Natural capital can be defined as ‘elements of nature that directly or indirectly produce value to people, including ecosystems, species, freshwater, land, minerals, the air and oceans’.
The natural capital metaphor was first used by economist E.F. Schumacher in the 1970's. However, over the last 10 years, the natural capital concept has grown in popularity as some parts of government, business and the voluntary sector have tried to accentuate how and why the environment matters to people. In particular, rapid degradation has led policymakers to seek solutions to restore biodiversity stocks, which potentially offers significant new income streams for landowners.
Natural capital is composed of many assets, including peatlands, soils, wetlands, and urban green spaces. However, it also specifically refers to the elements of the natural environment which provide valuable goods and services to people, such as erosion control and crop pollination by insects, which ensures the long-term viability of other natural resources. Woodlands can also be regarded as a natural capital asset, as it provides valuable benefits and ecosystem services such as flood risk reduction and carbon capture.
As a country that is endowed with rich natural capital and biodiversity, Kenya’s unique topography, soils, plants, animals, and people, creates a locally distinct ecosystem that underpins the country’s prosperity. In fact it is among one of the world’s richest biodiversity nations, hosting over 7,000 plant species and many endemic, endangered and threatened animal species. It is this diversity and abundance of wildlife that has fostered a US$1.3 billion tourist industry, attracting 2.25million people in 2018 - a 31.2% increase from the previous year, which is undoubtedly set to rise year on year.
Kenyans depend on ecosystem services for their livelihood and well-being. For example, they depend on wild and cultivated foods, the use of indigenous and native trees for medicinal purposes, and services such as soil erosion control and crop pollination. Although dilapidating rapidly, Kenya’s forests and woodlands also provide timber and fuel woods for urban and rural communities.
Many countries around the world fail to properly account for natural capital, which has meant that natural assets are often over-exploited for short term gains rather than maintained for their long-term benefits. However, the Kenyan Government recognises that the sustainable management and conservation of natural capital and biodiversity is essential for maximising production of natural resources and sustaining economic growth.
What we require at this stage is to assign further value to these natural spaces, so that they can be included in decision-making processes that facilitate Kenya’s transition to a green economy. In doing so, their Natural Capital can be used to deliver vital ecosystem services that benefit society whilst conserving their natural heritage that underpins their entire economy.
Similarly to the Moringa Tree, the Neem Tree has a whole host of nutritional and healing properties. In India, the tender shoots and flowers of the Neem tree can be eaten as a vegetable. In Tamil Nadu a soup-like dish using the flower of the Neem is prepared, and in Bengal, the young Neem leaves are cooked in oil and tossed together with eggplant - usually served with rice as an appetiser.
Products and food made from Neem trees have been used in India for over two millennia for their medicinal properties. It is believed by Ayurvedic practitioners that Neem acts as an anti fungal, antibacterial, antiviral, contraceptive and sedative agent, also used for healthy hair, to improve liver function, detoxify the blood, balance blood sugar levels and to treat skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis.
Many medicinal trees like Neem, are in abundance in the Amazon rainforest - Brazil’s greatest natural resource and invaluable to the rest of the world. Ranging from anxiety to infertility, cancer and AIDS, these medicinal plants have long been used by ancient civilisations for their powerful medicinal properties, and used to heal all ailments that face mankind. In Western modern medicine, around 25% of all drugs are derived from rainforest plants. That’s an impressive statistic, especially considering that less than 5% of Amazon plant species have been studied for their potential medicinal benefits.
Jon Vidal’s recent article highlights how the increasing demand for wood, minerals and resources from the global north leads to the degraded landscapes and ecological disruption that drives disease. In many ways, it is humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses such as Covid-19 to emerge, highlighting how our relationship with nature is flawed.
We have much to learn from the natural world, as we’ve only likely discovered a small percentage of plants that are beneficial to us. As such, exploring further will provide us with infinite opportunities to cure, prevent or mitigate such devastating infectious diseases that ultimately pose a significant threat to global health, security, and the economy.
Could climate change potentially reactivate pathogens as deadly as the 1918 Spanish flu, smallpox and bubonic plague?
In our previous blog post we comment on how humanity’s destruction of biodiversity is creating new and unprecedented conditions for new viruses such as Covid-19 to thrive. If anything, this pandemic shows the severity of the climate crisis, and how it has the potential of unleashing foreign microbes from unexplored places that inevitably come into contact with human beings.
