Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

In the mountainous region of the Western Ghats in Karnataka, India, a group of women farmers is working to promote the traditional foodways and protect the vast biological diversity of the region.

Vanastree is a women-run seed saving cooperative in the Malnad region of the Western Ghats. It began in 2001 in response to the challenges posed by the expansion of chemical-based agriculture and continuous threats of climate change (Vanastree, 2018). Over the past century,  population growth, continued development, and the intensification of agriculture has threatened the biodiversity and the traditional foodways of the forested region (Hance, 2011). Additionally, the mountainous region of the Western Ghats is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, particularly to increased instances of unpredictable monsoons (Boyle, 2016). Customarily, women are the primary caretakers of the household, stewards of the home gardens, and have exclusive control over seed management, making women particularly susceptible to these challenges (Dhakal, 2011). The project aims to build individual and community seed and food sovereignty through local level empowerment of women and the exchange of intergenerational traditional knowledge. These goals are achieved through trainings, meetings, and projects focused on home-scale food production, the preservation of native food crops and traditional foodways, and microfinance management, leadership, and self-empowerment skills.  

The Western Ghats region of Karnataka state is one of the 35 recognized biological hotspots in the world (ENVIS, 2016). Historically, the mountain range was densely covered by biologically diverse forests that were home to thousands of species of flora and fauna and integral to the survival of the native people of the region (Hance, 2011). Increases in population growth, globalization, and climate change, the region has become largely fragmented, with only an estimated 10% of the forest cover remaining (Vanastree, 2018). Traditionally, home gardens have played an integral role in the prevention of deforestation, the preservation of biodiversity, and food security. Vanastree aims to preserve and spread knowledge regarding home gardens, focusing on the conservation of native food crops and saving seeds.

Vanastree translates to “Women of the Forest” in Kannada, and the organization’s philosophy is rooted in the importance of women in conservation. The founders of Vanstree state, “we believe that any biodiversity conservation plan aimed at arresting erosion must recognize the role of women as gardeners, seed savers, and sources of knowledge” (Vanastree, 2018). Through various trainings, Vanastree aims to strengthen the leadership skills of women and further the rights of women farmers. As an example, Vanastree has helped to build financial independence for many women through trainings in microfinance and the establishment of small conservation-related businesses. 

Vanastree’s work is chiefly focused on seed sharing, documentation, and their extension services, which include formal trainings, networking across villages, and establishing conservation-oriented enterprises for women farmers. They have documented over 120 vegetable and 60 flower varieties across the Malnad region, have distributed over 3,000 packets of organic, open-pollinated seeds to farmers, have established twenty-two seed exchange groups, and both a decentralized and central seed bank (Vanastree, 2018).

Vanastree is one of many examples demonstrating the power of small-scale models in local ecosystems contributing to both environmental and social change.


Boyle, Grace. 2016. India’s monsoons: A change in the rain. Aljazerra. Web. Retrieved from

Dhakal, et al. 2010. Women’s Role in Biodiversity Management in the Himalayas. Biodiversity Management.

ENVIS Centre on Floral Diversity. 2016. Global Biodiversity Hotspots with Special Emphasis on Indian Hotspots. Hosted by the Botanical Survey of India. Web. Retrieved from

Hance, Jeremy. 2011. Balancing agriculture and rainforest biodiversity in India’s Western Ghats. Mongabay. Web. Retrieved from

Vanastree. 2018. Retrieved from

Women’s Earth Alliance. 2016. Seeds of Resilience: An update from our Seed Savers in India. Retrieved from

Women’s Earth Alliance. Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India. Retrieved from



Intervale Center: Farm Incubation for a Sustainable Future

The Intervale Center in Burlington, Vermont was founded in 1988 and is a community garden, farm incubator, food hub, composting facility, and conservation nursery. It is a “community food revolution” that helps new farmers get their start and gives access to land, equipment, capital, and mentorship, which are all hard things to come by when starting a farm. It is on a 360-acre campus with 135 of farmland. In 1990 they started one of the first incubator farms in America. Currently, they have 6 mentor farms and 2 incubator farms, all focused on organic, sustainable, carbon building practices, minimizing ecological impacts as well as decreasing carbon emissions.

