Nature-based business solutions to the climate emergency: part 2

Written by

Tim Greenhalgh

Posted on

August 27, 2019

Posted in

In part 1, we looked at how companies, NGOs and governments across the globe are rolling out innovative and sustainable projects to restore and invigorate environments

Wild harvesting

Wild harvesting takes “natural” to a new level. Companies like the Body Shop work with local communities to source ingredients and many of these ingredients are simply picked from the standing forest.

The Body Shop sources a wide range of high value raw materials from forests, such as marula oil, brazil nuts, honey and beeswax, much of it through its Community Trade initiative, where regeneration of the land as well as the community is equally important.

Christopher Davis, Body Shop’s international director of corporate responsibility and campaigns says in the report:

“By wild harvesting you don’t need to farm, you work with local people to collect the crop, and the processing is usually done by hand… It’s an artisan programme but on a significant scale. Farmers were being exploited by the world trade system. They weren’t being given a fair price for what they were doing.”

The whitepaper outlines how the Body Shop works to develop a direct relationship with its suppliers and communities, providing them with a market and paying a “community premium” that can be invested in schools and healthcare.

Through the initiative the Body Shop has greater insight into quality of raw materials and the supply chain. The company also gains from the knowledge of local people and to discover potential new ingredients the forest has to offer.

Bio-bridges

Body Shop’s other key forest programme develops protected and regenerated wildlife corridors – bio-bridges – in damaged landscapes. These link biodiversity hotspots, helping endangered species to reconnect, as well as playing an important role in safeguarding the forest canopy, allowing trees to soak up CO2.

The study advises that over 41 million square metres are now protected in Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and north-east India, through the Body Shop bio-bridges initiative, working with the World Land Trust, the UN Biodiversity Centre and local partners.

Milk monitors

In the UK, Nestle is championing landscape restoration to tackle climate change and secure its own supply chain.

Through a long-term partnership with the First Milk co-operative, it pays dairy farmers a “sustainability bonus” for each litre of milk with measured practical measures they take to enhance natural assets on their land.

The study says:

“The payment gives farmers the incentive and means to scale up their existing efforts to protect the environment, paying for hedge planting, dry stone wall repairs and fencing to protect watercourses from bankside erosion. These measures also help to improve the farm’s resilience to climate change and protect against the potential spread of disease.”

The next phase will tackle soil health, a relatively new concept for dairy farmers, who are recognising the benefits of better managing the soil to improve grass quality to improve welfare of their cows reduce costs and improve the milk.

The Rivers Trust is working with Nestlé on the Landscape Enterprise Networks (LENS). The trial project in Cumbria allows businesses like utility companies to fund farmers to do work which brings them tangible benefits.

One example is United Utilities, which pays millions every year to clean up water courses because of agricultural run-offs but is now funding farmers to improve and enhance natural assets by planting new trees and hedgerows and improving fencing.

The study says:

“If they can incentivise farmers to put in the right activities on the ground to stop the pollution in the first place, then that’s a massive benefit to them.”

Water futures

Landscape restoration is also being used to conserve our water resources, which are set to suffer most from continued global warming.

Brewer Heineken relaunched its water strategy this year, with watershed health at the centre of a triangular approach involving water efficiency, water circulatory and water stewardship.

Protecting the watershed and access to it for local communities is also an important part of its licence to operate.

With water making up 95% of beer and other ingredients like barley, hops and yeast heavily dependent on a high quality water supply, it is essential for companies like Heineken to be a good steward of the precious resource.

Twenty-six of the company’s breweries already operate in areas of water scarcity and by 2025 two-thirds of the world could be living in water stress.

Blanca Juti, Heineken’s chief corporate affairs officer says:

“Until now, breweries have focussed on water efficiency and treating waste-water. These are areas we can control. But in water-scarce areas, for a watershed to be healthy, consuming less water and cleaning it may not be enough. If we all use water but we don’t put back what we take, the watershed will start to dry.”

The study advises that Heineken has four breweries in Spain, one of Europe’s most water stressed countries and the company is working with the Andalusian government and the NGO Commonland (see below) to restore four degraded lagoons in the Donana wetlands, one of the largest biodiversity areas in Europe.

Soil structure and water filtration has been improved and the landscape replanted with endemic trees, helping to return over 420,000 cubic metres of water each year to the environment.

Soil carbon sink

The researchers also point to a greater realisation that healthy soil can achieve more than providing food security. It is a huge carbon sink, with soil holding three times more carbon than the atmosphere. But this carbon is being allowed to escape.

