Lauren shares five of her favourite sustainability projects in Africa - each targeting a different problem.
07 Jan 2021
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Sustainability enthusiast Lauren works at the Travel Foundation, aiding their work with businesses and government to ensure that tourism brings greater benefit to local people and the environment. Lauren is also currently working on a personal project to calculate and offset her families carbon impact on the world.
In this article, Lauren shares five sustainability projects in Africa that have inspired her.
Sustainable initiatives are sprouting up throughout Africa as organisations and individuals take on the fight against climate change. In Africa alone, there are hundreds of projects that are worth celebrating; however, I’ve selected a few that stood out for me. When looking to solve a multifaceted and intersectional issue like climate change, a project is likely to solve multiple interconnected problems. What I loved about these initiatives is that each of them has come up with a solution that can inspire other organisations and individuals to follow their lead and mitigate climate change.
1. The Great Green Wall
The Great Green Wall is an inspiring project because it has taken a bold step to achieve a more sustainable future. The UN Conservation to Combat Desertification has initiated the creation of a NEW world wonder by restoring 100 million hectares of currently degraded land, spanning across the width of Africa, located in the Sahel region at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. Once complete, the Great Green Wall will be the largest living structure on the planet, three times the size of the Great Barrier Reef. The restoration includes planting trees and florae, which will restore biodiversity in the region. On top of that, the project will achieve 15 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. Through collaboration and strategic partnerships, The Great Green Wall is becoming a symbol of interfaith harmony across Africa.
The Sahel region is one of the poorest places on the planet; it is also experiencing the fastest rate of temperature rise worldwide due to climate change. The temperature rise is causing persistent droughts, lack of food, conflicts over dwindling natural resources, and mass migration to Europe. Due to the climate crisis, that we as a global community are creating, the Sahel region and the people living there are paying the price.
By restoring biodiversity to the Sahel region, The Great Green Wall is creating fertile land and food security for millions. It is pulling the most impoverished communities up by creating jobs and boosting commercial enterprise. As well as this, it is building gender equity by improving water security which ultimately empowers women as they are no longer required to walk for miles to collect water every day! By harnessing the precious natural assets that the Sahel has to offer, communities have a reason to stay, which will help break the cycle of migration.
We need more initiatives that are as bold, uniting and long-lasting if we are going to combat the climate crisis and irradicate world poverty.
2. The Flipflopi Plastic Revolution
About half of the plastic, we consume is single-use: meaning that once we’ve used it, it no longer serves a viable purpose so is almost immediately thrown away. Plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose; therefore, every time you purchase food wrapped in plastic it contributes to the mass pollution of the earth; reports claim that more than eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean every year. Scientists have found microplastics in 114 aquatic animals causing a detrimental effect on marine life. Over half of the 114 aquatic animals found to have microplastics in their stomachs are consumed by humans resulting in scientists questioning; what impact the microplastics might be having on human health?
An initiative based in Kenya, called FlipFlopi has been driving awareness and change around single-use plastics. Dhow’s are Kenyan boats which are traditionally made from wood, but what if they could be made from discarded plastic?
More than ten tons of plastic waste was collected by the team on Kenya’s shores. This plastic was melted and carved by the team to form the inner structures of the reimagined Dhow. The outer layer was created by 30,000 flipflops which is the most common item found on the shores of Kenya! The plastic Dhow entirely constructed is a beacon of hope for what can be done to mitigate the amount of plastic in our oceans.
However, FlipFlopi goes further than that. By sailing the Dhow around East Africa and the Indian Ocean regions, there is an opportunity to inspire others to take up the fight and refuse single-use plastics. In 2019, Flipflopi partnered with the United Nations Environmental Programme
(UNEP) to conduct a 500 km expedition. It was covered by every major news channel in the world – and played a crucial role in nationwide plastic bag bans in Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar.
There are now construction plans to begin on a larger boat that will sail around the world and will be seen and heard by an estimated 4.8 billion people; more than 1 in 2 people on planet earth. Community engagement is a fundamental element of change and progress. The FlipFlopi Dhow promotes the idea of a circular economy and innovation – this message is invaluable.
Stop single-use plastics #PLASTICREVOLUTION
3. Sand Dams and Water Conservation
785 million people in the world do not have access to safe water. The UN predicts that by 2050 more than 5 billion people will suffer from water shortage due to climate change. These statistics indicate just how pressing an issue water conservation is for us today.
Sand dams are a sustainable solution to water conservation and particularly effective in semi-arid climates which rely on rainy seasons; the same seasonal changes that are diminishing due to climate change. By building a concrete wall across a seasonal river and using low-cost forms of rainwater harvesting, sand dams will capture and store water beneath the sand; this protects the water as well as acting as a natural filter to ensure clear water is produced. The water collected rarely runs out, and a significant benefit is that it creates a risen water table; therefore, simple technologies such as scoop holes, shallow wells, pipes and taps can be used to reach the water.
Sand dams have a monumental impact as they deal with one of the pressing issues of today – water scarcity, with the added benefit, that they create long term sustainability in terms of water preservation, food security, income generation and increase biodiversity. Sand dams are sustainable because they improve with time, require minimum maintenance and are low cost to maintain. In addition to this, the risen water table means that trees and vegetation can grow naturally, therefore increasing biodiversity, restoring degraded land and preventing flooding in the rainy season. They also provide communities with food security and with excess crops they then have the opportunity to trade, enabling them to escape the poverty trap brought about through water scarcity.
The land in the Makueni County, was arid with perennial water shortages becoming a culturally accepted norm. Just a Drop collaborated with Africa Sand Dam Foundation to bring sand dams and low water wells to the community which improved water supplies in the area.