intervale 2

The Intervale also has a conservation nursery that grows locally sourced trees and shrubs for riparian restoration projects in Vermont. They too grow their trees in environmentally responsible ways, especially since these trees will be planted in wild areas. They also provide planting services for riparian buffer zones and stormwater management projects. In fact, for my ecosystem restoration class, the city of Burlington bought 500 tree saplings so we could plant them right next to the lake where development is about to occur. These trees will help structure the soil, foster erosion resilience, and filter runoff water before it his the lake. New trees are important because they sequester carbon the fastest. In riparian zones they are especially important for filtering nutrients, as excess phosphorus in Lake Champlain causes algal blooms, which end up respiring and producing quite a bit of carbon dioxide, as well as disrupting a lot of other ecosystem services.


They also provide a gleaning and food rescue program. Gleaning means to gather leftover produce after a harvest, which was not picked for aesthetic reasons. In America, 40% of food is rejected due to high market standards of food. More than 1/3 of food produced in the world is wasted. This ends up being 1.3 billion tons of food annually and the energy that goes into the entire production (growing, harvesting, transportation, refrigeration, etc.) results in 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If food waste was a country, it would be the third highest carbon emitter in the world, after China and the United States. Any effort in reducing food waste inevitably reduces the effects that food systems have on the environment, because less food has to be produced if we efficiently produce and consume it. Even their pioneering large scale compost operation saves organic waste from going to landfills, where it would rot and produce methane in the anaerobic environment of a landfill. Their food saving ideology one that America and the rest of the world need to adopt for a sustainable future.

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 5.45.52 PM


The Intervale relies on volunteer work to run their conservation nursery, gleaning, and food rescue programs. Thus, people living in Burlington can help both the community and the land in Vermont become more resilient to the changing climate. The Intervale offers an option to people who want to get involved and actually get their hands into some dirt. Incubator farms being promoted to follow the responsible farming practices of the mentor farms, thus it is also helping promote a new, environmentally conscious generation of farmers.

Intervale. Programs. 2018.

Smith, R. How reducing food waste could ease climate change. 2015. National Geographic.

CarbFix: The Icelandic Geologic Carbon Sequestration Project

Every since I began my education in environmental science, I have thought to myself things like “Can we just take the CO2 and put it back where it came from?” To me, it seemed like something that was unrealistic, but upon discovering the process of Geologic Carbon Sequestration, the dream may be becoming a reality!

Geologic Carbon Sequestration is a method of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) that takes CO2 from power plants and places it in geologic formations underground to, theoretically, “permanently” sequester the CO2. The CarbFix Project in Iceland lead by Reykjavik Energy involves piping CO2 emissions from a geothermal power plant into basaltic rock formations about 500-800 meters below the surface. This project began in 2007 and pure CO2 was first piped into the basaltic rock in 2012. The amazing things about this example of Geologic Carbon Sequestration is that the basaltic rock formations that the CO2 is being pumped into has a lot of divalent cations that react with CO2 to mineralize into solid carbonate compounds, which stores the CO2 in the rock formation until the rock is weathered someday in the very distant future. The CarbFix project managed to show that 95% of the CO2 piped into the basaltic rock was mineralized within 2 years.

While the success of this process within basaltic rock formations is very impressive, one drawback of this process is the availability of subterranean rock formations that have the capacity to store CO2. While it is not necessary that the rock formation be a basaltic one, other types of formations have not shown as much success or still have research to determine their success. The main factors that are still in question for these alternate CO2 storing rock formations are the geologic stability of the storage and how well the formations actually seal the CO2 within the formation, since some leaching is inevitable. Some of these alternate rock formations are shown and described in the diagram below created by the USGS.

Geologic Carbon Sequestration

“Types of geologic CO2 sequestration, their advantages and disadvantages, and potential environmental and regulatory issues” (Burruss et al., 2008).

Despite these drawbacks, however, this is a very new process and with time and money spent researching methods of Geologic Carbon Sequestration, it has the potential to help mitigate of CO2 being emitted by power plants in a relatively permanent fashion. I think that if word about this technology is spread and research gains support, these systems could be implemented on many power plants around the world.

The long-term goal for humanity should definitely be to ceased CO2 emissions from energy production, but with 85% of the energy in the U.S. being generated by coal-fire power plants, this process may take some time to transition and develop more reliable renewable energy sources. In the meantime, technologies for sequestering CO2 and reducing emissions should be explored an implemented to reduce our current impact. I hope that in the coming years I see a boom in the use of Geologic Carbon Sequestration! It is a very interesting and innovative method that should be explored further!



Burruss, R., Faulkner, S., Gleason, R., Harden, J., Kharaka, Y., Sundquist, E., Tieszen, L., Waldrop, M. (2008, December). Carbon Sequestration to Mitigate Climate Change(Rep.). Retrieved April 18, 2018, from U.S. Geological Survey website:

Figueroa, J. D., Fout, T., Plasynski, S., Mcilvried, H., & Srivastava, R. D. (2008). Advances in CO2 capture technology—The U.S. Department of Energy’s Carbon Sequestration Program. International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control,2(1), 9-20. doi:10.1016/s1750-5836(07)00094-1

Orkuveita Reykjavikur. (2017, October 06). CarbFix. Retrieved May 2, 2018, from


Peecycling- another response to yields and climate change dilemmas.

From an environmental stand point, agriculture has one of the worst impacts on the state of our planet; it is responsible for 14% of global GHG emissions and the largest consumption of fresh water. Crops require an extraordinary amount of inputs to grow, including nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers. The discovery of Haber process made possible the production of synthetic fertilizer and led to the increase in yields and farm lands. Yet, it also changed the state of GHG emissions as production of synthetic fertilizer became the fastest growing source of agricultural emissions[1].


Rich Earth Institute (REI), founded in 2011 in Brattleboro, VT, decided to address this fertilizer challenge by recycling a valuable source of minerals that we flush down the toilet on a regular basis.  Human urine contains large quantities of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium and just as manure, it can be used as a fertilizer (after a treatment procedure, of course). An average adult produces around 150[2]gallons of urine per year which is enough to supply 400 m2 of land area for one annual yield[3].The organization collects this “liquid gold[4]” from participating households and turns it into fertilizer; it then distributes it to participating farmers. It also conducts research on safety of urine-based fertilizer and runs outreach campaigns on sanitation water use. As an example of its environmental contribution, since 2013, the organization saved over 637,000 gallons of water, which is approximate to the capacity of Olympic swimming pool.

 Olympic-Stadium-960x570.jpgAn Olympic-size pool in Rio De Janeiro. Source:

The work of this organization is fascinating in many ways. Several non-related studies[5][6]documented the potential of human urine to be used as an alternative to chemical fertilizers. Further, this initiative can be replicated all over the world and in fact, it is already practiced in Europe and Africa. Any household within the area can make a biological contribution to this cause at no cost. The initiative has the ability to reduce consumption of fresh water while at the same time reducing farming costs and GHG emissions. What is also great about REI’s work is that it challenges social norms and takes away the stigma from discussing bodily functions. Flushing is the biggest use of fresh water in American households, and with increasing pressures from climate change, droughts and water shortages we cannot keep wasting water at these rates. In addition to conversations about dietary and transportation choices, we need to start talking about our flushing choices. Some bathrooms still have toilets that use 6 (!!) gallons of water per flush which is eleven times more than an amount of urine an average person produces per day!!

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 1.01.45 PM

Certainly, this initiative is not a silver bullet to climate change dilemmas. Norms and acceptance play a big factor in its success, as well as larger behavioral changes that any climate action requires. We need to overcome the “yikes” factor and assure farmers that people would buy their “urine-fed” products. We need to address people’s concerns about safety, particularly the use of urine with remnants of medications (the organization is researching this right now). Also, REI currently relies on governmental funding and grants and for this solution to be fully sustainable and replicable it needs to demonstrate its profitability and cost-efficiency appeal for the farmers. However, it is an amazing example of how a small group can make a big difference.


