Chicago: Taking Tips from the Screwworm

This blog originally appeared on Triple Pundit.  See here

Given the typical irreverence of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, I’m pondering something I think he might like to know: He could be the Screwworm Mayor.

Some of you may know that the lowly screwworm threatened Southwestern cattle in the 20th century, decimating Texas ranchers’ livestock with the wasting disease it triggered.  The tenacity of those hard-scrabble ranchers in the Southwest Cattleman’s Association eradicated this invasive pest by introducing of millions of screwworm flies sterilized by radioactivity. (You with me, Rahm.) The Association contends that this was the most beneficial 20th-century program to livestock producers than any other.*

As science and policy swirls around the introduction of sterile male mosquitoes to help eliminate the global scourge of malaria in some regions, Chicago has its local version.  Here’s our story: In 1986, the mosquito Aedes albopictus – also known as the Asian tiger mosquito – arrived by way of standing water in used tires (which had come full circle from stripped rubber rings in the U.S., then via ship to Asia to be retread and home again) and bamboo.

The mosquito survived in Chicago, despite being well outside its native range, because of the urban heat island effect that increases the temperature of urban areas with lots of black, heat-trapping surfaces. (Think: tar paper roofs and asphalt roads and parking lots.)  In the meantime, while shipping rules for tires and bambooprevented the introduction of more of these pests, every year (10 generations in a mosquito’s life) some live on in Chicagoland, contributing to our mosquito population. As the climate changes, the range for this mosquito will move north.

What if Chicago established a Midwest Mosquito Infertility Association, introducing sterile males specifically for this invasive pest, thus halting that progression?

While mosquito fertility is a topic of much debate, the unique situation of Tigris mosquitos in Chicago gives us a chance to control this experiment and address two of the biggest issues in that debate: One, the population affected isn’t over an entire continent or state (making it harder to eradicate, given the scale of effort), and two, the population is not native to the area (thereby, the web of life does not depend on its existence to keep itself in balance).

Let’s give those tiger mosquitos a wrangle!

*Update:  Those sterile males may need to be called back into service.  The Washington Post reported this fall:  Screwworm outbreak in Florida deer marks first U.S. invasion of the parasite in 30 years.


Building Global Health Resilience: Pursuits in Haiti and Bangladesh

ND-GAIN focuses on building resilience to climate change as a critical component to better prepare humans and their environment for the next 100 years.  Our mission lies in enhancing the world’s understanding of the importance of adaptation and of facilitating private and public investments in vulnerable communities. For the 2014 Annual Corporate Adaptation Prize, we received 20 applicants, either multinational corporations or local enterprises working on a project in a country ranked below 60 on the ND-GAIN index and collaborating with local partners. Applications are judged on their measurable adaptation impact, scalability and market impact. Here is a brief view of two projects our applicants are employing to improve human health in Haiti and Bangladesh:

Abbott, Partners in Health & the Abbott Fund


Source Abbott

Abbott has teamed with Partners in Health (PIH) and the Abbott Fund to alleviate malnutrition in Haiti’s Central Plateau—the country’s poorest region, which also is prone to severe and deadly natural disasters. Based on ND-GAIN data, Haiti is the 15th most vulnerable country and the 30th least ready country. The country’s score has trended upward over the past 10 years, from 41 in 2005 to its peak at 46 in 2010, but has dropped slightly to 45 after the 2010 earthquake.

Abbott infographic

Source Abbott 

The partnership has built and opened a new facility operated by Haitians to produce Nourimanba, PIH's free and life-giving treatment for severe malnutrition in children. The partnership's agricultural development program also is helping local farmers supply the facility with high-quality peanuts, while raising farmers’ incomes. Today, the facility concentrates on producing Nourimanba and is assessing options to produce fortified peanut butter that can be sold in Haiti. They seek to create a self-sustaining social enterprise that supports facility operations and helps drive local economic activity.

BASF Grameen Limited 

BASF tent

Source BASF

To date, the facility has produced more than 60,000 kgs of Nourimanba and has treated about 6,000 patients. It has more than 40 Haitians on staff, with additional staff hired as the plant expands. In 2014, the project hopes to increase farmers’ income by 300 percent. The partnership is working with non-profit TechnoServe to provide nearly 300 local farmers with tools such as financing for seeds, supplies, and services to increase quality, and yield by 33 percent. The Abbott Fund has provided more than $6.5 million in funding, and the facility is owned by PIH, which works together with its sister organization, Zanmi Lasante. Visit the Abbott Fund website to learn more, and view this 2012 New York Times article on the PIH website.

