Newsletter 2019-01-17


As Brazilian agribusiness booms, family farms feed the nation by Anna Sophie Gross [01/17/2019]

– Brazil’s “Agricultural Miracle” credits industrial agribusiness with pulling the nation out of a recent economic tailspin, and contributing 23.5 percent to GDP in 2017. But that miracle relied on a steeply tilted playing field, with government heavily subsidizing elite entrepreneurs.
– As a result, Brazilian agro-industrialists own 800,000 farms which occupy 75.7 percent of the nation’s agricultural land, with 62 percent of total agricultural output. Further defining the inequity, the top 1.5 percent of rural landowners occupy 53 percent of all agricultural land.
– In contrast, there are 4.4 million family farms in Brazil, making up 85 percent of all agricultural operations in the country. The family farm sector produces 70 percent of food consumed in the country, but does so using under 25 percent of Brazil’s agricultural land.
– Farm aid inequity favoring large-scale industrial agribusiness over family farms has deepened since 2016 under Michel Temer, and is expected to deepen further under Jair Bolsonaro. Experts say that policies favoring family farms could bolster national food security.

The man who made Ecuador’s wooden Tigua masks famous by Kimberley Brown [01/16/2019]

– The 73-year-old artisan, woodworker, and painter takes his inspiration from Andean life for his artwork and colorful wooden masks.
– Long a part of traditional indigenous culture, popular use of the masks has declined over time but the art of the craft remains very much alive.

Agroforestry empowers Morocco’s mountain women by Monica Pelliccia [01/16/2019]

– Morocco’s mountain people have grown olive trees since ancient times, but unstable weather due to climate change has recently placed that heritage in jeopardy.
– Growing olives in agroforestry systems, where olive, fig and carob trees prevent erosion and provide cover for vegetable, fruit and herb plants that grow below, has provided better harvests for a group of women’s cooperatives.
– The cooperatives, called Femmes du Rif, have boosted the value of the 328 members’ olive oil, leading to remarkable social impacts ranging from better education for their children to improved infrastructure and even promotion of some members to regional and national political positions.
– Climate variability has caused an unprecedented and ongoing delay in the cooperative’s current olive harvest, underscoring the need to continually adapt to changing conditions through techniques like agroforestry.

Bolsonaro acts; Brazil’s socio-environmental groups resist by Sue Branford and Thais Borges [01/14/2019]

– The Bolsonaro administration is barely two weeks old, but the new president and his appointees continue to make incendiary statements and press forward with provisional measures and policies that could seriously infringe indigenous, quilombola and agrarian reform land rights, and environmental protections.
– Protest has been loud against the government’s plan to shift the responsibility for indigenous land demarcation away from FUNAI, the indigenous affairs agency, to the Agriculture Ministry, which is dominated by agribusiness and far right ruralists who have long desired indigenous lands. Another proposal may “rent” indigenous lands to ruralists.
– Amazon land thieves also have been emboldened since the election, with the invasion of the Arara Indigenous Reserve in southeast Pará state on 30 December, two days before Bolsonaro took office. On 11 January, land thieves invaded the Uru-eu-wau-wau reserve in Rondônia state. There has been no federal law enforcement response to either conflict.
– On 5 January armed land grabbers attacked a landless rural workers agrarian reform encampment occupied by 200 families in Colniza in Mato Grosso state. One landless peasant was killed and nine seriously wounded. The landless peasants were awaiting a court ruling as to whether a nearby tract would be deeded to the group.


Can satellite data help monitor sustainable rural development? by Sue Palminteri [01/17/2019]
– Rural residents in lower-income countries rely on natural resources for part of their livelihood, so a team of researchers explored whether farm-scale environmental characteristics obtained from satellite imagery could help assess and monitor rural poverty.
– Researchers found that integrating satellite data at four spatial scales could predict the poorest households across a landscape in Kenya with 62 percent accuracy, despite differences in how individual households interacted with the surrounding environment.
– The size of buildings within a homestead, the amount of bare agricultural land within and adjacent to the homestead, and the length of the growing season were the best predictors of the wealth of a given household.
– The researchers suggest that the increasing availability of high-resolution satellite data will enable their method to be better able to monitor progress toward meeting the sustainable development goals.