The study advises:

“Healthy soil can help in the fight against climate change. Soil holds three times more carbon than the atmosphere. It is estimated that increasing the amount of carbon in the soil by four parts to every 1000 would be the equivalent of locking up all man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

“However, poor farming practices have stripped the land. It’s estimated that 75 billon tonnes of fertile soil are lost to land degradation every year. But regenerative agriculture techniques such as no tilling, crop rotation and tree planting can improve soil health.”

However, a few relatively easy steps would reverse this and capture more carbon – encouraging farmers to use a mixture of techniques that improve soil health and promote plant growth.

Practices like no tilling and a lack of soil disturbance to keep the carbon locked, as well as cover cropping to prevent soil erosion, crop rotation and tree planting, are being promoted.

Underpinning all moves to regenerative agriculture is the focus on soil and organic matter. Many NGOs run composting workshops for smallholders, showing them how to turn farm residues, which would often have been burnt, into soil nutrients.

The Cool Farm Alliance (CFA), a partnership of retailers, manufacturers and NGOs works with coffee farmers and has developed new methods of turning pulp from coffee production into a rich fertiliser.

The CFA also promotes the Cool Farm Tool, a greenhouse gas calculator to measure carbon production from the use of fertilisers and fossil fuels while also estimating the amount of carbon that the land and crops are sequestrating, to provide a net carbon figure.

The study says:

“Smallholders are also applying the CFA tool as a way of monetarising their sustainable practices, with climate-friendly farming often a way of gaining easier access to finance and loans. Large agribusinesses such as PepsiCo, Danone and Unilever have used the tool to meet their corporate commitments.”

André Leu, a director of Regeneration International advises:

“We can change agriculture from being one of the major contributors to climate change to becoming one of the major solutions.”

Investment incentives

The whitepaper also focuses strongly on how the right conditions for effective ongoing investment can be created. The Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU) argues that agribusiness can adopt three measures to support regenerative agriculture:

  1. Food companies should enter into long-term agreements with farmers to reduce chemical loading and increase regeneration in the soil, providing financial security.
  2. Banks can provide lower cost credit to farmers that use the right practices.
  3. Reroute subsidies to reach the right people and support regenerative practices.

Partnerships central in these processes. For example In Colombia, FOLU is working with local stakeholders, the private sector and a range of government ministries to reduce the use of harmful agrochemicals, which have been damaging the health of people and the land.

Fertiliser company Yara International offers extension services to Columbian farmers who employ sustainable practices and biosolutions firm EcoFlora is supports/ them with the use of bio-inputs.

The whitepaper advises:

“In September, at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit, FOLU is launching a major report that sets out the economic case for the transformation of food and land use systems. It will focus on the political and economic opportunities of shifting food and land-use from being a major contributor to climate change and inequality, into a source of balanced economic growth, human health and a flourishing natural environment.”

Common good

The study highlights another key player in landscape regeneration. The Commonland not-for-profit organisation. It works to reclaim landscapes in some of the most climate-stressed areas, including the Mediterranean, South Africa and Australia. It combines and connects natural and economic landscape zones.

Commonand’s strategy is to create three different landscape zones: natural zone where tourism can develop; an economic zone with real estate and agriculture, and a combined zone which is a buffer that restores the landscape while developing agroforestry and orchards. All three zones would absorb carbon.

People and community play a key role in the vision with “four returns”:

  • Inspiration, which gives people hope and a sense of purpose
  • Social capital
  • Natural capital, such as biodiversity and soil quality
  • Financial capital, which is sustainable and long term

Commonland is working with Wide Open Agriculture to transform the vast, arid and abandoned Western Australian wheat belt with an ecosystem in crisis into a new sustainable food producer.

The plan is to promote farming practices with innovative water management, restoring the soil and biodiversity as well as huge greenhouses for fruit and vegetables, and encouraging immigrants – the “new Australians” – to re-establish businesses, farms and communities.

There are also plans to scale-up and encourage investment by listing on the Australian Stock Exchange.

Sustainable forests

While ideas vary on how to limit global warming to 1.5C, as advised by last year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report last year there is one overwhelmingly accepted truth – absorbing the CO2 in the air is crucial.

The IPCC estimates that between 100 and 1,000 gigatons of CO2 will need to be removed from the atmosphere to keep global warming within 1.5 degrees.

The whitepaper says:

“Forests play an essential role in this. Every year, trees collectively suck in more than a hundred billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which is around 60 times the weight of all the humans currently on the planet, while one tree can store around 22kg of carbon dioxide in one year.”

