Category Archives: Environment

On Earth Day’s 50th anniversary, bees buzz with hope for California sisters

beekeeping 7 CROP
Sr. Barbara Hagel with a frame from one of her hives on the property of the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose in Fremont, California. All of the bees in a hive are genetically related to the queen, making all of the worker bees sisters. (Melanie Lidman)

FREMONT, CALIFORNIA — A few times a week, Sr. Barbara Hagel of the Dominican Sisters of the Queen of the Holy Rosary suits up in a very different type of veil, a mesh facemask that zips to a large white jacket known as a bee suit. Carefully, she reaches in to check on one of the 13 beehives on her property. As she pulls out a frame of honeycomb, it vibrates with bees, a frenetic mass of activity shimmering in black and gold.

Hagel said it can be a spiritual moment, the first glimpse of the bees dancing over honeycomb cells.

“I’m constantly in awe of what I see and what is happening with the bees, and how the more I learn, the more I think about how God made this so incredibly complex and beautiful,” said Hagel, who serves as the Care of Creation and Sustainability coordinator for her congregation, which is also referred to as the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose.

The world celebrates Earth Day on April 22 in the shadow of a global pandemic. This year is the 50th anniversary of the original Earth Day celebrations that birthed the modern environmental movement, though the realities of the COVID-19 outbreak will push most of the celebrations and demonstrations online.

With the widespread collapse of bee colonies and the danger this poses for ecosystems, beekeepers are a small but essential part of the larger fight against climate change.

 

 

 

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/environment/news/earth-days-50th-anniversary-bees-buzz-hope-california-sisters

 

Our common home needs you on the frontline today

Earth
Students and activists hold placards with messages as they participate in a Global Climate Strike rally in New Delhi Sept. 20, 2019. (CNS/Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis)

COVID-19 has put the brakes on life as we know it. Travel and regular strolls (outside and in the supermarket) are the first to leave everyone’s itineraries. Uncertainty and foregoing daily activities has caused a lot of sleepless nights as we helplessly and radically change our lifestyles to stop the pandemic.

That is not to say that quarantines have made our lives completely miserable. After all, adapting is common nature to humans. Generally speaking, families are having meals together again, those who can work from home are now a little more tech-savvy, and people are more in touch with a slower pace of life.

But would this be the same story for those less fortunate?

Those from low socio-economic backgrounds and the elderly are hit twice as hard. After all, the pandemic is more than a public health issue – it’s a social justice issue, too.

Quarantines are only bearable if one has a stable job that can be done from the comfort of home, if one has emergency savings for basic necessities, if one has a job they can continue or return to.

When community quarantine was imposed in the Philippines, hundreds of thousands of people living below the poverty line had no other choice but to fight for rationed food. Some risked being infected or arrested because staying at home would mean their family not eating for weeks. For those less fortunate, the question in their head is: “How will I exist?”

In many ways COVID-19 is just like another existential threat – climate change. Both global issues create unprecedented adverse impacts to public health and society. Both issues have the ability to crumple global economies. Neither issue discriminates in selecting victims. But its short and long-term impacts definitely discriminate based on social class. And most importantly, both issues are at the mercy of human intervention aimed at reducing the spread of infection and emissions.

To protect the vulnerable from COVID-19 and climate change, we have to change the way we work and live. Fortunately, putting others before ourselves is paramount in Catholic teaching.

In 2015, Pope Francis penned “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” which challenged every Christian to experience an ecological conversion. He challenged us to “hear the cries of the earth and the cries of the poor” — an intentional prioritization to ease the suffering of the most vulnerable in society.

All of us are suffering but some are suffering more because they started with less to begin with. Most of us privileged enough to work from home must listen to the cries of the poor in the face of the virus and climate change. To secure an intergenerational solution to the two existential threats we currently face, Pope Francis’ challenge rings true: “We require a new and universal solidarity.… All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.”

Perhaps this quarantine is a restart to a changed lifestyle that turns its back on  the “throwaway culture” that is built on reckless accumulation.

