Maui: Sustainable Living in Paradise

By Lauren Berger

This blog post originally appeared on the Brighter Green website on June 26, 2013.

A beautiful Maui beach

A beautiful Maui beach

Maui, one of the Hawaiian Islands, is known for its beautiful beaches and amazing weather. It’s no wonder it is a huge tourist destination. But Maui is more than just a beautiful tourist destination, it is, in many ways, a model of sustainable living. The local government and population cherish this beautiful island and have made conscious efforts to encourage greener living, particularly when a tourist culture has contributed to the island’s pollution.

Prohibitive Prices Encourage Greener Living
Living on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is prohibitively expensive. The majority of goods must be imported, meaning higher prices than mainland United States. For example, gasoline (which must be imported) is at least five dollars per gallon and milk can be six dollars per gallon. These extreme costs have encouraged local production and consumption of goods as well as renewable sources of energy.

The high price of energy in Maui has caused most locals to use one of the island’s greatest commodity – the sun. If you drive around Maui, you will see solar panels atop the majority of houses. Most houses use solar energy to heat their water and many houses use solar energy to power their entire homes. Using solar energy to power entire homes can reduce monthly energy bills from hundreds of dollars to under ten dollars a month. (It should be noted that installing solar panels is very expensive but there are tax breaks for residents who install panels on their homes. Residents find the panels “pay for themselves” over a few years due to the amount they save in their energy bills.) Using solar energy, rather than expensive non-renewable energy sources, saves money and provides a financial incentive to use greener technology, resulting in an increased environmental benefit.

But whether a local resident decides to use solar energy to benefit the environment or their wallet is unclear. What is clear is using solar energy and other renewable energy sources (wind energy is also utilized) makes Maui “greener” and more sustainable.

Marine Conservation
As you would expect, tourists and local residents love the ocean. If you walk on any Maui beach, you’ll find many items that harm Marine life: cigarette butts, bagged dog waste, leftover food (apple cores, nut shells), and bottles and cans. This is not due to a lack of proper disposal options: there are recycling and trash bins at every public entrance to the beach. There are many local residents who clean the beach daily, picking up after those who leave these items behind. Unfortunately, many tourists leave items like leftover food out of ignorance. They do not necessarily know that these items are harmful to the ocean and marine life.

But, as a way to combat one of the most environmentally degrading items, particularly for marine life, Hawaii has banned plastic bags (and is the first state in the U.S. to ban plastic bags). Many places require you to bring your own bag and if you don’t, only paper bags will be supplied. This keeps plastic bags from polluting the ocean and harming marine life, as well as preserving our environment as a whole. By banning plastic bags, no tourist or individual can use the bags out of ignorance, inadvertently harming the beaches and ocean they love to visit.

I found Maui to truly be the future of incorporating environmentally sustainable practices not just through individual choices, but through governmental initiatives as well. By incorporating the environment into government legislation and giving incentives for individuals to adopt sustainable practices, Maui makes living green just a part of island life.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Berger


Kenya’s Move Towards Solar Energy (Part II)

By Julie Ojiambo

This blog post originally appeared on the Brighter Green website on June 22, 2013.

Why Kenya is Prime for Solar Energy

Kenya lies conveniently on the equator, and as a result receives direct solar energy throughout the year. The use of solar energy is a relatively new concept in Kenya and many believe that the use of solar energy is a better alternative to traditional power sources and will help eliminate the problem of a lack of electricity in rural areas. A shift to solar energy would involve educating people on this new technology, as many do not know the benefits of solar energy, but some communities have already started embracing solar energy as an alternative energy source.

Though the initial cost of installation might be high, it has been proven to save money in the long run and is easy to maintain (a properly installed solar system can last about twenty years). Additionally, solar panel installation does not take too long, installing solar panels in an average sized household takes about a day while other larger establishments such as tented camps and resorts can take up to four days. A 450 watt system is enough to supply a family with lights and provide power to operate a microwave, television, and kettle. A system of up to 3,000 watts is enough to supply a household with electricity for all its basic needs, including laundry machines and kitchen appliances.*

There are quite a range of solar products available in the market to suit consumers’ needs. A full solar home system costs about Kshs 11,395/135.67 U.S. Dollars (USD), solar lanterns cost approximately Kshs 1,180/ 14.05 USD and solar phone chargers go for a price of Kshs 2,450/ 29.17 USD, they are indeed very handy commodities.

Like most other industries the solar energy industry in Kenya has its fair share of challenges. Firstly the initial cost of installation may be high for the average person, – some of the products have to be supplemented by batteries at an additional cost. But mostly, solar energy is very valuable to the Kenyan people.

The use of solar energy will also help reduce detrimental environmental activities that contribute to climate change. The use of solar energy may help stop the degradation of forests, particularly the Mau forest Kenyans admire and cherish, as people move away from using wood for electricity. This shift towards solar energy is needed to sustain a green environment and to generate power for almost every Kenyan household. If embraced by the people of Kenya, connectivity will increase from the current 15 percent and the country will be a step closer to achieving its 2030 plan: a vision to create a globally competitive and prosperous nation with a high quality of life by 2030.

*These figures were obtained by inquiring roadside street vendors in Kenya.

Kenya’s Move Towards Solar Energy (Part I)

By Julie Ojiambo

This blog post originally appeared on the Brighter Green website on June 20, 2013.

The Benefits of Electricity in Rural Kenya

It is estimated that one in five people on the planet do not have access to electricity (World Bank data bank). In sub-Saharan Africa, about 70 percent of the population has no electricity and surprisingly in Kenya, only 15 percent of the population has proper access to power. This is a depiction of how electricity is available to few people despite Kenya’s population of 34 million.

Electricity is a rare commodity for many households and generally considered a luxurious commodity for many in regions across the country. But people in the developed world can barely imagine the thought of having to sustain themselves without electricity. Business would come to a standstill, schools would close, and peoples’ lifestyles would be greatly affected; it would indeed be a chaotic world. While engrossed in their daily activities, people in the developed world may fail to realize that limited access to power is a reality in many households in Kenya, the African region as a whole, and countries in the global south.

The energy sector in Kenya is greatly driven by the use of petroleum and electricity. Wood fuel is also widely used to provide rural communities, the urban poor, and the informal sector (locally referred to as the ‘Jua Kali’ sector: businessmen and entrepreneurs that sell crafts on roadsides, informal makeshift shelters etc.) with their energy needs. Biomass also accounts for about 68 percent of Kenya’s total energy needs (here, biomass constitutes substances such as wood fuel and crude oil that ultimately becomes petroleum). The Kenyan government has taken great strides to ensure that electricity is largely accessible to those in marginalized, remote areas. However, despite the government’s efforts, the number of people without electricity is still very high. The Kenyan government has put various mechanisms in place to ensure connectivity increases from the current rate of 15 percent to 65 percent by the year 2020.

Without electricity, many Kenyans are restrained from engaging in a number of essential activities that people in developed countries can freely enjoy. Access to electricity ensures that school going children can study at night and have an equal chance at succeeding in their education. It would save subsistence farmers many hard hours of labor by using electricity to run machinery and would revolutionize the Kenyan agricultural sector making it more efficient. Access to electricity allows even those in marginalized areas access to the internet and cell phones. Electricity will not only improve their lives but also decrease poverty levels as people will freely engage in income generating activities.

The Human Victims of Industrial Agriculture

By Jessika Ava

This blog post originally appeared on the Brighter Green website on June 17, 2013.

On the week of June 3rd, China provided another sad example of the impacts of industrial agriculture-showing that animals aren’t the only victims. A poultry slaughterhouse in Northeast Jilin province caught fire leading to the death of at least 119 workers. The factory was overcrowded, exits narrow and unmarked, and no emergency plan was in place. And, many of the doors, in efforts to keep workers from departing during work hours, were locked from the outside, making exiting an impossible task.

Work place safety standards are commonly poor in China, with unenforced regulations often linked to corruption and prioritizing profit over human rights. But China is not alone, across the globe industrial animal agriculture fails in worker safety standards.

Human Rights Watch has called factory farm working conditions a “systematic human rights abuse”. Slaughterhouse workers regularly experience lacerations and musculoskeletal injuries from the fast-paced repetitive motion needed to uphold extreme production speed demands. Factory farm workers inhale hazardous levels of airborne particles such as dry fecal matter, skin cells, and bacteria, as well as toxic gases including ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, making chronic respiratory illnesses and cardiovascular complications common. Workers routinely experience eye and skin infections from contact with hazardous fluids, burns from exposure to hot surfaces, sprains from falls while working in congested, soiled areas, lowered immune systems from toxicity inhalation, and zoonotic flues transmitted from animals.

Moreover, the issue reaches beyond the factory farm and slaughterhouse walls. Modern day slavery exists in the Brazilian cattle industry as men are forced to clear forest land used for beef cows and soy feed production. Attempted escapees are often met with murder.

And the human rights abuses continue to trickle down society. Local small-scale farmers are forced out of business because they can’t compete with large-scale farms. Not only are families losing their income-but the village is also losing its local food source.

Industrial agriculture may produce cheap food, but at the cost of human safety, dignity, and food security, as well as animal welfare and a healthy planet.

Preventing a Livestock Revolution in Liberia: the Need for a New International Vision

By Ross Miranti

This blog post originally appeared on the Brighter Green website on June 12, 2013.