Coffee in trouble: 60% of wild coffee species threatened with extinction by Shreya Dasgupta [01/17/2019]
– Of the 124 species of wild coffee known to science, 75 species, or 60 percent, are threatened with extinction due to deforestation, climate change and the spread of diseases and pests, a new study has found.
– The wild relative of Arabica, the most widely traded coffee in the world, is in particular trouble.
– Around 72 percent of the wild coffee species occur within some protected area, but many of the parks also have lax enforcement, and coffee species are rarely included within park management plans. Coverage of the potential range of the species is also poor.
– Moreover, only half of all wild coffee species occur in germplasm collections — critical resources for producing more resilient varieties of coffee in the future.

Cellphones are still endangering gorillas, but recycling old ones can help by Tina Deines [01/17/2019]
– The Congo Basin, key habitat for gorillas and chimpanzees, is rich in minerals such as coltan, gold and tin that are used in electronics.
– Mining is a major factor in the decline of species like the Grauer’s gorilla, which have lost habitat to the industry and are also hunted when forest is opened up for mining.
– Participating in cellphone recycling programs helps reduce the demand for mining in gorilla habitat.

Brazilian hunger for meat fattened on soy is deforesting the Cerrado: report by Giovanni Ortolani [01/16/2019]
– The Cerrado, Brazil’s savanna, covers over 20 percent of the nation’s territory, but it is seeing severe deforestation. A recent report uncovered links between municipalities with the highest levels of deforestation and with significant soy production. Soy is Brazil’s most important and profitable export, but is also used domestically as animal feed and as a biodiesel energy crop.
– In 2017, Brazil produced 16.3 million tons of soymeal for its domestic market, and more than 90 percent of that became animal feed, with 50 percent used as chicken feed, 25 percent as pig feed, and 12 percent for beef and dairy cattle feed.
– From 2013 to 2016, more than 75 percent of all direct soy crop expansion accomplished via native vegetation clearance occurred in the so-called Matopiba states (Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia). A third of the 2016 soy harvest coming from Matopiba was utilized as animal feed or biodiesel consumed domestically in Brazil.
– More than 20 percent of all the native vegetation clearance occurring in the Cerrado in 2017 was located in just 20 out of 1387 municipalities. Forty percent of the soy produced in these 20 municipalities went to the Brazilian domestic market, with the soy processed mostly by Bunge, Granol, and Cargill.

How wasps saved Asia’s forests (commentary) by Douglas Sheil | Anne Johnson | Louis Reymondin | Alice C. Hughes [01/16/2019]
– In our recent study, we combined field observations and satellite imagery to show how the tiny pest-killing lopezi wasp (Anagyrus lopezi) helped combat deforestation in Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Vietnam by controlling a pest that was devastating cassava crops across the region.
– The world-hopping lopezi wasp is a beneficial insect whose arrival in Asia restored just one of the many ecological checks and balances that was lost when cassava and pink mealybug went intercontinental.
– Conservationists tend to be apprehensive about the use of exotic organisms for biological control — the purposeful and science-guided movement of species to control others. However, as we see with Thailand’s cassava, alien pests generally pose a much greater threat than do their cautiously selected enemies. Unlike the few catastrophes that emanated from misguided introductions in the early 1900s, recent biological control initiatives have been overwhelmingly effective.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Guyana signs on to forest management agreement with the EU by Carinya Sharples [01/16/2019]
– After six long years, Guyana has signed on to an agreement with the EU that should prove instrumental in securing a profitable position for the small Latin American country in the global legal logging industry.
– The agreement will eventually allow Guyana to issue logging licenses under the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (EU FLEGT) initiative.
– Government leaders in the EU and Guyana also anticipate that the agreement and partnership will lead to improved forest management and a decrease in illegal logging.

