Greening the Golden Arches

Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

McDonald’s is hoping to change the way consumers view fast food. In partnership with the E-CO2 Project, an independent U.K. consulting firm, the company is launching a three-year study to assess methane production from beef cows in the United Kingdom, as well as ways to reduce livestock production of the greenhouse gas.

A burger joint famous for drive-thru windows and Happy Meals is certainly not the first business that comes to mind when one thinks about environmental sustainability. But with increasing mainstream awareness of the negative consequences of beef production for both human health and the environment, the fast-food giant is looking to reposition itself as leader of green business models.

McDonald’s purchases beef from more than 16,000 British and Irish farmers, who raise their cattle in large feedlots. The methane gas produced by livestock accounts for an estimated 4 percent of the U.K.’s total carbon emissions. McDonald’s hopes that the results of the study will help guide efforts to reduce suppliers’ methane production. The initiative also will likely help “green” the corporation’s image in the minds of an increasingly environmentally conscious public.

Building a Methane-Fueled Fire: Innovation of the Week

Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

For half the world’s population, every meal depends on an open fire that is fueled by wood, coal, dung, and other smoke-producing combustibles. These indoor cookfires consume large amounts of fuel and emit carbon dioxide and other dangerous toxins into the air, blackening the insides of homes and leading to respiratory diseases, especially among women and children.

Biogas, however, takes advantage of what is typically considered waste, providing a cleaner and safer source of energy. Biogas units use methane from manure to produce electricity, heat, and fertilizer while emitting significantly less smoke and carbon monoxide than other sources of fuel. Access to an efficient, clean-burning stove not only saves lives-smoke inhalation-related illnesses result in 1.5 million deaths per year-it also reduces the amount of time that women spend gathering firewood, which the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) estimates is 10 hours per week for the average household in some rural areas.

The IFAD-funded Gash Barka Livestock and Agricultural Development Project (GBLADP) helped one farmer in Eritrea, Tekie Mekerka, make the most of the manure his 30 cows produce by helping to install a biogas unit on his farm (similar to the unit that Danielle saw in Rwanda with Heifer International). Now, says Mekerka, “we no longer have to go out to collect wood for cooking, the kitchen is now smoke-free, and the children can study at night because we have electricity.”Additionally, Mekerka is using the organic residue left by the biogas process as fertilizer for his family’s new vegetable garden.

In Rwanda, the government is making biogas stove units more accessible by subsidizing installation costs, and it hopes to have 15,000 households nationwide using biogas by 2012.  While visiting with Heifer Rwanda, Danielle met Madame Helen Bahikwe, who, after receiving government help to purchase her biogas unit, is now more easily cooking for her 10-person family and improving hygiene on the farm with hot water for cleaning.

In China, IFAD found that biogas saved farmers so much time collecting firewood that farm production increased. In Tanzania, the Foundation for Sustainable Rural Development (SURUDE), with funding from UNDP, found that each biogas unit used in their study reduced deforestation by 37 hectares per year. And in Nigeria, on a much larger scale, methane and carbon dioxide produced by a water purifying plant is now being used to provide more affordable gas to 5,400 families a month, thanks to one of the largest biogas installations in Africa.

To read more about how waste can be turned into a source of fuel, energy, and nutrition see: Making Fuel Out of Waste, Growing Food in Urban “Trash,” ECHOing a Need for Innovation in Agriculture, Keeping Weeds for Nutrition and Taste, and Vertical Farms: Finding Creative Ways to Grow Food in Kibera.

If you know of other ways people are making the most of their waste and would like to share it with us, we encourage you to leave a comment or fill out our agriculture innovation survey here.

Reversing Climate Change, One Bite at a Time

(Some valuable and interesting points are made here which we should adhere to for sustainable agriculture.  It’s better food too without all the hormones and other artificial stuff injected into our livestock. – promoted by John Morgan)

Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

On the nine hour bus ride from Johannesburg, South Africa to Maputo, Mozambique yesterday, I had a chance to read the latest TIME Magazine and was surprised-and pleased-to see an article on an issue that Worldwatch has been covering for a long time-the benefits of grass-fed livestock systems for the climate.

The article highlights how not all meat is created equal. All of the ingredients used to raise livestock conventionally-including artificial fertilizers and monocultures of maize and soybeans-are highly dependent on fossil fuels. In addition, modern meat production requires massive land use changes that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, including the destruction of grasslands and rainforests in South America and the degradation of ranging lands in Africa (See the Worldwatch report: Mitigating Climate Change Through Food and Land Use).

Rotational grazing systems, on the other hand, can actually sequester carbon in soils. And because the animals are eating grass, not grain, artificial fertilizer isn’t required to produce feed. These systems also don’t have to rely on the long-distance transportation of fertilizer, grain, or other inputs. And while the manure produced at confined animal feed operations, or CAFOs, is often considered toxic waste because it is produced in such massive quantities, the manure produced on smaller-scale farms is considered a valuable resource, helping to fertilize crops.

While raising-and eating- grass-fed beef might not completely reverse climate change, it’s a valuable tool for producers and consumers alike in helping lower the amount of GHGs emitted because of our food choices.