To celebrate Earth Day, researchers in the FSNet-Africa network discuss how we can all invest in our planet
Every year, on the 22nd of April, we celebrate Earth Day, which marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. The movement was motivated by lack of legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect the environment. On 22 April 1970, 20 million people took to streets of America in protests over the damage that was being done to the planet and its resources. Before the protests, factories dumped high volumes of toxic waste into rivers and dams and discharged black clouds of toxic smoke without any repercussions.
From 22 April 1970 onwards, Earth Day has been celebrated to raise awareness around the importance of safeguarding the environment. It is an open invitation to everyone to take part in preserving our planet and has become an important global reminder of the crucial importance of sustainability. The day is observed worldwide with rallies, conferences, outdoor activities, and service projects. In order to protect and preserve the environment, people use this opportunity to think about ways to, for example, improve water quality and reduce their carbon footprint (a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of a particular individual, organisation, or community).
Earth Day is an accessible way for people to take time out of their busy lives to consider the impact that humanity has on the environment and how they can take steps to minimise these impacts. For 2023, the theme for Earth Day is “Invest in our planet” – a call for individuals, governments, institutions, and businesses to work together in dedicating their time, resources, and energy to solving environmental issues such as climate change. This theme emphasises that the way to ensure a prosperous future for all communities is through investing in and protecting our planet.
FSNet-Africa joined the celebration by hosting a virtual panel discussion to raise awareness about the importance of Earth day. The panel discussion was aired as an episode of a regularly hosted chat show on Twitter Spaces called In Conversation with FSNet-Africa. For this particular episode, one of FSNet-Africa’s Academic Leadership Team (ALT) members and fellowship mentor, Prof. Andy Dougill, hosted the discussion. He is an applied environmental change researcher at the University of York in the UK.
The panel also included Dr Sera Gondwe and Dr Andrew Jamali, both based in Malawi. Sera – an FSNet-Africa fellow – is a business economist in the Department of Agribusiness Management, Faculty of Development Studies, at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR). Andrew is a Research Manager with the National Planning Commission in Malawi.
When asked what Earth Day means to them, Sera said it is about raising awareness on the initiatives that help protect the environment – that is, the deliberate steps that we can take to protect the natural world. Andrew said the day is an engagement to reflect on how best we can manage our resources in a sustainable way for ourselves and for future generations. He emphasised that one of the enablers for Malawi to achieve Agenda 2063 is environmental sustainability.
Andy asked the panel to identify the biggest environmental threats to the earth and, in particular, to Malawi’s environment and its food system. According to Sera, the biggest threats to Malawi are deforestation and waste management. Andrew, from his experience working with policy and development issues in the country, felt that the biggest threat is the lack of proper enforcement related to managing natural resources in the country.
In concluding the discussion, the panel was asked to suggest practical steps that can be taken to invest in our planet. Andrew emphasised the importance of reorienting personal consumption behaviours.
“I am a vegetarian and l support organic production systems.”
However, he said that organic production systems are not able to sustain current consumption patterns, which require extensive use of inorganic fertilisers. He explained that we have learned valuable lessons from the Russia–Ukraine war, including that we currently do not have the capacity to survive without the use of inorganic fertilisers. He said this is a very sorry state of affairs that calls for people to re-engage with how best to make use of readily available resources to rebuild sustainable environmental systems. Andrew gave an example of how he used urine from his family of six to fertilise the maize crop he is growing in his backyard garden. “The results haven’t been disappointing,” he said.
Sera commented that we shouldn’t shy away from trying what other people are demonstrating as potential solutions to address environmental challenges. She referred to the example given by Andrew of using urine to fertilise is his maize crop, saying that a number of alternatives exist, and people need to share their experiences of what works. She emphasised that it is important for each individual to ask themselves:
“Whatever l am doing, am l doing justice to the earth? If the answer is no, then don’t do it”.
Following from our celebration of Earth Day this year, it is important to remember: future returns on our current investments in our planet will only be realised if we take deliberate practical steps to safeguard our environment now.
To access the video of this In Conversation with FSNet-Africa discussion, click here