By: John D. Liu
What we have seen in observing and documenting pockets of poverty in various places around the world is that ecological degradation and grinding poverty go hand in hand. In order to address one it is necessary to address the other as well. Now because of global disruptions to ecosystems (e.g. climate change) we can see that poverty and degradation somewhere is poverty and degradation everywhere.
This means that there is a rationale for the transfer of sufficient capital and technical support to address these issues not because we simply want to help for the poor but because this is the most efficient and cost effective way for human beings to address a wide range of problems including: biodiversity loss, fresh water stress, desertification, loss of soil fertility, poverty, disparity, population growth, conflict and climate change.
3 fundamental challenges must be overcome initially to transition the chronically poor from subsistence livelihoods, Water, Food and Energy. Once these have been have been engaged there is a wide range of need to move toward a sustainable trajectory.
Water – the issue of water has been mainly considered from the point of view of flow rates. Work in China, Africa and around the world has shown that this is incorrect and should be rethought to be infiltration and retention. What I am proposing is that the communities with external assistance provide water for everyone – ending the cycle of carrying water by mainly women and children – and then put people to work re-vegetating in order to infiltrate and retain all water that hits the area. This depends on infiltrating 100 % of the water that falls. If the rainfall infiltrates where it comes down it infers complete vegetation cover and accumulated organic matter. This also requires understanding the physical dynamics during and after rainfall.
This type of water strategy requires recognition of the common interest and responsibility of communities to provide water for all citizens. This also requires the technical and financial support from external sources that recognizes that infiltration and retention of rainfall not only benefit local people, it is also the key to ensuring ecosystem restoration on a planetary scale. When considered as part of a global strategy it can be seen that it is not in anyone’s interest for degradation to continue and that we must combine, capital, known technology and labor of the community to address this. Whatever investment is required to do this is justified because the survival of humanity hangs in the balance.
Food – What we have seen in relation to yield is that certain fundamental conditions need to be met relating to soil moisture and a nurturing environment. Based on these observations areas that differentiated and designated ecological and economic land and allowed tree and grass cover in the ecological land changed the soil moisture and relative humidity regimes. This was achieved by maintaining ecological land biodiversity and accumulation of organic matter changes microbiologic communities, soil organic matter, nutrient cycling and fertility. We have seen that you must have soil moisture and fertility in order to be self sufficient in food. That is the baseline.
If agriculture is set up to be integrated with many perennial crops and intercropping with an understanding of what is being called “conservation agriculture” techniques such as no-till that do not expose soils to wind, sun and water to reduce erosion and soil degradation an important phenomenon kicks in. That is that in severely degraded land “it is possible to increase productivity by decreasing the amount of land in cultivation” by increasing soil moisture and fertility. When fully understood this also puts a community on the path to sustainability as the function of infiltration and retention of rainfall and accumulation of organic matters can be restored.
It is also important that animal husbandry that uses pin feeding where the fodder is cut and carried to the animals rather than they destructively graze it is possible to increase animal protein without the destructive impacts.
Energy – Currently in many subsistence communities in degraded areas, people use fuel wood, charcoal and animal dung for energy. This prevents organic matter from building up in the soil. This means that infiltration and retention of rainfall and fertility in the soil will be lost. In order to alter the basic development trajectory it is necessary to change this.
Since the use of energy is very low in these communities it is feasible to calculate the amount of energy necessary to not only replace the energy coming from burning biomass but also to provide the necessary energy to provide a much higher standard of living. Given the scale it is possible and necessary to consider the production of energy only from renewable sources. Biogas is CH4 or Methane produced by anaerobic digestion of biomass by microbes in a controlled environment. This technology has been promoted using very primitive methods in China, India, and Africa with good results. I would recommend scaling this up using more high tech methods to serve the needs of communities rather than simply continuing with small scale farmer led units serving individual or a few families.
Designing community based methane generation with gas being used to store energy and then following sulfur removal going direct to co-generation of heat and electricity for micro grids that serve local communities will increase efficiency, lower embedded energy and protect against methane leakage. This is much more efficient than the national grid and provides jobs at a community level, direction and the energy for broadband internet access needed for non-traditional education (also needed by the external researchers and development professionals).
Compost – by using the methane generators residue from anaerobic digestion and going through one additional step – mixing the materials with dried leaves, shredded newspapers, sawdust or other cellulose materials and allowing aerobic digestion and worms to process everything we will have the fastest and best organic fertilizers available for agricultural and ecological rehabilitation.
