Category Archives: Agriculture

Working for the common good: Ketumile Masire,1925-2017

Emily Langer in the Independent has written an obituary of Ketumile Masire – a statesman who described himself as ‘a farmer who has been drawn into politics’.

A summary with added links and photographs

Masire herded cattle before enrolling in a primary school at 13 and receiving a scholarship to attend a high school in South Africa that trained many leaders of the first government of independent Botswana. When his parents died he supported his siblings, becoming a headmaster. He later earned a Master Farmers Certificate, and having saved enough money to buy a tractor,  became a BBfarmer, using modern agricultural techniques.

Botswana cattle

He served on tribal and regional councils and was a founder and secretary-general of the Botswana Democratic Party, now the country’s leading political party. He once travelled 3,000 miles of the Kalahari desert to attend two dozen meetings over two weeks.

After serving as minister of finance and development planning and Vice President, Ketumile Masire became President of Botswana (1980-1998): roads and schools were built, healthcare improved, access to clean water expanded, farming techniques advanced and life spans extended.

The discovery of diamond reserves had transformed the country’s prospects and Masire continued to use the revenues for the public good after the death of his predecessor Seretse Khama.  He became ‘a model leader in a model nation on a continent where poverty, corruption and violence had crushed the hopes of many for stability and prosperity’. 

After leading Botswana through a drought that persisted for much of the 1980s, he shared the Africa Prize for Leadership awarded by the Hunger Project in recognition of the food distribution efforts that helped the country avoid starvation during the crisis.

Though South Africa was Botswana’s major economic partner, Botswana opposed apartheid. “He had to walk a fine line in a really rough neighbourhood,” said Chester Crocker, a former US assistant secretary of state for African affairs. “He had to get along with everybody, without sacrificing his principles.”

After leaving office, in addition to tending the cattle on his ranch, Masire advised other African leaders and chaired an international panel that investigated the Rwandan genocide of 1994. He made important contributions to peace efforts in Congo and, more recently, Mozambique. He established a foundation which seeks to improve agriculture, governance and children’s health in the region.

He once said: “We have a saying in Botswana: A man is never strong until he says what he believes and gives other men the chance to do the same. I am proud to say without a doubt – we are a strong democracy.” 

A more chequered account of his life is given in Wikipedia.

 

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What went right? January to March 2017

From political upheaval to natural disasters, the first three months of 2017 have seen many challenges. But behind the headlines, there are signs of progress and possibility. Here are 20 of our favourites

  1. China is planning a national park three times larger than Yellowstone in the US, to help boost the wild population of giant panda. It will link 67 existing reserves to make mating easier
  2. A seven per cent annual drop in teenage suicide attempts among US high school students is linked to the legislation of same-sex marriage, say researchers
  3. More than 30 million people in Kerala, India, will given access to free WiFi after the state declared it a basic human right
  4. El Salvador became the first country in the world to ban metal mining
  5. Clean energy jobs in the US now outnumber jobs in oil and gas by five to one
  6. Denmark announced it has reduced food waste by 25 per cent in five years
  7. Experts revealed that 86 per cent of new power in Europe came from renewable energy sources in 2016 with wind energy overtaking coal as the largest form of power capacity
  8. The world’s largest fund manager, BlackRock, has warned it will vote out directors of companies who fail to address the risks posed to their businesses by climate change
  9. A teenager is on track to plant a trillion trees. Felix Finkbeiner, 19, who began his tree-planting quest when he was nine, founded environmental group Plant for the Planet. It has overseen the planting of more than 14bn trees in 130 countries and aims to plant 1tn – 150 trees for every person on Earth
  10. The value of UK ethical markets grew to almost double that of tobacco, new research suggests

Read on here for the other ten points; https://www.positive.news/2017/society/media/26491/went-right-jan-mar-2017/?mc_cid=e55ab60695&mc_eid=99a7ecd039

 

 

 

Innovation, resilience and co-operation in war-torn Syria

In 2010 it was reported that the Syrian Ministry of Higher Education had launched programmes on renewable energy to be studied at the faculties of electrical, mechanic and technical engineering and in the institutes and postgraduate programs. Research and training energy centers had been established in Damascus, Aleppo, Tishreen and al-Baath universities.

However the progress of these programmes have been adversely affected by four years of air strikes, street battles and sieges.

damascus          Above: a street without electricity in Douma, northeast of Damascus

Now, though the widespread infrastructure damage in the areas around the capital Damascus means that thousands of Syrians have no more than a few hours of power a day, a resourceful, resilient spirit is enabling many survivors to cope with only a few hours of power a day by modifying their way of life and innovating.

Almost all Syrians have switched to using longer lasting LED lights which are cheaper than candles and can be powered with a car battery. In the war affected areas, people go to bed early and most now wash their clothes by hand, having sold machines and refrigerators.

