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News articles on farming
Mongabay.com news articles on farming in blog format. Updated regularly.
Record dead zone projected due to Midwest floods
(06/16/2011) Flooding in the Midwest is likely to cause the largest-ever dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, reports the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Could palm oil help save the Amazon?
(06/14/2011) For years now, environmentalists have become accustomed to associating palm oil with large-scale destruction of rainforests across Malaysia and Indonesia. Campaigners have linked palm oil-containing products like Girl Scout cookies and soap products to smoldering peatlands and dead orangutans. Now with Brazil announcing plans to dramatically scale-up palm oil production in the Amazon, could the same fate befall Earth's largest rainforest? With this potential there is a frenzy of activity in the Brazilian palm oil sector. Yet there is a conspicuous lack of hand wringing by environmentalists in the Amazon. The reason: done right, oil palm could emerge as a key component in the effort to save the Amazon rainforest. Responsible production there could even force changes in other parts of the world.
Profit, not poverty, increasingly the cause of deforestation
(06/13/2011) A new report highlights the increasing role commodity production and trade play in driving tropical deforestation.
Majority of Brazilians reject changes in Amazon Forest Code
(06/11/2011) The vast majority of Brazilians reject a bill that would weaken Brazil's Forest Code, according to a new poll commissioned by green groups.
Rash of murders threatens to silence environmental and social activism in Brazil
(06/10/2011) Authorities in Brazil have sent an elite police force consisting of 60 officers to offer protection to environmental activists in the Amazon after a series of killings, reports the Associated Press. The move comes 10 days after Brazil’s Vice President Michel Temer announced the creation of a working group on Amazon violence following the assassinations of three activists in the region in late May. The Brazilian Amazon is no stranger to systemic violence against environmental activists, yet the response from the federal government in the past two weeks is the most significant to date.
Can Brazil meet deforestation, climate goals and still grow its cattle industry?
(06/09/2011) Despite environmentalists' efforts to combat "rainforest beef" in the 1980s, pasture expansion for cattle is still the primary cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, says a new report produced by Brighter Green. While Brazil's investments in agribusiness have made it an agricultural powerhouse—the country is now the world’s third-largest exporter of farm commodities after the US and the European Union—unfortunately, two of the Brazil’s key products, cattle and soy, are still driving deforestation as well as economic growth. According to Brighter Green’s report, researchers estimate that cattle ranching caused 65-70 percent of land clearing in the Amazon between 2000 and 2005.
Dutch buy first 'responsible' soy sourced from the Amazon
(06/08/2011) The Dutch food and feed industry has bought the first soy produced under the principles of the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS), a body that aims to bring more socially and environmentally sustainable soy to market.
Food security in developing world threatened by climate change
(06/06/2011) If swift action is not taken to prepare farmers in the developing world for hotter, drier, shorter growing seasons, climate change may threaten the lives of hundreds of millions of people by 2050. People in Africa and South Asia are particularly at risk of further impoverishment and hunger in a warmer world. According to the UN, a billion people are already going hungry worldwide.
Restoring forests: an opportunity for Africa
(05/26/2011) Tropical forest news last week was dominated by Indonesia and Brazil. Forest clearing has surged over the past year in parts of the Amazon, the Brazilian Government reported. Meanwhile, Indonesia’s President signed a moratorium on cutting some intact forest areas, as part of a landmark billion-dollar deal with international donors. But new research shows that Africa offers some of the greatest opportunities globally for restoring forests.
Amnesty for illegal rainforest loggers moves forward in Brazil
(05/25/2011) A controversial bill environmentalists say could increase deforestation in the Amazon rainforest moved a step forward to becoming law in Brazil after winning approval in Brazil's lower house of Congress. The measure, which has been hotly debated for months, next goes to the Senate where it is expected to pass, before heading to President Dilma Rousseff, who has vowed to veto any bill that grants amnesty for illegal deforestation. The bill includes such a measure, although it could be subject to change before a final decision by the president. The bill aims to reform Brazil's Forest Code, which requires landowners in the Amazon rainforest to maintain 80 percent of their holdings as forest.
Brazil’s new cabinet-level post in response to surge in deforestation
(05/21/2011) Prompted by a near sixfold increase in Amazon rainforest clearing over the past year, the Brazilian government will form a cabinet post to monitor and respond to deforestation.
Cambodia's wildlife pioneer: saving species and places in Southeast Asia's last forest
(05/11/2011) Suwanna Gauntlett has dedicated her life to protecting rainforests and wildlife in some of the world’s most hostile and rugged environments and has set the trend of a new generation of direct action conservationists. She has designed, implemented, and supported bold, front-line conservation programs to save endangered wildlife populations from the brink of extinction, including saving the Amur Tiger (also known as the Siberian Tiger) from extinction in the 1990s in the Russian Far East, when only about 80 individuals remained and reversing the drastic decline of Olive Ridley sea turtles along the coast of Orissa, India in the 1990s, when annual nestings had declined from 600,000 to a mere 8,130. When she first arrived in Cambodia in the late 1990s, its forests were silent. 'You couldn’t hear any birds, you couldn’t hear any wildlife and you could hardly see any signs of wildlife because of the destruction,' Gauntlett said. Wildlife was being sold everywhere, in restaurants, on the street, and even her local beauty parlor had a bear.
Distressed Place and Faded Grace in North Sulawesi
(05/10/2011) The Nantu Wildlife Reserve is located in northern Sulawesi’s Minehasa Peninsula, in Gorontalo Province. Sulawesi is among the largest of Indonesia’s some seventeen thousand islands. Its shape is bizarre: a sinuous sprawling monkey, with lavish tail, poised to leap the straits of Makassar. Sulawesi lies to the north of Bali and Lombok and to the east of Borneo. Alfred Russell Wallace, the nineteenth century English explorer and natural scientist of broad expertise, spent a lot of time in Sulawesi’s northern peninsula, casting his curiosity and observation with such singular acuity that his mind apprehended “Darwin’s theory of evolution” independently from and possibly before Darwin. His work described the zone of transition between the Asian and Australian zoographic regions and was so accurate and thorough in its logic that today, some one-hundred and fifty years later, the zone is named Wallacea.
Brazil's forest code debate may determine fate of the Amazon rainforest
(05/05/2011) Brazil's forest code may be about to get an overhaul. The federal code, which presently requires landowners in the Amazon to keep 80 percent of their land forest (20-35% in the cerrado), is widely flouted, but has been used in recent years as a lever by the government to go after deforesters. For example, the forest code served as the basis for the "blacklists" which restricted funds for municipalities where deforestation has been particularly high. To get off the blacklist, and thereby regain access to finance and markets, a municipality must demonstrate its landowners are in compliance with environmental laws.
Save the Frogs Day focuses on banning Atrazine in US
(04/26/2011) This year's Save the Frogs Day (Friday, April 29th) is focusing on a campaign to ban the herbicide Atrazine in the US with a rally at the steps of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Kerry Kriger, executive director of frog-focused NGO Save the Frogs! and creator of Save the Frogs Day, says that Atrazine is an important target in the attempt to save amphibians worldwide, which are currently facing extinction rates that are estimated at 200 times the average. "Atrazine weakens amphibians' immune systems, and can cause hermaphroditism and complete sex reversal in male frogs at concentrations as low as 2.5 parts per billion," Kriger told mongabay.com.
Sugar cane cools climate when it replaces cattle pasture
(04/17/2011) Converting cattle pasture and cropland in Brazil to sugar cane helps cool local climate reports research published in Nature Climate Change.
Brazilian authorities levy $1.2B in fines against beef traders linked to deforestation, slave labor
(04/15/2011) Brazilian authorities are seeking 2 billion reals ($1.2 billion) in fines against 14 companies accused of buying beef sourced from ranches that have illegally cleared Amazon rainforest or exploited workers in the state of Acre, reports AFP.
Study calls for REDD+ money to boost yields in West Africa using agrochemicals
(04/10/2011) Small-scale agriculture including cocoa, cassava, and oil palm farming has driven large-scale conversion West Africa tropical forests, reports new research published in the journal Environmental Management.
The value of the little guy, an interview with Tyler Prize-winning entomologist May Berenbaum
(04/06/2011) May Berenbaum knows a thing or two about insects: in recognition of her lifelong work on the interactions between insects and plants, she has had a character on The X-Files named after her, received the Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award for her work in making science accessible to the public, and this year has been awarded the prestigious Tyler Environmental Prize. "Winning the Tyler Prize is an incredible honor—most of my scientific heroes have been Tyler Prize winners and I’m exceedingly grateful to be considered worthy of being included among their ranks," Berenbaum told mongabay.com in an interview. "The Prize is also tremendously enabling—because the money is unrestricted I can use it to carry out projects that have been difficult to fund."
New land snail invading Singapore requires swift action
(03/28/2011) An African land snail Limicolaria flammea has been discovered by researchers in six locations in Singapore, perhaps heralding a new invasion of alien land snails in Southeast Asia. Although snails may seem largely innocuous creatures, past invasions have resulted in agricultural and economic damage. The global invasion of the giant African land snail (Achatina fulica) has been called one of the world's top 100 worst alien species. Writing in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science, researchers examine the issue and provide suggestions as to how Singapore authorities can quickly rid the nation of Limicolaria flammea.
New organization seeks to make biofuels sustainable, but is it possible?
(03/24/2011) Not too long ago policy-makers, scientists, and environmentalists saw biofuels as a significant tool to provide sustainable energy to the world. However, as it became clear that biofuels were not only connected to deforestation, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions (sometimes exceeding fossil fuels), but also competed with the global food supply and water sources, biofuels no longer seemed like a silver bullet, but a new problem facing the environment and the poor. Still, biofuels have persisted not so much due to perceived environmental benefits, but to entrenched interests by the big agricultural industry, lobbyists, and governments. However, the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB) hopes to begin certifying environmentally friendly biofuels that don't compete with food production or water sources.
McDonald's launches new sourcing policy for palm oil, paper, beef to reduce global environmental impact
(03/11/2011) McDonald's announced a far-reaching sourcing policy that could significantly reduce the fast-food giant's impact on the environment, including global forests. Yesterday McDonald's unveiled its Sustainable Land Management Commitment, a policy that requires its suppliers to use 'agricultural raw materials for the company's food and packaging that originate from sustainably-managed land'.
Foreign big agriculture threatens world's second largest wildlife migration
(03/07/2011) As the world's largest migration in the Serengeti plains—including two million wildebeest, zebra, and Thomson's gazelles—has come under unprecedented threat due to plans for a road that would sever the migration route, a far lesser famous, but nearly as large migration, is being silently eroded just 1,370 miles (2,200 kilometers) north in Ethiopia's Gambela National Park. The migration of over one million white-eared kob, tiang, and Mongalla gazelle starts in the southern Sudan but crosses the border into Ethiopia and Gambela where Fred Pearce at Yale360 reports it is running into the rapid expansion of big agribusiness. While providing habitat for the millions of migrants, Gambela National Park's land is also incredibly fertile enticing foreign investment.
Moratorium on Amazon deforestation for soy production proving effective
(03/06/2011) The Brazilian soy industry's moratorium is proving effective at slowing deforestation for soy production in the Amazon rainforest, reveals a new study published in the journal Remote Sensing.
Food prices hit new record high—again
(03/03/2011) Food prices in February hit a new record, breaking the previous one set in January and continuing an eight-month streak of rising prices, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Experts fear that rising food prices could lead to another food crisis similar to that of 2007-2008.
Women are key to global conservation
(03/03/2011) In 1991, my nine-year-old daughter Rachel traveled with me to Guatemala where we were struck by the heartbreaking rural poverty and mudslides worsened by widespread deforestation. We vividly remember holding a three-year-old child who was so listless and malnourished he could scarcely lift his arms. The worry and fatigue on his mother's face and the child's condition affected us both profoundly, despite Rachel's relative youth.
Food crisis 2011?: drought in China could push food prices even higher
(02/09/2011) The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned that a drought in China could devastate the nation's winter wheat crop and further inflate food prices worldwide. Already, food prices hit a record high in January according to the FAO. Rising 3.4 percent since December, prices reached the highest point since tracking began in 1990. While many fear a food crisis similar to the one in 2008-2007, experts say the world has more food in reserve this time around and gasoline, at least for now, remains cheaper. However, if China loses its winter wheat that could scuttle any hopes of avoiding another price rise in crop staples.
Slow but steady progress on recognizing indigenous land rights is interrupted by commodity boom
(02/09/2011) Progress over the past 25 years in recognizing indigenous peoples' rights to land and resources has been interrupted by a worldwide commodity boom, argues a new report published by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI). The report says that surging food and energy prices—and associated appreciation of land values—have led some governments to pause on land tenure reform, and in some cases, rollback hard-won rights. The report cites instances in Asia, Africa, and South America where large blocks of land traditionally used by local people have been sold or leased to industrial interests. In a conversation with mongabay.com, Andy White, coordinator of RRI, discussed the new report and broader rights issues.
'Land grab' fears in Africa legitimate
(01/31/2011) A new report by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) has found that recent large-scale land deals in Africa are likely to provide scant benefit to some of the world's poorest and most famine-prone nations and will probably create new social and environmental problems. Analyzing 12 recent land leasing contracts investigators found a number of concerns, including contracts that are only a few pages long, exclusion of local people, and in one case actually giving land away for free. Many of the contracts last for 100 years, threatening to separate local communities from the land they live on indefinitely. "Most contracts for large-scale land deals in Africa are negotiated in secret," explains report author Lorenzo Cotula in a press release. "Only rarely do local landholders have a say in those negotiations and few contracts are publicly available after they have been signed."
Prairie grass-based biofuels could meet half current fuel demand without affecting forests, food
(01/26/2011) Biofuels could meet up to half the world's current fuel consumption without affecting food production or forests, argues a study published last month in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
Agricultural innovation will reduce poverty, help stabilize climate change according to new report
(01/12/2011) With nearly a billion people people going hungry in the world today as 40 percent of the global food stock is wasted before it is consumed, many are seeking ways to increase the efficiency of the world's food system. Worldwatch Institute, an environmental sustainability and social welfare research organization, today released State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, which highlights recent successes in agricultural innovation and outlines ways to reduce global hunger and poverty while at the same time minimizing the impact of agriculture on the environment.
GM crop contamination may be product of sloppy handling, not cross-pollination
(01/04/2011) A recent study has suggested that sloppy seed handling may be partially responsible for the presence of genetically modified plants in conventional fields. For years, farmers have been reporting that fields planted with traditional seeds sometimes yield GM plants. Many scientists believe that this pattern is due to cross-pollination: insects carry pollen from neighboring GM fields into conventional fields, resulting in some GM plants. But a new paper just published in PLoS One argues that the effect of cross-pollination is actually quite small. In the fields tested by the researchers, fewer than 1 percent of all conventional cotton plants produced genetically modified Bt seed as a result of insect cross-pollination.
Good stewards of forests at home outsource deforestation abroad
(11/24/2010) As more nations adopt better laws and policies to save and restore forests at home, they may, in fact, be outsourcing deforestation to other parts of the world, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Looking at six developing nations where forests are recovering—instead of receding—the study found only one of them did not outsource deforestation to meet local demand for wood-products and food, a process known as 'leakage'.
UN warns of likely food crisis next year for world's poor
(11/17/2010) The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) warns in a new report that next year could see a rise in food prices, especially imperiling the world's poor. The report predicts that food prices will jump 11% for the world's poorest nations and 20% for low-income food-deficit countries. Already, the UN estimates that 1 billion people in the world suffer from hunger, the highest number in history.
New bat species confirmed in Ecuador, may already be extinct
(11/16/2010) Although the first specimen was collected over 30 years ago, scientists have only now confirmed that a tiny brown bat is indeed a unique species. Named Myotis diminutus for its incredibly small size, the new bat was discovered in the Chocó biodiversity hotspot, amid the moist forests of western Ecuador.
Chaco expedition working to "minimize the risk" of running into uncontacted natives
(11/11/2010) A joint expedition by the Natural History Museum (NHM), London and the Natural History Museum, Asuncion to study the biodiversity of the dwindling dry forests of Chaco in Paraguay have responded to recent concerns that they risk encountering uncontacted natives, which could potentially threaten the natives' lives as well as their own.
Brazil's development bank announces $588m fund to reduce agricultural emissions
(11/11/2010) Brazil's national development bank launched a 1 billion reais ($588 million) fund that will finance projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture, reports Reuters.
Growing strawberries organically yields more nutritious fruit and healthier soil
(11/08/2010) Strawberry plants grown on commercial organic farms yield higher-quality fruit and have healthier soil than those grown conventionally, according to a study published on 1 September in the journal PLoS One. The research suggests that sustainable farming practices can produce nutritious fruit, if farmers manage soil and its beneficial microbes properly. This is among the most comprehensive studies to investigate how conventional and organic farming methods affect both fruit and soil quality.
Tropical agriculture "double-whammy": high emissions, low yields
(11/02/2010) Food produced in the tropics comes with high carbon emissions and low crop yields, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). In the most comprehensive and detailed study to date looking at carbon emissions versus crop yields, researchers found that food produced in the tropics releases almost double the amount of carbon while producing half the yield as food produced in temperate regions. In other words, temperate food production is three times more efficient in terms of yield and carbon emissions.
Villagers beat, ride on, and kill baby elephant
(10/28/2010) A video camera has captured villagers in the Indian state of Assam, beating, riding on, and eventually spearing a three-year-old elephant to death that had been abandoned by its herd after suffering an injury. The footage, available from New Delhi Television (NDTV) [warning: it is graphic], shows policemen standing by as the animal is killed. The incident took place a day after the Asian elephant was declared a National Heritage Animal status by Indian authorities, granting it special cultural status.
Corporations, conservation, and the green movement
(10/21/2010) The image of rainforests being torn down by giant bulldozers, felled by chainsaw-wielding loggers, and torched by large-scale developers has never been more poignant. Corporations have today replaced small-scale farmers as the prime drivers of deforestation, a shift that has critical implications for conservation. Until recently deforestation has been driven mostly by poverty—poor people in developing countries clearing forests or depleting other natural resources as they struggle to feed their families. Government policies in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s had a multiplier effect, subsidizing agricultural expansion through low-interest loans, infrastructure projects, and ambitious colonization schemes, especially in the Amazon and Indonesia. But over the past two decades, this has changed in many countries due to rural depopulation, a decline in state-sponsored development projects, the rise of globalized financial markets, and a worldwide commodity boom. Deforestation, overfishing, and other forms of environmental degradation are now primarily the result of corporations feeding demand from international consumers. While industrial actors exploit resources more efficiently and cause widespread environmental damage, they also are more sensitive to pressure from consumers and environmental groups. Thus in recent years, it has become easier—and more ethical—for green groups to go after corporations than after poor farmers.
Humanity consuming the Earth: by 2030 we'll need two planets
(10/13/2010) Too many people consuming too much is depleting the world's natural resources faster than they are replenished, imperiling not only the world's species but risking the well-being of human societies, according to a new massive study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), entitled the Living Planet Report. The report finds that humanity is currently consuming the equivalent of 1.5 planet Earths every year for its activities. This overconsumption has caused biodiversity—in this case, representative populations of vertebrate animals—to fall by 30 percent worldwide since 1970. The situation is more dire in tropical regions where terrestrial species' populations have fallen by 60 percent and freshwater species by 70 percent.
Farms in the sky, an interview with Dickson Despommier
(10/12/2010) To solve today's environmental crises—climate change, deforestation, mass extinction, and marine degradation—while feeding a growing population (on its way to 9 billion) will require not only thinking outside the box, but a "new box altogether" according to Dr. Dickson Despommier, author of the new book, The Vertical Farm. Exciting policy-makers and environmentalists, Despommier's bold idea for skyscrapers devoted to agriculture is certainly thinking outside the box.
Nearly half of the world's wetlands used for crops
(09/27/2010) Wetlands used for crops have expanded significantly over the past eighty years. According to a new study in the open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science, wetlands being utilized for crop production has jumped from 25 percent in 1926 to 43 percent in 2006 of the world's wetlands as identified by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
Into the Congo: saving bonobos means aiding left-behind communities, an interview with Gay Reinartz
(09/23/2010) Unlike every other of the world's great apes—the gorilla, chimpanzee, and orangutan—saving the bonobo means focusing conservation efforts on a single nation, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While such a fact would seem to simplify conservation, according to the director of the Bonobo and Congo Biodiversity Initiative (BCBI), Gay Reinartz, it in fact complicates it: after decades of one of world's brutal civil wars, the DRC remains among the world's most left-behind nations. Widespread poverty, violence, politically instability, corruption, and lack of basic infrastructure have left the Congolese people in desperate straits.
Could forest conservation payments undermine organic agriculture?
(09/07/2010) Forest carbon payment programs like the proposed reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) mechanism could put pressure on wildlife-friendly farming techniques by increasing the need to intensify agricultural production, warns a paper published this June in Conservation Biology. The paper, written by Jaboury Ghazoul and Lian Pin Koh of ETH Zurich and myself in September 2009, posits that by increasing the opportunity cost of conversion of forest land for agriculture, REDD will potentially constrain the amount of land available to meet growing demand for food. Because organic agriculture and other biodiversity-friendly farming practices generally have lower yields than industrial agriculture, REDD will therefore encourage a shift toward from more productive forms of food production.
80% of tropical agricultural expansion between 1980-2000 came at expense of forests
(09/02/2010) More than 80 percent of agricultural expansion in the tropics between 1980 and 2000 came at the expense of forests, reports research published last week in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The study, based on analysis satellite images collected by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and led by Holly Gibbs of Stanford University, found that 55 percent of new agricultural land came at the expense of intact forests, while 28 percent came from disturbed forests. Another six percent came from shrub lands.
Satellites show mangrove forest loss even worse than estimated
(08/19/2010) New satellite data shows that human actions are wiping out mangrove forests even faster than previous bleak estimates. Conducted by the US Geological Survey and NASA, the researchers found that mangroves comprise 12.3 percent less area than previously estimated. In total, satellites reveal that mangrove forests cover approximately 53,290 square miles (137,760 square kilometers). "Our assessment shows, for the first time, the exact extent and distribution of mangrove forests of the world at 30 meters spatial resolution, the highest resolution ever," said Dr Chandra Giri from USGS.
Could biochar save the world?
(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".
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