BASF Grameen Limited is improving human health by preventing the spread of mosquito-borne diseases in Bangladesh.  It has established a joint venture social business with Grameen Healthcare Trust, a nonprofit organization created by the Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, to help manufacture and distribute sturdy mosquito nets to vulnerable communities. The goal is to help the country achieve its UN Millennium Development Goals. Bangladesh has a gain score of 47.3 and has been steadily improving since 2005. The project hopes to further improve Bangladesh’s mortality index and external health dependency index.

With an initial investment from BASF of €200,000, the joint venture social business employs local community members in Bangladesh and sources from local suppliers where available.

The Interceptor mosquito net was the first product of this venture, which aims to reduce mosquito-borne disease, thus contributing to achieve key U.N Millennium Development Goals related to health. In 2011, BASF Grameen provided Interceptor nets to students from Dhaka University, the largest public institute in Bangladesh. Since then, BASF Grameen has constructed a plant within Bangladesh to make and distribute these nets to communities in need. According to the WHO, the protection provided by these nets against the mainly night-active vector mosquitoes is the most effective means of preventing malaria infections. The decrease in cases of malaria in Bangladesh by 70 percent over the past five years can be attributed, in large part, to the long-lasting insecticidal mosquito nets, which retain their protective properties for up to 20 washes, depending on local conditions.

Despite Bangladesh’s upward trend on the ND index, it maintains a high vulnerability and low readiness and needs investment and innovations to continue to improve. BASF Grameen Limited’s vision for the future is to scale up its operations within Bangladesh and also address similar issues in other vulnerable countries. Visit the Grameen Creative Lab and Yunus Social Business websites for more details and to learn about their other projects. This information was compiled with the help of Sophia Chau, Intern, ND-Global Adaptation

China's Role in Adaptation?

This infographic in Fast Company got me thinking:  Is China the answer to African resilience? final version use africa

Anyone worried about climate change would be agog at what this map says:  That Africa (including, it looks like, even the African Sahel, based on the arrow) will be China’s breadbasket!  But other maps of Africa, suggest this might be a fantasy ND-GAIN’s data (as well as that of e.g. Maplecroft) suggest that Africa is vulnerable, including and especially in its food sector.


But what if African economic development changed these risk maps?  Then, could we see the sort of hope illustrated in that fantastic Fast Company arrow?

GAIN identifies two types of countries vulnerable to climate change – those ready for investment (due to their economic, social and governance perspectives) and those that are not.  My audience often asks me, how will those countries unready for adaptation investments become less vulnerable?  China, seemingly, is providing that answer.

The Economist reported on the Centre for China & Globalization and National Bureau of Statistics numbers, which showed that China’s direct investment flows are edging toward a slight majority of outflows this year, with around $130B in outflows and about $120B in inflows projected, and Africa is one recipient of that outbound investment. The story we know well is that state-owned enterprises are searching for resources in Africa.  And mining is a part of this story.   But private Chinese firms also are pioneering in the African marketplace, as Peter Orzag explains in Bloomberg.

Earlier this year, Reuters reported that China will extend over $12B in aid to Africa in future years.

Earlier this month, as China’s leader wrapped up a premier tour of strong handshakes and lavish gift-giving around the Pacific following on APEC, I grew hopeful that China turns from a BRIC into a brick-builder that helps African countries and other emerging economies continue to build the foundation of their resiliency.

Cocoa Climate Crisis


The International Cocoa organization has reported a 75,000-ton cocoa shortfall for this growing season and that figure is expected to reach the million-ton mark by 2020 unless swift action is taken. While Eastern Europe and Brazil, the biggest cocoa consumers, have registered a surge in chocolate consumption in recent years, extreme weather events have hurt cocoa yields.

Image from IFC

The world’s top producers of cocoa—Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana (59% of the global cocoa supply chain) and Indonesia, Nigeria, and Cameroon (23% together) – are also those hardest hit by drought and flooding yet least prepared to respond to them.

According to ND-GAIN, an index indicating countries’ vulnerability to climate change and readiness to adapt to it, Cote d’Ivoire ranks 154 on a relative scale of 1 to 178 (with 1 being the most resilient); Ghana ranks 102; and Indonesia, Nigeria, and Cameroon rank 99, 140, and 130, respectively.

