How Ugandans Are Saving The Environment One Banana Stem At A Time

Photo credit: Mahdis Mousavi

We’ve all heard the proverbial phrase — when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. That’s what some enterprising Ugandans are doing. Well – they’re not using lemons. They’re using banana fibers to make paper bags, but you get my analogy.

Using banana fibers to make paper bags helps Uganda address three critical issues.

Ban on Plastic Bags

In June 2018, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni banned polythene, or plastic bags. The National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) estimates that 39,600 tons of polluting waste is released into the environment in Uganda. According to the 2018 United Nations Environmental Programme report, SINGLE-USE PLASTICS: A Roadmap for Sustainability, this waste ends up in dumps, landfills, and the environment.

Polythene bags, commonly known as kaveera, cause flooding, create breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and kill soil. Non-biodegradable waste takes up to 400 years to decompose. (source)

Sadly, less than nine percent of nine billion tons of plastic worldwide is recycled.

Alleviate Banana Stem Waste

Banana plants are abundant in Uganda. Bananas fruit once. After banana harvest, farmers must cut the parent stems for new, “suckers”(smaller offshoots) to grow. The banana stems are discarded and left to rot.

Once the banana stems are collected, oftentimes free of charge because they’re considered waste product to the banana farmer, the process of making banana paper begins.

The strong banana fibers are extracted from the banana stem. It’s cut, cooked, blended, turned into a pulp, put into a solution, drained on screens, then hung on racks to dry for a minimum of six hours to turn into hard paper. Once dried, the banana paper is smoothed in a roller to increase the strength of the paper. (source)

Banana bags are vegan, eco-friendly, sustainable, plant-based, cruelty-free, not easily torn, and biodegradable. Due to its uniqueness, the market is growing. (source)

Additionally, in rural areas, banana paper helps curb deforestation and poaching. It takes one year to grow banana tree paper. Conventional tree paper takes 30 years.

Help Ease Unemployment

Manufacturing banana paper helps unemployed Ugandans by creating jobs, therefore creating income. (source)

Vocational centers and independent workshops teach underprivileged people and unemployed youth how to make banana bags, jewelry, mats, vases, utensils, cloth, woven materials, books, and greeting cards for Canada and the United States.

Previously, a large portion of banana bags manufactured in Uganda was exported to Rwanda, which also has a total ban on polythene bags. Now that the banana bags are heavily used in Uganda, they can no longer export to Rwanda.

Catnip: A Sustainable, Botanical Mosquito Repellent To Protect Against Malaria

Photo credit: Pixabay


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), World Malaria Report 2018, there were 219 million malaria cases and 439,000 related deaths. Over 90 percent of cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

Children and pregnant women are most vulnerable. Notably, children under the age of five years old are nearly two-thirds of the victims.

The culprits are infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. The mosquitoes are typically busy at night, devouring up to 75 bites per night.

As with any epidemic, or some may consider malaria an endemic, preventing the disease shows better results than treating the disease.

Sleeping under insecticide-treated nets worked for a period of time.  As with all predators, the mosquitoes adapted, changed their biting habits, and built a resistance to certain insecticides.

Mosquito repellents  containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) are effective for up to 7-hours of protection, but they’re cost prohibitive to rural sub-Saharan populations.

Essential oils from plants indigenous to Kenya showed promise under trial conditions. They worked better than DEET and have the potential to stimulate the local economy.

One particular standout was essential oil of Nepeta Cataria (N. Cataria), a perennial plant widely known as catnip or catmint. The major constituent of catnip is Nepetalactone (NPL), which is found in the leaves and stem. It’s a better topical repellent than DEET. It also showed 8-hour protection against insects compared to DEET’s 7-hour protection.

According to Big Cat Rescue, when inhaled, catnip is known to make big cats like tigers, lions, leopards, lynx, jaguars, as well as small house cats act unusual. They become happy, euphoric, excited, hyper, playful, intoxicated, and sedated.

This got me thinking – are Anopheles mosquitoes crazy for catnip like cats? Once inhaled, does it have a sedative effect on the mosquitoes causing them to bite less frequently? Do they experience intoxicated drunkenness? Hmmm…I digress.

Needless to say, catnip is safer than DEET and the locals are more receptive to applying the essential oil mosquito repellent.

Growing, harvesting, and extracting the essential oil of N. Cataria plants are a viable source for Anopheles mosquito repellent. The essential oil can be used in lotions, soaps, perfumes, and indoor sprays.

One important fact, essential oil mosquito repellent used in conjunction with insecticide-treated nets reduce malaria by 80% more than just sleeping under the net.

Is Fragrance-Free Causing Me Harm?


My husband has sensitive skin. Products with questionable ingredients make their presence know after a couple of uses. The telltale sign of a cluster of tiny red pimples form on his skin.

Recently, I purchased a fragrance-free, toxic-free laundry detergent that is supposed to clean your clothes like new. I heard a lot about the product, so I decided to give it a try. After a couple of days, my husband developed a red streak of tiny pimples going down his leg. He asked if I used a new laundry detergent. I replied, “Yes, but it’s fragrance-free and non-toxic.” Usually scented detergents cause his skin to react.

That was the only change in products coming in contact with his skin. So, I resigned myself to re-wash all of his clothes in my regular unscented, non-toxic laundry detergent. Within days the red streak of tiny pimples disappeared.

I was curious how a fragrance-free, non-toxic product could cause a fragrance reaction. I had to do some sleuthing. Believe it or not, after a few clicks to a few of my favorite research-based websites, I got to the bottom of the problem. My husband was experiencing a chemical reaction.

I needed to delve a little deeper to fully understand the science behind it all. Yes, I can be a science nerd at times and will happily get lost in research for hours.

My nerdiness paid off. It boiled down to masking fragrances. They are fragrance components in fragrance-free/unscented products. Their name explains their function. They are synthetic compounds used to cover-up the smell of other chemicals in a product. Say what? They use fragrances to mask fragrances? 

My pursuit of an answer led me down a rabbit hole. I found out that masking fragrances are not required to be listed on the product label. They are considered ‘trade secrets’. Hmmm, interesting. There could be hundreds of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in a product that aren’t listed on the ingredient label.

Further research stated that the terms ‘natural’, ‘organic’, or ‘hypoallergenic’ don’t necessarily mean fragrance-free either. Fragrance-free products may also cause skin sensitivities/allergies due to fragrance ingredients as preservatives.

This left me wondering – are there any truly fragrance-free/unscented product ingredients? I venture to say, “No.” Chime in and let me know what you think. 

How to Make Marula Beer!

 

Wow! Been some time since our last post! The holiday are fast  approaching, so perhaps this is a good time for a holiday recipe. One that is good at any time!

For centuries back, Africans have been making “beer,” also known as Mukumbi to the Venda, from marula. Festivals in celebration of the marula harvest happen every year when the fruit starts falling from the trees.

The drink can be quite potent. In fact, the “beer” more closely resembles a wine, but what the heck… it is merely semantics. The drink must be enjoyed when it’s available, and that is only a few months of the year.

Now you can appreciate the adventure right at home!

Ok, this is like baking a cake. Well, only in the sense that you to plan first. You need a few things, and you need a recipe.

First things first: Find yourself a marula tree or two. The trees are very prolific in producing fruit, so a single tree should suffice… unless you are a member of a beer club. A large beer club. You can be guzzling the brew within a matter of a few days.

(Ever hear the tale of marula and drunk elephants? They don’t have to make beer… they simply eat the fruit. A lot of fruit. Videos of drunken animals – elephants, baboons, and giraffe – stumbling around after eating fermented marula fruit is a crowd favorite.)

Once you have collected the fruit from the ground under a marula tree or two or three (how big is your beer club?), you need to wash and rinse the fruit. That is just to get the dirt off… and other stuff, if elephants or baboons frequent the area.

• Marulas (lots) Oh, you don’t have a marula tree, and the local grocery doesn’t have any in stock? That can be a problem.** (Plums might work. But, who wants to make plum “beer”?)

• Two or three clean buckets (white is nice, but any color will do. You need one with a lid that seals – more if your beer club has lots of members.

• A knife (sharp preferred)

• Bandaids. (In case of an incident with the sharp knife. If you’ve had enough beer prior to the incident, you may not know you need a bandaid. Hmm… )

• 2 spatulas or 3 or however many you have. Flat things work just fine, including hands, clean if possible.

• 1 cup of sugar (optional) Nah, not optional. This stuff needs sugar.

• potatoshhmasherer (you can also use a plain ol’ potato masher, if you are sober during this procedure)

• A six-pack or two or more (depending on the size of your beer club) of your favorite hand-crafted brews. (If you are making marula beer, you probably are not drinking Bud Lite!)

Note: Malt is not required. Or hops. Definitely, no hops.