Perhaps this quarantine is the opportune renewal of a global ‘new normal’ in the way we treat our neighbours and our common home. After all, the science is clear: we have until 2030 to halve our emissions if we were to keep global warming well below 1.5 degrees.

So, what will your ecological conversion look like? What part of your “lockdown lifestyle” must remain post-lockdown in order to help us continue to reduce our emissions? Can you do with less flying? Would growing your own food be a suitable alternative? Could giving to charities targeted at sustaining the poor, children, and the elderly be part of your budget so that we can all recover from this unprecedented downturn together and with dignity?

With climate action as the central theme of Earth Day’s 50th anniversary on April 22, let’s all join digital campaigns on social media. If you are in the Philippines, let others into your bubble by posting a photo of your household’s road to zero waste. In New Zealand, Zoom workshops and seminars on creating our “new normal” are plenty. Climate action groups such as Generation Zero are also posting submission guidelines on infrastructure projects that align with a low emissions future. Despite the community quarantine, let’s not forget that everyday is Earth Day.

Turning a blind eye or drowning out the cries of the poor and our common home is not an option anymore. Just as the present crisis demands foresight and prompt action, climate change demands that we respond now to avert future catastrophe.

Pope Francis, scientists, doctors, essential workers, and our common home need all of us to be at the frontline.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/our-common-home-needs-you-frontline-today

Church’s social justice teachings inspire young climate activist

climate strike
Isabella Johnson demanded the city of Chicago declare a “climate emergency” at the Oct. 7, 2019, Youth Climate Strike. Johnson, 17, leads the organization that planned the event. Her pin reads “There is no planet B.” (Zack Fishman)

Climate activist Isabella Johnson is planning a massive Earth Day protest that requires permits and other paperwork with the city of Chicago. But she is finding it challenging to get to the city’s offices before they close at 4:30 p.m.

That’s because she is still in high school.

As the leader of the Illinois chapter of the Youth Climate Strike organization, 17-year-old Johnson has helped organize four Chicago protests that are part of an international movement that encourages students to skip school to advocate for action on global warming and environmental justice.

Johnson, a senior at Benet Academy, a Catholic prep school about 35 miles west of
downtown Chicago, oversees 20 volunteer staff and regularly takes a train downtown to meet with adults from partner organizations. She squeezes in responses to media during homeroom and lunch.

“I try to fit in my homework somewhere in there, too,” she said.

Now Johnson is working on what she hopes is her biggest youth protest yet, the April 22 event that could attract some 15,000 or more Chicago-area youth.

“I’m really passionate about all these things,” she told NCR’s Earthbeat. “I saw something that needed fixing in the world, so I decided to spend my time fixing it.”

Johnson is quick to share facts about the seriousness of the crisis, citing the estimate that the world has about 12 years to avoid disastrous consequences from global warming.

“I think climate change is one of the most important issues of today, just because it is so time sensitive,” she said. “We’re damaging the earth. It’s our home; it’s our earth; it’s God’s creation.”

But being in the spotlight has not always been easy for Johnson, who grew up in nearby Naperville. She has faced online bullying and struggles with her own mental health.

What keeps her grounded — and motivates her activist work — is her faith.

Youth stepping up

Last fall, while in Colorado checking out prospective colleges, Johnson had the chance to meet Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg while backstage at that state’s climate strike.

Johnson thanked Thunberg and apologized for President Trump, who had publicly mocked the activist during her visit to the U.S. Thunberg, in turn, thanked her and the other Colorado activists.

The whole experience was “mind-blowing,” Johnson said. “Without her, I would not be doing what I’m doing.”

Johnson also owes her activism career to her older sister, Olivia, who in 2018 took her to her first protest after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. For the first time, “I felt like I could create change, too,” she recalled.

Johnson began to educate herself about the issue of gun violence and about politics. That’s when she decided to trade her involvement with track and cross country for political activism, especially around environmental issues.

“Because the adults and the politicians aren’t doing enough about this, it’s been left to the youth,” said Johnson. “Most youth activists say they don’t want to do this, but we’ve been forced to.”