In Liberia, the FAO has been involved in a number of poultry projects for both broilers and laying hens. It has constructed three factory farm style operations in the interior of the country to train locals in “modern and intensive poultry production and management practices.” It has also teamed up with the Ministries of Gender and Agriculture under the Joint Program on Food Security and Nutrition to construct ten other poultry houses throughout the country. None of these operations house much more than 1,000 birds, though they are set up like intensive factory farms and provide a model for future operations, which will surely increase in size and numbers as the country develops. So in short, the FAO — which outlined the heavy environmental impacts of the global livestock sector in the widely cited report Livestock’s Long Shadow — is now encouraging the future development of factory farming in Liberia.
The government of Liberia has also led livestock projects. As part of the Disarmament, Demobilization, Resettlement, and Reintegration program (DDRR), it worked with the UNDP to train ex-combatants in animal husbandry, with emphasis on poultry farming. While most other DDRR programs made a positive impact on the livelihoods of ex-combatants, the livestock program had very limited success because of a shortage of start-up animals, the heavy cost of feed and other inputs, and the difficulty participants had in selling to local populations that couldn’t afford to eat meat regularly.

Liberian rain forest

Liberian rain forest

Even though intensive, modern livestock is the wrong way to improve nutrition and food security in Liberia, that is not to say that supporting the production of plant-based food alternatives will take care of the country’s food problems by itself. Resolving these issues is a complex endeavor because Liberia’s food system is dysfunctional in so many ways: unstable property rights, endemic corruption, lack of access to credit, low technological innovation, few storage facilities, the absence of an electrical grid outside the capital, paralyzing flooding that comes with heavy rains, poor transportation infrastructure (especially in the interior of the country, where most food is produced), the reliance of the country on expensive imported food, and low government investment and support for agriculture.

So, reducing malnutrition and promoting food security in a responsible way requires the broader development of the country. While Liberia makes progress in these areas, they should also shift support away from intensive livestock operations and more towards the production of protein-rich, plant-based foods for direct human consumption. This would yield more food per acre and have the added benefit of using less water, lowering carbon emissions, protecting Liberia’s biodiverse rainforests, reducing animal suffering, and, in the long-term, preventing some of the diet-related health problems associated with the high consumption of animal products.

Admittedly, it is a bit unrealistic to think that Liberia or any other developing country could be steered away from adopting diets high in meat, especially when the overwhelming majority of the population eats and craves meat, but is unable to consume as much as they want due to their low incomes. Policy makers in these countries – and in the rest of the world, for that matter – are unwilling and uninterested in supporting policies to lower meat consumption because they themselves have a bias in favor of eating meat and because any such policy would be hugely unpopular with their constituents. And even if the production of plant-based proteins were to be ramped up, as long as there are cheap (and often subsidized) livestock products available on the world market, they will be imported.
Any hopes of keeping meat consumption at bay in Liberia will not only require institutional support but also a dramatic shift in public sensibilities; a social education, of sorts. This seems unlikely to happen in the relatively short period of time that development is occurring, especially given that most of the population is illiterate. Even in the developed world, where populations are literate, educated, and, in general, sensitive to environmental concerns, most people do not perceive the negative impacts of livestock as a major global issue – in fact many don’t see it as an issue at all.

So in the end, Liberia could, hypothetically, do everything in its power to see that it doesn’t replicate the dietary shifts that other countries have adopted during their development, but reversing the livestock revolution there will truly require a global partnership that transcends borders, culture, and habit. It will also require a radical global shift in how people think about food. Hopefully the world doesn’t have to come to a crisis point for its population to see that livestock is not a sustainable way to nourish a burgeoning world population, but the current path we are on is leading in that direction.

This blog is third in a series of three blog posts on Liberia and animal agriculture.

Photo courtesy of Flora and Fauna International

Livestock Intensification as a Misguided Response to Liberia’s Food Woes

By Ross Miranti

This blog post originally appeared on the Brighter Green website on June 7, 2013.


Liberian poultry operation

Like much of Sub-Saharan Africa, Liberia struggles with malnutrition and food insecurity. While finding solutions to these problems is a major developmental goal for the country, unfortunately, the government and its international partners’ response has included a strong emphasis on livestock production. This is problematic given the negative impacts animal agriculture has in terms of sustainability, food security, climate change, and animal welfare.

The problems of malnutrition and food insecurity in Liberia are quite distinct from those of East Africa, where there have been repeated climate change-related droughts in recent years. At the height of the 2011 food crisis in the Horn of Africa, 13.5 million people were facing food shortages and 3.2 million were on the brink of starvation due to a lack of food and water. Liberia, on the other hand, gets plenty of rain – in fact, during the wet season the rain can be too abundant for certain crops to thrive (the capital, Monrovia, can get up to 5,000 millimeters of precipitation annually). In the lush tropical climate of equatorial West Africa, where banana, palm nut, and mangoes grow everywhere, Liberians may not be starving, but many are not eating as much as they would like to eat and even more are lacking in certain key nutrients such as protein, iron, and vitamin A.

