post Feeding the World

July 7th, 2011

Filed under: Environment — Lissan Magazine @ 18:51

Ethiopia at centre of global farmland rush
John Vidal in Gambella, Ethiopia

Source: The Guardian

Locals move out as international contractors seize opportunities offered by government to lease farmland at knockdown rates It’s the deal of the century: £150 a week to lease more than 2,500 sq km (1,000 sq miles) of virgin, fertile land – an area the size of Dorset – for 50 years. Bangalore-based food company Karuturi Global says it had not even seen the land when it was offered by the Ethiopian government with tax breaks thrown in.

Karuturi snapped it up, and next year the company, one of the world’s top 25 agri-businesses, will export palm oil, sugar, rice and other foods from Gambella province – a remote region near the Sudan border – to world markets.

Ethiopia is one of the world’s largest recipients of humanitarian food and development assistance, last year receiving more than 700,000 tonnes of food and £1.8bn in aid, but it has offered three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of virgin land to foreign corporations such as Karuturi.

“It’s very good land. It’s quite cheap. In fact it is very cheap. We have no land like this in India,” says Karmjeet Sekhon, project manager for what is expected to be one of Africa’s largest farms. “There you are lucky to get 1% of organic matter in the soil. Here it is more than 5%. We don’t need fertiliser or herbicides. There is absolutely nothing that will not grow on it.

“To start with there will be 20,000 hectares of oil palm, 15,000 hectares of sugar cane and 40,000 hectares of rice, edible oils and maize and cotton. We are building reservoirs, dykes, roads, towns of 15,000 people. “This is phase one. In three years time we will have 300,000 hectares cultivated and maybe 60,000 workers. We could feed a nation here.”

Sparsely-populated Gambella is at the centre of the global rush for cheap land, precipitated by the oil price rise in 2007/2008, when many countries racked by food riots encouraged their farmers to invest abroad to grow food. The lowest prices are in Africa, where, says the World Bank, at least 35 million hectares of land has been bought or leased. Other groups, including Friends of the Earth International, say the figure is higher. The Ethiopian government says 36 countries including India, China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have leased farm land there.

Gambella has offered investors 1.1 million hectares, nearly a quarter of its best farmland, and 896 companies have come to the region in the last three years. They range from Saudi billionaire Al Amoudi, who is constructing a 20-mile canal to irrigate 10,000 hectares to grow rice, to Ethiopian businessmen who have plots of less than 200 hectares.

This month the concessions are being worked at a breakneck pace, with giant tractors and heavy machinery clearing trees, draining swamps and ploughing the land in time to catch the next growing season. Forests across hundreds of square km are being clear-felled and burned to the dismay of locals and environmentalists concerned about the fate of the region’s rich wildlife.

Local government officers have denied claims that people are being forcibly moved to make way for foreign companies. “This year we will relocate 15,000 people to give them better access to water, schools and transport. [But] it is a coincidence that the investors are coming at the same time as the villages are being relocated,” said Kassahun Zerrfu from Gambella’s department for investment. “We are not relocating people to give land to the investors. The problem is there is no infrastructure where they have lived. It’s all voluntary.”

Under the government’s “villagisation” programme, three or four villages at a time are being moved closer to roads and services, but many people say they are not being compensated and are having to wait. “We were promised a school, a health clinic and fresh water eight months ago. We only have one water pump so far,” said Udul Ujulu, chief of Karmi village, a new village of 250 people nine miles outside Gambella town. Others displaced by new farms said they were scared for their lives if they complained. “What power do we have to stop them? We just stay silent,” said one farmer told to move off his land.

“There is no movement of population. It’s their choice to have these basic services. But they have to abandon their previous way of life,” said farm minister Wondirad Mandefro.

John Vidal in Gambella, Ethiopia
Source: The Guardian

post Biofuel Development

March 7th, 2011

Filed under: Environment — Lissan Magazine @ 21:31

Current biofuels development status in Ethiopia
By Hilawe Lakew and Yohannes Shiferaw
source (pdf):

Biofuels development as a primary product was first initiated by the private sector when Sun Biofuels Ethiopia (National Biodiesel Corporation), a subsidiary of a UK based private limited company, was allocated the first land for cultivation of jatropha for production
of biodiesel in Benshangul Gumuz regional state in 2006. The coming of Sun biofuels awakened other players in the sector, including the government, the private sector, NGOs and civil society organizations. As the first project in the country, there were several drawbacks in the legal process of business formation and actual implementation of the project in the field. Since then several private companies have come to the scene. Fincha Sugar Factory, however, has been producing bioethanol as a by-product. Several local and international private and non-private biofuels developers have registered in the country since then. Most of these companies have the intention of going for large-scale commercial development. Currently there are over 50 developers registered for the cultivation of energy crops for biodiesel production. For bioethanol, however, there are only six developers in the country of which four of them are government owned sugar estates. At present only one of the sugar estates, Fincha, is producing ethanol. The rest are at the pre-implementation stage either retrofitting existing factories for ethanol development, or at the very early stage of land cultivation for plantation of sugarcane. All of them are intending to produce ethanol as a product of sugar production.

Status of Operational Biofuels Development Projects
Due to limitation of time only five regions were identified to conduct a brief assessment about the current development of biofuels in Ethiopia. These regions are identified based on the current trend of biofuels development expansion in the country. Local experts were assigned to gather primary and secondary information about the biofuels projects in the regions.

Information about the number of organizations involved in biofuels development was searched from government offices at regional level, the Ethiopian Investment Commission, and other sources. In a few cases, the team managed to contact the developers. However, the full list of developers that have started operations could not be obtained from offices at regional level as some developers directly contacted Zone and Woreda offices for allocation of land without the need for getting permits from bureaus at regional level. The full list of companies including those that have not yet obtained land is put in the annex. This section gives an overview of developers that have actually received land but may not have started operations. The findings are presented as reported by the informants as follows:

Benshangul Gumuz Regional State
In Benshangul Gumuz region, information is obtained only for three private developers that received land for biofuels development.

i. Sun Biofuels Ethiopia/ National Biodiesel Corporation
Sun Biofuels PLC is a UK based company that owns 80% of the shares in the National Biodiesel Corporation PLC (NBC). With 365 million Birr investment capital NBC aims to become the largest producer and seller of biofuels in Ethiopia. Description of Location NBC has obtained 80,000 ha of land leased for 50 years in Metekel Zone in Dandure Woreda at a lease price of ETB 25 per hectare for jatropha plantation. The area of land allocated covers four Kebeles namely Jantaya, Gublak, Dabata, Dilkanbikokil and Jarduban.

Land Use and Environmental Aspects
The land cover is mostly forest, woodland and range land with very little agricultural activities. There are various types of plant and animal species in the area9. The project stopped operations after clearing 60 hectares of land for trial plantation. One of the reasons for stopping the operation was that the land was not suitable for growing jatropha. The productivity of the land was very low, so the company would hardly make any profit from the investment. Had the project continued at the proposed scale severe environmental damages could have happened. Loss of biodiversity and wildlife would be the immediate impact which could be followed by soil chemical composition changes due to change in land use, increased soil erosion and land degradation due to increased runoff, and a severe impact in the watershed. An environmental impact assessment was not conducted in the area.

Socioeconomic Aspects
The community uses the area as a source of firewood, food and feed for their cattle, and medicine. They collect fruits, seeds and roots from the forest. It is a place for hunting and honey collection. The rangeland is used for farming and grazing place for their cattle.

ii. Ambasel Jatropha Project
Ambasel Jatropha Project is a local private limited company involved in biofuels development in Amhara regional state.

Description of Location
The project obtained 20,000 ha of land with a possibility of expanding to 80,000ha for jatropha plantation in Qoto (or Koto) kebele in Metekel Zone Beles Woreda. The project plans to install oil expelling machines and has a target of reaching up to one million metric tonnes of oil per year. The product is mainly for the domestic market, with the possibility of exporting the excess.

Land Use and Environmental Aspects
The existing land cover is a natural forest. The project has to clear the forest for cultivation of jatropha trees, which will result in severe environmental consequences including loss of biodiversity, wild life and their habitats. Soil erosion and land degradation are possible long term impacts due to the project intervention. The project has not conducted any form of environmental impact assessment so far.

Socioeconomic Aspects
The forest used to provide a free grazing area and a source of firewood for the local community. There might be new short-tem job
opportunities for the local community. In the short term, the project needs about 10,000 labour force, which sounds overly optimistic, for the preparation of land which will be mainly clearing of the forest. However, once the forest is cleared and the plantation in place, there will be relatively few jobs, and the community will have lost their forest resource forever.

iii. Jatropha Biofuels Agro Industry
Jatropha Biofuels Agro Industry is a national private limited company with 123 million Birr investment capital. The company obtained land leased for 50 years at a price of ETB 25 per hectare for large scale
commercial plantation of biofuels using jatropha plant. The Project is located in Metekel Zone, Dangur Woreda in Bengaz Kebele. They received 100,000 hectare of land but have not started operations yet.

iv. I.D.C Investment
IDC Investment is a Danish private limited company that started investment in biofuels development in Ethiopia. It has received 15,000 ha of land in Benshangul Gumuz in Assosa Zone, Oda Woreda. The company started cultivation of land for jatropha plantation in November 2007. It has a plan for setting up a processing plant.

