From self-interest to doing a world of good, in food tech and mangroves

1. United States

A reservation school in Nebraska improved attendance and graduation rates by concentrating on Indigenous culture. Students at Isanti Community School in Niobrara learn about Santee language, customs, and history in culture class – 20 minutes each day for preschoolers through middle schoolers and an hour for high schoolers. Located in one of the state’s lowest-performing districts, Isanti has for two years had a 100% graduation rate, and attendance has increased.   

More than 150 years ago, Santee students were ordered to abandon their language and culture as part of a forced assimilation process imposed by the federal government. Today, students are taught to wear their culture with pride.

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In our progress roundup, problem-solving starts at home. In the Netherlands, a focus on its own food supply expanded to worldwide leadership. And where mangroves grow, greater protection and cultivation is improving carbon sequestration with wide impact.

“It’s not told as a story of sorrow or sadness, but one of strength,” said Redwing Thomas, the teacher who designed and directs the new cultural program. “We’ve survived so much. This is our story of how we persevere.”
Source: Flatwater Free Press

2. Cuba

Women are now officially allowed to competitively box in Cuba. The nation has long been a boxing powerhouse for men, but women have been banned from the sport since Cuba’s 1959 revolution. Some immigrated to places like the United States to compete. In December, the National Institute for Sports announced the country will hold its first national female boxing championship in 2023 after selecting a national team of 12 boxers.  

Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters
Boxers listen to the referee before a fight in Havana, Dec. 17, 2022.

Women were first allowed to box in the Olympics in 2012, but cultural norms in Cuba have been slower to change. The former coach of the men’s national team infamously asserted in 2009 that women should “show their beautiful faces” and not “take punches.” The change was supported by the recently passed family code aimed at reducing discrimination against women and the LGBTQ community. “Saying that boxing is not for Cuban women – that’s always been the problem,” said boxer Legnis Cala Massó. “Where we are now, we never thought we would get here.”
Source: Diario de Cuba

3. Ghana

The largest photography library in Africa opened in Ghana. The Dikan Center, in the capital, Accra, holds over 30,000 books and showcases the work of photographers from across the continent as well as those who have emigrated, celebrating a rich visual history and inspiring the next generation. A photo studio, classrooms, and fellowship program offer aspiring visual artists and documentary filmmakers space to develop their talent.

There are few archival sites in Ghana for artists to refer to when creating new work. “This centre will be a treasure trove for image-makers like myself because it gives us the opportunity to dig deeper and create more meaningful work that stands the test of time,” said self-taught Ghanaian photographer and filmmaker David Nana Opoku Ansah.

Dikan means “take the lead” in Asante. The library was founded by Ghanaian photographer Paul Ninson while studying in New York. There he met Brandon Stanton, author of “Humans of New York,” who started the crowdfunding campaign to fund the initiative.
Source: The Guardian

4. The Netherlands

The Netherlands developed cutting-edge technology to become the world’s second-largest exporter of agricultural products. Two decades ago, the country committed to producing twice as much food using half the resources and has succeeded. Its greenhouses now grow 10 times as much food as traditional dirt farming. Each pound of tomatoes grown in the Netherlands uses a half-gallon of water, while the global average is more than 28 gallons.

Peter Dejong/AP/File
Facilities like this one near the city of Gouda are part of the 24,000 acres of crops grown in greenhouses in the Netherlands.

With high energy prices and government attempts to decrease nitrous oxide and ammonia emissions from farming, there are pressures on the industry. But innovations – from robotics to cell-cultured meat – have focused on decreased water usage and greenhouse gas emissions, making the Netherlands a top exporter of technology as well as food. Jaap Mazereeuw, whose company is a leader in seed breeding, said, “We’re looking at resilient varieties, seeds for organic farms as well as varieties that are more salt tolerant for places where water quality is not good. We need to find solutions for subsistence farmers all the way up to large-scale farmers.”
Sources: The Washington Post, The Guardian, Wired


The loss of mangrove forests is slowing around the world. In recent decades, mangroves have disappeared to clear room for aquaculture and agriculture, a loss of vegetation that can store up to five times as much carbon as rainforests. But a recent report has found that mangrove loss slowed significantly between 2010 and 2020 as compared with the period between 1996 and 2010 and is headed toward a halt.  

Sergi Reboredo/VWPICS/AP
Mangroves line a river in Los Haitises National Park, Sabana de la Mar, Dominican Republic, Dec. 9, 2022.

Globally, over 42% of the world’s mangroves are protected, up 17% from 2012. Those numbers are lower in Southeast Asia, considered a hot spot for coastal wetland losses due to rice and palm oil production. Growing awareness of the interconnectedness of ecosystems along coastlines is paving the way for initiatives that take a more holistic approach to conservation and monitoring. Global Mangrove Watch, a consortium of nongovernmental organizations, is planning a tool for restorers to record and share information about best practices.
Source: Mongabay

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