We mourn the loss of Wangari Maathai

Read an article on Wangari Maathai here

Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement and Nobel Laureate, passed away on Sunday, September 25.

The re-greening of East Africa that is occurring right now is largely a result of her work.  She stood with the poor, oppressed, and powerless.  She took responsibility for the land she inhabited and worked to restore it for everyone.  She overcame oppression and violence by planting trees with children and women.  Today, the corrupt government that attacked her is gone, but the forests that were planted by her and by those she taught remain and continue to grow.

Wangari Maathai understood the relationship between environmental quality and poverty, and was often the only person who dared to make that connection.  She planted trees not only for their own sake, but to provide food and fuel for people who had access to neither.  She recognized that the actions of those who are alive now will determine the conditions in which our descendants find themselves.  She chose to act as if her decisions matter.  May we all do the same.

We hope to honor her by playing some small role in the great work of regenerating the world’s forests.

“You cannot protect the environment unless you empower people, you inform them, and you help them understand that these resources are their own, that they must protect them.”

– Wangari Maathai


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The Great Green Wall: African Farmers Beat Back Drought and Climate Change with Trees

Great article in Scientific American showing how growing trees prevents drought, builds soil, and leads to more resilient and productive farms:


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Droughts Do Not Happen Overnight

Our prayers are for all the people suffering through this ongoing famine and drought.


Droughts Do Not Happen Overnight | IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Droughts Do Not Happen Overnight

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Droughts Do Not Happen OvernightBy Ramesh Jaura
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

BERLIN (IDN) – As the international community struggles to provide all possible assistance to more than 11 million people in Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Kenya – adversely affected by the lack of food and long spell of drought – Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), Luc Gnacadja, has drawn attention to an often ignored fact that “droughts do not happen overnight.”
UNCCD emerged from the Earth Summit in June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, along with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). UNCCD was adopted in Paris on June 17, 1994.

While calling on the international community to respond urgently to the unfolding crisis, Gnacadja stressed the need for “effective long term solutions to the root causes of famine in drought prone regions.” Such solutions lie in implementation of drought management systems and measures to put a halt to creeping desertification stemming from acute land degradation in drylands.

After all, neither desertification, nor land degradation, nor droughts are God Given. They are triggered by human activities and climate change much of which is influenced by human beings.

A widespread but misguided belief is that drylands are waste lands or marginal lands with low productivity and low adaptive capacity where poverty is inevitable, contribute little to national prosperity and yield no good return on investments, he told a Forum on Human Security in Switzerland on July 15.

The fact is rather that drylands comprise one-third of the world land mass and population, 44% of the global food production system, and 50% of the world’s livestock. In addition, dry forests are home to the world’s largest diversity of mammals whose survival, literally, hangs on the arid zone forests.


Traditional wisdom has it that dire consequences result from continuously ignoring repeated cries for help by what multiple communities across the globe call ‘Mother Earth: “Feed me to feed you”. If not handled with care, land suffers from utter degradation and becomes acutely vulnerable to desertification that does not allow even a blade of grass to grow.

Presently, extreme poverty, increased emissions of harmful greenhouse gases, food insecurity and hunger, instability and crisis, increased water stress, biodiversity loss, and migrations are putting a huge stress on land.

This prompted the UNCCD Executive Secretary to declare, “We are the desert-making species on earth.” Gnacadja added: “We are the planet’s skin disease.” Millions in drylands are being forced to move to more productive land, and this is a major cause of conflict.

It is high time, therefore, to grasp some of the traditional wisdom such as the one enshrined in the Vedas, a large body of texts originating in ancient India some 3500 years ago.

Gnacadja cited one important passage from the Vedas: “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel, and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.”

Presently because of agricultural system being under stress, some 925 million people are going hungry, 80% of them are small holder farmers and landless poor in rural areas. Providing food for an additional 3 billion people by 2050 requires a 70% increase in global food production.

World food prices are expected to continue to be higher in the next decade. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, land degradation over the next 25 years may reduce global food production by up to 12% resulting in world food prices as much higher as 30%.

Major drylands specific challenges are: climatic and ecological challenges that limit production; economic challenges such as low investment, poor infrastructure and limited access to market; policy and institutional challenges involving low national priority, poor land and natural resources governance, limited access to knowledge and information; socio-cultural aspects such as nomadic lifestyles; demography, and conflicts in some countries.


“So much depends on so little, and we are not really tackling the root causes,” Gnacadja rightly pointed out. Humanity must double its food production to feed 9 billion people, as the “vicious cycle of poverty” worsens. Eight out of ten conflicts in the world are in dryland areas.

“We need to take action, but the good news is that people are taking action at a grassroots level. There is land improvement in many dryland areas, because people are striving to adapt. We need to support their efforts.” He called for a governance for “holistic management”, and a greater focus on “the forgotten billion”, the poorest people in the world.