Works cited:



[3]Heinonen-Tanski,H., Pradhan, S.K, & Karinen, P. (2010). Sustainable sanitation—A cost-effective tool to improve plant yields and the environment. Sustainability 2010, 2(1), 341-353; doi:10.3390/su2010341.


[5]Karak, T. and Bhattacharyya, P. (2011). Human urine as a source of alternative natural fertilizer in agriculture: A flight of fancy or an achievable reality. Resources, Conservation and Recycling,55(4), 400-408.


China’s One Child Policy of 1979

For my “contribute a seed” climate optimism post, I decided to write about the concept of China’s One Child Policy of 1979. I chose this seed because it had been a concept that had first baffled me when initially exposed to it, but then gradually became more logical in my eyes the more I learned about the state of the climate. China’s one child policy was created in response to their rapidly growing population along with their decline in resources and space. Trying to limit the growth of their nation, China had implemented this experimental policy. The policy only addresses citizens of China and enforces that families only have one child. This policy was supposed to create a sustainable future for China’s population; a future that has low unemployment and a high quality of life. If implemented correctly, the one child policy would allow for a decrease in carbon dioxide emissions from China which helps mitigate the effects of climate change. Being the first policy of its kind, it did not last long and the unpredicted consequences were extremely traumatic.

The one child policy addresses the obstacle of overpopulation in terms of climate change. Part of the reason why our CO2 emissions are so high is because we need to meet the needs of 7 billion+ people and that requires a lot of energy. By limiting the amount of population growth on our planet, we can limit the amount of emissions we are putting into the environment; this will eventually lead to a decline in the impact of climate change. This seed primarily stimulates social challenges and debate as it has an ethical connotation. I believe this initiative is interesting because the ethical dilemma that is embedded within the policy. By limiting the amount of children a person is allowed to have, their rights are being taken away from them and in most places, that will cause a stirrup in the public. Although the right to reproduce is being limited by this policy, I think it speaks volumes to the intensity of climate change and what we are going to go through. Being such a large, prosperous country, China took a lot of criticism for this policy and it had eventually been repealed. I also think it is such an interesting initiative because it requires that humans take direct action in mitigating their climate footprint. Countries and their citizens that would like to implement a policy of this nature would be the ones acting on this seed. Organizations such as the United Nationswould be able to help orchestrate these policies and their implementation. There are a lot of important key players in this type of policy

Currently, the one child policy in China has been repealed as of 2016 because of public opinion. Some of the major problems that came about in China’s attempts with this policy revolved around social behaviors and infant mortality rates. This policy had unconsciously created a gender imbalance within the nation as well as creating an increase in the amount of forced abortion(Nie 2014). These problems arose because there is a certain cultural emphasis on the male figure within China and eventually lead to negative view towards female infants. Cultural values will definitely affect the ability of this policy to make a positive impact. The other factors that will influence the ability of this seed to make a difference are social structures such as religion, political stances, ethics and cultural norms.

When in progress, the policy had influenced the lives of more than 1.3 billion people. Although repealed, this policy could be adopted by other countries as well as by individuals on the planet in way that could influence others. The one child policy can be recreated and implemented in attempts to regulate and prevent rapid population growth. This policy can also change the mindset people have on population growth; as of now, many people are under the impression that more people brings more intelligence. However, based on the path we are on now, population growth will not bring about a positive change. If people begin to understand that our space and resource capacity are limited and we will not be able to provide for everyone if populations continue to grow. The policy could also just be an ethical suggestion to the public instead of a strictly enforced rule; people who feel they want to contribute in mitigating the effects of climate can follow this policy.

