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News articles on agriculture
Mongabay.com news articles on agriculture in blog format. Updated regularly.
(04/26/2012) In general, industrial agriculture beats organic farming in yields, according to a comprehensive new study in Nature. The study adds new data to the sometimes heated debate of organic versus conventional farming. Proponents of organic farming argue that these practices are environmentally friendly, sustainable over the long-term, and provide a number of social goods. However, critics argue that organic farming requires more land, thereby increasing global deforestation, which offsets any other environmental benefits of organic food production. At stake is whether organic or conventional is capable of feeding the world's seven billion people (and rising), including increasing demand for energy-intensive foods like meat in the developing world.
Police hired by loggers in Papua New Guinea lock locals in shipping containers
(04/16/2012) Locals protesting the destruction of their forest in Papua New Guinea for two palm oil plantations say police have been sent in for a second time to crack-down on their activities, even as a Commission of Inquiry (COI) investigates the legality of the concession. Traditional landowners in Pomio District on the island East New Britain say police bankrolled by Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau (RH) have terrorized the population, including locking people in shipping containers for three consecutive nights. The palm oil concessions belongs to a company known as Gilford Limited, which locals say is a front group for RH.
Scientists unlock indigenous secret to sustainable agriculture in the Amazon's savannas
(04/11/2012) Indigenous populations in the Amazon successfully farmed without the use of fire before the arrival of Europeans, demonstrating a potentially sustainable approach to land management in a region that is increasingly vulnerable to man-made fires.
How a crippled rhino may save a species
(04/09/2012) On December 18th, 2011, a female Sumatran rhino took a sudden plunge. Falling into a manmade pit trap, the rhino may have feared momentarily that her end had come, but vegetation cushioned her fall and the men that found her were keen on saving her, not killing her. Little did she know that conservationists had monitored her since 2006, and for her trappers this moment had been the culmination of years of planning and hope. A few days later she was being airlifted by helicopter to a new home. Puntung, as she has become called, was about to enter a new chapter in her life, one that hopefully will bring about a happy ending for her species.
Researchers recreate bee collapse with pesticide-laced corn syrup
(04/05/2012) Scientists with the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have re-created the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder in several honeybee hives simply by giving them small doses of a popular pesticide, imidacloprid. Bee populations have been dying mysteriously throughout North America and Europe since 2006, but the cause behind the decline, known as Colony Collapse Disorder, has eluded scientists. However, coming on the heels of two studies published last week in Science that linked bee declines to neonicotinoid pesticides, of which imidacloprid is one, the new study adds more evidence that the major player behind Colony Collapse Disorder is not disease, or mites, but pesticides that began to be widely used in the 1990s.
Degraded lands hold promise in feeding 9 billion, while preserving forests
(03/29/2012) Making productive use of degraded lands and boosting productivity of small-holder farmers are key to meeting surging global consumption of agricultural products while preserving critical wildlife habitats, said an agricultural expert on the sidelines of the Skoll World Forum for Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford.
Smoking gun for bee collapse? popular pesticides
(03/29/2012) Commonly used pesticides may be a primary driver of the collapsing bee populations, finds two new studies in Science. The studies, one focused on honeybees and the other on bumblebees, found that even small doses of these pesticides, which target insect's central nervous system, impact bee behavior and, ultimately, their survival. The studies may have far-reaching repercussions for the regulation of agricultural chemicals, known as neonicotinoid insecticides, that have been in use since the 1990s.
Solitary male monkeys cause crop damage in Uganda
(03/19/2012) Solitary male red-tailed monkeys (Cercopithecus ascanius) cause significant damage to cocoa crops in Uganda, according to a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Society (TCS). Researchers examined crop raiding by social groups of red-tailed monkeys and lone males, only to discover that solitary males caused significantly more damage to cocoa crops than the average group member. The research may have implications for how to mitigate human-wildlife conflict in the area.
How tiny otters survive in agricultural India
(03/19/2012) In the fragmented rainforests of India, many animals must move through human-modified landscapes such as agricultural fields to survive. This includes the world's smallest otter species: the Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus). According to a new study published in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Society, the Asian small-clawed otter is widespread in streams flowing through tea and coffee estates of the Western Ghats, but requires improved protection.