As a state leader, she created an ambassador program that allows students outside the core team to get involved at a lesser level. Illinois now has more than 100 ambassadors, and the program has been replicated by other state chapters.

 

 

 

 

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/churchs-social-justice-teachings-inspire-young-climate-activist

University of Notre Dame converts tons of dining hall leftovers into energy

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University of Notre Dame senior Matthew Magiera stands in front of one of the school’s 5,000-gallon holding tanks of ground-up food. (William E. Odell)

Notre Dame, Indiana — On the campus of the University Notre Dame with its “Fighting Irish” mascot, green is undeniably the school color during football season. But in recent years, the 177-year-old university with about 12,000 students has been going green in other ways — reducing its carbon footprint and working towards sustainability.

In 2016, the university adopted a comprehensive sustainability strategy that featured six major areas the university intended to work on. One of them was a commitment to reduce waste, including food waste. At Notre Dame, food waste comes primarily from its two main dining halls and from campus catering events. Food waste was painfully visible on home football game weekends. Thousands of fans came to campus to cheer, eat, drink — and discard what they didn’t consume.

“One of the first things I realized when I started working at the university was that we were generating an awful lot of waste on campus, and most of it was food,” recalled Allison Mihalich, senior program director at Notre Dame’s Office of Sustainability.

Until two years ago, Mihalich worked for the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. She’s found campus culture very different than the EPA environment. Not everyone on campus is well informed about or even interested in environmental issues. But she saw that Notre Dame administrators had a growing commitment to sustainability and wanted to both recycle and rescue food.

Mihalich said she first encountered Matthew Magiera, a chemical engineering major from Pittsford, New York, in the university’s sustainability office conference room. His research notes and calculations were spread out across the table and floor. Collaborating with Campus Dining and the Office of Sustainability, Magiera had been tasked as an intern with calculating the amount of food waste from dining hall food trays and from catering.

It was quite a challenge for a sophomore college student, even an exceptionally committed and capable one. For months, “waste weighs” of food were painstakingly recorded, analyzed and re-analyzed.

“We realized that we were generating a ton of food waste a day,” Mihalich told NCR’s EarthBeat. “Literally an actual ton of food waste every day from the two dining halls and the catering facilities!”

Two years later, Magiera shies away from taking much credit for his critical food waste research. Nonetheless, the research soon led to Notre Dame’s installation of three Grind2Energy systems, one near each of the two dining halls and one by the catering office.

Last year, Notre Dame began utilizing the Grind2Energy systems in order to process its food waste and then send it to another site for anaerobic digestion, the biological break-down of organic material that produces biogas that can be used to generate electric power.

 

 

 

 

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/university-notre-dame-converts-tons-dining-hall-leftovers-energy

Under attack from climate change, Colombia’s farmers befriend nature

Screenshot_2020-02-22 Under attack from climate change, Colombia's farmers befriend nature
A group of farmers stand near wetlands at the village of El Torno in northern province of Sucre, Colombia. February 11, 2020. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Anastasia Moloney

SUCRE, Colombia, – Forced to leave his small farm a decade ago to escape the worst floods in Colombia’s recent history, Manuel Jimenez knows the destruction torrential rains can inflict only too well.

“The floods left behind a desert, a cemetery of dead trees and poisonous snakes. Everything was destroyed. We lost our home, crops and animals,” said the 43-year-old farmer in Pasifueres, a remote village in the northern province of Sucre.

“We lived through a cruel tragedy,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Ten years on, as climate change bites, local farmers are learning to adapt to the impacts of wilder weather by working with nature, from restoring wetlands to planting trees and growing hardy rice varieties, backed by international funding.

The 2010 flooding, triggered by heavy downpours, killed about 300 people and displaced 2.2 million more, causing billions of dollars in damages across 1 million hectares (3,860 square miles).

Hardest-hit were poor farming communities in La Mojana, a region stretching across four northern provinces.

Aid officials warn extreme weather, from torrential rains to drought, will strike again and likely become the new normal.

Some parts of La Mojana are prone to drought, while others are experiencing more intense rains, said Jimena Puyana, who heads work on sustainable development in Colombia for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

But rural communities are fighting back.

With nearly $8 million of U.N. funding since 2013, about 6,000 farming and fishing families in three municipalities of La Mojana have introduced a series of measures to adapt to climate shifts and cope better with extreme weather.

The approach focuses on so-called “nature-based solutions” – which involves improving ecosystems, including forests, wetlands and watersheds – led by village farmer associations, rather than building infrastructure like dikes and levees to contain floods.

One of the main methods is to restore the wetlands and waterways that regulate the local water supply so that they can act as natural drainage systems and buffers against storms.

Prolonged flooding and sediment build-up from illegal gold mining have damaged the wetlands around farming villages, disrupting the water’s natural flow and channels.

“What we are seeking to do is to recover the capacity of the region’s water systems,” said Francisco Charry, head of climate change at Colombia’s environment ministry, which is leading the project in partnership with the UNDP.

Climate change is worsening the conditions faced by vulnerable communities that are prone to flooding, he added.

“(They) need to find a way to adapt to this new reality,” he said.

 

 

 

 

https://news.trust.org/item/20200222082405-lome9/

Macron says Mont Blanc glacier melting proves global warming

Screenshot_2020-02-14 Macron says Mont Blanc glacier melting proves global warming
French president Emmanuel Macron looks at the Mer de glace glacier from the Montenvers railway station near Chamonix, at the Mont Blanc mountain range in the French Alps, February 13, 2020. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS

CHAMONIX, France, Feb 13 (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday the melting of Mont Blanc’s main glacier is irrefutable proof of global warming, as he sought to burnish his environmentalist credentials ahead of municipal elections next month.

During a visit to the “Mer de Glace” (sea of ice) – France’s largest glacier which has shrunk dramatically in recent years – Macron met scientists and announced new protective measures for the area, including higher fines for littering.

“What we are seeing with the evolution of the glacier is irrefutable proof of global warming and climate change and the toppling of an entire ecosystem,” Macron said in a speech after going up the glacier.

The Alpine glacier above the mountain town of Chamonix has been a tourist draw since the 19th century, but over the course of the 20th century it lost an average thickness of 50 metres (164 ft). The shrinking has sped up in the past two decades.

“A landscape is being deformed before our eyes and species are disappearing quickly. The fight for biodiversity is a fight for our own survival and is inseparable from the fight against global warming,” Macron said.

Macron launched a new national biodiversity agency and gave an overview of his government’s environmental achievements, including scrapping disputed airport, mining and shopping mall projects. He also listed several international summits in 2020 where he said France would try to convince other nations to join its fight against global warming.

Critics say that following the success of France’s green party at the 2019 European Union election and with municipal elections due in March, the Chamonix visit and other ecology-themed actions are an attempt at courting the green vote.

“We’d prefer that he’d be in his office working on ending subsidies for the fossil fuel industries and tax breaks for trucking rather than doing electoral tourism on the Mont Blanc,” Greenpeace France climate campaigner Clement Senechal said.

French weekly Le Point said the launch of the biodiversity agency is largely symbolic and that the upcoming municipal elections seem to be a bigger priority for Macron than taking action on climate change.

Lawmakers for Macron’s centrist party have said that at a meeting with Macron earlier this week the president had told them that ecology would be a key pillar for his policies in the second half of his five-year mandate, which ends in May 2022.

On Friday, on the sidelines of a visit to Munich, Macron will meet leaders of Germany’s Green party.

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200213165308-nuplw/

Malian architect fights climate change with digital greenhouse

Screenshot_2020-02-14 Malian architect fights climate change with digital greenhouse
Fone Coulibaly ties up tomato plants in one of Amadou Sidibe’s greenhouses in Katibougou, Mali, February 12, 2020. Picture taken February 12, 2020. REUTERS/Annie Risemberg

KATIBOUGOU, Mali, – Climate change has made growing vegetables in Mali today much tougher than it was 40 years ago when Amadou Sidibe used to visit his father’s lush farm outside the capital Bamako.