There are several ways of enhancing the impact of this seed within our society. Government funded benefits associated with only having one child could incentivize people to participate in this policy. If there was a reward system in place that would benefit those who agreed to only have one child then more and more people would be motivated to participate and help lower the global population. Another factor that could enhance the impact of the seed is international relations. If there are countries that have economic and political ties, there would be more incentive for them to work together in creating these types of policies. Finally, the economic status of a country plays a large role in their ability to lower population; rate of unemployment and income status within a nation can motivate countries to implement this policy in attempt to create a stable economy.


NIE, J. (2014). China’s one-child policy, a policy without a future. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 23(3), 272-87. doi:

Educating For a More Sustainable Future

The Farm Barn at Shelburne Farm

Shelburne Farms is a farm-based educational organization where learning is carefully cultivated so as to inspire people to build a healthy world rooted in the principles of sustainability. It is both a working farm and a non-profit education center. They are able to run a number of unique educational programs by using their 1,400-acre property as a classroom with which to demonstrate the idea that we can learn to reintegrate our lives with the environment. Their working landscape exemplifies the notion that people can build a vibrant future by working in harmony with ecological systems. Shelburne Farms is truly a place that is one of a kind. Over the years they have become well-known for their innovative, long-standing efforts to teach stewardship practices and promote sustainability education. 

Shelburne Farms believes that the future of human and ecological prosperity is contingent upon the pursuit of sustainability: endeavoring to create a world where humans and nature can coexist harmoniously while supporting the welfare of present and future generations. Sustainability is often framed in terms of recognizing the complex, interconnected nature of environmental, social, and economic systems. These three systems currently work in isolation, which has led to environmental degradation and economic and social inequity. Fixing these problems will require a willingness to engage with complex systems, consider multiple perspectives, and seek out integrative solutions for issues that are often very sensitive or politically charged.


Educational Outdoor Adventure at Shelburne Farms

Educators have a unique opportunity to use schools as a platform to teach students that they have the power they have to make the world a healthier and juster place. If they begin to introduce sustainability concepts to students from an early age, they can help students to develop a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of the principles of sustainability throughout their lives. In this way, teachers can prepare their students to tackle the underlying forces causing environmental, economic, and social justice problems. Shelburne Farms uses an educational approach called Education for Sustainability (EFS) to just that.

EFS is central to all of the activities that happen at Shelburne Farms. It is is an approach
to education that incorporates sustainability principles in every aspect of the curriculum as a means to practically develop systems thinkers in action. Designing lessons using the EFS framework molds students into conscientious citizens who have the knowledge and skills to engage in problem-solving and decision-making, and believe in their capacity to create change. The education programs at Shelburne Farms show people benefits of working with nature to create a harmonious, sustainable landscape and teach people how to apply their knowledge of sustainability principles to make a difference in their communities and in the world.

Brown Swiss Dairy Cows at Shelburne Farms



Hoyler, E., & and Wellings, L. (2013). Cultivating joy and wonder: Educating for sustainability in early childhood through nature, food, and community. Shelburne, VT: Shelburne Farms.

Our Case for Shelburne Farms. (2017). Annual Reports. Retrieved from

Nolet, Victor. (2009). Preparing Sustainability-Literate Teachers. Teachers College Record, 111, 409-442. Retrieved from

Shelburne Farms. (n.d.). Educating for a Sustainable Future. Retrieved from

“Crikey, it’s hot!”

Australia is incorporating climate change science in its national curriculum for primary and secondary education students (4). The aims for the science curriculum overall are to provide scientific understanding to their students, develop students’ skills to communicate science and value evidence and critically evaluate conclusions from other scientists. By incorporating the science of climate change, Australia hopes to have students understand the mechanics and impacts of climate change: “science is a human endeavour that students should learn to appreciate and apply to daily life” (1).  Australia hopes to aid the development of informed citizens with awareness of pressing issues such climate change and water management. The latter issue is particularly pressing as Australia is currently dealing with major droughts.