The costs of inaction were far higher than action, the UNCCD Executive Secretary warned. Desertification and land degradation was closely related to the problems of food security, and political stability, a complex mix that all went in to “human security”.

There are a multitude of reasons to advance the fight against desertification, he said:

1. Drylands hold the key to future food security. 2. Addressing DLDD (desertification, land degradation and drought) contributes to human security and political stability.

3. We cannot adapt to climate change or mitigate its effects without resorting to SLM (sustainable land management). 4. It will be impossible to protect the planet against the loss of terrestrial biodiversity without addressing DLDD.

5. We cannot protect our forests without addressing the top driver of deforestation: DLDD. 6. It will be impossible to reach the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) without rescuing “the forgotten billion”, the poorest among the poor living in dry lands.

Realising the significance of the issue, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on June 17, 2011, the World Day to Combat Desertification: “We need to reward those who make drylands productive, so they will prosper and others will seek to emulate their example.”

It is with this in view that the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on September 20, 2011 in New York will focus on the theme: ‘Addressing DLDD issues in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development’. The meeting will be attended by heads of government and state from around the world.

Government ministers will discuss ways out of desertification, land degradation and drought at the tenth conference of parties (COP 10) October 10-21 in South Korea. DLLD will also be on the agenda of United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro, June 4-6, 2012.

Rio+20 will mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg. (IDN-InDepthNews/25.07.2011)

Copyright 2011 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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Article and interview with Brad Lancaster, water harvesting master


Here is an article co-written by Brad Lancaster and Valerie Strassberg from the journal of the American Water Works Association:



Interview with Ann Audrey Phillips and Brad Lancaster where they discuss transforming water scarcity into water abundance:


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“California, So Much To Plunder That I Think I’ll Stay in Bed…”

We just watched this short video (okay, some of you might consider long since it’s about 40 minutes) on youtube on California’s economic crises.  One of the people featured is an architect who starts an urban communal farm in the middle of the city.  She’s quite verbose about how she thinks California can get out of the mess it’s currently in.

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African Potato Lab Fights Malnutrition

MAPUTO, Mozambique — When U2’s Bono broke into the classic refrain, “Gabba gabba hey!” from the Ramone’s “Pinhead” on a Mozambique sweet potato farm last year, the farmers joined in to create perhaps the most unlikely punk rock cover of all time. Bono’s riff was inspired by one variety of the vegetable called “Gaba Gaba.”  To read the rest of this article click here

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Rainwater Harvesting Could End Water Shortage

African countries suffering or facing water shortages as a result of climate change have a massive potential in rainwater harvesting, with nations like Ethiopia and Kenya capable of meeting the needs of six to seven times their current populations, according to a United Nations report released today.

“The figures are astonishing and will surprise many,” UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner said of the study, compiled by his agency and the World Agroforestry Centre, which urges governments and donors to invest more widely in a technology that is low cost, simple to deploy and maintain, and able to transform the lives of households, communities and countries Africa-wide.

Overall the quantity of rain falling across the continent is equivalent to the needs of 9 billion people, one and half times the current global population. About a third of Africa is deemed suitable for rainwater harvesting if a threshold of 200 millimetres of arrival rainfall, considered to be at the lower end of the scale, is used.

Although not all rainfall can or should be harvested for drinking and agricultural uses, with over a third needed to sustain the wider environment including forests, grasslands and healthy river flows, the harvesting potential is still much more than adequate to meet a significant slice of human needs, the report notes.

“Africa is not water scarce,” it concludes. “The rainfall contribution is more than adequate to meet the needs of the current population several times over. For example Kenya would not be categorized as a ‘water stressed country’ if rainwater harvesting is considered. The water crisis in Africa is more of an economic problem from lack of investment, and not a matter of physical scarcity.”

Until recently the importance of such harvesting as a buffer against climate-linked extreme weather has been almost invisible in water planning with countries relying almost exclusively on rivers and underground supplies, the report notes.

Unlike big dams, which collect and store water over large areas, small-scale rainwater harvesting projects lose less water to evaporation because the rain or run-off is collected locally and can be stored in a variety of ways.

“Over the coming years we are going to need a range of measures and technologies to capture water and bolster supplies,” Mr. Steiner said. “Conserving and rehabilitating lakes, wetlands and other freshwater ecosystems will be vital and big dams, if sensibly and sustainably designed and constructed, may be part of the equation too.

“However, large-scale infrastructure can often by-pass the needs of poor and dispersed populations. Widely deployed, rainwater harvesting can act as a buffer against drought events for these people while also significantly supplementing supplies in cities and areas connected to the water grid,” he added.

The report mapped the rainwater harvesting potential of nine countries in Africa –Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Kenya, with a population of somewhere under 40 million people, has enough rainfall to supply the needs of six to seven times its current population, according to the study. Ethiopia, where just over a fifth of the population is covered by domestic water supply and an estimated 46 per cent of the population suffer hunger, has a potential rainwater harvest equivalent to the needs of over 520 million people.

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