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News articles on agriculture
Mongabay.com news articles on agriculture in blog format. Updated regularly.
(07/24/2014) Better utilization of its vast areas of pasturelands could enable Brazil to dramatically boost agricultural production without the need to clear another hectare of Amazon rainforest, cerrado, or Atlantic forest, argues a new study published in the journal Global Environmental Change.
'Stop using the bloody things': pesticides linked to bee collapse now blamed for bird declines
(07/15/2014) In recent years the evidence has piled up that neonicotinoids—a hugely popular group of pesticide—may be at least partly responsible for ongoing bee and pollinator collapse. But new research in the journal Nature find that these pesticides could also be taking a heavy toll on other species, in this case common birds.
Too much of a good thing: fertilizer 'one of the three major drivers of biodiversity loss this century'
(07/14/2014) The world’s grasslands are being destabilized by fertilization, according to a paper recently published in the journal Nature. In a study of 41 grassland communities on five continents, researchers found that the presence of fertilizer weakened grassland species diversity.
Forests as important as farming for some rural communities
(07/14/2014) Forests have long been assumed to provide an important source of income for many of the world’s poor. But determining exactly how forests contribute to rural economies – such as how much income is derived from forests, or how poverty relates to deforestation – has been difficult to pinpoint.
Downturn in shade-grown coffee putting forests, wildlife, people at risk
(07/11/2014) Growing coffee in the shade of forests allows native vegetation to persist, thereby reducing the impact of agriculture on the natural landscape. While production of shade-grown coffee surged in recent decades, it is now experiencing a decline. A recent study analyzed the situation, finding that the growth of consumer demand and changes in coffee agronomy has caused coffee production and management to change drastically.
The last best place no more: massive deforestation destroying prime chimp habitat in Uganda
(07/09/2014) The Kafu River, which is about 180 kilometers (110 miles) long, is part of a vast chimpanzee habitat that includes forest reserves and several unofficial protected areas. However, this region of Uganda is losing a significant portion of valuable chimpanzee habitat, and at least 20 percent of the forest cover along the Kafu River has disappeared since 2001.
Cats' best friend? A new role for guard dogs in South Africa
(07/09/2014) While there has been a surge of recovery and reintroduction programs to combat predator decline, human population growth and limited protected areas have led to increased rates of human-wildlife conflicts in many regions of the world. A study published recently tested the ability of trained guarding dogs to protect livestock in South Africa and found it to be highly effective, protecting humans and predators alike.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Playing games to understand what drives deforestation
(06/26/2014) Dr. Claude Garcia plays games, but you won’t find him betting his shirt at the casino. As leader of the Forest Management and Development Research Group at ETH Zürich, Garcia and his team use participatory modeling and role-playing games, merged with more traditional disciplinary sciences such as ecology, economics, and sociology to understand and manage complex landscape change in the tropics.
Is Cameroon becoming the new Indonesia? Palm oil plantations accelerating deforestation
(06/25/2014) The potential for new laws governing the use of forest resources this year in Cameroon promises an opportunity to stem the rapid loss of forest in the biologically diverse country. But the changes may ultimately not be what’s needed to save Cameroon’s forests.
More is better: high bee biodiversity boosts crop yields
(06/12/2014) Scientists have discovered that blueberry plants visited by more diverse bee species increased their seed number, berry size and fruit set, and quickened their ripening time. They hope their findings encourage farmers to help support local wild bee communities.
In cutting deforestation, Brazil leads world in reducing emissions
(06/05/2014) Brazil's success in reducing deforestation in the world's largest rainforest has been much heralded, but progress may stall unless farmers, ranchers and other land users in the region are provided incentives to further improve the environmental sustainability of their operations, argues a study published this week in the journal Science.
Zero-deforestation commitments pose acute challenges for commercial giants in the palm oil industry
(05/22/2014) The path to zero-deforestation appears to be paved with good intentions, but how successful are these companies in staying on that path? A controversial proposal to construct a refinery in the wildlife-rich Balikpapan Bay in Indonesian Borneo highlights the challenges faced by both palm oil companies and conservationists in the face of zero-deforestation commitments.
Connecting forests, saving species: conservation group plans extensive wildlife corridor in Panama
(05/16/2014) With the cooperation of hundreds of ranchers and researchers, Azuero Earth Project aims to replant a swath of tropical dry forest, connecting the dry tropical forest on the coast to cloud forest further inland. The trees along the 140-kilometer (80-mile) wildlife corridor will create a continuous habitat for the Critically Endangered Azuero spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi azuerensis) and improve the soil for people who farm and ranch along the way.
Elephants in the midst: warning system prevents human-elephant conflicts in India, saves lives
(05/08/2014) Indian elephants once freely roamed the rich mid-elevation evergreen forests of the Valparai plateau in the Western Ghats, one of the world’s mega biodiversity regions, but they can’t move the way they used to. Ever-increasing commercial plantations and settlements have become obstacles to the daily and seasonal movements of elephants, creating more chances for often-deadly encounters between humans and elephants.
