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News articles on agriculture
Mongabay.com news articles on agriculture in blog format. Updated regularly.
(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.
Converting rainforest to cropland in Africa reduces rainfall
(09/19/2011) Converting West African rainforests into cropland reduces rainforest in adjacent forest areas, reports research published in Geophysical Research Letters.
Palm oil, poverty, and conservation collide in Cameroon
(09/13/2011) Industrial palm oil production is coming to Africa, its ancestral home. And like other places where expansion has occurred rapidly, the crop is spurring hope for economic development while generating controversy over its potential impacts. The world's most productive oil seed has been a boon to southeast Asian economies, but the looming arrival of industrial plantations in Africa is raising fears that some of the same detriments that have plagued leading producers Malaysia and Indonesia—deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, conflicts with local people, social displacement, and poor working conditions—could befall one of the world’s most destitute regions. While there is no question that oil palm is a highly lucrative crop that can contribute to economic development, there is also little doubt that conversion of native forests for plantations exacts a heavy toll on the environment. The apparent conflict seems to pit agroindustrial goliaths against greens, with communities falling somewhere in between. But Herakles, a New York-based investment firm planning to construct a 60,000-hectare plantation in the Central African country of Cameroon, says its approach will bridge this gap between economic development and the environment. Social and environmental campaigners are skeptical.
Organic farming can be more profitable in the long-term than conventional agriculture
(09/01/2011) Organic farming is more profitable and economically secure than conventional farming even over the long-term, according to a new study in Agronomy Journal. Using experimental farm plots, researchers with the University of Minnesota found that organic beat conventional even if organic price premiums (i.e. customers willing to pay more for organic) were to drop as much as 50 percent.
Controversial study finds intensive farming partnered with strict protected areas is best for biodiversity
(09/01/2011) Given that we have very likely entered an age of mass extinction—and human population continues to rise (not unrelated)—researchers are scrambling to determine the best methods to save the world's suffering species. In the midst of this debate, a new study in Science, which is bound to have detractors, has found that setting aside land for strict protection coupled with intensive farming is the best way to both preserve species and feed a growing human world. However, other researchers say the study is missing the point, both on global hunger and biodiversity.
Innovative program saves wildlife, protects forests, and fights poverty in Africa
(08/23/2011) Luangwa Valley in Zambia is home to stunning scenes of Africa wildlife: elephants, antelopes, zebra, buffalo, leopards, hyena, and lions all thrive in Luangwa's protected areas, while the Luangwa River is known for multitude of snapping crocodiles and its superabundant herds of hippos. In fact, the area's hippos were filmed for the BBC's program Life, including a dramatic battle between two males (see below). Yet as in many such places in Africa, abundant plains and forest wildlife bump up against the needs of impoverished local people. The resulting conflict usually ends in large-scale wildlife declines; the same trend was documented in the Luangwa Valley until a unique initiative began to make a difference not only in the life of animals, but of people as well.
Australia passes national carbon trading scheme for agriculture, forestry
(08/22/2011) Australia's parliament passed the world's first national carbon trading scheme for credits generated from farming and forestry, reports Reuters.
Uganda resurrects plan to hand over protected forest to sugar company
(08/22/2011) An environmental issue in Uganda that left three people dead four years ago has reared its head again. The Ugandan government has resurrected plans to give a quarter of the Mabira Forest Reserve to a sugar cane corporation after dropping the idea in 2007 following large-scale protests, including one that left many activists injured and three dead. A pet project of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni the plan would degazette 7,100 hectares of the 30,000 hectare Mabira Forest Reserve for a sugarcane plantation to be run by the Indian-owned company, Mehta Group. However the plan is being heavily attacked by critics.
