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Weekly Roundup: Hunger for change, Wangari Maathai’s legacy, and renewable energy abroad

   /   Sep 30th, 2011News

Every week, we report on the conversations surrounding the big issues in the world of social entrepreneurship and change.

Debates on Food Take Center Stage in the U.S.

Americans appear to be hungry for change, literally, as in– change in what they are eating. And agro-corporations have noticed.

The New York Times reported that the newly-formed U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, made up of the largest agricultural groups in the country, has launched Food Dialogues, a series of panel discussions about agriculture in the United States. Look for updates and thoughts on Twitter at #foodd (“d” for “debate”!). “When did agriculture become a dirty word?” asks the Food Debates website. The campaign is framing itself as a way for farmers to talk back to BigAg, but, as Times writer Julia Moskin points out, some of the biggest agricultural corporations and marketing campaigns are behind the debates, including the American Egg Board, the National Pork Board, Monsanto, and DuPont. Responses from food activists have voiced skepticism toward the campaign, and organic food producers like Earthbound Farms have declined to participate. Thought-leader and food journalist Michael Pollan called Food Dialogues “BigAg’s new PR push” on Twitter.

On the flip side of the food coin, there was some buzz about the locavore movement this week. In Upstate New York, where farmers’ crops were devastated by Hurricane Irene and post-storm flooding, farmers are bouncing back, slowly. The Times reported on some of the innovative ways  farmers are raising money: hosting fundraisers, selling T-shirts, and benefiting from the loyal support of Community Supported Agriculture programs. Times columnist Mark Bittman wrote about the potential of the Slow Food movement to raise awareness and provide low-cost ways to have tasty, fresh, home-cooked meals. And the Village Voice pointed out that healthy-food writers like Bittman and Pollan are having an impact on wider audiences, as shown by recent polls that reveal Americans’ dissatisfaction with the current food system. 78 percent of Americans polled by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation said that making nutritious and healthy foods more affordable should be a top priority in the next farm bill.

Looking at food news globally, specifically in Africa, the Global Impact Investing Network announced this week that a capital investment of $25 million will go into the small-to-medium-scale agricultural sector in sub-Saharan Africa. The fund was established collaboratively by the USAID, J.P. Morgan, Gates, Gatsby, and Rockefeller Foundations – all members of GIIN’s Investors’ Council. The African Agricultural Capital Fund (AACF), as the venture is called, is meant to boost agricultural prevention in sub-Saharan Africa so as to prevent situations like the ongoing drought-induced famine in Somalia. The fund will be managed by Pearl Capital Partners (PCP), a specialist African agricultural investment fund manager based in Kampala, Uganda. Over the next five years, PCP aims to invest the fund’s $25 million in at least twenty agriculture-related businesses in East Africa.

Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai Leaves a Strong Legacy of Activism

Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmental activist and winner of the first Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded to an African woman, in 2004, passed away on September 25 at seventy-one years of age, due to cancer. The Guardian’s John Vidal wrote a thoughtful obituary outlining her upbringing and life’s accomplishments. The Green Belt movement that Maathai spearheaded in the late 1970s became a mechanism for pushing Kenya toward democracy and battling corruption. This work led her to found the Kenyan Green Party in the 1990s, and Maathai became a junior environmental minister in the government of President Mwai Kibaki. Throughout her life, tree-planting and protecting Kenya’s natural resources and parks were the platforms from which she voiced pro-democracy and women’s empowerment messages.

Maathai’s ability to link human rights to ecological issues stands out in sub-Saharan Africa, where many countries are struggling to move forward in the global market economy, and few are making a prominent effort to do so sustainably.

This week Zimbabwe’s dictator Robert Mugabe caused quite a stir when he announced a new “indigenization law” that would require foreign companies to have fifty-one percent of their shares owned by black Zimbabweans. Mining company Zimplats, along with British American Tobacco, Nestle, Cargill, Barclays, and Standard Chartered Bank have all been given fourteen days to comply with Mugabe’s order.

It seems that foreign business is also being received antagonistically in Zambia. Journalist Howard French, who has written extensively about Africa, wrote in the Atlantic about controversy surrounding China’s ongoing expansion, through business and migration, into Africa: “Chinese have migrated to Zambia by the thousands, setting themselves up in mining, farming, commerce and small industry.” Chinese contractors in Zambia are building highways, dams, and other large infrastructure projects for the copper mining industry. A presidential election in Zambia last week was, French wrote, indicative of how many Zambians view the Chinese presence questionably. While campaigning for the presidency, the newly-elected leader Michael Sata proclaimed the Chinese in Zambia “profiteers” and generally fomented anti-Chinese sentiments.

Energy In the News Following Solyndra Scandal

Post-Solyndra, energy investment has been at the forefront of a loud media debate. And beyond North American borders, investment in renewable energy was also all over the news this week, with stories highlighting its rise and sketching out some of its problems.

The Guardian reported that renewable energy production has reached an all-time high in the UK, where a combination of wind turbines and hydroelectricity makes up 9.6 percent of the country’s usage.

Goldman Sachs is investing $200 million in an Indian renewable energy company called ReNew Wind, reports the Financial Times. The Mumbai-based ReNew plans to have 1,000 megawatts of wind-generation capacity by 2015, according to Bloomberg. Goldman will have representatives on the ReNew Wind board and the company may begin trading publicly in the future, Bloomberg reported.

Energy bills are no joke in the UK, as both Damian Carrington and Leo Hickman pointed out this week in the Guardian, and many within the debate see renewable energy as a way to lower those costs for the country as a whole. But some doubt has arisen around renewable energy subsidies in the UK, which are reportedly long overdue for a review. Renewables Obligation Certificate (ROC) reforms are reviews of subsidies that apprise investors of how much support the government will provide to the renewables industry. The UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is working to implement the twelve-week review this fall and hopes that investors won’t lose interest or put their money elsewhere in the meantime.

Worthwhile Weekend Reads

  • Check out the Aspen Institute’s list of top ten “green” MBAs at Triple Pundit.
  • This week’s New York Times Science page was dedicated to low-cost, innovative solutions to medical problems around the world, such as collectives that share the responsibility of finding AIDS medication in Mozambique.
  • It looks like social media and tech companies are ramping up their presence in Washington with lobbyists: Facebook has started a Political Action Committee (PAC), as reported in the New York Times. (Google has had one since 2006.) Will they friend Obama?
  • GOOD profiled the White House’s new resident social entrepreneur, Jonathan Greenblatt, who will head the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Engagement.
  • And in case you didn’t know, loosely organized anti-capitalist protesters have been occupying Wall Street since September 17th. The NY Times’ Ginia Bellafonte has written critically about the protesters, but the New Yorker’s John Cassidy is more enthusiastic, and he also noted that the NYPD macing nonviolent protesters may bring them more trouble than they’re bargaining for.

One Response

  1. Steve says:

    The NY Times piece is totally totally a hit job and barely deserves being linked to. It’s a really lazy piece that just recycles stereotypes about progressive activists and substitutes “wacky left” observations for actual reporting.

    There was very similar coverage of Seattle 1999. At first it was all “look at the kooky hippies”, then once it became violent it was “look at the violent agitators”. As soon as the police batons come out there will be a similar shift in tone. Ginia Bellafonte seems to be angling to be the next David Brooks.

    I think that these protests are worth following…especially the way that protesters are using the General Assembly tactics that have been used in Spain and Greece. Especially considering that this came out of a random call for a protest via Adbusters & Anonymous.