Scientists say massive palm oil plantation will "cut the heart out" of Cameroon's rainforest
(03/15/2012) Eleven top scientists have slammed a proposed palm oil plantation in a Cameroonian rainforest surrounded by five protected areas. In an open letter, the researchers allege that Herakles Farm, which proposes the 70,000 hectare plantation in southwest Cameroon, has misled the government about the state of the forest to be cleared and has violated rules set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), of which it's a member. The scientists, many of whom are considered leaders in their field, argue that the plantation will destroy rich forests, imperil endangered species, and sow conflict with local people.
Surging demand for vegetable oil drives rainforest destruction
(03/14/2012) Surging demand for vegetable oil has emerged as an important driver of tropical deforestation over the past two decades and is threatening biodiversity, carbon stocks, and other ecosystem functions in some of the world's most critical forest areas, warns a report published last week by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). But the report sees some reason for optimism, including emerging leadership from some producers, rising demand for "greener" products from buyers, new government policies to monitor deforestation and shift cropland expansion to non-forest area, and partnerships between civil society and key private sector players to improve the sustainability of vegetable oil production.
Rally calls on Brazil President to veto new forest code
(03/07/2012) A coalition of 200 organizations, known as the Comitê Brasil in Defense of Forests and Sustainable Development, rallied today in Brasilia against proposed changes to Brazil's Forestry Code. The code, which was supposed to be voted on this week but has been delayed to shore up more support, would make changes in over 40-year-old code that some conservationists fear could lead to further deforestation in the Amazon. Protestors called on the President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, to veto the bill as it stands now, holding signs exclaiming, "Veta Dilma!" ("Veto it Dilma!").
Innovative program seeks to safeguard Peruvian Amazon from impacts of Inter-Oceanic Highway
(03/06/2012) Arbio was begun by Michel Saini and Tatiana Espinosa Q. in the Peruvian Amazon region of Madre de Dios. The project focuses on a protective response to the increased encroachment and destructive land use driven by development. The recent construction of the Inter-Oceanic Highway in the Madre de Dios area presents an enormous threat to forest biodiversity. Arbio provides opportunities to help establish a buffer zone near the road to limit intrusive agricultural and deforestation activities.
Tourism for biodiversity in Tambopata
(02/27/2012) Research and exploration in the Neotropics are extraordinary, life-changing experiences. In the past two decades, a new generation of collaborative projects has emerged throughout Central and South America to provide access to tropical biodiversity. Scientists, local naturalists, guides, students and travelers now have the chance to mingle and share knowledge. Fusion programs offering immersion in tropical biology, travel, ecological field work, and adventure often support local wilderness preservation, inspire and educate visitors.
NASA satellite image shows extent of logging in Pacific Northwest
(02/22/2012) New satellite and space radar images by NASA shows the decline of forests in the Pacific Northwest, specifically in Washington and Oregon. Lost to development, agriculture, and large-scale logging, the maps apart of the National Biomass and Carbon Dataset (NBCD) show the patchy, fragmented nature of the forests in the two U.S. states.
Earth First! activist Nathan Coe: radical cultural shifts required to stave off ecological collapse
(02/21/2012) Many ideals, actions, and movements considered as fringe or radical by the standards of mainstream culture have gained prominence as global biodiversity withers and the biogeochemical cycles of the entire Earth System are upset by human activities. As endangered species and ecosystems are increasingly threatened, direct confrontation between activists and the entities that drive environmental damage seems also to be increasing. At the same time, concern that present global governance and distribution systems are unable to provide security, clean water, affordable food and a stable future to most of society, is spurring some to move toward new models, including sustainable, autonomous communities and decentralized production. Mongabay recently had the opportunity to discuss some of these issues with activist and writer Nathan Coe.
Six nations, including U.S., set up climate initiative to target short-term greenhouse gases
(02/20/2012) With global negotiations to tackle carbon emissions progressing interminably, nations are seeking roundabout ways to combat global climate change. U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, announced in India last week a new six nation initiative to target non-carbon greenhouse gases, including soot (also known as "black carbon"), methane, and hydro-fluorocarbons (HFCs). Reductions of these emissions would not only impact short-term climate change, but also improve health and agriculture worldwide according to a recent study in Science.