Balancing agriculture and rainforest biodiversity in India’s Western Ghats
(08/08/2011) When one thinks of the world's great rainforests the Amazon, Congo, and the tropical forests of Southeast Asia and Indonesia usually come to mind. Rarely does India—home to over a billion people—make an appearance. But along India’s west coast lies one of the world's great tropical forests and biodiversity hotspots, the Western Ghats. However it's not just the explosion of life one finds in the Western Ghats that make it notable, it's also the forest's long—and ongoing—relationship to humans, lots of humans. Unlike many of the world's other great rainforests, the Western Ghats has long been a region of agriculture. This is one place in the world where elephants walk through tea fields and tigers migrate across betel nut plantations. While wildlife has survived alongside humans for centuries in the region, continuing development, population growth and intensification of agriculture are putting increased pressure on this always-precarious relationship. In a recent paper in Biological Conservation, four researchers examine how well agricultural landscapes support biodiversity conservation in one of India's most species-rich landscapes.
Chart: US suffers record drought
(08/01/2011) An exceptional drought is still scorching major parts of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. A new report from the National Drought Mitigation Center finds that over July, nearly 12 percent of the US saw exceptional drought conditions, the highest record since monitoring began a dozen years. Exceptional drought is the worst possible on a 5-scale drought scale.
Beetles: nature's herbicide
(08/01/2011) New research in the Journal of Applied Ecology shows that ground beetles help farmers in the UK by devouring weed seeds before they can sprout. The researchers say the study finds another proof of how biodiversity—the multitude of species on Earth—provides 'free' ecosystem services for people.
How fruit defines Borneo
(08/01/2011) Among conservationists and biologists, the mega-island of Borneo is a sort of Mecca. Its rich plant and animal biodiversity, as well as high degree of endemism (unique species found nowhere else) make it a naturalist's dream. There is one aspect of this biological richness which applies to the wellbeing and happiness of all of Borneo’s residents, human and animal, in a very direct way: fruit. From wild forest berries to juicy cultivated rambutans, fruit permeates the ecology, landscape and culture of Borneo. On the island there are over 70 wild fruit trees species and around 45 cultivated species that are consumed by people (1). Science has certainly not yet documented all the fruit consumed by wildlife, but we know that the total must be over 500 species.
Despite moratorium, soy still contributes indirectly to Amazon deforestation
(07/15/2011) Soy expansion in areas neighboring the Amazon rainforest is contributing to loss of rainforest itself, reports a new study published in Environmental Research Letters.
Brazilian senator: Forest Code reform necessary to grow farm sector
(07/06/2011) Over the past twenty years Brazil has emerged as an agricultural superpower: today it is the largest exporter beef, sugar, coffee, and orange juice, and the second largest producer of soybeans. While much of this growth has been fueled by a sharp increase in productivity resulting from improved breeding stock and technological innovation, Brazil has benefited from large expanses of available land in the Amazon and the cerrado, a grassland ecosystem. But agricultural growth in Brazil has always been limited — at least on paper — by its environmental laws. Under the country's Forest Code, landowners in the Amazon must keep 80 percent of their land forested.
Indonesian sugar producers seek 500,000 ha of land exempted from moratorium
(06/23/2011) Indonesia's sugar association is seeking 500,000 hectares of land for new sugar cane plantations in a bid to make the country self-sufficient in sugar production, reports Tempo Interactive.
Tropical forests more effective than temperate forests in fighting climate change
(06/20/2011) Preserving forest cover and reforesting cleared areas in the tropics will more effectively reduce temperatures than planting trees across temperate croplands, argues a new paper published in Nature Geoscience.
How do we save Africa's forests?
(06/19/2011) Africa's forests are fast diminishing to the detriment of climate, biodiversity, and millions of people of dependent on forest resources for their well-being. But is the full conservation of Africa's forests necessary to mitigate global climate change and ensure environmental stability in Africa? A new report by The Forest Philanthropy Action Network (FPAN), a non-profit that provides research-based advice on funding forest conservation, argues that only the full conservation of African forests will successfully protect carbon stocks in Africa.
Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon continues to rise; clearing highest near Belo Monte dam site
(06/17/2011) Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon continued to rise as Brazil's Congress weighed a bill that would weaken the country's Forest Code, according to new analysis by Imazon.
