What the private sector could do for small farmers

June 21, 2012

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
Deputy news editor, SciDev.Net

Scaling Up: Global Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture’  was presented by the UN Global Compact at the Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum this week (15-18 June).

“Sustainable agriculture will require significantly increased investments in research and application of available technology to improve yields and reduce losses, including bringing this technology to scale for poorer regions of the world,” says an analysis paper prepared for the forum.

Flickr/ Peter Casier

Fiscal constraint means the private sector will have to be “significantly involved” and innovative public-private partnerships will be needed, as well as incentives for private sector involvement, it says.

But so far large-scale commercial farms have benefitted from technology, leaving smallholder farmers behind, the new report says.

Success stories, highlighted in the report, include the RIICE project, which aims to forecast rice production and provide crop insurance for small-scale famers using satellite technology. It targets 5 million smallholder rice farmers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam and is spearheaded by Allianz Reinsurance and sarmap, a Swiss-based remote sensing company.

Another example is Enel, an Italian energy company, which partnered up with the World Food Program (WFP) to reduce their carbon footprint by supporting high-efficiency cooking stoves and solar panels for WFP’s work including on sites in Ghana and Panama.

There are “islands of success” but the challenge is now to “scale up our best efforts” said Jordan Dey, principal of HKS Global who chaired the session.


This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


The word ‘science’ vanishes from a crucial place

June 20, 2012

Aisling Irwin

Aisling Irwin
Consultant news editor, SciDev.Net


The Scientific and Technological Major Group, whose Rio+20 campaign we have charted, has suffered a small but possibly potent loss in the agreed final draft of the outcome document (due to be signed off by heads of state by Friday).

Science: everywhere but in the outcome document
Flickr/NASA desert rats

It’s only one word – but the word is ‘science’ and it has been dropped from the title of the section detailing how science, technology and innovation can be part of the means of implementation of what is agreed – in other words, a key part of the document.

The title of this section has, over the course of the negotiations, had many permutations, containing words such as Science, Technology, Technology Transfer and Innovation. ‘

It has also had a lot of bracketed text trailing behind it, indicating the proposals by various nations on how it should be altered or their refusals to accept the current text.

In particular the hostility of the United States and other developed countries to mentions of the transfer of technology had helped to make the title contentious.

So, when Brazil took over as host of the negotiations a few days ago and produced a new draft, it decided to remove every contested element from the title. The only word that remained was: Technology.

“The lack of [the word Science] sends a very unfortunate message to the global science community and its sponsors,” says Steven Wilson, executive director of the International Council for Science (ICSU)

But can a single word make such a difference?

“As budgets are cut you are never sure,” says Gisbert Glaser senior advisor at ICSU who has been following the fate of S,T&I at each step of the negotiations. “Something like this could cut budgets going into science because the donors [guided by the philosophy of the document] don’t want to cut funding for technology issues”.

This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


World leaders kick off negotiations with a good film

June 20, 2012

Aisling Irwin

Aisling Irwin
Consultant news editor, SciDev.Net


When world leaders kicked off their three-day meeting this morning they watched this video below, to remind them why they are here. It was produced by the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme and premiered at the Planet Under Pressure meeting in London last March.

This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


On board of Greenpeace

June 20, 2012

Luisa Massarani

Luisa Massarani
Latin America regional coordinator, SciDev.Net


Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior (as the ship is called) became the stage for the indigenous group Xavante, from the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, to highlight an unfulfilled promise made 20 years ago, at the first Earth Summit.

Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior

Due to international pressure, the Xavante were to have their land returned to them from an Italian company, but until today they still don’t have their land.

Even though visitors were not allowed on this day, I was warmly welcomed aboard. The boat —with 1,200 meter squares of sails — has been specially built for Greenpeace to include everything you need for a campaign anywhere in the world. In the case of Brazil, it is about two main campaigns: ‘Deforestation Zero’, which, as the name suggests, aims to reduce the deforestation in Brazil, and ‘Solar Energy’.

For those who can have a romantic image of a traditional sailing ship, forget it. It is much more like a Hollywood movie, I mean, a very high-tech ship, with room for radio masts, antennas, and domes that provide Internet and satellite communications allowing for video broadcasts from remote locations and tweet from any ocean.

This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


Organic farmers are doing it for themselves

June 20, 2012

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
Deputy news editor, SciDev.Net


Although governments are expected to agree on an outcome document at Rio+20, critics and campaigners say the initiatives launched at the sidelines of the summit by countries, NGOs and other stakeholders may be just as – if not more – important in terms of real change.