It is noble for Australia to place public education standards that include the science of climate change, but that does not necessarily mean that audiences will interpret the information taught to them. It is stated through the curriculum that the purpose for this inclusion of “science as a human endeavor” is so that students can take this understanding and make informed decisions (1). Therefore, it is also important to look into communication strategies directed to “not only to ensure that individuals understand the impacts of climate change but also to encourage action for climate change mitigation and adaptation” (2). Countries around the world have goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; however, it is argued that these reductions are not just solely industry’s responsibility, but also of society’s. If millennials can see the impact of climate change and the issues that arise, then this is a step towards the engagement of all society and encouragement of adaptation and mitigation practices. How this information is taught will show the effectiveness of this policy in the future.

A study examined “self-reported knowledge, beliefs and attitudes towards climate change among the general public and pre-service teachers in Australia” (2).  The results from these studies indicated that there is a gap in preservice teachers’ knowledge and recommended more adequate training to aid these educators. Climate change is predicted to have more devastating impacts within the future and in regard to Australia this could lead to more droughts and natural disasters; therefore, making sure teachers are fully competent to teach the material is important for the desired impact. Australia is progressive in incorporating the science of climate change compared to the United States, but needs to consider providing the necessary resources to make it effective (3). If communicated clearly, this could work towards the goals declared by the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UNESCO), stating that the more important teaching role right now is to support sustainable development.


(1). Shape of the Australian
Curriculum: Science

(2). Teachers and the communication of climate change science: a critical partnership in Australia


(3). Should Climate Change Be Taught in Schools?

(4) National Curriculm Website


Stafford Hill Solar Farm

Stafford Hill Solar Farm is a partnership between the city of Rutland and Green Mountain Power.  I have read about this before however I had never extensively looked into it and I was amazed at what I found.  Green Mountain Power has been hailed as a very innovative and progressive electric utility provider and they have paired up with the city of Rutland to become the Solar Capital of New England with the development of the Stafford Hill Solar Farm. It was built in 2015, upon a defunct landfill making it the first project of its kind to be built on a brownfield for sustainable purposes.  The 2.5 megawatt facility covers about 10 acres of the old landfill with 7,772 solar panels generating the most solar energy per capita in any New England city. The Stafford Hill Solar Farm seeks to make Rutland a city completely run on renewable energy even in times of peak demand.  The shift away from fossil fuels is a crucial step for all cities no matter their size. The resilience that Rutland’s microgrid provides for the city is a model that many states should adopt as it allows cities to not have to rely on centralized energy grids with power produced at large facilities often via fossil fuels.  The solar farm addresses sustainable development challenges using an integrated approach by using brown lands as a site to produce power for a city.  The use of solar panels on an environmentally degraded site is useful because the land would not be used for anything else. The solar facility also establishes Rutland with their own microgrid so that they are able to store the energy in batteries which can be tapped into opposed to buying overpriced dirty energy.

The partnership of the City of Rutland and GMP along with local energy consumers and other shareholders makes this project a community builder on many different fronts. As more cities see how effective this movement is, I believe they will jump on board and Vermont and other states will begin to shift away from the traditional centralized model of electricity towards a more local, resilient model using renewable energy.  Though not everywhere may find solar to be the most effective form of renewable energy, I believe that this shift sets a tone for energy providers to become more sustainable and creative with their production.  Solar farms on brown lands is an excellent example of how to use degraded areas for safe and meaningful purposes. Incentives to use renewable energy and higher fossil fuel prices will help shift from traditional forms of electricity production towards sustainable solutions.  Better solar technologies and cheaper designs will also make facilities like this more widespread. However, fossil fuel persistence and lack of incentives to switch will inhibit the spread of renewable energy initiatives like the Stafford Hill Solar Farm. This project is just one of many in a movement to make the world a more sustainable palace to help combat the effects of climate change.