Innovative conservation: wild silk, endangered species, and poverty in Madagascar
(02/20/2012) For anyone who works in conservation in Madagascar, confronting the complex difficulties of widespread poverty is a part of the job. But with the wealth of Madagascar's wildlife rapidly diminishing— such as lemurs, miniature chameleons, and hedgehog-looking tenrecs found no-where else in the world—the island-nation has become a testing ground for innovative conservation programs that focus on tackling entrenched poverty to save dwindling species and degraded places. The local NGO, the Madagascar Organization of Silk Workers or SEPALI, along with its U.S. partner Conservation through Poverty Alleviation (CPALI), is one such innovative program. In order to alleviate local pressure on the newly-established Makira Protected Area, SEPALI is aiding local farmers in artisanal silk production from endemic moths. The program uses Madagascar's famed wildlife to help create more economically stable communities.
More than 1 million acres of New Guinea forest cut from Indonesia's forest moratorium
(02/16/2012) More than 400,000 hectares of land — including 350,000 hectares of peatland — in Indonesian New Guinea lost their protected status during a November 2011 revision of Indonesia's moratorium on new forest concessions, reports a new analysis by Greenomics-Indonesia, a Jakarta-based NGO.
Humans drove rainforest into savannah in ancient Africa
(02/09/2012) Three thousand years ago (around 1000 BCE) several large sections of the Congo rainforest in central Africa suddenly vanished and became savannah. Scientists have long believed the loss of the forest was due to changes in the climate, however a new study in Science implicates an additional culprit: humans. The study argues that a migration of farmers into the region led to rapid land-use changes from agriculture and iron smelting, eventually causing the collapse of rainforest in places and a rise of grasslands. The study has implications for today as scientists warn that the potent combination of deforestation and climate change could flip parts of the Amazon rainforest as well into savannah.
Disease kills 6 million bats in North America
(01/18/2012) In just six years around six million bats have succumbed to white-nose syndrome in North America, according to U.S. federal researchers. The number, somewhere between 5.7 and 6.7 million bats, is far higher than past estimates of over a million. Showing up in 2006 in New York, the perplexing disease, which appears as white dust on bats' muzzles, wipes out populations while they hibernate.
Prehistoric Peruvians enjoyed popcorn
(01/18/2012) Researchers have uncovered corncobs dating back at least 3,000 years ago in two ancient mound sites in Peru according to a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The ancient corn remnants, which proved residents were eating both popped corn and corn flour, are the earliest ever discovered in South America and may go back as far as 4,700 BCE (6,700 years ago), over fifteen hundred years before the early Egyptians developed hieroglyphics and while woolly mammoths still roamed parts of the Earth.
Targeting methane, black carbon could buy world a little time on climate change
(01/12/2012) A new study in Science argues that reducing methane and black carbon emissions would bring global health, agriculture, and climate benefits. While such reductions would not replace the need to reduce CO2 emissions, they could have the result of lowering global temperature by 0.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 degree Fahrenheit) by mid-century, as well as having the added benefits of saving lives and boosting agricultural yields. In addition, the authors contend that dealing with black carbon and methane now would be inexpensive and politically feasible.
Industrial palm oil production expands at expense of rainforests in Peru
(01/10/2012) Intensive palm oil production is expanding at the expense of biolologically-rich lowland rainforests in the Peruvian Amazon, reports a study published in Environmental Research Letters. The research indicates that enthusiasm for oil palm — one of the world's most lucrative crops — is taking a toll on forests outside of Southeast Asia, where the vast majority of palm oil is produced.
Colonization program remains important driver of deforestation in Brazil
(01/10/2012) Government-subsidized colonization of the Amazon rainforest remains an important driver of forest loss in Brazil, but has mixed economic value, argues a paper published in Biological Conservation.
As Amazon deforestation falls, food production rises
(01/09/2012) A sharp drop in deforestation has been accompanied by an increase in food production in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, reports a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The research argues that policy interventions, combined with pressure from environmental groups, have encouraged agricultural expansion in already-deforested areas, rather than driving new forest clearing.
Eco-toilets help save hippos and birds in Kenya
(01/04/2012) It may appear unintuitive that special toilets could benefit hippos and other wetland species, but the Center for Rural Empowerment and the Environment (CREE) has proven the unique benefits of new toilets in the Dunga Wetlands on Lake Victoria's Kenyan side. By building ecologically-sanitary (eco-san) toilets, CREE has managed to alleviate some of the conflict that has cropped up between hippos and humans for space.