Record dead zone projected due to Midwest floods
(06/16/2011) Flooding in the Midwest is likely to cause the largest-ever dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, reports the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Could palm oil help save the Amazon?
(06/14/2011) For years now, environmentalists have become accustomed to associating palm oil with large-scale destruction of rainforests across Malaysia and Indonesia. Campaigners have linked palm oil-containing products like Girl Scout cookies and soap products to smoldering peatlands and dead orangutans. Now with Brazil announcing plans to dramatically scale-up palm oil production in the Amazon, could the same fate befall Earth's largest rainforest? With this potential there is a frenzy of activity in the Brazilian palm oil sector. Yet there is a conspicuous lack of hand wringing by environmentalists in the Amazon. The reason: done right, oil palm could emerge as a key component in the effort to save the Amazon rainforest. Responsible production there could even force changes in other parts of the world.
Profit, not poverty, increasingly the cause of deforestation
(06/13/2011) A new report highlights the increasing role commodity production and trade play in driving tropical deforestation.
Majority of Brazilians reject changes in Amazon Forest Code
(06/11/2011) The vast majority of Brazilians reject a bill that would weaken Brazil's Forest Code, according to a new poll commissioned by green groups.
Rash of murders threatens to silence environmental and social activism in Brazil
(06/10/2011) Authorities in Brazil have sent an elite police force consisting of 60 officers to offer protection to environmental activists in the Amazon after a series of killings, reports the Associated Press. The move comes 10 days after Brazil’s Vice President Michel Temer announced the creation of a working group on Amazon violence following the assassinations of three activists in the region in late May. The Brazilian Amazon is no stranger to systemic violence against environmental activists, yet the response from the federal government in the past two weeks is the most significant to date.
Can Brazil meet deforestation, climate goals and still grow its cattle industry?
(06/09/2011) Despite environmentalists' efforts to combat "rainforest beef" in the 1980s, pasture expansion for cattle is still the primary cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, says a new report produced by Brighter Green. While Brazil's investments in agribusiness have made it an agricultural powerhouse—the country is now the world’s third-largest exporter of farm commodities after the US and the European Union—unfortunately, two of the Brazil’s key products, cattle and soy, are still driving deforestation as well as economic growth. According to Brighter Green’s report, researchers estimate that cattle ranching caused 65-70 percent of land clearing in the Amazon between 2000 and 2005.
Dutch buy first 'responsible' soy sourced from the Amazon
(06/08/2011) The Dutch food and feed industry has bought the first soy produced under the principles of the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS), a body that aims to bring more socially and environmentally sustainable soy to market.
Food security in developing world threatened by climate change
(06/06/2011) If swift action is not taken to prepare farmers in the developing world for hotter, drier, shorter growing seasons, climate change may threaten the lives of hundreds of millions of people by 2050. People in Africa and South Asia are particularly at risk of further impoverishment and hunger in a warmer world. According to the UN, a billion people are already going hungry worldwide.
REDD should fund efficient stoves, crop yield increases, says study
(05/31/2011) Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) must incorporate the implementation cost of programs to meet resource demands of local people in order to be successful, argues a new study published in Nature Climate Change.
Assassinations of environmentalists continue in Brazil's Amazon, deforestation rises
(05/28/2011) A community leader in the Brazilian Amazon was slain Friday just three days after two environmentalists were killed in a neighboring state, reports Reuters. Adelino "Dinho" Ramos, the president of the Movimento Camponeses Corumbiara e da Associação dos Camponeses do Amazonas, a small farmers association, was gunned down front of his family Friday morning in Rondônia. Brazil's Special Secretariat for Human Rights, an office of the president, said it was unclear who killed Ramos, who had received death threats from loggers.
