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News articles on farming
Mongabay.com news articles on farming in blog format. Updated regularly.
(02/28/2014) Will it be possible safeguard the world's remaining rainforests while feeding billions of more mouths, many demanding more meat and richer diets? Dr. Mitchell Aide's is a tropical ecologist interested in how patterns of land use and biodiversity are affected by economic and demographic changes. Addressing food production and policy, Aide believes, as well as the Millennium Development Goals related to hunger, poverty, and sustainability are critical to conservation.
Migrating monarch butterflies hit shockingly low numbers
(01/31/2014) The monarch butterfly population overwintering in Mexico this year has hit its lowest numbers ever, according to WWF-Mexico. Monarch butterflies covered just 0.67 hectares in Mexico's forest, a drop of 44 percent from 2012 already perilously low population. To put this in perspective the average monarch coverage from 1994-2014 was 6.39 or nearly ten times this year's. For years conservationists feared that deforestation in Mexico would spell the end of the monarch migration, but now scientists say that agricultural and policy changes in the U.S. and Canada—including GMO crops and habitat loss—is strangling off one of the world's great migrations.
Bee-harming pesticides may impact human nervous system
(12/23/2013) Neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been increasingly blamed for the collapse of bee populations, may also impact human's developing nervous system, according to a review of research by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The EFSA says that current safety guidelines for two pesticides—acetamiprid and imidacloprid—may be too lax to protect humans, especially the developing brains of unborn children
Asian elephants depend on shifting cultivation during the dry season
(12/16/2013) Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) have co-existed with human practices for thousands of years, including shifting cultivation. Shifting agriculture encompasses a variety of different practices that involve abandoning plots for periods of time to allow natural vegetation to grow. The practice consists of cutting and burning the natural vegetation at the end of the dry season and cultivating with the rains. Harvesting is completed by the end of the wet season.
Humans are not apex predators, but meat-eating on the rise worldwide
(12/05/2013) A new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has measured the "trophic level" of human beings for the first time. Falling between 1 and 5.5, trophic levels refer to where species fit on the food chain. Apex predators like tigers and sharks are given a 5.5 on trophic scale since they survive almost entirely on consuming meat, while plants and phytoplankton, which make their own food, are at the bottom of the scale. Humans, according to the new paper, currently fall in the middle: 2.21. However, rising meat-eating in countries like China, India, and Brazil is pushing our trophic level higher with massive environmental impacts.
Brazil could boost agriculture without destroying forests
(12/03/2013) Brazil could substantially boost its agricultural output while increasing protection of its native ecosystems, finds a new analysis published by the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), an international think tank.
Mangrove ecosystems being obliterated in Myanmar
(11/27/2013) Mangrove cover in Myanmar's Ayeyarwady Delta declined by nearly two-thirds between 1978 and 2011, leaving coastal areas more vulnerable to disasters like Cyclone Nargis, which killed 138,000 people in 2008, finds a new study published in the journal Global Environmental Change. The research, led by a team of scientists from the National University of Singapore and Mangrove and Environmental Rehabilitation Network in Yangon, is based on remote sensing and field data.
Scientists’ beef with land use decisions
(11/25/2013) When food goes to the garbage can instead of someone’s stomach, it is easy to see a wasted opportunity. The resources used to grow and transport that apple or hamburger went to the landfill. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is bringing another, less visible, form of food waste to the table, the waste created by eating foods that are inefficient to produce, like beef.
Bornean elephant meets palm oil: saving the world's smallest pachyderm in a fractured landscape
(10/01/2013) In the Malaysian state of Sabah, where most conservation students are still foreigners—either European or American—Nurzahafarina Othman stands out: not only is she Malaysian, a Muslim, and a mother of a young daughter, but she's rapidly becoming a top researcher and champion for the world's smallest elephant: the Bornean elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis). Although sometimes described as a pygmy elephant, they still weigh 2,000 kilograms (4,400 pounds). The origin of these 'tiny' elephants in Malaysian Borneo have baffled scientists for decades.
Preserving forest, birds boosts coffee profit up to $300/ha by controlling pests
(09/11/2013) Birds are providing a valuable ecosystem service on coffee plantations in Costa Rica, finds a new study that quantifies the pest control benefits of preserving tree cover in agricultural areas. The study, published in the journal Ecology Letters, looked at the impact of the coffee berry borer beetle (Hypothenemus hampeii) on coffee yields. The beetle is the only insect that directly consumes coffee berries, making it a major scourge for coffee farmers around the world, costing producers some $500 million a year.
Zoo races to save extreme butterfly from extinction
(08/15/2013) In a large room that used to house aquatic mammals at the Minnesota Zoo, Erik Runquist holds up a vial and says, 'Here are its eggs.' I peer inside and see small specks, pale with a dot of brown at the top; they look like a single grain of cous cous or quinoa. Runquist explains that the brown on the top is the head cap of the larva, a fact that becomes more clear under a microscope when you can see the encased larva squirm. I'm looking at the eggs of a Poweshiek skipperling, a species that is more imperiled than pandas, tigers, or bluewhales. Once superabundant, only several hundred Poweshiek skipperlings may survive on Earth today and the eggs I'm looking at are the only ones in captivity.
China's growing wine industry threatening pandas and other endangered species
(08/14/2013) In 1985, Li Hua visited a valley in the foothills of the Tibetan plateau. The area was better known for its panda population, but the oenologist realized that its high altitude, hours of sunshine, sandy soil and low precipitation also offered ideal conditions for growing grapes.
Foodies eat lab-grown burger that could change the world
(08/06/2013) Yesterday at a press event in London, two food writers took a bite into the world's most unusual hamburger. Grown meticulously from cow stem cells, the hamburger patty represents the dream (or pipedream) of many animal rights activists and environmentalists. The burger was developed by Physiologist Mark Post of Maastricht University and funded by Google co-founder Sergey Brin in an effort to create real meat without the corresponding environmental toll.
Deforestation ban working in Costa Rica
(08/05/2013) Costa Rica's ban on clearing of "mature" forests appears to be effective in encouraging agricultural expansion on non-forest lands, finds a study published today in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The study, which was led by Matthew Fagan of Columbia University, found that since Costa Rica implemented its ban on conversion of mature forests in 1996, the annual rate of old-growth forest loss dropped 40 percent despite an agricultural boom in the region. The results suggest that Costa Rica is intensifying agricultural production while simultaneously sparing forests.
Habitat loss and pesticides causing decline in Europe's butterflies
(07/31/2013) Europe's grassland butterfly population has plummeted in the past two decades, new research published on Tuesday shows, with a near halving in the numbers of key species since 1990.
Coffee and climate change: an uncertain future for millions of farmers around the world
(07/29/2013) An inconvenient truth is not what most people want to hear before they’ve had their first cup of coffee in the morning. Our coffee break is 'me time,' and we want to enjoy it. If the temperature is too high, put some ice in your cup. But for some 26 million people around the world who make it their business to produce our coffee, change is impossible to ignore.
Dominican Republic sends bulldozers to destroy wildlife reserve, home to endangered species
(07/23/2013) Last Wednesday, bulldozers entered the Loma Charco Azul Biological Reserve (LCABR) in the Dominican Republic and began clearing vegetation for agricultural development. The move stunned local conservationists who had not been notified ahead of time of the project. Although Charco Azul Biological Reserve is home to a wealth of threatened species—including the world's largest population of the Critically Endangered Ricordi's iguana (Cyclura ricordi)—the destruction of the reserve was signed off by the Dominican Republic's Minister of the Environment, Bautista Rojas Gómez.
Crop yields no longer keeping up with population growth
(06/26/2013) If the world is to grow enough food for the projected global population in 2050, agricultural productivity will have to rise by at least 60%, and may need to more than double, according to researchers who have studied global crop yields.
Solving 'wicked problems': ten principles for improved environmental management
(06/23/2013) As agriculture continues to expand at the expense of forests in the tropics, humanity struggles to meet environmental protection goals. Despite global efforts towards sustainable agriculture and some progress towards the gazetting of protected areas, there are as yet no general and effective solutions for meeting both conservation goals and food needs, and thus the loss and degradation of natural habitats continues. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has estimated a 70% increase in food production will be needed by 2050 to feed a population that will exceed 9 billion. How can such food production be met in ways that conserve the environment while also alleviating poverty?
EU labels another pesticide as bad for bees
(06/18/2013) A widely used insect nerve agent has been labelled a "high acute risk" to honeybees by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). A similar assessment by the EFSA on three other insecticides preceded the suspension of their use in the European Union.
Local economy ruined by pesticide pollution in the Caribbean
(05/29/2013) On 15 April more than 100 fishermen demonstrated in the streets of Fort de France, the main town on Martinique, in the French West Indies. In January they barricaded the port until the government in Paris allocated €2m ($2.6m) in aid, which they are still waiting for. The contamination caused by chlordecone, a persistent organochlorine pesticide, means their spiny lobsters are no longer fit for human consumption. The people of neighboring Guadeloupe are increasingly angry for the same reason. After polluting the soil, the chemical is wreaking havoc out at sea, an environmental disaster that now threatens the whole economy.
Water crisis widening: 4.5 billion people live near 'impaired water sources'
(05/28/2013) The majority of the 9 billion people on Earth will live with severe pressure on fresh water within the space of two generations as climate change, pollution and over-use of resources take their toll, 500 scientists have warned.
Pacific islanders are the 'victims of industrial countries unable to control their carbon dioxide emissions'
(05/15/2013) With islands and atolls scattered across the ocean, the small Pacific island states are among those most exposed to the effects of global warming: increasing acidity and rising sea level, more frequent natural disasters and damage to coral reefs. These micro-states, home to about 10 million people, are already paying for the environmental irresponsibility of the great powers.
Continued deforestation in the Amazon may kill Brazil's agricultural growth
(05/09/2013) Continuing deforestation in the Amazon rainforest could undermine agricultural productivity in the region by reducing rainfall and boosting temperatures, warns a new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
U.S. loses nearly a third of its honey bees this season
(05/09/2013) Nearly a third of managed honeybee colonies in America died out or disappeared over the winter, an annual survey found on Wednesday. The decline—which was far worse than the winter before—threatens the survival of some bee colonies. The heavy losses of pollinators also threatens the country's food supply, researchers said. The US Department of Agriculture has estimated that honeybees contribute some $20bn to the economy every year.
Sugarcane production impacting local climate in Brazil
(05/01/2013) Intensification of Brazil's sugarcane industry in response to rising demand for sugar-based ethanol could have impacts on the regional climate reports a new study by researchers from Arizona State University, Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution for Science. Following the conversion of cerrado grasslands into sugarcane in Brazil, a recent study in Geophysical Research Letters found local cooling that approached 1 degree Celsius during the growing season and maximum local warming near 1 degree Celsius post-harvest.
Indigenous tribes say effects of climate change already felt in Amazon rainforest
(04/30/2013) Tribal groups in Earth's largest rainforest are already being affected by shifts wrought by climate change, reports a paper published last week in the British journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. The paper, which is based on a collection of interviews conducted with indigenous leaders in the Brazilian Amazon, says that native populations are reporting shifts in precipitation patterns, humidity, river levels, temperature, and fire and agricultural cycles. These shifts, measured against celestial timing used by indigenous groups, are affecting traditional ways of life that date back thousands of years.
Europe bans pesticides linked to bee collapse
(04/29/2013) The EU has banned three neonicotinoid pesticides (imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam) linked to the decline of bees for two years. The ban will apply to all flowering crops, such as corn, rape seed, and sunflowers. The move follows a flood of recent studies, some high-profile, that have linked neonicotinoid pesticides, which employ nicotine-like chemicals, to the widespread decline of bees seen both in Europe and North America.
What if companies actually had to compensate society for environmental destruction?
(04/29/2013) The environment is a public good. We all share and depend on clean water, a stable atmosphere, and abundant biodiversity for survival, not to mention health and societal well-being. But under our current global economy, industries can often destroy and pollute the environment—degrading public health and communities—without paying adequate compensation to the public good. Economists call this process "externalizing costs," i.e. the cost of environmental degradation in many cases is borne by society, instead of the companies that cause it. A new report from TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity), conducted by Trucost, highlights the scale of the problem: unpriced natural capital (i.e. that which is not taken into account by the global market) was worth $7.3 trillion in 2009, equal to 13 percent of that year's global economic output.
Up for grabs: how foreign investments are redistributing land and water across the globe
(04/18/2013) In 2007, the increased human population, increased prices in fuel and transportation costs, and an increased demand for a diversity of food products prompted a Global Food Crisis. Agricultural producers and government leaders world-wide struggled to procure stable food sources for their countries. But the crisis had impacts beyond 2007: it was also the impetus for what we now know as the global land-grabbing phenomenon.
Madagascar swamped by locust invasion
(04/17/2013) More than 60 percent of Madagascar is suffering from a massive locust infestation that is threatening crops and livestock, potentially increasing risks to native wildlife and forests from hungry farmers, warns the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Conservation policies that boost farm yields may ultimately undermine forest protection, argues study
(04/17/2013) Rising agricultural profitability due to higher prices, improved crop productivity, and forest conservation itself could make it increasingly difficult for conservation programs tied to payments for ecosystem services to succeed, warns a study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Featured video: stemming human-caused fires in the Amazon
(04/09/2013) A new series of 5 films highlights how people use fire in the Amazon rainforest and how such practices can be mitigated. Collectively dubbed "Slash & Burn" each film explores a different aspect of fire-use in the Amazon. In recent years the Amazon has faced unprecedented droughts, possibly linked to climate change and vast deforestation, making the issue of human-started fires even more important.
Still hope for tropical biodiversity in human modified landscapes
(04/09/2013) As primary forests become increasingly rare and expensive to protect, many ecologists are looking to better management of Human Modified Landscapes (HMLs) to shepherd and shield biodiversity in the tropics. Secondary forests, selectively logged forests and lands devoted to sustainable agriculture already play an important role in conservation efforts. However, the idea that HMLs will serve as a "Noah's Ark" for biodiversity, is controversial.
Norwegian Pinot Noir?: global warming to drastically shift wine regions
(04/08/2013) In less than 40 years, drinking wine could have a major toll on the environment and wildlife, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The study finds that climate change will likely force many vineyards to move either north or to higher altitudes, leading to habitat loss, biodiversity declines, and increased pressure for freshwater. Some famous wine-growing areas could be lost, including in the Mediterranean, while development of new wine areas—such as those in the Rocky Mountains and northern Europe—could lead to what the the scientists describe as "conservation conflicts."
30% of Brazil's emissions from deforestation are export-driven
(04/05/2013) 2.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions or 30 percent of the carbon associated with deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon between 2000 and 2010 was effectively exported in the form of beef products and soy, finds a new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The research underscores the rising role that global trade plays in driving tropical deforestation.
Can we meet rising food demand and save forests?
(04/03/2013) A few weeks ago the Skoll World Forum hosted an online debate on how increased global consumption can be balanced with sustainability. The debate asks how a rapidly growing world that is ever consuming can hope to feed everyone, and at the same time address the deforestation that is emitting massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and destroying the world’s greatest tropical forests. Many contributors made very strong points—even contradicting one another in their approaches and ideas.
Domesticated bees do not replace declining wild insects as agricultural pollinators
(04/03/2013) Sprinkled with pollen, buzzing bees fly from one blossom to another, collecting sweet nectar from brilliantly colored flowers. Bees tend to symbolize the pollination process, but there are many wild insects that carry out the same function. Unfortunately, wild insect populations are in decline, and, according to a recent study, adding more honey bees may not be a viable solution.
Is hemp the silver bullet for fighting climate change and creating green jobs?
(03/30/2013) Though Obama has frequently spoken of the need for more “green jobs,” he has failed to acknowledge the inherent environmental advantages associated with a curious plant called hemp. One of the earliest domesticated crops, hemp is incredibly versatile and can be utilized for everything from food, clothing, rope, paper and plastic to even car parts. In an era of high unemployment, hemp could provide welcome relief to the states and help to spur the transition from antiquated and polluting manufacturing jobs to the new green economy. What is more, in lieu of our warming world and climate change, the need for environmentally sustainable industries like hemp has never been greater. Given all of these benefits, why have Obama and the political establishment chosen to remain silent?
Common pesticides disrupt brain functioning in bees
(03/27/2013) Exposure to commonly used pesticides directly disrupts brain functioning in bees, according to new research in Nature. While the study is the first to record that popular pesticides directly injure bee brain physiology, it adds to a slew of recent studies showing that pesticides, especially neonicotinoids, are capable of devastating bee hives and may be, at least, partly responsible for on-going Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
Tropical croplands expand by 48m ha in 10 years, raising environmental concerns
(03/19/2013) Croplands in the tropics expanded by an average of 4.8 million hectares per year between 1999 and 2008, increasing pressure on forest areas and other ecosystems, reports a study published in the journal PLoS ONE. The research found that soybeans and maize (corn) expanded the most of any crops in terms of absolute area, followed by rice, sorghum, oil palm, beans, and sugar cane. The countries which added the largest area of new cropland were Nigeria, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Sudan and Brazil.
Innovative idea: wildlife income may help people withstand drought in Africa
(03/18/2013) Getting local people to become invested in wildlife conservation is not always easy, especially in parts of the world where protected areas are seen as taking away natural resources from local communities. This tension lies around Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, where a growing population of livestock herders competes with wildlife.
Saving forests by putting a price on them
(03/04/2013) During the 2013 SuperBowl, the championship game of the US National Football League, a truck company aired an advertisement that likened farmers to God’s favorite assistant. It suggested that when God needs something tough, or gentle, done, he calls a farmer. The narration, taken from a speech given to the Future Farmers of America in 1978 by Paul Harvey, a radio host, plays directly to the near mythical stature of farmers and ranchers in American culture and their deep connection to nature.
Scientists: stop treating population growth as a 'given' and empower women
(02/27/2013) Climate change, biodiversity loss, resource depletion, water scarcity, and land issues: almost all of the world's environmental problems are underpinned by too many people inhabiting a finite planet. A new study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B warns that overpopulation—combined with over-consumption—is threatening to push the entire globe into "a collapse of global civilization." But cultural changes, especially more empowerment of women and access to contraceptives, may hold the key to reducing population growth and eventual sustainability.
Controversial palm oil project concession in Cameroon is 89 percent 'dense natural forest'
(02/21/2013) Satellite mapping and aerial surveys have revealed that a controversial palm oil concession in Cameroon is almost entirely covered by "dense natural forest," according to a new report by Greenpeace. The activist group alleges that the concession, owned by Herakles Farms, is under 89 percent forest cover. The U.S.-based corporation intends to build a 70,000 hectare palm oil plantation in a region surrounded by four protected areas, including Korup National Park, but has faced stiff criticism from numerous environmental groups as well as conflict with locals.
Stress makes organic tomatoes more nutritious, sweeter
(02/20/2013) Organic tomatoes are sweeter (more sugar) and more nutritious (more vitamin C and anti-oxidants) than tomatoes grown with pesticides and chemical fertilizers, according to a new study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE. The scientists theorize that stress may be why organic farming produces a more nutritious and tastier tomato.
EU pushes ban on pesticides linked to bee downfall
(02/05/2013) Following a flood of damning research on the longterm impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on bee colonies, the EU is proposing a two year ban on the popular pesticides for crops that attract bees, such as corn, sunflower, oil seed rape, cotton. The proposal comes shortly after European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released a report that found neonicotinoid pesticides posed a "number of risks" to bees.
From slash-and-burn to Amazon heroes: new video series highlights agricultural transformation
(01/31/2013) A new series of short films is celebrating the innovation of rural farmers in the Manu region of Peru. Home to jaguars, macaws, and tapirs, the Manu region is also one of the top contenders for the world's most biodiverse place. It faces a multitude of threats from road-building to mining to gas and oil concessions. Still the impact of smallscale slash-and-burn farming—once seen as the greatest threat to the Amazon and other rainforest—may be diminishing as farmers, like the first film's Reynaldo (see below), turn to new ways of farming, ones that preserve the forest while providing a better life overall.
Popular pesticides kill frogs outright
(01/28/2013) Commonly used agrochemicals (pesticides, fungicides and herbicides) kill frogs outright when sprayed on fields even when used at recommended dosages, according to new research in Scientific Reports. Testing seven chemicals on European common frogs (Rana temporaria), the scientists found that all of them were potentially lethal to amphibians. In fact, two fungicides—Headline and Captain Omya—wiped out the entire population of frogs at the recommended dosage. The study warns that agricultural chemicals could be having a large-scale and largely unrecorded impact on the world's vanishing amphibians.
Bolivia takes step to boost agriculture and curb surging deforestation
(01/28/2013) Bolivia has passed a land use law that aims to boost food security and slow deforestation in a region that is wracked by illegal forest clearing. Approved earlier this month, Ley 337 seeks to regulate land use in the Bolivian Amazon where deforestation for industrial agricultural production is surging. The law requires landowners who illegally deforested land prior to 2011 to either reforest or establish 'productive agriculture' on the land and pay reduced fines for past transgressions.
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