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News articles on agriculture
Mongabay.com news articles on agriculture in blog format. Updated regularly.
(04/01/2009) As concern for the preservation of forest eco-systems in the tropics has increased over past decades, there has been a growing consideration for ways to harmonize tropical agricultural production with the surrounding environment. The idea of shade grown products, especially coffee and cacao, have become the focus of scientific study and of marketable interest for environmentally conscientious consumers. However, the practical and dependable nature of the practice of shade growing for farmers and conservation objectives is still the matter of some debate.
Can carbon credits from REDD compete with palm oil?
(03/30/2009) Reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) is increasingly seen as a compelling way to conserve tropical forests while simultaneously helping mitigate climate change, preserving biodiversity, and providing sustainable livelihoods for rural people. But to become a reality REDD still faces a number of challenges, not least of which is economic competition from other forms of land use. In Indonesia and Malaysia, the biggest competitor is likely oil palm, which is presently one of the most profitable forms of land use. Oil palm is also spreading to other tropical forest areas including the Brazilian Amazon.
Malaysian palm oil targets the Amazon
(03/25/2009) Malaysia's Land Development Authority FELDA will soon break ground on a joint venture with a Brazilian firm to establish 30,000-100,000 hectares (75,000 - 250,000 acres) of oil palm plantations in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, reports the Malaysian Star.
Will palm oil drive deforestation in the Amazon?
(03/23/2009) Already a significant driver of tropical forest conversion across southeast Asia, oil palm expansion could emerge as threat to the Amazon rainforest due to a proposed change in Brazil's forest law, new infrastructure, and the influence of foreign companies in the region, according to researchers writing in the open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science. William F. Laurance, a senior scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama City, Panama, and Rhett A. Butler, founder of environmental science web site Mongabay.com, warn that oil palm expansion in the Brazilian Amazon is likely to occur at the expense of natural forest as a result of a proposed revision to the forest code which requires land owners to retain 80 percent forest on lands in the Amazon. The new law would allow up to 30 percent of this reserve to consist of oil palm.
Loss of genetic diversity hurts agriculture
(03/23/2009) Agriculture has long been dependent on the ability of plant species to adapt to varying environmental conditions — without this diversity agriculture development would not have been possible. But human activities are putting this diversity at risk through habitat destruction and introduction of alien species, especially in parts of the world where such diversity is particularly critical: tropical developing countries. This threat has spurred increased efforts to find and conserve plants with special traits adapted to the marginal farming systems of tropical smallholders.
Land rights victory for Amazon Indians in Brazil
(03/20/2009) In what is being hailed as a victory for indigenous groups in the Brazilian Amazon, Brazil's Supreme Court sided with Indians from the Raposa Serra do Sol reservation in a 30-year land dispute with large-scale farmers in the northern state of Roraima, near the border with Venezuela, reports the Associated Press.
Economic crisis hurts forestry sector, sustainability initiatives
(03/16/2009) The global economic crisis has slowed demand for timber products and may undermine efforts to improve the environmental performance of forestry, reports the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in its biannual "State of the World's Forests 2009", released today.
Pricing emissions from farming, logging could shift land use towards conservation
(02/15/2009) Putting a price tag on carbon dioxide emissions resulting from various land use practices could dramatically change the way that land is used, including reducing deforestation and limiting agricultural expansion on carbon-rich lands, said a researcher presenting at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
80% of agricultural expansion since 1980 came at expense of forests
(02/15/2009) More than half of cropland expansion between 1980 and 2000 occurred at the expense of natural forests, while another 30 percent of occurred in disturbed forests, reported a Stanford University researcher presenting Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago.
Indonesia may allow conversion of peatlands for palm oil
(02/15/2009) The Indonesian government will allow developers to convert millions of hectares of land for oil palm plantations, reports The Jakarta Post. The decision threatens to undermine Indonesia's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land use and fashion itself as a leader on the environment among tropical countries.
Political violence in Madagascar may lead Daewoo to abandon controversial farm project
(02/10/2009) Political instability and low commodity prices may lead South Korea's Daewoo Logistics to delay or pull out of a controversial agricultural project in Madagascar, reports Reuters.
Secretary of Energy warns of dire future for agriculture in California
(02/05/2009) Secretary of Energy Steven Chu warned climate change could severely impact California agricultural industry by the end of the century, reported the Los Angeles Times.
Brazil to boost spending on infrastructure to counter economic crisis
(02/05/2009) Brazil will increase spending on infrastructure projects by 28 percent to in response to the global financial crisis, reports Bloomberg.
Sustainable farming is the only way to feed the planet going forward
(02/05/2009) Embracing more sustainable farming methods is the only way for the world's farmers to grow enough food to meet the demands of a growing population and respond to climate change, the top crop expert with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.
Chocolate has been a delicacy north of Mexico for a thousand years
(02/02/2009) Chocolate, produced from cacao beans, has been a part of American culture for a thousand years according to new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Analyzing chemical residue from jars of native peoples in New Mexico, researchers Patricia Crown and Jeffrey Hurst discovered theobromine, a chemical signature of cacao. The jars have been dated from 1000 to 1125 AD, well over three hundred years before Columbus and the earliest recorded discovery of cacao north of Mexico. The cacao jars are from Pueblo Bonito, an archaeological site in Chaco Canyon, which is located in northwestern New Mexico. Chaco Canyon, once home to 2,000-5,000 inhabitants, was composed of a dense group of pueblos, of which Bonito was the largest. Incorporating 800 rooms, Pueblo Bonito was the center of a number of towns and villages in Chaco Canyon.
Beef drives 80% of Amazon deforestation
(01/29/2009) Nearly 80 percent of land deforested in the Amazon from 1996-2006 is now used for cattle pasture, according to new maps released today in a report by Greenpeace at the World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil. The report, Amazon Cattle Footprint: Mato Grosso: State of Destruction, confirms that cattle ranching is the primary driver of deforestation in Earth's largest rainforest: the Brazilian Amazon.
Secondary forest should become new conservation initiative
(01/19/2009) “I want to convince you we need to go beyond primary forests to preserve biodiversity”, Robin Chazdon told an audience at the National Natural History Museum during a symposium on the tropics. Chazdon, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, has been studying secondary growth forests for over eighteen years. Secondary forests are those forests in the process of regrowth after being used for agriculture or logging. In her study area of NE Costa Rica, many of these forests were converted to pastures in the 1970s and 1980s, but have since been abandoned. In her presentation Chazdon argued that to preserve biodiversity numerous types of human-impacted landscapes, such as secondary forest, require attention by the conservation community.
Selective logging occurs in 28 percent of world’s rainforests
(01/13/2009) New satellite research presented for the first time at a symposium entitled “Will the rainforests survive?” showed that selective logging is impacting over a quarter of the world’s rainforests. Gregory Asner from the Carnegie Institution presented the “first true global estimate of selective logging” which showed that 5.5 million square kilometers of the rainforest has already seen selective logging or is slated to be logged in the near future.
Shade-grown coffee preserves native tree diversity
(12/23/2008) A new study finds that shade-grown coffee protects the biodiversity of tree species, as well as those of birds and bats. Published in Current Biology, the study found that native trees in shade-grown coffee plantations aid the overall species’ gene flow and can become a focal point for reforestation.
Biochar and its Role in Mitigating Climate Change
(12/17/2008) The growing concerns about climate change have brought biochar, a charcoal produced from biomass combustion, into limelight. Biochar is a carbon-rich, fine-grained residue which can be produced either by ancient techniques (such as covering burning biomass with soil and allowing it to smolder) or state-of-the-art modern pyrolysis processes. Combustion and decomposition of woody biomass and agricultural residues results in the emission of a large amount of carbon dioxide. Biochar can store this CO2 in the soil leading to reduction in GHGs emission and enhancement of soil fertility. Biochar holds the promise to tackle chronic human development issues like hunger and food insecurity, low agricultural productivity and soil depletion, deforestation and biodiversity loss, energy poverty, air pollution and climate change. Thus, biochar could make a difference in the energy-starved countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America as well as the industrialized world with its vast array of benefits.
Corn expansion is hurting ladybugs
(12/15/2008) Expansion of corn acreage to meet ethanol targets is reducing the ability of beneficial insects to control pests, a loss valued at $58 million in the four states studied (Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin), report researchers writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Finland, Sweden push for loophole that would drive destruction of peatlands around the world
(12/09/2008) Finland and Sweden are pushing for a loophole in the E.U.'s Renewable Energy Directive that would open up vast tracts of peatlands around the world to development for biofuels production. The move could have drastic consequences for climate and biodiversity, warns Wetlands International, an environmental group.
Drought and deforestation in southeast Asia linked to climate change
(12/09/2008) Researchers have linked drought and deforestation in southeast Asia to climate change. Analyzing six years of climate and fire data from satellites, Guido van der Werf and colleagues report that burning of rainforests and peatlands in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea released an average of 128 million tons of carbon (470 million tons of carbon dioxide - CO2) per year between 2000 and 2006. Fire emissions showed highly variability during the period, but were greatest in dry years, such as those that occur during El Niño events. Borneo was the largest source of fire emissions during the period, averaging 74 million tons per year, followed by Sumatra, which showed a doubling in emissions between 2000 and 2006.
How youth in Kenya's largest slum created an organic farm
(12/09/2008) Kibera is one of the world's largest slums, containing over a million people and 60 percent of Nairobi's population. With extremely crowded conditions, little sanitation, and an unemployment rate at 50 percent, residents of Kibera face not only abject poverty but also a large number of social ills, including drugs, alcoholism, rape, AIDS, water-borne diseases, and tensions between various Kenyan tribes.
Linking rural health care to forest conservation proving a success in Borneo
(12/08/2008) Health in Harmony was today awarded mongabay.com's annual "Innovation in Conservation" award for its unique approach to conservation which combats illegal logging by providing healthcare and sustainable livelihoods to communities living around Gunung Palung National Park in Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo. The award includes a cash grant and prominent placement on the mongabay.com web site and newsletter for the month of December. Health in Harmony is working to break an impoverishing cycle of illegal logging and deforestation by offering healthcare rewards to encourage the villagers to protect the national park, rather than log it. The effort seems to be paying off: since launching a 'forests-for-healthcare' incentive program in September, 18 of 21 communities have signed a moratorium of understanding agreeing to participate.
Madagascar hit by deadly vanilla-killing fungus
(12/08/2008) Madagascar, the world's largest producer and exporter of vanilla, has been hit by a deadly, incurable fungus that can kill vanilla plants before their pods reach maturity, reports The Associated Press. The development could have dire impacts for the country's vanilla industry which generates hundreds of millions of dollars per year for the impoverished Indian Ocean island nation.
Saline agriculture may be the future of farming
(12/04/2008) Accessible and unpolluted freshwater is a necessity for every nation's stability and well-being. Yet, while the demand for freshwater continues to rise, its sources face increasing threats from salinization, a process whereby the salt content of fresh water rises until the water becomes undrinkable and unusable in agriculture: the more salt in the soil, the lower the crop yield.
Degraded grasslands better option for palm oil production relative to rainforests, finds study
(12/03/2008) Producing biofuels from oil palm plantations established on degraded grasslands rather than tropical rainforests and peat lands would result in a net removal of carbon from the atmosphere rather than greenhouse gas emissions, report researchers writing in Conservation Biology. The results confirm that benefits to climate from biofuel production depend greatly on the type of land used for feedstocks.
Fall in palm oil price may lead to industry consolidation
(12/02/2008) A dramatic fall in palm oil prices may provide an opportunity for plantation giants to add to their holdings, reports Reuters.
REDD may harm forest people, alleges report
(12/02/2008) A new report finds that the World Bank is not doing enough to protect indigenous rights under its mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).
Carbon market could pay poor farmers to adopt sustainable cultivation techniques
(11/26/2008) The emerging market for forest carbon could support agroforestry programs that alleviate rural poverty and promote sustainable development, states a new report issued by the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF).
Madagascar denies 'land grab' by South Korean conglomerate
(11/22/2008) Officials from Madagascar are denying they have reached an agreement to turn over half the island nation's arable land to a South Korean corporation for food production, reports Reuters. The controversial deal — which would have paid Madagascar nothing and turned over 1.3 million hectares to produce corn and palm oil for export at a time when one-third of country's children are malnourished — was reported last week by the Financial Times.
Malaysia's indigenous people to get land rights for first time
(11/19/2008) Malaysia's government will for the first time grant ownership rights of land farmed by indigenous people, reports the Associated Press, but some may see the legal change as a scheme to promote oil palm expansion.
Illegal drug use destroys rainforests
(11/18/2008) Colombian officials have re-iterated their claim that cocaine use in rich countries is driving deforestation in Colombia, reports The Guardian.
American fast food is almost entirely made of corn
(11/10/2008) American fast food is almost entirely produced from corn according to a chemical analysis of dishes served at McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's. The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Palm oil companies propose satellite monitoring of their plantations to ensure sustainability
(11/05/2008) The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is considering a proposal to use satellite imagery to enforce criteria that high value conservation areas are not converted to oil palm plantations, reports Ian Wood of the Telegraph. The move would boost RSPO's credibility at a time when the industry-lead sustainability initiative is under fire from environmentalists who say its performance to date suggests it is merely an exercise in greenwashing.
Rainforest agriculture preserves bird biodiversity in India
(11/04/2008) Conservation of biodiversity and agriculture have long been considered conflicting interests. Numerous studies have shown that when agricultural replaces a forest, biodiversity greatly suffers. However a new study finds it doesn't have to be that way.
Rise of industrial chicken farming imperils genetic stock of the industry
(11/03/2008) Industrial poultry farming is reducing the genetic diversity of chickens, putting them at greater risk of disease, report researchers writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors propose interbreeding commercial chickens with indigenous stocks to restore greater diversity within the industry.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service program restores bird habitat on farms and ranches
(10/28/2008) Matt Filsinger is driving his white pickup headed northeast from Sterling to look at two of his projects. This self-described introvert speaks enthusiastically about his job. “Ducks, ducks, ducks – that’s what I love!” says Filsinger, grinning broadly. Filsinger is a wildlife biologist with the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He works with private landowners to set aside land and create attractive habitat for imperiled species. Specifically, he designs wetlands to attract waterfowl. Partners for Fish and Wildlife is a successful program that has been around since 1987. Landowners, including farmers and ranchers, form partnerships with the program because they reap a variety of benefits from it. Nonprofit organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, Audubon and the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory are also partners. Collaboration between the federal government and private landowners is essential to preserving habitat and species, as 73 percent of the country’s land is privately owned, and most wildlife lives on that land.
Organic farming could break cycle of famine and poverty in Africa
(10/22/2008) Organic farming may offer Africa the best opportunity to break out of the devastating cycle of poverty and malnutrition parts of the continent have faced in recent decades, according to a new report from the United Nations.
33 countries face "alarming" levels of hunger
(10/14/2008) Thirty-three countries around the world have "alarming" or "extremely alarming" levels of hunger, according to the 2008 Global Hunger Index, a metric released by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in conjunction with Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide.
Snares set by palm oil workers taking a toll on pygmy elephants of Borneo
(10/12/2008) Wildlife rangers are finding increasing numbers of Borneo Pygmy elephants injured or killed by snares set by poorly paid oil palm plantation workers, reports Malaysia's Sabah Wildlife Department.
Paraguay extends zero deforestation law
(10/10/2008) Paraguay announced it will implement a policy to cut net carbon emissions from land use change to zero by 2020, reports WWF.
Global food crisis expands - number of hungry increases since 2004
(10/10/2008) While the financial crisis is grabbing headlines and the attention of world leaders, the global food crisis is far from over and poses nutritional security of poor people around the world, warns the director of an agricultural think tank.
Palm oil industry relies on greenwashing to mislead consumers, alleges report
(10/08/2008) The Malaysian palm oil industry is relying on marketing tactics that mislead the public about its environmental performance rather than taking effective steps to become "greener" alleges a new report from the environmental group Friends of the Earth (FOE).
Eco-friendly shade-grown coffee buffers farmers against climate change
(10/03/2008) Shade-grown coffee plantations will be more resistant to climate change than conventional plantations, report researchers writing in the journal Bioscience. Shade grown coffee is already lauded for its environmental benefits including supporting high levels of biodiversity and requiring less fertilizers and pesticides.
Monoculture tree plantations are "green deserts" not forests, say activists
(09/19/2008) A number of environmental and social organizations have declared September 21st: International Day against Monoculture Tree Plantations to highlight the social upheaval and environmental degradation ૼ including impacts on global biodiversity and climate change — wrought by industrial plantations.
Pollination worth $216 billion/yr for food production
(09/16/2008) Pollination services provided by insects are worth $216 billion (€153 billion) a year reports a new study published in Ecological Economics. The figure represents about 9.5 percent of the total value of world agricultural food production.
Loss of wildlife is threatening biodiverse forests in northeastern India
(09/15/2008) Logging, agricultural expansion, and hunting of large birds and mammals in the tropical forests of northeastern India may be reducing the capacity of the biologically-rich ecosystem to regenerate itself, report researchers writing in the open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science.
Mangrove destruction for fish trade may undermine fishermen in West Africa
(09/15/2008) The harvesting of mangrove forests in West Africa for the smoked fish trade threatens to undermine the primary source of income for the very fishermen who supply fish to the market, reports a study published Monday in the open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science.
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