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News articles on agriculture
Mongabay.com news articles on agriculture in blog format. Updated regularly.
(12/07/2012) Animal fats and margarine consumption in the United States have been largely replaced by palm oil, a plant-based oil that has similar cooking properties, but may not be as environmentally-friendly as commonly believed, argues a researcher in this week's issue of Nature.
Improving food and water efficiency a must for the next generation
(12/05/2012) This summer, while climate change silence reigned in the U.S. presidential race, the Stockholm International Water Institute's conference for World Water Week focused on the global initiatives required in order to live with its effects. The report, titled "Feeding a Thirsty World," garnered the most publicity with the assertion that agricultural water scarcity and an increasing population would force the world to reduce average meat and dairy consumption down to just 5% of all calories by 2050. At present, 20% of the average human diet is made up from animal proteins.
Forests, farming, and sprawl: the struggle over land in an Amazonian metropolis
(12/04/2012) The city of Parauapebas, Brazil is booming: built over the remains of the Amazon rainforest, the metropolis has grown 75-fold in less than 25 years, from 2,000 people upwards of 150,000. But little time for urban planning and both a spatial and mental distance from the federal government has created a frontier town where small-scale farmers struggle to survive against racing sprawl, legal and illegal mining, and a lack of investment in environmental protection. Forests, biodiversity, and subsistence farmers have all suffered under the battle for land. In this, Parauapebas may represent a microcosm both of Brazil's ongoing problems (social inequality, environmental degradation, and deforestation) and opportunity (poverty alleviation, reforestation, and environmental enforcement).
Africa's great savannahs may be more endangered than the world's rainforests
(12/04/2012) Few of the world's ecosystems are more iconic than Africa's sprawling savannahs home to elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and the undisputed king of the animal kingdom: lions. This wild realm, where megafauna still roam in abundance, has inspired everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Karen Blixen, and David Livingstone to Theodore Roosevelt. Today it is the heart of Africa's wildlife tourism and includes staunch defenders such as Richard Leakey, Michael Fay, and the Jouberts. Despite this, the ecosystem has received less media attention than imperiled ecosystems like rainforests. But a ground-breaking study in Biodiversity Conservation finds that 75 percent of these large-scale intact grasslands have been lost, at least from the lion's point of view.
With deforestation falling, energy sector to become Brazil's biggest CO2 source
(12/03/2012) With its annual rate of deforestation falling more than 80 percent since 2004, energy is set to soon become Brazil's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, reports a new study seen by Reuters.
Investors shouldn't ignore financial risk of environmental damage
(11/29/2012) Environmental damage poses a long-ignored risk to sovereign bonds, according to a new report by the UNEP FI (The United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative) and the Global Footprint Network. The report, E-RISC Report, A New Angle on Sovereign Credit Risk, finds that the overuse of natural resources and their degradation has put considerable, and largely unrecognized, risk against national economies.
Organic farming keeps carbon out of the atmosphere
(11/28/2012) With the worst effects of climate change, we are seeing how pollution hurts both human health and the environment but there is good news: a new study shows that organic farming stores more greenhouse gases in the soil than non-organic farming. By switching to organic methods, many farmers across the globe may be helping to solve the climate crisis at the same time as they improve soil quality and avoid the use of pesticides.
Featured video: how locals depend on Kalimantan's vanishing forests
(11/27/2012) A new video explores local indigenous views of the forests of Kalimantan or Indonesian Borneo. Having depended on the rainforest ecosystems for centuries, indigenous groups now find themselves under pressure to exploit forest for logging, coal mining, or industrial plantations. While biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and other ecosystem services are at stake, the forests are also deeply intertwined with the culture and way-of-life for indigenous group.
Photos reveal destruction of Cameroon rainforest for palm oil
(11/26/2012) Newly released photos by Greenpeace show the dramatic destruction of tropical forest in Cameroon for an oil palm plantation operated by SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon (SGSOC), a subsidiary of the U.S. company Herakles Farm. The agriculture company is planning to convert 73,000 hectares to palm oil plantations on the edge of several protected areas, but has faced considerable opposition from environmentalists and some local communities. In addition to the aerial photos, Greenpeace alleges that ongoing forest clearing by Herakles is illegal since the companies 99-year lease has yet to be fully approved by the Cameroonian government.