Restoring forests: an opportunity for Africa
(05/26/2011) Tropical forest news last week was dominated by Indonesia and Brazil. Forest clearing has surged over the past year in parts of the Amazon, the Brazilian Government reported. Meanwhile, Indonesia’s President signed a moratorium on cutting some intact forest areas, as part of a landmark billion-dollar deal with international donors. But new research shows that Africa offers some of the greatest opportunities globally for restoring forests.
Amnesty for illegal rainforest loggers moves forward in Brazil
(05/25/2011) A controversial bill environmentalists say could increase deforestation in the Amazon rainforest moved a step forward to becoming law in Brazil after winning approval in Brazil's lower house of Congress. The measure, which has been hotly debated for months, next goes to the Senate where it is expected to pass, before heading to President Dilma Rousseff, who has vowed to veto any bill that grants amnesty for illegal deforestation. The bill includes such a measure, although it could be subject to change before a final decision by the president. The bill aims to reform Brazil's Forest Code, which requires landowners in the Amazon rainforest to maintain 80 percent of their holdings as forest.
Brazil’s new cabinet-level post in response to surge in deforestation
(05/21/2011) Prompted by a near sixfold increase in Amazon rainforest clearing over the past year, the Brazilian government will form a cabinet post to monitor and respond to deforestation.
Brazil confirms big jump in Amazon deforestation
(05/18/2011) New data from the Brazilian government seems to confirm environmentalists' fears that farmers and ranchers are clearing rainforest in anticipation of a weakening of the country's rules governing forest protection. Wednesday, Brazil's National Space Research Agency (INPE) announced a sharp rise in deforestation in March and April relative to the same period last year. INPE's rapid deforestation detection system (DETER) recorded 593 square kilometers of forest clearing during the past two months, a 473 percent increase over the 103.5 sq km chopped down from March-April 2010.
Cambodia's wildlife pioneer: saving species and places in Southeast Asia's last forest
(05/11/2011) Suwanna Gauntlett has dedicated her life to protecting rainforests and wildlife in some of the world’s most hostile and rugged environments and has set the trend of a new generation of direct action conservationists. She has designed, implemented, and supported bold, front-line conservation programs to save endangered wildlife populations from the brink of extinction, including saving the Amur Tiger (also known as the Siberian Tiger) from extinction in the 1990s in the Russian Far East, when only about 80 individuals remained and reversing the drastic decline of Olive Ridley sea turtles along the coast of Orissa, India in the 1990s, when annual nestings had declined from 600,000 to a mere 8,130. When she first arrived in Cambodia in the late 1990s, its forests were silent. 'You couldn’t hear any birds, you couldn’t hear any wildlife and you could hardly see any signs of wildlife because of the destruction,' Gauntlett said. Wildlife was being sold everywhere, in restaurants, on the street, and even her local beauty parlor had a bear.
Distressed Place and Faded Grace in North Sulawesi
(05/10/2011) The Nantu Wildlife Reserve is located in northern Sulawesi’s Minehasa Peninsula, in Gorontalo Province. Sulawesi is among the largest of Indonesia’s some seventeen thousand islands. Its shape is bizarre: a sinuous sprawling monkey, with lavish tail, poised to leap the straits of Makassar. Sulawesi lies to the north of Bali and Lombok and to the east of Borneo. Alfred Russell Wallace, the nineteenth century English explorer and natural scientist of broad expertise, spent a lot of time in Sulawesi’s northern peninsula, casting his curiosity and observation with such singular acuity that his mind apprehended “Darwin’s theory of evolution” independently from and possibly before Darwin. His work described the zone of transition between the Asian and Australian zoographic regions and was so accurate and thorough in its logic that today, some one-hundred and fifty years later, the zone is named Wallacea.
Brazil's forest code debate may determine fate of the Amazon rainforest
(05/05/2011) Brazil's forest code may be about to get an overhaul. The federal code, which presently requires landowners in the Amazon to keep 80 percent of their land forest (20-35% in the cerrado), is widely flouted, but has been used in recent years as a lever by the government to go after deforesters. For example, the forest code served as the basis for the "blacklists" which restricted funds for municipalities where deforestation has been particularly high. To get off the blacklist, and thereby regain access to finance and markets, a municipality must demonstrate its landowners are in compliance with environmental laws.