One of the first such ‘voluntary pledges’ announced on Friday (15 June) by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), was a global organic agriculture research network scheduled to launch in February 2013.

Flickr/ Find Your Feet

 

“The idea is to integrate existing organic agriculture research networks at the local, national and regional level,” Urs Niggli, director of Research Institute of Organic Agriculture and a professor at University of Kassel-Witzenhausen, both in Switzerland, told SciDev.Net. Niggli is hoping that through the new network they can build a series of research projects focused on the South that would have a high impact on famers’ wellbeing.

His center is already conducting long-term trials evaluating organic farming systems in a range of developing countries and “most of them are research projects where farmers are involved, a very positive development.”

The network’s outcomes would include profiling success stories to make organic farming more visible to policymakers and scientists, and to mainstream it.

Carlo Scaramella, coordinator with the World Food Programme, told SciDev.Net:

“This research could help us understand in which context certain solutions are most affordable and most appropriate.”

“Enhancing the ability of governments, and community stakeholders to implement organic farming in a systematic manner would probably help effectively realise better and more resilient food security – and that would be an extraordinary outcome.”


This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


If only sustainable development had moved as fast as ICT

June 19, 2012

Smriti Mallapaty
Freelance journalist from Nepal, SciDev.Net


Reminiscing about the quaint information communications technology (ICT) used at the last Earth Summit, Nitin Desai, former Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs at Rio +20, was speculating yesterday what life would be like now if sustainable development had changed in as radical a way.

Flickr/ Fora do Eixo

Desai described how in 1992, the World Wide Web was still an emerging technology, with the web browser Mosaic, credited with popularising the World Wide Web, only launching a year later. Although conference organisers “were quite ahead” and used the Internet two decades ago, it involved using a huge computer with servers occupying half the room. “If you caught connection speeds of 14.4 you were doing wonderfully,” he added, and document transfers would go on through the night.

By those standards, technological transformation has been extraordinary.

At the same venue today, and locations across Rio, 67,000 users can simultaneously access the wifi network set up by the Brazilian company Oi, the official sponsor and supplier of telecommunications services for the conference.

Oi have also installed 1800 broadband access points, 180 internet kiosks to access the conference, and the latest 4G mobile internet service is on demonstration at a side booth. The company also equipped organisers with cloud computing, smartphones and tablets – not that this would distinguish them from the tech-loaded conference attendants.

Paper is on the decline, with PaperSmart services printing only ‘essential’ documents, and only by request. More often than not, it’s easier just to browse through the five official websites dedicated to communicating the latest discussions.

“If sustainable development had moved at the same pace as ICT had, we probably wouldn’t even need this conference,” said Desai, suggesting that sustainable development hitches a ride with speeding technologies.


This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


Lost in Rio

June 19, 2012

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
Deputy news editor, SciDev.Net


It was nobody’s fault that I spent half a day at Rio’s botanical gardens today, searching for a session that was held at a different venue altogether. But it turns out the day wasn’t a complete loss.

20 minutes into my arrival and several helpful Brazilians’ advice later, I found out that I was in fact standing in the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation’s (EMBRAPA) research center . I learned they were doing some – not for profit – research on indigenous agro-ecology, trying to ensure indigenous people in Xingu Indigenous Park in central Brazil, can maintain their livelihoods by boosting their food security in a culturally-sensitive way. “The greatest challenge to agricultural policy in Brazil is to develop actions for research, development and transfer of technology that promote the sustainability of indigenous people and their lands” says EMBRAPA. The project sets up ‘no-catch’ zones and over the last few years has released 30,000 newborn yellow-spotted Amazon river turtles (tracajas), which form a big part of the community’s diet.

But the natural capital accounting event – my original assignment for the day – was calling, and I had to go.

After locating the gardens, the only visible session was one organised by a Brazilian mining company (I won’t name it as they were so keen to keep me out of their precious session), who were giving awards of up to 15,000 Brazilian Reals (around US$8,000) to promising science students, which was really nice to hear. But after an unpleasant encounter with the mining company’s entourage, I figured I was better off wandering around the garden until I received an update of where I was supposed to be for my session.

The garden was lovely – and it would be good if more Rio+20 delegates went and spent some time in nature – travelling around in air-conditioned gas guzzlers, from one high-energy consumption venue to the next, it’s easy to forget what it is they’re here to protect.