Open a beer. Take a swig. This is going to be messy.

With your sharp knife, cut each marula along the equator of the fruit. Remove knife. Twist and squeeze the pip, flesh and juice out of the skin and into a bucket – yikes, that sounds a bit gory! If you aren’t certain where or what the equator is, don’t worry about it. Just get the juice out of the marula.

Continue to do this with all the marula fruit. You can throw out the ones that have already started fermenting (your choice – really! If it’s already fermented, skip the rest of the steps and eat as is. But what fun is that?)

BTW, elephants can smell fermenting marula from a long, long way off. Keep your eyes open for unexpected large guests.

Whew! Hard work. Time for a brewski.

Once you have finished peeling the fruit, add cool water (enough to cover the fruit) and begin mashing the fruit with a potatoshhmasherer. You need to remove some of the flesh and the juice from the stone in the center.

That calls for another beer.

When you are confident you have mashed the fruit enough, squeeze the fruit a few at a time just to collect as much of the liquid as you can. (If you like squeezing, you can carry on with your honey. Or, whomever.)

Have one more brew. You are almost done.

Once all this is finished, the traditional beer-making process is now complete. You can add a cup of sugar to +/- 2 liters of liquid to assist with fermentation. This also sweetens the beer slightly. If not certain, try some without sugar and some with sugar. Use different buckets. This is where colored buckets come in handy.

Now, you have the product of your extensive efforts. Time to seal the beer. Put the lid on the bucket and wait at least 2 days, 4 at most. Open the lid daily to release the pressure and reclose. Alternately, you can leave the lid on. The resulting explosion could result in a 911 call from the neighbors, but hey… what a great story that would make!

After 4 days, there should be a thick head of foam that smells a bit like vinegar. You might notice it crawling around on the floor. That usually indicates you filled the bucket too full.

Oh, boy… vinegar! Who can resist vinegar!

Remove the foam using a spatula, spatulas, sieve, shovel, shop vac, etc. Toss that stuff out – on the garden, the neighbor’s lawn, someplace. The liquid below the foam should not smell vinegary. It should taste fresh, yeasty and bubbly, with an almost pineapple flavor.

Bottle or jar the remaining product. Yep. That’s the “beer.” Store in a cool place for a few days, after which you have a lovely golden elixir that tastes a bit like ginger beer with a pineapple/marula overtone.

This calls for a celebration! While you wait for this gustatory delight, have a beer with friends and enjoy the day.

Ain’t life great?

** Lots of marula trees in Africa. You need to make plans to visit one of Africa’s marula festivals! Here is probably the best one: http://limpopomarulafest.co.za/

Roughly adapted from and apologies to: thenittygrittynomads.com    These guys went where the marula grows!

Sustainability: More Than A Media Buzzword

Photo credit: Johann Siemens

Sustainability is the latest buzzword in the media. We hear about sustainable living, corporate sustainability, and sustainable farming. But what does it really mean? Is it using LED lights? Taking your shopping bags to the grocery store? Using less water when you shower? Riding your bike instead of driving?

Yes. It’s all of the above plus more. Let’s start by defining sustainability. Simply put, sustainability is creating what we need in the present without causing deleterious effects on future generations meeting their needs. (source)

There are three pillars of sustainability – social, environmental, and economic. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

“A sustainable approach is a systems-based approach that seeks to understand the interactions which exist among the three pillars (environment, social, and economic) in an effort to better understand the consequences of our actions.”

Environmental Sustainability

Creating a world with less damage to the environment that sustains communities. We’ve all heard the phrase: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Those three words are aimed to remind us to lessen our consumption, which alleviates pressure, stress, and the carbon load on the environment for future generations. It entails seeking renewable resources to eliminate depleting non-renewable resources. It preserves the natural well-being of the physical world.

Social Sustainability

How do people in a society or communities live with each other? That’s the basic principle of social sustainability. Within this principle are three concepts. Development sustainability deals with meeting basic needs, equality, and quality of life for everyone. Bridge sustainability focuses on changing behaviors to meet those goals. And maintenance sustainability deals with social acceptance of the social goals.

Economic Sustainability

When businesses strategically use resources and/or assets to achieve balance or profitability over time. Economic sustainability encompasses social and environmental sustainability. This must be achieved through the business’s entire supply chain.

The next time you hear the word sustainability, think of the three pillars. Don’t get me wrong, choosing more energy efficient bulbs, ditching plastic bags, being water-conscious, and reducing carbon emissions are very important. But also look at the physical and operational practices that are involved in producing goods. Make sure the vitality of the environmental, human and economic aspects are preserved.