A new way to rescue Africa’s struggling soils: Planting perennials with crops
(11/20/2012) It sounds counter-intuitive: Grow more food by planting less. But it’s a plan that scientists think will produce enough crops to feed Africa’s quickly expanding population. African farmers who sow food crops mixed with plants called perennials—which live two years or more—can enrich nutrient-poor soils and increase their bounty, argue scientists in the Sept. 20 issue of Nature.
World Bank: 4 degrees Celsius warming would be miserable
(11/20/2012) A new report by the World Bank paints a bleak picture of life on Earth in 80 years: global temperatures have risen by 4 degrees Celsius spurring rapidly rising sea levels and devastating droughts. Global agriculture is under constant threat; economies have been hampered; coastal cities are repeatedly flooded; coral reefs are dissolving from ocean acidification; and species worldwide are vanishing. This, according to the World Bank, is where we are headed even if all of the world's nations meet their pledges on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. However, the report also notes that with swift, aggressive action it's still possible to ensure that global temperatures don't rise above 4 degrees Celsius.
Featured video: on-the-ground look at Brazil's fight against deforestation
(11/15/2012) A new video by the Guardian takes an on-the-ground look at Brazil's efforts to tackle deforestation in the Amazon. Using satellite imagery, an elite team of enforcement agents are now able to react swiftly to illegal deforestation. The crackdown on deforestation has been successful: destruction of the Amazon has slowed by around 75 percent in the last 8 years.
Remembering the Dust Bowl: it could happen again
(11/15/2012) The Dust Bowl, a film by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, and The Dust Bowl: An Illustrated History, a book authored by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, chronicles the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history. Told in first-person narrative by survivors of the Dust Bowl and brought to color through vivid storytelling and over 300 rare archival photos, these two combined efforts must be watched and read by those concerned with our human impact on Earth.
Hurricane Sandy pushes Haiti toward full-blown food crisis
(11/12/2012) Although Haiti avoided a direct hit by Hurricane Sandy, the tropical storm caused severe flooding across the southern part of the country decimating agricultural fields. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs now warns that 1.5 million Haitians are at risk of severe food insecurity, while 450,000 people face severe acute malnutrition, which can kill.
Over 100,000 farmers squatting in Sumatran park to grow coffee
(11/06/2012) Sumatra's Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park—home to the Critically Endangered Sumatran rhinos, tigers, and elephants—has become overrun with coffee farmers, loggers, and opportunists according to a new paper in Conservation and Society. An issue facing the park for decades, the study attempted for the first time to determine the number of squatters either living in or farming off Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the rough census—over 100,000 people—shocked scientists.
New rare frog discovered in Sri Lanka, but left wholly unprotected
(11/05/2012) Sri Lanka, an island country lying off the southeast coast of India, has long been noted for its vast array of biodiversity. Islands in general are renowned for their weird and wonderful creatures, including high percentages of endemic species—and Sri Lanka, where scientists recently discovered a new frog species, is no exception.
From 'fertilizer to fork': food accounts for a quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions
(11/01/2012) Growing, transporting, refrigerating, and wasting food accounts for somewhere between 19-29 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions in 2008, according to a new analysis by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). In hard numbers that's between 9.8 and 16.9 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, more than double the fossil fuel emissions of China in the same year. Over 80 percent of food emissions came from production (i.e. agriculture) which includes deforestation and land use change.
New study adds to evidence that common pesticides decimating bee colonies
(10/24/2012) The evidence that common pesticides may be partly to blame for a decline in bees keeps piling up. Several recent studies have shown that pesticides known as "neonicotinoid" may cause various long-term impacts on bee colonies, including fewer queens, foraging bees losing their way, and in some cases total hive collapse. The studies have been so convincing that recently France banned the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. Now a new study finds further evidence of harm caused by pesticides, including that bees who are exposed to more than one chemical, i.e. neonicotinoid and pyrethroid, were the most vulnerable.
One in eight people suffer from malnutrition worldwide
(10/16/2012) In a world where technology has advanced to a point where I can instantly have a face-to-face conversation via online video with a friend in Tokyo, nearly 870 million people, or one in eight, still suffer from malnutrition, according to a new UN report. While worldwide hunger declined from 1990 to 2007, progress was slowed by the global economic crisis. Over the last few years, numerous and record-breaking extreme weather events have also taken tolls on food production. Currently, food prices hover just below crisis levels.
