Nature provides us with countless services, fresh water, food, clean air, home to billions of species, and medicines. Ecosystem services contribute an estimated $125-140 trillion a year to the world’s economy. Yet, it is impossible to quantify the cost of our natural world, because it is essential to all humans and living life. Yet, every six seconds we lose a football field of rainforest, and species extinction is 1,000 and 10,000 times greater than it would be without humans. The UN states species extinction rates are accelerating, at an unprecedented rate, with over a million species of animals and plants threatened. According to WWF’s Living Planet report, the wildlife population dropped by 68% between 1970 and 2018.
The Earthshot Prize, launched by Prince William and David Attenborough, seeks to identify and help scale up the solutions created by eco-innovators that will help repair and regenerate the planet by 2030. The Earthshot Prize, Roadmap to Regeneration, sets out the priorities for the five Earthshots, one of which is ‘Protect And Restore Nature’.
The ‘Protect and Restore Nature’ Earthshot states that “by 2030 we globally chose to ensure that for the first time in human history, the natural world would grow rather than shrink”. The shortlisted initiatives for this category are innovators whose projects align with the category’s main objectives including repair and preserve the habitats that animals need to live, to stop poaching, illegal wildlife trafficking, to create job opportunities for people who look after the land and to help scale solutions for planting billions of more trees. This insight highlights the global problem, and the 3 initiatives awarded the Earthshot Prize, that seek to mitigate these impacts and ultimately protect and restore nature.
Agriculture is the leading source of pollution in many countries, contributing to global warming and as a result, endangering many species. Pesticides, fertilizers and other toxic farm chemicals can poison fresh water, marine ecosystems, air and soil. They also can remain in the environment for generations. The need for sustainable resource management and sustainable agriculture practices is increasingly urgent, especially as the demand for increased global food supply with a growing population. Agriculture is the world’s largest industry; it employs more than a billion people and generates over $1.3 trillion dollars of food annually. Currently, it is inherently unsustainable and layered with contractions.
Current food and land use systems cause up to 30% of total greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to the direct impact of agricultural pollution, food systems generate widespread malunion, with more than 820 million people still going hungry, yet some 680 million are obese. Our current food and agriculture systems perpetuate poverty, and inequality and place a burden on our health. Two-thirds of the 740 million people living in extreme poverty are agricultural workers and their dependents. In addition, of the world’s 570 million farms, over 80% cover less than two hectares. As a result, small-hold farms produce a third of our food, yet these farmers recover minimal return, often not enough to even feed their families.
India is one of the most climate-affected countries in the world. It is also home to over 100 million small-hold farmers. This year it recorded its earliest and one of its fiercest heatwaves on record, slashing harvests when the world was already beset by food shortages. Kheyti was created to build technology solutions for small hold farmers, designing, adapting and implementing low-cost farming solutions to increase yield and predictability of produce. Their product, ‘Greenhouse-in-a-box’, is an affordable, modular greenhouse bundled with full stack services that use 90% less water, grows 7 times more food and gives farmers a steady dependable income. Kheyti also trains and supports farmers throughout the process to ensure their greenhouses are effective as possible. The result is a higher yield, cheaper production rate, few pesticides and less water, in addition to doubling farmers’ incomes. Currently, 1,000 farms have a Kheyti greenhouse, but numbers are rapidly growing. The aim is that by 2027, Kheyti wants 50,000 farmers to have a Greenhouse-in-a-Box.
As our natural world changes, the threat of desertification greatens. The UN defines desertification as a “diminution or destruction of the biological potential of the land which can lead ultimately to desert-like conditions”. Human activities including the expansion and intensive use of agricultural lands, poor irrigation practices, deforestation and overgrazing; these practices place enormous pressures on the land, altering the soil chemistry, and overexploiting its nutrients resulting in unfertile land. As global temperatures rise, this process is likely to accelerate as evaporation rates increase. When desertification occurs, farmers are forced to leave the unfertile land, resulting in lower crop production, exacerbating food insecurity and global hunger.
‘Desert Agricultural Transformation’ is an organisation that is seeking to reverse the desertification process, using a technique called ‘desert soilization’. Soilization mixes a water-based paste with sand and applies it to the desert surface, giving it the same physical and ecological properties as soil – with the same capacity for water and fertiliser retention and ventilation. As crops grow and roots decay, the soilized sand becomes self-sustaining. This process of desert soilization has been shown to work on 1,130 hectares of arable land. The technique is so successful that the yield of some crops even increases up to four times. By converting desert sand into farmable land, the solution provides secure incomes to the world’s remotest communities.
The forests of the Kinabatangan floodplain in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, are among the richest and most biodiverse in the world. They are home to the endangered Bornean orangutan, elephant, proboscis monkey, and clouded leopard. Yet, past human activities have broken up large swathes of the Kinabatangan natural forest into fragments, resulting in isolated wildlife patches with no alternative other than venturing through agricultural land and villages when moving between islands of protected forest.
Hutan’s solution to this is the development of wildlife corridors. A wildlife corridor is an area of land that connects habitat fragments, allowing wildlife to move between these spaces. Because of these connections, fragments can function more like a larger habitat area; more resources are available across this larger area, and so more wildlife can be supported without affecting local communities and plantations.
Over the past 25 years, Hutan has thoroughly studied and monitored the region’s biodiversity, from wild orangutan and elephant research to hornbill and frog surveys. These studies revealed that wildlife and biodiversity levels in this area could be sustained for the future if animals were allowed to travel freely and safely between the remaining fragments of protected habitat. These findings now guide Hutan’s efforts to create strategic wildlife corridors and to reforest degraded areas with native trees, ensuring safe passage, food and shelter to orangutans and other species. At the same time, Hutan provides environmental education and training to communities and landowners to live side-by-side with wildlife.
Alizah Beg is a Sustainability Consultant in Itriom’s London Office.
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Alizah is an ESG Consultant and researcher. She supports Itriom developing sustainability related products and services, helping our clients identify potential opportunities for creating positive environmental, social and sustainable impact.
Georgie is an ESG Analyst and researcher. She researches trends, develops insights and reports, and writes insight articles on sustainability and ESG related topics to ensure Itriom’s clients are up to date on the latest policy, progress and initiatives to inform the platform and help our clients maximise their positive impact.
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