Back in 2003, civets and snakes were briefly banned in China as it was discovered they likely transferred the SARS virus to humans. Although the use of wild animals is culturally embedded; for consumption, traditional medicine, and clothing to name a few, there is an increased risk of virus transmission when these exotic animals from different environments are kept in close proximity to one another. It provides a breeding ground for viruses to jump from one species to another, giving them reason to amplify, mutate, and develop into something much worse. If humans continue to encroach on these biodiversity hotspots, nature will find its way of fighting back.
Decomposing animal carcasses in thawing permafrost are likely to have a notable impact too. In 2016, Russia experienced an outbreak of Anthrax, thought to be induced by warming global temperatures. During a heatwave, the thawing permafrost (which can be more than 1,000 ft deep in some places), exposed a reindeer carcass that was infected with anthrax decades ago. Once frozen, the dormant spores of anthrax bacteria reignited and spread across the tundra, infecting reindeer grazing nearby who picked up the disease and transmitted it to humans.
Disease transmission from animals to humans is going to increase as temperatures continue to rise, because alterations in temperature, wind, and precipitation patterns can indirectly affect the pathogen’s reproduction and transmission rates. With this in mind, people must understand that the adverse impacts of climate change could potentially reactivate pathogens as deadly as the 1918 Spanish flu, smallpox and bubonic plague, that may well be trapped in tundra across the globe.
As we all slow down and readjust our priorities, there is an opportunity to think about how we can rebuild again, and how we move forward in the wake of this disaster. Although it is easy to feel physically isolated at a time like this, we are mentally and emotionally connected through a shared global experience that will ultimately bring us closer together. Our relationship with nature is highly flawed, and we have much to learn from the natural world. But, through collective action we can simultaneously address this global health crisis and mobilise interventions that prevent global temperatures exceeding 1.5 degrees by 2030.
Termed the ‘Miracle Tree’ or ‘Tree of Life’, the Moringa Tree is one of the most nutrient-dense plants on the planet. This fast growing, drought-resistant tree is native to North-Western India, and has, for centuries been prized for its nutritional and healing properties. Persistent droughts, soil degradation and malnutrition are increasing. However, the Moringa thrives in arid and semi-arid environments, tolerating a wide range of soils ranging from old, depleted pasture lands to lands bordering desertification. As such, it is a particularly useful source for food during dry seasons.
The Moringa Tree can play a vital role in combatting malnutrition in Asia and Africa, as the young leaves, stalks, and pods can be eaten as a vegetable. When grown from cuttings, the first harvest can be taken within six months of planting. Fruits often do not appear in the first year, and for the first few years yields are generally low. However, by year two a single tree can produce around 300 pods, by year three around 400-500 and more than 1000 in subsequent years.
When broken down, the wealth of natural minerals and compounds contained within the plant are some of the most important essential nutrients for human health and well-being. The leaves and seeds are packed with 27 vitamins, 9 essential amino acids, 46 anti-oxidants, numerous minerals, and high concentrations of protein. Studies have shown the micro-nutrient content is even greater when dried.
For example, it is an extremely rich source of antioxidants such as quercetin and chlorogenic acid. For people who deal with diabetes and high blood sugar, regular consumption of Moringa leaves, roots and seeds can help to significantly lower blood sugar levels. Other studies have found that they can help to regulate hormonal imbalances, alleviate stress, reduce fatigue, improve digestive health, and fight colds and infections.
What is more, a paste made from the leaves can provide anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory treatment for insect bites, wounds or fungal skin problems, and crushed seeds can be used to aid cramps, rheumatism, arthritis, and as a natural antibiotic.
Agroecology shares much in common with other approaches to sustainable farming. In fact, it integrates a whole host of practices such as organic farming, regenerative agriculture, and some aspects of permaculture, therefore contributing to sustainable development. In essence, it is a farming technique that allows agricultural practices to be respectful of the local environment and its ecological specificities.
Farming works best when working in conjunction with local ecosystems, for example, improving the quality and productivity of soil with biomass and available biodiversity, rather than using chemical alternatives. This may seem similar to organic farming, and it is, as it guarantees animal welfare, and the use of fewer pesticides, antibiotics and GMOs.