Efficiency Vermont. (N.d.) About – History. N.p. Retrieved from


Carlson, K. (2017). Green Mountain Power ranked one of Fast Company’s top 10 most innovative companies in energy. N.p. Retrieved from


Green Mountain Power. (N.d.). Solar capital of New England. N.p. Retrieved from


EPA. (2016). Traditional New England city builds a modern microgrid. N.p. Retrieved from


Flagg, K. (2015). Power to the people: Envisioning Rutland as the ‘Energy City of the Future’. Seven Days. Retrieved from



GIVEWATTS: Electrifying Africa

GIVEWATTS is a nonprofit/social enterprise organization that was started in East Africa with the mission to bring renewable and dependable energy to places that do not have access to the grid. The project intends to spread from East Africa to other developing nations struggling to gain and maintain access to reliable energy sources. The technologies that will be focused on by GIVEWATTS are solar lamps, and efficient stoves, which would replace basic daylight, fuel wood, and kerosene. One of the main contributions of GIVEWATTS will be the mitigation of climate change through offering energy alternatives to avoid increasing the use of fossil fuels, and subsequently the increase of atmospheric greenhouse gases. With the use of fossil fuels currently under global scrutiny, developing nations are placed at a disadvantage as they are being denied the efficiency and convenience of the fossil fuels that developing nations built their successes upon. GIVEWATTS is offering the solution of providing these developing countries an alternative to fossil fuels that will allow them to continue developing, learning, growing, and thriving without becoming dependent on the grid.

The GIVEWATTS organization and project goals are centrally focused on bettering local communities with small-scale renewable energy projects. However, as these implementations become more and more frequent, this venture could produce real global change. Aside from the commitment to climate change mitigation, GIVEWATTS also addresses the other serious issue of social inequality and the relation between school electrification and successful education. According to an article done by United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, roughly 90% of children in sub-Saharan Africa attend school with no electricity. Further, non-electrified schools are often outperformed by schools with electricity, and show less potential to achieve economic and social developments. (Sovacool & Vera, 2014) The mission of GIVEWATTS could alleviate some of these inequalities and provide a basis for positive and substantial developments.

Growing up in the United States, it is no surprise that I personally have never experienced the concept of non-electrified schools. But recently I have been given a personal inside look into the trials of electricity unreliability. Hannah Smith, a close friend of mine, joined the Peace Corps in the fall of 2017. She is now living in the small town of Pemba-Metuge, in the province Cabo Delgado in Africa and is working in a local school teaching eighth grade biology in the Portuguese language. She is often experiencing power outage’s, in which school hours are dramatically decreased. She reports that having unreliable power makes consistent education difficult, and that it ultimately takes away from the student’s ability to make regularly academic progress. After speaking with Hannah about the projects being implemented by GIVEWATTS, she said that the introduction of these solar lamps and stoves would be greatly beneficial to the local community and in particular the children attending school.

GIVEWATTS is creating positive environmental and social impacts through are mission to enable communities to become electrified without the use of fossil fuels. As it continues to generate new projects across developing nations, the environmental impact of developing nations will be lowered while allowing them new opportunities for growth.



 Sovacool, B., & Vera, I. (2010, December). Electricity and education: The benefits, barriers, and recommendations for achieving the electrification of primary and secondary schools. In UN: Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. Retrieved from

 Smith, Hannah. Personal interview. 17 Apr. 2018.

International Agroecology, Small-Holder Farmers, and Climate Change

I met Esther Anita and Rachel last summer at an International Agroecology course. Esther is an experienced nurse from a hospital in Malawi, Anita is a mother and farmer’s wife, and Rachel Bezner Kerr is a Cornell-based researcher who has been working with communities in Malawi to track how small-scale agroecological approaches to farming impact health, nutrition and other social indicators.  These three women wove their voices together to tell their story of collaborative work on the Soils, Food and Healthy Communities project in Malawi.

Rachel had been travelling to conduct participatory research with small-holder farmers in Malawi for almost two decades, but this was the first time Anita and Esther had been to a developing country.  They were both awe-struck and disgusted.  They were to spend a month traveling with Raj Patel around the US, describing how climate change has stressed their community, and what they have been doing to adapt to increased drought and water stress.  The incidence of hunger and malnutrition has increased in their country as a result of shifting weather patterns due to climate change.  Anita and Esther have some sobering reflections on what it was like to learn that though they face some of the most viceral impacts of a changing climate, developing nations contribute the lion’s share of greenhouse gasses and anthropogenic climate forcings.

