As we celebrate Environment Day, it’s a reminder to each one of us that we have a key role to play in protecting the environment by avoiding activities that contribute towards environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity.
This year’s theme is #BeatPlasticPollution. Unfortunately, agriculture is one of the leading sources of pollution in many countries. Human activities such as inappropriate use and disposal of fertilizers, waste and other toxic farm chemicals often lead to pollution of water sources, air, and soil.
Today, a vast amount of otherwise-fertile agricultural land is polluted with plastic pollutants. Up to 12.5 million tons of plastic products are used in agriculture value chains, while 37.3 tons are used for food packaging, according to FAO. Fertilizers are a major source of soil pollution, with microplastics directly finding their way into the soil. This poses a threat to food security, health, and the environment.
There is a ray of hope, however, with the rising number of young agripreneurs who have developed award-winning innovations that are sustainably increasing agricultural productivity. They show us it is indeed possible to feed a growing population whilst protecting the environment.
On this year’s Environment Day, we celebrate these agripreneurs whose business models anchor on protecting the environment. Just a few examples include: reducing plastic pollution and emission of greenhouse gases, converting biowaste to organic fertilizers, and incorporating clean energy across the value chain.
Mark Musinguzi, Founder of Hyabioplastics, Uganda
In 2022, Mark Musinguzi was crowned the grand prize winner of the coveted GoGettaz Agripreneur Competition for his innovation — a sustainable food packaging as an alternative to petroleum-based plastic packaging (which does not degrade, and pollute the environment.) By optimizing biowaste, the amount of CO2 released to the atmosphere when burning plant remains prior to planting has been greatly reduced.
Hyabioplastics utilizes its proprietary starch-baking technology to create low-cost, locally-sourced, and biodegradable food packaging from agricultural residue, as an alternative to the fossil-derived plastic. A mixture of banana stems and starch from cassava residues is used to develop home-compostable food packaging products.
Women and Youth in Beekeeping and the Value Chain (WYN-BG), Ghana
As pollinators, bees play an important role in the ecosystem by supporting growth of trees, flowers and other plants. Beekeeping therefore helps to preserve nature, as well as sustain livelihoods and provide food security.
Many farmers shy away from beekeeping due to fear of bee stings. WYN-BG, a social enterprise, is changing this narrative. They train smallholder farmers on the benefits of pollination in crop reproduction, which enhances biodiversity and produces high quality bee products such as honey, beeswax, and propolis.
The team has spearheaded a campaign encouraging communities to plant tree crops such as cashew, mango, moringa, and citrus, also encouraging good farming practices by farmers.
Evangelista Chekera, Founder of Passion Poultry, Zimbabwe
Biomass briquettes can help farmers reduce chick mortality rate by 95%, and are friendly to both chicks and the environment. Biomass is made from animal waste, and is a green alternative to charcoal.
Evangelista has developed innovative poultry equipment, helping farmers manage the “brooding period,” when chicks are a few days old. The chick brooding device consists of a brooder ring, a heater powered by biomass briquettes, and a heat reflector. The brooder ring confines the chicks in a specific area while the heater is placed in the middle of the room to provide heat with the reflector regulating heat around the brooder. As a result, more chicks grow to reach the slaughter stage.
The heaters and brooder ring are reusable, unlike traditional methods of putting chicks in a box which are later disposed of.
James Nyamai, Founder of Bioafriq Energy Limited, Kenya
Kenya, like many other African countries, loses up to 33% of its annual agricultural produce to post-harvest losses. However, this could be salvaged by using clean energy to dry fresh agricultural produce, reducing losses.
BioAfriq Energy sells affordable dehydration equipment to farmers and processors to help reduce post-harvest losses while increasing and stabilizing incomes for farmers. They design and fabricate highly efficient dehydrators that use clean energy to dry a wide variety of farm produce, as well as heat exchangers that enhance the productivity of solar dryers.
The dehydration equipment has a digital temperature control compatible with off-grid solar power energy, hence no need for electricity. The equipment further uses biomass fuels that are made from recycled locally available waste agricultural biomass contributing to a carbon neutral environment.
Elena Gaffurini, Founder of Xabindza, Mozambique
Insect farming, particularly of black soldier flies, continues to gain traction. They aid in bioconversion of organic waste, converting it into protein-rich animal feed and organic fertilizer.
The black soldier fly has four life stages: namely egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The eggs hatch into larva which are fed into organic waste for a span of 14 days. to enable it to acquire nutrients from the waste and bio-convert it into protein, fat, and minerals stored in their bodies. Once ready, the larvae are harvested and used as a protein supplement in feeding poultry, fish and pigs. Frass, or the residue excrete of larva after feeding on organic waste, is often used as a soil amendment in crop farming.
Insect farming has therefore proven to be an economically viable circular solution for organic waste management.