While forestry devastation continues at a brisk pace,  the study highlight successes the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala, where the Rainforest Alliance has a decades-long partnership with indigenous and rural communities.

There, the net forest cover increased for the first time in 17 years, gaining 1,087 hectares of forest, between 2016 and 2017.

A range of solutions, including conservation and restoration of forests, and improved land management practices that provide cleaner water, cleaner air and more fertile soil on a local level, currently receive only about 2.5% of public climate financing, around a tenth of the investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The whitepaper says:

“Forests and land use can play a huge role in humanity staying within the 1.5C target of global warming, but this will require huge efforts to scale-up forest protection and restoration. Sadly, the recognition of their importance co-exists with a lack of political and business will to take the action required to stop our forests being destroyed and eliminated.”

Tree planting growth

The study provides some hope with a focus on three start-up companies that are finding growth opportunities in planting trees.

Amsterdam-based Land Life Company has adapted a 4,000-year-old solution used by farmers in North Africa who irrigated their seedling with clay pots buried and filled with water, not wasting a drop and directing the water to where it was needed.

Its Cocoon technology is made from recycled paper pulp, made watertight by a wax coating, and is light and stackable.

The company uses this method to boost the survival chances of young trees, along with use of plant science, climate and soil data. It plans to  plant 300,000 trees this autumn in Texas and in Spain, Europe’s fastest growing desert.

Since September 2017, the company has been working In North Cameroon with the UNHCR and refugees and locals to reforest over 100 acres of badly degraded land in and around the Minawao refugee camp, where an influx of over 60,000 people fleeing Boko Haram from neighbouring Nigeria has denuded the land of its forest.

The study advises that as well as its positive environmental impact, the initiative is providing jobs and food, and a means to build bridges with the local host community.

Orchard trees

In Florida, farmers hit by a greening disease are abandoning, while in Hawaii cost and competition are forcing growers to stop growing sugar cane. The US-based TerViva company is restoring this degraded farmland in Florida and Hawaii with a novel tree-planting programme.

It has selected the Pongamia orchard tree, which has a lifespan of at least 25 years, and can be grown with little or no irrigation. The company has invested $15 million to develop a plant science team and a library of high-yielding cultivars, tested in different soils and climates.

The study says:

“Pongamia is nitrogen-fixing, and has huge carbon sequestration potential. It can also be used as a biofuel and is 90% less greenhouse-gas emitting (well to wheel) than soy bean oil, says Sikka. The seeds produce 10 times as much oil per acre, and three to five times the protein content compared with soy.”

TerViva has identified the bioactive compounds that currently make the oilseeds unpalatable and found techniques to remove them. TerViva will extract the oil for conversion into biodiesel with the residue used to produce animal feed or fertiliser.

Farmers receive a payment upfront when they deliver the crop for processing by TerViva, and a share of the profits when the processed oil and protein are sold. Farmers should make a profit of around $900 per acre.

Sustainable timber

Dry woodlands in Kenya and across the whole continent are under threat. They face being wiped out because of soaring demand for wood for fuel.

Komaza is a Swahili word meaning “to encourage growth” and the company using the name in Kenya has helped thousands of smallholder farmers to plant 2.5 million trees, providing sustainable timber over the past decade.

With a massive scale-up this year, it is on track to plant another 1.3 million, helping to ease rural poverty and deforestation. The company harvests the whole tree, currently eucalyptus or a valuable mahogany-like wood called melia, except the leaves and the tops of the trees, which can be used for firewood.

Komaza provides farmers with seedlings, fertilizers and water barrels, with training to help them prepare the land and plant on time. The trees increase soil moisture that benefits other crops and leaf litter helps to regenerate topsoil. Komaza plans to add more species to diversify against pests and disease

In the next 10-15 years Komaza aims to expand across the drylands of Kenya into more fertile regions of the continent.

Founder Tevis Howard says in the study:

“We want to make it as easy as possible for smallholders. There’s no downside risk – if the trees die because of drought, pests – it’s us who lose. We pay farmers very significantly above the market price for the wood we harvest.”

One of TerViva’s backers is Jeremy Grantham, co-founder of Boston investment manager GMO. His family foundation set up climate research centres at Imperial College and the London School of Economics. The whitepaper highlights that earlier this year, he criticised companies for their lack of vision over the perils of climate change.

Hope for the future

There is no doubt that corporates and governments are not moving swiftly enough to defuse the climate emergency. But the two whitepapers demonstrate clearly what can be achieved with restorative and preservative initiatives. The investment capacity is primed and full to bursting and a combination of courage, astute business sensibilities and active support from government can drive progress towards the 1.5C target.

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