By the time I finally arrived at the National School of Tropical Botany, the session on natural capital accounting was well underway. But that didn’t stop me getting an update on our ‘African nations agree to put a price on nature’ feature – check in to our news site in the next two days to learn more.

All-in-all, another fun and educational day in Rio.


This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


Science, Rio+20 and young people

June 18, 2012

Luisa Massarani

Luisa Massarani
Latin America regional coordinator, SciDev.Net


About 50 science museums and scientific institutions are joining efforts to engage children, teenagers and families in Rio+20-related science issues, in an initiative led by the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MSTI), in the warehouse Pop Ciência na Rio+20 (Pop science in Rio+20).

Its main philosophy is that science and technology (S&T) are increasingly present in everyday life and that S&T can help find solutions to Earth’s greatest problems. With a key aim of the initiative to give a voice to young people, the debating arena offers young people the opportunity to talk with experts on Rio+20 themes.

“Biomes”, a 2,000 square metre warehouse, which brings fantastic images of the Brazilian ecosystems deserves special attention. Another exhibition talks about how tropical biodiversity was a source of inspiration for Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace.

I asked Ildeu de Castro Moreira, director of the Department of Popularisation of Science and Technology of the MSTI and ‘father’ of the idea. He said: “I would say that it is the messages left by thousands of children in the Tree of Life, on their thoughts about Rio+20 and the challenges for the Planet”. These messages will be posted later on their website. Children also have the opportunity to grow a tree “to compensate the carbon emitted by the initiative, for example with transport”, he said.

More about the activities at: http://www.popciencia.org.br/

This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


Football provides electricity to children living off the grid

June 18, 2012

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
Deputy news editor, SciDev.Net


Apart from the high-level discussions, side events at Rio+20 showcase interesting innovations – one of them, that caught my eye, is a football that turns kinetic energy into electricity: SOCCKET.

A 30min football game could power more than 3 hours of light, and a two-hour game will charge a mobile phone, Jessica Matthews, CEO of Uncharted Play, which produces the SOCCKET football, told SciDev.Net.

The ball is built of durable materials with a patented technology packaged at the center of a little black box inside the ball. The ball also lasts for at least three years – much more than an average football, said Matthews.

She was promoting the ball to business people gathered at the Corporate Sustainability Forum, hoping to strike new partnerships to custom-make and distribute the ball to children in poor areas of developing countries.

So far, the football has been distributed to children in Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa, but Uncharted Play is looking to expand and reach more of the 1.6 billion people who are currently without electricity.

But at a price of around US$40 it may prove a tough sell.


This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


Beach or exhibition on sustainable development?

June 18, 2012

Luisa Massarani

Luisa Massarani
Latin America regional coordinator, SciDev.Net


Although it is autumn in Brazil, it’s 30 degrees Celsius with blue skies and no clouds. It was a perfect Saturday to go to the beach, the usual Brazilian weekend. But instead of lounging by the sea people spent several hours in line to attend an exhibition on sustainable development!

Around 45,000 people visited the exhibition this Saturday to add to the 110,000 people who had already visited since the 13 June.

Maybe its public success is partly down to its partner the Roberto Marinho Foundation (owned by a powerful family associated with the main TV channel and newspaper), and the involvement of famous people, such as the actress and art curator Bia Lessa, who is general director of the initiative. The exhibition space alone is reason to visit. It is a compelling scaffold-like construction at the Fort of Copacabana, one of the most beautiful places in Rio de Janeiro, with a view of Copacabana beach and the ocean.

The exhibition aims to be for “all members of society … to reflect upon and deepen their understanding of a possible development model that takes into consideration past, present and future impacts, to ensure better living conditions around the planet along with economic growth, social inclusion and respect for the environment”.

But in my view, the reason for its big success is the fact that Brazilians are very concerned about the environment, biodiversity and other issues related to sustainable development. For example, two surveys carried out recently support this point of view.

The website gives a lot of relevant information on the exhibition, including videos of the discussions.

Rio+20 has pushed a boom of exhibitions on sustainable development in the city and you can read more on these here:

CCBB, the Cultural Centre of Brazil Bank, “Amazônia – Ciclos de Modernidade”, on the Amazon.

Museum of Modern Art, “Brasil Cerrado”, a videoexhibit by the artist Siron Franco, on the biome Cerrado, little known but with a high biodiversity.

Museum of Life (my own museum), “Nós do mundo”, on the challenges for reaching a more sustainable world.


This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


%d bloggers like this: