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Mongabay.com news articles on food in blog format. Updated regularly.









Growing cardamom impacts forests for decades

(05/17/2012) Over 25 years after people stopped growing cardamom in Sri Lanka's Knuckles Forest Reserve (KFR), the spice crop is still having an impact on the forest, according to a recent study in Forest Ecology and Management. The clearing of understory plants and the use of fertilizers continue to shape the forest in the protected area.


Consumption, population, and declining Earth: wake-up call for Rio+20

(05/15/2012) Currently, human society is consuming natural resources as if there were one-and-a-half Earths, and not just a single blue planet, according to the most recent Living Planet Report released today. If governments and societies continue with 'business-as-usual' practices, we could be consuming three years of natural resources in 12 months by 2050. Already, this ecological debt is decimating wildlife populations worldwide, disproportionately hurting the world's poor and most vulnerable, threatening imperative resources like food and water, heating up the atmosphere, and risking global well-being.


'The real Hunger Games': a million children at risk as Sahel region suffers punishing drought

(05/09/2012) The UN warns that a million children in Africa's Sahel region face malnutrition due to drought in region. In all 15 million people face food insecurity in eight nations across the Sahel, a region that is still recovering from drought and a food crisis of 2010. In some countries the situation is worsened by conflict.


Organic yields lag behind industrial farming, but that's not the whole story

(04/26/2012) In general, industrial agriculture beats organic farming in yields, according to a comprehensive new study in Nature. The study adds new data to the sometimes heated debate of organic versus conventional farming. Proponents of organic farming argue that these practices are environmentally friendly, sustainable over the long-term, and provide a number of social goods. However, critics argue that organic farming requires more land, thereby increasing global deforestation, which offsets any other environmental benefits of organic food production. At stake is whether organic or conventional is capable of feeding the world's seven billion people (and rising), including increasing demand for energy-intensive foods like meat in the developing world.


15 million facing food shortages in Africa's Sahel region

(03/29/2012) The UN announced yesterday that food security in the Sahel region is deteriorating, putting over 15 million people at risk. Ongoing drought combined with conflict, has pushed the region into a crisis. The situation appears eerily similar to last year when Somalia was hit by a devastating famine due to drought and political instability; the famine left an estimated 30,000 children dead.


Another food crisis looming in Africa: nearly 5 million South Sudanese lacking food

(02/08/2012) The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP) have warned that South Sudan is facing a food crisis and that immediate action is needed to stave off a disaster. Currently 4.7 million people do not have enough to eat in South Sudan, while one million of these face severe food shortages. That number, however, could double if on-going conflict in the region continues and food prices continue rising, says the UN agencies.


Brazilian mining company connected to Belo Monte dam voted worst corporation

(01/31/2012) The world's second largest mining company, Vale, has been given the dubious honor of being voted the world's most awful corporation in terms of human rights abuses and environmental destruction by the Public Eye Awards. Vale received over 25,000 votes online, likely prompted in part by its stake in the hugely controversial Brazilian mega-dam, Belo Monte, which is being constructed on the Xingu River. An expert panel gave a second award to British bank Barclay's for speculation on food prices, which the experts stated was worsening hunger worldwide.


Delayed response to Somalia famine cost thousands of lives

(01/18/2012) A hesitant response by the international community likely led to thousands of unnecessary deaths in last year's famine in East Africa finds a new report released by Oxfam and Save the Children. The report, entitled A Dangerous Delay, says that early warning systems worked in informing the international community about the likelihood of a dire food crisis in East Africa, however a "culture of risk aversion" led to months-long delays. By the time aid arrived it was already too late for many. The British government has estimated somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 people perished in the famine, half of whom were likely children under five.


Prehistoric Peruvians enjoyed popcorn

(01/18/2012) Researchers have uncovered corncobs dating back at least 3,000 years ago in two ancient mound sites in Peru according to a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The ancient corn remnants, which proved residents were eating both popped corn and corn flour, are the earliest ever discovered in South America and may go back as far as 4,700 BCE (6,700 years ago), over fifteen hundred years before the early Egyptians developed hieroglyphics and while woolly mammoths still roamed parts of the Earth.


Global food prices set record in 2011

(01/16/2012) Last year saw the highest average food prices since recording began in 1990, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Food Price Index. The Food Price Index's average for the year was 228 points, 28 points higher than the past record set in 2008.


Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2011

(12/22/2011) Many of 2011's most dramatic stories on environmental issues came from people taking to the streets. With governments and corporations slow to tackle massive environmental problems, people have begun to assert themselves. Victories were seen on four continents: in Bolivia a draconian response to protestors embarrassed the government, causing them to drop plans to build a road through Tipnis, an indigenous Amazonian reserve; in Myanmar, a nation not known for bowing to public demands, large protests pushed the government to cancel a massive Chinese hydroelectric project; in Borneo a three-year struggle to stop the construction of a coal plant on the coast of the Coral Triangle ended in victory for activists; in Britain plans to privatize forests created such a public outcry that the government not only pulled back but also apologized; and in the U.S. civil disobedience and massive marches pressured the Obama Administration to delay a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring tar sands from Canada to a global market.


Earth systems disruption: Does 2011 indicate the "new normal" of climate chaos and conflict?

(12/21/2011) The year 2011 has presented the world with a shocking increase in irregular weather and disasters linked to climate change. Just as the 2007 "big melt" of summer arctic sea ice sent scientists and environmentalists scrambling to re-evaluate the severity of climate change, so have recent events forced major revisions and updates in climate science.


Droughts could push parts of Africa back into famine

(12/19/2011) Drought and erratic rains could lead to further food scarcities in Africa warns the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). The WFP singles out South Sudan, the world's newest nation, and Niger as nations of particular concern. Earlier this year famine killed scores of people, including an estimated 30,000 children, in Somalia.


Cultural shifts in Madagascar drive lemur-killing

(12/15/2011) Conservationists have often found that some cultural norms, religious beliefs, and taboos play a role in holding back traditional peoples from overusing their environment. Examples of such beliefs include days wherein one cannot hunt or fish, or certain species or regions that are off limits to exploitation. But the influence of the modern world can rapidly extinguish such beliefs, sometimes for the better, in other cases not. In many parts of Madagascar, lemurs are off the menu. These primates, found only in Madagascar, play a big role in Malagasy 'fady' or taboo-related folk stories: lemurs are protectors and, in some cases, even relatives. However, according to a new paper in PLoS ONE an influx of migrants, widespread poverty, lack domestic meat, and poor law enforcement has caused a sudden rise in eating lemurs, many of which are already near-extinction due to habitat loss.


Using palm hearts sustainably in Colombia

(12/12/2011) Long eaten by indigenous populations, palm hearts have also popular abroad, usually in fine dining establishments. However, palm hearts are cut-out of the inner core of various palm tree species, in some cases killing the tree. A new study published in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Society looks at the sustainability of palm heart extraction from the palm species Prestoea acuminata in the Colombian Andes. While harvesting from Prestoea acuminata does not kill the host tree, better management is needed to ensure the practice doesn't become unsustainable.


Feeding the world's population and saving forests aren't mutually exclusive

(12/06/2011) The world can simultaneously improve food security and save tropical forests by better optimizing land use, factoring in the true costs of biofuels, boosting yields on existing farmland, encouraging production away from forest frontiers, and supporting efforts to develop more sustainable community roundtables, concludes a new report released Monday by the National Wildlife Federation.


Eat like an orangutan to save rainforests

(11/30/2011) One doesn't have to be a scientist or a government official to help save the world's vanishing rainforests, one can also be a chef. World-renowned chef Andre Chiang has added a new item to his menu called Orangutan Salad, reports the Wall Street Journal, which he hopes will raise awareness for the endangered apes at his Singapore eatery, Restaurant Andre. The new salad gives restaurant-goers the chance to enjoy all the subtle, earthy tastes of a typical orangutan meal, including ferns, tree fungi, figs, berries, orchid leaves, and durian flowers.


11 challenges facing 7 billion super-consumers

(10/31/2011) Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about Halloween this year is not the ghouls and goblins taking to the streets, but a baby born somewhere in the world. It's not the baby's or the parent's fault, of course, but this child will become a part of an artificial, but still important, milestone: according to the UN, the Earth's seventh billionth person will be born today. That's seven billion people who require, in the very least, freshwater, food, shelter, medicine, and education. In some parts of the world, they will also have a car, an iPod, a suburban house and yard, pets, computers, a lawn-mower, a microwave, and perhaps a swimming pool. Though rarely addressed directly in policy (and more often than not avoided in polite conversations), the issue of overpopulation is central to environmentally sustainability and human welfare.


Killer Russian heatwave product of climate change

(10/26/2011) Last year's Russian heatwave and drought resulted in vast wildfires and a morality rate that was 56,000 people higher than the same period in 2009. Now, researchers have published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that finds the heatwave would very likely have never happened if not for climate change. The study flies in the face of previous research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that concluded the heatwave was simply due to natural variation and not a warming world.


McDonald's joins sustainable palm oil initiative

(10/20/2011) McDonald's Corp. has officially joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a body that sets criteria for improving the social and environmental performance of palm oil production.


Soy moratorium in Amazon maintaining its effectiveness

(10/14/2011) The moratorium on clearing Amazon rainforest for soy farms in Brazil appears to be maintaining its effectiveness for a fifth straight year, reports the Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries (ABIOVE).


Five ways to feed billions without trashing the planet

(10/13/2011) At the end of this month the UN predicts global population will hit 7 billion people, having doubled from 3.5 billion in less than 50 years. Yet even as the Earth hits this new milestone, one billion people do not have enough food; meanwhile the rapid expansion of agriculture is one of the leading causes of global environmental degradation, including greenhouse gas emissions, destruction of forests, marine pollution, mass extinction, water scarcity, and soil degradation. So, how do we feed the human population—which continues to rise and is expected to hit nine billion by 2050—while preserving the multitude of ecosystem services that support global food production? A new study in Nature proposes a five-point plan to this dilemma.


Meat consumption jumps 20 percent in last decade with super-sized environmental impacts

(10/11/2011) Meat consumption and production remains on the rise, according to a new report Worldwatch Institute, with large-scale environmental impacts especially linked to the spread of factory farming. According to the report, global meat production has tripled since 1970, and jumped by 20 percent since 2000 with consumption rising significantly faster than global population.


Poor in Madagascar see fish plundered for foreign consumption

(10/11/2011) A new study warns that overfishing could exacerbate poverty and political stability in one of the world's poorest nations: Madagascar. According to the recent study by the University of British Columbia's Sea Around Us Project and Malagasy NGO Blue Ventures, fish catches in the African island-nation from 1950 to 2008 are actually double the official numbers, with foreign wealthy nations currently taking half the haul.


World's newest nation faces prospect of famine

(10/06/2011) As East Africa reels from a devastating famine, which is hitting Somalia the hardest, there are new fears that another African nation could soon slip into a similar situation. On July 9th of this year, South Sudan became the world's newest nation; however a few months later drought, conflict, refugees, and rising food prices could push the eastern region of South Sudan into a famine, warned officials from the fledgling nation yesterday.


Satellite imagery confirms Dole destroying national park land for bananas

(10/04/2011) Environmental NGOs in Sri Lanka have accused US food giant Dole of illegally growing bananas in Somawathiya National Park, however Dole has denied the charge saying the land in question is 'not in the [park]'. Mongabay.com has received the coordinates of the Dole plantation from an anonymous source in Sri Lanka familiar with the issue, and using Google Earth has found that the plantation in question is clearly inside park boundaries.


Europe should lift duty on RSPO-certified palm oil to encourage use, says Dutch group

(09/21/2011) To encourage uptake of palm oil that is less damaging to the environment, the European Union (EU) should lift the import duty on palm oil certified under Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), said a Dutch industry group.


