Points of Progress: Urban rooftop farm bears fruit, and more

Places where the world saw progress, for the Aug. 17 & 24, 2020 Monitor Weekly.

1. United States

The Navy welcomed its first Black female tactical jet pilot last month after Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle completed her final undergraduate flight. In the 1980s, Brenda Robinson became the first African American woman to serve as a Navy flight instructor and VIP transport pilot, but she did not fly fighter jets.

Anne Owens/U.S. Navy/AP
Lt. J.G. Madeline Swegle exits a T-45C Goshawk training aircraft following her final flight to complete the undergraduate Tactical Air (Strike) pilot training syllabus in Kingsville, Texas, on July 7, 2020.

In the years since, the Navy has often been criticized for its lack of diversity, especially among fighter units. A 2018 investigation found that of 1,404 Hornet pilots, only 26 were Black and 33 were female. The Navy’s Tactical Air (Strike) aviator program prepared Lieutenant Swegle to fly several tactical jets, including the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. (CNN)

Why We Wrote This

This is more than feel-good news – it's where the world is making concrete progress. A roundup of positive stories to inspire you.

2. Colombia

Conservationists are training ex-combatants to help preserve Colombia’s biodiversity. Researching the country’s wildlife was a challenge during the decadeslong civil war, but since the 2016 peace agreement, expeditions in former conflict zones have discovered more than 150 new animal and plant species. Experts say ex-guerrilla fighters, who once occupied the most remote parts of Colombia’s jungles, forests, mountains, and savannas, are uniquely prepared to aid scientists with ongoing conservation efforts. Wildlife geneticist Jaime Góngora visits Colombia several times a year to conduct workshops training former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in various conservation skills, including taking biodiversity inventories. The project isn’t just helping scientists – a recent survey of 10,000 former FARC members found that 84% were interested in terrestrial and river environmental restoration work now that the war has ended. “This is a vital step to enable them to contribute to environmental projects, improve their livelihoods, and reincorporate into society,” says Mr. Góngora. (Science, The Conversation)

3. Lesotho

Kick4Life Football Club became the world’s first top-tier soccer club to fund men’s and women’s teams equally, a decision the club hopes will inspire other leagues to step up on behalf of women’s sports. Since Kick4Life’s women’s team was founded in 2010, it has rapidly grown into a competitive soccer team while challenging gender stereotypes in Lesotho and beyond. When coach Puky Ramokoatsi joined as a player a decade ago, Kick4Life helped her rethink her own biases and overcome violence from her past, she says. The decision to match funding for the men’s and women’s teams is especially poignant as the pandemic has put a financial strain on global sports. “These pressures are no reason to hold back,” says co-founder Steve Fleming. “Quite the opposite; the same crisis has given rise to an epidemic of gender-based violence here and elsewhere. The responsibility of football is to inspire positive change.” (The Guardian)

4. France

The world’s largest urban rooftop farm, called Nature Urbaine, has started bearing fruit. On one day recently, young farmers atop Paris Expo’s Pavilion 6 picked 3,000 lettuces and 150 pints of strawberries from aeroponic growing towers – plastic columns that are soil-free, use little water, and take up less space than traditional garden beds. The roof is the size of two soccer fields, but only a third has been planted. When it’s all in use, staff could harvest more than a ton of fruits and vegetables every day. Pascal Hardy, the engineer behind the garden, says his urban agriculture consultancy is fielding inquiries from around the world. “[This farming method] is a clean, productive, and sustainable model of agriculture that can in time make a real contribution to the resilience – social, economic, and also environmental – of the kind of big cities where most of humanity now lives,” said Mr. Hardy. “And look, it really works.” (The Guardian)

5. United Kingdom

Red kites are thriving in England after one of the world’s most successful reintroduction projects. The fork-tailed bird of prey was protected by royal decree throughout the Middle Ages, but became a target for taxidermists and egg collectors in the centuries that followed. “In the 1980s, anyone wanting to see a red kite had to make a special pilgrimage to a handful of sites,” said Jeff Knott, an operations director with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. “Today it is a daily sight for millions of people.”

Jon Super/AP
A red kite flies over a Leeds, England, cricket ground, May 31, 2015. Sightings of the once-rare bird are now common.

In July 1990, 13 raptors flown in from Spain took their maiden flight across England. Thirty years later, there are an estimated 1,800 breeding pairs across England, and red kites are regularly seen flying through most counties. The United Kingdom is now home to almost 10% of the global red kite population. (The Guardian)

6. Pakistan

Pakistan has met United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 13 – to take urgent action to combat climate change – a decade before the deadline. The early achievement shows that progress is possible even for countries with limited resources. Pakistan met the target well before 2030 through a series of environmental programs launched over the last decade. These include the Billion Tree Tsunami project, a nationwide reforestation effort started by Prime Minister Imran Khan in 2014, and the Clean Green Pakistan Index, which ranks cities and townships based on residents’ access to clean water and green spaces. Pakistan has consistently ranked in the top 10 countries most vulnerable to extreme weather caused by climate change. (VOSA)

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