors and activity data. Tier 1 is the basic method; it utilizes IPCC-recommended country-level defaults. Tiers 2 and 3 are each more demanding in terms of complexity and data requirements.

Given the vast stretches of agricultural land where the potential for tree cover is not yet realized, the study suggests that a huge greenhouse gas mitigation potential exists and should be explored more systematically.

For this study, researchers mapped and tabulated regional and country-level variation in biomass carbon stocks and trends globally, and for each country.

Brazil, Indonesia, China and India had the largest increases in biomass carbon stored on agricultural land, while Argentina, Myanmar, and Sierra Leone had the largest decreases.

The results of our spatial analysis show that trees on agricultural land sequestered close to 0.75 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide globally per year over the past decade,” said Henry Neufeldt, head of climate change research at the World Agroforestry Centre.

If we can harness good policies to enhance positive examples and stop negative trends, trees in agricultural landscapes can play a major role in greenhouse gas mitigation,” Neufeldt advised. “But no one should say that this is already solving the problem for agricultural emissions as long as we do not know what is actually happening on the ground.

 The Global Tree Cover and Biomass Carbon on Agricultural Land analysis is part of on-going research at the Center for Mountain Ecosystem Studies, an applied research laboratory jointly managed by the Kunming Institute of Botany, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the World Agroforestry Centre. Their research is focused on mountain ecosystems, biodiversity, traditional communities, and development pressures affecting natural and cultural resources.

Identifying which climate-smart agriculture practices should be supported for upscaling is an investment question, says Dr. Leocadio Sebastian, regional program leader for the CGIAR  Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) in Southeast Asia.

Answering this question can be most successful when it is the outcome of a participatory planning process during which local farmers share their knowledge in the development of a village-level land-use planning map to help improve community farming decisions.

As one of the most vulnerable regions in the world, Southeast Asia is on the front lines of the battle against climate change. Hundreds of millions of people are at risk as increasing temperatures, flooding, and rising sea levels threaten livelihoods, incomes and food security.

Ma Village, population 729, lies in Vietnam’s Yen Bai province. It is one of CCAFS’ six Climate-Smart Villages in Southeast Asia. These communities are prone to climate change impacts, so CCAFS has been introducing climate-smart agriculture practices to enhance food security and capacity to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

Despite its great agricultural potential, the sustainability and profitability of agricultural production in Ma Village remain inadequate as the climate-risk area suffers from the depletion of natural resources, land degradation, and water pollution.

During spring, water shortages due to deforestation compromise the supply of irrigation water, which affects agricultural production, with the rice paddies most at risk.

A community land-use planning activity this year concluded with the farmers’ decision to replace the cultivation of rice crops with drought-tolerant cash crops during the spring season and support reforestation in the upland area of the village.

In residential areas, farmers agreed to replace mixed gardens with fruit trees such as pomelo, lemon and banana.

Village leader Le Van Tam said, “Recovering natural forest and growing more trees within resident land is an option to solve water shortage, soil erosion, and many other unfavored weather events.

Community-based forestry may hold great promise for sustainable development, but it has not yet reached its full potential, according to a February report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, “Forty years of community-based forestry: A review of its extent and effectiveness.

 While almost one-third of the world’s forested areas are under some form of community management, the approach has not reached its full potential.

 The FAO report recommends that governments provide communities with secure forest tenure, improve regulatory frameworks, and transfer to them appropriate and viable skills and technologies.

Indigenous peoples, local communities and family smallholders stand ready to maintain and restore forests, respond to climate change, conserve biodiversity and sustain livelihoods on a vast scale,” said Eva Müller, director of FAO’s Forestry Policy and Resources Division.

What is missing in most cases is the political will to make it happen,” said Müller. “Political leaders and policy makers should open the door to unleash the potential of hundreds of millions of people to manage the forests on which the whole world depends for a better and sustainable future.”


 Featured Images: Trees on a tea farm in China, April 2012 (Photo by vhines200) 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.

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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

In Search of a Water-Wise World

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The drought in Somalia has lasted for years. This image of two men carrying a water can on a dusty road was shot on December 14, 2013. (Photo by the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

ENSCHEDE, Netherlands, July 4, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Rukiyo Ahmed, 26, discovered she was pregnant just as drought began to parch her village in the East African country of Somalia. Her household lost all its livestock. When the drought intensified, Ahmed and her family had to seek relief with extended family members living in the town of Dangoroyo, 35 kilometres away.

“I was so worried that I would have a miscarriage due to the effects of the drought,” said Rukiyo. “We had so little to eat. I became very weak and could barely walk.”

This story has a happy ending. With the help of the UN Population Fund , Ahmed eventually gave birth to a healthy boy.

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China fights the advancing desert by planting trees in Inner Mongolia, May 2010. (Photo by Cory M. Grenier) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Still, water scarcity is a real and present danger for the two-thirds of the global population – four billion people – who live without enough water for at least one month of each year. Half a billion face severe water scarcity all year round, many in China, India and Africa.

Professor of water management Arjen Hoekstra and his team at University of Twente in The Netherlands have come to this conclusion after years of extensive research in a study published in the journal “Science Advances“.

“Groundwater levels are falling, lakes are drying up, less water is flowing in rivers, and water supplies for industry and farmers are threatened,” Hoekstra warns.

