Agricultural lands cover more than 1/3 of Earth’s land surface and account for an estimated 20% of all CO2eq emissions from human activities. (FAO, 2017)
Today several social, environmental and economic constraints threaten the resource base that agriculture depends on. In particular, the marginalisation of smallholder farmers’ rights, practices and knowledge which hinder sustainable food production systems and widen vulnerability levels amongst local communities.
Research shows that regenerative agricultural systems have the potential to curb climate change by reducing emissions and capturing carbon. Here, soil organic carbon sequestration, an enhanced carbon sink is the most effective mechanism.
A shift towards organic farming techniques enables food sustainability and provides a set of farmer friendly solutions for climate resilience.
As a programme officer at CREP, a Kenyan agricultural and environmental conservation NGO, we have spent the last 6 years empowering community farmer groups in North East Kano through our agro-ecological programmes.
Our farming groups implement a series of organic production practices that optimise nutrients, energy flows and minimises supply chain risks during adverse and extreme weather events.
On a granular level, by increasing soil biological activity, we are able to maintain long-term soil fertility and minimise the use of non-renewable resources leading to enhanced biological diversity and vital ecosystem improvements in the local communities.
In addition, farmer groups experience significant economic gains through advances in safe crop production systems, food security, family nutrition, health and education within their households.
Application of organics
With no external farm inputs, such as synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, we are able to control carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions.
Farmers use organic manures through integrated livestock production which enhance waste management systems and minimise emissions of greenhouse gases through composting and fermentation of bio-fertilisers.
For the last few years, most small holder farmers within the project areas have been grappling with the fight against crop devastating worm (fall army worms) which have spread in many maize growing regions.
This has forced numerous farmers to apply chemical pesticides with adverse effects including more resistant worms and burnt crops.
In response, our programme puts into practice the production of bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides to tackle the challenges faced by farmers in a sustainable way.
In 2018, during the short rainy season 40 litres of sulphur brew, later named “LIMSA-B” were prepared for trial. A total of 55 maize farmers experiencing high worm infestations in 3 regions were targeted. The results were very impressive with reduced worms, increased growth rate of crops and neighbouring farmers requesting bio-pesticides for their farms.
Our programme took good note and in 2019, during the long rainy season we prepared and mixed 60 litres of the same bio-pesticide and 100 litres of Super Magro (foliar feed) for over 80 farmers.
We soon witnessed small plots drastically improving crop yields, soil quality, water efficiency and controlling pests, as they adapt to climate shifts.
The final product, aptly named “BIO-COMBINED” is by far the farmers' best option and is 100% environmentally friendly.
Since our trials, the product has reached over 200 farmers and students from colleges & universities related to CREP.
Our next milestone is to get the national agricultural policy to support these climate smart, organic farming practices as part of their climate adaptation and mitigation strategy.
Only by stepping up this agenda of change to the national level, are we able to seriously contribute to achieving the SDGs, Kenya’s Big Four Agenda & Climate Action Agenda 2030 in an integrated and comprehensive manner.
Geoffrey Omondi, Crep Programme (TreeKenya Parnters)
Photo: Hailey Tucker
Organics are produced and processed through a system that encourages biological natural cycles, allowing farm animals to exhibit natural behaviour, whilst excluding the use of synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilisers, antibiotics and genetically modified organisms.
Why do we support organic agriculture?
Well, it’s easy to manage and cheap. The fertiliser and pesticide products are chemical free using locally available, organic materials that do not interfere with the soil and environment.
We like to follow 4 simple, organic principles:
Organic agriculture is geared towards achieving health in plants, animals, human beings and the whole planet. Holistic approaches to health are best achieved when the individuals health is embedded in the ecosystem. In human health we think in-terms of social, mental, physical and ecological well being exhibited in immunity, resilience and regeneration.
It follows that our harvest should fit the cycles and ecological balances in nature. Ecological balance can be attained through the design of farming systems, establishment of habitats and maintenance of genetic and agriculture diversity.
Organic agriculture is based on living ecological systems and cycles. These systems are the living soil, farm ecosystem, and aquatic ecosystem. Inputs should be reduced by reuse, recycling and efficient management.
Animals should be provided with the conditions and opportunities of life that accord with their physiology, natural behaviour and wellbeing. Natural and environmental resources that are sued for production and consumption should be managed in such a way that is socially and ecologically just and should be held in trust for future generations.
Fairness is cultivated through equity, respect, justice and stewardship of shared world, both among people and in relations to other living things. The relationship cultivated should ensure fairness in all levels and to all parties: farmers, workers, processors, distributors, traders and consumers.
Now back to our beans. They were planted using animal manure, sprayed with plant extracts with traps for any insects which might interfere with the produce.
This way the beans are produced in a healthy manner optimising microorganisms in the soil with care to eliminate chemical residues.
Our farmer managed to produce 10 bags each 90kgs within a half acre to feed her family and sell the surplus locally to improve food security and fairness in the community.
Regina Muthama, Katoloni Missions (TreeKenya Parnters)
Tree planting in Kenya has been boosted by the efforts of the Government of Kenya through the Ministry of Environment and Forestry liaising with other non-governmental and private actors. What is clear, is that there is more value out there than just adding to the forest cover especially when organic farming practices are adopted. Firstly, going organic enhances food production and increases the number of beneficiaries, particularly in less developed parts of the world. This is shown by the increase in market value of organic farming products over the years and the fact that countries in Africa, Asia and South America lead in the number of organic producers.
When conventional agriculture focuses on maximising large scale mono cropping of mainly hybrid commodities, we see an over-reliance on the use of fertilizers and chemicals to control pests, both of which lead to more acidity in the soil and massive death of microbes. By contrast, organic farming takes a holistic approach to crop production giving attention to environmental conservation, soil fertility and water systems. These organic inputs not only rival their chemical counterparts but leave the soils richer and plants robust enough to withstand the shocks of climatic changes or pest infestation.
For example, the root structures of our organic maize variety are hardy and hold the soils better. You will note the shine on the organic variety and the frail look of the hybrid stalk. So, alongside the overwhelming environmental benefits, we see organic farming actually producing higher yielding, more valuable crops.
The one other major advantage of organic practices, use of local or indigenous seeds and saplings is that the farmer is empowered by having the choice and source of inputs as opposed to the system which dis-empowers and leaves them at the mercy of the merchants of hybrid & exotic seeds, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
In Kenya, many organizations are already practicing organic farming. Leaders in the pack are the 50 plus members of Schools and Colleges Permaculture programme (SCOPE) and Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Association. The Resources Oriented Development Initiatives (RODI), a founder member of both associations has gone further to host two international workshops on biofertilizers and other organic farming inputs.
As the partners of TreeKenya embark on tree planting in the country, there is every reason to go organic for the environment and future of our planet.
Gachora N Waweru, RODI Kenya (TreeKenya Partners)
We are very pleased to announce that our organic cooperative programme, TreeKenya is now registered with Plan Vivo Foundation.
Over the next few months we are raising capital to regenerate smallholder farms and schools across Kenya with a strong rate of return for our impact investors through carbon credits and organic harvest sales.
More than cooperative
TreeKenya certifies small-scale farms and schools organic connecting them to local and regional markets for selling their produce at the best price.
As a gender equitable, community-based programme we are able to give equality of opportunity to women, men and children. Our proposed target groups are rural communities that face many problems including; gender inequity, inadequate skills and knowledge in agroecology, declining soil fertility, decline in crop productivity, desertification, high incidence of pests and diseases, locust plagues, low diversification of agricultural enterprises at the farm level and low access to affordable and friendly credit.
Through going organic, we are able to increase income and food security for participants, while reducing environmental degradation and regenerating their land. Our activities include agroforestry, afforestation and agroecology to achieve high yielding, organic crops and indigenous trees ready to harvest for superfood, cosmetic and medicinal production worldwide.
That way the programme will generate impactful, high returns for our investors through long-term, verifiable carbon credits and farmer off-take agreements.
