Archive for the ‘Biodiversity’ Category

Dec04

Supporting Climate-Friendly Food Production

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By Laura Reynolds

This summer, record temperatures and limited rainfall parched vast areas of U.S. cropland, and with Earth’s surface air temperature projected to rise 0.69 degrees Celsius by 2030, global food production will be even more unpredictable. Although agriculture is a major driver of human-caused climate change, contributing an estimated 25 to 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, when done sustainably it can be an important key to mitigating climate change.

Agroforestry is one practice that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while adapting to the effects of climate change. (Photo credit: Christensen Fund)

Because of its reliance on healthy soil, adequate water, and a delicate balance of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, farming is the human endeavor most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. But agriculture’s strong interrelationships with both climatic and environmental variables also make it a significant player in reducing climate-altering emissions as well as helping the world adapt to the realities of a warming planet.

The good news is that agriculture can hold an important key to mitigating climate change. Practices such as using animal manure rather than artificial fertilizer, planting trees on farms to reduce soil erosion and sequester carbon, and growing food in cities all hold huge potential for reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the global agricultural sector could potentially reduce and remove 80 to 88 percent of the carbon dioxide that it currently emits. By adopting more-sustainable approaches, small-scale agriculture in developing countries has the potential to contribute 70 percent of agriculture’s global mitigation of climate change. And many of these innovations have the potential to be replicated, adapted, and scaled up for application on larger farms, helping to improve water availability, increase diversity, and improve soil quality, as well as mitigate climate change. (more…)

Nov21

A Tale of Two Farms: Industrial vs. Sustainable Meat Production in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Most food in the United States comes from industrialized, intensive farms. Meat and dairy are no exception: nationwide, 40 percent of all U.S. food animals are raised in the largest 2 percent of livestock facilities. And these large-scale facilities, commonly referred to as factory farms, continue to grow. Between 1997 and 2007, the U.S. factory farming industry added 4,600 hogs, 650 dairy cows, 139,200 broiler chickens, and 1,100 beef cattle each day. On a global scale, industrial animal production now accounts for 72 percent of all poultry production, 43 percent of egg production, and 55 percent of pork production.

Pastured broiler chickens feed on grass and grain at Virginia-based Polyface Farm. (Photo credit: Polyface, Inc.)

Although factory farms provide large quantities of relatively inexpensive meat, the associated environmental, social, and human health costs are high. Factory farms rely on massive inputs of water, fossil fuel energy, grain-based feed, and other limited resources. Feed production alone accounts for an estimated 75 percent of the energy use associated with factory farming; growing animal feed also requires the input of water, fertilizers, and pesticides, and it occupies arable land that could be used directly to grow food. An estimated 23 percent of all water used in agriculture goes to livestock production.

Industrialized meat production also creates huge amounts of waste, contaminating nearby air and water and threatening the health of humans and wildlife. Some large factory farms produce more waste than large U.S. cities. The livestock industry is also responsible for approximately 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions—more than the entire global transportation sector. By contributing to climate change, factory farms affect people both locally and around the world.

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Nov14

Five Rainforest Ecosystem Services that Nourish People and the Planet

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By Ioulia Fenton

From wetlands to coral reefs, the Earth’s diverse ecosystems support and regulate many of the planet’s most critical natural processes. They also contribute important cultural, social, and economic benefits to human communities. These contributions, known more broadly as “ecosystem services,” are estimated to be worth trillions of dollars per year.

Rainforests provide vital ecosystem services that sustain all life on Earth. (Photo credit: National Geographic)

The world’s rainforest ecosystem services—such as increased rainfall, soil stability, and a regulated climate—are integral to the successful production of food in many parts of the world. Rainforests in the Amazon and the Congo, for example, support rainfall in key, surrounding agricultural areas.

Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights five ecosystem services that rainforests provide to people and the planet:

1. Nutrient cycling and soil formation. According to the Rainforest Conservation Fund, many of the world’s tropical rainforests live “on the edge,” meaning that they receive very few nutrient inputs from the outside and must produce most nutrients themselves. When left intact, a rainforest acts as a closed-loop system, recycling the nutrients it has created; without tree cover, however, these nutrients would be lost and the forest would not survive.

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Nov11

An Interview with Seth Itzkan: Using Holistic Management to Address Desertification and Climate Change

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By Carol Dreibelbis

In this series, we interview inspiring people that our readers have nominated. These individuals are working on the front lines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone? E-mail your suggestions to Laura Reynolds!

Name: Seth Itzkan

Affiliation: President of Planet-TECH Associates, a consultancy focusing on trends and innovations.

Bio: Seth has 25 years of experience consulting with private and public agencies on strategies for success in changing times. He is interested in the mitigation of climate change and is investigating new approaches to the problem, particularly focusing on the role of soils and grassland restoration through “holistic management.”

In 2011, Seth spent six weeks at the Africa Center for Holistic Management in northwest Zimbabwe, the sister organization of the Savory Institute in Colorado. While in Zimbabwe, he saw firsthand the restoration of degraded lands through improved land and livestock management. Since his return to the United States, he has advocated for holistic management to be considered as a methodology to address both desertification and global warming.

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Oct18

Five Examples of How Biodiversity Helps in the Fight Against Hunger

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By Dr. William Dar

Dr. William Dar is Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT.) He has had a long and distinguished career as an educationist, agricultural scientist, administrator, and humanitarian in his native Philippines and abroad in the Asia Pacific region and sub-Saharan Africa.

ICRISAT director general William Dar at the Melkassa Research Center in Ethiopia where local sorghum and millet varieties are being studied to identify traits for drought and pest resistance. (Photo Credit: ICRISAT)

The 11th Conference of Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is happening this week in Hyderabad, India.  Two years after the missed ultimatum to slow down the loss of biodiversity, this international meeting hopes to mobilize consciences and resources of everyone from governments and corporate organizations to citizens.  We need to be “aware of the values of biodiversity” and act “to conserve and use it sustainably “, as described in the twenty biodiversity conservation targets of the new CBD roadmap for the decade 2010-2020.

These goals are challenging because biodiversity is an abstract and global concept that seems too far removed from the daily lives of citizens, when compared to the current worries of unemployment and declining purchase power.

As CBD shows through the global study ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity’ (TEEB), many economic activities benefit enormously from biodiversity and its loss incurs huge costs for our society.

To illustrate the value of biodiversity for agriculture and food security, the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) gives ten examples, 5 of which are described below, of the use of biodiversity for important smallholder crops, and its impact for millions of smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia.

1. Pearl Millet – Resistance to the downy mildew fungus

Downy mildew is a fungal disease that thrives in moist climates can result in massive crop damage with farmers often losing half of their yields.

ICRISAT scientists found mildew resistance in local farmer-evolved varieties (or landraces) from Africa and Asia, and could incorporate this trait in the improved varieties developed by the institute. Without such resistance, it would have been impossible to conduct the pearl millet hybrid selection.

In 1996 ICRISAT estimated that the annual benefits of the downy mildew resistant variety were worth US$50 million. Today they are far more, with a conservative estimate in India alone being almost US$200 million. We just need to think of this in terms of farmer livelihoods to see how crucial the impact of biodiversity is.

2. Sorghum – Resistance to grain mould

Cultivated sorghum encompasses five sub-types or ‘races’, including Caudatum sorghum,  a hardy and densely-packed grains landrace that emerged from farmer selection in Eastern Africa. High-yielding Caudatum varieties of sorghum can become mouldy when rains are unusually frequent, causing 30 to 100 percent yield losses, lower market value, and even health hazards such as aflatoxin contamination in humans that consume them. In 1992 ICRISAT estimated the annual economic losses in Asia and Africa as US$130 million. Moderately-resistant land races were found , while Guinea sorghum races are inherently resistant, enabling the production of grain mold tolerant hybrids, recently released in India.