Appreciating elephant individuality: a new approach to preventing conflicts with humans
(10/09/2012) To prevent conflicts between humans and elephants in developed areas, a new study shows there is much to learn from analyzing Asian elephant behavior at the individual level as opposed to population studies. Researchers have traditionally interpreted elephant behavior at the population level, looking for behavior patterns among elephants of similar ages, group sizes, and genders. Today, field researchers in India are studying elephant behavior at the individual level. Their goal is to appreciate the idiosyncrasies of individual elephants in the hopes of predicting their behavior. Nishant Srinivasaiah, of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and lead author of the study, told mongabay.com that it is vital "to get to know our elephants more intimately than ever before and, more importantly, to shift our focus from a population to include its individuals as well."
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil hits 10 year mark
(10/04/2012) The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is holding its tenth annual meeting later this month. The initiative, which aims to improve the social and environmental performance of palm oil production through a certification standard, has advanced considerably during that time, moving from an idea to a reality: RSPO-certified palm oil now accounts for 12 percent of global palm oil production. Yet the RSPO is not without controversy. Some palm oil companies say its criteria are too costly to adopt and are therefore discriminatory, while environmental critics argue its bar for "sustainable" palm oil is too low and the loopholes allow producers to claim membership even if they aren't actually producing certified palm oil across all their holdings. Nonetheless the RSPO has support from many of the world's largest palm oil producers, traders, and consumers as well as the biggest NGOs.
Food prices rise as food aid needed in Middle East and Africa
(10/04/2012) Food prices increased in September on the FAO Food Price Index after two months of stability, while food aid has been urgently called for in Yemen and Syria, and concerns lingered in parts of Africa. Food prices globally rose 3 points (or 1.4 percent) to 216 points.
Livelihoods depend on the environment in the Western Ghats
(09/27/2012) In the Uttar Kannada district of the Western Ghats, the livelihood of the average individual depends largely on the well being of the environment. Six months ago, before large-scale mangrove planting of the area, if someone were to walk through the banks of the mangroves in the Western Ghats he would see many fishermen casting their long nets and wires, time and time again noticing pieces of trash such as plastic grocery bags tangled in the nets.
Agriculture causes 80% of tropical deforestation
(09/27/2012) Agriculture is the direct driver of roughly 80 percent of tropical deforestation, while logging is the biggest single driver of forest degradation, says a new report funded by the British and Norwegian governments. The report presents an overview of drivers of deforestation to inform policymakers involved in developing the REDD+ mechanism, an international program that aims to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
Learning to live with elephants in Malaysia
(09/18/2012) Humans and elephants have a lot in common: both are highly intelligent, intensely social, and both are capable of having a massive impact on their local environments. Given their similarities, it might not be surprising that elephants and human have often run afoul of one another. Conflict between these two great species has probably been going on for thousands of years, but as human populations have grown dramatically, elephant populations have been crippled and forced into smaller-and-smaller pockets. No-where is this more true than in Southeast Asia.
Bird diversity at risk if 'agroforests' replaced with farmland
(09/13/2012) Agroforests contain much higher levels of bird diversity than their open agricultural counterparts, according to new research from the University of Utah. If large forests and agroforests continue to be replaced by simple open farms, bird communities will become much less specialized and entire groups may become extinct. Important roles for birds, such as pollination, pest control or seed dispersal, may remain unfilled if ongoing trends toward open agriculture continues and biodiversity decreases.
Amazon deforestation could trigger drop in rainfall across South America
(09/06/2012) Deforestation could cause rainfall across the Amazon rainforest to drop precipitously, warns a new study published in the journal Nature. Using a computer model that accounts for forest cover and rainfall patterns, Dominick Spracklen of the University of Leeds and colleagues estimate that large-scale deforestation in the Amazon could reduce basin-wide rainfall 12 percent during the wet season and 21 percent in the dry season by 2050. Localized swings would be greater.
Palm oil company in Cameroon drops bid for eco-certification of controversial plantation
(09/05/2012) Herakles Farm, a U.S.-based agricultural developer, will no longer seek eco-certification of its 70,000-hectare oil palm plantation in Cameroon, reports the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The move comes amid criticism from environmental groups that Herakles is converting high conservation value rainforest for the plantation.