Plan Vivo as a certification body
Plan Vivo administers the Plan Vivo Standard – a proven framework for community land use and forestry projects.
By certifying projects worldwide, they demonstrate sustainability, ensure that people’s livelihoods truly benefit and vital ecosystems are restored.
What's more the Standard is internationally recognised for its focus on ethical and fairly-traded climate services, meaning a greater share of climate finance (60%+) reaches those who most need it.
Keystone is honoured to work with the Foundation and see TreeKenya create measurable impact!
It is without doubt that the pandemic has impacted our food supply chain - An industry once evolved to feed a globalised world has now been scaled back to the local level in some cases…
As part of China’s economic transformation in the 1990s, they increased their food production systems to industrial scale. One notable side effect of this meant that small-holder farmers were undercut and pushed entirely out of the livestock industry. In a bid to search for new ways to earn a living, many turned to farming ‘wild’ species that had previously only been eaten for subsistence.
At the time, this was seen as a profitable sector and ‘wild food’ was formalised, increasingly becoming branded as a luxury food item. However, the smallholder farmers were not only pushed out economically, but geographically as well. This is evident through the exponential growth of industrial farming which acquired huge swathes of land, thereby encouraging small-scale farmers to cultivate closer to the forest edge and in forbidden territories. As our planet’s population continues to increase, so too does the occurrence of humans encroaching into exotic places and valuable ecosystems, and the risk of exacerbating infectious diseases becomes ever more apparent.
Similarly, the Chinese ‘wet markets’ alone present a further 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. In recent decades human infections of animal origin have been widely documented, such as the Asian Flu in 1956, SARS in 2002, and H7N9 which killed four in ten people. If humans continue to interfere on these biodiversity hotspots, nature will find its way of fighting back.
Most of the attention so far has been focused on the deplorable conditions of ‘wet markets’ in China. It is without doubt that these wet markets will need to be better regulated, but it is also important to look at how our food is produced on a global scale.
While scientists do not have a definite answer to how exactly COVID-19 originated, it is believed that other pandemic virus threats such as swine flu and bird flu almost certainly evolved at pig and chicken factory farms. Links have already been established between increased pandemic risks and intensive animal agriculture, hence there should be a stronger focus on factory farm conditions, and possibly rethink how we can feed our populations in a safe way. Maybe we should all just turn Vegan?
The pandemic has also highlighted the poor conditions in the meat processing industry. In recent weeks Germany has seen several coronavirus outbreaks among meat factory employees and has even put two districts in western Germany in quarantine after more than 1,550 workers at the Tönnies slaughterhouse were infected with the disease. There is undoubtedly a need for better regulations here too.
As we have spent more time in lockdown, people have become more attuned with the nature that surrounds them. Many people have even tried growing their own food, which is certainly a positive development for the future. In line with this, urban farming and vertical farming will become more crucial. Localising food production will lead to significant cuts in fossil fuel consumption, help consumers reduce their carbon footprint, and help provide them with the opportunity to purchase food that has been grown in their community.
With our planet's population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, there's no escaping the fact that food production around the world needs to increase while also ensuring citizens’ health is kept in check. It is important now that we use our voices and vote for those who will hold agribusiness to higher standards on social and ecological grounds, take an active stance against the illegal wildlife trade and encourage the localisation of food production so that future generations can be sustained.
Even though the Covid-19 pandemic swept across the globe and suffocated the global economy, deforestation has continued largely unchecked. Every day, vast swaths of tropical forests are burnt to a crisp for the production of agricultural commodities such as soybeans, palm oil, and beef that end up on our supermarket shelves. Not only does deforestation release huge amounts of carbon already stored in trees and soils, but it also eliminates the future potential of the forest to sequester additional carbon as the land is cleared and burned. Protecting and restoring these forests and natural landscapes are equally as important as eliminating our fossil fuel use to help mitigate the effects of climate change.
At Keystone we’re integrating agroforestry practices on the ground. Agroforestry is a land management system that enables both trees and crops to grow together. First we begin by acknowledging the individual climatic and soil conditions, as it helps us determine which native trees and crops are able to survive the sparse and degraded landscapes. By carefully choosing native species, we are able to regenerate the land and reinvigorate it to its true state.
This unique system is designed to improve the quality and productivity of society and the environment, all the while increasing food security through greater crop yields - turning our negative ecological impact into a positive. It also helps relieve the pressure of overgrazed land, reduces erosion, increases biodiversity and is capable of improving water infiltration which is vital for increasing soil fertility for agriculture and ameliorating the microclimate.
The programme will bring about huge social benefits, such as increasing the farmers’ self-reliance, by encouraging them to supplement and diversify their diet with the plethora of crops that will be grown. Furthermore, it will strengthen the local communities and invigorate the local economy by providing an opportunity for many to sell their surplus crops.
Agroforestry is part of a growing movement for sustainable and organic agricultural practices. It has taken on a new urgency with the recent coronavirus pandemic as scientists warn that the climate crisis and escalated land development will heighten the chances of another deadly virus jumping from animals to humans. The fears of another global pandemic on the horizon could be the very reason that more sustainable agricultural practices are introduced to help reinvigorate our planet.
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., which will in turn help offset emissions from sectors like aviation where alternatives are not yet available.
The roots of ESG emerge from Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), where money is not invested in companies that engage in environmentally and socially irresponsible practices. In fact the first instance of SRI dates back 200 years ago where the Methodist movement protested against investing in companies that were involved with making weapons and tobacco. The main difference between SRI and ESG lies in the fact that investing based on ESG criteria is considered to make financial sense as well, and is not solely tied to a moralistic stance against unethical businesses.
As such, ESG investing began in January 2004 when former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan wrote to over 50 CEOs of major financial institutions, inviting them to participate in a joint initiative under the auspices of the UN Global Compact and with the support of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Swiss Government. The goal of the initiative was to find ways to integrate ESG into capital markets.
A year later this initiative produced a report titled ‘Who cares Wins’. The report made the case that embedding environmental, social and governance factors in capital markets makes good business sense and leads to more sustainable markets and better outcomes for societies. And it does. At the same time, a similar report called the ‘Freshfield Report’ was produced by UNEP, which highlighted how ESG issues are particularly relevant for financial valuation. Together, these two reports formed the backbone for the launch of the Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI) at the New York Stock Exchange in 2006 and the launch of the Sustainable Stock Exchange Initiative (SSEI) a year later.
Today, the PRI now has 1600 members representing assets worth over $70 trillion. As the effects of the climate crisis are felt more widely and accepted, it is without doubt that ESG compliance is going to become increasingly important. Already we have seen ESG investments accelerating, most evident between 2014-2016 where ESG commitment had increase by 41% - amounting to $8.4 trillion worth of assets according to the GSIA.
Interestingly, investments in green stocks and companies during the coronavirus have faired much better as a result of their ESG parameters, and are as such reaping better financial results. All in all it emphasises how they are proving to be more resilient in the downturn, and yet still retaining all the impact they are having.
The greatest barrier that is currently preventing ESG compliance to be the norm is the lack of data available to stakeholders. The ESG ecosystem involves investors, governments, international regulators and data providers, where the data providers are the backbone of this ecosystem and the ones to fuel all the other members’ decisions. What we need now is the government to prioritise and work towards providing high resolution data such as AI and satellite imagery, that will provide stakeholders with the necessary information so that they can invest with confidence. Prioritising these efforts is imperative if we are to mitigate climate-change disasters that are now happening far too often.
Green Finance refers to new financial instruments whose proceeds are used for sustainable development projects, initiatives, environmental products and policies under the single goal of promoting a green economic transformation toward low-carbon, sustainable and inclusive pathways. It is constituted of new financial instruments such as green banks, green funds, green bonds and carbon market instruments, and involves engaging traditional capital markets in creating and distributing a range of financial products and services that deliver both investable returns and environmentally positive outcomes.