3. Early maturity groundnut

Early maturation of the crop is a trait that is greatly appreciated by poor farmers worldwide. It enables them to harvest food and receive income sooner, and to escape many droughts. The  groundnut line most utilized in breeding this trait, ‘Chico’, has contributed earliness to cultivars released across Africa and Asia such as ICGV 91114, now having major impact in Anantapur district, India – the largest groundnut growing district in the world; and Nyanda (ICGV 93437), cultivated on about 50,000 hectares in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, and South Africa.

4. Early maturity chickpea

Early-maturing chickpeas are having a major impact in EthiopiaIndia and Myanmar. Benefits to Ethiopia alone over the period 2001 to 2030 are projected to be worth US$111 million. The land area sown to chickpea in Myanmar, and also the grain yields per unit land area both doubled during 2001 to 2009.  In Andhra Pradesh state, India, the early-maturing varieties stimulated a fivefold increase in sown area plus a 2.4-fold increase in yield over the same period.

5. Hybrid Pigeonpea seed system

ICRISAT and partners utilized Cajanus cajanifolus, a wild relative species of pigeonpea, to develop the world’s first hybrid seed system for any grain legume crop, with on average 30 percent higher grain yield than the best available local variety. This will have an enormous impact and help restore Indian grain legume self sufficiency, as these hybrids are widely disseminated to farmers.

Protecting biodiversity is crucial for our future food security

These five examples are just a glimpse of what impact biological diversity has on our food security. Research innovations in molecular biology and genetics will certainly improve and quicken the study of these biological resources.

The current biodiversity crunch makes our world poorer and less resilient for coming generations. Recognizing the value of biodiversity should help put it at the center of governments’ agendas.

 

Sep24

Protected Planet Report 2012 Highlights Need to Conserve Global Biodiversity

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By Alyssa Casey

The first-ever Protected Planet Report was recently released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP-WCMC). The report addresses the need to conserve areas of the natural environment by protecting local resources and native species. This will help preserve global biodiversity, the variety of living organisms that exist on the planet. The report tracks progress on Target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) Aichi Biodiversity Targets. According to Target 11, by 2020, 17 percent of terrestrial ecoregions and 10 percent of marine ecoregions will be properly conserved.

The Cape Floristic Region of South Africa, one of many protected areas conserved by the IUCN, harbors one fifth of Africa’s known plant species (Photo credit: Western Cape Nature Conservation Board, IUCN)

As the global population and their use of natural resources steadily increases, the Aichi Targets hope to protect global biodiversity from historic and emerging threats, such as pollution and over-harvesting of natural resources. Protected areas are internationally recognized regions set aside for nature and biodiversity conservation. Protected areas are crucial for reasons beyond preserving biodiversity; they also aid scientific research, maintain water supplies, and preserve sites of cultural importance. By limiting human occupation and preventing exploitation of natural resources, the UNEP-WCMC conserves protected areas around the world. According to the report, protected areas currently cover 12.7 percent of the world’s land area and 1.6 percent of the global ocean area. Meanwhile, half of the world’s most important sites for biodiversity still remain unprotected.

Protected areas are traditionally managed exclusively by governments. However, the report shows the amount of exclusively government-managed protected areas decreasing from 96 percent to 77 percent. This is because of a rise in Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) across the world. In ICCAs, the local communities take action to conserve protected areas in their regions. In the Mexican state of Yucatan, the Yucatan Maya people preserve the San Crisanto area so large farm owners cannot convert the natural habitat into farmland. After two hurricanes in 1996 caused severe erosion and flooding in the region, the local community worked to restore the canals and waterways of San Crisanto. In the Central Philippines, the local people help protect the Apo Island marine environment by limiting fishermen’s harvesting of native fish species. They also work to conserve the coral reef habitat, which contains many breeding sites for local fish species.

