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News articles on agriculture
Mongabay.com news articles on agriculture in blog format. Updated regularly.
(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.
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