NASA image reveals extent of deforestation in western Brazil
(05/04/2011) The Brazilian state of Rondônia has undergone tremendous change over the past decade as revealed by the NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra satellite. A hotspot for recent deforestation, Rondônia was once home to over 50 million acres (208,000 square kilometers of forest). By 2003 nearly a third of the rainforest in the state was gone and deforestation continues although at a slower pace. The state has the dubious honor of undergoing the highest percentage of forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon.
Save the Frogs Day focuses on banning Atrazine in US
(04/26/2011) This year's Save the Frogs Day (Friday, April 29th) is focusing on a campaign to ban the herbicide Atrazine in the US with a rally at the steps of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Kerry Kriger, executive director of frog-focused NGO Save the Frogs! and creator of Save the Frogs Day, says that Atrazine is an important target in the attempt to save amphibians worldwide, which are currently facing extinction rates that are estimated at 200 times the average. "Atrazine weakens amphibians' immune systems, and can cause hermaphroditism and complete sex reversal in male frogs at concentrations as low as 2.5 parts per billion," Kriger told mongabay.com.
Palm oil lobby attacks World Bank's new social and environmental safeguards
(04/18/2011) Groups funded by the palm oil industry lashed out at the World Bank's new framework to resume lending to the palm oil sector.
Sugar cane cools climate when it replaces cattle pasture
(04/17/2011) Converting cattle pasture and cropland in Brazil to sugar cane helps cool local climate reports research published in Nature Climate Change.
Brazilian authorities levy $1.2B in fines against beef traders linked to deforestation, slave labor
(04/15/2011) Brazilian authorities are seeking 2 billion reals ($1.2 billion) in fines against 14 companies accused of buying beef sourced from ranches that have illegally cleared Amazon rainforest or exploited workers in the state of Acre, reports AFP.
Study calls for REDD+ money to boost yields in West Africa using agrochemicals
(04/10/2011) Small-scale agriculture including cocoa, cassava, and oil palm farming has driven large-scale conversion West Africa tropical forests, reports new research published in the journal Environmental Management.
The value of the little guy, an interview with Tyler Prize-winning entomologist May Berenbaum
(04/06/2011) May Berenbaum knows a thing or two about insects: in recognition of her lifelong work on the interactions between insects and plants, she has had a character on The X-Files named after her, received the Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award for her work in making science accessible to the public, and this year has been awarded the prestigious Tyler Environmental Prize. "Winning the Tyler Prize is an incredible honor—most of my scientific heroes have been Tyler Prize winners and I’m exceedingly grateful to be considered worthy of being included among their ranks," Berenbaum told mongabay.com in an interview. "The Prize is also tremendously enabling—because the money is unrestricted I can use it to carry out projects that have been difficult to fund."
Vanishing mangroves are carbon sequestration powerhouses
(04/05/2011) Mangroves may be the world's most carbon rich forests, according to a new study in Nature Geoscience. Measuring the carbon stored in 25 mangrove forests in the Indo-Pacific region, researchers found that mangroves forests stored up to four times as much carbon as other tropical forests, including rainforests. "Mangroves have long been known as extremely productive ecosystems that cycle carbon quickly, but until now there had been no estimate of how much carbon resides in these systems. That's essential information because when land-use change occurs, much of that standing carbon stock can be released to the atmosphere," explains co-author Daniel Donato, a postdoctoral research ecologist at the Pacific Southwest Research Station in Hilo, Hawaii.
World Bank to resume lending to palm oil sector after 18-month moratorium
(04/03/2011) After a two-year moratorium triggered by complaints over social conflict between local communities and palm oil companies, the World Bank has announced the adoption of a framework to restart lending to the palm oil sector. The framework was developed after months of consultations with stakeholders, including the private sector, NGOs, farmers, indigenous communities, development experts, and governments.
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