Commodity eco-certification skyrockets, but standards slip
(05/01/2014) The volume of commodities produced under various social and environmental certification standards jumped 41 percent in 2012, far outpacing the 2 percent growth across conventional commodity markets, finds a comprehensive new assessment of the global certification market.
Intensifying cattle production in Brazil could cut global deforestation emissions 25%, says study
(04/28/2014) Brazil could reduce more than a quarter of emissions linked to deforestation worldwide by intensifying cattle production in the Amazon, argues a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Wild food: scientists link forests to human nutrition
(04/25/2014) Food security is a mounting global issue. As a solution to increasing food scarcity, forests are commonly cleared to make land available for agriculture. Around the world, both industrial farmers and subsistence farmers alike are growing crops on deforested land. However, scientists are finding that the forests themselves may actually be key to providing local populations with higher quality diets.
Despite campaign, Girl Scout cookies still aren't deforestation free, say scout activists
(04/25/2014) Despite a high-profile campaign that caused one of the world's largest food companies to adopt a comprehensive zero deforestation policy, Girl Scout cookies still aren't necessarily free of rainforest destruction and social conflict, say the two girl scouts who launched the protest seven years ago.
The beef with beef: how 12 strategies could drastically cut agricultural emissions
(04/25/2014) Eating less beef, cutting food waste, and utilizing farm landscapes to sequester carbon are three ways a new report suggests the world could rapidly tackle agricultural emissions. Currently, global agriculture accounts for nearly a fifth of the world's greenhouse gas emissions when agriculturally-linked deforestation is included.
Forests in Indonesia's concession areas being rapidly destroyed
(04/10/2014) Forest clearing within areas zoned for timber, logging, oil palm, and mining accounted for nearly 45 percent of deforestation in Indonesia between 2000 and 2010, finds a new study that examined forest loss within industrial concessions.
Cargill commits to zero deforestation, but environmentalists have questions
(04/09/2014) After years of criticism from environmental groups, Cargill says it will establish policies to eliminate deforestation, peatlands conversion, and social conflict from its palm oil supply chain. But activists aren't yet sure what to make of the agribusiness giant's pledge. On Tuesday Cargill released a letter it sent to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a body that sets eco-certification standards, in response to a Greenpeace Report linking it to deforestation.
Procter & Gamble, Cargill pledge to cut deforestation linked to palm oil
(04/08/2014) Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Cargill today announced new measures to cut deforestation from their palm oil supply chains. P&G (NYSE:PG), a consumer products giant that owns brands like Head & Shoulders and Oil of Olay, pledged to establish traceability of palm oil to supplier mills by the end of 2015. The policy commits it to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain by 2020.
U.S. citizens willing to spend billions to protect monarch butterflies
(04/03/2014) New research shows Americans are willing to pay for the protection of the ailing monarch butterfly, which is experiencing a steep decline in numbers. The study, published in Conservation Letters, found nearly three-quarters of those surveyed placed importance on conservation efforts for the iconic species.
Malaysian palm oil giant tied to social conflict, deforestation, says report
(04/03/2014) Unlike other palm oil giants that have recently made strong commitments to eliminating deforestation and social conflict from their supply chains, Malaysia-based Kuala Lumpur Kepong (KLK) continues to source palm oil associated with forest destruction and community conflict, argues a new report published by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN).
Grocery giant commits to zero-deforestation policy for palm oil sourcing
(03/25/2014) Safeway has become the latest company to establish a policy that excludes deforestation-linked palm oil from its products.
General Mills, Colgate-Palmolive announce deforestation-free policies for palm oil sourcing
(03/24/2014) Two consumer products giants have joined the wave of companies committing to deforestation-free palm oil. On Monday General Mills and Colgate-Palmolive both announced palm oil policies that go beyond standards set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the industry's main certification body. The policies include provisions to protect wildlife-rich rainforests and carbon-dense peatlands, while respecting the rights of local communities.
Leftover trees enhance the biodiversity of new forests
(03/18/2014) Trees left standing after deforestation have a discernible impact on the composition of local biodiversity in secondary growth forests, according to a new study published in PLOS ONE. Researchers working on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica discovered that remnant trees could affect species composition of regenerated forests up to 20 years after being logged.
Indonesian sugar company poised to destroy half of island paradise's forests
(03/14/2014) An Indonesian plantation company may be preparing to destroy up to half of the natural forests on Indonesia's remote Aru Islands, reports Forest Watch Indonesia. Analyzing land use plans for Aru, Forest Watch Indonesia found that local government officials have turned over 480,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) to 28 companies held by PT. Menara Group, a plantation conglomerate. 76 percent of the area is currently natural forest. Converting the area to sugar plantations would cut Aru's forest cover by half, from 730,000 ha to 365,000 ha.
