World Environment Day 2024: A look at how we protect our land and our futures
© Foto: Barbora Vrablíková

The theme of World Environment Day 2024, “Our land. Our future. We are #GenerationRestoration.” evokes the words of Woody Guthrie: “This land is my land, this land is your land…” Whilst Woody referred to the US, this sentiment is applicable the world over. Thus, it is up to us to make sure that the land we live and depend on is protected so that it continues to sustain life—we cannot wait for someone else to do it. At People in Need, we are doing our part. Are you? 

According to the UN, we lose a football field’s worth of soil through erosion every five seconds*. Such loss is clearly unsustainable, and if we do not take action, we are condemning ourselves and our children to a pretty bleak future. However, at People in Need, we are proud to say that we don’t just talk about the environment; we act. Our country programmes are engaged in making changes to green our operations and to protect the soil for future generations. Join us for a tour de horizon of our work to protect the environment at home and around the world.

Keeping the Czech Republic green

As with all things, we start at home. As a Czech NGO, we expend great efforts here in the Czech Republic to arrest the consequences of climate change. Whilst we like to think of the Czech Republic as a lush, healthy landscape, this is sadly not the case. Therefore, we are working with farmers to reduce the impacts of climate change and mono-culture on soil degradation. This is particularly important in Moravia, where communities face extreme weather—including a recent tornado—and soil erosion.

Our climate team is embedded with several at-risk communities to ensure that they have the knowledge and expertise they need to make positive changes. To foster ownership, we are currently training local climate managers on how to guide their own communities in making changes to their lives that will have a positive impact on their environment.

For example, in Dolní Bojanovice and Němčice, locals have been developing plans to protect their landscape from the effects of drought and flash flooding. This work will ensure that these communities continue to prosper from the natural bounty that surrounds them while reducing the risks of damage and destruction that come with flash flooding. 

In Moravská Nová Ves, our colleagues help villagers with planting cherry, almond, and chestnut trees, Replanting will create a green heart for the village that will beautify and—more importantly—cool it. This work repairs the damage caused by the tornado that ripped through the region. Together, we are regenerating the environment that was lost.

In addition to our work with villagers in Moravia, we use our climate website to provide readers with crucial contextualisation for climate change, as well as tips and tricks that they can use for climate adaptation and mitigation in their own lives.  

Moldova: turning waste into worth

Moldova is a small country with a big heart. This can be seen in the response of the Moldovan people to the needs of Ukrainians who have fled there from Russia’s war on their country. The people of Moldova have gone above and beyond in what is the epitome of good neighbourliness.

However, Moldova also has problems of its own, one of which is poor waste management. To help Moldovans in this regard, we have set up project MILK which shares best practices from farmers in the Czech Republic with their counterparts in Moldova. We introduced efficient composting techniques to help Moldovan farmers turn manure into a valuable resource. In doing so, these farmers are improving soil quality, protecting water and air, and contributing to environmental sustainability in general. MILK allowed farmers to learn directly from farmers who successfully implemented composting practices in similar contexts.

In addition to waste management, our team in Moldova have helped villages with the removal of solid waste that has been dumped in the countryside. We have also encouraged farmers in the transition to organic compost. Taken as a whole, these projects will contribute to a cleaner, greener Moldova. 

Angola: Reducing erosion to increase productivity

For large parts of the year, Angola is an arid country, thus prone to drought. Worse still, it is estimated that two-thirds of the population is dependent on agriculture for their food, income, and employment. Such reliance puts tremendous stress on the land and the soil. It also leads in cases to overfarming and soil degradation.

To reduce stress on the land and increase agricultural yields—to ensure proper nutrition—we instigated Project Chitanda. This project provided training and field schools, as well as practical tools and a diverse array of seeds to Angolan farmers. The field schools serve to educate communities on best practices for running efficient, environmentally safe, and sustainable farms. Andrade Vasco, a participant in the project, proclaimed the benefit of Chitanda. He tells us that with his new knowledge, he grew five tonnes of maise, 600 kilogrammes of beans and three tonnes of vegetables, which he sold at a village market and bought three cattle with the proceeds. Andrade is just one of 200+ farmers who are now practising sustainable agriculture thanks to the knowledge gained from our work. Each aspect of Chitanda serves to provide nutritional security for Angolans today and in the future. 

Zambia: nature-based solutions to natural problems

Zambia, like Angola, suffers from prolonged drought and great soil dependence. Similar to Angola, seven out of ten people in Zambia rely on agriculture for food, income, and employment. This year, it is experiencing its driest agricultural season in 40 years. It is estimated that this year, 6.6 million people in Zambia will need help coping with the effects of drought. We are helping Zambians overcome the challenges of drought by promoting innovative climate friend practices. These include the use of nature-based solutions (NbS) such as biochar and community conservation.

In Zambia, we teach farmers to make biochar a charcoal-like material made by burning agricultural and forestry waste. It produces little in the way of contamination and can be used to store carbon. Unlike regular charcoal, biochar can be used as a fertiliser that enhances soil quality by reducing acidity. It helps sandy soils retain water better, which can minimise drought stress and nutrient leaching. Thus contributing to the overall health of the soil and improving the resilience of the soil and the communities that depend on it. As Nang’unyi Bulele, a Zambian farmer we support, noted, without her crops, her kids would go hungry and be unable to attend school. Nang’unyi reminds us that we live upon the land and that how we live is up to us. 

Cambodia: harvesting the sun to power progress

How we use the land directly is not the only way to protect ourselves from loss or degradation of soil. As the environment is a system, we must look at it systematically, that is why places our work also involves the reduction of emissions; you can see this in the greening of our operations or the harnessing of solar power in Cambodia, the Philippines, and Yemen.

In Cambodia, we have supported farmers through our ‘SWITCH to Solar’ initiative. As the world transitions towards clean energy, we must ensure that everyone can access it; otherwise, change will be for nought. Equitable clean energy access can drive sustainable development and improve lives without harming the environment. As one of our participants, Nop Kolap notes, the use of solar power has reduced her costs—both financial and environmental—and increased her crop yields. Ms. Kolap’s selection in the SWITCH to Solar project has enhanced her resilience. It has proven that we can do likewise for others.

As we mark World Environment Day, we recall the theme of today. We thank all of our colleagues, partners, and projects the world over who are contributing the the healthy future of the land we live upon.

*(In the time that it took to read this article, we have lost 51.5 football fields worth of soil…)

Autor: Dermot Nolan

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