Camera traps find rich community of carnivores on Apostle Islands by Shreya Dasgupta [01/16/2019]
– Some 160 camera traps deployed across the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior in Wisconsin, U.S., have revealed a diverse community of carnivores, including the American marten, black bear, bobcat, coyote, and gray wolf.
– The camera trap survey provided the first photographic evidence of the American marten in the islands in over 50 years. The marten is listed as endangered in Wisconsin.
– The study also found that islands that were larger or closer to the mainland, or both, held a greater number of carnivore species than islands that were small or more distant — patterns consistent with the concept of island biogeography.
– The movement of the carnivores, either through swimming or via ice bridges formed when parts of the lake freeze, could be under threat from climate change, the researchers warn.

The case for forests’ prominent role in holding off climate change by John C. Cannon [01/16/2019]
– The authors of a new report argue that investment in forests as a climate change mitigation strategy is just as important as addressing emissions from the energy sector.
– Despite the recognized potential contributions of forests to slowing the warming of the earth, they aren’t typically seen as a permanent solution to climate change.
– The authors of the report contend that provisions in the Paris rulebook, approved at the UN climate conference in Poland, are designed to hold countries responsible for changes to their forests so that such ‘reversals’ won’t go unaccounted for.

Asiatic black bear cubs rescued from illegal wildlife trade in Vietnam by [01/15/2019]
– Vietnamese authorities confiscated the two female bear cubs from wildlife smugglers in Hai Phong province on January 9, according to Vienna, Austria-based animal welfare NGO Four Paws.
– After spending a night in a hotel, the cubs were taken to a Four Paws bear sanctuary in Ninh Binh on January 10, where they are receiving intensive medical care.
– Authorities do not know who was meant to buy the bear cubs or where their ultimate destination was. It’s likely that the bears were imported from Laos, though they could also have come from a bear farm in Vietnam.

‘Ecosystem guardians’ remain passionate despite dicey conditions by Nora Ward [01/15/2019]
– A recent investigation conducted by several conservation groups has found that working conditions for wildlife rangers in Central America are difficult and in some cases dangerous.
– Most of the rangers surveyed reported facing life-threatening situations during the course of their duties.
– However, these ‘ecosystem guardians’ also remain passionate about their role in protecting Central America’s natural treasures.

China busts major ivory trafficking gang following EIA investigation by Shreya Dasgupta [01/15/2019]
– In 2017, an undercover operation by the watchdog group Environmental Investigation Agency identified three men involved in smuggling elephant ivory from Africa to the little-known town of Shuidong in China, which, according to the trafficking syndicate, receives up to 80 percent of all illegal ivory from Africa.
– Following EIA’s report, Chinese enforcement authorities raided several places in Shuidong and surrounding areas and arrested one of the three men who received a jail term of 15 years. A second member of the gang voluntarily returned to face trial and was jailed for six years.
– The third identified member of the syndicate has also been repatriated to China from Nigeria under an INTERPOL Red Notice and will face trial in China.
– In addition to these three men, enforcement actions have also led to the conviction of 11 suspects by the local court, with jail terms ranging from six to 15 years.

For orangutans affected by El Niño, change unfolds over time by Jim Tan [01/15/2019]
– A long-term study in Kutai National Park in Indonesian Borneo has shown how weather caused by the El Niño Southern Oscillation cycle affects the behavior, habitat requirements, feeding ecology and birth intervals of the park’s orangutans.
– The study increases conservationists’ understanding of how orangutans survive in difficult and variable climatic conditions — important information given the likely impact of climate change.
– Understanding the influence of the ENSO cycle was only possible through a multi-year study, highlighting the value of long-term projects. But the current trend is for short-term studies, which are often more appealing to funders and researchers.

Antarctica now shedding ice six times faster than in 1979 by [01/14/2019]
– Antarctica’s ice is melting about six times faster than it was in the late 1970s.
– Between 1979 and 2017, melting ice caused the global sea level to rise by around 14 millimeters (0.55 inches).
– The pace at which ice is melting is also increasing: Through 1990, the continent lost 40 billion metric tons (44 billion tons) per year; between 2009 and 2017, that figure jumped to 252 billion metric tons (278 tons) annually.