Progressive palm oil group opens door to companies, NGO's adopting zero deforestation policies
(03/12/2014) The Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG), an alliance formed last year, has opened its doors to new members who commit to social and environmental safeguards that go beyond the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) eco-certification standard.
Clash with palm oil company leaves one indigenous community member dead in Sumatra
(03/06/2014) A member of the Suku Anak Dalam indigenous community was killed and five others were injured during a clash with security forces on an oil palm concession owned by PT Asiatic Persada in Sumatra, reports Mongabay-Indonesia. The incident occurred Wednesday evening in Bungku, Jambi.
Dietary diversity: key to defending tropical ecosystems
(03/06/2014) A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) points to the homogenization of global diets over the past fifty years. It shows that worldwide production of traditional staples such as millet, rye, sorghum, yams and cassava have been in decline. Instead, the world's population increasingly relies on a relatively small number of 'megacrops' like wheat, corn and soy, raising serious concerns for global food security, human nutrition, and the genetic diversity of crops.
Can palm oil move past its bad reputation?
(03/02/2014) Indonesia’s palm oil industry has gained a notorious reputation in recent years. Palm oil companies are routinely accused of clearing primary forests, destroying the habitats of endangered species, releasing massive amounts of carbon by draining peat swamps and fueling land conflicts with local communities. In the face of this widespread criticism, some palm oil companies are exploring ways to clean up their operations by implementing innovative programs to minimize harm to the environment and ensure local communities benefit from palm oil investments, according to a new study.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Integrating demand for food with the need to save wild areas
(02/28/2014) Will it be possible safeguard the world's remaining rainforests while feeding billions of more mouths, many demanding more meat and richer diets? Dr. Mitchell Aide's is a tropical ecologist interested in how patterns of land use and biodiversity are affected by economic and demographic changes. Addressing food production and policy, Aide believes, as well as the Millennium Development Goals related to hunger, poverty, and sustainability are critical to conservation.
Is Brazil's epic drought a taste of the future?
(02/25/2014) With more than 140 cities implementing water rationing, analysts warning of collapsing soy and coffee exports, and reservoirs and rivers running precipitously low, talk about the World Cup in some parts of Brazil has been sidelined by concerns about an epic drought affecting the country's agricultural heartland.
Despite falling palm oil price, premium for 'sustainable' product rises
(02/12/2014) Despite a sharp drop in the price of palm oil since 2011, premiums for certificates representing palm oil produced under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) standard have risen due to increased demand for greener palm kernel oil (CPKO), reveals data released by GreenPalm.
Peatland plantations drive steep GHG emissions in Indonesia's Riau Province
(02/05/2014) Versatile is the best way to describe the reddish brown fruit born from oil palm trees. Both the flesh and seed of the fruit is used in many applications including cooking, cosmetics, and biofuel. In addition, the fruit is composed of 50 percent oil, making it a highly efficient product that requires less land than other oil producing crops.
Migrating monarch butterflies hit shockingly low numbers
(01/31/2014) The monarch butterfly population overwintering in Mexico this year has hit its lowest numbers ever, according to WWF-Mexico. Monarch butterflies covered just 0.67 hectares in Mexico's forest, a drop of 44 percent from 2012 already perilously low population. To put this in perspective the average monarch coverage from 1994-2014 was 6.39 or nearly ten times this year's. For years conservationists feared that deforestation in Mexico would spell the end of the monarch migration, but now scientists say that agricultural and policy changes in the U.S. and Canada—including GMO crops and habitat loss—is strangling off one of the world's great migrations.
Through careful management, indigenous people have shaped Asian rainforests for 11,000 years
(01/28/2014) Humans have been actively managing vast areas of Southeast Asia's forests for longer than previously believed, according to research by paleoecologists from the United Kingdom presented in the current Journal of Archaeological Science. Strong evidence suggests that humans in Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Thailand and Vietnam have engaged in agricultural practices for the last 11,000 years. These findings may help bolster the claims of local indigenous peoples under threat of eviction from their traditional lands.
Population growth and associated food demand to take heavy toll on rainforests
(01/16/2014) Human population growth and associated food demand will likely take a heavy toll on tropical ecosystems unless major shifts occur in how crops are produced and consumed, warns a new review published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution. Noting that projections published by the U.N. now forecast the human population to swell to 11 billion before the end of the century, William F. Laurance, Jeffrey Sayer, and Kenneth Cassman highlight potential impacts of agricultural expansion on biodiversity in the tropics.
U.S. palm oil company fined $4.6m in discrimination suit
(01/08/2014) Herakles Farms, an American agribusiness company, has been ordered to pay $4.6 million by a court in Cameroon over alleged discrimination in its hiring practices.
Rainforest news review for 2013
(12/26/2013) 2013 was full of major developments in efforts to understand and protect the world's tropical rainforests. The following is a review of some of the major tropical forest-related news stories for the year. As a review, this post will not cover everything that transpired during 2013 in the world of tropical forests. Please feel free to highlight anything this post missed via the comments section at the bottom. Also please note that this review focuses only on tropical forests.
Bee-harming pesticides may impact human nervous system
(12/23/2013) Neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been increasingly blamed for the collapse of bee populations, may also impact human's developing nervous system, according to a review of research by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The EFSA says that current safety guidelines for two pesticides—acetamiprid and imidacloprid—may be too lax to protect humans, especially the developing brains of unborn children
Asian elephants depend on shifting cultivation during the dry season
(12/16/2013) Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) have co-existed with human practices for thousands of years, including shifting cultivation. Shifting agriculture encompasses a variety of different practices that involve abandoning plots for periods of time to allow natural vegetation to grow. The practice consists of cutting and burning the natural vegetation at the end of the dry season and cultivating with the rains. Harvesting is completed by the end of the wet season.
Camera traps find less mammals than expected in Costa Rican corridor
(12/16/2013) A new study using camera traps in mongabay.com's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science has surveyed the diversity of medium and large-sized predators in the San Juan-La Selva biological corridor in Costa Rica, whilst also demonstrating how alteration of habitat is affecting the use of this corridor.
Indonesian palm oil company demolishes homes and evicts villagers in week-long raid
(12/14/2013) Nearly 150 homes were reportedly destroyed in the latest incident in a long-standing conflict between indigenous Batin Sembilan residents and former Wilmar unit PT Asiatic Persada. Indonesian security forces allegedly stormed several villages inside a Sumatran palm oil plantation concession last weekend and earlier this week, accompanying company staff and hired thugs accused of destroying dozens of homes and looting residents’ property.
Conventional satellite imagery may underestimate forest clearing for subsistence agriculture
(12/09/2013) Analysis of forest cover using medium-scale satellite imagery may miss deforestation for small-scale subsistence agriculture, finds a study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
Humans are not apex predators, but meat-eating on the rise worldwide
(12/05/2013) A new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has measured the "trophic level" of human beings for the first time. Falling between 1 and 5.5, trophic levels refer to where species fit on the food chain. Apex predators like tigers and sharks are given a 5.5 on trophic scale since they survive almost entirely on consuming meat, while plants and phytoplankton, which make their own food, are at the bottom of the scale. Humans, according to the new paper, currently fall in the middle: 2.21. However, rising meat-eating in countries like China, India, and Brazil is pushing our trophic level higher with massive environmental impacts.
Brazil could boost agriculture without destroying forests
(12/03/2013) Brazil could substantially boost its agricultural output while increasing protection of its native ecosystems, finds a new analysis published by the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), an international think tank.
Journalism prizes explore community forestry, commodity supply chains, China's seafood consumption
(12/01/2013) Mongabay.org announces three new $20,000 environmental reporting prizes under its Special Reporting Initiatives program. Three new environmental journalism prizes will enable journalists to do in-depth reporting on three important environmental topics: the role of community forest management in addressing climate change, cleaning up commodity supply chains, and the market for more sustainable seafood in China. The prizes come under Mongabay.org's Special Reporting Initiatives(SRI), a program that provides funding for environmental reporting. Mongabay.org will commit up to $20,000 to fund the top proposal.
Mangrove ecosystems being obliterated in Myanmar
(11/27/2013) Mangrove cover in Myanmar's Ayeyarwady Delta declined by nearly two-thirds between 1978 and 2011, leaving coastal areas more vulnerable to disasters like Cyclone Nargis, which killed 138,000 people in 2008, finds a new study published in the journal Global Environmental Change. The research, led by a team of scientists from the National University of Singapore and Mangrove and Environmental Rehabilitation Network in Yangon, is based on remote sensing and field data.
Scientists’ beef with land use decisions
(11/25/2013) When food goes to the garbage can instead of someone’s stomach, it is easy to see a wasted opportunity. The resources used to grow and transport that apple or hamburger went to the landfill. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is bringing another, less visible, form of food waste to the table, the waste created by eating foods that are inefficient to produce, like beef.
Govts pledge $280M to slow deforestation for agriculture
(11/21/2013) The governments of Norway, Britain and the United States pledged $280 million toward a new initiative that aims to reduce emissions associated with forest conversion for agriculture, reports Reuters. The money will come out of previously committed funds for climate change. The initiative, called the BioCarbon Fund Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes and administered by the World Bank, focuses on the 80 percent of deforestation that is driven by agriculture.