As a result of cocoa’s unfortunate turn, many cocoa companies, traders and chocolate manufacturers have begun joint projects aiming to boost cocoa yields through sustainability in the supply chain.  Projects have engaged multicorporation collaboration, civil society actors and standards bodies and have generated investments from stakeholder governments. Although some projects have proven fruitful, effective coordination and scalability are still lacking, which provides much opportunity for further collaboration between private and public sectors in the next decade.

Besides climate woes and low adaptive ability, cocoa’s poor performance reflects a supply chain plagued by economic and social issues. Compromised bargaining power of smallholders, income instability and dismal working conditions are prompting many young cocoa farmers to quit in search of livelihoods elsewhere. Other issues include poor or lack of infrastructure (roads, health facilities, schools, and electricity) and a paucity of farmer training capacity. Both would provide public and private sector partnerships with opportunities for positive intervention. Several reports emphasize that yield increase alone will neither alleviate smallholders’ sufferings nor secure supply chains. Thus, the 2012 Cocoa Barometer report called for a holistic approach to solving the cocoa crisis, one going “beyond productivity.”

In the last several years, consumer awareness of these issues surrounding cocoa production has expanded. Major chocolate manufacturers such as Cadbury, based in the United Kingdom, and Mars have committed to certified cocoa production standards that improve cocoa farmers’ security. These standards are specified by internationally recognized standard bodies such as Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) and the Rainforest Alliance. Worldwide, companies and stakeholder nations are shifting toward more sustainable cocoa and have engaged a variety of sectors in multilateral programs.

With climate change accelerating, other key commodities popping up on the risk radar include vanilla, palm oil and coffee, among others.  Keurig Green Mountain, Coca Cola, Heinz, Chipotle and other major food companies have all warned that climate change threatens businesses. Clearly, much room remains for progress, but this also provides ample opportunity for multilateral cooperation in building a more sustainable future for people, planet and profit.

Cocoa data and facts from the 2012 Cocoa Barometer report.  Blog compiled by Sophia Chau, Intern, ND-GAIN

Australia to Zimbabwe: Contrasts in Drought Resiliency

The world has grown more informed about how to handle drought after observing southern Australia weather 12 years of one.  We’ve learned lessons about water conservation and efficiency, about recycling water and finding previously untapped supplies.  Yet, when a relatively shorter drought of less than a year hit Zimbabwe last year, the country suffered a great deal. Curious about what distinguishes the relative resiliency of these two countries and seeking to go beyond my immediate judgement that it’s because Australia is a well-developed economy and Zimbabwe is far less so,  I turned to ND-GAIN for insights.  Here’s what I learned:

  • Australia, at No. 5 on the ND-GAIN index, has continued to move up the ranks – it’s now well ahead of the U.S. at 13.
  • Zimbabwe, at 171 on the ND-GAIN index, sits five places from the bottom of the Index. It has fallen 35 places. Its food important dependency of 28 percent contrasts to Australia’s 3 percent.
  • Though its rural population is also declining, 64 percent of its population lives in rural areas to Australia’s 11 percent.
  • Zimbabwe also gets a growing amount of energy from both hydropower – prone to drought-related variability - and imported sources, while Australia’s dependence on foreign oil is smaller and decreasing.
  • The most striking variance in vulnerability, perhaps, lies in the two countries’ dependence on natural capital: Zimbabwe scores 38 percent and Australia four percent (and decreasing). This may explain why their natural systems responded so differently even though water-related vulnerabilities including precipitation and temperature change don’t differ markedly between the two countries.

But the big reveal that, unfortunately, supports many a hunch is that Australia’s readiness to adapt to climate change – as measured by economic, governance and social indicators – is two-to-three times greater than Zimbabwe’s.  Political stability, an economic environment conducive to business and the quality of the rule of law, to cite some specific readiness measures, all help countries weather the stress of drought.

While we should all take lessons from Australia’s deft handling of its drought – learned over time through trial and error – we also should continue to support efforts to shore up the readiness of a lower-income country as a way to ensure that Zimbabwe and others keep pace with the adaptations needed in a climate-changed world.

Business on the Front Lines

A benefit – and deep pleasure – of working at the University of Notre Dame is rubbing shoulders with eminent thinkers.  I had the joy last year of meeting Viva Bartkus, Ph.D., Associate Professor at the university’s Mendoza College of Business. She not only is a , University of Notre Dame who is not only a great sage, but also a fine director. In her course, Business on the Front Lines, Notre Dame graduate students serve in post-conflict societies to inspire  business initiatives through the humanitarian lens.  In two-week installments, they play a role in building long-term community capacity for local resiliency and stability by partnering with local institutions to give people a stake in peace. Earlier this week, I noted in a blog about food security that in employing its Pilot Program for Climate Resilience, the World Bank found flagging demand from the private sector in climate-resiliency issues.  Fully 90 percent of their PPCR resources were tapped by government, and only 7 percent by the private sector. The Bank cited as a possible cause the lack of development of markets in these communities.  Looking at the ND-GAIN scores for the countries Dr. Viva’s class has impacted, her course is embracing these markets.

Her goal: to explore the role of business in rebuilding war-torn communities.

Students have worked with Uganda farmers to consider cultivation measures to enhance the quality of the food they bring to

Viva notes that BOTFL is a “Journey of discovery where students ask ‘what should be the role of business in society.’”market; in Kenya to inform supply-chain variables with new business models and in Lebanon to determine new approaches to the public/private/political interface in government-run utilities.  After students depart, Catholic Relief Services staff members continue working with local experts to put them into effect.

Business on the Frontlines is demonstrating to students—and to the world—the powerful impact business can have in pulling populations out of poverty and stabilizing society following a conflict or disaster.  It’s a great example of building resiliency through private sector efforts.

Feeding a climate-altered world

How will we feed the world amid drought, fire, floods and population shifts?  While I don’t yet envision a Malthusian catastrophe, per se, I think it critical to begin a conversation about this question as it relates to our work.  At last month’s ND-GAIN Annual Meeting at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., I derived several key takeaways from our panelists*:

  1. Climate change could undermine development advances of the 20th Century, such as the interrelated issues of food security, global health and poverty reduction, the World Bank contends.
  2. The largest demand for funds in the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience is for agricultural and landscape-management projects and, among fund recipients, water is the second largest.  Project examples include $5M to Mozambique (ND-GAIN Rank 137 ) for drip irrigation and other agriculture enhancements, $15M to Zambia (ND-GAIN Index ) to insure farmers against extreme weather and $22M to Bangladesh, (ND-GAIN Rank 145 for a seed selection and storage and cropping cycles project.
  1. As climate portfolios grow to include resiliency and adaptation, in addition to greenhouse gas mitigation, the World Bank notes a decreased participation from the private sector, says Patricia Bliss-Guest Program Manager of Climate Investment Funds there. Through its pilot program for climate resilience, the Bank works to incent additional private participation in addition to government assistance.
  1. Microinsurance is a major priority for the insurance sector in emerging markets and insurance can send important price-based signals to the market, notes Lindene Patton Chief Climate Product Officer at Zurich Insurance Group Ltd. She cautions against subsidizing insurance too much, adding that the question of climate risk is generally understood by the reinsurance industry to be a people, not a physical science, problem.
  2. The key to resiliency in the food supply (taking cocoa as a case) involves examining all the vectors impacting farmers, including demographic shifts, community engagements, diversity of crops and agrarian livelihoods, maintains Perry Yeatman Principal, Mission Measurement, based on her work at Kraft Foods. She says it matters to our ample supply of chocolate bars that cocoa farmers are aging, their children are migrating to cities, the farmers need to raise chickens to diversify their nutrition and their community structures are crucial to their farms’ viability.
  3. While climate change might favor the Eastern Europe and the Americas, a tremendous amount of investment for water infrastructure is necessary elsewhere in the world, believes David Gustafson Senior Fellow and Environmental and Ag Policy Modeling Lead at Monsanto. He favors partnerships with local and global institutions to address this concern, especially as the global agricultural community looks to intensify its production efforts sustainably to feed our  ever-growing world population.

In a future post, I plan to address the approaches for increasing this agricultural intensity. As I write this, my alumni magazine arrived with the cover story, “GMO vs. Fresh Food….”   I’ve had a study diet of this issue and look forward to continuing the dialogue.

*A video of the panel can be found here:

Climate as a Business Opportunity

Navigant Consulting recently published a well-researched blog, “Facing Climate Change and Adapting,” that reminds us of the billions of dollars the UN Green Climate Fund is expected to generate to support climate adaptation in emerging economies. The article also addresses the growing market demand for climate adaptation services, regardless of the $2 billion global multilateral mechanism, that grows at a brisk pace. If this sounds unlikely, just think of the dollars infused when countries have adapted to other mega trends, such as preparing for and recovering from World Wars.  While the blog identifies engineering consulting firms, desalinization technology and construction firms among those that stand to benefit from a changing climate, other sectors already have begun to benefit:

  • The pharmaceutical industry will grow as vector-borne diseases adapt to geography changes.
  • Agricultural innovation in seed and fertilizer already is occurring (see BASF an Monsanto) to accommodate not only different precipitation but also varying temperatures.
  • Networking technologies are becoming hotter commodities, especially those that address the growing challenges of resource scarcity, the land-water-food-energy-climate nexus and the increasing impact and frequency of weather extremes.

While corporations involved in climate-change work often have been on both sides of the proverbial coin – either as mitigation leaders, looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or climate avoiders looking to avoid prohibitive policy changes, a new generation of climate leaders is emerging.  They see the great value in placing adaptation at the forefront of their work, and they’re well positioned to capture real market value from the billions of adaptation dollars out there.


Climate and Society - A Look Back at 2011

Happy Lunar New Year!  It’s 4710 on the lunar calendar and, having reflected on the myriad end-of-year/start-of-year lists in my inbox since December began, Jan. 23 seems a good day to reflect on the most thought-provoking events and items concerning corporate climate adaptation in 2011.  Here are my top three – plus a wish for 2012:

  1. Studies show that one-in-five major civil conflicts since 1950 may be linked to climate extremes associated with El Nino. Those big climate disturbances rooted in the tropical Pacific Ocean remind us to prepare for the collateral dis-benefits possible from shifting conditions.
  2. Japan’s multi-layered tragedy – the worst earthquake there on record followed by a meter-high tsunami and concluding with the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown – prompts us to consider the domino effects of extreme events. It also changes the parameters of corporate extreme-event scenario planning.
  3. Reflecting rising temperatures between 1980 and 2008, farms around the planet produced 3.8 percent less corn and 5.5 percent less wheat than they could have, suggesting that climate change is having an impact faster than we are adapting.

Between 1980 and 2008, climbing global temperatures took millions of tons of wheat off the dinner table, scientists say. Some countries experienced big losses due to weather (red), while in others, wheat production held steady (blue). (Science/AAAS)

My wish for 2012:  That companies boldly embrace the opportunity that climate adaptation sparks – leveraging intellectual property to sell climate-proofed and climate-resistant products.  I’ve mentioned some winners in previous blogs.  Here’s another set:

  • Construction equipment – for clearing debris and rebuilding weather-stricken communities
  • Mold removal – for helping communities cope with basements swamped by overbank flooding or basement backups
  • Power tools – for chopping up felled trees that fall victim to arbor pests that weaken them or intense storms
  • Auxiliary-powered equipment- such as generators and transistor radios for use in power outages during extreme weather

And what are your wishes?


Farmers and Climate Change – They’ve got the instinct

In the last few weeks, several articles have appeared related to climate change and agriculture. The New York Times cover story was one entitled “Temperature rising: A WarmingPlanet Struggles to Feed Itself.” There also was a big spread in the Economist entitled “Hindering harvests:Changes in the climate are already having an effect on crop yields—butnot yet a very big one”

However, it was a Nov. 28, 2010, op-edpiece in the NYT that really moved me. Jack Hedin, a farmer, eloquently described how climate change has affected his farm – the legacy of a homestead his grandfather established in the late 1800s. His description of the unexpected forces that reshaped his farm really helped me to grasp it – more than all of those big-model descriptions and dire warnings of the depletion of our food stocks.

If I were in the food business, I would want to talk to farmers like Jack Hedin to get a leg up on how this is really going to affect my operations.  If you know a farmer, ask him to tell you about climate change and his farm.  Then think about what that means for your business.  I’m eager to hear from you on what these conversations with the world’s weather experts tell you.
I had a conversation like this, myself, with Ken, a wild urban farmer in Chicago.  He talked to me about the changes in how we predict weather changes. In the past, it was the smell of rain, the look of a bank of clouds, the shift in the wind. Today, we benefit from extraordinary weather satellite data.  And then Ken shared that climate change is forcing such incredible resource demands for more irrigation and more pesticides. The conversation reminded me, thinking of the world’s food, of a quote on my desk, which says:  “The best starting point for (climate change) adaptation is to be rich.”
The Economist reported last week that the price of wheat in Texas is more than $8 a bushel, compared with last year’s average of $5.25.  Perhaps everyone will need a bit more cash.