When it comes to investing in a clean cookstoves project, Triple Pundit reports that maybe there's no such thing as too many cooks in the kitchen.
Cooked up in 2010, CleanStar Mozambique is a combined effort among a mix of investors, financial and research institutions, and NGOs, including CleanStar Ventures, Novozymes, ICM, Zoe Enterprises, Dometic, Impact Carbon, and Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The project:
"Simultaneously addresses the issues of deforestation, land degradation, hunger, poverty, indoor pollution and carbon emissions, on a small scale, all through a for-profit business structure. The program ... is centered around the replacement of traditional charcoal cooking stoves with alcohol-fired stoves that can be fueled by sustainably produced bio-ethanol."
Triple Pundit reports that the Soros Economic Development Fund and Industrialization Fund for Developing Countries funding "will allow CleanStar and its partners to now focus fully on implementation, rather than the time-consuming process of fundraising.”
The Wall Street Journal reports that Soros’ $6 million investment:
"Will give it a 19% stake in the $20 million project... The project has also received a $3 million investment from the Denmark-backed Industrialization Fund for Developing Countries, while Danish industrial enzymes company Novozymes has provided $1 million and a number of loans. Bank of America Merrill Lynch is also assisting with the selling of carbon credits."
CleanStar seems to be making a huge impact on Mozambique in a number of challenging arenas, but implications for other cities in Africa are exciting if the project is implemented successfully:
"They expect that their retail fuel distribution infrastructure will reach 80,000 customers in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, by 2014. This looks to be the next chapter in a great story. With a $10 billion market for charcoal-based cooking across the rapidly-urbanizing continent, CleanStar’s business model is likely to be feasible in over 40 major African cities."
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#GivingTuesday may well become a new holiday tradition, as donors generously responded to charities’ pleas to take time off from shopping days like Cyber Monday and Black Friday to give and volunteer.
Network for Good, another processor of online gifts, also reported a spike. The total number of donations more than doubled, to 113 percent, on #GivingTuesday versus the Tuesday after Thanksgiving 2011. The amount collected Tuesday was also 55 percent more than the amount of donations collected on Monday.
Of course, with the holiday season just starting, it’s hard to know yet whether people accelerated the giving they typically wait to do until the end of December or whether the money will be an overall lift for nonprofits.
Still, charities both big and small, reported modest-to-big increases in donations on #GivingTuesday. Here’s how the day unfolded for some of those groups:
Project Hope, an international health charity, collected $6,720 on Tuesday, a more-than-eightfold increase from the $784 it collected on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving last year. It raised $2,950 from online donors and $70 from mobile-phone giving. But the most successful effort was a drive to encourage its workers to give: More than 100 employees did, raising $3,700.
Charity: Water, which builds clean-water systems for people in impoverished countries, increased donations 14 percent on Tuesday, raising $40,000 in total versus last year. The number of small donations grew from 361 last year to 505 this year, sparked largely by promotions the nonprofit made on social networks. It’s awaiting more donations from corporate supporters like Bonobos, Match.com, and Other World Computing, which sold services or goods to encourage their customers to give to the charity.
The Fishing School, a youth-development charity in Washington, raised $3,305 from 17 donors during #GivingTuesday. Last year, it didn’t receive any donations on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. In promoting this year’s event, the group appealed to its loyal donors and new ones via Facebook and Twitter.
The same strategy worked for Manna Food Center, a food bank in Gaithersburg, Md. It increased its one-day fundraising total threefold, from $620 last year to $1,875 this year. About 200 people saw the charity’s Facebook posts about #GivingTuesday; its tweets were redistributed a few times too, says Allison Krumsiek Anderson, a development manager.
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Imagine this assignment, says Bill McDonough in a recent TED talk: Design something that makes oxygen, sequesters carbon, converts nitrogen into ammonia, distills water, stores solar energy as fuel, builds complex sugars, creates microclimates, changes color with the seasons, and self-replicates.
Sound impossible? Well, nature’s already completed this one. It’s called a plant. And the fact that it does these things safely and efficiently is inspiring engineers and designers to reconceive the ways we manufacture such basics as soap bottles, raincoats, and wall-to-wall carpeting.
Biomimicry and Cradle to Cradle, the two fields of inquiry that frame this emerging discipline, stem from the work of biologist Janine Benyus, architect William McDonough, and chemist Michael Braungart, who realized that the very models they considered key to making safer, more environmentally friendly products were sitting right before us, in the natural world.
The trio wrote two pivotal books—Benyus’ "Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature" and McDonough and Braungart’s "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things"—which laid out their beliefs and touched a nerve.
