Beahrs ELP Blog

Tackling climate change through Conservation Agriculture: Building Farmers’ Adaptive Capacities in Northern Mozambique

by Margarida Simbine, Mozambique, ELP 2014
Written on July 22, 2014.

There is no doubt that changes on climate are occurring at both global and local scales.
For developing countries in Africa, such as Mozambique, climate change adds another layer of complexity to already existing development challenges, such as high levels of gender inequality and weak governance systems.

Climate change is predicted to exacerbate these developmental challenges, as more floods, more droughts, and more cyclones occur more frequently. Given its wide array of impacts on and interactions with wider development, climate change is having considerable implications for humanitarian and development interventions. Accordingly, it is clear that adaptation to climate change is critical to achieve sustainable development in Mozambique, and this requires action across sectors at multiple levels. Households must pursue livelihoods strategies that will be resilient in a changing climate.

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In Mozambique, a major part of the population lives in rural areas where rain fed agriculture is still the main livelihood and source of food. Therefore, to build farmers’ adaptive capacities, resilient farming practices should be promoted.

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The Adaptation Learning Program from CARE International, in collaboration with the ministry of Agriculture, National Agricultural Research Institution, Meteorological Department and local NGOs, has been promoting conservation agriculture and supporting farmers to access climate information to reduce the impacts of climate change in Northern Mozambique. Conservation agriculture reduces the impact of droughts as the soil is maintained and covered throughout the year, thus reducing evaporation and runoff. Conservation agriculture also builds soil organic matter, which contributes to improve soil texture, thus improving moisture retention, water infiltration and soil fertility. The net effect of this approach has been the reduction of crop failure due to droughts and the increase on yields resulting in improvements for food security and nutrition. Farmers receive technical training on conservation agriculture and use of climate information to plan the farming season. They also receive guidance on how to run field experiments that help them compare different practices and select the best resilient practices.

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Muacheia Julião is among the farmers who is benefiting from the program. She referred that conservation agriculture reduced the risk of losing her crops. “Now I use mulch to cover the soil and moisture is retained in the soil thus, the plants can continue [to] use it for their growth. I also use improved seeds and climate information to plan my farming activities. Therefore, I reduce the risk of crop failure,” she completes.

CARE International in Mozambique
Margarida Simbine, Project Manager Adaptation Learning Program
T: +258-21-492-064 / 066

“The Monster: Blade of Darkness”: The Novel with an ELP Footprint in It

by Alexander Iscenco, Moldova, ELP 2013
Written on September 13, 2014.

My name is Alexander, and I come from the small but cozy country of Moldova. Besides being a researcher, co-founder of MEGA, and an alumnus of Beahrs ELP in 2013, I am also a poet and writer.

Last month I published my largest novel so far entitled The Monster: Blade of Darkness. It is a science fiction novel about the adventures of two Americans, a biologist and a hunter, on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. There they attempt to solve the mystery of an unknown species of dinosaur-like animal that threatens the inhabitants of the island and researchers of a scientific laboratory located there. Besides the adventurous plot with the spice of a romantic story, the novel contains a number of powerful messages, the core one being about the interrelations between Human and Nature and how they might develop in the future.

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I had been writing The Monster: Blade of Darkness since 2000. It is then I decided to turn my ideas into a book… in fact, three books, as I decided to make The Monster a trilogy in order to lead readers to the core messages step-by-step in a logical manner. The text of the first book in the trilogy entitled The Monster: Blade of Darkness was finished in July – August 2013, which means that the final chapters had been written and shaped up during my time in California, US, at Beahrs ELP.

Indeed, a small room at Foothill Student Residence within the UC Berkeley campus is where I wrote the concluding chapters of my most elaborate novel so far. The description of the final battle among the tall trees of the distant island and of its outcome was thus laid down on paper and then transferred to a Word document under the warm Californian sun shining through the window of my room there.

Here in 2013 the Moldovan writer Alexandr Iscenco was writing his first large novel The Monster: Blade of Darkness.

Here in 2013 the Moldovan writer Alexandr Iscenco was writing his first large novel The Monster: Blade of Darkness.

There were also some take-aways from the ELP that were integrated in The Monster: Blade of Darkness. For instance, the structure of global environmental governance envisioned in the novel was based on the learning points from some of the ELP sessions. And the trip to the Muir Woods National Monument during the program allowed me to imagine and actually experience the forest described in the book.

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All in all, the time spent in California during Beahrs ELP now has its small footprint in my newly published book The Monster: Blade of Darkness. The book can now be found at the online bookstore on its official website, as well as in the major web bookstores and book clubs worldwide, such as Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Goodreads, etc. So, you can get it there and join Jessie and Jack in their sci-fi adventures of uncovering the mystery of the Monster.