With local communities playing an increasing role in conserving protected areas, governing organizations are developing new ways to document ICCAs. One major challenge of ICCAs is that they commonly go unreported or unrecognized, and therefore can lack funding or additional government support against outside impact. To combat these issues, and ensure ICCAs are documented with protected areas, the UNEP-WCMC helped create an ICCA registry. This site will allow all ICCAs worldwide to be tracked alongside government-managed protected areas, enabling a more accurate understanding of protected areas worldwide. This documentation will play an important role in the next Protected Planet Report, which is scheduled to be published in 2014.

What do you think are the most effective ways to conserve protected areas? Do you think community involvement is important to preserve these areas? Share your ideas in the comments below!

Alyssa Casey is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project. 

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE.

Sep12

Citywatch: Forest Gardens in Honduras Make the Best of Two Worlds

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By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. Click here to read more from Wayne.

Forest gardens are a great way to both produce food and mitigate climate change (Photo Credit: Veganic Agriculture Network)

Yorito, Honduras. The drought parching harvests in several of the world’s most productive food baskets is the summer’s hottest global food story. Eerily, it’s matched by the season’s hottest archeological finding, which comes across as a cautionary tale.

Benjamin Cook, who sifts through mountains of computerized data rather than dusting off shards of pottery like old-fashioned archeologists, developed a climate model that explains one of the great mysteries of Western hemisphere history — the sudden collapse of the advanced and mighty Mayan Empire roughly 1300 years ago.

Turns out that drought, human-caused drought, was the culprit that made Central America, home base for the Mayans, uninhabitable. The Mayans chopped down forests both to clear land for farming maize (corn) and to burn timber used to convert limestone into building blocks for Mayan temples, much like energy-intense process used to make today’s cement.

Once the region lost its dark forest canopy that previously absorbed the sun’s rays, the heat bounced back into the atmosphere, thereby evaporating clouds that once dropped rain needed to feed the first empire entirely dependent on a food supply centered around corn. History seems to be repeating itself, for the second of the western hemisphere’s great empires is entirely dependent on a food supply centered around corn and an energy system bent on deforestation.

But what I saw in Honduras confirms there is life after plantation-style fields of corn. It just takes a complete rethink of the standard polarization so common in “Western” thinking, which holds that forests need to be cleared into fields before they will be capable of producing agriculture and civilization.

The continued holding power of that myth influences today’s urban forestry ethic, which promotes city trees as ways to bring nature back to the city and provide pleasing and calming environments that improve air quality and boost mental health. But a new generation of city tree boosters see orchards and forests as ways to grow food, not just an escape from the Civilization Blues.

What I saw among the Indigenous peoples in Yorito and its surrounding mountain ranges certainly confirms the view that forest gardens have what it takes to provide food, as well as other benefits.

Of course, Honduras has some obvious advantages when it comes to food production. Aside from a tropical climate, it’s classified as a “center of origin” for many of the world’s major food crops, such as   corn. It enjoys plenty of genetic diversity of its own, as well as imports from other tropical colonies controlled by Spanish conquerors of Central America.

If Yorito, where I was based, gets on the tourist map for forest gardens, it will be the first time Yorito gets on the tourist map. The village is about a three-hour drive north on paved road from the capital city. The nearby mountain villages we visited every day are another two-hour lurching jeep drive over rib-crunching dirt and gravel roads (Note to self—never underestimate the value of high-quality country roads again).

We ate our morning and evening meals in the living room of Nelba Velasquez, one of Yorito’s leading micro-entrepreneurs, who started a water purification plant staffed by young single moms, as well as a landscape shop and forest garden in her own quarter-acre yard. Much of the food in the restaurant comes from the garden. Like many people in town, she grows beans and squash on raised beds and hosts a number of chickens, who live up to the free in free range.

The first thing I notice is that the temperature in her forest garden drops about five degrees, partly thanks to shade and partly due to the evaporation of cool water from broad-leafed trees. Nelba says she sometimes comes here for a cool afternoon snooze in a hammock tied between two trees – the latest must-have in forest gardening.

