Decomposing human and animal waste has the power to change lives. While it might sound – and smell – funny, the power of poop lies in biogas, a renewable energy source produced during the breakdown of waste. The process yields a gas of about 60 percent methane that can be used for cooking, refrigeration, and other basic needs. The waste itself can also be processed and applied to fields to enrich the soil and improve crop production.
That's what waste engineer, Rebecca Larson, assistant professor professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been doing. She's partnered with Vianney Tumwesige, CEO of Green Heat, a Ugandan energy company, teamed up on a host of projects in Kampala, Uganda that demonstrate new ways to transform waste to resource.
This episode is our interview with Prof. Larson
Coconut is the largest stone fruit in the world. Sold in the food and beverage industry, harvested for construction purposes, used in cosmetics, and transformed into decorative objects, the coconut has many applications. While a quarter of the world’s coconut production stems from the Philippines, the country’s coconut farmers are the poorest around the world. Farmers earn about $2 a day. Climate hazards, pests and unfavorable market market conditions impede the overall production.
To improve the viability of coconut farming in the Philippines, researcher Ana Herrera won a grant from the Global Center for Food Systems Innovation to implement FarmerLink, a Grameen Foundation project that connects farmers with agents who teach them how to operate a successful coconut farm. It’s called FarmerLink. And it’s key component is an Early Warning System which alerts farmers to potential hazards from natural shifts in the environment.
The onion has been a part of the human diet for more than 7,000 years. But it’s not just for eating. Onions have been used as currency and even exchanged as a gift!
Bacterial diseases are the most significant threat to their production. Despite considerable effort to control these diseases with chemicals, farmers still lose a lot of onions.
Kim Eang Tho, a doctoral student in the department of plant, soil and microbial science at Michigan State University, is studying the source of bacterial pathogens in onions to find strategies to better manage diseases. He spoke with Ali Hussain, a reporter for The Food Fix.
As Southern Africa struggles to recover from its worst drought in decades, farmers are seeing their crops destroyed due to El Nino weather changes. Famine afflicts millions of people. Without crops, farmers can’t eat. Without money, they can’t buy farming supplies.
To help them find low-cost pesticides and fertilizers, Mphatso Simbao, a 19-year-old from Lusaka, Zambia, has found a way to produce fertilizer and pesticide from unwanted plant material, ash, mud, water and heat.
Mphatso says his technique cuts fertilizer costs in half and saves farmers up to 80 percent of the cost of pesticides. The project won a national award at the 2016 Google Science Fair engineering competition.
We spoke with Mphatso on phone from Lusaka, Zambia.
Every year a trillion dollars of milk is sold worldwide.
Small farmers in many developing countries face problems with low milk production.
But an electrical engineer and innovator from Pakistan hopes to help them with a fitbit for cows. It’s called the Cowlar, a collar for cows that is equipped with sensors to monitor their health, production and even if someone is stealing them.
Umer Adnan, a graduate of electrical engineering from Arizona State University now living in Memphis, Tennessee, says his invention texts such critical information directly to farmers. The result is reduced costs, more milk and more profits.
The world’s population grows by more than two hundred thousand daily. That’s tens of millions of people annually. To feed them, food productivity must nearly double by 2050.
That’s a task.
Doing that in the face of climate change and the scarcity of land and water presents one of the world’s greatest challenges. Plants are stressed by drought, disease and non-native competitors. But people need to eat, no matter where they are.
In this episode Michigan State University researcher Brad Day describes the tools he is creating to unlocking the secrets of plants to better feed the world. They could produce more resilient, stress-tolerant crops that use water and nutrients more efficiently.
French fries, hash browns and crispy chips come to mind when we think about potatoes. Potatoes are the most widely consumed crops in the United States, and the world's fourth-largest food crop, after maize, wheat, and rice.
Potatoes grow on almost every continent. They adapt well to climate and are a good source of potassium, vitamin C and carbohydrates.
Their greatest enemy is soil borne diseases. Currently, those diseases are controlled by fumigating the soil with chemicals. That’s expensive both economically and environmentally. And it kills beneficial organisms!
Luke Steere, a doctoral student in the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences at Michigan State University, says potatoes have chosen him. Why? He talks to Ali Hussain about his research of molecular techniques and how it could reduce fumigation and improve production of potatoes.
Sorghum is a cereal grain that grows tall like corn. It originated in Africa, where it has grown for 10,000 years. Bread and porridge are the most common foods prepared from sorghum. It is the main source of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals for millions of people.
Sorghum’s biggest advantage is that it resists heat and drought. It survives extreme conditions with little water. Still, it’s not as popular as wheat or corn because of its complex protein structure that makes it hard to digest. That’s a hard crop to crack right?
Well, Nana Baah Pepra-Ameyaw, a doctoral student in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Michigan State University, studies how to process Sorghum to make it easier to digest. His research could improve food security by making sorghum easier to process and eat in food-scarce regions of the world. He spoke to Ali Hussain, a reporter for The Food Fix
Photo: Nana Baah
Every minute people flood supermarkets and grocery stores to buy food. We often do not think about how the brands we consume leave from seeding companies, to the farm, to green processors, to distributors and retailers. There are powerful actors who decide what we eat, and how much gets to us.
According to Philip Howard, 40% or more of the market, at every key stage in the food system in the U.S. is controlled by four firms. That has implications for harming the environment, human health and vulnerable sections of society, such as poor people, recent immigrants, and minorities.
Philip Howard is an associate professor in the Department of Community Sustainability at Michigan State University, and a member of the International Panel for Experts on Sustainable Food Systems. In this episode, we talk about his new book: Concentration and Power in the Food System: Who Controls what we eat?
In the African country of Cameroon, the lack of readily available water during the dry season can hurt a farmer’s ability to grow crops all year.
Ndeta Beuma'a, a master's student in power systems engineering, faculty of engineering and technology at the University of Buea in Cameroon, has developed a solar powered irrigation system that automatically brings water to crops when they need them.
His system may let farmers irrigate their crops during the dry season and in dry soils, allowing the crops to grow throughout the year.
Photo: Pechulano Ali