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Nowadays the novel is available in Russian and English. The Polish and Ukrainian translations are already in progress. And one day perhaps you will see The Monster: Blade of Darkness in your own language. For that I suggest you to follow the updates on the novel’s official blog.

So, dear friend, enjoy the book! And I am looking forward to see your creative masterpiece one day!

Clash of the Geoengineering Titans: Poking the Raging Beast

by Alexander Iscenco, Moldova, ELP 2013
Written on August 25, 2014.

“…The planet is no longer a patient observer and victim of human intervention. It is now a raging beast that we continue to poke. And geoengineering might well be regarded as poking it even more…” – That was one of the conclusions of the first international Climate Engineering Conference (CEC 2014) that took place in Berlin on August 18 – 21, 2014, under the topic “Critical Global Discussions.” The speakers and participants of the conference included such prominent scientists, economists, politicians, and writers, as Prof. Dr. Mark Lawrence, Dr. Georg Schütte, Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Klaus Töpfer, Dr. Harry Lehmann, Mr. Jamais Casico, Mr. Rene Röspel, Mr. Oliver Morton, and others. I managed to participate in it as an ELP alum with the generous support from IASS Potsdam.

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The discussions at CEC 2014 were indeed critical considering the controversy around the topic of geoengineering. As the conference website explains, geoengineering, also known as climate engineering, is a combination of “technologies and techniques for intentionally manipulating the global climate, in order to moderate or forestall the (most severe) effects of climate change.” These technologies can be organized into two categories:

  1. Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) that aims to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and includes Carbon Capture and Storage underground facilities, afforestation, ocean fertilization, etc.
  2. Solar Radiation Management, or Sunlight Reflection Methods (SRM) are methods of minimizing the amount of solar energy and heat reaching the Earth’s atmosphere by either reflecting sunrays away from the planet with large space mirrors, or dispersing them in the planet’s atmosphere by creating artificial clouds or spreading sulfur dioxide particles into the atmosphere.

As one can see, these are rather drastic methods requiring enormous investments that influence the climate and hence life all over the globe. Moreover, we still know very little about such technologies and the climatic system they should have effect upon. So, there is much anxiety regarding the potential unforeseen negative consequences and risks associated with geoengineering. And last but not least, it raises a multitude of questions and heated discussions about ethics and equity of experimenting with these technologies, not to mention deploying them.

And this is exactly what happened at CEC 2014. The questions discussed ranged from “What is so special about geoengineering and why should we put so much attention to it?” to “Will the global society be prepared for the sudden rise of support for geoengineering due to governmental approval or, let’s say, Rupert Murdoch’s supportive tweet? And for the consequences it will bring to the environment and society?”

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Certainly, the participants of the conference included both active supporters of geoengineering and its active opponents. The “clashes of the geoengineering titans” happened mostly around three topics: the possible military use of climate engineering technologies; the potential of experiments with such technologies and their deployment to redirect attention from actual climate change mitigation (that is, prioritizing “treating symptoms” over “fighting the disease”); and the possible and currently unknown consequences of geoengineering on the developing countries (climate equity issue) and the planet as a whole.

Right from the beginning of the conference there was a document, the so-called Berlin Declaration, proposed for participants’ support and signature. This document called upon governments, research funding organizations and scientific and professional bodies to give approval or endorsement of any experiments on geoengineering (especially SRM) ONLY in the case of these experiments having an open and transparent review process and the “social licence” necessary for them to operate. However, the conference organizers immediately communicated that the Berlin Declaration is not and will never be an official output of CEC 2014 and that signing it is the personal decision of each participant. During the conference, the document had been renamed to A Framework for More Democratic Governance of Climate Engineering, also known as the Scandic Principles, and enriched with the list of risks the geoengineering experiments that should be taken into account and a more detailed description of transparency, open governance and other principles to regulate geoengineering technologies. Still, the document remained as an unofficial individual initiative and was not the official public output of the event.

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All in all, the 5-day conference, including its open-for-public panel “The Anthropocene – An Engineered Age?” on August, 21, 2014, at the House of World Cultures in Berlin, concluded that geoengineering must not be a substitute for climate change mitigation and that much care and regulation is needed before we can move forward to large-scale experiments and implementation of these technologies. Still, many questions remain to be discussed and answered. And thus the true “clashes of geoengineering titans” are yet to come.

Securing food and rural livelihoods in a changing climate in Ghana

by Evelyn Asante-Yeboah, Ghana, ELP 2014
Written on July 20, 2014.