Amhara Regional State
Several developers have applied for allocation of land for development of biofuels in various Woredas in the region. However, information has only been obtained for five developers that have actually started operation. For some developers, one of the main reasons for not starting operations, as reported by the developers, is that the amount of land they are offered is too small compared to the land they have asked for. Current status of biofuels development in the region based on information obtained so far is presented below:

i. Organization for Rehabilitation and Development of Amhara

ORDA is a non-private organization established by the regional government with the intention of assisting rehabilitation and development activities in the region. ORDA has several development projects in various Woredas in the region which are related to land rehabilitation by plantation of trees and building erosion protection structures. ORDA believes that plantation of jatropha in degraded lands would bring dual benefits. In some of the areas that ORDA is working, the jatropha plant already grows wild. Some of the project sites that ORDA is promoting jatropha are Gaint, Ibnat, Wadla, Lasta, Bugna, Sekota, Kobo, Habru, bati and Metema.

Description of Location
ORDA is now involved in biofuels development in Metema Woreda. With a capital of one million Birr the project obtained 884 ha of land free of charge for jatropha plantation. The site is located in Metema Woreda in North Gondor Zone.

Land Use and Environmental Aspects
ORDA has several sites where it uses the jatropha plant for flooding and erosion protection. The biggest project is in Metema. So far about 2.3 million jatropha trees have been planted. The organization has a plan to install peeling machines, an oil expeller and perhaps a biodiesel processing plant near the cultivation area in the future. The land use type prior to the development of the project was barren or degraded land with little or no economic benefit to the nearby communities. In certain seasons of the year the area has been used as grazing land for cattle. The area is commonly known as “aygebire” which literally means non-productive. The project has not conducted any Environmental Impact Assessment. Preparation of land for jatropha plantation may bring some disturbance of the flora and fauna but this is assumed not to be worse than that caused by flood and erosion otherwise.

Socioeconomic Aspects
The project creates job opportunity in the area in the short term as they prepare the land for the cultivation of jatropha plantation. Since the communities around the area own the project, any future benefit from the cultivation of jatropha, however small it might be on a degraded land, will bring additional income.

ii. Jemal Ibrahim
Jemal Ibrahim is a private investor with a project capital of ETB 2,551,896. He has been provided with 7.8 ha of land for cultivation of castor oil for biodiesl production in Habru Woreda. Detailed information has not been obtained regarding previous land use of the location but the satellite image seems to indicate a wide area of cultivated land.

iii. BDFC Ethiopia Industry P.L.C
BDFC is a subsidiary of the US based B&D Food Corporation. With 300 million Birr capital it has received 18,000 ha of land from the Awi Zone to grow sugarcane with the intention of producing sugar and ethanol. It has also a plan for an additional sugarcane supply from out growers, which is expected to reach up to 30,000 ha. This project was previously planned for development by the then Tana Beles Project based mainly on the Beles River. The Company has already received land and has a plan to produce 70,000 tonnes of
sugarcane and 30,000 tonne of ethanol per year10.

iv. A Belgium Company (Name not identified)
Three Belgian investors have received 2.5 ha of land in Genete Kebele in Armachiho Woreda in Semen Gondor Zone. The investors have started plantation of jatropha and castor seed which they imported from Togo and Brazil. It was also reported that the investors have applied for an additional 5,000 ha for cultivation11.

Oromia Regional State
Information from the Federal Investment Authority and other sources indicate that there are over sixteen developers that have received investment licenses for development of biofuels in Oromia region. However, many of them have not yet received land. Information is found only for three companies that have started operations in the region.

i. Flora Eco Power Ethiopia Plc.
Flora Eco Power Ethiopia is a subsidiary of the German based Flora Eco Power private company. The company required 200,000 ha of land to plant castor seed for biodiesel production.

Description of Location
Flora Ecopower has so far developed about 15,000ha of land in several Woredas in East and West Hareghe Zones. Babile, Fedis, Midega Tola, Lebu and Hawi Gudina are the Woredas that the company is operating in at present. Out of the total land area cultivated by the company for castor bean plantation, about 10,000 ha is from clearing virgin forest land and the remaining hectares are with the out-growers scheme. The Company plans to expand castor bean plantation to a total of 50,000 to 70,000 ha of land in eight Woredas in East and West Haraghe Zones.

Land Use and Environmental Aspects
The land use type in Babile and surrounding Woredas is grazing land, cultivated land, forest and bush land. Cultivated land in this area accounts about a fifth of the total area, forest area covers between 10 to 20% of the total land area. There is extensive communal grazing land encroaching a large part of the Babile Elephant Sanctuary12. The land that is being used for castor bean plantation is obtained either by clearing of forest areas or taking cultivated land in agreement with the local farmers.

The Company proposes four different options for obtaining land for large scale commercial plantation and the out-growers scheme. In all cases the damage to the environment and the consequence in terms of food insecurity will be high. The area is a sanctuary for various types of wild animals including elephants, lions, leopards, etc. The clearing of the forest and bush land will cause severe environmental damage which will result in loss of biodiversity, and land degradation due to inevitable soil erosion with increased runoff….

read more here (pdf):

post Enviromental Destruction

November 9th, 2010

Filed under: Environment — Lissan Magazine @ 14:14

Unprecedented land grabbing and destruction of ecological environment in Gambela, Ethiopia
Anywaa Survival Organisiation

Press Release

Anywaa Survival Organisation-ASO is concerned about the unprecedented land grab and destruction of ecological environment of the Gambela region. Since 2008 foreign companies with the help of the Ethiopian authorities in the centre have been acquiring vast fertile farmlands with limited consultation with indigenous peoples whose lives and livelihoods are affected. This trend of land grabbing has intensified, with more than four companies from India and Saudi Arabia currently destroying and clearing the best woodlands in the region to produce a variety of agricultural produce not for local consumptions but for export purposes.

A new World Bank report released today acknowledges that there has been a lack of environmental and social impact assessments of large-scale foreign agriculture projects in Ethiopia due to the rush to approve these projects by the country’s investment authority. The report further indicates the limited employment benefits to local communities, with only 0.005 jobs/hectare created for local populations on average. This lack of adequate employment benefits is contrary to the claim by authorities that the benefits of these projects will override concerns about environmental and social impacts on the indigenous population in the long-run.

According to our sources, Karuturi Global Ltd, an Indian company, acquired 300,000 hectares of land in Gambela to produce wheat for export to India. The local people employed on the farm have always complained about unfair treatment by the company. So far, their concerns have been ignored with little effort from the local authorities to address employment related issues. Furthermore, the local population whose hunting grounds, rivers and farmlands have been given to multinational corporations are doing back breaking daily labourer jobs and paid very low wages that cannot sustain themselves and their families amid food price increases in the region. The situation of land grabbing could impoverish local farmers who have been surviving on local agricultural production and the natural environment in the past.

Another company that operates in the region is Saudi Star Company, which produces rice and other products for export to Saudi Arabia. The company currently operates a pilot project on 10,000 hectares but plans to increase its capacity up to 500,000 hectares in the coming few years. This vast fertile land lease to the company would deprive indigenous people of their means of livelihoods and increase destitution among the local communities, leading to higher crime rates in both rural and urban areas.

With similar intention to destroy the ecological and natural environment, RUCHI Soya, another Indian company, has started its operations on 250,000 hectares. The company has already set up its compound at Obela on the way to Pinyudo and is expected to extend its operations to Arieth village along Gilo River. It is now apparent that the government not only intends to destroy the natural environment of the region but also to destroy the cultural base of the indigenous people by evicting them from their ancestral lands and home areas.

We are also concerned with the destruction of the best woodlands in the region that could lead to climate disaster and uncontrollable climate change affecting human beings and natural life in the region. Gambela region is known for its vast amount of water reserves and it is home to variety of plants and animals and fish species upon which the indigenous people entirely depend. This destructive policy would spark unnecessary conflicts over resources that will be depleted because of the uncontrollable land grabbing policy that targets the region.

Anywaa Survival Organisation therefore would like to call upon the indigenous people to resist this kind of land grabbing effort of the government and protect the natural environment, wild lives, various fish species and the indigenous community’s way of life. We further would like to call upon other Ethiopians to support the campaign to stop the destructive government policies that do not put the interest of the Ethiopian people into consideration.

For further information, please contact
Nyikaw ochalla
Anywaa Survival Organisation-ASO
Send your comments to


Food crisis and the global land grab
Governments and corporations are buying up farmland in other countries to grow their own food – or simply to make money

post Environmental Laboratory

October 11th, 2010

Filed under: Environment — Lissan Magazine @ 04:40

Ethiopians Open First Black Owned Environmental Laboratory in US
By: Yodit Negede

At the heart of the Ethiopian experience in America is the belief that hard work and determination can ultimately lead to success. This determination to succeed is consistently put to the test with the many challenges that come with life in the United States. Navigating a new social system, maneuvering the workplace, and raising children in this new environment are not the least of the concerns that are often discussed over coffee or dinner. The tightly woven communal fabric of Ethiopians in America gives the comfort of a lending ear to our concerns but often provides little warmth of any greater understanding of our condition. With over 80% of Ethiopians in America today, having immigrated after the year 2000, not enough time has elapsed for the masses to maximize their potential within this society. We constantly persist towards success and are encouraged by the successes of others within the community who have reached notable positions across the nation. Encouragement could come in no greater form than in the establishment of Geoscope Environmental Laboratories. After coming to the United States of America in 1972, Ato Negede Gedamu and Woyzero Alemnesh Abebe established a company that has inspired many young Ethiopian scientists and entrepreneurs alike.


Founded in 2006, Geoscope Environmental Laboratories (GEL) is the First State Certified Black Owned Environmental Laboratory in the United States of America and is solely owned and operated by Ethiopians. Located in Salisbury, Maryland, GEL currently monitor’s the drinking water quality for the City of Salisbury’s nearly 30,000 residents while steadily supporting other state and local government agencies, pharmaceutical companies, engineering firms, real estate companies, individual home owners and local business. GEL performs testing of portable water, surface water, groundwater, wastewater, soil, solid waste and various pharmaceutical products. Traditional Ethiopian values of hard work, respect and hospitality are visible in the company’s dedication to professional integrity, reliability and customer service that have brought GEL praise from the Department of Commerce, local municipalities and private sector businesses. Geoscope Environmental Laboratories has, over the past 5 years, been established as among one of the most well respected and reliable certified laboratories in the State of Maryland.

Ato Negede Gedamu and Woyzero Alemnesh Abebe have made history in both the Ethiopian and American communities. Having been in the United State for over 30 years, they are an inspiration to the hundreds of Ethiopian men and women that flood the streets from Washington, DC to Los Angeles, CA, with the hopes of obtaining a degree and working in a field that they love and enjoy. Ato Negede and Woyzero Alemnesh have held their faith, family and culture in high esteem and encourage Ethiopian youth to do the same. They have made their lives and work a monument to traditional Ethiopian values and resiliency. When asked what words of wisdom they would like to endow the next generation of Ethiopians that are striving for success in America, they reply “The only way to be successful in this or any country is to first know who you are and never let anyone take that from you. Resiliency is the hallmark of Ethiopia and the legacy of Ethiopians.”

For more information about Geoscope Environmental Laboratories e-mail or call (410)334-6496.

post Environmental Conditions

May 31st, 2009

Filed under: Environment — Lissan Magazine @ 22:56

Taken from the abstract:
Ethiopia’s Environmental Conditions Today and Twenty-Five Years from Now

By Shibru Tedla
Translated by Yonas Admassu
The link to the full version

Environmental Problems in Ethiopia:

What are they? Profile of Ethiopia’s Natural Resources
In order to better understand Ethiopia’s environmental problems, one would do well to have an idea of the profile of the environment. The highland parts of Ethiopia have an elevation of 1800 meters above sea level, and their climate is suitable for living. While the highlands get an annual rainfall of 700-2200 mm, the lowlands get an annual rainfall of 200-700 mm. There are also regions that get no rainfall at all. In order to grow crops and plants, a region with an annual rainfall of at least 700 mm is required.The area of the country’s arable land has been estimated varyingly (indicating such wide differences as 12-60% of the country’s total land mass). However, when we take into consideration the estimates provided by the Ethiopian Environmental Protection Authority, 51% of the land mass is believed to be cultivable, while the remaining 49% is said to be uncultivable.Forty years ago, 3.37-4.4% of the country’s land mass was covered with dense forest. During that period, also, the area covered with bushes and undergrowths was estimated to have been 22% of the country’s total land mass.It is known that Ethiopia has huge water resources. While 0.66 % (7500 square kilometers) of the land is covered by lakes, the country has 12 major river basins.The total volume of water handled by these river basins annually is estimated to be 111 billion cubic meters. It is, moreover, estimated that the country has no less than 2.56 billion cubic meters of underground water. Of the water draining in the major river basins, 75% (82.5 billion cubic meters) goes to benefit neighboring countries. In other words, the annual per capita contribution of water to these neighboring countries of Ethiopians amounts 1250 cubic meters (125,000 litres).This draining water resource, combined with the country’s topography, is believed to be the country’s major wealth, since it represents a huge source for hydroelectric power generation. The slopes of the basins are also considered big resources.  We all know the value of salt-free water for the development of agriculture.

Biodiversity resources (plants and grains):
Ethiopia has a huge pool of biodiversity. The plant biodiversity especially provides a rich source for the population’s medicinal needs. Ethiopia also has an equally huge pool of biodiversity in grains. An example or two of the uses of biodiversity will help clarify the importance of the resources. A barley species found in Ethiopia has saved the barley species used in California’s breweries from extinction. A barley species found in the Simien Shewa area in the middle of the last century was found to be resistant to a virus that almost destroyed California’s barley production. The gene that helped the barley resist the virus was extracted from the Ethiopian barley species (biodiversity resource) and was grafted onto the California barley species, resulting in a healthy, California barley, thereby, saving the State’s brewery from sure bankruptcy. This gene has, consequently, become the main agent in the brewery’s capacity to make an annual profit of 156 million US dollars.

Ethiopia’s Environmental Problems
If 85% of Ethiopia’s population, which lives in the rural areas and is engaged in farming and cattle breeding, cannot feed itself, we can simply decide that the magnitude and nature of the problem has no indicator and forget the whole thing.However, we shall be forced to look into some of the details. The main and visible environmental problems in Ethiopia, as well as in other developing countries, are the following:·  Population increase;·  Soil erosion by water and wind;·  Degradation of soil fertility and decrease in productivity;·  Deforestation and soil exposure;·  Inability to improve the contribution of the agricultural sector to growth; the sector’s stagnation and, in fact, degeneration;·  Lack of appropriate policies, strategies, and regulations, or inability to implement those that are available.In order to even better understand the problem, we need to probe into the nature of rural life in Ethiopia.

What does the life of the majority of Ethiopians look like?
Because of the poverty it wallows in, the majority of the country’s population relies for its energy on wood and/or cattle dung; on forests for its supply of medicines; on rivers and springs for its water supply; on wood cut from forests, grass mowed from the fields, and mud taken from the soil in order to build its huts; on cotton and hide for its clothing. The land on which it produces its food is farmed year in year out without any break; the animals it uses either for farming or as food sources sustain themselves through their own effort by grazing the surrounding lands, with no care and protection from anywhere. Because of such poverty, the majority of our people completely rely for their livelihood on what nature provides.  Consequently, the plants that are cut down, with no replacement at all; the land that is being farmed, without any break, year in year out; the domestic animals that breed without any human care and protection; the wildlife hunted down without any compassion; all these constitute a complex of reasons for the country’s environmental crisis.

Let us look into some of the concrete problems in some detail:

Farm and soil management
The majority of Ethiopian farmers inhabit the dega (highlands) and the woinadega (mid-highlands). The farming technology they use and the types of crop they cultivate render the land vulnerable to erosion both by rain and wind.The water that drains in this manner from every plot of land turns into streams and rivers flowing away with a full load of fertile and rich soil. When the soil is thus washed away by flooding rivers, it is not only the soil that the country loses, but also the microbes that sustain the fertility of the soil. Because of shortage of farming land, the slopes of the river basins as well as those at the foot of mountains and hills are cultivated thereby contributing to the washing away of soil from farms.

Depletion the Earth’s vegetation cover
Trees are cut down, without replacement, for fuel, for the construction of houses, for making farming equipment, etc.

Population increase (in relation to the sectors people engage in)
In reality, increase in population size does not result in environmental crisis in and of itself. If, however, a given community of people is hostage to poverty, it will negatively affect the environment. To the extent that the size of the population increases, the demand for additional farm plots, huts, and fuel wood increases. This situation will result in the depletion of the country’s biodiversity resources. If the livelihood of the majority of the population depends essentially on natural resources accessed from land, every time the population increases, to the same extent will increase the grumbling and lamentation in every household, as well as the number of mouths that go unfed as the days go by.

Let us have a closer look into the ways of the country’s rural life.
When the number people in rural communities increases, the commodity supplied to urban centers will be fuel wood instead of grains. The grain the farmers produce will not even be sufficient for their own consumption. The fuel wood and charcoal the rural population supplies to the market is not a by-product of trees that they themselves have planted, but gathered and cut down from natural forests. The source for the rural population’s cash needs will be naturally grown bushes and forests. The energy sources for the farmers’ own cooking needs will be cow dung, manure, maize stalks and wheat stalks. If the grain stalks, dung and manure that are supposed to farm inputs are used as fuel instead, the fertility of the soil and the land will degenerate, resulting in the decrease of land productivity.When the bushes and forests available in the different areas are completely cleared and depleted, the fuel supplied in the market will be animal dung instead of wood. The dung that ought to have been used as fertilizer will become the major source of the rural population’s cash needs. When drought occurs while the rural population is in this state, the people will be exposed to the lashes of hunger. The farmers that already are shoulder-deep in the mire of deprivation will altogether sink in that mire when drought occurs. When the size of the population increases, to the same extent will the land area needed for farming expand. The land area on the slopes or river basins and the wetlands adjacent to water bodies, which were not supposed to be cultivated to begin with, will be cleared and used for farming. Grazing land will be crowded. At present, grazing land for cattle in the highlands and mid-highlands of rural Ethiopia has been greatly reduced. As a result, domestic animals do not get adequate fodder, in which case both their productivity and energy will diminish.According to the estimates of experts and professionals in the field of natural resource management, by the year 2004 (G.C.), all grazing land in the highlands will be fully appropriated for cultivation. This area is domicile to 70 percent of all domestic animals. Any additional grazing area cannot be made available. Similarly, in the year 2017 (G.C.) all arable land in the highlands and mid-highlands will be cultivated. After that there will be no cultivable land in these regions of Ethiopia.

Land tenure insecurity
Because the Government runs the administration of rural land in Ethiopia, the farmers, who are the direct beneficiaries of the land, do not feel secure about their holdings. There has been much debate, and various positions have been taken, on this issue. However, the problem requires immediate solution.Although, in some regions, better opportunities have been created for farmers to feel secure about their holdings, it has become clear that there still are some situations that need to be improved.

Land use
Due to the absence of regulations and mechanisms by which to prevent the cultivation of river basin slopes, lack of any effort to protect and nurture farm plots, lack of a system as to what type of particular grains and food plants should be produced/sown, and where they should be sown, it has not been possible to properly manage and use the country’s natural resources, including, of course, land.

Air and water pollution
The fuel that we use in each household for cooking pollutes the air inside each hut. Because of the polluted air as a result of the smoke emitted by the wood and dung fuel, many children have fallen victims of lung diseases, and will continue to do so.Because people are left free to relieve themselves of human waste, such as excreta and urine, at any time and any place, these waste matters have been responsible for the spread of many contagious diseases. Because, especially, human excreta and urinary waste stand a greater chance of polluting our potable water, children will be exposed to dysentery. Because of the combined effects of this and other similar situations, 170 children for every 1000 births will die before they reach the age of five.

Damages caused by development activities (projects)
Development activities (projects) implemented at different times have caused damages to the environment. The main source of the damages is the fact that the projects were undertaken without the appropriate feasibility study.In order to better understand the situation, let us look into the damage caused by the development project undertaken at Abijata.Because of the production of Soda Ash at Abijata, the type and amount of the chemical contents of the water has been altered. Because of this change, some of the small plants and animals inhabiting the waters of the Lake have completely disappeared, while others have diminished in number. The number of fish thriving on these plants and animals also has diminished. Consequently, the number of fish-eating birds has diminished. Lake Abijata, which was estimated, according to the bird count done 30 years ago, to be home to 12,000 pelican couples, thousands of fish-eating birds, flamingoes feeding on smaller fish and plant life, now finds itself in a very tragic situation. It is now said that thousands of pelicans and flamingoes have migrated and settled in Kenya.

Controversial solutions
One dominant issue here in Ethiopia is that of eucalyptus. Many a debate and discussion is still going on regarding the advantages and disadvantages of the eucalyptus tree. It was in the belief that eucalyptus will solve the problem of shortage of fuel that Emperor Menelik had 15 eucalyptus species imported from Australia in 1896 (G.C.).  Of these 15 species, only two are seen in several regions in great numbers. While one group is of the position that, because a single, well developed eucalyptus tree consumes 400 litres of water a day, it will contribute to the depletion of the ground water reservoir of the surrounding environment, another group argues that, but for the fact that ‘Mother’ Menelik brought eucalyptus, presently the people of Lasta, Agame, Gayint, Berenta, and Bulga would have honed their axes and felled every tree of the Congo jungle. That eucalyptus causes damage to the environment is not a new revelation. Because of the bad news that eucalyptus depletes the water in the area it grows, Emperor Menelik had ordered every eucalyptus tree to be uprooted and disposed of.But that was not to happen, for the tree’s fundamental advantage had an edge over the Emperor’s orders. I think the secret lies in how to cultivate eucalyptus. If one were to take into account where each tree is to be planted, at what distance from another plant, and when it will be harvested, the damage, if any, the tree would cause would be minimal. Whether we like it or not, at present, when considered from the vantage point of the utility the tree provides, eucalyptus still remains the exemplar as far as trees go. All farm equipments, the roofs, walls, doors of houses, beds, chairs, fuel, all these and more are products of the eucalyptus tree.



post Saving World’s Rarest Wolf

November 10th, 2008

Filed under: Environment — Lissan Magazine @ 21:12

Race to save world’s rarest wolf

By Julian Siddle
BBC Radio Science Unit

Scientists in the remote Bale mountains of southern Ethiopia are in a race against time to save the world’s rarest wolf.


Rabies passed from domestic dogs is threatening to kill up to two-thirds of all Ethiopian wolves. Scientists from the UK and Ethiopia are currently vaccinating wolf packs to prevent the spread of the disease. The population has dwindled to as few as 500, as a result of human encroachment into their habitat.

Vaccination campaign
Dr Claudio Sillero of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Unit (WildCRU) says vaccinations are the only hope of maintaining the Ethiopian wolf population.

“If left unchecked, rabies is likely to kill over two-thirds of all wolves in Bale’s Web Valley, and spread further, with wolves dying horrible deaths and numbers dwindling to perilously low levels,” he added.

The plan is to vaccinate whole families or packs, typically a group with six adults. When these packs come into contact with unvaccinated wolves or dogs they will not catch the disease.

The WildCRU team and the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Authority say so far they have been very successful, catching and treating more than 40 wolves. The wolves are not injured in the trapping process, some even return to the traps once vaccinated in search of food.

Mating season
Dr Sillero says the wolves’ behaviour at this time of year makes them particularly vulnerable to catching diseases from other animals.

“Right now we are in the middle of the mating season. Family groups erode; females and males mate outside the packs, some females are even courted by feral dogs. This leads to increased transmission of the disease.”

The Bale mountains in southern Ethiopia form the most extensive high mountain plateau in Africa. As well as being home to Ethiopian wolves, the plateau now also has an estimated population of 40,000 dogs. Brought in by shepherds to round up sheep, these dogs have become a reservoir for rabies.

About 10,000 of these dogs are vaccinated against rabies every year but this has not prevented transmission.

Wolf ‘king’
Outbreaks of the disease seem to occur in cycles. The researchers say they noticed the disease as far back as 1989 and previously ran a vaccination campaign in 2003.

“It’s a powerful example of the importance of the science and practice of wildlife conservation combined in the effort to deliver practical solutions,” explains Professor David Macdonald, director of WildCRU.

Dr Claudio Sillero sees the wolf’s survival as key to the continuation of the whole highland ecosystem. As a top carnivore, it is responsible for controlling the population of smaller grazing herbivores, especially rodents.

“The wolves reign there; I like to think of them as the guardians of the high mountains of Africa,” he says.

The vaccination campaign is due to continue until at least mid November.


post Walking for Water

May 24th, 2008

Filed under: Environment — Lissan Magazine @ 23:16

A Treacherous Trek to the Crater’s Edge

By Sarah Stuteville

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – “Just breathe,” I comforted myself as I shuffled slowly through the dusty gravel. “One breath with each step,” I repeated raggedly as fifty pounds of brackish water sloshed rhythmically against the sides of the muddy yellow jerry can strapped to my back.


Sweat rolled down my hairline dropping from my forehead and splashed in the shape of raindrops on the gray slate beneath me. To keep from slipping I tried to follow exactly in the footsteps of the cracked plastic sandals in front of me.

A 14 year-old girl in a patched purple dress had already fallen. We struggled to get her upright again; she was pinned by the weight of the can on her back and our own burdens made it hard to lift her from the loose steep slope.

“Galatoma, galatoma – thank you, thank you,” she muttered in the southern Ethiopian language of Oromifa as our weakened arms grasped for her.

“Many women break their legs walking down the crater for water,” warned Fadi Jilo, a 30-year-old mother of three and 15-year veteran of this water walk. “Sometimes pregnant women fall and miscarry,” she added.

On my way to Dillo, a rough, one-road town perched precariously on Ethiopia’s southern border, about 30 miles from Kenya, I thought a lot about water. I had plenty of time to think: the drive from Ethiopia’s capitol Addis Ababa took 15 hours.

Cool highlands swaying with eucalyptus trees became rowdy red-dirt towns lined with broad banana leaves only to turn again to a desiccated landscape scattered with brittle thorn bushes, umbrella trees and the otherworldly spindles of towering termite hills.

Statistics bounced in my head, along with the bouncing of the tortured tires on our 15- year-old Toyota Land Cruiser over miles of unpaved roads. Some of the most shocking water statistics in all of Sub-Saharan Africa are found in Ethiopia. More than 80 percent of Ethiopians live in the country’s rural regions, where as few as 24 percent of the population enjoys safe accessible drinking water.

Throughout southern Oromia I saw armies of women and girls with heavy barrels lashed to their backs with homemade rope. They lined the roads in the early morning and again as the heat of the day ebbed, falling in line with millions of women across the African continent seeking this most fundamental resource.

t is estimated that on an average day women in poor countries walk four miles and carry approximately 44 pounds of water back to their families. The World Health Organization reports that over 40 billion work hours are lost each year in Africa specifically to the long-distance gathering of drinking water, and Ethiopia is no exception.

“They walk all this way for water that may not be by any means safe or drinkable,” said Meselech Seyoum of Ethiopian NGO Water Action. “This really affects development in the country because there are so many other things [these women] could be focusing on instead of working so hard to secure water.”

The United Nation’s 2006 Human Development Report, which focused on water and water scarcity issues, reported that five percent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP is squandered every year due poor water access and sanitation. To put that waste into perspective, think of it this way: more economic capacity is lost annually in Africa due to water related diseases and hours spent laboring to find and fetch water than the region receives in aid.

Walking the walk
No amount of studying or thinking about this continent-wide walk could have prepared me for doing it. Everyone warned me that it would be a challenge to keep up with the task that is the daily norm for so many. Ernest Waititu, the journalist I’m working with here, who spent much of his youth in Kenya fetching water from long-distance sources, told me with a broad smile, “You will not make it Sarah.”

His words were echoed by every curious onlooker that saw me buying a jerry can (plastic drums originally containing industrial volumes of cooking oil). The group of girls and women I introduced myself to in Dillo’s gray dawn met my request to follow them down into the crater and carry a load myself with open alarm.

“This is very difficult for us and we have practice,” said Fadi as she and the other women prepared for the first of three daily walks. “For you I don’t know,” she worried, shaking her head a few times before we headed out.

Though this walk for water occurs across the nation every day, the details of the walk vary throughout the country. The time can range from one and a half hours to six or seven. Some women carry clay pots, others plastic jugs. Dillo’s source at the bottom of a salt lake crater is unique, but many walks for water are treacherous, especially as they often take place in the early morning dark.

One thing all of the walks have in common is that they are almost exclusively done by women and girls, and the water they return with is often contaminated by disease.

From Dillo’s town center the group of a dozen women, ranging in age from seven to 40 (the youngest girls armed with five and 10 liter jerry cans and the teenagers and adults with 20-25 liters), laughed and joked their way to the top of the crater that serves as Dillo’s main water source. At the top we stop to stare down at the salt flats glowing an eerie white in the rising light and the small greenish pools that are our destination. Beginning down the steep slope, we fall into quiet concentration. The only sounds are the dry crunching of our footsteps and the occasional hollow bounce of our jerry cans off the narrow rock passages we make our way through.

It is a small and indulgently symbolic act to try to put myself in their shoes for one morning. There is no way to compare an hour and a half of my discomfort to what they endure in their lifetime. I will never know what it’s like to spend the majority of my waking hours trying to save myself, my family and the cows or crops that are our livelihood from dehydration. Nor will I experience the disappointment of my school closing for lack of water.

If I were literally putting myself in their shoes, the shoes I wore would have been cheap, broken plastic sandals instead of ergonomic walking shoes that cost almost ten times Fadi’s yearly income.

If I were putting myself in their shoes, I would have plans to drink the dirty water I carried, knowing that it kills 20-plus people in Dillo each year, instead of giving it away and running to the diminishing stores of overheated bottled water in the back of our car to slake my thirst.

Joining this search for water might have been an inadequate attempt at understanding this specific hardship that holds Ethiopia and so much of Africa back from development, but it seemed important to try.

In Seattle water is central to the culture of our city – the rain, the lakes, the Puget Sound and the seafood, the lush deep green that we live alongside year round. Water is an abundant luxury that I was born taking for granted – including the cool, clean, sanitized drinking water that has never stopped flowing from my tap and feels like a basic birthright.

Water scarcity is a complicated topic in much of Africa. Americans might assume that there just simply isn’t enough water for the population, but in many countries, like Ethiopia, that isn’t necessarily true, and water issues here are discussed much more in terms of management, sanitation and equal access than a lack of natural resources. Addis Ababa-based Water Action and other water-related NGOs insist that there are a number of ways that adequate clean water could reach rural residents in Ethiopia, if the building of infrastructure and sanitation systems were prioritized by international projects and local and federal governments.

“Don’t be poor in a hot country.”
Unfortunately for Dillo and other semi-arid climates in eastern Africa, water scarcity may also be connected to an ominous global phenomenon that its citizens are not yet aware of.

“I have personally noticed the temperatures here rising steadily for the past seven years,” said Dima Anna, Assistant Administrator to the region that includes Dillo. “We don’t get enough water anymore. Last year we had half the rain we need.”

Climate change is a controversial topic familiar to anyone in the United States who has picked up a magazine, newspaper, or remote control in the past few years. The potential scope and consequences of this phenomenon are bound to be the center of – forgive me – heated debate in wealthy countries in the coming years. But as we argue about the potential causes of – and solutions for – climate change, alarming news is emerging from the scientific and development communities, especially those focused of the most impoverished regions of the world.

The regional report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released last year warned that the continued increase of greenhouse gases could put an additional 1.8 billion more people in Africa at risk of water stress by the end of the century. It seems the emissions of rich countries’ cars and industries may have made a strange and scientifically circuitous journey thousands of miles from their source to poorer and more vulnerable destinations. “[Africa] is the continent with the least responsibility for the climate change,” Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), which co-founded the IPCC, said in a recent press release, “and yet is perversely the continent with the most at risk if greenhouse gases are not cut.”

Africans, who make up about 13 percent of the world’s population, are estimated to contribute only 3.8 percent of total greenhouse gasses. No one I spoke to in Dillo had ever heard of climate change. They weren’t aware that, according to the 2006 United Nations country team in Ethiopia, rising surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, when met with changes in atmospheric pressure across the Pacific basin, may very well affect the length and reliability of their rainy season thousands of miles away. I certainly didn’t want to be the one to tell them about the report’s conclusion, which darkly stated, “5 strategies for action must be developed to cope with a future in which excessive dry periods become an increasingly normal facet of Ethiopian life.”

What Fadi and the other residents of Dillo did know was that, while some regions of Ethiopia have been experiencing strong harvests, their rains had not fallen properly in years. The women of Dillo I walked with that morning knew that last year’s rainy season was cut from three months to one and a half and that their usual sources of water were no longer lasting through the long dry season. The children I walked with knew that their schools were closing for lack of water.

Looking at the paltry, shallow spring at the bottom of the crater was all the convincing I needed. There were faint rings in the rock above the waterline to prove the higher levels it had once boasted. Dipping my fingers in the green water left them feeling sort of soapy; the water tasted vaguely salted. Hundreds of women and countless cattle use this as their primary source of water every day.

The view from below the crater was as terrifying as the view from above was stunning. Orange light was just breaking over the rim of the curved cliffs. Though the sun still seemed distant, an oily ominous heat was already collecting in my clothes. As Fadi helped me strap the now full jug to my stooped back with animal sinew rope, I squinted upwards. The top seemed impossibly far away.

I headed back, a big, sweaty, strangely dressed faranji (white foreigner) in a line of bemused Ethiopian women and girls. Taking one heavy step after another, I thought of another disturbing comment from last year’s IPCC conference. Stephen Schneider, a Stanford University scientist and co-author of the report tried to sum up the findings for reporters:

“Don’t be poor in a hot country, don’t live in hurricane alley, watch out about being on the coasts or in the Arctic, and it’s a bad idea to be on high mountains with glaciers melting.”

Water is everything
Struggling up the hill, I thought about how ironic it is that a people whose entire lifestyle is defined by the limits of very scant resources may already be feeling the effects of the excesses of societies they will never see, people they will never meet. I thought about Fadi and her hope for a full season of rain. I thought of her two young daughters who will soon be expected to make this walk at her side. Then I stopped thinking entirely because I felt like I was going to fall over from exhaustion. Neither the reports I’d read, nor the people I’d interviewed about water walking had ever mentioned how brutally hard the physical act is.

Well, my colleague Ernest had: “Twenty-five liters is a lot of weight – you’ll have to carry it on your back or on your head and it’s incredibly hard, very demanding,” he had warned. But I didn’t really think about it – that is, until the ropes were rubbing silver dollar-sized blisters on my shoulders, and I was crawling uphill under the weight of six gallons of water beneath a rising sun.

At the halfway mark his words, “Sarah, you won’t make it,” began running circles in my conscience. The fact that I did make it was absolutely no testament to willpower, physical strength or determination. I don’t have any more than your fair-to-middling share of those qualities. It was entirely shame that propelled me slowly up out of that crater – the shame of thinking that I was able to give up, because I could, when the barely teenage girl whose small footsteps I was following in had no choice

After we’d pulled ourselves up out of the last steep, narrow switchback and crested over the ridge, and after I’d let out an embarrassing shout of relief, to the exhausted hilarity of my fellow walkers, Fadi and I headed back to her hut.

Finally home, she pulled the barrel off her bent back and then helped me with mine. We sat down on smooth, handmade wooden stools and shared some of my stores of bottled water. Once my breath finally caught up with me I asked Fadi how life would change if the water situation in Dillo were improved.

Water is everything, she told me, fervently explaining its relation to everything from tea and cattle to bathing, health, and sanitation.

“But how would your life be improved if you had better water?” I pressed,

“Of course this would be a really positive change for us,” she said, looking at me sideways, unsure how it could be my job to travel great distances only to ask the most obvious questions imaginable. “We want to do so many things, so many things that we can’t do because of water.”


post Ethiopian Forestry

May 4th, 2008

Filed under: Environment — Lissan Magazine @ 19:08

In the late nineteenth century, about 30 percent of the country was covered with forest. The clearing of land for agricultural use and the cutting of trees for fuel gradually changed the scene, and today forest areas have dwindled to less than 4 percent of Ethiopia’s total land. The northern parts of the highlands are almost devoid of trees. However, about 4.5 million hectares of dense forest exist in the southern and southwestern sections of the highlands. Some of these include coniferous forests, found at elevations above l,600 meters, but a majority of the forestland consists primarily of woodlands found in drier areas of the highlands and in the drier areas bordering the highlands.

Lumber from the coniferous forests is important to the construction industry. The broadleaf evergreen forests furnish timber that is used in construction and in the production of plywood. The woodlands are a major source of firewood and charcoal. Certain trees–boswellia and species of commiphora–are of special economic significance. Both grow in the arid lowlands and produce gums that are the bases for frankincense and myrrh. A species of acacia found in several parts of the country is a source of gum arabic used in the manufacture of adhesives, pharmaceutical products, and confectionery. The eucalyptus, an exotic tree introduced in the late nineteenth century and grown mainly near urban areas, is a valuable source of telephone and telegraph poles, tool handles, furniture, and firewood. It is also a major source of the material from which fiberboard and particleboard are made.

Data on forestry’s contribution to the economy are not readily available, largely because most GDP tables aggregate data on forestry, fishing, and hunting. In l980/81 forestry accounted for 2.5 percent of GDP at constant l960/61 factor cost and 5.4 percent of the share attributable to the agricultural sector.

Before 1974 about half of the forestland was privately owned or claimed, and roughly half was held by the government. There was little government control of forestry operations prior to the revolution. The l975 land reform nationalized forestland and sawmills, which existed mostly in the south. The government controlled harvesting of forestland, and in some cases individuals had to secure permits from local peasant associations to cut trees. But this measure encouraged illegal logging and accelerated the destruction of Ethiopia’s remaining forests. To ensure that conservation activity conformed with government policy and directives on land use, reforestation programs were organized through the Ministry of Agriculture or district offices that planed, coordinated, and monitored all work. The local peasant associations lacked decision-making authority.

Reforestation programs resulted in the planting of millions of seedlings in community forests throughout Ethiopia. A variety of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), which had to organize their activities through the local peasant association, supplemented government efforts to rehabilitate Ethiopia’s forests. However, critics maintain that both systems caused communal resources to be developed at the expense of private needs. As a result, reforestation programs did not perform well. Seedling survival rates varied from as low as 5 to 20 percent in some areas to 40 percent in others, largely because of inadequate care and premature cutting by peasants. In late 1990, Addis Ababa was in the process of launching the Ethiopian Forestry Action Plan (EFAP) to improve forestry conservation, increase public participation in reforestation projects, and prevent further depletion of existing forest resources. It remained to be seen whether this plan would improve the state of Ethiopia’s forests.

Data as of 1991



post The Pleasures of the Flesh

April 22nd, 2008

Filed under: Environment — Lissan Magazine @ 22:42

If you care about hunger, eat less meat.

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 15th April 2008

Never mind the economic crisis. Focus for a moment on a more urgent threat: the great food recession which is sweeping the world faster than the credit crunch.


You have probably seen the figures by now: the price of rice has risen by three-quarters in the past year, that of wheat by 130%. There are food crises in 37 countries. One hundred million people, according to the World Bank, could be pushed into deeper poverty by the high prices. But I bet you have missed the most telling statistic. At 2.1bn tonnes, last year’s global grain harvest broke all records. It beat the previous year’s by almost 5%. The crisis, in other words, has begun before world food supplies are hit by climate change. If hunger can strike now, what will happen if harvests decline?

There is plenty of food. It is just not reaching human stomachs. Of the 2.13bn tonnes likely to be consumed this year, only 1.01bn, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), will feed people.

I am sorely tempted to write another column about biofuels. From this morning all sellers of transport fuel in the United Kingdom will be obliged to mix it with ethanol or biodiesel made from crops. The World Bank points out that “the grain required to fill the tank of a sports utility vehicle with ethanol … could feed one person for a year”. Last year global stockpiles of cereals declined by around 53m tonnes; this gives you a rough idea of the size of the hunger gap. The production of biofuels this year will consume almost 100m tonnes, which suggests that they are directly responsible for the current crisis. In the Guardian yesterday the transport secretary Ruth Kelly promised that “if we need to adjust policy in the light of new evidence, we will.” What new evidence does she require? In the midst of a global humanitarian crisis, we have just become legally obliged to use food as fuel. It is a crime against humanity in which every driver in this country has been forced to participate.

But I have been saying this for four years and I am boring myself. Of course we must demand that our governments scrap the rules which turn grain into the fastest food of all. But there is a bigger reason for global hunger, which is attracting less attention only because it has been there for longer. While 100m tonnes of food will be diverted this year to feed cars, 760m tonnes will be snatched from the mouths of humans to feed animals. This could cover the global food deficit 14 times. If you care about hunger, eat less meat.

While meat consumption is booming in Asia and Latin America, in the United Kingdom it has scarcely changed since the government started gathering data in 1974. At just over 1kg per person per week, it’s still about 40% above the global average, though less than half the amount consumed in the United States. We eat less beef and more chicken than we did 30 years ago, which means a smaller total impact. Beef cattle eat about 8kg of grain or meal for every kilogramme of flesh they produce; a kilogramme of chicken needs just 2kg of feed. Even so, our consumption rate is plainly unsustainable.

In his magazine The Land, Simon Fairlie has updated the figures produced 30 years ago in Kenneth Mellanby’s book Can Britain Feed Itself? Fairlie found that a vegan diet grown by means of conventional agriculture would require only 3m hectares of arable land (around half the current total). Even if we reduced our consumption of meat by half, a mixed farming system would need 4.4m hectares of arable fields and 6.4 million hectares of pasture. A vegan Britain could make a massive contribution to global food stocks.

But I cannot advocate a diet I am incapable of following. I tried it for about 18 months, lost two stone, went as white as bone and felt that I was losing my mind. I know a few healthy-looking vegans and I admire them immensely. But after almost every talk I give, I am pestered by swarms of vegans demanding that I adopt their lifestyle. I cannot help noticing that in most cases their skin has turned a fascinating pearl grey.

What level of meat-eating would be sustainable? One approach is to work out how great a cut would be needed to accommodate the growth in human numbers. The UN expects the population to rise to 9bn by 2050. These extra people will require another 325m tonnes of grain. Let us assume, perhaps generously, that politicians like Ms Kelly are able to “adjust policy in the light of new evidence” and stop turning food into fuel. Let us pretend that improvements in plant breeding can keep pace with the deficits caused by climate change. We would need to find an extra 225m tonnes of grain. This leaves 531m tonnes for livestock production, which suggests a sustainable consumption level for meat and milk some 30% below the current world rate. This means 420g of meat per person per week, or about 40% of the UK’s average consumption.

This estimate is complicated by several factors. If we eat less meat we must eat more plant protein, which means taking more land away from animals. On the other hand, some livestock is raised on pasture, so it doesn’t contribute to the grain deficit. Simon Fairlie estimates that if animals were kept only on land that’s unsuitable for arable farming, and given scraps and waste from food processing, the world could produce between a third and two thirds of its current milk and meat supply. But this system then runs into a different problem. The FAO calculates that animal keeping is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. The environmental impacts are especially grave in places where livestock graze freely. The only reasonable answer to the question of how much meat we should eat is as little as possible. Let’s reserve it - as most societies have done until recently - for special occasions.

For both environmental and humanitarian reasons, beef is out. Pigs and chickens feed more efficiently, but unless they are free range you encounter another ethical issue: the monstrous conditions in which they are kept. I would like to encourage people to start eating tilapia instead of meat. It’s a freshwater fish which can be raised entirely on vegetable matter and has the best conversion efficiency - about 1.6kg of feed for 1kg of meat - of any farmed animal. Until meat can be grown in flasks, this is about as close as we are likely to come to sustainable flesh-eating.

Re-reading this article, I see that there is something surreal about it. While half the world wonders whether it will eat at all, I am pondering which of our endless choices we should take. Here the price of food barely registers. Our shops are better stocked than ever before. We perceive the global food crisis dimly, if at all. It is hard to understand how two such different food economies could occupy the same planet, until you realise that they feed off each other.


post Gold & Enviroment

March 27th, 2008

Filed under: Environment — Lissan Magazine @ 11:46


Mercury is one of a number of pollutants causing growing concern because of the long-term impacts on ecosystems and human health. Artisanal and small-scale mining in contrast to other sectors where mercury utilization is decreasing, remains a dangerous source of mercury pollution. The problem affects all developing countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, where gold is produced on an artisanal basis.

Artisanal mining accounts for one-quarter of the world’s gold output and it is estimated that 2 million are directly involved in this sub-sector, with several million people being economically dependent on the activities. A high percentage of small-scale miners use the mercury-based amalgamation process. The resulting peripheral contamination and introduction of mercury into the food chain have potentially catastrophic results for the environment, miners’ health and the health of people involved indirectly, including the unborn. In recent years, life-threatening mercury pollution has been identified in most developing countries where artisanal gold production is taking place.



‘A Wedding Ring Produces 20 Tons of Waste’

The high dollar price of gold isn’t the only cost: Mining for the precious metal around the world causes significant loss of land, contaminates groundwater supplies and leaves behind toxic waste that often ends up in the ocean. In a SPIEGEL interview, mining expert Keith Slack demands cleaner mining methods.

SPIEGEL: What is the impact of the high price of gold on the mining of this precious metal?

Slack: It has led to a situation where there are more and more mines around the world, also in regions of Africa, Latin America and Asia that were not affected up until now. And the governments in these countries and regions mostly do not deal particularly effectively with the mining companies.

SPIEGEL: What do you mean by that?

Slack: There are no proper environmental standards, there are not enough laws which could protect the rights of the local residents. Take Guatemala, for example, where the rights of the indigenous people, who live in mining areas, are not taken into consideration. The mines spread over vast areas, also over the sacred sites of these people. They can be up to two kilometers wide and one kilometer long, and one can even see them from space. But once the land is gone, it has been destroyed forever.

It can never be used again once the gold has been extracted?

Slack: Enormous quantities of poisonous chemicals are used, particularly cyanide, which separates the gold from the stone. It is estimated that gold mines worldwide use 182,000 tons of cyanide each year — a gigantic amount.

SPIEGEL: Cyanide is highly toxic. What are the consequences for the environment?

Slack: It gets into rivers as well as groundwater and can kill fish. The water is no longer drinkable or usable for agricultural irrigation. Sometimes even minimal standards are lacking. In Indonesia, the toxic mining waste is simply dumped into the ocean.

SPIEGEL: What are you trying to do about that?

Slack: We want the mining companies to secure the approval of local residents before they open a mine. Needless to say, the companies are not particularly keen to do so.

SPIEGEL: That doesn’t sound particularly effective.

Slack: It is probably the most effective means we have. Currently there is a dispute going on in Nevada, where a company wants to turn the holy mount of the Shoshoni Indians into a mine, and they are resisting. So this doesn’t only happen in developing countries.

SPIEGEL: Where are problems with the mines especially concentrated?

Slack: In Ghana a single mine has permanently displaced 10,000 people from their land. Another example is Peru, one of the most important metal exporting countries. The government there is not very effective in regulating the mines. Often, the local residents are completely on their own.

SPIEGEL: But what can you possibly hope to achieve if governments are even failing to achieve anything?

Slack: People know what effects mines can have, they exchange their experiences with others in similar situations worldwide and they offer resistance. When mining company Numont wanted to expand the world’s largest gold mine in North Peru in 2004, more than 10,000 people protested and blocked the access roads, forcing the temporary closure of the mine.

