Category Archives: Agriculture

U.S.: Give land to indigenous people to save it


How incredibly sensible.

From the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Indigenous people are better than governments at preventing forests from being cut and should be seen as a solution, not a barrier to protecting them, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People said on Tuesday.

Indigenous peoples and communities have claims to two thirds of the world’s land but are legally recognised as holding only 10 percent, according to think tank World Resources Institute (WRI).

Without title deeds, indigenous communities may find their land is taken over for major development projects such as palm oil plantations and logging.

“Society thinks that indigenous peoples are claiming land that they shouldn’t be having because it should be used for expanded food production,” U.N. Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But giving indigenous peoples rights to land was a guarantee that forests, which store carbon and contribute to food security would continue to exist, Tauli-Corpuz said.

Monsanto says Bayer takeover bid still too low


The multinational giants continue to haggle over the urge to merge.

From Reuters:

U.S. seed company Monsanto Co turned down a sweetened $64 billion acquisition offer from Bayer AG  but said it was open to further talks with the German healthcare and chemicals group as well as other parties.

The widely expected rejection puts pressure on Bayer to sweeten its offer once again, at least enough to get access to Monsanto’s books. The two companies have been in negotiations about a potential confidentiality agreement, Reuters reported on Monday.

Monsanto said on Tuesday its board unanimously viewed Bayer’s latest bid as “financially inadequate and insufficient to ensure deal certainty.”

“Monsanto remains open to continued and constructive conversations with Bayer and other parties to assess whether a transaction that the board believes is in the best interest of Monsanto share owners can be realized,” the company said.

Biodiversity plunges, and human action is to blame


Two new major studies examine the alarming loss of species on Planet Earth directly attributable to human action, action, and the results are, as you may expect, alarming.

And with the acceleration of global climate change, the outlook for the future looks increasingly grim.

Percentages of original species still surviving after the introduction off modern agriculture.

Percentages of original species still surviving after the advent of Homo sapiens.

The first study takes a broad look at the impacts of all human action on biodiversity.

From University College London:

Levels of global biodiversity loss may negatively impact on ecosystem function and the sustainability of human societies, according to UCL-led research.

“This is the first time we’ve quantified the effect of habitat loss on biodiversity globally in such detail and we’ve found that across most of the world biodiversity loss is no longer within the safe limit suggested by ecologists” explained lead researcher, Dr Tim Newbold from UCL and previously at UNEP-WCMC.

“We know biodiversity loss affects ecosystem function but how it does this is not entirely clear. What we do know is that in many parts of the world, we are approaching a situation where human intervention might be needed to sustain ecosystem function.”

The team found that grasslands, savannas and shrublands were most affected by biodiversity loss, followed closely by many of the world’s forests and woodlands. They say the ability of biodiversity in these areas to support key ecosystem functions such as growth of living organisms and nutrient cycling has become increasingly uncertain.

The study, published today in Science [$30 for one-day access to the article], led by researchers from UCL, the Natural History Museum and UNEP-WCMC, found that levels of biodiversity loss are so high that if left unchecked, they could undermine efforts towards long-term sustainable development.

For 58.1% of the world’s land surface, which is home to 71.4% of the global population, the level of biodiversity loss is substantial enough to question the ability of ecosystems to support human societies. The loss is due to changes in land use and puts levels of biodiversity beyond the ‘safe limit’ recently proposed by the planetary boundaries – an international framework that defines a safe operating space for humanity.

“It’s worrying that land use has already pushed biodiversity below the level proposed as a safe limit,” said Professor Andy Purvis of the Natural History Museum, London, who also worked on the study. “Decision-makers worry a lot about economic recessions, but an ecological recession could have even worse consequences – and the biodiversity damage we’ve had means we’re at risk of that happening. Until and unless we can bring biodiversity back up, we’re playing ecological roulette.”

The team used data from hundreds of scientists across the globe to analyse 2.38 million records for 39,123 species at 18,659 sites where are captured in the database of the PREDICTS project. The analyses were then applied to estimate how biodiversity in every square kilometre land has changed since before humans modified the habitat.

They found that biodiversity hotspots – those that have seen habitat loss in the past but have a lot of species only found in that area – are threatened, showing high levels of biodiversity decline. Other high biodiversity areas, such as Amazonia, which have seen no land use change have higher levels of biodiversity and more scope for proactive conservation.