Hotter temperatures and drought are adding to an already volatile situation in Mali where jihadist groups roam the northern desert reaches. Water reserves are precariously low and arable land is shrinking, causing tensions between communities seeking their share of dwindling resources.

“If nothing is done against climate change, Africa won’t be able to feed her children and that means war,” said Sidibe, an architect turned agricultural developer in southern Mali.

Inspired by his family’s gardening history, and by technology he had come across during business trips in Israel, Sidibe in 2011 began developing Mali’s first automated greenhouse – a hectare-wide metal and plastic structure that looms over the low surrounding scrub, the only vegetation that grows reliably under Mali’s blistering sun.

Inside Sidibe’s greenhouse, fed by a computer-controlled watering system designed by an Israeli company, are hundreds of rows of bushy tomato plants trained on string, their branches thick with unripe fruit.

Each plant gets a designated amount of water and fertilizer, and troublesome insects are kept out by netting that covers the whole greenhouse. Its ribbed roof helps limit the amount of sunlight and heat that penetrates the space. Strawberries grow year round, as do peppers and melons.

It is a sight that occurs naturally less and less across the Sahel, the band of arid land that runs west to east at the Sahara Desert’s southern edge. Temperature increases here are some of the worst in the world and the impact is seen by experts as one of the major root causes of displacement, poverty and violence.

“In the time of our grand fathers it used to rain and the cycles were regular,” said Sidibe. “We no longer control the water. And if we no longer control water, we don’t control agriculture.”

He employs over 30 people in his greenhouse, up from eight when he started out nearly a decade ago. The employees are inspired by the progress.

“Yes of course I want to do the same thing for myself,” said Haby Thera as she tied rows of tomato saplings to some string inside the greenhouse.

“If I had the means I would not hesitate to get involved in greenhouse agriculture. It’s fantastic and you never lose anything.”

Sidibe plans to expand his business inside Mali to 10 hectares and across the whole Sahel. He has clients in Niger, Chad, Cameroon and France and has already sold two greenhouses to businesses in Mali.

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200213085457-cs9bd/

Climate change linked to African locust invasion

Screenshot_2020-01-30 Climate change linked to African locust invasion
Samburu men attempt to fend-off a swarm of desert locusts flying over a grazing land in Lemasulani village, Samburu County, Kenya January 17, 2020. REUTERS/Njeri Mwangi

NAIROBI, – Climate change may be powering the swarms of desert locusts that have invaded eastern Africa, ravaging crops, decimating pasture and deepening a hunger crisis, locust and climate experts said.

Hundreds of millions of the insects have swept over the Horn of Africa in the worst outbreak in a quarter of a century, says the United Nations.

By June, the fast-breeding locusts – already devouring huge swathes of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia – could grow by 500 times and move into Uganda and South Sudan.

The hungry swarms threaten to exacerbate food insecurity in a region where up to 25 million people are reeling from three consecutive years of droughts and floods, say aid agencies.

Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said the swarms formed after cyclones dumped vast amounts of rain in the deserts of Oman – creating perfect breeding conditions.

“We know that cyclones are the originators of swarms – and in the past 10 years, there’s been an increase in the frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean,” said Cressman, adding that there were two cyclones in 2018 and eight in 2019.

“Normally there’s none, or maybe one. So this is very unusual. It’s difficult to attribute to climate change directly, but if this trend of increased frequency of cyclones in Indian Ocean continues, then certainly that’s going to translate to an increase in locust swarms in the Horn of Africa.”

The infestation from the Arabian peninsula has also hit countries such as India and Pakistan, with concern growing about new swarms forming in Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.

Climate scientist Roxy Koll Mathew from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune said increased cyclones were caused by warmer seas, partly attributable to climate change.

“The West Indian Ocean, including the Arabian Sea, was warmer than usual during the last two seasons,” said Mathew.

“This is largely due to a phenomenon called Indian Ocean Dipole, and also due to the rising ocean temperatures associated with global warming.”

The swarms – one reportedly measuring 40 km by 60 km – have already devoured tens of thousands of hectares of crops, such as maize, sorghum and teff, and ravaged pasture for livestock.