Anita and Esther’s testimony to audiences in the US is part of a growing climate justice conversation that seeks to re-examine how developing countries and people with small carbon footprints are often the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, whereas high-consumption, “climate change culprits” often have more resources to fall back on and are more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

The truly egalitarian partnership among these three women is making waves in both the US and Malawi.  In the US, the team contributes to growing awareness about climate impacts and climate justice concerns, hoping to inspire conservation by US residents.  In Malawi, their work together is grounded in agroecological farming, healthy soils and healthy communities.

Image from:

The Soils, Food and Healthy Communities project is a participatory project which works with over 4000 farmers to improve soil fertility, food security and nutrition through the improved agroecological management of their crops.  Much of the emphasis has been on grains and incorporating perennial legumes. Rachel’s publications have linked their participatory approach to increased adoption of best management practices, increased food productivity, enhanced food availability within households of resource-poor farmers, improved food security and increases in child nutrition (Kerr et al., 2007; Kerr et al., 2011).

In recent years, farmers in Malawi have been increasing stressed by changing rain seasons and unprecedented periods of extended drought.  As a participatory initiative, the Soils, Food and Healthy Communities project has pivoted towards climate adaptation, resilience and climate change communication in recent years.  The project seeks to secure agricultural productivity without increasing the costs of equipment, inputs and technology for rural communities and smallholder farmers’ livelihoods.  One strategy for adaptive farming been to discourage corn as the primary grain, and encourage the cultivation of sorghum and millet, which are endemic and more drought tolerant plants. This move compliments the foundational work the organization has done to increase crop diversification and build soil organic matter through incorporating residues, all of which are agroecological climate adaptations.

Early this year the project released a climate change curriculum in four languages, which was co-produced through collaboration between researchers and local farmers. The project integrates climate change topics with the primary concerns and shared values of the local community.  Being co-authored by local stakeholders, the material is translated and delivered into language and strategies that will best meet the needs and world-views of the intended audience.  Its a excellent example of successful climate change communication and community resilience building.

For me, this project is a strong piece of climate optimism. First, it is a shining example of successful international partnerships that break traditional power dynamics and and address climate justice concerns.  Second, its a model for long-term farmer-driven interventions that have multiple benefits and outcomes.  I encourages academics to reach out to Rachel for project design support, or to join the project in some capacity.

References and resources:

Kerr, R. B., Snapp, S., Chirwa, M., Shumba, L., & Msachi, R. (2007). Participatory research on legume diversification with Malawian smallholder farmers for improved human nutrition and soil fertility. Experimental agriculture, 43(4), 437-453.

Kerr, R. B., Berti, P. R., & Shumba, L. (2011). Effects of a participatory agriculture and nutrition education project on child growth in northern Malawi. Public health nutrition, 14(8), 1466-1472.

Snapp, S., Kerr, R. B., Smith, A., Ollenburger, M., Mhango, W., Shumba, L., … & Kanyama-Phiri, G. (2013). Modeling and participatory farmer-led approaches to food security in a changing world: A case study from Malawi. Science et changements planétaires/Sécheresse24(4), 350-358.

Nyantakyi-Frimpong, H., & Bezner-Kerr, R. (2015). The relative importance of climate change in the context of multiple stressors in semi-arid Ghana. Global Environmental Change32, 40-56.

Kerr, R. B. (2014). Lost and found crops: agrobiodiversity, indigenous knowledge, and a feminist political ecology of sorghum and finger millet in northern Malawi. Annals of the Association of American Geographers104(3), 577-593.

Bezner-Kerr, R., McGuire, K. L., Nigh, R., Rocheleau, D., Soluri, J., & Perfecto, I. (2012). Effects of Industrial Agriculture on Climate Change and the Mitigation Potential of Small-Scale Agro-Ecological Farms’. Animal Science Reviews 201169.