Paulyna Mule, a community member aged 60 says:
“I have used this water to plant sweet potatoes, maise, vegetables such as kales and tomatoes in my farm: for domestic use. This project has been very instrumental to me and my family. Especially as I am aging, my strength has withered. I used to dig very deep scoop holes to access water but now, I just spend five to ten minutes to access water, I can also send my grandchildren to bring water for watering my plants which is quite an easy task. We had very many challenges but now life is easier.”
Africa Sand Dam Foundation is an NGO based in Kenya that helps arid or semi-arid regions adapt to the effects of climate change. They identify, instal and do post-implementation management of the sand dams. Africa Sand Dam Foundation ensures that communities have access to clean water, fertile land, job opportunities and school security; they have reached 778,654 community members through their efforts.
Just a Drop is a grassroots organisation that specialises in developing appropriate environmental and cultural solutions to water scarcity. They will prioritise using sand dams as long as the geology is right due to the ecological benefits sand dams have. They work in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia and have completed 21 sand dam projects so far. Since 1998, Just a Drop has brought safe water, sanitation and hygiene projects to over 1.7 million people in 32 countries. Just a Drop impacts 12 out of 17 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
4. Waste from Fast-Fashion
Fast-fashion and the ever-growing waste that we are creating due to over-production and-consumption is an issue close to my heart. On average, only 21% of fashion items bought globally are used; the rest is added to the stockpile of latent waste. Individuals aspiring to mitigate their environmental impact will likely decide to shop at charity shops. The preconception is that charity shops solve the problem of over-production through reuse. This preconception is not wrong; however, what happens to those clothes that cannot be sold second-hand in western countries?
These items end up in other parts of the world such as Haiti and Kenya and many more destinations. These countries become inundated with second-hand clothes which ultimate damages their textile industries and leaves them with the problem of disposing of unwanted clothes and materials. Around 100 million kg’s of second-hand clothes get imported to Kenya every year from Europe, Canada and the US. These clothes often end up in Africa’s biggest landfill site: Dandorra. With a cotton t-shirt estimated to take up to 2-5 months to decompose, this landfill site is not shrinking. If clothes are not dumped in landfill sites, they are burnt which realises thousands of CO2 emission into the atmosphere, which is also adding to the climate crisis. We ultimately need to stop producing and consuming clothes unsustainably; however, this type of behavioural change could take decades; therefore, it is up to groups like Africa Collect Textiles who are working tirelessly to mitigate the problem.
Africa Collect Textiles is on a mission to collect and recycle more than half of Kenya’s lost textiles. Their formula is creating collection points around the country, sorting the clothes effectively and ensuring the clothes are either reused through redistribution or re-branded by using the material to create new items, giving each item a second, third and even fourth life. Africa Collect Textiles achieves 9 of the 17 UN Sustainability Goals as this project is bolstering the economy as well as solving their primary goal of mitigating our environmental impact. A great solution to solving the over-production and consumption trend of the 21 century is through keeping the majority of items in circulation, therefore, making the production of new items redundant; Africa Collect Textiles has created a model to do exactly that.
Another solution to the waste created from western fast-fashion powerhouses is to change the production of clothes. Organisations throughout Africa have opted for different methods to achieve this. Suave is a fashion outlet that produces its rucksacks through recycled fabrics, locally sourced in Africa. Senegalese’s fashion house Tongoro sources its materials from Africa, ensuring that sustainability is at the heart of production and gives jobs to Senegalese makers, therefore ensuring that the clothes produced are ethical and sustainable. Roberta Annan, a Ghanaian entrepreneur and founder of the African Fashion Fund has championed this sort of innovation by looking to support environmentally sound and creative initiatives that look to stay clear of fast-fashion and instead manufacture items more sustainably. She believes that sustainability within fashion will drive economic growth, fair wages and empower women.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change stated that the fashion industry uses more energy than the aviation and shipping industries combined. Therefore, it is not an industry to be ignored and allowed to perpetuate bad practices. The organisations mentioned above and others like them are great examples of how to turn a negative – the fast-fashion industry, into a positive through innovation.
5. Wildlife conservation
Respecting and cultivating positive relationships with animals allowing them not only to survive but thrive is a fundamental aspect of sustainability as without it we are not in unity with the natural world. Although animal conservation is a substantial element of sustainability humanity continually destroys wildlife habits for economic gain, which impacts animal survival rates as they have nowhere to live.
An even more direct impact that humans have on animal security is through poaching. Poaching is a multi-billion-dollar industry which is done for sport, trophies, medicine or human consumption. Individuals all over the world make money from the killing of animals, but the reason poaching is such a pressing issue right now is that the capture of wild animals for human use is the reason the coronavirus manifested, and the reason humanity has been forced to stop. In Africa, they have been fighting against poachers for decades; their animals are unique species that the rest of the world has marvelled at; making African wildlife a target for human greed.
A team of women in South Africa who refer to themselves as Black Mamba, after the deadly snake, go patrolling in the bush to confront poachers daily. It has been reported that since 2013 the Black Mamba’s have shut down five poachers’ camps and reduced the snaring of wildlife by 76%. In addition to this, for ten months in 2015, where the Black Mamba’s were patrolling, there wasn’t a single rhino poached!! They put themselves in harm’s way to prevent violence against sentient animals. They have become protectors, educators and a beacon of hope. Being a ranger is traditionally a man’s role in South Africa; therefore, these women are not only protecting the animals but challenging gender divisions, promoting future opportunities for girls and women. What an incredible group!
You can support any of the organisations mentioned by clicking the links in their names and going to their donation page!
Within this piece, we have explored five areas where organisations in Africa are making huge strides towards a sustainable future. These initiatives are all worth mirroring as it is initiatives like these that will help solve the problems of today.