Nourishing the Planet: Encouraging News from Africa

I've been getting weekly e-mails lately from someone named Danielle Nierenberg about a project called Nourishing the Planet. To be honest, I tend to ignore most of the newsletters and unsolicited press releases that find their way to my inbox, so I didn't pay much attention at first. But now that I've finally read a few of Danielle's missives, I'm hooked, and thought I should spread the word.

Nourishing the Planet is a project of the Worldwatch Institute, an independent research group that focuses on sustainability issues, particularly in relation to food and agriculture. Danielle, one of their researchers, is currently traveling around sub-Saharan Africa to find and blog about potential solutions to the challenge of feeding a growing population on an increasingly stressed planet. That's what I find refreshing: She's reporting from the field (literally) in layman's terms, and highlighting signs of hope rather than just pointing out the problems.

In Zambia, she met a man whose creative peanut butter project simultaneously protects wildlife and helps farmers earn a living. In Madagascar, she encountered an Italian NGO that hopes to halt slash-and-burn agriculture by teaching farmers how to improve the soil and make a living from organic agriculture. In South Africa, she learned about an innovative group that uses theater to explain agricultural policy to rural women farmers.

Most recently, in Ghana, Danielle met with members of an interfaith initiative called ECASARD, which connects farmers with each other and regional resources. Through ECASARD, a group of women in one village started their own dairy cooperative to produce and sell pasteurized milk and yogurt. (They were having trouble getting access to credit when they worked with men, so "we started our own thing," as one woman explains in this video.) The organization also helps farmers get into "alternative livelihood" projects that require less land and water than other crops---things like beekeeping, growing mushrooms, raising rabbits or even snails.

The blog also highlights a different innovation each week, including disposable and composting toilets to prevent water contamination in developing areas, fireless cookers that reduce the need for charcoal and lighten women's workloads, indigenous livestock projects, school gardens and more.

And the blog is just the beginning; it's all leading up to a comprehensive report to be published next year. I look forward to reading more.

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