"What would nature do to design lasting and regenerative materials?” asks Benyus. “How does a river filter fresh water and a spider manufacture resilient fiber?”
Braungart, picking up on the theme, wonders: “Why aren’t we designing buildings like trees and cities like forests?”
Their questions reminded readers that life is a vast web of networks, that working with, rather than dominating, nature might unleash greater possibilities. Indeed, Benyus, McDonough, and Braungart invited us to reconceive basic principles of manufacturing in ways that seemed at once radical and rudimentary.
The public embraced these concepts, and today, a decade after publication, "Cradle to Cradle" still sells 20,000 copies annually. But when early adopters actually tried to put these principles into practice and design new products accordingly, they quickly confronted the depth and complexity of the problem: manufacturing processes shrouded in secrecy, rooted in unsustainable sourcing, and driven only by the bottom line.
Their answer: establish quality standards for those manufacturers who did want to make safe, healthy products. In the last two years, propelled by a rapid shift in public consciousness and a growing network of practitioners, both movements have made significant strides toward their goals.
In 2010, McDonough and Braungart founded the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, a nonprofit that evaluates and certifies products as safe and sustainable. In 2011, Benyus and her team launched Biomimicry 3.8, a consortium of scientists and businesspeople dedicated to collecting research and training designers and engineers around the world as certified biomimicry specialists.
Viewing nature as a source of ideas—rather than merely a source of goods—has a lengthy history among indigenous people. But Western industrial culture had mostly relegated such inquiry to the realm of obscure academic research. After Benyus’s book came out in 1997, however, corporations began to call, looking for ways they might practice what she called “the conscious emulation of life’s genius.”
“‘We’re trying to create a more sustainable product line,’ they’d say. ‘We want to save energy and reduce the toxins and materials we use. Could you come over and tell us what nature does?’”
As Benyus and her long-time partner Dayna Baumeister began consulting with designers and engineers, they found that single organisms—as well as entire natural systems—could be an inspiration. For instance, while it’s possible to mimic an owl’s feather by creating a fabric that opens anywhere along its surface, Benyus and Baumeister realized it might be even better to emulate the process by which owl feathers self-assemble at body temperature without using toxins or high pressure. The implications for human use—in everything from textiles to quieter airplanes—were staggering.
“We sat together and asked, ‘Is there a best practice of how to be an Earthling?’” Benyus recalls, “A carbon-based life-form on this planet, that enhances rather than degrades?”
Their deepening observations led to a set of biomimetic guidelines aimed at isolating what works and replicating it. They dubbed these “Life’s Principles,” and all of them stem from the concept of cooperation as a driving force in evolution.
“It really changes the way you design things,” says Benyus. “For instance, if we design a water-treatment facility, we start with Life’s Principles. First, it can’t be a chemical treatment—chlorine is out. Second, it should be decentralized. So, suddenly, as you’re looking at that, you begin to say, well, maybe there should be neighborhood-level water treatment, and maybe the water treatment should be constructed wetlands. Since life is always multifunctional, you think that perhaps there should also be an education or recreational facility, or maybe a park. So when you use Life’s Principles as a scoping tool, you’re looking to the natural world and asking, how do organisms filter, how do they recover fresh water? That’s when you’re emulating, doing biomimicry.”
As their own understanding of biomimicry expanded, so did the movement. In 2006, after educators and professionals around the world had clamored for workshops and certification courses, Benyus and Baumeister founded the nonprofit Biomimicry Institute. There, they trained a new generation of biomimicry profes sionals, progressing from three-hour online sessions to a rigorous two-year course they hope to have certified for a master’s degree. “After about a year people would call us and say, ‘Actually, what we need is a community, a place to share information, to be connected to all the other biomimicry nodes around the world,’” Benyus laughs. “So we said, okay, time to change again, time to evolve.”
Biomimicry 3.8 was the result. With 30 staffers and 31 regional networks, it aims to be the LexisNexis of biomimcry, a repository for all the research from the last 14 years. “You don’t get gigantic; you get networked,” says Benyus. “That’s what happened to us.”
From End to Beginning
A similar impulse to reimagine conventions in design led William McDonough and Michael Braungart to lay out their own sustainability principles: create safe objects of long-term value, eliminate waste, and recognize the interdependence of humans and nature as well as the right of each to co-exist.
McDonough and Braungart first presented the ideas in 1992 in "The Hannover Principles." Ten years later, they published "Cradle to Cradle," a manifesto calling for the wholesale transformation of human industry by shifting toward ecologically intelligent design. In direct contrast to our conventional cradle-to-grave mentality, which assigns no value to a product beyond its first use, Cradle to Cradle envisioned materials flowing through cycles that would maintain or even increase their value over time.
This went far beyond “reduce, reuse, recycle.” McDonough and Braungart wrote about the regenerative powers that exist in nature, positing that humans could have a restorative impact on the environment. Consider, for example, death: Since we emit carbon even when our lives are over, Braungart suggests we focus on making our ecological footprint beneficial, rather than merely trying to shrink it. At heart, this approach underscores the limits of standard environmental thinking aimed at making products “less bad.” Too reductive, says Braungart, who scoffs: “Think about falling in love efficiently.”
As the concept of Cradle to Cradle spread, McDonough and Braungart began developing certification protocols, and calls grew for a universal certification process. California’s Green Chemistry Initiative, signed in 2008 by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, provided the impetus to take their work to the next level: In 2010, the team, with support from Schwarzenegger, launched the independent Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, making their certification system and methodology more widely available.
Similar to Biomimicry 3.8, the newly launched Cradle 3.0 challenges companies not only to redesign their products, but to incorporate social justice and renewable energy in the manufacturing process. McDonough acknowledges some of the immense barriers, particularly around secrecy agreements and proprietary information, allowing that it’s taken years to build trust.
But Bridgett Luther, former head of the California Department of Conservation, who now directs the Institute, is optimistic.
“You start incrementally redesigning, reducing carbon footprint, slowly moving to more renewables as they become more affordable.” she says. “What I love about Cradle to Cradle Certified is that we work with companies as a team, and over time you get better."
Just in time for Greenbuild 2012, San Francisco’s November expo on sustainable building, the Institute rolled out a training module for a new generation of scientists, guiding companies toward basic, silver, gold, or platinum certification of their products.
But for Luther, certification is merely a vehicle for more profound societal transformation.
“The whole design exercise is very empowering, because when companies go through this process they get really excited, and their products get amazing,” she says. “Cradle to Cradle people are happy, because they can see that the product they’re making is going to make the world a better place, and it leaks down into the whole company. Yes, we’re going to have to make do with less stuff because we’re not going to have enough minerals to go around, but we can invent stuff that’s so powerful that every time you use it there’s a bonus. I think there’s some real power in the vision.”
Having grown out of different strands of scientific inquiry, Cradle 3.0 and Biomimicry 3.8 share a fundamental commitment to the process of reconnecting with the natural world. But rather than providing a rigid set of prescriptions, Benyus and Luther view their disciplines as living, breathing organisms that are constantly breaking new ground, like nature itself.
“Biomimicry isn’t an answer; it’s a way to find answers,” says Benyus.
The goals are as much about detergentmakers altering the chemistry of their soap to use smaller bottles as they are about discovering new processes.
“A lot of products we need haven’t been invented yet,” Luther says. “You think about our lives, and they’re made of a bunch of molecules. Whether it’s going into a toy or a piece of toilet paper or the one that’s the new jet fuel, what we want to do is inspire a whole new generation of chemists to get the good molecules working for us. We want kids to say, ‘I can be the person who creates the molecule that makes the world better.’ ”
For Benyus, the next frontier is 3D printing, a mechanized version of nature’s more graceful, “as needed” style of manufacturing. She envisions a world where, instead of shipping countless goods thousands of miles, we would have a Kinko’s for pots and pans and cups – using natural polymers or even beetle shells.
“Our dream would be to have five vials of goop, then add structure to it to make it super strong or whatever you need it to be. At the end of its life you could put your product in a bath of enzymes to disassemble it, and then you'd be able to use it again,” she says. “Fewer materials, better recyclability. To me, this is really exciting.”
3D printing may also be where biomimicry and Cradle to Cradle finally intersect.
“What we’re trying to do with our polymer idea is what I think Cradle to Cradle is trying to accomplish as well,” says Benyus. “Where green chemistry, biomimicry, and Cradle to Cradle meet, we start to talk about rewriting the story of stuff.”
In McDonough’s view, both Cradle to Cradle and biomimicry take their cues from the natural world. But a shared philosophy may be their most important link.
“The question comes down to not just ‘What is our technique?’ but ‘What am I doing?’ ” the architect says. “Notwithstanding engineering wizardry, ‘Are we doing the right thing?’ must always be the first and ultimate question.”
Currently, he is working to design offices, factories, and schools that are photosynthetic and make energy—buildings with admittedly “magical” characteristics.
But thanks to Benyus, Braungart, and McDonough, such ideas are no longer in the realm of science fiction. From oil-repellent coating inspired by water bugs, to using prairies as a model to grow food sustainably, to observing how chimps cope with illness, the possibilities of learning from our planet’s unexplored reservoirs of intelligence are vast.
“What if there was a boat designed to clean the water? Or how about a phone that enhances your hearing?” asks Luther. “That’s the Cradle to Cradle way. You just change your thinking.”
• Sven Eberlein wrote this article for What Would Nature Do?, the Winter 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Sven is a San Francisco-based freelance writer who attracts themes with a hopeful, earthy drift. When he’s not roaming his neighborhood in search of street food and random acts of creativity, he can be found musing on his blog, svenworld.com.
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President Obama will face a number of challenges over his next four-year term and will likely make changes that will affect the nonprofit world. With that in mind, The Chronicle invited a group of nonprofit leaders and thinkers to share their ideas about what his nonprofit agenda should be.
A sampling of their responses is below:
• Recognize that the nonprofit sector is a critical partner with government and business in fulfilling the country’s needs.
The U.S. is first among nations in the unique arrangement by which nonprofits, led by private citizens, perform functions that in other countries fall to the public sector.
Recognition means including nonprofits in planning discussions and creating an environment in which they can do the public’s good. This is one of the most hyper-organized societies on the planet. We have subsectors around the arts, education, human services, the environment, and other major aspects of human endeavor, and we have associations and coalitions for each. As a chamber of commerce is a means to find out what business “thinks,” these associations are willing partners in shaping and executing what works best to achieve national goals. And we need to identify those goals. An outcome most Americans would probably endorse, for example, is that all children become ready for post-secondary education, work, and life. From such a goal, we can identify the right tools and programs to get us there.
—Irv Katz, president, National Human Services Assembly
• Increase support for global relief work and reject suggestions to cut international aid.
Cutting aid will only set back the already arduous task that many relief organizations face and impedes our ability to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges, like food and water insecurity. Second, consider ways to make U.S.-based nonprofit organizations more competitive in international work. The administration should review and update policies and procedures to meet current and future needs.
These two points should be priorities if we hope to equip and empower American nonprofits to represent the United States internationally with good, quality work and to be worldwide leaders in humanitarian aid.
—Abed Ayoub, chief executive, Islamic Relief USA
• Focus on the safety net at home and abroad.
The U.S. Census estimates that nearly 150 million Americans—half the population—are living in households considered “poor” or “low income.” Given the pressure on the federal budget, America’s soup kitchens, churches, and other effective nonprofits are an essential safety net. Rather than limit the deductibility of charitable giving, the administration should create a friendly environment for the nonprofits.
Internationally, hundreds of millions of people experience deadly poverty: 19,000 children die every day of preventable causes like diarrhea; 870 million people do not have enough to eat. Unfortunately, some effective humanitarian programs have been targeted for disproportionate cuts.
International aid is not only deeply American, it fosters nonmilitary diplomacy, encourages foreign allies, develops markets for American trade, and saves millions of lives every year. The administration should safeguard lifesaving humanitarian aid and unleash private donors at a time when the charitable sector is even more necessary.
—Richard Stearns, president, World Vision U.S.
• Give priority to improving methods for delivering vital services to those most vulnerable among us.
While there is a very robust discussion about how much money should be spent on various federal programs that serve the poor, few are engaged in conversation about how better to administer those services, how to maximize efficiency in delivery, and how to identify new solutions to prevent and alleviate poverty at large. We are hopeful that moving forward, the president will lead a national conversation about identifying new methods and strategies for lifting more Americans onto a path of opportunity and self-sufficiency in a way that is economically sustainable for the nation.
—The Rev. Larry Snyder, president, Catholic Charities USA
• Provide leadership to advance legislative and administrative measures that respect the integrity and hard work of immigrants and their families.
These measures must include access to permanent legal status, providing a pathway to U.S. citizenship.
Make U.S. citizenship accessible for eligible immigrants and refugees, keeping naturalization fees affordable and processing applications quickly. Ensure adequate resources to help applicants prepare for the citizenship exam and meet the English-language requirement, and work to ensure that federal programs for immigrants and refugees are linguistically accessible and culturally appropriate. The next president should bolster government and nonprofit efforts to protect the civil and constitutional rights of people throughout the United States, including immigrants and refugees, and to confront discrimination, racially motivated crimes, and other tactics used to suppress civic engagement and participation.
Immigration is one of our most distinguishing characteristics as a nation; it helps to drive economic growth and defines our identity. By focusing on the above priorities and issues, the next president has the ability to open the doors of opportunity for countless immigrant and native-born families—now and for future generations.
—Walter Barrientos, special-projects manager at Grantmakers Concerned With Immigrants and Refugees
The day after Thanksgiving has become synonymous with people camping out, fighting, and occasionally trampling each other in pursuit of a bargain. This year, a group of nonprofit and socially conscious organizations hopes to harness that energy for the greater good.
Their national campaign — to brand the Tuesday after the holiday as an annual day of giving — is a product of the digital age, so steeped in social media that its name is a Twitter hashtag: (hashtag)GivingTuesday.
The movement's founding partners include traditional organizations such as the United Way and American Red Cross as well as Microsoft, the online bargain site Groupon, and Mashable, the technology and social media news blog.
Each of the campaign's hundreds of official participants has been encouraged to adapt the #GivingTuesday concept to its needs.
"I'm trying to use #GivingTuesday as a reason for people to help others," Dave Girgenti, founder and executive director of the Voorhees, N.J.-based Wish Upon a Hero Foundation, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.
"I want the true holiday spirit to come out, not the 'help a charity out for the holidays' spirit. That comes out anyway," he said.
Wish Upon a Hero's website is a platform for people to post "wishes," requests that range from school supplies to free Lasik surgery. Donors determine how to make the dreams come true.
From 80 to 100 wishes a day are granted by people who offer money or their services, Girgenti said. The foundation typically funds five; on Tuesday it will try to increase that number to 25.
For many organizations in the region, #GivingTuesday will be a day for increased fundraising, marking the start of the final lap in the race to solicit year-end charitable donations.
"The noise is so loud around retail, retail, retail. How is it possible for us to break through that noise?" said Aaron Sherinian, vice president for communications and public relations at the United Nations Foundation, which funds projects aligned with United Nations goals. The group, based in Washington, helped organize #GivingTuesday.
"If the (campaign's) founding partners have done anything, it's to offer an opening day for people to talk more loudly about what they're doing," Sherinian said.
The Camden County (N.J.) Animal Shelter, Covenant House New Jersey, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Burlington, Camden & Gloucester (N.J.) Counties — all #GivingTuesday partners — plan to send a blast of tweets, emails, and Facebook posts to prospective donors in an attempt to kick-start holiday giving.
In Philadelphia, the Mann Center for the Performing Arts will conduct a one-day drive to raise $10,000 for transportation associated with its summer children's programs. It aims to have 200 donors sponsor school bus seats at $50 each, said Nancy R. Newman, the Mann's executive vice president.
"We're like everybody; the end of the year is important for us," Newman said. "Thanksgiving is the beginning of the time you think about gifts."
Mayor Michael Nutter is expected to officially declare the day "Giving Tuesday" in Philadelphia, Sherinian said.
In its inaugural year, #GivingTuesday is competing for attention with Superstorm Sandy relief efforts, but the efforts should easily coexist, said Girgenti, of the Wish Upon a Hero Foundation.
"I think for people, there's a difference. One was for emergency giving, emergency relief," he said. "I think that people who give for holiday reasons or pay off 'layaway wishes,' that's for a different kind of emotional connection."
Whether they volunteer their time Tuesday or donate to storm relief or cultural organizations, Sherinian said, he thinks people will embrace the day and make it a tradition.
"#GivingTuesday has said, 'Let's raise the volume around the creativity and the generosity of Americans,'" he said. "We just came off an election season that was fairly divisive, but we think giving is something Americans agree on."
The idea stemmed from a back-and-forth conversation between Mayor Booker and a woman who goes by the name TwitWit and uses the handle (at)MWadeNC. They began talking about the idea while discussing the role the government should play in funding school breakfast and lunch programs.
Booker said last week he intends to follow through with the plan. TwitWit said it is "great idea" but wants more information on how it will be carried out.
During their Twitter exchange, TwitWit wrote, "nutrition is not the responsibility of the government."
The conversation soon changed to food stamps.
"why is there a family today that is "too poor to afford breakfast"? are they not already receiving food stamps?" TwitWit wrote.
"Lets you and I try to live on food stamps in New Jersey (high cost of living) and feed a family for a week or month. U game?" Booker responded.
"sure, Mayor, I'm game," TwitWit wrote back.
"Great. Lets do this. I hope you live in New Jersey. Lets film it and see how we do," Booker responded. He later wrote, "We will have to get a referee. DM me your number so we can see if we can work out details."
Booker, a prolific Twitter user who has 1.2 million followers, said Nov. 20 that he is committed to living on the equivalent of food stamps, but could not say how he will approximate the benefits, execute the idea, or how long it will last.
The average monthly food stamp benefit was $133.26 per person in New Jersey in fiscal year 2011, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
"We're going to set up the rules," Booker told reporters. "And that's what we're researching right now. This will not be a gimmick or a stunt."