Will 'sustainable' palm oil sell in China?
(12/19/2011) Owing to the high yield of the African oil palm tree, palm oil is today the cheapest commercial source of edible oil. But oil palm expansion in recent decades has at times had high indirect costs, including destruction of biologically diverse rainforests and further marginalization of forest-dependent people, especially in southeast Asia. Concerns over the environmental and social impact of palm oil production in the spurred a group of palm oil producers, processors, and buyers to team up with conservation groups to form the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2004. But a big question looms over all certification efforts: will the world's largest importers of palm oil — India and China — buy it?
Biofuel aspirations spur 'land grabs' that hurt the poor, says report
(12/14/2011) More than 40 million hectares of land has been acquired in developing countries for biofuel production in the past decade, reports a new study published by the International Land Coalition.
The Atlas of Climate Change: Mapping the World’s Greatest Challenge – a book review
(12/12/2011) The Atlas of Climate Change: Mapping the World’s Greatest Challenge presents in clear and concise visual form the impacts and effects, solutions and mitigation actions surrounding climate change - which is our greatest global challenge.
Evidence mounts that Maya did themselves in through deforestation
(12/08/2011) Researchers have garnered further evidence for a smoking gun behind the fall of the great Maya civilization: deforestation. At the American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference, climatologist Ben Cook presented recent research showing how the destruction of rainforests by the Mayan ultimately led to declines in precipitation and possibly civilization-rocking droughts. While the idea that the Maya may have committed ecological-suicide through deforestation has been widely discussed, including in Jared Diamond's popular book Collapse, Cook's findings add greater weight to the theory.
Agriculture group to spend 10 years on forest research
(12/07/2011) Recognizing the global importance of the world's vanishing forests, a 10-year-long research program will focus on the interconnection between agriculture and forests. Conducted by CGIAR, a global agriculture group concerned with sustainability, the research program will look at ways to decrease forest loss and degradation.
Brazil passes controversial Forest Code reform environmentalists say will be 'a disaster' for the Amazon
(12/06/2011) The Brazilian Senate tonight passed controversial legislation that will reform the country's 46-year-old Forest Code, which limits how much forest can be cleared on private lands. Environmentalists are calling the move "a disaster" that will reverse Brazil's recent progress in slowing deforestation in the world's largest rainforests.
Feeding the world's population and saving forests aren't mutually exclusive
(12/06/2011) The world can simultaneously improve food security and save tropical forests by better optimizing land use, factoring in the true costs of biofuels, boosting yields on existing farmland, encouraging production away from forest frontiers, and supporting efforts to develop more sustainable community roundtables, concludes a new report released Monday by the National Wildlife Federation.
Carbon debt for some biofuels lasts centuries
(11/30/2011) It has long been known that biofuels release greenhouse gas emissions through land conversion like deforestation. But an innovative new study by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) published in Ecology and Society has computed how long it would take popular biofuel crops to payoff the "carbon debt" of land conversion. While there is no easy answer—it depends on the type of land converted and the productivity of the crop—the study did find that in general soy had the shortest carbon debt, though still decades-long, while palm oil grown on peatland had the longest on average.
Dole abandons banana plantation in National Park
(11/21/2011) After a threat of lawsuit, Dole Inc. has abandoned a banana plantation in Somawathiya National Park in Sri Lanka. The US-based food giant had partnered with a local company, Letsgrow Ltd, to grow bananas for export markets at the bank of the Mahaweli River, but Dole ran into trouble when local conservation organizations pointed out they were illegally destroying forest and planting crops in Somawathiya National Park, home to elephants and many other imperiled species. Local group, Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL), obtained past and current satellite images to prove that the company was operation within the park.
Palm oil biofuel from peatlands has big climate impact, finds study
(11/08/2011) Biofuels produced from oil palm plantations established on tropical peatlands are a substantial source of greenhouse gas emissions, reports a comprehensive new assessment conducted for the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).
African cattle benefit from socializing with wild grazers during the wet season
(11/08/2011) Mingling with wild grazers, such as zebra, is better for cattle than dining alone—during the wet season, at least—according to researchers in Kenya. Their new study crumbles the longstanding assumption that social grazing always leads to food fights. Kenya’s wildlife population is in a critical decline, partly due to kill-offs by ranchers who see zebra, wildebeest, antelope and other grazers strictly as competition for their cattle. But scientists at the Mpala Research Center in central Kenya suspected there might be natural accords between grazers.