SPIEGEL: Isn’t it also possible that the mines could bring needed jobs into poor rural regions?

Slack: The modern large mines are mostly on the surface and employ only a few people. The mines can be highly profitable, but the locals very seldom see any benefits. And, of course, there are also problems with working conditions and low wages in the mines.

SPIEGEL: Do the mines operate similarly worldwide?

We are particularly concerned because there are clearly double standards. In Europe and the United States the companies would never exhibit the behavior they get away with in developing countries.

SPIEGEL: How much waste is produced to extract enough gold for a wedding ring?

Slack: That produces 20 tons of waste.

SPIEGEL: Is this only loose rock that can be pushed somewhere, or is it poisonous waste?

Slack: The problem is that cyanide treated rock, when exposed to air, will give off sulphuric acids, like those contained in car batteries. This process continues forever and can permanently contaminate the groundwater. Even mines the Romans operated in what is today France still exude these substances.

That sounds just as problematic as cyanide itself.

Slack: It is an even bigger problem.

SPIEGEL: And what advice do you have for consumers, who aren’t necessarily aware of the environmental and social damage caused by the gold they purchase?

Slack: We are trying to cooperate with large jewelers and mining companies to introduce certified gold which is produced according to higher environmental and human rights standards that would be similar to the standards applied to organic foods and fair trade products. So far, nothing like that exists for gold.

Interview conducted by Cordula Meyer.


post Flower Farming Blooms

January 26th, 2008

Filed under: Environment — Lissan Magazine @ 12:52

Flower farming blooms in Ethiopia

By Amber Henshaw
BBC, Addis Ababa

Rows and rows of rose cuttings fill a vast warehouse in Alem Gena, a small town about 30km from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. They are being grown into small plants ready to be sold on. Ethioplants is owned by Dutch flower grower Felix Steeghs who moved here in September. He saw the potential in Ethiopia’s new flower market and was sick of the violence that he and his colleagues faced in Kenya - Africa’s current biggest flower producer - where he had worked for eight years.


“We were living in Naivasha - if you count all the Europeans you might get 150 to 200 people, and I think within 12 months there were 10 attacks on white people of which 5 were fatal,” he says. Felix started off in Ethiopia with 5,000 square metres, but he hopes to have doubled that by August, and says there is plenty more room for growth. British businessman Ryaz Shamji agrees: “I’m actually convinced Ethiopia has tremendous potential,” says Ryaz, who started production at his flower farm, Golden Rose, in 2000. He now produces 24 million roses a year but wants to increase that to 36 million.

“The industry has grown from 40 hectares productive to 250 hectares productive in the last three years, and is likely to hit 400 hectares productive by the end of this year,” he says.

Ecological worries

Floriculture already earns Ethiopia $20m a year. But environmentalists are concerned that growers are using chemicals which are damaging the environment and making workers ill. “The major concerns are social concerns - working rights and decent working conditions and environmental concerns,” says Negusu Aklilu, co-ordinator of Ethiopia’s Forum for the Environment. “For example, if you take the pesticide issue, pesticides are about workers’ conditions and also about the environment.”

The Ethiopian government is keen to encourage investors, offering them a five-year tax holiday and duty-free import of machinery. The government is also working with the environmentalists. Dr Tewolde Birhan, head of Ethiopia’s Environmental Protection Agency, says the government has introduced a new law. “The intention is to control pollution and it has three steps, as in all countries,” Dr Tewolde says. “Environmental impact assessment before you start your job; environmental auditing regularly to make sure you aren’t polluting the environment; and if you are unable to prevent pollution, you close down.”

Players in the industry like Felix Steeghs and Ryaz Shamji support these measures, realising that having everything regulated and above board can ensure Ethiopia’s flower industry a blooming future.

Statements and opinions expressed in this article herein are those of the authors. Lissan Magazine accepts no responsibility whatsoever for the content.

post Flower Worker

January 26th, 2008

Filed under: Environment — Lissan Magazine @ 01:14

Flower Worker Addis Fortune

Founded three years ago in Menagesha, Western Shoa Zone of the Oromia Regional State, Menagesha Flower Plc was established with a capital of 10 million Br. Having secured 50hct of land, of which five hectares have been developed for flower farming, its working capital has now grown to 30 million Br. While 15hct are used for agro-forestry, the company plans to continue expansion of its flower production business as it sees room for growth in the industry.

Speaking to Fortune, Solomon Sebihatu, general manager and owner of Menagesha Flower Plc, asserted that in one year’s time, Menagesha Flower Farm Plc will develop 20hct of land for expansion purposes and expects to increase yields and profits. However, not all interested parties are ecstatic about the progress of the industry as protection of the environment and safety of employees has been a challenge for the fledgling industry. Flower farms like Menagesha are facing pressing demands by their employees for security against the chemicals applied in the production process.

Yenesew Enley, 28, who lives with his parents in Debre Zeit (Bishoftu) where he was born and raised, is employed by one of the flower farms located along the route between Modjo and Shashemene. It is now three years since Yenesew started working for the flower farm and handling pesticide chemicals that he is responsible to spray on the farm. Yenesew told Fortune that in the particular flower farm that he works at, the farm owners give more priority to the flowers being produced than to the employees.

“Waking up on a daily basis before the sun rises, my colleagues and I begin the routine work of spraying the chemicals without proper equipment to protect ourselves from the possible chemical exposure,” said Yenesew. According to him, it is not uncommon to see co-workers vomit and collapse due to the exposure of these pesticide chemicals they handle regularly. “While I have been suffering from [these] symptoms on quite a number of occasions, some co-workers were forced to abandon their jobs for health reasons,” Yenesew, who must balance his better judgement of his own health with the need for employment, told Fortune.

Equipment used during the process of spraying chemicals does not get cleaned properly, except on some occasions where the materials are washed in a nearby stream, directly releasing the harmful pesticides into a local water source. However, the questionable environmental and labour practices have not stopped the sector from expanding rapidly.

Menagesha is one of the 60 flower farms that are now actively working in the floriculture sector. The flower industry is labour-intensive and currently employs 50,000 people, out of which 70pc are women. It is steadily expanding and industry analysts estimate that when most of the 200 licensed flower projects reach fruition, 72,000 people would be employed. A significant proportion of the floriculture farms in Ethiopia are located within a 50Km radius of Addis Abeba city limits, while the remainder operate in and around the Rift Valley. Growing annually at astonishing 100pc pace, the sector earned 60 million dollars from exports last year.

Though many laud the fast growth rate registered by the floriculture industry and the goodwill it gains from the government, concern about the delicacy of the environmental situation and the human factor have been voiced by a variety of stakeholders and concerned parties. The charge has been led for the past five years by the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Union (CETU) and the National Flower Alliance (Forum for Environment, Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association and Panos-Ethiopia) along with other environmental groups. These interests were finally appeased when an agreement supposedly addressing their concerns was reached late last month. The 43-page Code of Practice proposed by the Ethiopian Horticulture Producers and Exporters Association (EHPEA) gained the support of those stakeholders seriously concerned about the issue. This document that was financed by the Netherlands’ Ministry of Agriculture was a product of an idea born from Ethio-Netherlands Horticulture Partnership in June 2006. The document was prepared by Myrtle Dense of Wageningen University.

The Code of Practice has three pillars that compose the basis upon which a memorandum of understanding was signed between concerned parties. Firstly, companies must be responsible to implement sustainable practices, provide suitable facilities and working conditions to protect their farm employees and safeguard their local environment and communities. Serving the economic interests, the Code states actors must protect and enhance the competitiveness of the Ethiopian flower sector in the international marketplace. The third pillar deals with the reputation of the flower market amongst Ethiopian society and the international consumers in order to promote a positive image.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MoARD) has already registered around 250 types of chemicals and pesticides, while the Crop Protection Department maintains a list of chemicals that enter the country. Since the floriculture industry is new, chemicals used in the sector are not necessarily included on the list, as they are imported using a special order from the Office of the Prime Minister.

There are around 120 chemicals that enter the country for the floriculture industry found on the World Health Organisation (WHO) negative pesticide list, while environmentalists have categorised some of these chemicals as having carcinogenic potential. A carcinogen element is any chemical, biological or physical agent that can potentially be a cause of cancer. The term is most commonly applied to chemicals introduced into the environment by human activity. Such hazardous chemicals like flucy thrinate, chlorothalonil, cypro-conolone, folpet and mancozeb are used in the flower farming sector in Ethiopia.

According to the new Code, the flower industry should not be applying such chemical pesticides that have hazardous effects to humans and the environment while accepted pesticides must be applied safely and effectively. Employees have to be equipped with necessary protection and work under clean conditions to avoid any possible harm in the processes of spraying the pesticides, asserted the Code.

Tewolde-Berhan Gebre-Egziabher (PhD), director general of the Federal Environmental Protection Authority (FEPA), told Fortune that the flower industry is in its infant stage in Ethiopia and therefore, the problem caused by the chemicals and other related environmentally unfriendly conditions are not severely damaging for now. However, in the future, these problems could have a large impact on the country’s environmental health, as well as develop into long-term health concerns for workers. The good news is that the launching of the Code grants an opportunity to address these issues before they grow out of hand; a process government agencies must play a productive role in, he added. Indeed, Negussu Aklilu, coordinator of the Forum for Environment, sees the Code as a first round victory.

“The Code is the product of a lot of hard work,” he told Fortune. “The battle now is for effective implementation.”

Companies that fail to implement the Code would face the consequences based on the country’s environmental rules and these companies would not be allowed to use EHPEA’s logo, sources disclosed. On his part, Tsegaye Abebe, EHPEA’s president, told Fortune: “We have launched the Code and will soon begin implementation, but we must enhance our capacity. This has required us to establish a training unit.” The Association has hired Glenn Humphries to head the training unit along with four other experts. Labour groups too, see their work cut out for them. “The presence of the Code gives us access to the employees of the flower farms in the country and makes it possible to begin organisation so that these people may come to understand the issues surrounding the industry, Kassahun Follo, president of CETU told Fortune. Even those profit motivated stakeholders have taken a reservedly positive outlook on the document. Solomon underscores, “With the Code in hand, the issue of the environment and labour standards would be addressed in a more appropriate and systematic manner. We can now proceed without the harassment that we have experienced at the hands of environmental activists so that we can penetrate European markets by meeting their demands.”

However, some of those coming with the most to gain from the Code, farm workers, are not even aware of its existence.
“I do not know about the Code. I just need protective clothing for my work,” Yenesew told Fortune.


Statements and opinions expressed in this article herein are those of the authors. Lissan Magazine accepts no responsibility whatsoever for the content.

post Is a Rose a Rose?

January 26th, 2008

Filed under: Environment — Lissan Magazine @ 00:36

A Rose is a Rose…or Is It?
by Gregory Dicum
San Francisco Chronicle

Valentine’s Day, and because I want to show my wife how much I love her, I’ve been thinking a lot about flowers.

photo: admassu m. k.

I’m not the only one. This year, Americans will spend $20 billion on flowers and plants, with the bulk of cut flowers sold between Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. The 180 million roses sold for Valentine’s Day account for a third of the yearly total. It’s a huge industry, on a par with something as ubiquitous as coffee. Yet compared to just about everything else in the supermarket, the cut flower industry lags behind in eco-friendliness. While food has been undergoing an organic revolution that is now solidly mainstream, and people are demanding—and getting - sustainable and socially responsible choices in many of life’s finer things, including wines, chocolate and diamonds, flowers aren’t there yet.

“The problem is that commercially grown fresh-cut flowers are produced with an extensive artillery of toxic fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides,” says Gerald Prolman, founder of Organic Bouquet, the first and only national online retailer of organic flowers.

“The government does not inspect flowers for pesticide residues,” he continues, “but at the same time, regulations require that flowers arrive at our borders pest free. So trade laws encourage the use of strong chemicals.” And that causes problems, and not just for fragile mountain ecosystems in South America. In countries like Colombia and Ecuador, which together produce the majority of cut flowers you’ll see in the United States, workers are affected as well. “Commercial flower production is more similar to industry than to agriculture,” says Nora Ferm, director of the Fairness in Flowers campaign at the International Labor Rights Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates for the rights of workers in developing countries.

“Flower plantations are like sweatshops,” continues Ferm, who is based in Ecuador and visits plantations regularly. “The flowers are grown in greenhouses, which makes the use of pesticides especially dangerous to the workers. The pesticides stay inside the greenhouse instead of being dispersed into the air.” According to the ILRF, one in five of the pesticides used on flowers in Colombia is banned for use in the United States. Workers can be poisoned just by doing their jobs or, even more acutely, through lax safety standards. “In November 2003, there was a chemical spill at a plantation called Flores Aposentos in Colombia,” says Ferm by way of example. “More than 300 workers started showing signs of intoxication, such as strong headaches, nausea, swelling, rashes, diarrhea, and sores inside and around the mouth. For several weeks, the company refused to provide clear information about what the chemical had been and what had led to the spill.” It’s enough to put you off your bouquet. But it would be a mistake to dismiss flowers as something to be avoided altogether. Beauty isn’t frivolous: A sustainable world is a beautiful world, and flowers—the very symbol of natural beauty—are a part of it.

That puts people like me in a quandary.

“Because flowers are an aesthetic product, they really do have to look perfect,” says Mary Lois Hare, owner of Loop Group, a San Francisco design studio that specializes in wedding flowers. Hare has to make the decision about what kind of flowers to buy all the time—she buys thousands every year. “A lot of the public doesn’t like thinking about certain things,” she says. “The same people who buy organic food, thinking that it’s healthier, aren’t realizing that these pesticides are doing damage on a global level and that the workers are so poor that they don’t have any other choice.” But Prolman, of Organic Bouquet, is betting that once people know what is going on, they will shop for flowers differently. “Flowers are really simple, and there’s an assumption that flowers are grown naturally—people don’t realize the extent of the chemical use. But once consumers know that there’s an alternative, those people with a good conscience prefer the environmental choice.”

Prolman, who owned an organic food importing company in the 1990s and saw that industry mature from fringe to mainstream - his company was bought by Dole in 1994—is banking on the same thing happening in flowers. In fact, he wants to be the person to make it happen. “Organic flowers are important because they’re safe for the environment,” he says, “and the notion of organic floral production encourages healthy stewardship of the Earth. That’s at the heart of what we’re doing. But when I started this company in 2001,” he continues, “I began with the notion that our flowers need to be competitively priced to make this really work. And they are. And we have the same or better quality. But we have a major of point of differentiation, in that our flowers are organic.”

Still, Prolman acknowledges that flowers lag far behind food in organic consciousness. “There’s only one organic rose producer in the world right now—Rio Bamba, in Ecuador,” he says. This is the source for the more than 120 thousand roses Organic Bouquet expects to ship from its Miami fulfillment center for Valentine’s Day this year. (The company’s headquarters is in Marin.) “We would love a California supplier,” he continues, “since our first priority is local flowers, but Ecuador has the advantage at this time of year [because roses are in season there now].”

Organic Bouquet has developed a regionally diverse network of flower growers, starting with local sources like California and Oregon and extending to Ecuador, Colombia, Holland and Israel. Prolman now has some new projects in Mexico and is looking at Kenya and Ethiopia. Although his company has been growing at more than 50 percent per year, Prolman’s goal of creating a $100 million enterprise is audacious—it represents a 10th of the $1 billion of flowers sold online last year. But one company does not make an entire sustainable industry. With limited supply, individual florists like Hare have a tough time getting sustainable flowers, and they’re not likely to buy them online.

“When I’m buying flowers for a wedding,” says Hare, “I have to see them before I buy them. I can’t be laying down a bunch of money for hundreds of roses if I haven’t selected, each one myself.” But Prolman sees it as his mission to spread sustainability throughout the flower industry, and he says the work he’s doing with Organic Bouquet is helping growers make the change, which should improve supply for everybody.”There’s a reason why they use chemicals to grow flowers,” says Prolman. “The growers have to combat pests and fungus and all sorts of pressures that affect their crops, so going organic is not an easy decision for a grower to make. But it can be done. Our growers have proven that, and customers are really glad to get the products.”

To help spread his mission, Prolman has teamed up with Scientific Certification Systems, a third-party certifier of environmental claims, to create the Veriflora certification label. Designed to point growers toward sustainability by reducing chemical use, the Veriflora certification is a stepping-stone on the way to organic. “It’s a new standard for the fresh-cut flower trade,” says Prolman. “It will support growers in the process while they transition their farms to organic. And at the same time, it shows consumers there are stringent controls about social and ecological practices.” The label is just entering the marketplace now. “It will be everywhere by Mother’s Day,” says Prolman. “I believe that it will become the standard for the fresh flower industry.” Similar certifications, including organic, have been on the European market for more than a decade, and Ferm says she’s seen the difference they make on farms in South America. “It’s clear that conditions at certified plantations are better,” she says.

But Ferm adds that responsible chemical use is just one element of improving the lives of flower plantation workers. “Organic certification does not mean that labor laws and standards were complied with at that plantation,” she points out. Besides a list of abuses including irregular payment, forced overtime and sexual harassment, Ferm says that growers often force women workers to take pregnancy tests, and to avoid government-mandated maternity leave, fire workers they find are pregnant. So much for Mother’s Day. Veriflora certification requires growers to adhere to critical human rights measures, affirm the right to collective bargaining, undertake efforts to limit pesticide exposure and prohibit child labor. (According to the ILRF, up to a fifth of the flower workers in Ecuador are children.) But until the label is widespread, people like me who just want a bunch of roses to give on Valentine’s Day have limited sustainable flower options.

Ferm says organic is a good start. “It means that the workers who harvested your flowers were not exposed to toxic chemicals like most flower workers are.” When she can, Hare takes a different approach. “The best I can do for now,” she says, “is to get flowers from local growers who I know personally. But it’s tough because there’s not a lot of local flowers in February. Hydrangeas are local now, but roses aren’t. Ask your florist. That’s the first step.” Prolman says that asking is the key to changing the industry. “If people ask, growers will provide,” he says. “Growers are the most resourceful people I’ve ever met, and to the extent that the market demands sustainable practice, growers are going to respond.”

“Consumers can accelerate the movement by asking their florists or retail stores to carry organic flowers,” he goes on. “Write little notes when you go into the stores. Management reads them, and they’ll respond.” But where does that leave people like me on Valentine’s Day, when I suddenly remember I need to demonstrate the depth of my love but it’s far too late to order anything online? Is there a sustainable option for the disorganized? “Get them a potted plant—that’s the best solution,” says Hare. “They’re not shipped too far and the pesticides have to be at least approved in the U.S. And they last longer .”

And later this year, get your valentine a big, beautiful bouquet of locally grown organic flowers for Labor Day—that’s when Northern California’s flower bounty is really peaking. Plus, you’ve got more lead time.

Gregory Dicum, author of Window Seat: Reading the Landscape from the Air, writes about the natural world from San Francisco. A forester by training.

Statements and opinions expressed in this article herein are those of the authors. Lissan Magazine accepts no responsibility whatsoever for the content.

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