Booker said he wants the challenge to be a chance "for us to grow in compassion and understanding" and dispel stereotypes.
In an interview with The Associated Press TwitWit said she is a 39-year-old married mother of two from North Carolina. She spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because she said she has received threats since her Twitter discussion about food stamps.
She said she is willing to participate in the challenge but wants to know the ground rules before committing. She has not heard from Booker's office and is upset she has not been included in the research process.
"To hear he's planning and setting things up, it makes me feel like I'm a little bit of a prop in the game," she said.
She thinks she and Booker should approximate living on food stamps for a month.
TwitWit said she does not oppose food stamps. But if more taxpayer money is allocated for food stamps, she says, more people will require them.
"There is going to be a lot more of us needing those food stamps if it doesn't stop," she said.
She thinks many people are mischaracterizing her conversation with Booker, which initially centered on funding school meals.
"I don't have a vendetta," she said, and urged people to work together. "I'm looking at things from a different angle."
It may be dismissed by Kenya’s middle classes and elites as primitive, but farmer Leah Wambu, is convinced that bartering promises a new way of protecting rural food supplies as climate change takes hold.
Swapping one type of goods for another instead of for cash is an age-old practice. For a growing number of people like 69-year-old Wambui, from Nyeri, it is gaining new appeal as a way to combat increasing food scarcity in rural areas such as hers in central Kenya.
“If I need a chicken, I take a basketful of maize to the market and look for someone interested in my goods,” says the cheerful grandmother. “If we agree the goods meet each others’ worth, then I will trade my grain for the chicken.”
At the nearby Gakindu shopping center where Wambui stations herself, the market is abuzz with activity as traders cart in bags of farm produce, with flocks of goats and sheep, and herds of cattle and pigs in tow.
The chatter and haggling continues until around midday, when rural folk like Wambui head back home to see their fetch is enough to feed their families.
This is not how she has always operated. “I used to sell my grain to middlemen who would come to the village during the harvesting season,” recalls Wambui. “They would buy it at a throwaway price.”
Once her store of grain was empty, she would spend her meager earnings on food for her family, but it would not last to the next harvest. And harvests have become unreliable in recent years as rains fail or crops are destroyed in extreme downpours, worsening the cycle of want and hunger.
This changed for Wambui when she rediscovered bartering at a community meeting called by the village chief to discuss the drought of 2011, Kenya’s worst on record.
“I was relying on relief food but the supplies would take a month to arrive,” she recalls. “Sometimes corrupt officials would sell off a part of the supplies.”
Even so, villagers took some convincing that they would be better off bartering their farm produce than selling it to merchants who would trade it for a large profit in bigger markets.
“At first the people resisted the idea,” explains Mureithi Githinji, chairman of the village market.
But when a few, including Githinji, decided to try swapping commodities, they found they could make their food last to the next season. Soon more people joined the scheme, and the barter trade gained leverage.
Rising demand for food from growing urban populations and changing weather patterns have put increasing pressure on farmers, says Angela Kimani, subregional emergency officer for Eastern and Central Africa in the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Many see little benefit from rising food prices in cities, with most of the profits of their production instead going to middlemen traders, who also profit when selling grain back to farmers during times of drought and crop failures.
A report by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) indicates that more than 10 million Kenyans suffer from food insecurity, with the majority of them relying on food relief.
Rural and urban households are also incurring huge food bills due to high prices, says the report, while staple food is in short supply.
KARI links food insecurity to frequent droughts, high input costs for domestic food production, and land tenure insecurity, which is displacing farmers in areas with the greatest potential for growing crops.
“The high global food prices and low purchasing power by a large proportion of the population, due to high levels of poverty, means there is need to have infrastructure that protects the rural food chain,” says Ephraim Mukisira, KARI’s director, referring to bartering networks.
Some experts see bartering as a way to enhance food security while ensuring that traditional staple foods remain within the rural food chain.
“There is nothing wrong with barter trade because people trade for commodities they desire,” agrees Ronald Sibanda, the World Food Programme’s representative and country director. “It is important to encourage consumption of traditional foods because they are nutritious.”
But the FAO’s Ms. Kimani calls for wider consumer education as well.
“There is a need to establish a balance between barter trade and the rural cash economy,” she says.
John Kabiro, a trader in Nairobi’s Gikomba market, one of the busiest in the city, argues that bartering does not help social development because it undermines cash-flow systems.
According to Mr. Kabiro, bartering would work better if the government subsidized rural Kenya with social services such as education and health, since these tend to drain households’ income stream.
“Barter trade is the last thing on my mind since it does not give me money,” Kabiro says. “I do not see it working since everyone is after wealth creation.”
In October, Africa observed Food and Nutrition Security Day. As governments ponder steps to reduce food insecurity, it remains to be seen whether Kabiro’s approach or Wambui’s will prove most helpful in ensuring enough affordable food is available.
• Kagondu Njagi is an environmental writer based in Nairobi.
In less than two years, Curacao may be using its ocean as a power plant. The island nation in the southern Caribbean could use seawater to generate and save power, taking a major step toward innovation in clean energy, projects backers say.
A Dutch company called Bluerise B.V. and the company that owns Curacao’s airport – Curacao Airport Holding N.V. – are exploring building a small 100-kilowatt marine power plant that will use the temperature of the seawater as a power source.
In the tropics, the sun heats the ocean surface and keeps it warm all year long. But at a depth of one kilometre (0.6 miles), sunlight can’t reach and warm colder waters, circulated from the Arctic.
Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) works by deploying a pipeline in the ocean to pump cold, deep water to the surface and take advantage of the difference in its temperature with the warm surface water.
Cold and warm waters are used in a process to condense and evaporate ammonia, causing it to move inside a closed-pipe circuit. Evaporated ammonia powers a turbine that generates electricity, and then is condensed to continue the cycle.
The downside of the process is that the difference in temperatures is not very large, so the efficiency of the process – and thus the power production – is low when compared to conventional power plants. The bright side is that the energy resource is as abundant as the ocean itself.
”The ocean is an interesting resource to use, as it is always available,” says Berend Jan Kleute, Bluerise’s chief technology officer. He says OTEC might be used as one of the constant and reliable components of an integrated island energy system. Such a system could also include cheaper – but intermittent – renewable resources such as wind and solar power.
If the process is sufficiently cost effective – a huge question at this point – offshore OTEC plants could eventually provide energy for coastal communities on mainland areas, and any country with access to warm, tropical ocean waters, he said.
The plants could also use their electricity to create fuels such as hydrogen and ammonia, which would later be transported to shore.
According to Jan Kleute, the estimated installation costs of OTEC are around $12 million per installed megawatt – much more expensive than wind and solar. That has limited the technology’s appear to potential investors.
Until recently, OTEC development costs were so high that a commercial project was unthinkable, but Bluerise and Curacao’s airport may have found a way around this difficulty. The solution is using a fraction of the pumped cold water to run the airport’s air-conditioning system.
The project began in 2010 when Curacao airport officials, looking for a way to set themselves apart from competitors in the region, began exploring using OTEC technology.
Becoming “a center of excellence of renewable energy suits our vision,” said Simon Kloppenburg, development manager for the airport, which hopes to become a more important gateway into Latin America.
The airport team had looked at other renewables. But OTEC seemed an appropriate fit, Kloppenburg said.
Around 60 percent of the airport’s energy consumption goes to air-conditioning, and the power demand is almost constant, Kloppenburg said. Utility costs in Curacao are expensive because energy has to be imported – a problem shared by other islands. The price per kilowatt-hour of imported energy is around 45 cents, Kloppenburg said, which can be 10 times as much as the cost of power in mainland areas of the region.
Bluerise proposed that the airport begin running its air-conditioning systems using cold seawater pumped from deep in the ocean – a change it claims could result in power savings of 90 percent. The airport gave the project the green light, financing preliminary and feasibility studies.
The seawater air-conditioning component is crucial for making the OTEC cost-effective, project officials say. The fuel savings from using seawater to run the airport’s air-conditioning system could over time help repay the cost of construction of the deep-sea pipeline, which could then be used for both air conditioning and the OTEC pilot plant.
The aim is to have the pipeline – the most costly component of the system – in place and the OTEC plant working by 2014, project backers said.
If the concept works, Bluerise hopes to then build an additional 1 megawatt OTEC power plant that could provide about 1 percent of the reliable power generation needed on the island of 140,000 people.
Jan Kleute says he can imagine a future with floating offshore 5 to 10 megawatt OTEC plants giving clean and reliable electricity to tropical islands around the world.
The Curacao project potentially could be expanded beyond power and air conditioning. If they can find needed investment, Bluerise and the airport hope to develop an eco-park – an industrial complex for production and research – based on the use of leftover airport cold water.
Potential activities at the eco-park might include desalination, cooling soils to allow planting of different crops, growing fish from temperate waters, or growing algae for biofuels, Bluerise officials said.
A similar scheme is functioning in the National Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, where a demonstration OTEC plant was constructed in the 1970s. In 1989 the laboratory began allowing other research activities to use the cold water. According to the laboratory’s website, it today hosts more than 30 companies and generates about $40 million in economic benefits.
The total cost of the Curacao ocean power plant, air-conditioning effort, and eco-park would would be about $30 million; so far $1.2 million has been invested in environmental assessment and engineering studies currently under way, project officials said.
• Santiago Ortega Arango is a Colombian engineer and freelance journalist interested in climate change and renewable power issues. He is an associate professor at the Escuela de Ingeniería de Antioquia and a Fellow in Global Journalism at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.
The Public Banking Institute blog cites a powerful example of how a public bank can help a city bounce back from a devastating natural disaster. As Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts unfold, there's a lesson from history about the role of strong local financial institutions in increasing urban resilience.
In April of 1997, Grand Forks, North Dakota, was hit by record flooding and major fires that put the city's future in jeopardy. One of the first economic responders was the Bank of North Dakota (BND), currently the only public bank in the United States.
What's a public bank, you ask? Public banks are owned by citizens through their government. They have a public interest mission, are dedicated to funding local development, and plow profits back into the state treasury to fund social programs and cover deficits. Rather than competing with private banks, BND partners with them to meet the needs of North Dakotans. BND is one reason North Dakota has low unemployment and runs budget surpluses while most states are deeply in the red.
As a public bank, BND was able to respond to the '97 flood in ways that a privately owned bank could not or, perhaps, would not. While Sandy's wrath cost dozens of lives and an estimated $60 billion, Grand Forks' suffered $3.5 billion in losses – a lot of damage for a town of 50,000, which saw flood waters inundate a staggering 75 percent of area homes. Fortunately, no one died.
Right after the flood, the Bank of North Dakota got to work, established a disaster relief loan fund, set aside $5 million to assist flood victims, and set up additional credit lines of around $70 million:
- $15 million for the North Dakota Division of Emergency Management
- $10 million for the North Dakota National Guard
- $25 million for the City of Grand Forks
- $12 million for the University of North Dakota, located in Grand Forks
- $7 million allocated to raise the height of a dike at Devil's Lake, about 90 miles west of Grand Forks
Other financial institutions hurried to catch up and match the offer, as BND worked with the Department of Education, the Federal Housing Administration, the Veterans Administration, and other federal and state agencies to provide student and home loan relief to flood victims. Due to quick recovery efforts, Grand Forks lost only 3 percent of its population during recovery, while similarly devastated East Grand Forks, across the river in Minnesota, a state without a public bank, lost 17 percent.
That's what is possible with a public bank: people come first. But it's not all altruism. As a local financial institution, The Bank of North Dakota's future was partly tied to a healthy recovery.
I wish New York and New Jersey speedy recoveries. If you live there, I encourage you to start or get behind a public bank initiative to shore up local resilience. Twenty states, including New York, have initiatives under way to create public banks. The Public Banking Institute has a guide to local initiatives here.
In the mean time, here are 10 ways you can help the recovery effort.
A group of more than 80 grant makers, nonprofits, and businesses has created a network to help legal immigrants living in the United States become citizens.
The New Americans Campaign will aim to use $20 million donated by multiple foundations to make it easier for people to become full-fledged Americans. Currently, barriers prevent the vast majority of the nation’s 8 million legal immigrants from becoming naturalized. Only 8 percent of those eligible each year do so, the campaign reports.
Applying for citizenship costs $680—too much for many immigrants. The lengthy, labyrinthine path to citizenship can take two years to complete, dissuading many from trying. Many who do fall prey to fraudulent operators who take their money but offer little in legal services in return.
“The goal of the campaign is to allow those who want to take that last step toward citizenship navigate the system,” says Geraldine Mannion, director of the US Democracy and Special Opportunities Fund at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, one of six grantmakers involved in the campaign. Carnegie has made $7 million in grants to the effort. “We want to help people who contribute to our country economically and socially integrate fully into it.”
Since July 2011, the campaign has run a pilot program that has helped 30,000 legal permanent residents by linking them with new online technology that streamlines the citizenship application process, saving them $20 million in fees and legal costs.
The effort also uses new approaches to reaching immigrants in eight cities where a total of 3.3 million legal residents live, tapping dozens of immigrants' rights and faith-based groups.
Finding institutions that will lend money to people who couldn’t otherwise afford to pay for citizenship will also be part of the campaign’s work, Ms. Mannion says.
“We see people who would like to become citizens along with their family members,” she says. “When you have a family of five, that’s a lot of money to come up with. It’s important for us to look for new ways to help them find it.”
In addition to Carnegie, founding supporters include the JPB Foundation and Open Society Foundations, both in New York; the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, in Miami; the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, in San Francisco; and the Grove Foundation, in Los Altos, Calif.