3.5 million ha of Indonesian and Malaysian forest converted for palm oil in 20 years
(11/12/2013) Some 3.5 million hectares (8.7 million acres) of forest in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea was converted for oil palm plantations between 1990 and 2010, finds a comprehensive set of assessments released by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The research, conducted by an international team of scientists from a range of institutions, is presented in a series of seven academic papers that estimate change in land use and greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm expansion in the three countries, review the social and environmental impacts of palm oil production, forecast potential growth in the sector across the region, and detail methods for measuring emissions and carbon stocks of plantations establishing on peatlands.
Palm oil giant profiting off tiger habitat destruction, alleges Greenpeace
(10/22/2013) The world's largest palm oil trader is continuing to traffic in palm oil linked to deforestation and illegal peatlands conversion, alleges a new report from Greenpeace.
The palm oil debate: can the world's most productive oilseed be less damaging to the environment?
(10/21/2013) On Thursday, 17 October 2013 Mongabay.com and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) co-hosted a discussion on environmental issues related to palm oil. The discussion involved representatives from WWF, Greenpeace and the RSPO. Mongabay.com Founder Rhett A. Butler served as the moderator.
Palm oil deal undermines efforts to resolve 25-year conflict in Sumatra
(10/15/2013) Local groups have called on the governor of Jambi province to cancel PT Asiatic Persada’s permit after Wilmar’s sale of the company stalls IFC-mediated talks. Indigenous people in Indonesia’s Jambi province on the island of Sumatra have urged the local government to revoke the permit of PT Asiatic Persada, a palm oil company at the center of a more than two-decade-long land conflict.
Forests increasingly limited to steeper slopes
(10/01/2013) Forests are increasingly limited to steep slopes as mankind continues to clear lowland areas suitable for agriculture and urban areas, finds a new study published in Nature Communications. The trend has significant implications for global biodiversity.
Bornean elephant meets palm oil: saving the world's smallest pachyderm in a fractured landscape
(10/01/2013) In the Malaysian state of Sabah, where most conservation students are still foreigners—either European or American—Nurzahafarina Othman stands out: not only is she Malaysian, a Muslim, and a mother of a young daughter, but she's rapidly becoming a top researcher and champion for the world's smallest elephant: the Bornean elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis). Although sometimes described as a pygmy elephant, they still weigh 2,000 kilograms (4,400 pounds). The origin of these 'tiny' elephants in Malaysian Borneo have baffled scientists for decades.
Investors risk billions by overlooking potential land conflicts, study shows
(09/24/2013) Land conflicts pose a serious – and often overlooked – risk to development projects in emerging market economies, warns a new report. Indigenous communities have claims to nearly one third of all land granted in commercial land concessions in 12 countries analyzed in the study, a situation that has led to numerous preventable conflicts and could jeopardize the financial viability of investments in the mining, agricultural and forestry sectors in Africa, Asia and South America.
African grass could substantially cut greenhouse gas emissions from livestock industry
(09/17/2013) Scientists will call for a major push this week to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture through the use of a modified tropical grass. Brachiaria grasses have been found to inhibit the release of nitrous oxide, which has a more powerful warming effect than carbon dioxide or methane, leading them to be called a super grass.
Preserving forest, birds boosts coffee profit up to $300/ha by controlling pests
(09/11/2013) Birds are providing a valuable ecosystem service on coffee plantations in Costa Rica, finds a new study that quantifies the pest control benefits of preserving tree cover in agricultural areas. The study, published in the journal Ecology Letters, looked at the impact of the coffee berry borer beetle (Hypothenemus hampeii) on coffee yields. The beetle is the only insect that directly consumes coffee berries, making it a major scourge for coffee farmers around the world, costing producers some $500 million a year.
Agribusiness project leaves indigenous communities in Indonesian New Guinea hungry and in poverty, report says
(09/03/2013) Land grabs and environmental destruction linked to an agricultural megaproject in Indonesia’s Papua province are devastating indigenous communities and causing severe food shortages in some areas, alleges a coalition of NGOs. Agro-industrial development in Papua has left indigenous communities cut off from their traditional livelihoods and living in abject poverty, the coalition said in a report released on Monday calling for the suspension of the project.
Palm oil now biggest cause of deforestation in Indonesia
(09/03/2013) Conversion of forests for palm oil production now appears to be the single largest driver of deforestation in Indonesia, accounting for roughly a quarter of forest loss between 2009 and 2011, asserts a new Greenpeace report that accuses the sector's main certification standard of failing to stop forest destruction. The report, titled Certifying Destruction, uses satellite imagery, government concession data, field investigations, and third party analysis to conclude that several recent and current members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) — the industry's chief eco-certification body — are continuing to buy or trade palm oil produced via the conversion of rainforests and carbon-dense peatlands in the Southeast Asian nation.
