Saturday, March 23, 2013

How sauerkraut will save the world!

You hear it everywhere  climate change and the loss of soil fertility are two issues that threaten our food security. Last week, on Swiss TV, I came across a pretty hilarious report on how sauerkraut juice could both increase soil fertility and contribute to climate change mitigation. Sauerkraut could therefore save us all from starving and insure a sustainable agriculture.

This is a pretty funny and unexpected  but serious idea. As Thomas Rippel explains : if you mix manure with sauerkraut juice then the manure will not rot anymore and lesser ammonia (a gaz responsible for climate change) gets lost in the atmosphere and the fertility of the manure is increased. That manure combined with coal increases soil fertility and traps CO2 in the soil. And therefore European farmers could contribute to reduces the CO2, and join the emission trading, making the whole effort profitable.

A pretty amazing idea that I will never be able to explain as well as the man behind the idea :

This is the report from the Swiss TV in German with an interview of Thomas Rippel

and here is a presentation given by Thomas Rippel in English

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Economics of natural disasters

My recent trips to the Philippines made me discover a new part of the world but also opened my eyes on natural disasters. In the Philippines, one should live far from the beach because of the tsunami, somewhere is the valleys to be protected from typhoons, but also not too near to the rivers to avoid flooding. Not talking of earth quake which could happen everywhere... So one is left with living on the slope of a volcano, which activity seems at least for now to be minor :-S.

I just found an interesting video from Aljazeera on the effect of natural disaster on the economy : It discusses that the problem is not only the extreme event, but the effect of the event is much bigger due to the lack of natural resource management such as forests in rural area. Furthermore urbanization leads more people to cities. The poor have to move to the areas where cheaper land which is located in higher risk zones. As the poor also live more densely, a disaster will touch more people and the poorer ones...

Have a look at this interesting movie!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Women's day : is empowering women a mission impossible?

The 8th of March is Women's day, a day made to reflect on the position of women in the world. Last year I have shown the women I had met in rural Ethiopia and how they live (see Often they do very hard work, have very little power in their families and social environment. But not all is bad, even in Ethiopia you can find women that are slowly making their way or in rural communities or the agricultural sector and get more and more their voices heart. Today I would like to introduce you to some of these women who somehow impressed me and are part of a change.

Women presenting their work in Gorosole watershed
Firstly, last year I coordinated focus group discussions in 4 communities in Ethiopia (see, and we worked with women separately so that their voice could be heart. Some of these women never had a pen in their hand and first were afraid to draw the map and to even say something.

Women working on a participatory mapping exercise in Maksegnit
But along the discussion, most women started feeling more comfortable, started talking and even tried to take a pen and draw or use the glue. They discovered that they are in fact capable of doing many things, but they simply had never tried before. They also discovered that their opinion was valuable to us, and not just the one of their husbands. At the end of the exercise women presented their work to the men's group. I was impressed how these women managed to defend their work, when men started to criticize, something most of them had not done before.

Women presenting their work in Shambu
But it is not only about getting women into expressing their opinions in community discussions but it is also about getting more women in trainings and pushing them to gain experience. We tried to involve women into the moderation of focus group discussions. For all of them it was their first moderation exercise, they were already so much more sure of themselves for the second round... so hopefully not it was not their the last one.

training the female moderator for the focus group discussions
Also we tried to get women into all the trainings, with more or less of success. Like in the western world, it is very difficult to find women working in engineering or ict.

The only Ethiopian female participant in a training for water practitioners
Also, during the GIS training, some of the class was taught by the Ethiopian female GIS specialist of IWMI, who after giving the class once became a good teacher.

The GIS training with the female participants on the left, and the female GIS specialist second from the right

I also once had an Ethiopian intern who was very shy. It took energy and training. But when she left she gave such a breath taking presentation of her work, sure of herself and ready to defend her work.

The Ethiopian women's run last year with the Ethiopian intern

I am impressed by all these women, who all have made a big step given the situation there are in. They all show us that in fact, it does not take so much to empower women. Far from being a mission impossible, it was just a matter of giving to each of these woman the chance to do something she had never done before and giving her the possibility to grow. So why doesn't it happen more often?

Monday, March 4, 2013

A stop to urban sprawl in Switzerland

This week end, the Swiss population accepted among others the new land use law. The new law aims at limiting urban sprawl by freezing the amount of development areas for the next twenty years. The basic principle behind it is to limit the areas that are converted from agricultural land into urban land, but increasing the density within the urban areas.

Indeed, in Switzerland, local zoning plan define how densely a certain area can be build by fixing the percentage of square meter a construction is allowed to cover, as well as a maximum volume that can be built on a plot. Sometimes also the maximum of floors are fixed. On paper it is relatively easy to change these values and allow new and bigger constructions.

See the a short history of urbanization of Switzerland (by Swiss TV in German)

But is it really so easy? if the intensification does not take place, then Switzerland will be lacking in housing capacity and the already high rents might go up. I am now living near to one of these areas where the intensification potential is already there. Some investor bought villas with big gardens, and wanted to build more intense, with flats. This is exactly what the new land use law is expecting. But the project never took place, because the population stood up and wanted to keep the historical picture of the town... so the success of this law will depend on our capacity to let old constructions go and get more modern buildings.

The most interesting part of the new law is its new financial tools coming with it. A new tax will be perceived on land that has been reclassified from agricultural land to urban. This allows to raise money for developing infrastructure in rural areas and landscape (or paying out the people for the plots that would be reassigned from urban to agriculture). A great financial tool that was already discussed a lot in the Netherlands during my PhD time.

I am looking forward to see how this law will be implemented!