Sanitation – merging sanitation with energy production means that we can gather all human waste and all animal waste for methane production thereby solving the sanitation issue and producing energy. If we also separate urine we can produce low cost nitrogen fertilizer to increase productivity. We can take it one extra step and remove the odor in order to increase the acceptance. This also provides jobs and is very supportable because of the need to produce food locally. Increased locally produced organic fertilizer from compost and urine separation, represent cost-effective, necessary parts of development.
Conservation – By designating ecological land the community takes the first steps toward a sustainable future. This will accumulate positive results as functionality returns in the same way as degradation caused the accumulation of negative results. There is much to consider about conservation and it is both active and passive. Communities must actively refrain from behaviors and impacts that disrupt the ecological land. They must also passively stand back and let nature determine which species are most suitable so that there will be biodiversity surviving into future generations.
Education – Given the urgent need for both poverty eradication and large-scale ecosystem rehabilitation, traditional forms of education may need to be supplemented with something that has become much more technically feasible in recent years. This is using internet based resources with facilitation to allow all to study to whatever extent that they wish. This can be combined with equivalence testing to assign the level if degrees are required or can simply be knowledge that enhances the lives of the people. I would call this inquiry and by making the facilities available to young and old alike in communities it will be possible to engage the entire community into the inquiry of exactly what they need to raise out of poverty, to restore and conserve nature for the enhancement of their community.
External Technical Assistance – I would recommend using retired professionals and recent graduates from the host country and around the world. This will bring new thought into communities and help increase understanding across cultures, between ethnic groups and help bridge social and economic divides.
Design and Construction of new infrastructure – Once the community has moved away from subsistence agriculture it is very important for them to consider and to understand where they are going. This will require thinking about areas that they may have never considered. The book we have translated called “The Community Planning Handbook” can be useful in directing the communities attention to the many different issues needed to consider and the potential role for citizens to participate.
The strategies of having external technical assistance from development professionals, retired professional volunteers and recent graduates from the host country and from abroad can help to provide ideas. When this is used together with “Participatory Assessment” it is possible to engage the entire community in designing its future.
Sanitation, Communications, Energy, Education, Healthcare, Administration, Service, and much more all join agriculture and conservation as possible livelihoods.
Value added to local products – Research into product development – This can begin with local agricultural products in an industrial kitchen/design laboratory. This should be built to high standards so that it can meet sanitation and food safety codes. It should have the ability to process vegetables, meats, fruits, mushrooms, and any other local produce. Jams, jellies, condiments, dehydration, canning, freezing, prepared snack foods, drinks, all can be researched in this facility. If this facility is developed to the highest level it could also research extraction of essential oils.
One way to test products would be to have a restaurant and a store connected to this facility. If no one likes the product and no ones buys it then the team should go back to the drawing board. If however the product becomes a favorite of the potential customers you might have a hit. Once a product has been identified then a business plan that describes resource requirements, personnel requirements, manufacturing, packaging and marketing should be made and the product moved out on its own. At this point the research team begins the process with other commodities.
Marketing – connection to local, regional, national and world markets – Once products have been identified then they need to be connected with markets. This becomes a separate and important part of the development trajectory away from subsistence as it links the local community to larger markets up to and including world markets if it has the ability and the ambition. Certain products like essential oils could be important in that they are extremely valuable, easy to ship and are sold on international markets for cosmetics, food and other industries. Reaching this level with professionalism will help local communities build modern and sustainable businesses. I would suggest certain partners such as Weleda, which makes all natural products and that has a social conscience. This type of company can help the community to meet the technical requirements.
Health Care – This becomes both a social responsibility and an area for sustainable employment.
Scientific Monitoring – As this strategy is implemented it should be fully documented and scientifically monitored to see its strengths and weaknesses. Where it is effective it should be duplicated and where it is weak it should be strengthened.
In ecology each species seems to have a specific niche and have a specific contribution to play in the overall organism that is life.
Sustainability to me means that it is possible to participate in an activity without reducing the ability to continue that activity in future generations. In development I think that it is necessary to have a comprehensive strategy that emulates nature as much as possible. Each part fits together with the overall goal of reaching sustainability.
There is much to consider but now it is possible to see that the wealthy wherever they are in the world and the poor living in marginal and degraded lands all share the same fate. The future for both groups, rich and poor; will be determined by the same thing, functional ecosystems on a planetary scale. This means that the world can no longer afford to leave the poor to pull themselves up by their bootstraps but must engage to end poverty and restore ecosystem function everywhere immediately or face predictable and catastrophic consequences.
John D. Liu