The funding and support for livestock in the country is grounded in the fact that meat, eggs, and dairy can provide nutrients that are deficient from the diets of many Liberians. To increase consumption of these products, there has been a concerted effort to boost domestic supply. Currently, production falls short of demand since there are only a few small commercial operations and most poultry is still produced in small-scale, backyard operations consisting of a few free-roaming chickens. Because of production shortfalls, the country imports most of its poultry products; according to the FAO, 3,190 of the 6,647 tons of eggs consumed in the country in 2009 came from India, with much of the rest coming from neighboring Guinea.

The support for livestock is misguided in that there are plant-based food alternatives that offer the same nutritional benefits as animal products without the negative impacts. In emerging countries such as China, where incomes have been increasing rapidly, there has been a corresponding rise in the consumption of animal products to levels at or even above that in some developed countries. These massive dietary shifts are not only having negative impacts in terms of sustainability, food security, climate change, and animal welfare, but the health gains are lost as populations become “overnourished” by consuming an excess of calories and animal products, which leads to a range of chronic, diet-related health problems.

So it is commendable that the UN, NGOs, and the Liberian government respond to the country’s food woes by promoting the production and access to food that can keep the population nourished, but the enthusiastic support for modern livestock seems to lack any consideration for the long-term impacts of factory farming and high meat consumption. In other words, if Liberia and its development partners were thinking about how to best develop the country’s food systems in a way that is sustainable, healthy, climate-friendly, and protective of their precious rain forests, then they would not be instructing Liberians in how to set up concentrated animal feeding operations.

This blog is two in a series of three blog posts on Liberia and animal agriculture.

Photo courtesy of Liberia Broadcasting System

Meat and Development in Liberia

By Ross Miranti

This blog originally appeared on the Brighter Green website on June 4, 2013.

Meat consumption correlates with income; poorer individuals and countries tend to consume less than their wealthier counterparts. This applies to Liberia, one of the poorest nations in the world, which has an annual per capita income of about 374 dollars and an annual per capita meat consumption of about 10.4 kilograms/kg (22.9 pounds/lbs).

Three decades ago Liberia was one of the more prosperous nations in Sub-Saharan Africa, but the violent, fourteen year civil war (1989 to 2003) devastated the country in countless ways; it claimed 250,000 lives, displaced over 600,000 people, demolished infrastructure, and ravaged the economy.

The standard of living for the average Liberian diminished quickly, with the GDP falling 90 percent in the first five years of the war. Today, incomes remain low, even with a flood of aid money, the presence of a major UN peacekeeping force, and the ambitious efforts of president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state.

Unlike most countries in the world, including many of its neighbors, Liberia has lower levels of meat consumption than it did fifty years ago (see the graph below). Today, average per capita consumption is slightly less than it was in 1961, when Liberia’s meat consumption was above that of most other Sub-Saharan African countries and three times higher than that of China. Since then, per capita consumption in China has increased fifteen fold and is over five times that of Liberia.

 Source: FAOSTAT

Though meat consumption in Liberia remains low, it is likely to rise dramatically with increasing incomes, much as it has in other countries. In the coming century, the entire region of Sub-Saharan Africa seems set for a massive increase in the consumption of animal products as incomes creep up and populations grow rapidly. The net impact of this regional dietary shift will be harmful in terms of sustainability, climate change, food security, animal welfare, and public health.

While this dietary shift in Liberia and the region will push our global food system more towards an ecological tipping point – spiking global demand for scarce agricultural land, consuming more fresh water, contributing further to climate change, and consigning an increasing number of animals to livestock production (over 60 billion animals worldwide are involved in livestock each year) – one mustn’t overlook the persistently high consumption of meat and other animal products in the U.S. and the rest of the developed world. If the international community is to mitigate the global externalities of livestock, developing countries will need to resist the urge to put meat at the center of their diets, but likewise, developed countries will need to work on removing it from the center of theirs.

Rich countries can help to prevent or reverse the livestock revolution in poor countries like Liberia by leading by example. So far, only a minority in the U.S. and the rest of the developed world believe that meat, eggs, and dairy are not the right foods we should be using to nourish the world’s population. Perhaps high-income countries need to develop their understanding of the impacts of the livestock revolution before they can help Liberia and other low-income countries develop their food systems in a truly humane, sustainable, and climate-friendly way.

This blog is first in a series of three blogs on Liberia and animal agriculture.

Graph created by Ross Miranti using FAOSTAT statistics