At the core of today’s globalised economy are financial markets through which banks and investors allocate capital to different sectors. The most important thing to note is that capital allocated today will shape ecosystems, and the production and consumption patterns of the future. Having said this, the public sector funds and development assistance can supply only a small portion of green investments. Therefore, the private sector needs to fill financing gaps for green investments over the long term.
How can this be mobilised at scale?
According to the ADB report Catalyzing Green Finance , the whole financial system needs to be reoriented to support a green economy. To scale up, governments need to team up with a range of actors to increase capital flows and develop innovative financial approaches across different asset classes. In doing so, this can help catalyse the much larger flows of private finance that is necessary to unlock green business innovation on a wider scale.
To facilitate this transition, an enabling framework that promotes green finance will be required to help educate and change people’s mindsets and behaviours. In due course, this could lead to subsidies for fossil fuels being phased out, while subsidies for green products (such as electric vehicles) could be phased in. Disclosure should also be made mandatory, ensuring that companies and banks are made accountable for the environmental damage of the companies that they lend to.
If countries are to achieve sustainable development in line with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, then investments must be made in green areas. That’s why there is a specific need to promote green finance on a large and economically viable scale, as it helps ensure that green investments are prioritised over business-as-usual investments that perpetuate unsustainable growth patterns. This focus should be on the greening of an existing infrastructure, or the spending on and mobilisation of additional investments in key sectors, such as clean energy, sustainable transport, natural resources management, ecosystem services, biodiversity, sustainable tourism, and pollution prevention and control.
During this Covid-19 pandemic, many people are experiencing uncertainties that the most vulnerable communities in our society live with on a day-to-day basis. For example, worries about job security, missing mortgage or rent payments, accessing food, child care, healthcare, education, and even a general sense of feeling trapped in a situation that is well beyond their control.
However, this pandemic has certainly shown people how broken and inequitable our current systems really are, as well as the world’s approach (or lack of) towards tackling the climate crisis. This is not to say that the pandemic created these inequities that we are currently facing. Rather, it has revealed the crises that were already there, and how they are now fairing much worse. If we don’t address these issues as an integral part to our response to the outbreak, we will not only be less resilient to future pandemics and emergencies, but we will prevent ourselves from achieving any kind of ‘new normal’.
Despite the clear warnings from scientists, and the evidence pouring in every day that climate impacts are already being felt on a worldwide scale — fossil fuel companies are still spending billions to lock in more climate pollution. In 2018, roughly $1.2 trillion in investment went to fossil fuels. What’s more shocking is the fossil fuel industry has actually known about the climate crisis for decades. Investigations uncovered that the industry was funding research into carbon pollution and was aware of the dangers of rising global temperatures all the way back in the 1960s. But instead of acting responsibly, they decided to polarise the issue, confuse the public, and essentially delay action.
The IPCC has warned that global temperature rises should be limited to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels in order to keep the worst, most devastating effects of climate change from battering human societies. Yet in May 2020, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere crept up to about 418 parts per million (ppm). This was the highest ever recorded in human history. Recently, UNEP have revealed that to hit that goal, overall human-cause GHG emissions need to start dropping by 7.6% each year from now until 2030 .
The UK has an advanced climate change legislation, whose proposed budgets require the country to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from 695MtCO2e in 2006 to 159MtCO2e by 2050. This is equivalent to an annual average reduction of 3.3%. All of this is achievable, but only if the necessary steps are taken to facilitate a smooth transition to a green economy.
Many people are fearful of life returning ‘back to normal’. That’s because as lockdowns were enforced across the world, people were temporarily locked up and excluded from these natural spaces. During this time, nature has become more visible and our collective impact on the natural world has become more noticeable through its absence. People are once again looking to nature, thinking how might they best preserve this precious planet that we live on.
Despite this eco-anxiety, COVID-19 has given us a glimpse into that future, as we have witnessed a massive decrease in energy demand during global lockdown and a significant increase in the up-take of renewable energy. We have seen renewables delivering almost half (47%) of our electricity generation across Europe - an increase of 9% compared to 2019, and even a drop in coal generation by 32% from 15th March to 17th April 2020. Change is on the horizon.
