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News articles on agriculture
Mongabay.com news articles on agriculture in blog format. Updated regularly.
(08/16/2010) Biochar—the agricultural application of charcoal produced from burning biomass—may be one of this century's most important social and environmental revolutions. This seemingly humble practice—a technology that goes back thousands of years—has the potential to help mitigate a number of entrenched global problems: desperate hunger, lack of soil fertility in the tropics, rainforest destruction due to slash-and-burn agriculture, and even climate change. "Biochar is a recalcitrant form of carbon that will stay almost entirely unaltered in soils for very long periods of time. So you can sequester carbon in a simple, durable and safe way by putting the char in the soil. Other types of carbon in soils rapidly turn into carbon dioxide. Char doesn't," managing director of the Biochar Fund, Laurens Rademakers, told mongabay.com in a recent interview.
APP refutes Greenpeace charges on deforestation, though audit remains absent
(08/12/2010) Asia Pulp & Paper, which has long been a target of green groups for deforestation and threatening imperiled species, is touting a new audit the pulping company says finds allegations made by environmental NGOs, including Greenpeace and WWF, are "baseless, inaccurate, and without validity". Conducted by the international accounting and auditing firm Mazars, the audit itself has not been released; however Mazars has signed off on the validity of a 24 page document entitled "Getting the Facts Down on Paper".
Stunning monkey discovered in the Colombian Amazon
(08/11/2010) While the Amazon is being whittled away on all sides by logging, agriculture, roads, cattle ranching, mining, oil and gas exploration, today's announcement of a new monkey species proves that the world's greatest tropical rainforest still has many surprises to reveal. Scientists with the National University of Colombia and support from Conservation International (CI) have announced the discovery of a new monkey in the journal Primate Conservation on the Colombian border with Peru and Ecuador. The new species is a titi monkey, dubbed the Caquetá titi ( Callicebus caquetensis). However, the announcement comes with deep concern as researchers say it is likely the new species is already Critically Endangered due to a small population living in an area undergoing rapid deforestation for agriculture.
Nation's wealth does not guarantee green practices
(08/11/2010) Developing countries are not the only ones that could benefit from a little environmental support. Wealthier countries may need to 'know themselves' and address these issues at home too. According to a recent study in the open access journal PLoS ONE, wealth may be the most important factor determining a country’s environmental impact. The team had originally planned to study "country-level environmental performance and human health issues," lead author Corey Bradshaw, Director of Ecological Modeling and professor at the University of Adelaide, told mongabay.com. Once they began looking at the available indexes, however, they saw the need for a purely environmental analysis.
Longtime target of green groups, Cargill, to supply sustainably-certified palm oil to Unilever
(07/30/2010) Agriculture giant Cargill has announced an agreement to supply Unilever with 10,000 metric tons of palm oil sustainably-certified from the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Cargill has often come under fire from green groups for being linked to the rainforest destruction. The Dutch-English company Unilever—the world's biggest buyer of palm oil—has been trying to move its palm oil sources away from deforestation with a goal of sourcing only 'sustainable' palm oil by 2015.
Ethiopian government says it has tripled forest cover in a decade
(07/21/2010) Known abroad for past images of drought and starvation, the African nation of Ethiopia has announced that it has tripled forest cover from 3 percent in 2000 to 9 percent today, according to the AFP.
A fifth of the world's mangroves gone in 30 years
(07/18/2010) A new report by the United Nation Environment Program (UNEP) and the Nature Conservancy has found that mangrove forests are being lost at staggering rates worldwide: since 1980 one fifth of the world's mangroves have been felled.
Controversial changes to Brazilian forest law passes first barrier
(07/08/2010) An amendment to undermine protections in Brazil's 1965 forestry code has passed it first legislative barrier, reports the World Wide Fund for Nature-Brasil (WWF). Yesterday the amendment passed a special vote in the Congress's Special Committee on Forest Law Changes.
Amazon and Atlantic Forest under threat: politicians press to dilute Brazil's forestry law
(07/01/2010) A group of Brazilian legislatures, known as the 'ruralistas', are working to change important aspects of the Brazil's landmark 1965 forestry code, undermining forest protection in the Amazon and the Mata Atlantica (also known as the Atlantic Forest) and perhaps heralding a new era of booming deforestation. The ruralistas, linked to big agribusiness and landowners, are taking aim at the part of the forestry code that requires landowners in the Amazon to retain 80 percent of their land area as legal reserves, arguing that the law threatens agricultural development.
Greener palm oil arrives in the United States
(06/29/2010) The first shipment of palm oil certified under sustainability criteria have arrived in the United States, according to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
How do Asian elephants survive in fragmented and unprotected landscapes?
(06/28/2010) A new study in Tropical Conservation Science has found that Asian elephants living in a combination of fragmented forests and agricultural landscapes still depend on natural landscapes—rivers and forests—for survival. Following two herds of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in the Valparai plateau among the Anamalai Hills of India for three years, researchers found that the elephants spent much of their time, relative to their availability, near rivers and amid forest fragments. When they entered agricultural landscapes they preferred Eucalyptus and coffee to tea.
Ending deforestation could boost Brazilian agriculture
(06/26/2010) Ending Amazon deforestation could boost the fortunes of the Brazilian agricultural sector by $145-306 billion, estimates a new analysis issued by Avoided Deforestation Partners, a group pushing for U.S. climate legislation that includes a strong role for forest conservation. The analysis, which follows on the heels of a report that forecast large gains for U.S. farmers from progress in gradually stopping overseas deforestation by 2030, estimates that existing Brazilian farmers could see around $100 billion from higher commodity prices and improved access to markets. Meanwhile landholders in the Brazilian Amazon—including ranchers and farmers—could see $50-202 billion from carbon payments for forest protection.
U.S. farms and forests report draws ire in Brazil; cutting down the Amazon does not mean lower food prices
(06/24/2010) Not surprisingly, a US report released last week which argued that saving forests abroad will help US agricultural producers by reducing international competition has raised hackles in tropical forest counties. The report, commissioned by Avoided Deforestation Partners, a US group pushing for including tropical forest conservation in US climate policy, and the National Farmers Union, a lobbying firm, has threatened to erode support for stopping deforestation in places like Brazil. However, two rebuttals have been issued, one from international environmental organizations and the other from Brazilian NGOs, that counter findings in the US report and urge unity in stopping deforestation, not for the economic betterment of US producers, but for everyone.
Saving tropical forests helps protects U.S. agriculture, argues campaign
(06/18/2010) Reducing deforestation abroad helps protect the U.S. agricultural sector by ensuring higher prices for commodities and reducing the cost of compliance with expected climate regulations, argues a new report issued by Avoided Deforestation Partners, a group pushing for the inclusion of tropical forests in domestic climate policy, and the National Farmers Union, a farming lobby group.
UN warns food prices could rise by 40 percent
(06/17/2010) Some staple food prices could rise by as much as 40 percent in the next decade, according to a new report by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Indonesia's plan to save its rainforests
(06/14/2010) Late last year Indonesia made global headlines with a bold pledge to reduce deforestation, which claimed nearly 28 million hectares (108,000 square miles) of forest between 1990 and 2005 and is the source of about 80 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Indonesia would voluntarily cut emissions 26 percent — and up to 41 percent with sufficient international support — from a projected baseline by 2020. Last month, Indonesia began to finally detail its plan, which includes a two-year moratorium on new forestry concession on rainforest lands and peat swamps and will be supported over the next five years by a one billion dollar contribution by Norway, under the Scandinavian nation's International Climate and Forests Initiative. In an interview with mongabay.com, Agus Purnomo and Yani Saloh of Indonesia's National Climate Change Council to the President discussed the new forest program and Norway's billion dollar commitment.
Inga alley cropping: a sustainable alternative to slash and burn agriculture
(06/14/2010) It has been estimated that as many as 300 million farmers in tropical countries may take part in slash and burn agriculture. A practice that is environmentally destructive and ultimately unstable. However, research funded by the EEC and carried out in Costa Rica in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Mike Hands offers hope that it is possible to farm more successfully and sustainably in these tropical regions.
Peatlands restoration wins support in effort to reduce carbon emissions
(06/10/2010) The body charged with establishing a framework for a global climate treaty will account for emissions from peatlands degradation, a source of roughly 6 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The decision by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lays the groundwork for new measures to protect and restore wetlands, says Wetlands International.
NASA, Google Earth catch North Korea logging protected area
(05/18/2010) Employing satellite data from NASA and Google Earth, Guofan Shao, a professor of geo-eco-informatics at Purdue University, has established that North Korea is logging Mount Paekdu Biosphere Reserve. Since North Korea is off-limits to most researchers, Shao has turned to open-access satellite data to monitor deforestation on the UN designated Man and Biosphere region.
Brazil launches major push for sustainable palm oil in the Amazon
(05/07/2010) Brazilian President Lula da Silva on Thursday laid out plans to expand palm oil production in the Amazon while minimizing risk to Earth's largest rainforest. The plan, called the Program for Sustainable Production of Palm Oil (O Programa de Produção Sustentável de Óleo de Palma), will provide $60 million to promote cultivation of oil palm in abandoned and degraded agricultural areas, including long-ago deforested lands used for sugar cane and pasture. Brazilian officials claim up to 50 million hectares of such land exist in the country.
Activists lock themselves in Cargill headquarters as new report alleges illegal deforestation
(05/05/2010) Following a damning report from the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) alleging illegal clearing of rainforest in Indonesia by agriculture-giant Cargill, activists have infiltrated Cargill headquarters in Wayzata, Minnesota and refuse to come out until the CEO agrees to meet with them. According to local reports, five activists are locked inside a staircase, while others are protesting outside the building.
How an agricultural revolution could save the world's biodiversity, an interview with Ivette Perfecto
(05/04/2010) Most people who are trying to change the world stick to one area, for example they might either work to preserve biodiversity in rainforests or do social justice with poor farmers. But Dr. Ivette Perfecto was never satisfied with having to choose between helping people or preserving nature. Professor of Ecology and Natural Resources at the University of Michigan and co-author of the recent book Nature’s Matrix: The Link between Agriculture, Conservation and Food Sovereignty, Perfecto has, as she says, "combined her passions" to understand how agriculture can benefit both farmers and biodiversity—if done right.
Can markets protect nature?
(05/03/2010) Over the past 30 years billions of dollars has been committed to global conservation efforts, yet forests continue to fall, largely a consequence of economic drivers, including surging global demand for food and fuel. With consumption expected to far outstrip population growth due to rising affluence in developing countries, there would seem to be little hope of slowing tropical forest loss. But some observers see new reason for optimism—chiefly a new push to make forests more valuable as living entities than chopped down for the production of timber, animal feed, biofuels, and meat. While are innumerable reasons for protecting forests—including aesthetic, cultural, spiritual, and moral—most land use decisions boil down to economics. Therefore creating economic incentives to maintaining forests is key to saving them. Leading the effort to develop markets ecosystem services is Forest Trends, a Washington D.C.-based NGO that also organizes the Katoomba group, a forum that brings together a wide variety of forest stakeholders, including the private sector, local communities, indigenous people, policymakers, international development institutions, funders, conservationists, and activists.
Large-scale soy farming in Brazil pushes ranchers into the Amazon rainforest
(04/28/2010) Industrial soy expansion in the Brazilian Amazon has contributed to deforestation by pushing cattle ranchers further north into rainforest zones, reports a new study published the journal Environmental Research Letters.
Photo: monster worm is less than a monster
(04/28/2010) Some places have Loch Ness and Bigfoot, but the Palouse prairie of the western United States has the giant Palouse earthworm. Reported to stretch 3 feet long, spit, and—even more strangely—smell like lilies, the earthworm has become apart of the region's folklore and has only been seen a few times since the 1980s leading to concerns that it was gravely endangered and maybe even extinct.
United States has higher percentage of forest loss than Brazil
(04/26/2010) Forests continue to decline worldwide, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). Employing satellite imagery researchers found that over a million square kilometers of forest were lost around the world between 2000 and 2005. This represents a 3.1 percent loss of total forest as estimated from 2000. Yet the study reveals some surprises: including the fact that from 2000 to 2005 both the United States and Canada had higher percentages of forest loss than even Brazil.
World failing on every environmental issue: an op-ed for Earth Day
(04/22/2010) The biodiversity crisis, the climate crisis, the deforestation crisis: we are living in an age when environmental issues have moved from regional problems to global ones. A generation or two before ours and one might speak of saving the beauty of Northern California; conserving a single species—say the white rhino—from extinction; or preserving an ecological region like the Amazon. That was a different age. Today we speak of preserving world biodiversity, of saving the 'lungs of the planet', of mitigating global climate change. No longer are humans over-reaching in just one region, but we are overreaching the whole planet, stretching ecological systems to a breaking point. While we are aware of the issues that threaten the well-being of life on this planet, including our own, how are we progressing on solutions?
Cochabamba Climate Conference: the Coca Contradiction
(04/11/2010) In the high stakes game of geopolitics, the small and economically disadvantaged Andean nation of Bolivia has little clout. Now, however, the country’s indigenous president Evo Morales wants to establish more of a significant voice on the world stage. Recently, he has turned himself into something of a spokesperson on the issue of climate change. Decrying the failure of world leaders to come to a satisfactory agreement on global warming, he is intent on shaming the Global North into addressing climate change. Whatever Bolivia lacks in terms of political and economic muscle, Morales would like to offset through skilled use of moral persuasion.
Hope for survival as isolated orangutans joined by rope bridge
(04/11/2010) Researchers in the Malaysian state of Sabah in Borneo are joyful after receiving confirmation that a young male orangutan used a rope bridge to cross a river, which has separated one orangutan population from another. Due to logging and clearing forests for oil palm plantations, which cover 18 percent of land in Sabah, orangutans on the Kinabantangan River have been cut into fragmented populations.
Certified sustainable palm oil sales reach record level
(04/09/2010) Sales of palm oil certified under the green criteria set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) reached a record high in March, climbing nearly 8 percent over February 2010 to 136,000 metric tons, reports the RSPO in its monthly bulletin.
Unilever backtracks: may purchase palm oil from Sinar Mas
(04/07/2010) The world's biggest buyer of palm oil, Unilever, says it will again purchase palm oil from PT SMART, a subsidiary of Indonesian company Sinar Mas, if allegations about deforestation and peatland destruction prove untrue, or if Sinar Mas shows it is addressing the issue. Last December, the food and cosmetic giant, Unilever, suspended its $32.6 million contract with Sinar Mas after an independent audit—spurred by a 2008 Greenpeace report—showed that the Indonesian company was involved in the illegal destruction of rainforests and peatlands. Yet the company now seems to be signaling that the contract is back on the table even as it touts its sustainability efforts to the public.
Diverse habitats needed for survival of small mammals in Mexico
(03/29/2010) A new study in Tropical Conservation Science shows that small tropical mammals in Mexico—bats and rodents—require a variety of habitats to thrive. Surveying mammal populations in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico, researchers found that sites comprising the greatest habitat diversity carried also the greatest diversity of rodents. In turn bats lived in all variety of habitats and moved easily from one to another.
Population density corresponds with forest loss in the Congo Basin
(03/29/2010) Africa's greatest rainforest ecosystem, the Congo Basin, has undergone significant deforestation and degradation during the past century. A new study in the open access journal Tropical Conservation Science examined whether or not there was a connection between population density and forest loss.
Women in Bangladesh help biodiversity with homegardens
(03/29/2010) Overpopulated, largely poor, and environmentally degraded, the nation of Bangladesh has known its share of woes. Yet even in face of struggles, including a forest loss of over 90 percent, the women of Bangladesh are aiding the country's struggling people and biodiversity through the establishment of some 20 million homegardens. Long-neglected by the government and NGOs, these homegardens provide food, firewood, and medicine.
Last chance to save Bangladeshi forest: 90 percent of the Sal ecosystem is gone
(03/29/2010) Considered the most threatened ecosystem in Bangladesh, the moist deciduous Sal forest (Shorea robusta) is on the verge of vanishing. In 1990 only 10 percent of the forest cover remained, down from 36 percent in 1985 according to statistics from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). A new study in the online open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science looks at the threats posed to the Shal forest and ways in which it may still be saved.
Just how bad is meat-eating for the environment?
(03/28/2010) Meat is booming. In the past thirty years, livestock production has increased threefold. In many parts of the world where incomes are expanding, meat, once a delicacy, is now eaten regularly and voraciously. But what are the environmental impacts of this 'livestock revolution'? Two recent studies look at the global impact of the livestock industry, one alleges that its environmental impacts in relation to greenhouse gas emissions has been overestimated, while the other takes a holistic view of the industry's environmental impact.
Half of Indonesia's mangroves gone in less than thirty years
(03/23/2010) The Jakarta Post reports that, according to the local NGO People’s Coalition for Justice in Fisheries (Kiara), Indonesia's has lost 2.2 million hectares of mangroves in less than thirty years, going from covering 4.2 million hectares in 1982 to just 2 million hectares today.
Common pesticide changes male frogs into females, likely devastating populations
(03/01/2010) One of the world's most popular pesticides, atrazine, chemically castrates male frogs and in some instances changes them into completely functionally females, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors conclude that atrazine likely plays a large, but unsuspected role in the current global amphibian crisis.
Cargill sells palm oil business in Papua New Guinea
(02/26/2010) Cargill will sell off its palm oil holdings in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to focus on operations in Indonesia, reports the Star Tribune. The $175 million sale involves 62,000 ha of oil palm across three plantations and several mills.
