Category Archives: Agriculture

UN intervenes to help El Niño hunger victims

A follow-up to our previous post, via the United Nations News Center:

The United Nations food relief agency committed today to assisting 1.6 million people hit by droughts exacerbated by El Niño in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Haiti and building resilience against future climatic shocks.

Speaking at the end of visits to El Salvador and Guatemala to see the compounded impact of El Niño, one of the strongest in the last half century, World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Ertharin Cousin said that the agency planned to scale up to help the most vulnerable in the four countries through August.

“At the same time, working closely with Governments, we are placing resilience at the heart of our longer response,” she said in Guatemala. “We must work to ensure vulnerable people are not repeatedly pushed deeper into hunger and can build longer-lasting assets that will survive potential disasters.”

“Overall WFP is committed to helping people build a world with Zero Hunger,” she added. “A key to this global goal being achieved in Central America and elsewhere is that communities are able to better adapt, ensuring they are more prepared for climatic shocks and can recover faster.”

People hit by drought benefit from programmes that deliver cash, cash-based vouchers and mobile transfers in El Salvador and Guatemala to obtain food – including more diversified and fresh produce – while simultaneously building local economies. In addition, WFP and its partners provide nutrition training as well as support for reforestation, irrigation and community gardens.

Ms. Cousin visited communities in the drought-prone Dry Corridor where she talked with local people about how to overcome the impact of the extended dry period.

Read the rest. . . Continue reading

Global media ignore major climate change crises

From the International Fund for Agricultural Development:

Even as 60 million people around the world face severe hunger because of El Niño and millions more because of climate change, top European and American media outlets are neglecting to cover the issues as a top news item, says a new research report funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) today.

“It’s incredible that in a year when we have had record temperatures, 32 major droughts, and historic crop losses that media are not positioning climate change on their front pages,” said IFAD President, Kanayo F. Nwanze. “Climate change is the biggest threat facing our world today and how the media shape the narrative remains vitally important in pre-empting future crises.”

The report, “The Untold Story: Climate change sinks below the headlines” [PDF] provides an analysis of the depth of media reporting around climate change in two distinct periods: two months before the 21st session of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris, and two months after. Specifically, it explores whether issues connecting climate change, food security, agriculture and migration made headlines, and if so, how much prominence these stories were given.

Among some of its key findings:

  • Climate change stories were either completely absent or their numbers decreased in major media outlets in Europe and the United States before and after COP21.
  •  Coverage on the consequences of climate change, such as migration, fell by half in the months after COP21 and people directly impacted by climate change rarely had a voice in stories or were not mentioned at all.
  • News consumers want climate change issues and solutions to be given more prominence in media outlets and, in particular, want more information on the connections between climate change, food insecurity, conflict and migration.

The release of the report comes just days before world leaders gather at the United Nations in New York to sign off on the Paris Agreement coming out of COP21. In December, the agreement made headlines and led news bulletins across the globe. But leading up to COP21 and in the months following it, coverage on climate change significantly fell off the radar of major media outlets across Europe and the United States.

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

DroughtWatch: California passes major milestone

For the first time in two years, thanks to El Niño, less than a third of California is in the worst of the five drought categories established by the United States Drought Monitor. While last week 34.74 percent of the state was listed as suffering from Exceptional Drought, that number has dropped this week to 31.69 percent. There is no change, however, to the are of the state afflicted by one level or another of drought, 96.45 percent:

BLOG DroughtWatch

Lethal disease spread threatens West Coast bats

Another serial killer is loose in the American West.

From Science:

A lethal fungus devastating U.S. bat populations in the East and Midwest has crossed the Continental Divide for the first time, unexpectedly popping up in Washington—approximately 2000 kilometers farther west than previously seen.

The discovery of white-nose syndrome in a single, sickly little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) found in mid-March by hikers at the edge of the Cascade mountains, 50 kilometers east of Seattle, is confirmation of what scientists considered the inevitable spread of the disease across the continent. “This is a nightmare scenario come true,” says Jeremy Coleman, an ecologist and head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s white-nose syndrome program in Hadley, Massachusetts. “This is the news we have been bracing for and warning about going back for the last 8 years.”

But the syndrome’s appearance in the far northwest corner of the country, announced Thursday by state and federal wildlife agencies, came as a surprise. In recent years, it had only reached as far west as Minnesota and Nebraska, after an orderly march across the continent from its start in upstate New York.

More from the joint statement [PDF] of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.s. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey:

First seen in North America in the winter of 2006/2007 in eastern New York, WNS has now spread to 28 states and five Canadian provinces. USGS microbiologist David Blehert first identified the unknown fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, which causes the disease. WNS is named for the fuzzy white fungal growth that is sometimes observed on the muzzles of infected bats. The fungus invades hibernating bats’ skin and causes damage, especially to delicate wing tissue, and physiologic imbalances that can lead to disturbed hibernation, depleted fat reserves, dehydration and death.

“This finding in a far-western location is unfortunately indicative of the challenges we face with the unpredictability of WNS,” said Suzette Kimball, director of the USGS. “This underscores the critical importance of our work to develop tools for early detection and rapid response to potentially devastating wildlife diseases.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leads the national WNS response effort, working with state and federal partners to respond to the disease. The Service’s National White-nose Syndrome Coordinator Jeremy Coleman said the first step will be to conduct surveillance near where the bat was found to determine the extent of WNS in the area. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is responsible for bat management and conservation in Washington and will coordinate surveillance and response efforts.

WDFW veterinarian Katie Haman said the disease is transmitted primarily from bat to bat, although people can carry fungal spores on their clothing, shoes or caving gear.