Forest expands 3% in Colombia during 2000s, but loss grows in llanos region
(09/04/2012) Colombia gained nearly 17,000 square kilometers of forest between 2001 and 2010 as forests recovered in mountainous regions in the Andes, reports a new study published in the journal PLoS One.
Bolivia should prioritize cattle ranching, law enforcement in deforestation fight
(09/04/2012) Bolivia should prioritize environmental law enforcement and slowing expansion of large-scale cattle ranching to reduce Amazon deforestation, argues a study published last month by researchers from Germany and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
Private reserve safeguards newly discovered frogs in Ecuadorian cloud forest
(08/28/2012) Although it covers only 430 hectares (1,063 acres) of the little-known Chocó forest in Ecuador, the private reserve las Gralarias in Ecuador is home to an incredible explosion of life. Long known as a birder's paradise, the Reserva las Gralarias is now making a name for itself as a hotspot for new and endangered amphibians, as well as hundreds of stunning species of butterfly and moth. This is because the reserve is set in the perfect place for evolution to run wild: cloud forest spanning vast elevational shifts. "The pacific slope cloud forests [...] are among the most endangered habitats in the world," explains Reserva las Gralarias' founder, Jane Lyons, in a recent interview with mongabay.com.
Mekong dam spree could create regional food crisis
(08/27/2012) Fish are a hugely important protein source for many people around the world. This is no more evident than along the lower Mekong River delta where an estimated 48 million people depend directly on the river for food and livelihoods. But now a new study in Global Environmental Change cautions that 11 planned hydroelectric dams in the region could cut vital fish populations by 16 percent while putting more strain on water and land resources.
Dry forests disappearing faster than rainforests in Latin America
(08/21/2012) Countries across Latin America lost 78,000 square kilometers of subtropical and tropical dry broadleaf forests between 2001 and 2010, according to a new satellite-based assessment published in the journal Biotropica.
Recommendations to save India's Western Ghats creates political stir
(08/20/2012) A massive expert panel report on the conservation of the Western Ghats has caused a political stir in India. The report, headed by noted ecologist Madhav Gadgil, recommends that the government phase out mining projects, cancel damaging hydroelectric projects, and move toward organic agriculture in ecologically-sensitive sections of the Ghats. The report, which was leaked after the government refused to release it, has yet to be implemented. Recently dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Western Ghats is one of India's largest wildernesses and home to thousands of species, many found no-where else.
Chart: Forest loss in Latin America
(08/20/2012) Latin America lost nearly 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 square miles) of forest — an area larger than the state of Oregon — between 2001 and 2010, finds a new study that is the first to assess both net forest loss and regrowth across the Caribbean, Central and South America. The study, published in the journal Biotropica by researchers from the University of Puerto Rico and other institutions, analyzes change in vegetation cover across several biomes, including forests, grasslands, and wetlands. It finds that the bulk of vegetation change occurred in forest areas, mostly tropical rainforests and lesser-known dry forests. The largest gains in biome area occurred in desert vegetation and shrublands.
Drought drives corn prices to record high
(08/09/2012) Drought in America's Midwest drive corn prices to record highs on Thursday.
Marijuana farms poisoning carnivorous fishers in California, finds study
(07/13/2012) An illegal pesticide used by marijuana growers to kill rodents is poisoning weasel-like fishers in California, reports a new study published in the journal PLoS ONE.
Climate change increased the probability of Texas drought, African famine, and other extreme weather
(07/11/2012) Climate change is here and its increasing the chances for crazy weather, according to scientists. A prestigious group of climatologists have released a landmark report that makes the dramatic point that climate change is impacting our weather systems—and in turn our food crops, our economies, and even our lives—here-and-now. The new report in the American Meteorological Society is first of what is intended to be an annual offering that will attempt to tease out the connections between climate change and individual extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, droughts and floods.
Pastures, not forest, are best place for oil palm expansion in Colombia
(07/11/2012) Colombia is targeting a six-fold increase in crude palm-oil production by 2020. Conservationists fear this may compromise the nation’s natural ecosystems, but a new study suggests the impact may be minimized by limiting new oil palm plantations to certain areas of pasture land.
Wealthy consumption threatens species in developing countries
(07/11/2012) Consumption in wealthy nations is imperiling biodiversity abroad, according to a new study in Nature that investigates the link between international trade and biodiversity decline. The study shows how threats to biodiversity and ecosystems, located primarily in developing countries, can be connected to consumer demand for goods in wealthier nations. Some of the major commodities include coffee, cocoa, soy, beef and palm oil.