85% of Brazilian leather goes to markets sensitive to environmental concerns
(08/22/2013) Around 40% of beef and 85% of leather production serve markets that are potentially sensitive to environmental concerns, providing a partial explantation as to why Brazilian producers have made recent commitments to reducing deforestation for cattle production, finds a new study published in Tropical Conservation Science.
Pesticide problems in the Amazon
(08/21/2013) As the world’s population increases and agricultural frontiers expand into native tropical habitats, researchers are working furiously to understand the impacts on tropical forests and global biodiversity. But one obvious impact has been little studied in these agricultural frontiers: pesticides. However a new study in the journal Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B seeks to shine a light on the problem.
Zoo races to save extreme butterfly from extinction
(08/15/2013) In a large room that used to house aquatic mammals at the Minnesota Zoo, Erik Runquist holds up a vial and says, 'Here are its eggs.' I peer inside and see small specks, pale with a dot of brown at the top; they look like a single grain of cous cous or quinoa. Runquist explains that the brown on the top is the head cap of the larva, a fact that becomes more clear under a microscope when you can see the encased larva squirm. I'm looking at the eggs of a Poweshiek skipperling, a species that is more imperiled than pandas, tigers, or bluewhales. Once superabundant, only several hundred Poweshiek skipperlings may survive on Earth today and the eggs I'm looking at are the only ones in captivity.
China's growing wine industry threatening pandas and other endangered species
(08/14/2013) In 1985, Li Hua visited a valley in the foothills of the Tibetan plateau. The area was better known for its panda population, but the oenologist realized that its high altitude, hours of sunshine, sandy soil and low precipitation also offered ideal conditions for growing grapes.
Little NGO takes on goliath task: conserving the vanishing ecosystems of Paraguay
(08/12/2013) Landlocked in the navel of South America, the forests, wetlands and savannahs of Paraguay boast rich biodiversity and endemic species, yet the unique landscapes of Paraguay also face increasing threats, primarily from agricultural expansion. Controlled burns and clear cutting have become common practice as wildlands are converted for soy and cattle production. In some areas this land conversion is rapid: the Paraguayan Chaco, for instance, is being lost at a rate of 10% per year. One organization is working to reverse this trend. Para La Tierra (PLT) is a small NGO dedicated to the conservation of threatened habitats in Paraguay. Located on the Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca, in-between two of South America's most threatened habitats: the Atlantic Forest and the vast topical savannah known as the cerrado, PLT is in a unique position to champion conservation.
Foodies eat lab-grown burger that could change the world
(08/06/2013) Yesterday at a press event in London, two food writers took a bite into the world's most unusual hamburger. Grown meticulously from cow stem cells, the hamburger patty represents the dream (or pipedream) of many animal rights activists and environmentalists. The burger was developed by Physiologist Mark Post of Maastricht University and funded by Google co-founder Sergey Brin in an effort to create real meat without the corresponding environmental toll.
Deforestation ban working in Costa Rica
(08/05/2013) Costa Rica's ban on clearing of "mature" forests appears to be effective in encouraging agricultural expansion on non-forest lands, finds a study published today in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The study, which was led by Matthew Fagan of Columbia University, found that since Costa Rica implemented its ban on conversion of mature forests in 1996, the annual rate of old-growth forest loss dropped 40 percent despite an agricultural boom in the region. The results suggest that Costa Rica is intensifying agricultural production while simultaneously sparing forests.
Malaysian NGOs form alliance to address palm oil concerns
(07/31/2013) Seven Malaysia-based NGO's have banded together to form an alliance to provide a Malaysian civil society perspective on social and environmental issues related to palm oil production. The initiative aims to counter Malaysian industry claims that concerns over palm oil are purely driven by Western NGO's.
Habitat loss and pesticides causing decline in Europe's butterflies
(07/31/2013) Europe's grassland butterfly population has plummeted in the past two decades, new research published on Tuesday shows, with a near halving in the numbers of key species since 1990.
Dominican Republic sends bulldozers to destroy wildlife reserve, home to endangered species
(07/23/2013) Last Wednesday, bulldozers entered the Loma Charco Azul Biological Reserve (LCABR) in the Dominican Republic and began clearing vegetation for agricultural development. The move stunned local conservationists who had not been notified ahead of time of the project. Although Charco Azul Biological Reserve is home to a wealth of threatened species—including the world's largest population of the Critically Endangered Ricordi's iguana (Cyclura ricordi)—the destruction of the reserve was signed off by the Dominican Republic's Minister of the Environment, Bautista Rojas Gómez.
Deforestation rate falls in Congo Basin countries
(07/22/2013) Deforestation has fallen in Congo Basin countries over the past decade despite a sharp increase in the rate of forest clearing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to a new study published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B as part of a set of 18 papers on the region's tropical forests. The special issue, which was put together by Oxford University's Yadvinder Malhi, covers a range of issues relating to the rainforests of the Congo Basin, including deforestation, the impacts of global change, the history and key characteristics of the region's forests, and resource extraction, among others.