Conflicting signals out of Indonesia on whether palm oil plantations will be classified as forests
(02/23/2010) Indonesia will not allow the conversion of natural forest for oil palm plantations, claimed the country's Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan in comments reported by the Jakarta Post.
REDD may not provide sufficient incentive to developers over palm oil
(02/22/2010) In less than a generation oil palm cultivation has emerged as a leading form of land use in tropical forests, especially in Southeast Asia. Rising global demand for edible oils, coupled with the crop's high yield, has turned palm oil into an economic juggernaut, generating us$ 10 billion in exports for Indonesia and Malaysia, which account for 85 percent of palm oil production, alone. Today more than 40 countries - led by China, India, and Europe - import crude palm oil.
Indonesia to target New Guinea for agricultural expansion
(02/22/2010) Indonesia will target its last frontier — its territory on New Guinea — as it seeks to become a major agricultural exporter, reports the AFP.
Where two worlds collide: visiting Tabin Wildlife Reserve
(02/21/2010) The vehicle stopped on the way into Tabin Wildlife Reserve as a troupe of pig-tailed macaques began making their way across the road. In a flash a domestic dog, which may or may not have been 'ownerless', ambushed the group. Chaos erupted as the big predator fell upon the community. As quickly as it began it was all over and the dog was rushing over with an infant monkey in its mouth, leaving the macaques' screeching out their helplessness. As my uncustomary welcome to Tabin Wildlife Reserve shows: the park is a meeting of two worlds. On the left side of the road leading into the reserve is a massive oil palm plantation, on the right is the rainforest and the many species the reserve protects. Tabin, therefore, gives the visitor a unique up-close view of the debate raging in Borneo and throughout much of Southeast Asia over conservation and environment versus oil palm plantations.
Humans push half of the world's primates toward extinction, lemurs in particular trouble
(02/18/2010) Of the known 634 primate species in the world 48 percent are currently threatened with extinction, making mankind's closes relatives one of the most endangered animal groups in the world. In order to bring awareness to the desperate state of primates, a new report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature highlights twenty-five primates in the most need of rapid conservation action. Compiled by 85 experts the report, entitled Primates in Peril: The World's 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2008–2010, includes six primates from Africa, eleven from Asia, three from Central and South America, and five from the island of Madagascar.
Consumers fail at identifying green companies
(02/17/2010) An article today in New Scientist shows that American consumers have a difficult time correctly identifying green companies, often confusing 'greenwashing' for true green credentials or not bestowing enough credit where credit is truly due. By combining data from Earthsense, which polled 30,000 Americans about on their views of 'green' companies, and Trucost which assesses companies global environmental impact, New Scientist was able to discover just how confused American consumers are when it comes to identifying 'green'.
How free trade has devastated Africa's farmers and poor
(02/15/2010) A push in the mid-1980s for Africa to embrace free trade to aid its economies backfired in many of the continent's poorest countries, argues a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Africa was pushed to rollback government involvement in development and instead to rely on the private sector: government services shrunk, cash crops were pushed over staples, while tariffs and subsides were abolished. The insistence on free trade was meant to spur economic growth, but instead undercut traditional agricultural systems that had worked for centuries, eventually leading to a food crisis, which left millions hungry, caused multiple food riots, and destabilized governments.
Chinese farming practices are acidifying soils
(02/11/2010) A new study in Science shows that farming practices in China are acidifying the nation's soils and threatening long term productivity at a time when food concerns worldwide have never been higher. The culprit is the increasing use of nitrogen fertilizer.
Desertification threatens 38 percent of the world
(02/10/2010) Over one third of the world's land surface (38 percent) is threatened with desertification, according to a new study published in theInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment. The study found that eight of fifteen eco-regions are threatened by desertification, including coastal areas, the prairies, the Mediterranean region, the savannah, the temperate steppes, the temperate deserts, tropical and subtropical steppes, and the tropical and subtropical deserts.
China is polluted: first national survey paints disturbing picture
(02/09/2010) The first ever national survey of pollution in China shows a nation that has paid for its economic growth in environmental pollution.
Amazon rainforest will bear cost of biofuel policies in Brazil
(02/08/2010) Business-as-usual agricultural expansion to meet biofuel production targets for 2020 will take a heavy toll on Brazil's Amazon rainforest in coming years, undermining the potential emissions savings of transitioning from fossil fuels to biofuels, warns a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The research suggests that intensification of cattle ranching, combined with efforts to promote high-yielding oil crops like oil palm could lessen forecast greenhouse gas emissions from indirect land use in the region.
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