Agricultural area larger than Texas has been 'land-grabbed'
(06/26/2012) Compiling over 1,000 foreign land deals from 2000-2010, a new report finds that 702,000 square kilometers (271,043 square miles) of agricultural land worldwide has been sold-off to foreign governments or international corporations, an area larger than Texas. The report by the Worldwatch Institute finds that such land deals, often referred to as "land grabbing," have declined since a peak in 2009, but still remain high.
Small farmers cause substantial damage in the Amazon rainforest
(06/25/2012) Small farmers are less likely than large landowners to maintain required forest cover on their property in the Brazilian Amazon, worsening the environmental impact of their operations, reported a researcher presenting at the annual meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) in Bonito, Brazil.
Fire risk to increase in the Amazon rainforest
(06/20/2012) The risk of fire could increase across large parts of the Amazon rainforest due to increasing incident of drought, expansion of road networks, and rural outmigration, said a scientist speaking at the annual meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) in Bonito, Brazil.
Congolese experts needed to protect Congo Basin rainforests
(06/20/2012) This summer, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is expected to approve a new higher education strategy which the country has developed with the World Bank and other international donors. The shape of this educational reform initiative will be critical to Congo's future in many ways. It could finally offer Congo’s long-suffering people a route into the 21st century. It will also help determine the future of the DRC’s forests. Nearly half of the Congo Basin’s remaining rainforest is in the DRC—yet the critical role of Congolese experts in forestry, agricultural science, wildlife management and other rural sciences in protecting this forest is not widely recognized.
After damning research, France proposes banning pesticide linked to bee collapse
(06/04/2012) Following research linking neonicotinoid pesticides to the decline in bee populations, France has announced it plans to ban Cruiser OSR, an insecticide produced by Sygenta. Recent studies, including one in France, have shown that neonicotinoid pesticides likely hurt bees' ability to navigate, potentially devastating hives. France has said it will give Sygenta two weeks to prove the pesticide is not linked to the bee decline, known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
Indigenous group paid $0.65/ha for forest worth $5,000/ha in Indonesia
(05/23/2012) A palm oil company has paid indigenous Moi landowners in Indonesian Papua a paltry $0.65 per hectare for land that will be worth $5,000 a hectare once cultivated, according to a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Indonesian NGO, Telepak. The report outlines similar disadvantageous deals in timber with the same companies breaking their promises of bringing education and infrastructure.
Growing cardamom impacts forests for decades
(05/17/2012) Over 25 years after people stopped growing cardamom in Sri Lanka's Knuckles Forest Reserve (KFR), the spice crop is still having an impact on the forest, according to a recent study in Forest Ecology and Management. The clearing of understory plants and the use of fertilizers continue to shape the forest in the protected area.
Consumption, population, and declining Earth: wake-up call for Rio+20
(05/15/2012) Currently, human society is consuming natural resources as if there were one-and-a-half Earths, and not just a single blue planet, according to the most recent Living Planet Report released today. If governments and societies continue with 'business-as-usual' practices, we could be consuming three years of natural resources in 12 months by 2050. Already, this ecological debt is decimating wildlife populations worldwide, disproportionately hurting the world's poor and most vulnerable, threatening imperative resources like food and water, heating up the atmosphere, and risking global well-being.
Terra preta found in Asia
(05/14/2012) Indigenous people of the Amazon produced rich agricultural soil by adding charcoal, manure, and animal bones to the otherwise nutrient-poor dirt of the world's greatest rainforest. The inputs allowed early indigenous people to farm their terra preta, or dark earth, sustainably in the Amazon. To date such practices are only known from the the Amazon and parts of Africa. But in a recent paper in the open access journal Forests scientists in Indonesian Borneo report on the first evidence of terra preta in Asia.
Permaculture: a path toward a more sustainable Amazon?
(05/03/2012) Communities living in and around tropical forests remain highly dependent on forest products, including nuts, resins, fruit and vegetables, oils, and medicinal plants. But relatively few of these products have been successfully commercialized in ways that generates sustained local benefits. When commercialization does happen, outsiders or a few well-placed insiders usually see the biggest windfall. Large-scale exploitation can also lead to resource depletion or conversion of forests for monoculture-based production. The ecosystem and local people lose.
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