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News articles on agriculture
Mongabay.com news articles on agriculture in blog format. Updated regularly.
(02/07/2010) Deforestation is increasingly correlated to urban population growth and trade rather than rural poverty, suggesting that measures proposed to reduce deforestation will be ineffective if they fail to address demand for commodities produced on forest lands, argues a new paper published in Nature GeoScience.
Certified palm oil sales accelerate
(02/05/2010) For the first time, sales of certified sustainable palm oil have nearly met production, reports the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a group that has developed the leading environmental certification standard for palm oil.
EU: rainforests can be converted to palm oil plantations for biofuel production
(02/04/2010) The European Union may be planning to classify oil palm plantations as forests, raising fears among environmental groups of expanded conversion of tropical rainforests for biofuel production, reports the EUobserver, which cites a leaked document from the European Commission. The draft document shows that policymakers are considering language that would specifically allow use of biofuels produced via conversion of rainforests to oil palm plantations.
Farmers drive deforestation in Rondonia, in the Brazilian Amazon
(01/31/2010) Small-scale farmers who lease land from the Brazilian government are very much responsible for deforestation in the Brazilian state of Rondonia in the Amazon area. In most areas with agrarian projects, more than fifty percent of the land has been cleared of forests, while the Brazilian Forestry Code permits farming concerns in the Amazon to clear only twenty percent of the land.
Will it be possible to feed nine billion people sustainably?
(01/28/2010) Sometime around 2050 researchers estimate that the global population will level-out at nine billion people, adding over two billion more people to the planet. Since, one billion of the world's population (more than one in seven) are currently going hungry—the largest number in all of history—scientists are struggling with how, not only to feed those who are hungry today, but also the additional two billion that will soon grace our planet. In a new paper in Science researchers make recommendations on how the world may one day feed nine billion people—sustainably.
Cheerios maker linked to rainforest destruction
(01/19/2010) An activist group linked General Mills to destruction of rainforests in Southeast Asia in dramatic fashion on Tuesday, when it unfurled a giant banner, reading "Warning: General Mills Destroys Rainforests", outside the company's Minneapolis headquarters building.
Indonesian government report recommends moratorium on peatlands conversion
(01/19/2010) A study issued by Indonesian government recommends a moratorium on peatlands conversion in order to meet its greenhouse gas emissions target pledged for 2020, reports the Jakarta Post. The report, commissioned by the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas), says that conversion of peatlands accounts for 50 percent of Indonesia's greenhouse gas emissions but only one percent of GDP. A ban on conversion would therefore be a cost-effective way for the country to achieve its goal of reducing carbon emissions 26 percent from a projected baseline by 2020. But the recommendation is likely to face strong resistance from plantation developers eager to expand operations in peatland areas. Last year the Agricultural Ministry lifted a moratorium on the conversion of peatlands of less than 3 meters in depth for oil palm plantations. Environmentalists said the move would release billions of tons of carbon dioxide.
The Caribbean's wonderfully weird (and threatened) mammals, an interview with Jose Nunez-Mino
(01/18/2010) Not many people know the solenodon and the hutia, yet for the fortunate few that have encountered them, these strange little-studied mammals—just barely holding on in the Caribbean island of Hispaniola—deserve to be stars of the animal kingdom. "I could not quite believe it the first time I held a solenodon; I was in utter awe of this mesmerizing mammal. […] They have a long flexible snout which is all down to the fact that it is joined to the skull by a unique ball-and-socket joint. This makes it look as if the snout is almost independent to the rest of the animal. You can’t help but feel fascinated by the snout and inevitably it does make you smile," Dr. Jose Nunez-Mino, the Project Manager for a new initiative to study and conserve the island's last mammals, told mongabay.com in an interview.
Do corporate sweetheart deals make French fries less healthy?
(01/18/2010) Few would argue that French fries are a healthy food choice, but a new study shows that French fries from national restaurant chains in the United States are actually worse for you-and the environment-than many believed. The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) found that due to corporate deals French fries in national restaurant chains are largely fried in one of the worse possible vegetable oils: corn oil.
Company seeks to log forest reserve for palm oil in Uganda
(01/15/2010) A company in Uganda is pressuring the environment ministry to allow it to log a protected forest reserve to establish a palm oil plantation, reports The New Vision.
India becomes largest buyer of palm oil
(01/14/2010) India surpassed China as the world's largest buyer of palm oil in 2009, reports Bloomberg.
Dams a 'monument of corruption': Baru Bian, new leader of Sarawak's People's Justice Party
(01/12/2010) In an interview with the Bruno Manser Fond, the new leader of the Malaysian state Sarawak's People's Justice Party (PKR), Baru Bian, spoke out against the state government's plans for mega-dams in the middle of the rainforest, as well as continued rainforest destruction and corruption.
Consumers should help pay the bill for 'greener' palm oil
(01/12/2010) Palm oil is one of the world's most traded and versatile agricultural commodities. It can be used as edible vegetable oil, industrial lubricant, raw material in cosmetic and skincare products and feedstock for biofuel production. Growing global demand for palm oil and the ensuing cropland expansion has been blamed for a wide range of environmental ills, including tropical deforestation, peatland degradation, biodiversity loss and CO2 emissions. In response to these concerns, a group of stakeholders—including activists, investors, producers and retailers—formed the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to develop a certification scheme for palm oil produced through environmentally- and socially-responsible ways. It is widely anticipated that the creation of a premium market for RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) would incentivize palm oil producers to improve their management practices.
A 'dangerous world' for migratory birds, an interview with Sarah Lehnen
(01/04/2010) Sarah Lehnen has worked with America's rich birdlife for a decade: she has studied everything from songbirds inhabiting dwindling shrub land in Ohio to shorebirds stopping over in the Mississippi Rive alluvial valley, always with an eye towards conservation. Most recently she has been involved in testing migratory birds for avian flu. It may come as a surprise, but American birds are in serious decline. In March of last year, US Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, announced that one-in-three American birds are endangered. Even once common birds are showing precipitous declines. Birds face a barrage of threats, which are only complicated—and heightened—for migratory birds.
Rainforest conservation: a year in review
(12/27/2009) 2009 may prove to be an important turning point for tropical forests. Lead by Brazil, which had the lowest extent of deforestation since at least the 1980s, global forest loss likely declined to its lowest level in more than a decade. Critical to the fall in deforestation was the global financial crisis, which dried up credit for forest-destroying activities and contributed to a crash in commodity prices, an underlying driver of deforestation.
Unique call gives away new bird species in Laos and Vietnam
(12/21/2009) A beautiful little warbler inhabiting limestone karsts in Vietnam and Laos has been named a new species. When the limestone leaf warbler ( Phylloscopus calciatilis) was first sighted in 1994 it was thought to be a member of the similar-looking species, the sulphur-breasted warbler, but ornithologists began to question that assumption when the bird produced a call significantly different from the sulphur-breasted's.
Brazil grants deforestation amnesty for farmers and ranchers
(12/14/2009) A decree issued by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva suspends up to $5.7 billion in fines and gives ranchers and farmers in the Amazon two more years to come into compliance with environmental laws aimed to curtain deforestation, reports the Associated Press.
Amazon cattle ranching accounts for half of Brazil's CO2 emissions
(12/12/2009) Cattle ranching accounts for half of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions according to a new study led by scientists from Brazil's National Space Institute for Space Research (INPE).
Unilever suspends palm oil contract after supplier found to be destroying rainforests
(12/12/2009) The world's largest user of palm oil, Unilever, has suspended its $32.6 million contract with the Indonesian group Sinar Mas after an independent audit proved that Sinar Mas is involved in the destruction of rainforest, reports Reuters. The audit was conducted early this year after a report by Greenpeace alleged that Sinar Mas was engaged in deforestation and the draining of peatlands, both of which release significant amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Deforestation across Indonesia and Malaysia, in part for oil palm plantations, has also added pressure on many many endangered species, including orangutans, tigers, elephants, and rhinos.
REDD may miss up to 80 percent of land use change emissions
(12/11/2009) The political definition of 'forest' used in REDD (Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) threatens to undermine the program's objective to conserve ecosystems for their ability to sequester carbon, according to a new analysis by the Alternatives to Slash and Burn (ASB) Partnership for Tropical Forest Margins. In an analysis of three Indonesian provinces using REDD proposals for carbon accounting, ASB found that REDD may miss up to 80 percent of the actual emissions due to land use change. The carbon accounting problems could be fixed, according to ASB, by expanding REDD's purpose from reducing emissions linked to deforestation (considering the problematic definition of forests) to reducing emission from all land use changes that either release or capture greenhouse gases, including but not limited to forests.
Forests recover faster from slash-and-burn when near intact forest reserves
(12/06/2009) Areas cleared for slash-and-burn agriculture recover faster when adjacent to a large block of untouched forest, but may take decades to regain a majority of their biodiversity after tree-felling, according to a new review of ecological studies, published in the December issue of Tropical Conservation Science, an open access journal.
Brazil could halt Amazon deforestation within a decade
(12/03/2009) Funds generated under a U.S. cap-and-trade or a broader U.N.-supported scheme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation ("REDD") could play a critical role in bringing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon to a halt, reports a team writing in the journal Science. But the window of opportunity is short — Brazil has a two to three year window to take actions that would end Amazon deforestation within a decade.
Indonesia could double oil palm plantation area
(12/02/2009) Indonesia has 18 million hectares of land suitable for oil palm cultivation, nearly twice the 9.7 million hectares that have already been allocated for plantations, said Agriculture Minister Suswono said at the opening of the 5th Indonesian Palm Oil Conference in Bali.
In absence of measures to address consumption, REDD may fail to protect forests
(12/02/2009) Rising demand for timber and agricultural products could work against a proposed initiative to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD), warns a new report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). The briefing, Putting the Brakes on Drivers of Forest Destruction: A Shared Responsibility, says that investment in REDD will not be enough to protect forests if the underlying drivers of deforestation — namely consumption — are not addressed. It urges negotiators to re-insert critical text that has been dropped from the working text on REDD ahead of next week's climate change conferences in Copenhagen.
Americans throw away enough food every year to feed 200 million adults
(11/30/2009) The amount of food Americans throw away has risen by approximately 50 percent since 1974 according to a new study in PLoS ONE. American now waste on average 1400 calories per person everyday, equaling 150 trillion calories a year nationwide. Considering that the average person requires approximately 2,000 calories a day, this means that the US could feed over 200 million adults every year with the food that ends up in the trash. Currently, the UN estimates that one billion people—an historical record—are going hungry worldwide.
Land of plenty: 50 percent rise in the amount of food wasted in America worsens global warming, consumes freshwater
(11/25/2009) Just before Thanksgiving a new study shows that Americans are throwing away more food than ever. Since 1974 the amount of food Americans water per capita has risen by approximately 50 percent, according to a new study in PLoS ONE. Researchers found that food waste is adding to America's greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for over one quarter of the nation's freshwater consumption every year.
Efforts to slow climate change may put indigenous people at risk
(11/24/2009) Efforts to slow climate change are putting indigenous people at risk, warns a new report published by Survival International, an indigenous rights' group.
Global warming will increase likelihood of civil war in Africa by 55 percent
(11/23/2009) There have been many warnings by policymakers that rising temperatures in Africa could lead to civil conflict, however a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is the first to uncover empirical evidence for these warnings and quantify them. The results—that higher temperatures increased the likelihood of civil war in sub-Saharan Africa by over 50 percent—took aback even the researchers.
Deforestation emissions should be shared between producer and consumer, argues study
(11/19/2009) Under the Kyoto Protocol the nation that produces carbon emission takes responsibility for them, but what about when the country is producing carbon-intensive goods for consumer demand beyond its borders? For example while China is now the world's highest carbon emitter, 50 percent of its growth over the last year was due to producing goods for wealthy countries like the EU and the United States which have, in a sense, outsourced their manufacturing emissions to China. A new study in Environmental Research Letters presents a possible model for making certain that both producer and consumer share responsibility for emissions in an area so far neglected by studies of this kind: deforestation and land-use change.
Prime Minister of Kenya urged to ban lion-killing pesticide after child dies from ingestion
(11/10/2009) On Monday October 26th a three-year-old girl mistakenly ate the pesticide Furadan (also known as carbofuran) in western Kenya. Her father, a teacher at a primary school, said that he had no knowledge of how dangerous the pesticide was, which he had purchased to kill pests in his vegetable garden.
EU is 2nd largest source of peat emissions after Indonesia, finds global peat survey
(11/04/2009) The EU is the world's second largest source of carbon dioxide emissions from peatlands drainage, after Indonesia, reports the first country-by-country assessment of peat stocks. The study, conducted by Wetlands International and Greifswald University, found that drainage of wetlands for agriculture, forestry and peat extraction causes 1.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. Emissions from fires and peat mining (for horticulture and fuel) amount to another 700,000 million tons per year.
Impasse over palm oil emissions at RSPO meeting
(11/04/2009) Environmentalists and palm oil producers meeting at the annual Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) were locked in an impasse over how to account for emissions from converting forests and peatlands to oil palm plantations, report conference attendees.
European companies not supporting 'greener' palm oil
(10/29/2009) Most European consumers of palm oil are failing to buy eco-certified palm oil, undermining efforts to encourage producers to reduce their impact on the environment, reports WWF.
Carbon accounting must not neglect emissions from bioenergy production and use
(10/29/2009) Carbon accounting used in the Kyoto Protocol and other climate legislation currently neglects CO2 emissions from the production of biofuels, a loophole that could drive large-scale destruction of tropical forests and exacerbate global warming, warned researchers writing last week in the journal Science.
200 million more people going hungry
(10/26/2009) The war on hunger is becoming a rout—and we're losing. The UN World Food Program (WFP) announced today that during the last two years 200 million more people are going hungry.
"Money is not a problem," palm oil CEO tells conservationists during speech defending the industry
(10/26/2009) Earlier this month at a colloquium to implement wildlife corridors for orangutans in the Malaysian state of Sabah, Dr. Yusof Basiron, the CEO of Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), told conservationists and primate experts that the palm oil industry was ready to fund reforestation efforts in the corridors. "We can raise the money to replant [the corridors] and keep contributing as a subsidy in the replanting process of this corridor for connecting forests," Basiron said in response to a question on how the palm oil industry will contribute. "Money is not a problem. The commitment is already there, the pressure is already very strong for this to be done, so it's just trying to get the thing into motion."
Logged forests support biodiversity after 15 years of rehabilitation, but not if turned into plantations
(10/21/2009) With the world facing global warming and a biodiversity crisis, a new study shows that within 15 years logged forests—considered by many to be 'degraded'—can be managed in order to successfully fight both climate change and extinction.
Kenya's pain, part two: decades of wildlife decline exacerbated by drought
(10/20/2009) Not many years ago if you were planning a trip to Africa to see wildlife, Kenya would be near the top of the list, if not number one. Then violent riots in late 2007 and early 2008 leaving a thousand dead tarnished the country's image abroad. When calm and stability returned, Kenya was again open for tourism, and it's true that most travelers were quick to forget: articles earlier this year announced that even with the global economic crisis Kenya was expecting tourism growth. However, a new disaster may not be so quickly overcome.
Brazilian beef giants agree to moratorium on Amazon deforestation
(10/07/2009) Four of the world's largest cattle producers and traders have agreed to a moratorium on buying cattle from newly deforested areas in the Amazon rainforest, reports Greenpeace.
Palm oil industry pledges wildlife corridors to save orangutans
(10/03/2009) In an unlikely—and perhaps tenuous—alliance, conservationists and the palm oil industry met this week to draw up plans to save Asia's last great ape, the orangutan. As if to underscore the colloquium's importance, delegates on arriving in the Malaysian State of Sabah found the capital covered in a thick and strange fog caused by the burning of rainforests and peat lands in neighboring Kalimantan. After two days of intensive meetings the colloquium adopted a resolution which included the acquisition of land for creating wildlife buffer zones of at least 100 meters along all major rivers, in addition to corridors for connecting forests. Researchers said such corridors were essential if orangutans were to have a future in Sabah.
Could agroforestry solve the biodiversity crisis and address poverty?, an interview with Shonil Bhagwat
(09/24/2009) With the world facing a variety of crises: climate change, food shortages, extreme poverty, and biodiversity loss, researchers are looking at ways to address more than one issue at once by revolutionizing sectors of society. One of the ideas is a transformation of agricultural practices from intensive chemical-dependent crops to mixing agriculture and forest, while relying on organic methods. The latter is known as agroforestry or land sharing—balancing the crop yields with biodiversity. Shonil Bhagwat, Director of MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management at the School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford, believes this philosophy could help the world tackle some of its biggest problems.
Working to save the 'living dead' in the Atlantic Forest, an interview with Antonio Rossano Mendes Pontes
(09/23/2009) The Atlantic Forest may very well be the most imperiled tropical ecosystem in the world: it is estimated that seven percent (or less) of the original forest remains. Lining the coast of Brazil, what is left of the forest is largely patches and fragments that are hemmed in by metropolises and monocultures. Yet, some areas are worse than others, such as the Pernambuco Endemism Centre, a region in the northeast that has largely been ignored by scientists and conservation efforts. Here, 98 percent of the forest is gone, and 70 percent of what remains are patches measuring less than 10 hectares. Due to this fragmentation all large mammals have gone regionally extinct and the small mammals are described by Antonio Rossano Mendes Pontes, a professor and researcher at the Federal University of Pernambuco, as the 'living dead'.
Brazil may ban sugarcane plantations from the Amazon, Pantanal
(09/18/2009) Brazil will restrict sugarcane plantations for ethanol production from the Amazon, the Pantanal, and other ecologically-sensitive areas under a plan announced Thursday by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's administration, reports the Associated Press.
Kenya's pain: famine, drought, government ambivalence cripples once stable nation
(09/17/2009) Kenya was once considered one of Sub-Saharan Africa's success stories: the country possessed a relatively stable government, a good economy, a thriving tourist industry due to a beautiful landscape and abundant wildlife. But violent protests following a disputed election in 2007 hurt the country's reputation, and then—even worse—drought and famine struck the country this year. The government response has been lackluster, the international community has been distracted by the economic crisis, and suddenly Kenya seems no longer to be the light of East Africa, but a warning to the world about the perils of ignoring climate change, government corruption, and the global food and water shortages.
Emissions from cerrado destruction in Brazil equal to emissions from Amazon deforestation
(09/15/2009) Damage to Brazil's vast cerrado grassland results in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those produced by destruction of the Amazon rainforest, said Carlos Minc, the country's Environment Minister.
Social causes of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest
(09/14/2009) Understanding the web of social groups involved in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is key to containing forest loss, argues a leading Amazon researcher writing in the journal Ecology and Society. Philip Fearnside of the National Institute for Research in the Amazon (INPA) reviews nine actors that have had significant roles in deforestation and reports differences in why they deforest, where they are active, and how they interact with each other.
Guatemala latest country to declare food crisis: nearly half a million families face food shortages
(09/10/2009) The President of Guatemala, Alvaro Colom, has announced a "state of public calamity" to tackle food shortages throughout the Central American nation. The failure of bean and corn crops from drought, which cut the yields of these staple crops in half, has brought the crisis to a head. In addition, prime agricultural land in Guatemala is often used to grow export crops like coffee and sugar rather than staples.
Concerns over deforestation may drive new approach to cattle ranching in the Amazon
(09/08/2009) While you're browsing the mall for running shoes, the Amazon rainforest is probably the farthest thing from your mind. Perhaps it shouldn't be. The globalization of commodity supply chains has created links between consumer products and distant ecosystems like the Amazon. Shoes sold in downtown Manhattan may have been assembled in Vietnam using leather supplied from a Brazilian processor that subcontracted to a rancher in the Amazon. But while demand for these products is currently driving environmental degradation, this connection may also hold the key to slowing the destruction of Earth's largest rainforest.
Activists target Brazil's largest driver of deforestation: cattle ranching
(09/08/2009) Perhaps unexpectedly for a group with roots in confrontational activism, Amigos da Terra - Amazônia Brasileira is calling for a rather pragmatic approach to address to cattle ranching, the largest driver of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. The solution, says Roberto Smeraldi, founder and director of Amigos da Terra, involves improving the productivity of cattle ranching, thereby allowing forest to recover without sacrificing jobs or income; establishing a moratorium on new clearing; and recognizing the economic values of maintaining the ecological functions of Earth's largest rainforest.
Destructive farming practices of early civilization may have altered climate long before industrial era
(08/31/2009) William Ruddiman has become well known for his theory that human-induced climate change started long before the Industrial Age. In 2003 he first brought forth the theory that the Neolithic Revolution-when some humans turned from hunter-gathering to large-scale farming-caused a shift in the global climate 7,000 years ago.
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