Billions lost to corruption in Indonesia’s forest sector, says report
(07/17/2013) Corruption and mismanagement in Indonesia’s forest sector have cost the government billions of dollars in losses in recent years, including over $7 billion in losses from 2007-2011, Human Rights Watch said in a report released yesterday. The report also blasted the country’s 'green growth' strategy, saying that despite recent reforms, Indonesia’s forestry policies as they are implemented today continue to allow widespread forest clearing and threaten the rights and livelihoods of forest-dependent communities.
Palm oil body, Greenpeace spar over Indonesia fire blame
(07/16/2013) Greenpeace and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a body that sets criteria for greener palm oil production, are caught up in a row over the origin of fires that cast a pall over Sumatra, Singapore, and Malaysia last month. The dispute started when media outlets, based on independent analysis of satellite data, identified several members of the RSPO as possible culprits in the fires in Riau Province. Greenpeace said the findings indicated that the RSPO is failing to hold its members accountable for burning. The activist group also criticized the RSPO for not expressly prohibiting deforestation and conversion of peatlands.
Featured video: Indonesian community uses mapping to fight palm oil takeover
(07/15/2013) Communities across Indonesia are facing the questions: palm oil or no? A new short documentary Mapping our Future explores the issue through one community's efforts in West Kalimantan to map our their ancestral lands as they attempt to take control of their future.
Can palm oil be part of green growth in Indonesia?
(07/02/2013) A new report lays out key leverage points for shifting Indonesia's palm oil industry toward a greener development path.
Brazilian state to pay counties that cut Amazon deforestation
(07/01/2013) The Brazilian state of Pará has launched a new compensation scheme to incentivize further cuts in deforestation.
Crop yields no longer keeping up with population growth
(06/26/2013) If the world is to grow enough food for the projected global population in 2050, agricultural productivity will have to rise by at least 60%, and may need to more than double, according to researchers who have studied global crop yields.
Solving 'wicked problems': ten principles for improved environmental management
(06/23/2013) As agriculture continues to expand at the expense of forests in the tropics, humanity struggles to meet environmental protection goals. Despite global efforts towards sustainable agriculture and some progress towards the gazetting of protected areas, there are as yet no general and effective solutions for meeting both conservation goals and food needs, and thus the loss and degradation of natural habitats continues. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has estimated a 70% increase in food production will be needed by 2050 to feed a population that will exceed 9 billion. How can such food production be met in ways that conserve the environment while also alleviating poverty?
EU labels another pesticide as bad for bees
(06/18/2013) A widely used insect nerve agent has been labelled a "high acute risk" to honeybees by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). A similar assessment by the EFSA on three other insecticides preceded the suspension of their use in the European Union.
Conserving the long-neglected freshwater fish of Borneo
(06/11/2013) Borneo is a vast tropical island known for orangutans, rhinos, elephants, sun bears, proboscis monkeys, hornbills, and ubiquitous leeches. Conservationists have championed all of these species (aside from the leeches) in one way or another, but like many tropical regions Borneo's freshwater species have long been neglected, despite their rich biodiversity and importance to local people. But a new organization, the Kinabatangan River Spirit Initiative, is working to change that.
Brazil may lift ban on Amazon ethanol expansion
(06/09/2013) In coming weeks Brazil will vote on a bill that would lift a ban on sugar cane mills across a large extent of the Amazon region, sparking fears that ethanol production could drive new deforestation and tarnish the country's image as an attractive source biofuels for environmentally-conscious markets,
Malaysian palm oil firm to establish $744m, 180,000 ha plantation in Congo
(06/09/2013) Wah Soeng Berhad, a Malaysian conglomerate, will invest $744 million over the next decade to establish oil palm plantations in Republic of Congo
Controversial palm oil project in Cameroon rainforest to resume
(06/06/2013) The Cameroonian government has lifted the suspension on controversial palm oil project in the northwestern part of the Central African nation, reports the AFP.
Local economy ruined by pesticide pollution in the Caribbean
(05/29/2013) On 15 April more than 100 fishermen demonstrated in the streets of Fort de France, the main town on Martinique, in the French West Indies. In January they barricaded the port until the government in Paris allocated €2m ($2.6m) in aid, which they are still waiting for. The contamination caused by chlordecone, a persistent organochlorine pesticide, means their spiny lobsters are no longer fit for human consumption. The people of neighboring Guadeloupe are increasingly angry for the same reason. After polluting the soil, the chemical is wreaking havoc out at sea, an environmental disaster that now threatens the whole economy.
Water crisis widening: 4.5 billion people live near 'impaired water sources'
(05/28/2013) The majority of the 9 billion people on Earth will live with severe pressure on fresh water within the space of two generations as climate change, pollution and over-use of resources take their toll, 500 scientists have warned.
