The Shift to a Nutrient Economy

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By Bill Carter

In South Africa, a highly respected mining engineer is asked by his wife to come up with a solution to a grave problem she’s facing at the hospices at which she works – HIV/AIDS patients are wasting away in spite of the availability of ARVs and of high carbohydrate, high sugar food supplements available through foreign aid programs.

In Zambia, a conservationist is sent to solve a problem during the “season of hunger” – people are poaching elephants, because their own efforts to farm no longer produce the calories they need to feed themselves.

In Belgium, a recently graduated pharmacist responds to pleas from her customers – they’re asking about the kinds of foods they should eat, what preparatory steps to take and how they can band together as a community to promote their wellness and improve the quality of their lives.

Basil KransdorffDale Lewis and Genevieve Moreau didn’t know each other or know of each other’s work when Ashoka found them as part of its continuous global search for social entrepreneurs with system changing new ideas. What we saw as a common thread in the work of these Fellows  and others is a drilling down – going beyond what we commonly refer to as “nutrition,” beyond the current level of debate around “food security,” and beyond the ongoing debate about organic vs. nonorganic food.

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Nutrients for All: Thriving Ecosystems for Productive, Resilient Food Systems

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By Kristie Wang

Natural ecosystems ensure that vital nutrients flow from soils to food to people. Thriving ecosystems are the bedrock of healthy nutrient chains, the basis of all life on the planet.

So what’s the issue?

Degraded by human activity like unsustainable agricultural practices, ecosystems around the world and their capacity to regenerate are threatened. This escalating stress on ecosystems increases the risks and impacts associated with climate change, and limits the availability of nutrient-enabling resources for food production: water, topsoil and biodiversity.

Desertification, caused primarily by overgrazing, over-intensive farming and deforestation, is occurring rapidly in regions that include East Asia (China), sub-Saharan Africa, and even North America (West Texas, U.S.A.). The world’s fisheries are disappearing—according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 85 percent of the world’s fish species are fully exploited, overexploited, or depleted. And the pollution of waterways, mainly from chemical fertilization and industrial livestock rearing, have created vast aquatic dead zones.

Forests protect topsoil against erosion, prevent destructive floods (through transpiration), and foster biodiversity. Yet deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate of 16 million hectares each year (think 16 million baseball fields). According to UNESCO, 200 years ago the average depth of top soil was 21 inches. Today, it is six inches. And although our food systems would collapse without biodiversity, 200 species go extinct per day—which experts estimate is 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural rate of extinction.

Depressed yet? Don’t be…

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Interview with Dr. Prabhjot Singh, Chair of the 1 Million Community Health Worker Technical Taskforce

Prabhjot Singh

Based on an interview with Dr. Prabhjot Singh, Professor at Columbia University and Chair of the 1 Million Community Health Worker Technical Taskforce.

By Kris Reinhardt

Community Health Worker (CHW) integration into the wider health system has been happening in low-resource settings globally since the 1970s. However, the progress has been inconsistent and on a small scale, which still leaves widespread disparities in health outcomes and health systems in many settings. The One Million Community Health Worker Campaign calls for the rapid scale up of CHW programs across sub-Saharan Africa. Like many other movements, such as the Millennium Development Goals, the campaign aims to gather international support and financial resources for national-level CHW programs. In January of this year, the campaign was announced at the World Economic Forum, championed by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez, and Professor Jeffrey Sachs. The approach has been top-down during the initial process of gathering international support; however, much of the potential success and scalability of the project depends on the country-specific, bottom-up mechanisms that are being built into the implementation process.

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