Category Archives: Agriculture

Colorado River Basin faces epochal droughts


And they’ve already begun, according to The 21st century Colorado River hot drought and implications for the future [open access]. a new report from Scientists at the Colorado Water Institute and the university of Arizona, just published in Water Resources Research.

From the American Geophysical Union:

Warming in the 21st century reduced Colorado River flows by at least 0.5 million acre-feet, about the amount of water used by 2 million people for one year, according to new research.

The research is the first to quantify the different effects of temperature and precipitation on recent Colorado River flow, said authors Bradley Udall of Colorado State University and Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Arizona.

“This paper is the first to show the large role that warming temperatures are playing in reducing the flows of the Colorado River,” said Overpeck, UA Regents’ Professor of Geosciences and of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences and director of the UA Institute of the Environment. The new paper has been accepted for publication in Water Resources Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

From 2000-2014, the river’s flows declined to only 81 percent of the 20th-century average, a reduction of about 2.9 million acre-feet of water per year. One acre-foot of water will serve a family of four for one year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

From one-sixth to one-half of the 21st-century reduction in flow can be attributed to the higher temperatures since 2000, report Udall and Overpeck. Their analysis shows as temperature continues to increase with climate change, Colorado River flows will continue to decline.

Current climate change models indicate temperatures will increase as long as humans continue to emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but the projections of future precipitation are far less certain.

Forty million people rely on the Colorado River for water, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The river supplies water to seven U.S. Western states plus the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California.

Udall, a senior water and climate scientist/scholar at CSU’s Colorado Water Institute, said, “The future of Colorado River is far less rosy than other recent assessments have portrayed. A clear message to water managers is that they need to plan for significantly lower river flows.”

The study’s findings, he said, “provide a sobering look at future Colorado River flows.”

The Colorado River Basin has been in a drought since 2000. Previous research has shown the region’s risk of a megadrought – one lasting more than 20 years – rises as temperatures increase.

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Trump’s NAFTA stance sparks Mexico trade war


And the first commodity under attack is corn grown by farmers in the U.S.

From teleSUR English:

The foreign affairs commission at the Mexican Senate will introduce a bill this week that would make the country buy corn from Brazil and Argentina instead of the United States.

Mexico is one of the top buyers of U.S. corn and the move will be a tough blow to the U.S. agriculture industry, said the president of the commission Armando Ríos Piter from the leftist PRD party.

The bill is seen as a counter-attack to the protectionist threats made by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has threatened to kill the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, signed by Mexico, the United States and Canada in the early ’90s. Experts say such a bill would be very costly for U.S. farmers.

“If we do indeed see a trade war where Mexico starts buying from Brazil … we’re going to see it affect the corn market and ripple out to the rest of the agricultural economy,”  Darin Newsom, senior analyst at agricultural management firm DTN, said to CNN.

If approved, this bill would be one of the first signs of concrete action by the Mexican government after it has been directly targeted by Trump’s rhetoric and policies, particularly an executive order enabling construction of a border wall and the promise to make Mexico foot the bill.

However, to unions of Mexican farmers and academics, Trump’s pledge to end NAFTA will be a good opportunity to boost the agriculture sector in Mexico.

The treaty has helped to dismantle Mexico’s agricultural production system through neoliberal policies that have left millions of poor farmers without state support and made the country increasingly dependent on food from abroad.

And an update, also from teleSUR:

Mexico’s agriculture minister said on Thursday he will lead a business delegation to Argentina and Brazil to explore buying yellow corn, part of a drive to lessen Mexico’s U.S. dependence given uncertainty over President Donald Trump’s trade policies.

The trip will happen within the next 20 days, Agriculture Secretary Jose Calzada said, adding that the government could explore quotas and changing the tariff regime for imports from South America if needed.

Petition drive seeks an end to Roundup in Europe


We’ve written lots about the widespread use of glyphosate, the herbicide used in Monsanto’s GMO crops, engineered to tolerate the chemical and ensure big profits, since both the seeds and the poison are manufactured by the same company.

