This year’s winner: Plantwise – increasing the environmental sustainability of food production across the globe
A global programme to help smallholder farmers across the world maximise yields and reduce the amount of pesticides in use has won this year’s St Andrews Prize for the Environment.
Led by the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), Plantwise is a collaboration working with over 200 partners worldwide at a local, national and global level to increase food security and improve livelihoods whilst improving the environmental outcome for farming.
By establishing networks of local plant clinics, where farmers can obtain agricultural advice from trained plant doctors, they can maximise their crop yields and farm incomes. Another objective is to reduce the amount of chemicals used by the farmers and the offshoot of the clinics is seeing a marked decrease in the amount of hazardous pesticides in use.
The clinics are reinforced by the Plantwise Knowledge Bank, a gateway to actionable on and offline information. The Bank collects data about the farmers, the crops and the pests affecting them, which is then shared with national stakeholders. This quick and cyclical flow of information means everyone can improve their knowledge and benefit from new discoveries, including Plantwise who can then develop targeted best-practice guidelines for managing crop losses.
Plantwise has to-date reached over 9.8 million farmers in 34 countries, with 79 percent seeing their crop yields increase after their clinic visit. Their aim is to be established in 40 countries by 2020. With plans to roll-out tablets to plant clinics in multiple countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas, Plantwise is trying to improve the quality of the recommendations given to farmers, and the speed of data collection, allowing them to track outbreaks of pests, in real time.
At a ceremony at the University of St Andrews last night, Dr Washington Otieno from Plantwise was presented with the winning prize of $100,000 USD. He says: “It’s a privilege and an honour to win the 2017 St Andrews Prize for the Environment. The prize money will help scale up the use of our digital tools and applications, enabling plant doctors to make quicker and better diagnoses and recommendations. Improving the speed of data collection will help the both the farmers and the environment and more countries will be able to respond to emerging crop pests more promptly.
“We are grateful to our existing donors, whose support has enabled us to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers through sustainable agricultural practices on a global scale. The St Andrews Prize for the Environment represents an exciting opportunity to scale up our digital innovations without restrictions.”
The St Andrews Prize for the Environment is a joint environmental initiative by the University of St Andrews in Scotland, which attracts scholars of international repute and carries out world-class teaching and research, and independent exploration and production company ConocoPhillips. Recognising significant contributions to environmental conservation, since its launch in 1998 the Prize has attracted 5,200 entries from around the world and donated $1.67 million to environmental initiatives on a wide range of diverse topics including biodiversity, sustainable development, urban re-generation, recycling, health, water and waste issues, renewable energy and community development.
Lord Alec Broers, Chairman of the St Andrews Prize for the Environment Trustees says: “We are delighted to award this year’s St Andrews Prize for the Environment to Plantwise. The investment from the Prize into each of our finalist projects will make a real difference to their work and we are confident that they will continue to achieve great things in years to come. This year’s Prize attracted over 800 entries ensuring our Screening Committee and Trustees had an extremely difficult task to select our three finalists. The range of challenges faced across the world remains diverse and complex. Hearing from our three finalists and learning about the incredible work that is taking place to confront these challenges is very humbling. In recent years, we have seen a rise in sustainability projects coming forward and, we hope, by supporting such projects that we can help tackle these challenges together.”
This year’s runner-ups, each presented with a cheque for $25,000 USD, were:
The Pump, The Fish and The Garden – Aquaponics in the Philippines
Aquaponics: Innovative integration of vegetable and fish production to provide food, nutrition and livelihood for the poor.
Community Hopes Alternatives Inc. (CHAI), working with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the Municipal Government of Pagbilao (MGP), uses aquaponics to provide food and nutrition to poor communities in the Philippines.
Aquaponics is a system of aquaculture where waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic creatures supplies the nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water. CHAI’s system utilises aquaponics to integrate hydroponic vegetable production with the closed fish production system. Their innovative modification of the traditional hydroponic process means that aquaponics pumps can be introduced at a household level, where resources and space are limited.