Growing crops beneath trees creates a sheltered microclimate for the plants whilst the trees deep roots bring nutrients to the surface. This creates a win-win situation for farmers, as this provides them with food security and balanced nutrition through greater crop yields, additional tree crop (such as timber, fruit or biomass), but also enables them to diversify their output, therefore protecting them from market and environmental volatility.
At both local and global levels we are facing multiple food system challenges; drought, soil degradation, flooding, biodiversity collapse and malnutrition. However, through the reintroduction of biodiversity and diversity of crops, this inexpensive technique is simple to implement and highly effective, allowing farmers to build upon what they already have, work with nature, and develop solutions to their own problem. As such, we can see how agroecology helps to minimise the pressures on the environment and allows for an alternative food and farming system.
As global warming reaches historical new highs, both corporates and individuals are increasingly looking towards concrete climate change solutions to reverse, or at least mitigate the severe damage that has already occurred.
Tree planting is the one of the worlds biggest and cheapest ways of absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. During photosynthesis trees absorb and store carbon, later using it to build new materials such as trunks, stems and roots that facilitate their growth. CO2 removal through reforestation will help offset emissions from sectors like aviation where alternatives are not yet available.
However, the amount of carbon stored in trees depends on a number of factors, such as growth conditions in the environment, tree species, age of tree, and the density of surrounding trees. As such, it is relatively difficult to quantify the exact amount of carbon that can be sequestered. But trees are much more than ‘carbon sinks’.
A large majority of tree planting that occurs often takes place at a localised level. At such a small scale, trees offer a great deal of benefits to host communities, such as poverty reduction, food security, and economic empowerment. They are are valued for their localised function, by increasing resilience, promoting diversification, improving local economies and enhancing sustainability. Ultimately, the trees act as both a mitigation and adaptation strategy for climate change, which is vital if we are to reduce global emissions.
Another method of sustainable tree planting is Agroforestry - a land management system, where trees and crops are grown together. This unique land management practice can help relieve the pressure of overgrazed land, reduce erosion and increase biodiversity. It is also capable of improving water infiltration, thereby increasing soil fertility for agriculture and improving the microclimate.
That’s what we’re doing at Keystone. Using blended finance to fund live projects in Kenya, we’re planting trees that mitigate climate change and create the next generation of environmental stewards.
Everyone has a carbon footprint. It refers to the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of your daily life and activities. We should care about our carbon footprint because the lower it is, the better it is for the planet.
So what is carbon sequestration?
Carbon sequestration is the capture of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to slow or reverse atmospheric CO2 pollution, and to mitigate or reverse global warming. There are a variety of ways that carbon can be sequestered. These include plants and trees absorbing it through photosynthesis, the sequestration of carbon by mangroves, absorption through the ocean and the special role that phytoplankton play.
Mangroves are powerhouses when it comes to carbon storage. According to a new study in Nature Geoscience, mangroves can sequester four times more carbon than rainforests can, but most of this carbon is stored in the soil below.
Mangrove forests also provide a number of vital ecological services such as protection from nutrient cycling, and act as a vital buffer against storm surges caused by cyclones. In addition, fish rarely breed in the deep sea because the conditions are so hostile, and so many prefer mangrove environments as they are protected against predation and strong water currents.
Our climate depends on them, however mass deforestation continues to threaten their numbers and so it is vital that we provide education on how to monitor and where possible, replant these species.
So what role do phytoplankton play?
Half of the oxygen we breathe comes from phytoplankton that are found in the ocean. These organisms consume copious amounts of carbon dioxide, just as carbon is stored in the wood and leaves of a tree. It then transforms it into oxygen during photosynthesis, subsequently emitting this oxygen back into the atmosphere.
Over time, the remains of planktonic organisms slowly sink to the bottom of the ocean, creating a layer of carbon-rich organic particles that build up and gradually transform into hydrocarbons that sit at the bottom of the ocean. As such, this becomes a huge carbon sink, allowing the sequestration of carbon to occur on a huge scale.
Protecting our oceans is of vital importance, and we’re doing just that through our mangrove restoration project on the Coast of Kenya, that helps improve water quality by filtering pollutants, while stabilising and improving soil conditions so that they are able to capture as much carbon as possible.