Here’s a brief video from a U.S. Forestry Service Southern Research Station biologist:

Slowing the Spread of White Nose Syndrome in Bats

Program notes:

Research Wildlife Biologist, Roger Perry describes the history, spread and efforts to prevent the disease, White Nose Syndrome in bats.

For more details on the disease, there’s a longer video report here.

So why should we care about the fate of a creature so often linked with the dark side of nature?

Well, it’s because bats get a bad rap.

From Bat Conservation International:

The Earth without bats would be a very different and much poorer place. More than 1,300 species of bats around the world are playing ecological roles that are vital to the health of natural ecosystems and human economies.

Many of the more than 1,300 bat species consume vast amounts of insects, including some of the most damaging agricultural pests. Others pollinate many valuable plants, ensuring the production of fruits that support local economies, as well as diverse animal populations. Fruit-eating bats in the tropics disperse seeds that are critical to restoring cleared or damaged rainforests. Even bat droppings (called guano) are valuable as a rich natural fertilizer. Guano is a major natural resource worldwide, and, when mined responsibly with bats in mind, it can provide significant economic benefits for landowners and local communities.

Bats are often considered “keystone species” that are essential to some tropical and desert ecosystems. Without bats’ pollination and seed-dispersing services, local ecosystems could gradually collapse as plants fail to provide food and cover for wildlife species near the base of the food chain. Consider the great baobab tree of the East African savannah. It is so critical to the survival of so many wild species that it is often called the “African Tree of Life.” Yet it depends almost exclusively on bats for pollination. Without bats, the Tree of Life could die out, threatening one of our planet’s richest ecosystems.

And a companion video from Bat Conservation International:

We Need Bats & Bats Need Us

Program notes:

Bat Conservation International ( created this video to illustrate the ways in which the health of our planet depends upon the environmental services provided by bats.

The welfare of global bat populations depends on conservation actions that everyone can take on a daily basis. Bats are often harmed because people believe myths and misinformation that have been spread for centuries. Watch this educational video and join us in saving bats!

The earth rises up during times of drought

California’s epochal drought, easing with the help of those El Niño raises, has had one measurable impact that few suspected: it’s caused the state to rise, except in the Central Valley.

Why? Well, it’s because Mother Earth lightens up when she sheds her water weight.

It seems quite logical, but it remained one of the planet’s secrets until a wide-ranging network of solar power GPS stations detected subtle changes of elevations when the earth was either wetter or dryer.

Consider this graphic from Scripps Institution of Oceanography geophysicist Adrian Borsa and his colleagues, tracking elevation changes in California between 2011, a wet year, and 2014, as California’s long drought was taking a firm, dry grip on the Golden State:

BLOG Drought

The reason for the continued loss of elevation in California’s Central Valley is simple: California’s industrial agricultural firms were extracting water in record amounts from the aquifer below, causing the elevation to drop as soils compacted.

In this address delivered to an audience at Scripps, Borsa offers an in-depth look at the fruits of his research, findings that are both fascinating in themselves and fraught with impact for the future of a state with limited water reserves, a growing population, and an agriculture industry that has block efforts for mandatory groundwater extraction monitoring.

From University of California Television:

When the Rains Fail the Mountains Rise

Program notes:

The severe drought gripping the western United States in recent years is changing the landscape well beyond localized effects of water restrictions and browning lawns. Geophysicist Adrian Borsa describes how the loss of water across the west is causing the entire region to rise like an uncoiling spring.

Headline of the day II: The Day of the Locust

From the Washington Post:

Lobbyists descend on Havana for Obama’s historic Cuba trip

Lobbyists for the U.S. agriculture industry and major business groups are descending on Havana, hoping to leverage President Obama’s historic trip to Cuba to advance their interests on the island.

And the earth below: California gets wetter

For several years, while esnl reported for the Sacramento Bee, we lived east of the California capital in the town of Davis, commuting daily over the Sacramento River.

During wet winters and springs, much of our drive traversed a wide. diked flood plan, the Yolo Bypass, created to contain the river when it overflowed its banks. The same land was planted after floodwaters abated, plantings nurtured by the rich silt laid down by the river waters.

But there was no water in the bypass last March, the result of California’s severe drought, as shown in the uppermost of these two images, captured by a satellite.

This year, as revealed in the lower photo taken almost exactly a year after the first image, things are considerably different, with the bypass fully flood.

From NASA’s Earth Observatory:


More form NASA:

Storms in mid-March 2016 brought some relief to drought-stricken northern California, as multiple days of rainfall replenished the area’s reservoirs. The water level of Lake Shasta, for example, returned to its historic average for mid-March.

The abundant rainfall also meant that flood protection systems were hard at work. The Shasta Dam spanning the Sacramento River is one point of flood control for the Sacramento Valley. Farther south along the rain-swollen river, water flowed into Yolo Bypass—a floodway between Davis and Sacramento—for the first time in three years.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured these images of the river and floodway. The top image was acquired on March 18, 2015, when the area was relatively dry.The second image was acquired on March 17, 2016, after water topped the Fremont Weir and spilled into the bypass. Turn on the image comparison tool to see the difference.

The images are false color, composed from a combination of infrared and visible light (MODIS bands 7-2-1). Water in the river and bypass is dark blue; snow is light blue; vegetation is green; and bare ground is brown.

In the second image, the water level at Fremont Weir measured about 10.7 meters (35 feet)—still more than five feet below flood stage. The water level in the top image was about 4 meters (13.5 feet).

Yolo Bypass covers about 60,000 acres of private and public land, which has been irregularly inundated with water