Some are also finding ways to make their own power, using solar panels, fuel made from plastic bags and even bicycle-powered batteries. 

syrian solar panelsIn southern Syria, many shops sell solar power panels for $20-$200 and some are used in shelters at a refugee camp in Aleppo. Omar al-Golani, a media activist in the town of Kwdana, said that even the poorest will try to borrow money to buy them, or sell their food rations. In May, Rami al-Sayyed told the Financial Times that he and many of his neighbours started generating electricity by pedalling bicycles about three years ago. He would pedal his bike for two hours every day to charge his laptop.

A few Syrians are also using wind energy, reports Khaled Issa, from Idlib. They buy fans, or make their own, and place them on the roof.

Most Syrians save fuel for farming equipment, generators that power shops and hospitals, or machines used to dig victims out of bomb sites. Since late 2013, in the besieged suburbs around Damascus, people have collected and burnt plastic bags and the cooled liquid plastic produced can be made into a substitute for diesel or kerosene.

Rami al-Sayyed points out that the shortages have brought about moments of community spirit. Some of his neighbours came together to put up a bicycle and take turns to pedal in order to watch new TV programmes released during Ramadan.

 

 

Green Farmer of the Year

andrew hollinsheadAndrew Hollinshead, a farmer from Spring Bank Farm in Arclid, Cheshire has just been named ‘Green Farmer of the Year’ for his pioneering work with eco-friendly power.

His business is 90% powered by “eco-friendly” energy sources – a wind turbine, 200 solar panels and a hydrogen refuelling station which stores excess electricity in batteries and converts it into hydrogen for use as heating fuel and vehicle fuel for his pickup truck. The hydrogen comes from rain, which is filtered and put into an electrolyser which separates water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Andrew’s home and bed & breakfast business is totally ‘green-powered’ and he hopes his farm will soon be fully powered by green energy which saves money, power and gives security and independence from the large utility companies.

tom2 emma

On the Facebook video it was also good to see another farmer known to us as a very active campaigner, setting up a sheep dip sufferers group on behalf of farmers whose health has been damaged after administering sheep dip. Tom Rigby, a finalist in the competition, is seen here with ‘EMMA’ – the energy and microgenerator manager which helps him to make best use of the renewables, ensuring that as much as possible of the power being generated gets used within the farm and not exported to the grid.

Noting another sustainable practice, growing animal feed on farm, instead of importing it, brings to mind William Taylor’s point that, with a fair farmgate price for produce, farmers can afford to invest time and money when raised above the poverty line (1 in 4 UK family farms 2010 figures). They can invest in new technology and less spectacular time-consuming labour-intensive good farming practice.

William points out that profitable farmers can easily produce more food whilst abiding by commonsense environmental laws – doing all this in harmony with nature:

  • applying lime, instead of cutting and spraying rushes,
  • controlling hedges,
  • mending and replacing fences
  • improving drainage

Messrs Hollinshead and Rigby show there is a huge potential for farms to generate energy whilst producing food and – in due course – the harvesting and storing of rainwater undertaken by many farmers will be recorded on one of our sites.


Small countries making the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy

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As the world gathers in Paris, the Guardian reports on small countries who are making the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

It focusses on Uruguay, often described as the most democratic, secure and peaceful country in South America. It is regarded as a high income country (top group) by the UN and contributes more troops to UN peacekeeping missions than any other country. The agricultural sector exports family-farmed produce, including combed wool, rice, soybeans, beef, malt and milk.

uruguay windJonathan Watts in Montevideo reports that in less than 10 years, Uruguay has slashed its carbon footprint without government subsidies or higher consumer costs, according to the country’s head of climate change policy, Ramón Méndez. In fact, now that renewables – wind, biomass, solar power and hydropower, provide 94.5% of the country’s electricity, prices are lower than in the past relative to inflation. There are also fewer power cuts because a diverse energy mix means greater resilience to droughts.

Fifteen years ago oil accounted for 27% of Uruguay’s imports and a new pipeline was just about to begin supplying gas from Argentina. Now the biggest item on the import balance sheet is wind turbines.

uruguay solarWind, biomass and solar power, added to existing hydropower, mean that renewables now account for 55% of the country’s overall energy mix including transport fuel. The transport sector still depends on oil (which accounts for 45% of the total energy mix). But industry – mostly agricultural processing – is now powered predominantly by biomass cogeneration plants.

Energy investment in Uruguay over the past five years has surged to $7bn, or 15% of the country’s annual GDP. Ramón Méndez explains that as construction and maintenance costs are low, and investors are offered a secure regulatory environment, it is a very attractive prospect.

Compared with most other small countries with high proportions of renewables, the mix is diverse. While Paraguay and Lesotho rely almost solely on hydro and Iceland on geothermal, Uruguay has a spread that makes it more resilient to changes in the climate.

uruguay hydro

“For three years we haven’t imported a single kilowatt hour,” Méndez says. “We used to be reliant on electricity imports from Argentina, but now we export to them. Last summer, we sold a third of our power generation to them.” Heavy rain had boosted hydro output, allowing Uruguay to export energy to Argentina during four of September’s five weeks.

He adds that Uruguay has proved that renewables can reduce generation costs, can meet well over 90% of electricity demand without the back-up of coal or nuclear power plants, and the public and private sectors can work together effectively in this field.

uruguay 2 others

And we look again at the proposals recently made, that quantitative easing should provide funding for our climate change programmes.

