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SUSTAINABILITY & CLIMATE CHANGE

COP26: Time to Invest in Nature-Based Solutions and Climate-Smart Agriculture

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Rainforest Alliance experts will be attending the UNFCCC COP26 climate summit taking place in Glasgow Oct. 31 – Nov. 12 presenting critical initiatives to raise the importance of nature-based solutions and climate-smart practices. Key among them: eliminating deforestation from commodity supply chains and building climate resilience for farming and forest communities.

Conventional agriculture accounts for 24 percent of human-made greenhouse gas emissions and 75% of tropical forest deforestation. Moving to a nature-positive production system which includes climate-smart approaches will go a long way to address these challenges.

We must cut emissions in half by 2030, according to the scientists who produced the latest IPCC report, if we are to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. Two years ago, those same scientists told us that nature-based solutions could help achieve 37 percent of necessary emissions reductions, yet not much has happened since. There is no more time to waste. The time to act is now,” said Abdul-Razak Saeed, Climate Change Lead at the Rainforest Alliance. “Nationally determined contributions to reduce emissions need to include nature-based solutions,” he added.

The science is damning – and we need to act fast with drastic measures.  The good news is we know what needs to be done.  Forests are a key part of the climate solution. Stopping deforestation and forest degradation, protecting forests, managing them sustainably and restoring them is crucial,” said Emmanuelle Berenger, Sustainable Forest Management lead at the Rainforest Alliance. “With the launch of our Forest Allies community of practice during COP26 we convene forest communities, civil society and the private sector to form durable alliances. Together we advocate for Integrated Community Forest Management, transform business practices, and support forest communities,” she added.

The Rainforest Alliance works with millions of farmers and with forest communities all over the world to promote sustainable and climate-smart practices and improve livelihoods—both of which are critical to building farm and farmer resilience, stopping deforestation, and increasing biodiversity.


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AGRIBUSINESS & AGRICULTURE

Sweet Sorghum offers Solutions in Drought-hit Southern Africa

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By Hamond Motsi

The southern African region is battling with drought at present. This is the result of El Niño, a natural climate cycle characterised by changes in Pacific Ocean temperatures. It has effects on global weather patterns, particularly rainfall and temperature.

The drought has hit the region’s agricultural productivity hard. MalawiZambia and Zimbabwe have declared a state of disaster with respect to their current agricultural outputs. They are seeking humanitarian assistance in the form of food aid to feed their people. The downturn also has economic implications, since over 70% of people residing in the region’s rural areas rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.

The dire situation underscores how important it is for the agricultural sector to prevent, avoid or prepare for the impacts of climate change, which will also bring extremes of weather.

One measure the sector can take is to cultivate biofuel crops. These are crops rich in starch, sugar or oils that can be converted into bioethanol directly or through a fermentation process. Bioethanol, a type of ethanol produced from biological or plant based sources, emits fewer greenhouse gases compared to fossil fuels like petroleum, natural gas and coal. Commonly used biofuel crops include sugarcane, maize, grain sorghum, sugar beet, rapeseeds and sunflower.

These conventional biofuel crops do have drawbacks, however. They are highly susceptible to extreme weather events. They require high upfront investment for fertilisers, chemicals and irrigation. And they compete with food production – if they’re grown as biofuels they can’t also be used as food because of how they have to be processed.

So, researchers are always on the lookout for crops that might be good biofuels without those problems. Sweet sorghum, which is indigenous to the African continent, is one such crop. Unlike the better-known sorghum, it has sweet juice in its stems. In a recent study, I reviewed scientific literature to analyse the potential significance of sweet sorghum to African farmers because of its multipurpose nature and ability to adapt under harsh climatic conditions.

Multiple uses

Sweet sorghum has many uses. It can produce grains, animal feed and sugary juice, making it unique among crops. The grains from sweet sorghum are prepared as steamed bread or porridge malt for traditional beer, as well as in commercial beer production across the continent.

They’re nutritionally rich, with high energy values (342 calories/100 g), proteins (10g/100 grains), carbohydrates (72.7g/100 grains), and fibre (2.2g/100 grains) as well as essential minerals such as potassium (44mg/100 grains), calcium (22mg/100 grains), sodium (8mg/100 grains) and iron (3.8mg/100 grains).

