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Charting the Path to Sustainability: Social and Environmental Milestones of 2022

‘Eco-anxiety’, ‘climate doom’, ‘climate change distress’, ‘environmental existential dread’ and ‘ecological grief,’ are all terms that are commonly used to refer to persistent concerns about the future of Earth and life on our green planet. All too often we hear that millions more hectares of rainforest cover has been lost, or another species is on the brink of extinction. Just as frequently, we hear about the persistent prevalence of hunger and malnutrition in the Global South, and that millions of people are still without access to safe, clean water. 

Considering that the very first environmental conservation conference took place forty years ago, and brought to light the unsustainable manner in which society had been demolishing its natural capital, it may seem as if very little progress has been made towards reducing environmental degradation, and building environmental stewardship. While there is undoubtedly a lot to be worried about, it is not all doom and gloom. In just one short year, humanity has made significant strides in conserving the natural environment and protecting the most vulnerable members of society. Here are three “wins” for people and the planet this year.

Farmers restore productive land, combating desertification

Rural farmers in the Anantapur region of Southern India have adopted a more holistic way of cultivating their land using natural fertilisers and pesticides, and multi-cropping a variety of plant species. The practice is sometimes known as regenerative agriculture, and has its origins in traditional subsistence farming practices that not only are unharmful to the natural environment, but may also have positive net impacts.

Climate change has accelerated the rate at which arable land is being lost to desertification around the globe. Commercial agriculture is a key driver of global land use change and contributes to approximately 15% of emissions. A changing climate also makes rainfall unpredictable resulting in a reduced yield of rainfed crops. However, through the use of natural farming methods such as agroecology or agroforestry, more than 60 000 farmers have managed to restore 300 000 acres of degraded land in India. “Trees have grown in 17 months as much as I would have expected them to grow in four years,” says Ajantha Reddy, 28-year-old farmer from Anantapur. 

These practices are growing among African nations as well. With the help of organisations like Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA), land restoration and urban greening is being achieved through social development of severely under-resourced populations.  

South Africa halts drilling for fossil fuels off its pristine coastline

In early 2022, outrage at proposed exploratory seismic testing to map the floor of the pristine Wild Coast for oil and gas flooded headlines across South Africa. Testing is done through the use of devices onboard a ship called seismic guns that produce cannon-blast pulses of compressed air. The activities would have taken place close to five of South Africa’s sensitive areas and raised environmental, food security and sustainable development concerns for the environment and Indigenous population. Environmentalists, activists, local communities and Non-Profit Organisations banded together to protect the marine conservation area from Shell which was legally obliged to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment before proceeding with the testing.

The outcome of numerous discussions and court appeals has thus far been the rejection of the permit required for Shell to continue its exploration. This came after the ruling that the oil giant failed to engage with Indigenous communities. The siding of the court with environmentalists and local communities marks the dawn of a new environmental era under which all voices are given equal value. 

In addition to this victory, the last decade saw the price of solar electricity drop by 89%. This advancement removes multiple barriers to harnessing renewable energy, giving the government and consumers little excuse to continue investing in non-renewable sources such as oil, gas and coal. To top off what has already been a year full of wins, a Dutch Court has ordered Shell to cut its carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. It is yet to be determined whether the petroleum giant’s carbon-cutting investments will include afforestation and tree-planting which is now known to be one of the best natural methods of sequestering CO2. 

Leaders of tomorrow given a seat at the table

For the first time in history, youth have been included as key stakeholders at the annual COP, held in Egypt in November this year. Young people were given an official dedicated platform at the Children and Youth Pavilion to hold discussions and policy briefings. The addition to COP27 formally recognises youth as agents of change and the necessity of securing a just transition for future generations.  

Additionally, key outcomes in the final decision” text of COP27 mentioned the right to a healthy environment in relation to food, rivers and nature-based solutions for the first time in history. The text specifically calls for the enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries, as well as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches. One such example is Food & Trees for Africa’s Inclusive Carbon Standard which reduces barriers to entering the carbon market (mainly cost), enabling small communities and projects to earn carbon credits. 

Food & Trees for Africa at the forefront of development

Behind all of these wins are organisations and people with a vision and a passion for environmental sustainability and food secure civilisations. Meaningful Environmental Social Governance (ESG) initiatives contribute to a large portion of the change required to care for our planet. All of FTFA’s projects uplift communities and kickstart self-sustaining green economies. It is by forming reciprocal connections between different supply chain elements that FTFA’s projects empower communities to enter the green economy, become self-sufficient and food secure. 

Projects based on permaculture and agroecology principles can help to actively restore ecosystems degraded by conventional agriculture, starting by improving soil fertility. Permaculture and regenerative agriculture are at the core of FTFA’s industry leading Food Security programmes which promote sustainable practices, environmental ethics, and whole systems thinking. The EduPlant Programme creates strong social and food security community networks, as does the FEED Africa Programme, which supports and develops farmers in South Africa, primarily using bio-intensive and natural farming methods. FTFA’s food forest initiatives, community market gardens, and other projects support agroecology principles, while Permaculture Starter Packs provide the tools and training needed to set up self-sustaining market gardens that support local communities.

Planting trees – the focus of our Trees for All and Trees for Homes and community nurseries projects – is another vital component of our integrated interventions, helping to reduce atmospheric carbon and providing a range of other benefits. 

As 2022 draws to a close with multiple victories for our environment, it is necessary to acknowledge that more investment in our country’s natural resources and our people is as crucial as ever. By supporting local environmental and social development projects or donating to FTFA, your organisation can help to drive South Africa towards a more sustainable future.

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