Climate change is a systemic issue and will demand that businesses take a long-term view and form strategic collaborations on a global scale, rather than focusing solely on the short-term and profitability. This is a significant worry as we build back from the coronavirus crisis, as people feel like they have to choose one or the other; profit or planet. But this is not the case. Instead of being viewed as a cost, the shift to sustainability and circularity should be seen as an opportunity to make a positive impact.
Change is possible. This is evidenced through Orsted, who was once Denmark’s largest coal, oil and gas giant. In 2017 the company decided to phase-out the use of coal for power generation and underwent a significant business model shift to focus entirely on renewable energy. Since then, investors’ share prices have tripled. A decade ago they were one of the most fossil fuel intensive energy companies in Europe. Today they’re ranked as the most sustainable company in the world (based on the Corporate Knights 2020 Global 100 index of most sustainable corporations). They truly epitomise how systemic change can occur through collective action.
From this point in time, we must work with decision makers to move from a short-term and quick-fix mentality to longer-term thinking. This is something we should have and could have done years ago, as the need for these structural changes has been growing for decades. With increased public awareness and the need to build back better, the support for this change is something very new and very exciting.
There has been lots of talk recently on whether the coronavirus crisis will spur a green recovery. Governments around the world are questioning the ability to ‘build back better’, but will they succeed in this? In fact, the determination to use this lockdown period as an opportunity for environmental change stretches far beyond this choice that governments are facing.
Since the Rockefeller Foundation first coined the term in 2008, Impact investing has gained significant traction. One of the reasons for this, is because it is a win-win form of investment. One does not have to give up returns to make an incredible impact.
Impact investing really started taking off after the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. In many ways it takes a crisis for people to change their way of thinking and begin analysing experiences in greater detail. Many people use crises as a period of deep reflection; to reflect not only on their individual experiences, but also others and the world around them. For many, the longer this goes on, the more people’s attitudes and outlooks will change.
Impact investments have for a long time been thought of as producing both financial returns whilst making a positive impact. In many cases, people tend to think that there is some charitable and philanthropic element to impact investing. However, over more recent years there is a growing acceptance that making money and doing good can sit side-by-side. In fact, it’s been doubling in popularity every year. This is evidenced by a recent study with KPMG that showed how impact investments globally assembled $268 billion in 2017 and are poised to cross $468 billion by 2020.
Similarly, a recent report by Imperial College London and the International Energy Agency (IEW) has found that over five years in the UK alone, investments in green energy generated returns of 75.4% compared to just 8.8% for fossil fuels. It also highlighted how green stocks have performed much better during the global pandemic compared to fossil fuels, thereby accentuating the volatility of the oil, coal and gas markets. Black Rock reported that 94% of a widely-analysed global sustainable indices outperformed their parent benchmarks in the first quarter of 2020.
Impact investments are proving to be more resilient in the downturn and yet you still retain all the impact it is having. These are after all the companies of the future; companies’ that are specifically solving environmental problems, using technology to scale while ensuring that we have a planet that sustains us and future generations.
As we have become more in touch with nature during the lockdown period, it is without doubt that more and more people have become aware of the types of change required, and the extent to which we must address them if we are to live on this planet. This begs us to question whether the coronavirus will be the catalyst towards more socially responsible investing? Will we see a shift for the entire industry?
Well we have already begun to see systemic shifts. According to The Global Family Office Report 2019, the vast majority of family office’s around the world have diversified impact portfolios by investing most often in education (45%), agriculture and food (45%) and energy and resource efficiency (43%). Over the coming decades more than $30 trillion in assets will be transferred to millennials and generation X - the largest and wealthiest generation the world has ever seen.
With this unprecedented amount of wealth transferring from one generation to the next, families of wealth can have a tremendous impact in shaping the recovery by investing in a way that creates more economic opportunity for vulnerable people, but also ensures that sustainability and inclusion are at the forefront for a green recovery.