“The greatest changes have happened in those places where most people live, which might affect physical and psychological wellbeing. To address this, we would have to preserve the remaining areas of natural vegetation and restore human-used lands,” added Dr Newbold.

The team hope the results will be used to inform conservation policy, nationally and internationally, and to facilitate this, have made the maps from this paper and all of the underlying data publicly available.

Animal species lost because of agricultural production

Species loss due to agricultural production.

Species loss due to agricultural production.

A second major study, this time conducted under the auspices of the European Commission: look at species loss specifically related to agricultural production.

The results are equally alarming.

From the European Commission:

In the past 500 years, over 300 vertebrate species have gone extinct, and many more are under threat of extinction — causing a lamentable decline in the variety of life on the planet. Biodiversity provides important benefits, from pollination to nutrient cycling, that are vital for human health and the economy. There is, therefore, an urgent need to address the causes of biodiversity loss.

Agriculture is a major driver of biodiversity decline. As the world’s economies are become more and more connected, international flows of crops and their products are increasing and it is important to understand the environmental effect of these changes.

There’s lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

El Niño aftermath brings specter of starvation


And those most deeply impacted are children in some of the world’s poorest countries.

We begin with a map from the UNICEF Briefing Papers It’s not over, El Niño’s impact on children:

EL NIÑO AND LA NIÑA RAINFALL: El Niño and La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific are known to shift rainfall patterns in many different parts of the world. Although they vary somewhat from one to the next, the strongest shifts remain fairly consistent in the regions and seasons shown.

EL NIÑO AND LA NIÑA RAINFALL: El Niño and La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific are known to shift rainfall patterns in many different parts of the world. Although they vary somewhat from one to the next, the strongest shifts remain fairly consistent in the regions and seasons shown.

And the story, via the United Nations News Center:

While the 2015-2016 El Niño – one of the strongest on record – has ended, its devastating impact on children is worsening, as hunger, malnutrition and disease continue to increase following the severe droughts and floods spawned by the event, a new report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed today.

Making matters worse, there is a strong chance La Niña – El Niño’s flip side – could strike at some stage this year, further exacerbating a severe humanitarian crisis that is affecting millions of children in some of the most vulnerable communities, UNICEF said in a report It’s not over – El Niño’s impact on children.

El Niño is the term used to describe the warming of the central to eastern tropical Pacific that occurs, on average, every three to seven years. It raises sea surface temperatures and impacts weather systems around the globe so that some places receive more rain while others receive none at all, often in a reversal of their usual weather pattern.

While El Niño, and its counterpart La Niña, occur cyclically, in recent years, mainly due to the effects of global climate change, extreme weather events associated with these phenomena – such as droughts and floods – have increased in frequency and severity, according to UN agencies.

“Millions of children and their communities need support in order to survive. They need help to prepare for the eventuality La Niña will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. And they need help to step up disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change, which is causing more intense and more frequent extreme weather events,” said UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programs, Afshan Khan.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Massive drought plagues Brazil’s Amazon Basin


 

Vast areas of the Amazon basin are stricken by an El Niño-spawned drought.

Vast areas of the Amazon basin are stricken by an El Niño-spawned drought.

With Brazil in a state of chaos in the wake of the political coup that has ousted President Dilma Rousseff pending a post-Olympics trial by the national senate and the interim government wracked by a series of corruption scandals, the nation faces a new threat: The potential for massive fires in the Amazon Basin.

While the drought is bringing havoc to the lives of people, plants, and animals in the region, we should note that fires would present the coup government with an opportunity to alleviate their severe cash shortage appease their corporate and land baron backers by selling them conveniently fire-cleared land to raise beef and the corporate-controlled soybean crops that provide the cattle with their primary source of feed.

More on the fire threat from NASA’s Earth Observatory:

El Niño conditions in 2015 and early 2016 altered rainfall patterns around the world. In the Amazon basin, El Niño reduced rainfall during the wet season, leaving the region drier at the start of the 2016 dry season than any year since 2002.

“Severe drought conditions at the start of the dry season have set the stage for extreme fire risk in 2016 across the southern Amazon,” said Doug Morton, an Earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and a co-creator of the fire forecast. The wildfire risk for July to October now exceeds the fire risk in 2005 and 2010—drought years when wildfires burned large swaths of the rainforest.