Until now, scientists had thought that about two to three billion people were suffering severe water scarcity. Four billion thirsty people is “alarming,” he said.

Professor Hoekstra’s team is the world’s first research group to establish the maximum sustainable “water footprint” for every location on Earth, and then investigate actual water consumption by location.

“Up to now, this type of research concentrated solely on the scarcity of water on an annual basis, and had only been carried out in the largest river basins,” says Hoekstra.

Severe water scarcity exists if consumption is much greater than the water supply can sustain. That is the case particularly in Mexico, the western United States, northern and southern Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East, India, China, and Australia.

There, households, industries and farmers regularly experience water shortages. In other areas, water supplies are still fine but at risk in the long-term, the Dutch team reports.

In the United States, 130 million of the country’s 323 million people are affected by water scarcity for at least one month of each year, most in the states of California, Florida and Texas.

Hoekstra observes that the subject of water scarcity is climbing higher and higher on the global agenda. “The fact that the scarcity of water is being regarded as a global problem is confirmed by our research,” he said. “For some time now, the World Economic Forum has placed the world water crisis in the top three of global problems, alongside climate change and terrorism.”

“All over the world,” Hoekstra said, “it is clear that the risks associated with high water consumption are being increasingly recognized. The growing world population, changes in consumer behavior, and climate change are having a significant impact on the scarcity and quality of water.”

Hoekstra’s work is confirmed by many other authoritative research teams.

About one-third of Earth’s largest groundwater basins are being rapidly depleted by human consumption, according to two new studies from the University of California, Irvine, the first to identify global groundwater loses using data from space. The data is drawn from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites flown by the U.S. National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA).

This means that millions of people are consuming groundwater quickly without knowing when it might run out, conclude the researchers, whose findings were published June 16 in “Water Resources Research.”

In the first paper, researchers found that 13 of the planet’s 37 largest aquifers studied between 2003 and 2013 were being depleted while receiving little to no recharge. In a companion paper, they conclude that the total remaining volume of the world’s usable groundwater is poorly known, with estimates that often vary widely.

CaliforniaDrought

California fruit growers, farmers and ranchers are suffering through an epic drought, Coalinga, California, April 23, 2015 (Photo by ATOMIC Hot Links) Creative Commons license via Flickr

“Available physical and chemical measurements are simply insufficient,” said UCI professor and principal investigator Jay Famiglietti, who is also the senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Given how quickly we are consuming the world’s groundwater reserves, we need a coordinated global effort to determine how much is left.”

“The water table is dropping all over the world,” said Famiglietti. “There’s not an infinite supply of water.”

A NASA study released in March finds that the drought that began in 1998 in the eastern Mediterranean Levant region of: Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey, is likely the worst drought of the past 900 years.

In a joint statement, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network said late last year, “El Niño will have a devastating effect on southern Africa’s harvests and food security in 2016. The current rainfall season has so far been the driest in the last 35 years.”

El Niño conditions, which arise from a natural warming of Pacific Ocean waters, lead to droughts, floods and more frequent cyclones across the world every few years.

Meteorologists say this year’s El Niño is the worst in 35 years and is now peaking. Although it is expected to decline in strength over the next six months, El Niño’s effects on farming, health and livelihoods in developing countries could last through 2018.

In Central America, El Niño conditions have led to a second consecutive year of drought – one of the region’s most severe in history,

In Africa, Abdoulaye Balde, the World Food Programme’s country director in Mozambique issued a dire warning. “Mozambique and southern African countries face a disaster if the rains do not come within a few weeks,” he said.

“South Africa is six million tonnes short of food this year, but it is the usual provider of food reserves in the region,” said Balde. “If they have to import six million tonnes for themselves, there will be little left for other countries. The price of food will rise dramatically.”

Zimbabwe declared a national food emergency this month, according to the WFP rep in the capital, Harare. Food production is just half of what it was last year, and the staple grain, maize, is 53 percent more expensive.

Water scarcity remedies range from simple conservation and efficiency, to tree planting and wastewater re-use, to highly technical and expensive facilities such as nuclear desalination plants as advocated by the International Atomic Energy Agency  that would turn seawater into freshwater.

Finding sustainable solutions to water scarcity will be the focus of the annual World Water Week in Stockholm, held this year from August 28 to September 2. Hosted and organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), this year’s theme is Water for Sustainable Growth.

Water experts, technicians, decision makers, business innovators and young professionals from more than 100 countries are expected in Stockholm to network, exchange ideas and foster innovations that could help satisfy the urgent needs of four billion people for water.

One such innovation is the world’s first certified green bond. It was just issued by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) under the Water Climate Bonds Standard, whose criteria was co-developed by SIWI and the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation.

The Water Climate Bonds Standard is a screening tool for investors that specifies the criteria that must be met for bonds to be labeled as “green” or earmarked for funding water-related, resilient, and low-carbon initiatives.

Proceeds from the SFPUC’s $240m Wastewater Revenue Bond  will fund projects in sustainable stormwater and wastewater management.


Featured image: California fruit growers, farmers and ranchers are suffering through an epic drought, Coalinga, California, April 23, 2015 (Photo by ATOMIC Hot Links) Creative Commons license via Flickr

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)


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)

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

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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