Further reading:

http://elpais.com/m/elpais/2014/07/11/inenglish/1405089785_254270.html?rel=rosEP

http://www.elp.com/articles/2014/10/renewable-energy-up-fossil-power-down-in-uruguay.html

Lakshadweep: planning to meet needs without depleting resources

lakshadweep beach

The Lakshadweep archipelago, off the Indian coast of Kerala, is a group of 10 inhabited islands, 17 uninhabited coral islands, attached islets, 4 newly formed islets and 5 submerged reefs. 93% of the inhabitants are Muslims, most belonging to scheduled tribes – a designation given to communities with ‘primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation and shyness in contact with the community at large’.

lakshadweep fishThey catch and process tuna fish, grow coconuts and produce yarn fibre and coir matting products from coconut fibre. There is little  economic inequality in Lakshadweep, the poverty index is low and the islands are virtually crime-free.

Only five islands are visited by tourists and foreign nationals are not permitted to visit four of the islands. Foreign tourists are only allowed to come to Bangaram, an uninhabited island, where consumption of alcohol is permitted. They fly from Kochi to Agatti, the nearest island to Bangaram which has an airport.

Tourist cottages, white coral beaches

Tourist cottages, white coral beaches

In 1967, the Administrator passed the Laccadive, Minicoy and Amindivi Islands (Restriction on Entry and Residence) Rules; every person who is not a native of these islands has to obtain a permit before entering these islands.

Since the carrying capacity of these tiny islands has to be kept in mind, any activities related with tourism has to be carried out with great care. The necessity of preventing environmental imbalance is stressed and sea based tourism is undertaken to ensure that land resources are not over taxed.

lakshadweep tourist ship

Day tourists are brought by ship and board them from the islands before nightfall. Numbers booked are based on the carrying capacity of the islands and shortage of essential items including drinking water. Visitors are warned that picking up coral is illegal.

The effects of the tsunami of December 2004 were felt all along the coast of Kerala. But the impact was not uniform throughout, certain areas were exposed and adjacent areas were left unscathed. The waves, after a free run until reaching the southern tip of Sri Lanka, got diffracted and turned towards the north to enter the Lakshadweep Sea but the coral reefs of were undamaged.

‘Solar Independence Day’ in Scotland

In July, Building Construction Design reports on celebrating ‘Solar Independence Day’ events in Scotland, ‘showcasing’ solar homes, solar schools, commercial solar rooftops and solar farms. People were invited to visit a local solar farm, big rooftop installation or showhome.

On two days locations across the UK opened their doors to the public to celebrate solar energy and showcase its potential. Scotland’s leading solar provider Forster Energy facilitated on-site solar viewings/talks at two venues – a farm in Perthshire and a National Trust for Scotland estate in Aberdeenshire.

solar ind logoChairman John Forster said that Solar Independence Day is an opportunity for individuals, businesses, charities and community groups to find out more about the potential of solar. By attending one of the  events people can see and hear at firsthand how solar enables consumers to generate their own flexible, cheap and clean energy supply.

Cronan Farm in the heart of Strathmore was the venue for the first event on Friday morning. The MJ & J McLaren broccoli and potato enterprise has installed a 720 panel solar array to provide power for the farms cold stores. The installation exemplifies the appetite for solar amongst Scottish farmers, keen to reduce their energy costs by generating their own electricity. Below, sheep continue to graze under the solar panels.

scot solar sheep

Earlier, the Scottish Farmer published an article about potato growers who were facing high electricity bills for their cold stores and are now leading the adoption of solar power in Scotland. Mark Fazzini, managing director at One Solar, reported a considerable increase in commercial solar installations on Scottish farms across 2013, particularly in Perthshire and Angus, where relatively cheap photovoltaic technology was fitting well with both potato and soft fruit production and storage systems. “PV solar works very well alongside cold stores as the PV production is at its highest in the summer months when the cooling requirement is generally at its highest,” said Mr Fazzini. “The chilled environment required for packaging and storage of soft fruits makes great use of PV production too.”

scot solar shed

Similarly, the chilling equipment used in dairying works suits PV outputs, although Mr Fazzini stressed that electricity from solar sources could also offset the cost of running heavier machines, like milking equipment, conveyor belts and and shed scrapers, and again tended to deliver its power at the times of greatest need.

The National Trust for Scotland , which owns Pitmedden Gardens, provides an idyllic setting for the second event on Saturday morning. The NTS has installed a 115 panel array on the roof of the gardeners storage shed, which is generating power for the Museum of Farming Life and other buildings. The solar array is also generating enough electricity to power six homes. The Trust is rolling out solar power across a number of their sites to help reduce their energy costs and cut their carbon emissions.

In May the BBC reported that data from WeatherEnergy showed that sunshine in Edinburgh in April generated more electricity than is used in an average home – a total of 113%. In Aberdeen the figure was 111%, 106% in Glasgow and 104% in Inverness. About 35,000 homes and 600 business premises in Scotland already have solar panels and WWF Scotland has now called on more home and business owners to make use of the technology.