First marketed as a drain cleaner in 1964, the chemical’s use as a pesticide was discovered and patented a decade later by Monsanto.

While Monsanto insists the chemical is safe, an exhaustive 2016 scientific review of the glyphosate-based herbicides {GBHs] published in Environmental Health [open access] concluded:

  1. GBHs are the most heavily applied herbicide in the world and usage continues to rise;
  2. Worldwide, GBHs often contaminate drinking water sources, precipitation, and air, especially in agricultural regions;
  3. The half-life of glyphosate in water and soil is longer than previously recognized;
  4. Glyphosate and its metabolites are widely present in the global soybean supply;
  5. Human exposures to GBHs are rising;
  6. Glyphosate is now authoritatively classified as a probable human carcinogen;
  7. Regulatory estimates of tolerable daily intakes for glyphosate in the United States and European Union are based on outdated science.

Glyphosate” Unsafe on Any Plate, a 17 November 2016 from Food Democracy Now! looked at glyphosate levels in breakfast foods and snacks,m comparing to the number from recent scientific studies on the chemicals harm to animals.

The report notes “With the widespread increase in glyphosate use over the past 20 years and the fact that independent science has confirmed low level exposure to Roundup causes liver and kidney damage at only 0.05 ppb glyphosate equivalent, as reflected by changes in function of over 4000 genes, the American public should be concerned about glyphosate residues on their food. Additional research points to harmful impacts at levels between 10 ppb and 700 ppb.”

And here are the numbers:

Glyphosate/Roundup Damage by the Numbers (ppb)

0.1 ppb: Roundup (0.05 ppb glyphosate) altered the gene function of over 4,000 genes in the livers and kidneys of rats.

0.1 ppb: Roundup (0.05 ppb glyphosate) severe organ damage in rats.

0.1 ppb: Permitted level for glyphosate and all other herbicides in EU tap water.

10 ppb: Toxic effects  on the livers of fish.

700 ppb: Alterations of kidneys and livers in rats.

700 ppb: Permitted level for glyphosate in U.S. tap water.

1,125.3 ppb (1.1253 mg/kg): Level found in General Mills’ Cheerios.

The report also features two illuminating maps showing the spread of the chemical’s use on America’s farmlands:

blog-glyphosate-1

blog-glyphosate-2

And now a coalition of European environmental groups is calling for an end of glyphosate used on the continent.

From the Health and Environment Alliance [HEAL]:

Campaigners and activists met in Brussels and other European cities (Madrid, Rome, Berlin and Paris) today to launch a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to ban glyphosate, reform the EU pesticide approval process, and set mandatory targets to reduce pesticide use in the EU. The goal is to collect at least one million signatures from Europeans and submit the petition before the Commission’s next move to renew, withdraw or extend the EU licence of glyphosate.

Glyphosate – the most widely used weedkiller in Europe – is also known as Roundup, a Monsanto brandname. In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) linked glyphosate to cancer. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is currently working on a safety assessment.

Génon K. Jensen, Executive Director at the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) said: “Thousands of tonnes of glyphosate are sprayed each year on our fields, in our countryside and our neighbourhoods. It is defined as a ‘probable carcinogen’ by IARC, the international agency recognised as the gold standard in carcinogen identification. We should not be using any weedkiller linked to cancer. If we are serious about protecting people’s health, and giving our wildlife a chance to recover, then our governments must step in to ban the most toxic pesticides, and reduce the overall amount that is used.”

Franziska Achterberg, Greenpeace EU food policy director said: “We are told that pesticides are strictly regulated to prevent harm. Yet they continue to be approved in secret meetings, based on unpublished industry studies. This kind of secrecy panders to industry and prevents proper scrutiny of EU food safety decisions. Regulators – not industry – should be responsible for ensuring public safety based on published scientific evidence.”

Oliver Moldenhauer, Executive Director at WeMove.EU said: “This year we have a real opportunity to finally get glyphosate out of our fields and off our plates. Our politicians need to hear this message loud and clear: they must protect citizens and the environment by banning this dangerous weedkiller and put us on the path towards a pesticide-free future.”