Here in one overgrown parcel of a quarter acre lot, I see a beautiful and scrumptious answer to climate chaos, hunger, and the chronic disease pandemic created by deficiency of micronutrients suffered by rich and poor alike. Nelba has been tending this garden for 26 years ago, when she bought the abandoned livestock pasture she turned into a home.

If this were a supermarket, no-one would complain about lack of choice in the produce or medicine aisles from a hundred-foot diet.

Here is my count of what fits in her backyard besides a hammock, a clothes line, a baking oven for bread, a catchment basin for rainwater, two heaps of Japanese-style super-powered compost called Bokachi, a woodpile, a raised bed garden for vegetables, and a showroom for landscape plants: four avocado trees, two of two different kinds of guava trees, a papaya tree, a mandarin orange and lemon tree, a tree bearing yellow Nanci berries for juice, a plum, 60 coffee plants, a tamarind and an allspice tree, with sweet grass (for Thai soup and tea), balladania (a herbal that soothes anxiety), allspice and passion fruit hanging out of the fence lining her neighbor’s property.  Did I almost forget ten varieties of banana?

The entire garden is organic and requires no plowing, which keeps all the carbon stored by trees and in the soil intact, a powerful measure to mitigate global warming.

Nelba puts the diversity down to a personality quirk. “I always want to diversify everything. My hands are in everything,” Nelba tells me after our tour.

Aside from running the water purification plant next door one day a week, Nelba is also on the local public health board and is treasurer of her local “cial,” which promotes seed diversity as a tool of empowerment for low-income communities. Forest gardens are sprouting among the hilltops dominated by beans and corn, wherever cial chapters flourish.

I believe these kinds of forest gardens are becoming the next new thing in North America’s local food movement. Earlier this summer, Seattle claimed to have North America’s first, only to be jumped on by a score of cities and towns claiming they were first. The nice thing is that edible forest gardens don’t have to compete with trees grown for beauty, shade and animal habitat. Forests are all-inclusive presences.

We don’t need a prophet to lead us out of the wilderness, my solar engineer friend Greg Allen likes to say. We need a prophet to lead us back. Food production can be part of that restoration.

Wayne Roberts is on the board of Unitarian Service Committee of Canada-Seeds of Survival, which funds “cials” in Honduras, and he toured Honduras as one of their delegation.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Aug28

Five Holistic Alternative Farming Methods: Agroecology at its Best

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By Ioulia Fenton

In March 2011, the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Olivier De Schutter, presented a report highlighting how agroecology holds promise for alleviating hunger, reducing poverty, preserving the environment, and fighting climate change.

Polyface Farms uses an agricultural system that tries to imitate the diversity of a natural ecosystem by using multiple crop and animal species in the same space (Photo Credit: Glory Bea)

“The core principles of agroecology include recycling nutrients and energy on the farm, rather than introducing external inputs; integrating crops and livestock; diversifying species and genetic resources in agroecosystems over time and space; and focusing on interactions and productivity across the agricultural system, rather than focusing on individual species,” says the report.

Today, Nourishing the Planet presents five ways in which different agroecological methods are being practiced to varying degrees around the world:

1.      Duck attack on the rice paddies of Asia. Asian farmers cultivating organic rice have adapted an ingenious way to cut out pesticide and herbicide use—ducks. Two or three weeks after rice seedlings have been planted, ducks patrol paddy waters and happily feed on unwanted pests, such as the golden snail and a host of insect species that feed on the rice plants. The ducks’ feces enhance the soil, which they stir up with their beaks and feet, a process that also helps enrich the paddies with the oxygen that plants need to thrive (soil oxygenation). The feathered army also feeds on weeds, which eliminates the need for pesticides and for the manual labor associated with manual weeding. The ducks also provide an additional means of income, for farmers can sell them at harvest time. According to an article by the Japan Information Network, the method, which originated in Japan, has now spread to South Korea, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, and even as far as Iran.