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Celebrate World Fair Trade Day on May 12!

World Fair Trade Day is an inclusive worldwide festival of events celebrating fair trade’s contribution to the fight against poverty, exploitation, and climate change. This year for World Fair Trade Day, we are celebrating our commitment to living fair, one product at a time.

Fair Trade
Image credit: Global Village Gifts

You can also live fair by attending one of the many World Fair Trade Day celebrations! A few are highlighted below. See our World Fair Trade Day Calendar for more and/or check in with your local fair trade store!

Drum Circle for World Fair Trade Day |  May 9  | New Smyrna Beach, FL

A Magnificent Mile of Fair Trade  |  May 11  |   Chicago, IL

Fair Trade Shabbat Dinner  |  May 11  |  Philadelphia, PA

Buy Food. Feel Good. Expo  |  May 11-13  |   Toronto, ON

Fair Trade Hudson World Fair Trade Day Celebration  |  May 12  |  Hudson, QC

One World Goods Fair Trade Day Celebration  |  May 12  |  Rochester, NY

NYC Fair Trade Volunteer Day at FABSCRAP  |  May 12  |  New York, NY

Ten Thousand Villages Celebrations  |  May 12  |  OH, MD, PA, DE, NH, MI, & CA

Amazon Fair Trade Crafts at the Delaware Beach  |  May 12  |  South Bethany, DE

Fair Trade Columbus Sip and Shop  |  May 12  |  Columbus, OH

Pachamama Market World Fair Trade Day Celebration  |  May 12  | Troy, OH

Global Gifts Store Celebrations   |  May 12  |  IN & OH

Amani ya Juu World Fair Trade Day Celebration  |  May 12  |  Chattanooga, TN

Global Village Gifts World Fair Trade Day Celebration  |  May 12  | Logan, UT

Peace Exchange World Fair Trade Day Celebration  | May 12  |  Pasadena, CA

For more information, go to: www.fairtradefederation.org

or write to: info@fairtradefederation.org

5 Tips for Glowing Skin

As I watched the movie, Black Panther, I marveled (no pun intended) at the beauty of the women’s skin. Lupita Nyong’o’s, Danai Gurira’s, and Florence Kasumba’s skin were flawless like they had been hand-dipped in rich chocolate. I thought − no amount of Hollywood smoke and mirrors can produce skin so radiant.

Photo credit: Matt Kennedy/Marvel Studios

The secret to flawless skin lies within your skincare routine. I’m talking about a routine that goes beyond basic cleansing. Below are five easy things you can do right now to achieve a royal glow.

Dry Brush Your Skin Daily

Dry brushing before you shower or bathe helps unclog pores. It cleans pores allowing your skin to breathe to aid in acne and blackhead elimination. It excretes toxins from the body. It increases blood circulation delivering oxygen and nutrients to your skin. Dry brushing exfoliates dead, dry skin to revitalize, soften and smoothen skin to give it a glow.

Exfoliate with Body Scrubs Weekly

Body scrubs gently remove the outer layer of your skin. Thus, eliminating dead skin cells, dirt and oil. This facilitates in unclogging your pores and exposing healthier looking skin.

Body scrubs are typically blended with sugars, coffee grounds, sea salts, moisturizing oils and butters, and essential oils.

Moisturize Daily with Body Butters or Oils

Body butters generally consist of naturally derived Nilotica Shea, Mafura, Mango, and Cocoa butters. These butters are vitamin-, mineral-, and fatty acid-rich. Because body butters are predominantly oils and butters, they create a protective barrier over skin retaining skin’s moisture for a long period of time.

Oils replenish the oils your body loses during showering and bathing. Oil is natural to your skin. It lubricates, heals, protects and moisturizes your skin. Use oils like Baobab, Marula, and Moringa that are vitamin-rich, hydrating, and skin protecting. No petroleum-based or mineral oils, please.

Enjoy a Weekly Spa Bath

Harness the power of bath salts made from Dead Sea salt, Epsom salt, Himalayan Pink salt, Mediterranean salt, seaweed, goat’s milk, and essential oils. Bathing is a way to release toxins from your body, receive the nutrient rich minerals in sea salts, and softens skin.

Daily Sunscreen

Daily sunscreen is a must to protect from the sun’s rays. Choose a broad-spectrum, non-nano zinc oxide sunscreen product. Don’t be misled by marketing gimmicks and buy a sunscreen with a high SPF (sun protection factor). Anything over SPF 45 does not offer you additional protection.

Incorporating these skin treatments into your skincare routine will leave your skin glowing like a queen. #Wakandaforever

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Shocking image of black rhino killed by poachers wins Wildlife Photograph of the Year

A shocking photo of a rhinoceros that was slaughtered for its horns has been named Wildlife Photograph of the Year 2017, reported The Independent.

The image was taken by South African photographer Brent Stirton in the luhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve in north-eastern South Africa.

It shows a black rhino slumped in the mud with a raw, fleshy area where its horns used to be. The animal was shot during the night by poachers who used a gun with a silencer to avoid being detected. They then hacked off the rhino’s two horns, which in some Asian countries have a street value higher than gold or cocaine.

In China and Vietnam, rhino horn, which is actually made of the same material as human toe and finger nails, is believed to cure an wide array of illnesses. Black rhinos are now a critically endangered species, largely because of the illegal trade in their horns. There are thought to be only around 5,000 left in the world.

The image, named Memorial to a Species, is part of a series captured by Mr Stirton. He visited more than 30 sites at which animals had been killed.

He told BBC News: “My first child is going to be born in February; I’m 48. And I think I left it such a long time because I kind of lost faith in a lot of the work we see as photojournalists. You lose faith in humanity to some extent.

“For me to win this, for the jury to acknowledge this kind of picture – it’s illustrative that we are living in a different time now, that this is a real issue. The sixth age of extinction is a reality and rhinos are just one of many species that we are losing at a hugely accelerated rate and I am grateful that the jury would choose this image because it gives this issue another platform.”

Source: Weird
Story first published: 19th October 2017

Wellness Is Not A Trend

In the media, we often hear the conversation, “What’s the latest wellness trend?” The ‘trend’ concept of wellness suggests that it’s a movement for the moment that could drift depending on external forces or swing along an irregular course.

Actually, the more important conversation is, “How to create a wellness lifestyle for a higher quality of life.” This would elevate the conversation from what’s fashionable, or faddish, to a dialogue about a dedicated way of life. In turn, this would elevate wellness to a driving force of human existence.

Photo credit: Julia Caesar on Unsplash.

In this age of self-care, living with intention and well-being, more and more people are shifting their thinking to wellness. According to the National Wellness Institute  (NWI):
“Wellness is an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.”

Furthermore, the NWI interprets wellness as a conscience, self-directed choice that’s multi-dimensional and holistic, positive and self-affirming.

The widely accepted paradigm of wellness comprises:

  • Physical – maintaining a healthy body through exercise, nutrition, and good lifestyle practices.
  • Intellectual – being open to new ideas, experiences, and learning.
  • Professional – being engaged, stimulated, and satisfied with your work.
  • Emotional – understanding your stress and the ability to cope, problem-solve, and manage our emotions.
  • Social – having healthy relationships and networks with family, friends, and others.
  • Spiritual – having moral values, forgiveness, empathy, and gratitude.

When we evaluate the wellness constructs, there may be gaps that we identify in our lives. Identifying these gaps can help us determine where we may need to put in some extra effort. And it’s an ongoing process, not a ‘trend’.

The focus on wellness is of paramount importance. Every action, reaction, or emotion reflects our overall wellness. When these components exist in our life, then we begin to experience a higher quality of life.

The small African nation leading the defiance against Trump.

His Excellency President Seretse Ian Khama

Botswana might be home to just 2.2 million people but its leadership punches above its weight in standing up to Donald Trump. Whether responding to his crude comments about Africa or defying him at the United Nations, Botswana has stood taller than many of its bigger African counterparts.

Following Trump’s comments referring mainly to Haiti and African countries as “shithole countries,” Botswana’s government has asked the US ambassador to the country to “clarify” if it’s one of those Trump considers a shithole country. It has also described the comments as “irresponsible, reprehensible and racist.”

It’s not the first time Botswana has been stood up to Trump’s America. In December, Botswana kicked against rhetoric from Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, which suggested that action would be taken against countries that voted against the US in the general assembly vote on the status of Jerusalem.

“Botswana will not be intimidated by such threats and will exercise her sovereign right and vote based on her foreign relations principles,” the country’s government noted in a statement. “The threatening and grossly inappropriate communication, whose purpose would be to undermine the sovereignty of Botswana as an independent country, also demonstrates unprecedented diplomacy,” it added.

From: Quartz 12 January 2018