Famine in Africa: Can Reforestation Improve Food Security?

(09/14/2011) Millions of people across the Horn of Africa are suffering under a crippling regional drought and tens of thousands have died during the accompanying famine. Refuge camps in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia are swelling with the hungry.


Controversial study finds intensive farming partnered with strict protected areas is best for biodiversity

(09/01/2011) Given that we have very likely entered an age of mass extinction—and human population continues to rise (not unrelated)—researchers are scrambling to determine the best methods to save the world's suffering species. In the midst of this debate, a new study in Science, which is bound to have detractors, has found that setting aside land for strict protection coupled with intensive farming is the best way to both preserve species and feed a growing human world. However, other researchers say the study is missing the point, both on global hunger and biodiversity.


Photos: World Food Program works to save lives in East Africa famine

(08/28/2011) Over 12 million people across East Africa are imperiled by a hunger crisis brought on by extreme drought. The worst of the crisis is in Somalia, where famine has been declared in 5 areas of Somalia to date—the first famine to be declared by the UN in three decades. Somalia is unique, because here the drought has been exacerbated by a long-failed government and militants. Refugee camps have been set up in Kenya and Ethiopia, but are strained. A number of aid groups are working on the ground to provide emergency food and medical attention to hunger victims, but funding is still below what is needed. The largest group is probably the UN's World Food Program (WFP). Mongabay.com spoke to Dena Gubaitis, Communications Officer for the WFP, for background on the famine and how relief efforts are going on the ground.


Innovative program saves wildlife, protects forests, and fights poverty in Africa

(08/23/2011) Luangwa Valley in Zambia is home to stunning scenes of Africa wildlife: elephants, antelopes, zebra, buffalo, leopards, hyena, and lions all thrive in Luangwa's protected areas, while the Luangwa River is known for multitude of snapping crocodiles and its superabundant herds of hippos. In fact, the area's hippos were filmed for the BBC's program Life, including a dramatic battle between two males (see below). Yet as in many such places in Africa, abundant plains and forest wildlife bump up against the needs of impoverished local people. The resulting conflict usually ends in large-scale wildlife declines; the same trend was documented in the Luangwa Valley until a unique initiative began to make a difference not only in the life of animals, but of people as well.


Famine spreads: 29,000 young children perish

(08/04/2011) As the UN announces that famine has spread in Somalia to three additional regions (making five in total now), the US has put the first number to the amount of children under 5 who have so far perished from starvation in the last 90 days: 29,000. Nearly half of the total population of Somalia is currently in need of emergency food assistance. Yet, the al Qaeda-linked group al-Shabaab, which controls parts of Somalia, has made bringing assistance to many of the malnourished incredibly difficult, if not impossible. The famine in Somalia has been brought-on by lack of governance combined with crippling droughts throughout East Africa, which some experts have linked to climate change. High food prices worldwide and a lagging response by the international community and donors have made matters only worse.


Malaysian government to launch RSPO rival for palm oil certification

(08/02/2011) The Malaysian government is developing its own certification system for palm oil production, potentially creating another rival to the certification system run by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), reports Malaysia's Business Times.


Tens of thousands starving to death in East Africa

(07/20/2011) As the US media is focused like a laser on theatric debt talks and the UK media is agog at the heinous Rupert Murdoch scandal, millions of people are undergoing a starvation crisis in East Africa. The UN has upgraded the disaster—driven by high food prices, conflict, and prolonged drought linked by some to climate change—to famine in parts of Somalia today. Mark Bowden, UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, has said that tens of thousands Somalis have died from malnutrition recently, "the majority of whom were children."


Cargill adopts 'greener' palm oil policy

(07/12/2011) Agribusiness giant Cargill will ensure all palm oil supplied to customers in Europe, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand is certified under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an environmental standard, or originated from smallholder growers by 2015, according to a statement issued by the company. Cargill says it will extend the commitment to 100 percent of its products and customers globally – including China and India, the largest consumers of palm oil – by 2020.


Indonesian sugar producers seek 500,000 ha of land exempted from moratorium

(06/23/2011) Indonesia's sugar association is seeking 500,000 hectares of land for new sugar cane plantations in a bid to make the country self-sufficient in sugar production, reports Tempo Interactive.


Palm oil labeling bill fails to pass in Australia

(06/19/2011) A controversial bill that would have required manufacturers to explicitly label palm oil as an ingredient on food products will not be passed into law.


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.


Forest protection plans failing to address food needs

(06/08/2011) Strategy plans for implementing programs to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) are failing to provide details on how they will address forest conversion for agriculture, which in most countries is a major driver of deforestation, argues a new report from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and Lexeme Consulting.


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.


Nobel laureates: 'we are transgressing planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years'

(05/23/2011) Last week the 3rd Nobel Laureates Symposium on Global Sustainability concluded with participants—including 17 past Nobel Prize winners and 40 other experts—crafting and signing the Stockholm Memorandum. The document calls for emergency actions to tackle human pressures on the Earth's environment while ensuring a more equitable and just world.


Rising food prices threaten to push over 60 million Asians back into poverty

(04/27/2011) The Asian Development Bank has warned that high food prices on the continent could push 64 million people in developing countries into extreme poverty, reports the AFP.


What does Nature give us? A special Earth Day article

(04/22/2011) There is no question that Earth has been a giving planet. Everything humans have needed to survive, and thrive, was provided by the natural world around us: food, water, medicine, materials for shelter, and even natural cycles such as climate and nutrients. Scientists have come to term such gifts 'ecosystem services', however the recognition of such services goes back thousands of years, and perhaps even farther if one accepts the caves paintings at Lascaux as evidence. Yet we have so disconnected ourselves from the natural world that it is easy—and often convenient—to forget that nature remains as giving as ever, even as it vanishes bit-by-bit. The rise of technology and industry may have distanced us superficially from nature, but it has not changed our reliance on the natural world: most of what we use and consume on a daily basis remains the product of multitudes of interactions within nature, and many of those interactions are imperiled. Beyond such physical goods, the natural world provides less tangible, but just as important, gifts in terms of beauty, art, and spirituality.


Customs officials confiscate over a thousand monitor lizards headed to China

(04/11/2011) Thai Customs officials have confiscated 1,800 Bengal monitor lizards on the border between Thailand and Malaysia, reports the AFP. Officials said the lizards were likely headed to China for consumption.


Environmental sustainability—the new economic bottom line

(03/28/2011) That’s the message in Accounting for Sustainability: Practical Insights. The book represents the compilation of a five-year project—nicknamed “A4S”—sponsored by Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, that examined the feasibility of factoring industries’ impact on the environment into their economic spread sheets. Using case studies and interviews with leaders at major accounting firms, Accounting For Sustainability documents the bond between capitalism and environmental capital.


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.


Coalition calls on Europe to label palm oil on food products

(03/15/2011) Do you have the right to know whether the chocolate bar you're munching on includes palm oil, which is blamed for vast deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia? How about that frozen pizza? According to a coalition of environmental and conservation groups it's time for food manufacturers to add palm oil to the label in Europe, instead of currently being listed as simply, and erroneously (palm kernels are fruits), 'vegetable oil'.


Birds experience 'empathy' for their hatchlings

(03/09/2011) A new study has uncovered what many chicken owners would say is evident: a mother hen experiences empathy for her hatchlings. Published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the study found that mother hens show both physiological responses and changes in behaviors when their chicks are even mildly distressed.


Rich plant diversity leads to increased productivity, ecosystem services

(03/08/2011) A new study finds that diversity of plant species matters—big time. Analyzing nearly 600 research studies, the meta-study in the American Journal of Botany found that productivity in biodiverse plant ecosystems was 1.5 times higher than in monocultures. In other words, a prairie is more productive than a cornfield and forest more productive than a rubber plantation. The researchers warn that eroding plant diversity threatens essential ecosystems services such as food, water purification, oxygen production, carbon sequestration, and the availability of raw materials.



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