World Wetland Day celebrates the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance  in Ramsar, Iran on Feb 2nd 1971 which is known as the RAMSAR Convention.

The convention was an important step as it solidified the importance of wetlands internationally and the need for their protection.  Not only are wetlands carbon sinks, they cleanse and supply fresh water, provide vital habitats supporting numerous species and flood/erosion control. They are highly fragile ecosystems which are being lost at an alarming rate of .76%/year.

It may not seem that much, .76% a year – but when you start thinking about what wetlands are, then this loss, all of a sudden, becomes much greater.

Wetlands are: Tropical coral reefs /Mangroves/ Estuaries/ Saltmarshes/ Shellfish reefs/  Peatlands / Natural lakes…

The degradation of wetlands is especially important in NZ where only about 8% of original wetlands remain. In a country famed for its birdlife, and with wetlands being key habitats for birds, this comments on the level of biodiversity that has been lost.

The richness of wetland ecosystems often can make it difficult to manage and protect. Without conventions such as RAMSAR it may be  that the level of wetland degradation would be much worse then it is now.

An example of the complex nature of wetland management:

Indian Sundarbans (West Bengal) Eco-Region Case Study

The last of the great mangrove forests, this region is fed by the deltas of the mighty Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna, forming a unique habitat for many rare and endangered species. The human population is dependent on the land to meet their subsistence needs and thus frequently clash with other local species, having converted vast areas of the forest into paddy fields and shrimp farms. The rich biodiversity of the region is threatened by ‘external’ anthropogenic activities that regulate river flow upstream for human needs causing changes in sedimentation, fresh water inflow and increased salinity. The eco-region is isolated, with poor infrastructure, lack of adequate education, healthcare and modern energy services. Furthermore it has weak/misaligned institutional arrangements with limited economic opportunities.

Here competing interests abound – the eco-region is of great global significance, designated as a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. Locally however, for its inhabitants the region is seen as a ‘great provider’, allowing people to meet their subsistence needs. Nationally the Ministry of Environment and Forest recognise the significance of the region as a biodiversity hotspot and vie to protect it in varying degrees. However the Ministry of Renewable Energy views the region as an unbounded source of energy, constructing a full-scale tidal power station next to the sanctuary with unknown impacts upon the already fragile ecosystem. The power station also blocks off waterways which the poor depend on for livelihoods. Furthermore there are competing conservation interests with marine and forest conservation placing differing demands on the local population, and often leading to alternate livelihoods that are counterfactual to the conservation goals. In addition initiatives such as eco-tourism have proven to perhaps further degrade the region whilst also not contributing to development goals by largely not adding much value to the local economy. Furthermore the local population is wrought with power inequalities which distribute gains from conservation unequally.

There is no easy solution to the issues that plague the Sundarbans, but it does highlight the need to pull together all stakeholders and to work in unison towards an overall goal of conservation.

 

It is a another reminder of perhaps the arrogance of our species that we keep adding other animals to critically endangered lists. The newest addition being none other then the glorious Sumatran Elephant. The Sumatran elephant faces pressures which arise from human activities which have resulted in habitat loss and fragmentation in Indonesia. It is actions such as illegal logging, the rapid conversion of forests into plantations and the subsequent clash between humans and elephants due to shrinking habitats which have pushed this species to the brink.

Whilst in 2004 the establishment of the Tesso Nilo National Park brought hope for the elephants, the sad truth is that poor park management and rapid deforestation has made the concept of a ‘protected area’ a joke. The park is shared by the close to extinct Sumatran Tiger, but with Indonesia already losing the Java and Bali Tigers, the outlook for these species remains bleak. What can be done to help conservation efforts and to shift Indonesia away from the short-sighted self-destructive path it is currently on?

According to the Microcredit Summit Report (2012) – the amount of microloans very poor families worldwide received has increased from  7.6 million in 1997 to 137.5 million in 2010. These figures are attributed data received from 3,600 microfinance institutions worldwide. In the last decade, as the momentum of microfinance has picked up – there has also been a an increase in the availability of data and information on the tool. Sites such as The Mix and it’s excellent Social Performance Indicators Blog provide analysis, research and business information on microfinance institutions as does Syminvest and the Centre for Financial Inclusion blog.

Love Earth is particularly interested in the potential of microfinance in reaching the triple bottom line of 1) sound financial, 2) social, and 3) environmental performance. Generally Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) tend to focus on sound financial and social performance however through The Mix  – albeit a small data set –  we were able to ascertain a growing interest by MFIs in including environmental performance.

Graph 1: MFIs with Socially Responsible Environmental  Policies Directed at Supported Enterprises (n=163) – Source: the Mix

The Green Revolution generally describes the mass introduction of  high-yielding seed varieties, alongside the increased use of fertilizers,   irrigation systems, double cropping and the expansion of farm areas. In countries such as India and China, the revolution (which grew in the 60’s) was hailed as a triumph, pushing dangerously food insecure nations into relatively food abundant lands. However the Green Revolution is marred with the kind of short-sightedness that we have seen many times before (for instance the misinformed diversion of the Aral Sea). Vandhana Shiva provides a clear critique of the Green Revolution.

Cassava, a root vegetable that grows well in tropical regions, has been an important crop for millions of marginal farmers. The crops resilience to drought and it’s ability to grow under poor conditions enables these farmers a system of insurance if their other crops fail along with the rains.  Therefore it has been described by the FAO as a crisis crop. Unfortunately the crop is not high in nutritional value, and if prepared incorrectly could be toxic.

The Gates foundation saw the reach and resilience of the crop as an opportunity and has been working on creating an enhanced cassava crop named BioCassava Plus. This crop is not only fortified against disease but also packed with beta carotene, iron, and protein thereby being a potentially important ‘tool’ to fight malnutrition. The importance of cassava has not gone unnoticed, with many actors (such as the World Bank) raising its standing by developing and promoting new technologies for cassava production and utilization.

 

 

 

Microfinance remains an old concept, practised under different names throughout the world. Essentially it is an umbrella term that encompasses the multitude of methods utilised to provide banking services to the poor. Largely popularised by Muhammad Yunus in the 1970’s, microfinance has enjoyed an exponential growth. Whilst there are many critics of microfinance, it seems it is a development tool that is here to stay. Indeed in the last several decades microfinance has begun to take on a green tinge, with organisations using it in addition to its environmental objectives. The lesson that is being learnt through these organisations is that microfinance can indeed be a powerful tool to use in conjunction with others, but without strong regulation and stringent monitoring, it can do more harm then good.

On 17th March 2011, Professor Lord Stern gave a lecture on the low-carbon industrial revolution which you can find here. His insightful and eloquently delivered message was this – a) The defining challenge of our age is that of the environment and poverty. These are inextricably linked. b) we need a revolution on an industrial scale to shift away from our carbon hungry ways. These ways are no longer conducive to economic growth.  c) Public policy must correct the multiple catastrophic market failures that have led us to our current position. d) The scale of change required means change needs to be addressed across the board.