Agriculture in Africa is highly vulnerable to impacts of climate change, manifested through increased drought and flood severity, more intense storms, shifts in the timing and distribution of rainfall, warmer temperatures, and secondary effects such as increased pest and disease pressure. Due to the negative impacts of climate change on agriculture and accelerated rate of the change, coupled with high population growth and a shift in food preference, food security everywhere is threatened. Food security in Africa is profoundly affected by climate change, which is occurring on top of rapid population growth, fast-paced urbanization, land-use change, conflict, and degradation of critical environmental services that underpin food and livelihood security.

Agriculture is necessary for provision of food but at a cost to ecosystem services including carbon sequestration. In addition, declined ecosystem services also affect agricultural productivity. Human activities such as forest harvesting for timber and fuelwood, and poor land management practices in the tropics have been noted as major contributors to carbon emission into the atmosphere. Also, due to this relationship between agriculture and climate change and the likelihood of pronounced negative impact in Sub-Saharan Africa, there is the need for agricultural systems in the sub-Saharan Africa to cope and adapt to climate change, since the agricultural industry is mainly rain-fed.

This case is no exception for Ghana. Agriculture, primarily small-scale, is the backbone of Ghana’s economy with the humid zone being one of the major food producing zones. Agriculture accounts for 35% of the Gross Domestic Product of Ghana. However, poor management of trees on agricultural farms in Ghana due to the policies governing the use of trees on farms usually leads to farmers destroying trees or retaining a very few number of trees on agricultural lands. This is because these farmers have no real incentive to retain trees, especially timber species, on their agricultural land. Also, the customary land tenure system accounts for 78% in Ghana, 20% is held under public land and the remaining 2% is held between the government and the customary owners. However, poor rural female farmers have less access to ownership of land for agricultural farming. With this traditional land tenure system, females often lose land normally reserved for growing crops for household consumption to give way for commercial crops and they are often excluded from policy making negotiations.

Not only is loss of trees on agricultural farms a major problem, but also the knowledge on post-harvest logistics in a more environmental friendly manner, agricultural biodiversity as means of controlling pest and increasing yield in a changing climate, land use planning and organic farming are major challenges both at the policy and farmer level.

My passion is to transfer the knowledge needed to deal with the above mentioned adaption measures in agriculture as a result of the increasing impact of climate changes from the ELP program to Ghana and to acquire integrated (multi- and trans-disciplinary) approaches in solving agricultural vulnerabilities of global concern.

Is technology either good or bad?

by Christian Damholt, Denmark, ELP 2014
Written on July 28, 2014.

The Beahrs ELP really had me thinking about the different understandings of technology. Common sense tells us that we need technological innovations to meet the challenges of climate change. On the other hand, we have yet to see large-scale trends towards a more sustainable use of natural resources. Maybe our understanding of technology is a part of the roots to the problems?

During the ELP course we had lectures with several different academic understandings of technology. Professor in ethics and technology, Dane Scott gave one of these lectures. He believed that it’s possible and theoretically productive on a general level to differentiate between people who are optimistic about the opportunities of technology and the so-called technological pessimists. Another dichotomy might be the one between environmental economics and ecological economics. On the one hand may be represented by scholars like David Zilberman and on the other hand agro-ecologists like Claire Kremen (she might be unfairly treated here). The first, stresses the functioning of the price mechanism in “the market” and technology is often treated as a mediating variable and as the means to a more sustainable development. Technicalities disturbing the price mechanism must be fixed and people can become creative in response to the market force. This potentially gives a positive understanding of technology. The latter, often building on ecological or more sociological ideas, finds that the expansion of markets and associated externalities resulting from production and consumption, often leads to environmental degradation. This approach emphasises natural limits to exploitation of nature. However, this perspective seems often based on the assumptions that technological changes will only lead to worse outcomes. Thus, the perspectives have a tendency to have a negative view on technology. The problem however is the generalised understandings of technology.

I will suggest an alternative and more historicist way of evaluating technology. Technology is always used by certain people to relate to other people. Thus, the importance of technology cannot be separated from the use of the technology within society. This makes the separation between optimist and pessimists worthless. Moreover, technology can’t be entirely separated from history and a wider set of technologies. For instance Edison’s light bulb wouldn’t have been successfully introduced if it were not for a system of electricity. Furthermore, most innovations should be understood as cumulative since they build on or modify pre-existing technologies.

Technology provides new opportunities to face specific problems for some people and hence will be taken into use for strategic purposes within society such as delivering energy. An analysis of successful technology would thus benefit from an investigation of the broader societal developments such as culture, economy and ideology informing the aim and strategies of the agents. In this way innovation of new technology is not just driven by “technological processes” or economic exigencies, but can be seen as an expression of the wider social order. The aim of the scientist or the practitioner is hence to constantly reassess the dynamics of social relations in order to explain the significance and value of a technology. This means that there can be no general theory of technology in itself. Every technology is a social technology.

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