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🔬 "Water and the Circular Economy"

Talk Water - BlueTech Research Podcast Series

Photo by Gus Moretta / Unsplash

Host: Nick Jeffries | Insights & Analysis Team | Ellen Macarthur Foundation
Category: 🔬 Research

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[0:36] “Farming uses more freshwater than any other sector. Supporting effective farming is therefore supporting effective water management. But growing food in a better way, has a raft of other systemic benefits. In 2017 Project Drawdown identified the 100 most powerful interventions to reverse global heating. Within the top 25 related to energy production, yet eight related to food production, and four to land management. So the clear message is, having better ways, changing the ways we produce food, changing the way we manage land could be one of the most powerful things to address climate change.”

[1:59] “By 2050, there'll be 2.5 billion more mouths to feed in the world. This is set against the background of shifting climates, shifting socio economic trends. So our year long analysis confirmed significant negative societal costs associated with the food system. Half of them [are] consumption impacts, obesity, malnutrition, type two diabetes, those kinds of things. But perhaps more surprising, the same number […] associates to the way we produce food. So things like human health impacts associated with pesticides, water and air pollution, and the diminishing potency of our antibiotics.”

[2:55] “By 2050 80% of food will pass through cities. But also, currently, only 2% of the resources that get discarded by cities are looped back into productive use. So for these reasons, we believe that city food actors could be very influential in driving change.”

[4:08] “Regenerative agriculture, how best to describe [it]? […] If you consider one acre of healthy soil, it is equivalent in weight to 12 yearling cows. It's about six tons, but an unhealthy acre, you've got about maybe half a ton, one yearling cow. To put it in another way, that healthy farm is 12 times more productive in the engine room. And because of the benefits to soil structure, it can store up to a million litres of water. For soil base growing, […] key to unlocking potential is building up organic content.”

[6:19] “Early on in our analysis, we came across this fact from the ETC Group that smallholder farmers […] actually feed 70% of the world, but only use 30% of agricultural resources. They are a very important group, […] however, they also are a very vulnerable group, because of their location. They're […] the coalface of climate change, but also because of their economic precariousness, they're often only two or three harvests away from disaster. Ironically, as a group of food producers, they also make up the majority of the 850 million people who are hungry in the world.”

[7:05] “As a response to this, in India, there was this movement called the Zero Budget Natural Farming Movement (ZBNF) […]. This came out of southern India, and its main intention was to embed an approach that decouples smallholder farmers from the risk of crippling debt due to sort of boring ahead of the planting season for expensive agricultural inputs, as well as address food security. The central pillar of ZBNF is the creation […] a biostimulant [that is] created out of […] agricultural byproducts. [...] So this movement has transformed the lives of high risk farmers all around India. It’s reduced their boring, it's increased yields and the nutritional content of crops. And it's created healthier, more profitable, more resilient farm systems.”

[9:35] “Not only the technology, but also smart circular business models to allow this technology to be accessible to people who can't afford an outright purchase [need to be available]. Of course, that also has the benefit of creating more utilization for that technology. And then having dealt with […] getting them out of the high risk zone, alleviating the hardship, the next thing is to increase profits. In this kind of context, most of the food losses occur, post harvest, pre consumer, in storage and distribution. So better […] supply chains, preferably renewable energy powered, could really contribute to this.”

[10:42] “Reversing land degradation is one of the great challenges of our time. And of course, very closely linked with two of our mega crises, global heating, and the massive, massive crash in wildlife populations that we're seeing around the world. In the next 30 years, we need to expand our cultivated area by about two times the size of India based on current growing approaches. But at the same time, an area greater than the size of England is being put out of production, because of degradation. One of the major contributors to that is the […] agricultural approaches.”

[15:38] “It's not just technology and technique that's going to drive this revolution [of circular economy]. There is also an important role for finance. The city of Nairobi relies on the upper Tana river […] for 90% of its water. Hydro schemes and dams along the river also provide a lot of the electricity for the city. However, in the last few decades, because of population expansion in the upper catchments, there's a lot more silt going into the river […] and this is the cause of unreliable power and water supplies in the city, but also very expensive desilting operations and downstream plant. So with this in mind, a NGO called The Nature Conservancy […] they set up the Upper Tana Water Fund. The idea of the fund is that downstream users and city utilities […] pay into this fund and then the money is used to educate and support […] farmers in the upper catchments in more conservation agriculture techniques. As a result […] of that, the farmers’ yields are going up as his soil fertility goes up. But also they have extra revenue streams for the crops they use to stabilize the slopes, things like elephant grass, which they can use as cattle fodder. And, of course, the downstream users, what they pay into the fund is much less than the money that they save for reduced silting.”

Rating: 💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 18 min | 🗓️ 06/01/2021
✅ Time saved: 16 min

Additional Links:
Publication: “Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change”