If not contained, the potential for destruction is enormous – a locust swarm of a square kilometre is able to eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people, says the FAO.

Authorities are responding with aerial spraying of pesticides, but experts say the scale of the infestation is beyond local capacity as desert locusts can travel up to 150 km in a day and multiply at terrifying speeds.

The U.N. has appealed to international donors for $70 million in emergency aid to tackle the infestation and help communities to recover after losing crops and cattle.

Aid workers said increasingly erratic weather in east Africa – which saw a prolonged drought followed by heavy rains in late 2019 – was aggravating the infestation.

“This outbreak was clearly worsened by unusually heavy rains in the region and there is an interaction with the unusual cyclonic activity,” said Francesco Rigamonti, Oxfam’s regional humanitarian coordinator.

“It’s difficult to say that it is due to climate change – but there is an interaction between the two. What we do know is that we are having a lot of extreme events like droughts, floods and now locusts in the region, so we need to be prepared.”

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200129162104-dctmm/

 

Families trek to unsafe wells as taps run dry in drought-hit Zimbabwe

Screenshot_2020-01-29 Families trek to unsafe wells as taps run dry in drought-hit Zimbabwe
A man pumps water from a borehole to feed his wilting crops as the region deals with a prolonged drought in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, January 17, 2020. Picture taken January 17, 2020. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe,  – In Zimbabwe’s second city Bulawayo, Abraham Kavalanjila and his two sons give up waiting for the water to come back on and trek out into the maize fields to draw on an open well.

They know it is risky drinking untreated water from a borehole used by so many other people. “We have no option. This water is dangerous as you can see, just check,” says Kavalanjila, pointing to a pile of human waste nearby.

City authorities say they have had to shut down water supplies for 96 hours a week – more than half the time, often in two-day blocks – to cope with a sharp fall in reservoir levels caused by the country’s worst drought in years.

The shortages have exacerbated an economic crisis marked by shortages of foreign exchange, fuel, medicines and power that has triggered protests and political unrest.

Kavalanjila says the cut-offs often go on for longer than scheduled in his Luveve township.

He carries the well water home in buckets and containers then his wife Rumbidzai boils it before using it for bathing, flushing toilets and, sometimes, cooking.

“At times you see there will be little organisms in the water and even when you are bathing you feel your body itching,” Rumbidzai told Reuters in the local Ndebele language while her nine-year-old son had a bath to get ready for school.

“So if you boil the water it gets better.

DELAYED DAM

Bulawayo city has decommissioned two of its dams after water fell below pumping levels, according to the city’s director of engineering services Simelani Dube.

The remaining four dams have an average capacity of 35% and falling, he added. “We are projecting that in the next three to four weeks we might lose the third dam. It’s currently sitting above 10% in terms of capacity.”

Authorities say the long-term answer is for Bulawayo to build a new dam 100km (60 miles) away to draw water direct from the Zambezi River.

But the project, first mooted in 1912 by white colonists and finally started in 2004 is still is only a third complete.

Cassian Mugomezi, a sprightly 84-year old pensioner who has lived in the Luveve township for more than five decades, said the water cuts were some of the worst he could remember.

“If it does not rain this year I don’t know what we are going to do,” he said.

Like Kavalanjila, he has had to rely on open wells and other privately-run projects. A nearby church pumps out clean water through its own borehole. Today, though, it is shut down in one of the city’s regular power cuts that can last up for 18 hours.

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200127062548-grn4d/

 

Traditional crops puff hopes for climate resilience in Kenya

Screenshot_2020-01-09 Traditional crops puff hopes for climate resilience in Kenya
Workers wash millet to prepare it for popping in Embu, Kenya, September 9, 2019. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Wesley Langat

EMBU, Kenya,  Two years ago, Michael Gichangi launched a business he hopes will help his rural community better cope with climate change stresses: making puffed cereal from climate-hardy traditional grains.

Using a $1,000 machine he bought, he pops millet – a drought-tolerant grain, but one not as widely eaten as staple maize – and turns it into a popular snack.

Over the last two years he has sold about $1,500 worth of the popped grain, and is the first in the district to have one of the machines, he said.

“I started popping millet to produce very delicious snacks, by mixing it with groundnuts, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon powder and simsim (sesame) oil”, he said.

The combination has won particular approval from students looking for an after-school snack, he said, and is now sold at the local Embu market.

As many households in sub-Saharan Afria struggle with poverty and food insecurity, climate change is hitting harvests and making life even harder.

But finding new markets for hardy grains that can better stand up to extreme weather and changing pests, and produce a reliable harvest, can help, agricultural scientists say.

Gichangi’s effort began when he joined a women-led agribusiness group in his village and started buying and selling traditional cereals such as millet, sorghum and green gram, all more drought-resilient alternatives to maize.

Previously, maize dominated farming in the area – but that dominance is gradually declining as weather extremes linked to climate change make getting a harvest more difficult, he and others said.

Patrick Maundu, an ethnobotanist at the National Museums of Kenya and an honorary fellow with Bioversity International, an organisation that promotes agricultural biodiversity, said millet is a traditional Kenyan crop – just one that, over the years, lost ground to maize.

The change came as a result of the intense promotion of maize production by governments, research groups and multinational companies selling products in Africa, he said.

“Millet is well adapted to dry parts of Africa but has been neglected because of … key policies focused on maize, taking over indigenous cereals,” he said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But in the recent years, wilder weather linked to climate change and the high cost of farm inputs – which farmers can struggle to pay if harvests fail – has made maize farming less reliable, particularly for small-scale farmers like those in Embu, Maundu said.

That has pushed many farmers to diversify back into drought-resistant traditional crops.

The amount of farm acreage planted with maize in Kenya has fallen by about a quarter in recent years, according to data from Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Still, finding a ready market for crops like millet – and getting people to resume eating them – can be a challenge.

Gichangi, an entrepreneur and millet farmer, said he realised that the key to making the new crops pay was adding value to what was harvested – hence the popping machine.

MORE JOBS, MORE RESILIENCE?

The puffed millet, besides being tasty, has boosted employment opportunities in Embu and helped reduce food waste because it can be stored longer, he said.

Stella Gathaka 30, who formerly worked as a food vendor, is now one of four workers at Gichangi’s small factory.

She said that, besides earning a salary, her new job allows her children to eat the millet snacks, which are more nutritious than their previous snack of sweet wheat biscuits.

These days, “I’m very knowledgeable on the importance of millet as a nutritious crop,” she said.

Daniel Kirori, operations director at DK Engineering Ltd., which assembles the popping machines, said his company had sold about 15 of them so far to women’s groups and other entrepreneurs around Kenya.

According to a 2017 United Nations report on the state of food security and nutrition, climate change pressures, from worsening droughts to floods, heatwaves and storms, are a key reason about 800 million people still lack access to enough food.

Liz Young, a senior researcher with the International Food Policy Research Institute noted in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation that Africa’s farmers urgently need help to adapt to the threats and grow enough to feed the continent’s rising population.

Producing more millet and other traditional hardy crops, and finding ways to process them to produce more income, is one way of doing that, Young said.

Emily Wawira, a small-scale millet farmer in Embu who sells her produce to Gichangi, said she sells 10 to 20 sacks of grain each year, each weighing 90 kilos, and earns $25 to $30 per sack.

That income “is enough to pay school fees,” she said – and an improvement on her former loss-making maize farming.

Gichangi’s millet snacks are slowly gaining ground on traditional favourites such as sugary wheat biscuits, his sales team said.

“It wasn’t easy popularising the products,” admitted Lucy Njeru, one of Gichangi’s saleswomen – though free samples helped.

Now, however, Gichangi has partnered with four local schools and an agricultural show to offer his healthier snacks.

Anthony Sawaya, Embu County’s director of trade and chief executive of the county Investment and Development Corporation, said his office is keen to help innovators like Gichangi access markets.

The county government, for instance, is promoting local foods at nearby and international trade fair exhibitions, he said.