Their aim is to introduce a ‘3 for all scheme’ or 3 units per household. Harvests from the first unit are for household food to address nutrition problems, harvest from the second is for sale for household income, and the remaining unit is also for sale, but the net income will be collected by the project and used to recover costs and reach more beneficiaries.
Tested in a small village in the Philippines, one basic aquaponics set produced 80 to 100kg of fish and 100 to 150kg of vegetables per year. After a year of implementation, the weight of previously malnourished children increased to a normal weight for their age. Beyond significant health benefits, the system also provides income to families through the selling of excess fish and vegetables produced.
CHAI aims to increase the scale of production and install more systems to empower families to sustainably produce their own balanced food. Beyond households, their goals include installing the system in community centres and public schools to reach even more people and training local artisans to manufacture and distribute the systems.
The Solar Socket – Bringing Light to Health
Bringing light to health: using solar refrigerators to power health care centres in disaster zones and unindustrialised regions.
Dulas Ltd have pioneered solar powered medical equipment since 1985, with their solar vaccine and blood refrigerators being used to save lives every day in war zones, unindustrialised regions and areas affected by natural disaster. During installation trips, the team witnessed recurring problems with healthcare in these areas including complications during middle-of-the-night childbirths and medical emergencies because of lack of light, doctors being unable to call the nearest hospitals, patients travelling long distances for medical attention, and viable vaccines being destroyed because of lack of certainty that they were safe to use. They considered the surplus power generated by their refrigerators and, with a simple adaptation, they realised they could convert them to stand-alone power sources, creating The Solar Socket.
The Solar Socket is a small panel of USB and car charger sockets that plugs directly into the front of the refrigerator. Remaining 100 percent safe and stable, the refrigerator can now create a fully energised health centre with lighting and medical equipment. Powering lamps, fans and laptops, the Solar Socket is ideal for charging a phone, which can become a hand-held blood pressure monitor, a vaccination barcode scanner, a bank, a medication scheduler or simply, a lifeline to call for help.
Dulas plans to distribute 20,000 refrigerators per year before 2020, amounting to 80,000 potential ‘solarised’ medical centres all over the world, and more lives saved. It is a stand-alone revolutionary addition to the medical refrigerator market
Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews, says: “The University of St Andrews is home to world-leading research on environmental issues and is committed to reducing the environmental impact of our own activities. Our ongoing partnership with ConocoPhillips in the St Andrews Prize for the Environment helps us to bring these strengths to bear at community and grass-roots level. Over nearly twenty years the St Andrews Prize for the Environment has selected, rewarded and publicised some of the very best ideas and projects dedicated to enabling communities, tackling environmental problems and creating a more sustainable way of life. I wholeheartedly congratulate this year’s winners and look forward to following their progress.”
Terri King, President, UK for ConocoPhillips says: “ConocoPhillips recognises biodiversity as a vital factor in human well-being and we understand its importance for maintaining ecosystem health. With an increasing number of species considered to be at-risk or threatened, and an increasing number of protected areas established to conserve habitats, evaluation and mitigation of our potential impact on biodiversity is one of our priorities. Our sponsorship of the St Andrews Prize for the Environment lets us engage externally through collaboration with academia and non-government organisations, helping us to develop insights into issues faced by remote communities around the globe including an increased knowledge of sustainable land use.”
Pictured are (left to right) Terri King, President UK, ConocoPhillips; Dr Washington Otieno, Plantwise – Increasing Food Security Across the Globe; Professor Lord Alec Broers, Chairman, Trustees; and Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, University of St Andrews
In 2017, the St Andrews Prize for the Environment is awarding its 19th winner. Submissions are assessed by a panel of Trustees representing science, industry and Government. The award goes to the project that the Trustees believe displays the best combination of science, economic realism and sustainability.
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