Pacific islanders are the 'victims of industrial countries unable to control their carbon dioxide emissions'
(05/15/2013) With islands and atolls scattered across the ocean, the small Pacific island states are among those most exposed to the effects of global warming: increasing acidity and rising sea level, more frequent natural disasters and damage to coral reefs. These micro-states, home to about 10 million people, are already paying for the environmental irresponsibility of the great powers.
Eat insects to mitigate deforestation and climate change
(05/14/2013) A new 200-page-report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) urges human society to utilize an often-ignored, protein-rich, and ubiquitous food source: insects. While many in the industrialized west might turn up their noses at the idea of eating insects, already around 2 billion people worldwide eat over 1,900 species of insect, according to the FAO. Expanding insect-eating, the authors argue, may be one way to combat rising food needs, environmental degradation, and climate change.
Continued deforestation in the Amazon may kill Brazil's agricultural growth
(05/09/2013) Continuing deforestation in the Amazon rainforest could undermine agricultural productivity in the region by reducing rainfall and boosting temperatures, warns a new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
U.S. loses nearly a third of its honey bees this season
(05/09/2013) Nearly a third of managed honeybee colonies in America died out or disappeared over the winter, an annual survey found on Wednesday. The decline—which was far worse than the winter before—threatens the survival of some bee colonies. The heavy losses of pollinators also threatens the country's food supply, researchers said. The US Department of Agriculture has estimated that honeybees contribute some $20bn to the economy every year.
Sugarcane production impacting local climate in Brazil
(05/01/2013) Intensification of Brazil's sugarcane industry in response to rising demand for sugar-based ethanol could have impacts on the regional climate reports a new study by researchers from Arizona State University, Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution for Science. Following the conversion of cerrado grasslands into sugarcane in Brazil, a recent study in Geophysical Research Letters found local cooling that approached 1 degree Celsius during the growing season and maximum local warming near 1 degree Celsius post-harvest.
Indigenous tribes say effects of climate change already felt in Amazon rainforest
(04/30/2013) Tribal groups in Earth's largest rainforest are already being affected by shifts wrought by climate change, reports a paper published last week in the British journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. The paper, which is based on a collection of interviews conducted with indigenous leaders in the Brazilian Amazon, says that native populations are reporting shifts in precipitation patterns, humidity, river levels, temperature, and fire and agricultural cycles. These shifts, measured against celestial timing used by indigenous groups, are affecting traditional ways of life that date back thousands of years.
Europe bans pesticides linked to bee collapse
(04/29/2013) The EU has banned three neonicotinoid pesticides (imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam) linked to the decline of bees for two years. The ban will apply to all flowering crops, such as corn, rape seed, and sunflowers. The move follows a flood of recent studies, some high-profile, that have linked neonicotinoid pesticides, which employ nicotine-like chemicals, to the widespread decline of bees seen both in Europe and North America.
What if companies actually had to compensate society for environmental destruction?
(04/29/2013) The environment is a public good. We all share and depend on clean water, a stable atmosphere, and abundant biodiversity for survival, not to mention health and societal well-being. But under our current global economy, industries can often destroy and pollute the environment—degrading public health and communities—without paying adequate compensation to the public good. Economists call this process "externalizing costs," i.e. the cost of environmental degradation in many cases is borne by society, instead of the companies that cause it. A new report from TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity), conducted by Trucost, highlights the scale of the problem: unpriced natural capital (i.e. that which is not taken into account by the global market) was worth $7.3 trillion in 2009, equal to 13 percent of that year's global economic output.
Probe confirms Singapore-based palm oil company engaged in land-grabbing in Borneo
(04/26/2013) An independent investigation has shown that First Resources Ltd, a palm oil plantation company and member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), failed to obtain proper consent from local communities before clearing rainforests for plantations in Indonesian Borneo, an Indonesian indigenous rights group reported last week.
RSPO failing to meet sustainability objectives for palm oil production, says WWF
(04/23/2013) An initiative that aims to improve the social and environmental performance of palm oil production is faltering in its mission by failing to establish strong performance standards on greenhouse gas emissions and pesticide use, argues a new statement issued by WWF, the initiative's biggest green supporter.
Indonesian palm oil industry would support land swaps to protect forest, while expanding production
(04/19/2013) Indonesian palm oil companies would support land swaps as a means to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation while simultaneously expanding production, representatives from the country's largest association of palm oil producers told mongabay.com in an interview last month.
Up for grabs: how foreign investments are redistributing land and water across the globe
(04/18/2013) In 2007, the increased human population, increased prices in fuel and transportation costs, and an increased demand for a diversity of food products prompted a Global Food Crisis. Agricultural producers and government leaders world-wide struggled to procure stable food sources for their countries. But the crisis had impacts beyond 2007: it was also the impetus for what we now know as the global land-grabbing phenomenon.
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