The nutritional value of maize is fairly similar: proteins (8.84g/100 grains), carbohydrates (71.88g/100 grains), fibre (2.1g/100 grains), potassium (286mg/100 grains), calcium (10mg/100 grains), sodium (15.9mg/100 grains) and iron (2.3mg/100 grains).

What sets sweet sorghum apart from a crop like maize is that it’s also resilient in arid climates and has multiple other uses. For instance, it produces a lot of plant material (biomass) as it grows, which is left over after harvest. That’s why it’s useful as animal feed too.

Animal feed is made from what remains once the sweet sorghum crop has been harvested and its grains and stem juice stripped off. The residue is high in nutritional content, which can improve the quality of diets of animals, including cattle. The grains can also be used for animal feed.

The sweet juice in the crop’s stalks is what’s used to create bioethanol. Sweet sorghum contains sucrose, glucose and fructose, which are essential for bioethanol production. Of the conventional biofuel crops I’ve mentioned, only sugarcane yields more ethanol. Studies in the United States have shown that sweet sorghum far outstrips maize when it comes to bioethanol production: it yields 8,102 litres per hectare planted, while maize yields just 4,209 litres per hectare.

Resilient

Perhaps most importantly given the southern African region’s current drought struggles, sweet sorghum is well-suited for cultivation in the sorts of adverse conditions that are typically challenging for conventional biofuel crops.

One of the key characteristics of sweet sorghum varieties is their drought resistance. It allows them to enter a dormant state during extended periods of dryness and resume growth afterwards. Research has shown that, under intense water scarcity conditions, sweet sorghum makes use of its stalk juice to supplement its plant needs.

Sweet sorghum’s ability to withstand low water and nitrogen inputs, as well as its tolerance for salinity and drought stress, makes it an ideal crop for farmers in arid regions. This is why it’s widely used in other parts of the world, including the USBrazil and China.

Investing in sweet sorghum

The continent’s current agriculture value chain is dominated by major crops like maize, wheat and rice, which all originate from outside Africa. Not enough attention is given to crops of African origin, like sweet sorghum, even though it is a multipurpose, hardy crop with great potential for farmers. People are more familiar with sorghum, not the sweet variety, and it is also under-researched.

Governments should be using their agriculture extension services to raise awareness among farmers and consumers about the benefits and practical applications of sweet sorghum in people’s diets.

Developing recipes and secondary or industrial products can enhance the feasibility and awareness of sweet sorghum farming. By investing in research and development, the full potential of sweet sorghum cultivation can be unlocked through governments and the private sector.

Hamond Motsi is a PhD Student in Agriscience, Stellenbosch University

Courtesy: The Conversation


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SUSTAINABILITY & CLIMATE CHANGE

Lithium Boom: Zimbabwe Looks to China to Secure a Place in the EV Battery Supply Chain

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Chinese investors have flocked to Zimbabwe to secure lithium supplies, promising local development. But analysts warn Zimbabwe needs more robust governance for communities to reap the benefits. Reports Andrew Mambondiyani

Wonder Mushove stared blankly at plumes of red dust billowing into the sky as more than 30 trucks carrying loads of lithium ore rumbled past his newly-built house in Buhera, in eastern Zimbabwe.

The trucks drive by Mukwasi village on the dirt road linking the Chinese-owned Sabi Star lithium mine to the tarred highway. They travel through the border town of Mutare to the port of Beira in neighbouring Mozambique. From there, the lithium-containing minerals are loaded onto ships and exported to China – the world’s largest manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries.

The dust hung in the air after the trucks’ passage. Mushove and his family were among dozens of households displaced by the $130million-mining project, which began operating in May. They were relocated to new houses built by the mining company about a kilometre from their old homes.

And yet, Mushove is hopeful the mine could “uplift the area and put it on the world map,” he told Climate Home News. For decades, the vast, hard-rock lithium deposits buried under his home were of little interest to foreign investors. Now, Chinese companies are paying a high price to access Zimbabwe’s reserves – the largest in Africa and among the largest in the world.

A lightweight metal with the ability to store lots of energy, lithium is critical for the manufacture of batteries for electric cars. Global efforts to move away from combustion-engine vehicles have pushed demand for the silvery metal, also known as “white gold”, to soar.

Chinese companies have flocked to Zimbabwe’s untapped reserves of high-grade lithium to shore up the country’s supplies, benefiting from the Southern African nation’s cheap labour and deregulated mining sector. In the past two years, Chinese companies invested over $1.4 billion acquiring lithium projects in Zimbabwe.