The ECI is backed by a broad, pan-European coalition of 38 organisations from 15 countries, including Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), Greenpeace, the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN-E), and WeMove.EU.

More information is available on www.stopglyphosate.org

American invader threatens Africa’s food supplies


It’s a stealthy invader, an illegal immigrant, and it threatens to cause still more instability in a continent struggling with conflict and First World profiteers, but its impacts portend famine and yet more instability and violence.

Making matters worse, the invasion comes at a critical moment when the continent faces imminent threats from drought and climate change.

From MercoPress:

New research announced by scientists at CABI (Center for Agriculture and Bioscience Information) confirms that a recently introduced crop-destroying armyworm caterpillar is now spreading rapidly across Mainland Africa and could spread to tropical Asia and the Mediterranean in the next few years, becoming a major threat to agricultural trade worldwide.

Fall armyworm is native to North and South America and can devastate maize production, the staple food crop that is essential for food security in large areas of Africa. It destroys young plants, attacking their growing points and burrowing into the cobs.

An indigenous pest in the Americas, it has not previously been established outside the region. In the past year, it was found in parts of West Africa for the first time and now a UK based CABI-led investigation has confirmed it to be present in Ghana. It can be expected to spread to the limits of suitable African habitat within a few years.

Plant doctors working in CABI’s Plantwise plant clinics, which work to help farmers lose less of what they grow, have found evidence of two species of fall armyworm in Ghana for the first time. This has been confirmed by DNA analysis undertaken at CABI’s molecular laboratory in Egham, Surrey (UK). In Africa, researchers are working to understand how it got there, how it spreads, and how farmers can control it in an environmentally friendly way.

CABI Chief Scientist, Dr. Matthew Cock said, “We are now able to confirm that the fall armyworm is spreading very rapidly outside the Americas, and it can be expected to spread to the limits of suitable African habitat within just a few years. It likely travelled to Africa as adults or egg masses on direct commercial flights and has since been spread within Africa by its own strong flight ability and carried as a contaminant on crop produce.”

More threats loom: Drought and climate change

The introduction to a very alarming report from IRIN tells the basics:

The once-fertile fields of South Africa’s Western Cape region are filled with scorched patches of earth, dying plants, and wasted crops.

The scene is now common throughout eastern and southern Africa, as droughts for three consecutive years have decimated crops and caused widespread hunger. New research indicates that it is partly due to climate change driven by human action, which has worsened the El Niño weather phenomenon.

“This is about as bad as it has ever been,” said Chris Harvey, as he walked to his farm´s irrigation dam, where the water level has fallen six metres in 10 months.

“We might not be able to grow any vegetables next year,” his wife Sue added.

Dams in the area are drying out, symptomatic of the continent´s battle with years of poor rainfall. The droughts in eastern and southern Africa beginning in 2015 have affected tens of millions of people. The latest numbers from the UN suggest that 24 million people are facing food insecurity in eastern Africa alone, not counting millions of people in the southern region.

According to a new study published by the American Meteorological Society, such conditions will become increasingly normal as climate change takes its toll.

“We are advising governments to expect yearly disasters, droughts, floods, and also now diseases,” David Phiri, the UN´s food and agriculture coordinator in Southern Africa, told IRIN.

Mexican ban on Monsanto’s GMO corn upheld


Perhaps the most singular example of 21st Century rentier capitalism is agrabiz giant Monsanto.

The company has staked its future on a one-two punch, depriving farmers of what they’ve always cherished and protected, the right to hold some of their crop back each year to provide seed for next year’s crop.

With its patented GMO crops [previously], genetically engineered to withstand the company’s own patented weed-killer, the company not only leases one-time intellectual property rights in its seed but peddles the poison needed for those crops to survive.

Oh, and never mind that the genes herbicide-resistant genes have jumped to other plants, creating a so-called superweeds that require yet another round of gene tweaking accompanied by the release of yet more tepxic weed-killers.

Mexico, homeland to the root races of the world’s corn crops, has been fighting to keep Monsanto’s GMO corn out of their country, and now those GMO opponents have won another roung in an ongoing struggle

From teleSUR English:

A ban on planting genetically modified corn in Mexico is likely to continue for years as a slow-moving legal battle grinds on, said a top executive of U.S.-based seed and agrochemical company Monsanto Co.

Last week, a Mexican court upheld a late 2013 ruling that temporarily halted even pilot plots of GMO corn following a legal challenge over its effects on the environment.

Monsanto regional corporate director Laura Tamayo said in an interview that it will likely be “years” before the company can make any progress against the ban.

While Mexico is self-sufficient in white corn used to make the country’s staple tortillas, it depends on imports of mostly GMO yellow corn from the United States for its livestock.

Several years ago, Monsanto submitted two applications for the commercial planting of GMO corn in Mexico. Both sought 1.7 million acres in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, the country’s largest corn-producing area. Both applications are still pending for Monsanto.

Mexico is the birthplace of modern corn, domesticated about 8,000 years ago and today the planet’s most-produced grain.

Critics say genetically modified corn plantings will contaminate age-old native varieties and that toxins designed to protect the GMO grain against pests may be linked to elevated insect mortality.

California Roundup cancer warning label okayed


Roundup, the glyphosate-based plant killer sold to spray fields planted with Monsanto’s genetically altered plants [previously], may come with a cancer warning label if the Big Agra giant loses an appeal of a new court ruling.

From the Associated Press:

California can require Monsanto to label its popular weed-killer Roundup as a possible cancer threat despite an insistence from the chemical giant that it poses no risk to people, a judge tentatively ruled Friday.

California would be the first state to order such labeling if it carries out the proposal.

Monsanto had sued the nation’s leading agricultural state, saying California officials illegally based their decision for carrying the warnings on an international health organization based in France.

Monsanto attorney Trenton Norris argued in court Friday that the labels would have immediate financial consequences for the company. He said many consumers would see the labels and stop buying Roundup.

“It will absolutely be used in ways that will harm Monsanto,” he said.

After the hearing, the firm said in a statement that it will challenge the tentative ruling.

Neoliberal Argentine regime sacrifices forests


More than a quarter-million acres of Argentinian forest, much of it protected land, has fallen to the chainsaws and axes of Big Agra players since the election of a neoliberal regime under Mauricio Macri, a corporate tycoon and one of Argentina’s wealthiest.

Unlike the administration of predecessor Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Macri won’t let anything stand in the way of his fellow tycoons getting even richher, and the environment be damned.

From teleSUR English:

Over 110,000 hectares of forest were destroyed in Northern Argentina in 2016, including large areas protected because of their biodiversity and crucial role in mitigating the effects of global warming, according to a report Spanish-only] issued by Greenpeace on Thursday.

Greenpeace accused local state officials and agribusiness corporations of illegally collaborating to make systematic large-scale deforestation possible by issuing local decrees allowing deforestation on natural reserves protected by federal laws banning tree-harvesting.

The environment organization found that at least “one out of three deforestations” were illegal, with agribusiness companies paying “ridiculously low fines” which pale in comparison to the large profits they can make through large-scale soy and cattle farming, said Greenpeace’s coordinator in Argentina, Hernan Giardini.

The study only focused on deforestation in the northern provinces of Santiago del Estero, Chaco, Salta and Formosa, which are estimated to represent 80 percent of Argentina’s deforested areas, suggesting that the actual destruction is much greater.

The spike in deforestation in the region— where land is relatively cheaper— is likely driven by increasing meat consumption in recent years, Giardini told EFE.

Deforestation goes hand in hand with violent evictions of indigenous campesinos living in these areas, with agribusiness entrepreneurs occasionally hiring armed paramilitary groups to carry out the displacement.

The report noted that the phenomenon had decreased by half after the former administration of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner passed the Bill on Woods in 2007, but recommended that sanctions be better applied in order to end the destruction of key nature preserves.