2.      It is all about the bushes and the bees in Canada. Bees are vital to agriculture and natural biodiversity—according to the Royal Society, 76 percent of the world’s most widely used food crops require pollination to be productive. A new Canadian initiative is looking to put bees to work to help conserve a fragile area.

Trees are needed to protect watersheds—delicate areas of land that form the drainage systems for streams and rivers in which many plant and animal species thrive. Trees and shrubs help filter pollutants from storm water runoff and anchor the soil with their roots, which reduces erosion. With a grant from the British Columbia Agroforestry Industry Development Initiative, the Murray family aims to use their small woodland plot located in the West Kootenay region near Slocan Lake to blend apiculture (bee keeping) with integrated agroforestry (agriculture that incorporates the cultivation and conservation of trees). In this system, the bees will pollinate the shrubs and the shrubs and the plethora of small private woodlands and streams found in the area will, in turn, provide the surface water and natural windbreak protection required by the bees.

3.      Ancient and modern aquaponics around the world. According to the Centre for Sustainable Aquaponics, part of the solution to the global search for greener fish and crop production that does not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides can be found in aquaponics—a combination of aquaculture (the cultivation of aquatic animals and plants for food) and soilless plant agriculture known as hydroponics. The combined technique, where crops are grown in a body of water that contains fish, has been used by ancient Aztecs and the ancestors of Far East countries like China. It is increasingly being used all over the world today. The process renders needless the use of chemicals since, in a seamless aquatic dance, the fish-waste fertilizes the plants, which, in turn, cleanse the water of toxins that would be dangerous for the fish.

4.      “Do nothing but microorganisms” farming in Thailand. According to a report by Horizon Solutions, in Thailand, over 20,000 farmers have now adopted an integrated farming system known as “do nothing farming”—they cultivate crops with minimal interference in nature: “namely no ploughing, no weeding, no chemical pesticides, no chemical fertilizers, and no pruning.” They do, however, use effective microorganisms (EMs) that were developed by Dr. Teruo Higa from the agricultural department at the University of Ryukyu, Japan. EMs are a combination of microorganisms that readily exist in nature and have not been interfered with in any way, merely added to the fields. By enriching the soil and stimulating plant growth, EMs increase crop yields whilst allowing the farmer to maintain the balance of the ecosystem—a complex set of relationships among plants, animals, and non-living materials of an area.

5.      Grass farming in the United States. Joel Salatin calls himself a grass farmer. His Polyface Farms, in Swoope, Virginia, were made famous by appearances in Michael Pollan’s book An Omnivore’s Dilemma and the documentaries Food Inc. and Fresh. The hilly homestead is set on 100 acres of grass, surrounded by 400 acres of woodland. It is a polyculture—an agricultural system that tries to imitate the diversity of a natural ecosystem by using multiple crop and animal species in the same space. It includes chickens, cows, turkeys, rabbits, and pigs.

Salatin carefully orchestrates all the elements in an intricate symbiosis—every being follows its natural instincts to contribute an ecosystem service (benefit) that maintains the overall health of the pasture. For example, his large herd of cows feeds on a different quarter acre of grass every day and contributes manure. Three days later, three hundred laying hens—Polyface Farms’ “sanitation crew”—are let loose to gorge on the fat fly larvae that have grown in the cowpats. This gives the chickens an important source of rich protein, while helping to spread manure and further fertilize the paddock with their own very rich nitrogen-laden excrement.

The farm’s closed loop, natural system is highly successful, producing 40,000 pounds of beef, 30,000 pounds of pork, 10,000 broilers, 1,200 turkeys, 1,000 rabbits, and 35,000 dozen eggs on just 100 acres. And, as Pollan writes, “at the end of the year, there is more biodiversity not less, more fertility not less, and more soil, not less.”