Palm oil companies continue to criminalize farmers in Sumatra (commentary) by Gaurav Madan [01/14/2019]
– Nearly five years after Friends of the Earth U.S. reported about escalating conflict between farmers in the village of Lunjuk on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and palm oil company PT Sandabi Indah Lestari — or PT SIL — those communities remain in conflict with PT SIL, which supplies Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm oil trader.
– “Criminalization is now the strategy being used by the company. Sometimes when villagers are harvesting their own palm oil, the company calls the police and accuses them of stealing. They then say that they will only release them if they hand over their lands to the company,” said Osian Pakpahan, head of the farmers’ union.
– The entrenched conflict poses significant risks to PT SIL, its partner Wilmar, their investors, and the consumer brands sourcing palm oil grown on PT SIL’s plantations.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Bringing the tapir back to Borneo by Jeremy Hance [01/14/2019]
– Malayan tapirs were found in Borneo until at least 1,500 years ago and maybe into the modern era.
– Some researchers have proposed bringing the tapir back to the island by rearing a new captive population on site.
– Not everyone is convinced: some scientist view the idea as without conservation value and prohibitively expensive.
– This post is part of “Saving Life on Earth: Words on the Wild”, a monthly column by Jeremy Hance, one of Mongabay’s first staff writers.

With its $3.85b mine takeover, Indonesia inherits a $13b pollution problem by Basten Gokkon [01/14/2019]
– The Indonesian government has acquired a majority stake in the operator of the Grasberg mine, one of the world’s biggest copper and gold mines.
– The $3.85 billion deal has been lauded as a move toward resource sovereignty, but there’s been little mention of who inherits the massive pollution legacy left from decades of mining waste being dumped in rivers and forests.
– Activists are also calling for clarity in how the acquisition will improve the lives of the indigenous Papuan communities living around the mine, as well as end the long-running conflicts pitting them against the mine operator and security forces.

Latam Eco Review: Resistance, hope and camera traps by [01/11/2019]
The recent top stories from Mongabay Latam, our Spanish-language service, include a call to cover climate change, the dangers of opposing Colombia’s largest hydropower plant, and the most inspiring conservation news of 2018. ‘We are not doing enough’: 25 media groups commit to cover climate change “Journalists across the continent have a profound obligation to […]

Karen indigenous communities in Myanmar have officially launched the Salween Peace Park by [01/11/2019]
– Last month, indigenous Karen communities, the Salween Peace Park Committee, and the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN) officially launched the Salween Peace Park in the Mutraw District of Myanmar’s Kayin State.
– A three-day event in mid-December 2018 that featured traditional Karen ceremonies and performances was held to mark the ratification of Salween Peace Park’s charter, which was developed by Karen communities to embody their “aspirations for genuine peace and self-determination, environmental integrity and cultural preservation,” according to a statement.
– The Salween Peace Park encompasses 5,485 square kilometers (nearly 1.4 million acres) of the Salween River Basin, including more than 340 villages, 139 demarcated Kaw, 27 community forests, four forest reserves, and three wildlife sanctuaries.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, January 11, 2019 by [01/11/2019]
– There are many important conservation and environmental stories Mongabay isn’t able to cover.
– Here’s a digest of some of the significant developments from the week.
– If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.
– Mongabay does not vet the news sources below, nor does the inclusion of a story on this list imply an endorsement of its content.

Studying human behavior to protect orangutans: Q&A with Liana Chua by James Fair [01/11/2019]
– Conservation efforts have traditionally focused too much on wildlife and not enough on human communities, says social anthropologist Liana Chua.
– When it comes to orangutans, Chua says indigenous communities in Borneo are unlikely to share the concerns and priorities of international conservation organizations. Killing of orangutans by humans is a major threat to the apes’ survival.
– Devoting real attention to the issues that are important to local people is key to developing better conservation policies, Chua says.
– Chua leads a project billed as “a novel anthropology-conservation collaboration” that aims to improve human-orangutan coexistence in Borneo.