The Amazon fire forecast analyzes the relationship between certain climate observations and active fire detections from NASA satellites to predict fire season severity. Developed in 2011 by scientists at the University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine) and NASA, the forecast model is focused particularly on the link between sea surface temperatures and fire activity. Warmer sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific (as observed during an El Niño) and Atlantic oceans shift rainfall away from the Amazon region, increasing the risk of fire during dry months.

The forecast team also tracks changes in water storage during the dry season. The maps above show the accumulated deficit in surface and underground water storage in 2016 and other recent drought years, as reported by the Global Precipitation Climatology Centre. The accumulated deficit is measured from August through May; for example, August 2015 to May 2016 sets the stage for the 2016 dry season. Shades of red depict areas where rainfall has been below normal, while blues were above normal. (Click here to learn more about how GRACE studies water supplies.)

There’s more. . . Continue reading

Drought-spawned violence plagues India


The Indian state of Madya Pradesh, located in the north-central heart of the subcontinent, is running dry, with most of the region’s reservoirs at a tenth or less of capacity and 16 percent are bone dry.

Most villages are only allotted meager water rations one or two days a week, and use of water for irrigation has been largely banned.

Violence has become endemic.

From the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

After almost 10 years of below-average rainfall and several consecutive years of drought, the region’s rivers, lakes, reservoirs and wells are drying up.

Disputes are a common problem in many places in India that face water shortages. But Indian police report that the fighting is getting more frequent and bloody. In many parts of the country, neighbours, friends and family are turning on each other, desperate to protect what little water they have left, police records suggest.

Last month, in the tribal-dominated Alirajpur district of Madhya Pradesh, 13-year-old Surmada, her brother and her uncle used a neighbour’s hand-pump, without permission, to get water for the family’s houseguests.

According to police, the owner of the pump and his son attacked the group with arrows. One pierced Surmada’s eye, killing her.

And in the village of Kanker, in Shivpuri district, a large-scale argument broke out after two motorcyclists got into an accident, causing one to spill the 15-litre (4 gallon) container of water he was carrying.

“The two later called their family members and friends and attacked each other with spears, axes and sticks,” said investigating officer Jaisingh Yadav of Sathanwada police station. Fifteen people were injured, five of them women, he said.

And it’s not just Madhya Pradesh suffering from the ongoing drought, as Governance Now reports:

Currently, 11 states are in the grip of drought which has affected 33 million people – close to a third of the population.

There are media reports of mass migration in north Karnataka. In Telangana, cases have been cited from Mahbubnagar district. Maharashtra’s drought-hit Marathwada region has seen mass exodus to Mumbai and Surat. From Jharkhand, people are heading to Kerala.

The severely affected villages in Bundelkhand, a central region divided between the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, is mostly left with women, children and aged men, said Swaraj Abhiyan founder Yogendra Yadav, who completed his 11-day-long padyatra through Marathwada and Bundelkhand on May 30.

“In villages, if you ask for an able-bodied man, 60 to 80 percent of them have migrated to urban areas to earn their livelihood. They are migrating to Delhi, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Indore and Surat. You meet elderly, children and women, but you don’t meet able-bodied men in the village. It’s an entirely migrant-dependent economy right now,” Yadav told Governance Now.

The acute distress due to crop failure in the last three years in Bundelkhand and Marathwada has either led to mass exodus or suicides. At least 216 farmers have committed suicides in Maharashtra alone.

Relief is in sight, according to government forecasters, with a heavy monsoon season forecast in the wake of the devastating El Niño-spawned drought.

But the rains may prove partly ineffective in relieving financial stresses on debt-plagued farmers, who have suffered from low harvests. The reason: Their innate conservatism is causing them to sow less ground.

From The Gulf Today:

From Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh to Rajasthan and Gujarat, farmers ruined by a devastating drought are still edgy about sowing, despite resounding forecasts of a surplus monsoon.

Planting of major crops is 24 per cent lower than what was sown by this time last year.

Even state governments are treading cautiously.

Maharashtra, for instance, had asked farmers to hold back sowing till June 18.

Till now, the monsoon has been 16 per cent deficient, which means it has to cover a lot of ground in July.

Reservoir levels are still barely 15 per cent of their storage capacity.

Map of the day: Agriculture’s greenhouse gases


From Feeding Climate Change, a new report from Oxfam, regional greenhouse gas emissions produced by agriculture and the crops responsible:

Share of annual GHG emissions among the seven commodities with the highest emissions in each region [in metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent].

Share of annual GHG emissions among the seven commodities with the highest emissions in each region [in metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent].