EARTH DAY 2022 | Invest in our planet for a sustainable future
Earth Day 2022's theme: Invest in our planet
Since 1970, April 22 is the annual day on which we celebrate Earth Day and raise awareness about sustaining our future through climate change action – ‘a day of action to change human behaviour and create global, national and local policy changes’, Earthday.org explains.
Earth Day went global in 1990, since the internet has allowed us to all participate on a global level. ‘Today, Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year.’
As Earthday.org stress in their 2022 theme: ‘Now is the time for the unstoppable courage to preserve and protect our health, our families, our livelihoods… together, we must invest in our planet…It’s going to take all of us. All in. Businesses, governments and citizens — everyone accounted for and everyone accountable. A partnership for the planet.’
Why should we invest in our planet? Simple! For a sustainable future
The UN panel on climate change released the last of a series of reports in early April 2022. And its findings are dire: the world is “perilously close” to irreversible climate change, and human activity is “indisputably” the cause. Pulling together to beat this pending disaster has never been more important. It’s “now or never” to limit global warming to 1.5 °C.
Whether we choose to believe it or not, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the impact of human-induced climate change is becoming more observable in the form of, among others, severe weather events, droughts, flooding and runaway fires.
These have consequences for all the living creatures that share our planet. Species extinction is occurring at an unprecedented rate, and the Amazon forest - the Earth’s main lung and a major carbon sink – is becoming less resilient.
Thinking global, acting local
The main focus points for most NGOs and climate-change bodies are the mitigation of greenhouse gases, the carbon crisis, icebergs melting and dealing with plastic pollution, understandably.
However, different regions and countries face specific challenges that are related to climate change. Carbon is important, but it’s not necessarily the primary focus everywhere. In Delhi, it’s air pollution. In Southeast Asia and Africa, it is biodiversity loss. Australia is grappling with ecotoxicity, while overconsumption is a major problem for Europe and North America. Water security is a serious concern, worldwide.
If we all do our part is addressing the issues that affect us locally, we alleviate local situations and prepare ourselves for a sustainable future, while also contributing to mitigating the effects of climate change on a global level.
Mitigating climate change in South Africa
Nêô Sephiri’s focus is on South Africa. It is our home. It is also where we produce the Kalahari melon that is the core of our enterprise, as well as our tool for adapting to local climate change.
South Africa’s specific challenges are socioeconomic, environmental, and developmental.
Socioeconomic: over 35 % of South Africa’s population has been hit hard by loss of employment due to COVID-19 and numerous other factors that have resulted in economic slowdown.
Environmental: South Africa is one of the world’s environmental treasures. Almost 10% of all bird species on Earth are found in the country! It is also one of the largest economies in Africa, as well as being one of the greatest polluters thanks to its heavy reliance on fossil-fuel energy.
Unregulated and poorly planned development is allowed to continue unchecked in many regions, with massive consequences for the country’s ecology, population and future.
We are committed to doing our part in promoting sustainable development in South Africa. This includes investment and responsible development, conservation of our sensitive ecology, as well as education to deepen understanding of the challenges and potential solutions for the region.
Climate-change consequences: droughts and floods
Some regions in South Africa have experienced severe weather conditions over the past decade or more:
- The Kalahari Desert, which is home to the farm and community where we grow our crop, has been extremely affected by the harsh impact of climate change. In recent years, it brought severe drought, scarcity, loss of livelihood, followed by intense rain and flooding.
- The Eastern Cape has experienced one of its worst drought conditions in history since 2015. This has had serious socioeconomic consequences for millions of residents, prompting the South African government to declare the region a disaster area in 2019. The situation is ongoing.
- Kwazulu-Natal, on South Africa’s East coast, is the most recent area to be impacted by extreme weather events.
In mid-April 2022, this subtropical paradise experienced unprecedented torrential rains that caused flooding on a devastating scale. This is the second devastating flood in five years. It has caused enormous loss of life, and homes, businesses and infrastructure have been destroyed.
Much of this is due to destruction of habitat thanks to urban sprawl and poor infrastructure planning, unregulated building on flood plains, along with storm water drains blocked by litter and pollution.
Sustainable development in South Africa
The country’s challenges are complex and varied. For this reason, sustainability in South Africa is a complex and multifaceted project that involves numerous moving parts that all ultimately work towards a greater goal. These include responsible development, humanitarian support, maintenance and preservation of the country’s ecology, as well as water conservation and restoration.
Conserving and investing in the South African environment
Sustaining and maintaining the fragile ecology of arid South Africa
South Africa is home to numerous unique and sensitive ecosystems.
The Cape floral region was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2004 because it is one of the world's great centres of terrestrial biodiversity. It is the smallest of six recognised floral kingdoms in the world, yet it has an extraordinarily high diversity in plant species, including fynbos, 69 percent of which are endemic. Thirty percent of the plants are found nowhere else in the world.
Unfortunately, it is also under threat. Land transformation through urban and agricultural expansion, alien plant infestation, too-frequent fires and drought have transformed a substantial portion of the landscape. It is now reduced to scattered fragments of natural vegetation which harbour many endangered species, some found nowhere else in the world.
Numerous universities, NGOs and communities are working together to conserve this vital ecosystem.
The Kalahari Desert is another region of great ecological sensitivity. Like most deserts, it may look barren and relatively lifeless, but it hosts a huge diversity of flora and fauna. This includes the endangered pangolin, reptiles, insects and vegetation. Many are able to thrive in small microclimate pockets.
The Oppenheimer family’s Tswalu game reserve is a luxurious oasis in the Kalahari. As well as offering first-class safaris in a breath-taking landscape, Tswalu actively supports research into resilience of ecosystems and drives conservation in this endangered region.
Rewilding South Africa
The rewilding movement has been growing exponentially in South Africa as a way of helping to mitigate climate change. This not only helps to reduce flood risk and soil erosion, rewilding also increases removal of carbon from the atmosphere.
In urban environments with a high population density, this is particularly significant. For instance, in Cape Town, South Africa’s second largest city, the Liesbeek River is undergoing a retro-transformation from concrete canal back to organic river, through strategic planting of vegetation, as well as clean-ups. This will help to enhance the river’s ability to act as a sponge to mitigate against future flooding, as well as providing a haven for biodiversity.
Other rewilding initiatives include restoring, preserving and expanding wild areas in Africa, as well as reintroducing fauna such as big cats back into areas where they were endemic historically.
The Global Rewilding Alliance has a wonderful, interactive map of all their projects on Explorer.land.
Nêô Sephiri’s commitment to a sustainable future
Everything Nêô Sephiri does is in service of sustainable development and mitigation of the effects of climate change.
In the years of scarcity, when the only vegetation that could survive the extreme weather events was the Kalahari melon, we realised the potential of this resilient plant after learning about its naturally powerful oil. This ‘weed’ has become the source of income, employment and means of adapting to climate change – for us and the region.
How do we achieve sustainability?
By choosing a sustainable, drought-resistant crop
The Kalahari melon is a true wonder of nature. It is not only able to survive the harshest of drought conditions, it actually thrives, becoming a food source for both humans and animals when nothing else is available.
We have ensured the sustainability of the crop through the creation of a seed bank. We have collected seeds from wild melons (which grow as weeds all over the countryside) over the past 10 years.
The crop requires no irrigation once planted after annual rains, and our entire production process is sustainable.
Our zero-waste farming and production practices
‘This project was born from a sustainability challenge. How could we survive and retain use of the land when water is scarce and rain so infrequent? Our process was always going to be in sync with our local ecology. Right from the start,’ Nêô Sephiri Founder and Chief Scientist Bernard van Vuuren explains.
- More than 95% of the melon pulp is reused as fertiliser. The nutrients in the melon enter the soil, enriching it and laying the foundation for our next harvest.
Bernard explains, "In doing this, we are ensuring minimal impact on the soil."
Kalahari melon pulp is much more nutrient-dense than many other crops. The soil-resting cycle is shorter than other crops because of the organic retention in the soil. Following good farming practice, we keep the soil fertile by rotating the crop every few years.
- A protein-dense seed cake (the seed shell and pulp) is left over after the oil extraction. This is fed to the animals on the farm. The residual fat in the seed cake is also a very important source of energy.
- After filtration, the cellulose and cotton filter sheets are sodden with oil. These are not discarded. They are placed in the farm’s tiered vermicomposters. The worms in the composters feed on the natural cellulose filters. These are digested and the worms produce ‘worm tea’, a potent fertiliser that is used to nourish the farm’s garden and vegetable patches.
Earth Day is every day!
We may think that, as individuals, we cannot make a difference. But small individual gestures we can all make in our everyday lives have a cumulative effect.
Keep it simple:
- Reduce the amount of water you use daily.
- Consume less and consume better. Steer away from fast fashion, a major contributor to climate change. Rather choose products and brands that are genuinely committed to sustainability.
- Become involved in an Earth Day initiative or start your own.
These gestures all work towards that goal of limiting global warming, for the future of all of us.
Happy Earth Day!