McDonald's joins sustainable palm oil initiative
(10/20/2011) McDonald's Corp. has officially joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a body that sets criteria for improving the social and environmental performance of palm oil production.
World's largest beef company breaks commitment on avoiding Amazon deforestation
(10/19/2011) In a campaign launched in Italy on Wednesday, Greenpeace accused Brazilian beef giant JBS-Friboi of breaking its commitment to exclude cattle connected with illegal deforestation and slave labor from its supply chain.
Brazil plans $120 billion in infrastructure investments in the Amazon by 2020
(10/19/2011) Brazil's push to expand infrastructure in the Amazon region will require at least 212 Brazilian reals ($120 billion) in public and private sector investment by 2020, reports Folha de Sao Paulo.
Fertilizer trees boost yields in Africa
(10/16/2011) Fertilizer trees—which fix nitrogen in the soil—have improved crops yields in five African countries, according to a new study in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability. In some cases yields have doubled with the simple addition of nitrogen-soaking trees. The research found that fertilizer trees could play a role in alleviating hunger on the continent while improving environmental conditions.
Soy moratorium in Amazon maintaining its effectiveness
(10/14/2011) The moratorium on clearing Amazon rainforest for soy farms in Brazil appears to be maintaining its effectiveness for a fifth straight year, reports the Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries (ABIOVE).
Five ways to feed billions without trashing the planet
(10/13/2011) At the end of this month the UN predicts global population will hit 7 billion people, having doubled from 3.5 billion in less than 50 years. Yet even as the Earth hits this new milestone, one billion people do not have enough food; meanwhile the rapid expansion of agriculture is one of the leading causes of global environmental degradation, including greenhouse gas emissions, destruction of forests, marine pollution, mass extinction, water scarcity, and soil degradation. So, how do we feed the human population—which continues to rise and is expected to hit nine billion by 2050—while preserving the multitude of ecosystem services that support global food production? A new study in Nature proposes a five-point plan to this dilemma.
Meat consumption jumps 20 percent in last decade with super-sized environmental impacts
(10/11/2011) Meat consumption and production remains on the rise, according to a new report Worldwatch Institute, with large-scale environmental impacts especially linked to the spread of factory farming. According to the report, global meat production has tripled since 1970, and jumped by 20 percent since 2000 with consumption rising significantly faster than global population.
After protracted campaign, Girl Scouts pledges to cut out some palm oil
(10/02/2011) Girl Scouts USA has announced that it will lessen palm oil in its ubiquitous cookies by using alternatives when possible and cutting overall usage. The organization also committed to purchasing GreenPalm certificates for all of its palm oil in order to financially support more environmentally sustainable palm oil, even if the palm oil in the cookies is not.
Dole responds to allegations it is illegally growing bananas in national park
(10/02/2011) Dole Food Company has responded to allegations that it is clearing land in a national park in Sri Lanka known for its population of elephants as well as a number of threatened species. According to reports, the US-based food giant has partnered with a local company, Letsgrow Ltd, to grow bananas for export markets in Somawathiya National Park.
Expanding ethanol threatens last remnants of Atlantic Forest
(09/26/2011) Aggressively expanding sugarcane ethanol is putting Brazil's nearly-vanished Atlantic Forest at risk, according to an opinion piece in mongabay.com's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science. Already down to less than 12 percent of its original extent, the Atlantic Forest—home to over 7,000 species that survive no-where else—is facing a new peril from ethanol, used as an alternative to gasoline and often touted as 'green' or 'environmentally-sustainable'.
Primary forest best for birds in Papua New Guinea
(09/26/2011) A new survey recorded 125 birds in Papua New Guinea's Waria Valley, of which an astounding 43 percent were endemic to the island. The survey, published in mongabay.com's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science, was the first of its kind for the rainforest-studded valley and found that bird populations were most diverse and abundant in primary forests. The bird surveys were carried out in four different habitats including primary forest, primary forest edges, secondary forest edges, and agricultural landscape.
Europe should lift duty on RSPO-certified palm oil to encourage use, says Dutch group
(09/21/2011) To encourage uptake of palm oil that is less damaging to the environment, the European Union (EU) should lift the import duty on palm oil certified under Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), said a Dutch industry group.
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