And more money is on its way. Last year, Chinese companies were awarded licenses that could see $2.79 billion in investment flow into the country, mostly in the mining and energy sectors. These investments could turn Zimbabwe into a key player in the global lithium-ion battery supply chain. Chinese battery manufacturing giant BYD could source some of its lithium from Zimbabwe, after buying a stake in the Chinese owners of the Sabi Star mine.

But Zimbabwe’s poor progress on establishing robust resource governance threatens to keep communities like Mushove’s from seeing any of the benefits, analysts told Climate Home.

While endowed with vast mineral wealth, Zimbabwe has so far failed to turn its underground riches, including diamonds and gold, into revenues for development. Regulatory gapshuman rights abusesillegal trade, and alleged corruption have all been barriers.

recent investigation by NGO Global Witness in Zimbabwe, Namibia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo found that there is a danger of history repeating itself with lithium mining without rigorous screening for corruption and social and environmental harms.

But Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa is betting on the lithium rush to catapult the country into an upper-middle-income economy by 2030. To achieve this, Mnangagwa aspires to turn Zimbabwe into a battery manufacturing hub.

China’s lithium rush

China towers over the lithium-ion battery supply chain. But its own lithium resources are limited and it has sought to secure access to deposits overseas.

Isolated by the West and slapped with 20 years of sanctions because of human rights violations, Zimbabwe has turned towards China, now the country’s largest foreign investor.

Since the 1950s, China’s foreign policy has been guided by “five principles of peaceful co-existence“, including a commitment not to interfere in another country’s internal affairs. This principle, which encapsulates China’s approach, has set it apart from western investors.

Zimbabwe’s “opacity and disregard for human rights has made it cheap for the Chinese to exploit minerals” in the country, said James Mupfumi, director of the Centre for Research and Development, a local NGO advocating for accountability in the natural resource sector.

Zimbabwean law vests all mineral rights to the president. With no requirements to disclose the beneficial owners of mining projects, “there is no due diligence and parliamentary oversight on Chinese investments,” Mupfumi explained.

“Above all, Zimbabwe requires a government that prioritises public accountability of mineral wealth, not the self-enrichment of a few political elites,” he added.

The ministry of mines did not respond to a request for comment.


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SUSTAINABILITY & CLIMATE CHANGE

EARTH DAY 2024: Packaging Is the Biggest Driver of Global Plastics Use

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Earth Day, celebrated annually on April 22, marks a global commitment to environmental protection and sustainability. The first Earth Day took place in 1970, ignited by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, who aimed to raise awareness about environmental issues and mobilize action to address them. Since then, Earth Day has evolved into a worldwide movement, engaging millions of people across the globe in activities such as tree planting, clean-up campaigns and advocacy for environmental policies. Its organizer is EARTHDAY.ORG, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting environmental conservation and mobilizing communities to take action for a healthier planet.

The theme of this year’s Earth Day is “Planet vs. Plastics” – a theme chosen to raise awareness of the damage done by plastic to humans, animals and the planet and to promote policies aiming to reduce global plastic production by 60 percent by 2040.

As our chart shows, global plastics use has increased rapidly over the past few decades, growing 250 percent since 1990 to reach 460 million tonnes in 2019, according to the OECD’s Global Plastics Outlook, which projects another 67-percent increase in global plastics use by 2040 and for the world’s annual plastic use to exceed one billion tonnes by 2052. As our chart shows, packaging is the largest driver of global plastics use, which is why a rapid phasing out of all single use plastics by 2030 is one of the policy measures proposed under EARTHDAY.ORG’s 60X40 framework.

Other major applications of plastics include building and construction, transportation as well as textiles, with the fast fashion industry particularly guilty of adding to the world’s plastic footprint. “The fast fashion industry annually produces over 100 billion garments,” the Earth Day organizers write. “Overproduction and overconsumption have transformed the industry, leading to the disposability of fashion. People now buy 60 percent more clothing than 15 years ago, but each item is kept for only half as long.” Most importantly, the organization points out that 85 percent of disposed garments end up in landfills or incinerators, while just 1 percent are being recycled.

  1. Infographic: Packaging Is the Biggest Driver of Global Plastics Use | Statista

Felix Richter is a Data Journalist


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