In Malta, legal loopholes give poachers cover to hunt migratory birds by Jason J. Gregg [01/11/2019]
– Malta is a stopping-off point for some 170 species of birds migrating between Europe and Africa. But poachers kill or capture up to 200,000 wild birds every year — a problem widespread across the Mediterranean.
– In particular, illegal trapping of birds such as finches continues to persist in Malta, despite the European Court of Justice ruling against Malta for allowing the trapping of protected species.
– To legalize finch trapping within the framework of European law, Malta used a legal maneuver called a derogation by claiming that finch trapping was a traditional practice in the country.
– Such legal derogations are being used as a smokescreen to illegally trap finches and other protected species not just in Malta but in other countries as well.

Termites help to protect tropical forests during drought, study finds by Shreya Dasgupta [01/10/2019]
– Researchers studying the effects of termites in an old-growth tropical forest in Malaysian Borneo found that both termite numbers and activity increased during the El Niño drought of 2015-2016, resulting in higher leaf litter decomposition and soil moisture compared to a test plot where the termite population had been artificially suppressed.
– These improvements in soil condition also resulted in an increase in seedling survival, suggesting that termites will have an important role to play in maintaining plant diversity in the future, given that the severity and frequency of droughts is predicted to increase with a changing climate.
– Why termite number and activity increase during drought is unclear at present, but researchers think that the conditions possibly made the termites’ tunnels drier and less water-logged, making moving through the environment easier.

Should Trump be listening to indigenous people on fire management? by Erik Hoffner [01/10/2019]
– The U.S. President again this week used an inaccurate statement about forest management to make a political point.
– Forest ecologists pushed back, saying Trump’s understanding of forest management is problematic.
– A better management technique than the President’s idea of forest cutting has long been in use in California: prescribed burns, which indigenous peoples have practiced for millennia.
– A recent Mongabay feature on the Karuk and Yurok indigenous peoples in northern California illustrated how they still use fire on their lands, and how it’s becoming a model for governmental land managers.

Drones with thermal cameras help detect camouflaged species by Sue Palminteri [01/10/2019]
– Scientists tested the capacity of small drones equipped with thermal cameras to survey European nightjar nests in areas where construction or logging is planned.
– Nightjars use camouflage and cryptic behavior to avoid predation, which makes them difficult to observe on the ground and avoid disturbing, as required by U.K. law. Finding a faster, more cost-effective survey method to detect their presence could help forestry and construction managers comply with regulations more efficiently.
– The scientists say that the drone-thermal camera combination would be suitable for surveying other open-country wildlife, and could be aided by automated analysis of the thermal signatures of target species.

Ocean warming projected to accelerate more than four-fold over next 60 years: Study by Mike Gaworecki [01/10/2019]
– 2017 currently holds the record for hottest ocean temperatures, but, according to a new study, 2018 is likely to take the top spot as hottest year on record for Earth’s oceans as global warming’s impacts accelerate.
– The mean speed of ocean warming over the past 60 years, from roughly 1958 to 2017, was 5.46 zettajoules per year, according to the study. The oceans will warm at an even more rapid pace over the next 60 years, with the mean speed of ocean warming projected to be 23.78 zettajoules per year.
– If we proceed with “business as usual,” the upper ocean (above a depth of 2,000 meters) will warm by 2,020 ZetaJoules by 2081-2100, six times more than the total ocean warming recorded over the past 60 years, the researchers found. If we were to meet the emissions reductions targets that countries committed to under the Paris Climate Agreement, however, we could cut total ocean warming within that timeframe nearly in half to about 1,037 zettajoules.


Protecting India’s fishing villages: Q&A with ‘maptivist’ Saravanan by Mahima Jain [01/10/2019]
Community-based conservation offers hope for Amazon’s giant South American turtle by Jenny Gonzales [01/09/2019]
Habitat loss, pigs, disease: U.S. salamanders face a ‘tough situation’ by Morgan Erickson-Davis [01/03/2019]