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This UN awardee is hope for islanders facing climate impact

IANS  |  Nairobi 

He's young and the hope for millions of islanders across the globe for whom the nutrient-rich water technology for sustainable agriculture instead of soil that he's promoting will help improve human health and resilience to climate change in the low-lying islands.

He's 28-year-old Eritai Kateibwi, a native of low-lying nation Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean that's under threat from climate change. He is winner of a 2017 UN Environment Young Champion of the Earth for his work on a hydroponics system.

Hydroponic is a technique of growing plants without soil in water containing dissolved nutrients.

According to UN Environment, Kateibwi, one of six inaugural winners, each representing a region of the world -- Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America and West Asia.

The award gives seed funding of $15,000 and mentorship to outstanding individuals, between the ages of 18 and 30, who have big ideas to protect or restore the environment.

"The problem in my country is that people are not eating healthy food. They don't have enough land to grow their crops. Climate change has made the rains irregular. When they can't grow their own food, they rely on unhealthy processed food," Kateibwi told IANS.

He is in this Kenyan capital to receive the award on Tuesday at the UN Environment Assembly where over 2,000 heads of state, ministers, business leaders, UN officials and civil society representatives are gathered to find new ways to deal with pollution.

"I flew home and got everything what I needed. My goal is to help every family and after training them. In the next 10 years, this project will spread throughout this island," the optimistic UN young achiever said.

"For young people, I would like to say: If they have an idea just do it," he said.

Kateibwi saw problems caused in Kiribati by reliance on imported, often unhealthy, food due to the challenges of growing fresh produce.

He feels that locally grown, nutritious food through hydroponics would reduce the problems as well as provide entrepreneurial opportunities to the local communities.

"The majority of my people live in (capital) Tarawa; they come to find jobs, education and health services, but end up living close to each other," he said.

"With the rising sea level and king tides, their crops are often destroyed. The Te Maeu Project will use hydroponics to allow almost anyone to grow produce at home and sell the surplus through a cooperative," he added.

He embarked on his project when he returned home as a graduate in finance from Utah's Brigham Young University, feeling empowered by his schooling.

Kateibwi's project, which relies on Kiribati's abundant sunshine but uses only 10 per cent of the water of traditional crops, has already been used to produce lettuce, Chinese cabbage and tomatoes within 30 days.

He plans to use the seed financing from the award to build 200 units. Families will receive training and purchase these through micro-financing, the proceeds of which Kateibwi will use to build and make available more units.

The system could have wider uses for other Small Island Developing States that face similar challenges in terms of climate impact and a lack of land to grow sufficient food.

UN Environment head Erik Solheim said: "From boosting food crops in the Pacific to sustainable fashion solutions in North America, it's a delight to announce the first Young Champions of the Earth."

"The breadth of innovation and ambition shown by the inaugural winners is nothing short of exceptional and proof that we must continue to channel support to the world's younger generation for the solutions we need to secure a sustainable future," Solheim added.

The six inaugural Young Champions were selected from more than 600 applicants.

(Vishal Gulati is in Nairobi at the invitation of United Nations Environment to cover its third annual session. He can be contacted at



(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, December 04 2017. 18:20 IST