Do you know of other agroecological farming methods being practiced around the world? Share them in the comments below.

Ioulia Fenton is a Food and Agriculture Research Intern at Nourishing the Planet.

Check out other Nourishing the Planet posts that highlight alternative agricultural methods: Aquaponics: An Overview, What Works: Aquaculture, Five Ways to Get Rid of Pests Without Using Chemicals, Five Sustainable Innovations in Aquaculture, Five Agricultural Innovations to Improve Biodiversity, The Birds, the Bees….and Plants, and Five Innovations that are Boosting Soil Fertility.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Aug08

The Tree Bank: Forest Restoration as Rural Development

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By Angela Kim

Based in the mountain area of Los Cerezos, between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the Tree Bank/Hispaniola project is helping to improve the incomes of impoverished smallholder farmers and restore native forests in the region. Earth Sangha, a nonprofit Buddhist environmental organization committed to forest conservation, started the Tree Bank in 2006 and recently launched its blog series called First-Hand, following the project’s work with local farmers in the Dominican Republic-Haiti border.

The Tree Bank/Hispaniola works with local Dominican partner organization, the Asociación de Productores de Bosque de Los Cerezos. (Photo credit: The Tree Bank/Hispaniola)

The Tree Bank’s mission is to create a system in which tropical farming is more compatible with native forests. By encouraging local family farmers to participate in conservation practices while producing their conventional crops, the Tree Bank strives to expand the function of smallholder farming to include ecological restoration services. Currently, the Tree Bank is working with twenty small farms and five programs, including a community nursery, native tree plantings, a farm microcredit system, an agroecology model, and the Rising Forests coffee brand. The coffee is shade-grown under the forest canopy of the region and produced exclusively by farmers involved in the program. Sales may come in the form of crops such as Rising Forests coffee, carbon or biodiversity credits, and direct donations for conservation.

Matt Bright, the Tree Bank’s Coordinator and author of First-Hand, writes the blog to show the concrete process and results of the Tree Bank’s efforts, from coffee development to conservation easements. Moreover, he connects readers and viewers to the local people working together on the rural development programs, from smallholder farmers to schoolteachers and doctors as well.

To read more about Earth Sangha, check out this post: “Earth Sangha Announces ‘Rising Forest Coffee”

Angela Kim is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one-minute book trailer, click HERE.

Aug03

Soybeans in Paraguay: A Boom for the Economy, Bust for Environmental and Public Health

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By Carly Chaapel

Soybean fields extend for miles on what was often thickly forested land in Paraguay. (Photo credit: MercoPress)

They are in bread, peanut butter, cookies, coffee creamer, crayons, candles, cows, and even cars. Soybeans, hailed as a “miracle crop” by many, have been harvested, pulverized, and processed to such an extent that it is nearly impossible to go a day without using them in some way.

In 2011, the United States and Brazil were the top two soybean producers in the world. Though Paraguay only contributes 3 percent of the global soybean supply, the rising demand for this cheap oil and protein has dramatically altered the Paraguayan agricultural landscape. Oxfam International executive director Jeremy Hobbs recently highlighted in the New York Times the destructive power that soybeans may have on the country’s entire political and economic stability.

This past June, President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay was impeached because of strong opposition to his agrarian reform and deaths during an attempt to remove squatters at a large farm belonging to a political opponent. He was a strong advocate for agricultural reform that would redistribute land and pull many of his people out of poverty. Just 2 percent of the Paraguayan population owns over three-quarters of the arable land.

Since 1996, over 1.2 million hectares of Paraguayan forest have been cleared and replaced with large swaths of treeless soy fields. Paraguay is currently the fourth largest exporter of soy, and much of the harvest is shipped to Europe and China as cattle feed and biofuels. According to the World Bank, however, undernourishment affects 10 percent of the population in Paraguay. Regardless of Paraguay’s booming US$1.6 billion soy export economy, 40 percent of the population still lives in poverty.

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