Archive for the ‘Trees’ Category

May08

Emissions from Agriculture and Livestock Continue to Grow

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By Laura Reynolds

In 2010, global greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector totaled 4.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO₂) equivalent, up 13 percent over 1990. Agriculture is the third largest contributor to global emissions by sector, following the burning of fossil fuels for power and heat, and transportation. In 2010, emissions from electricity and heat production reached 12.5 billion tons, and emissions from transport totaled 6.7 billion tons.

Agricultural emissions have increased over the past two decades. (Photo credit: www.mnn.com)

Despite their continuing rise, emissions from agriculture are growing at a much slower rate than the sector as a whole, demonstrating the increasing carbon efficiency of agriculture. From 1990 to 2010, the volume of agricultural production overall increased nearly 23 percent, according to data compiled by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for its program, FAOSTAT. FAO released a new GHG Emissions database for agriculture, forestry and other land use changes in Dec 2012, which can be found here.

According to FAO, methane accounts for just under half of total agricultural emissions, nitrous oxide for 36 percent, and carbon dioxide for some 14 percent. The largest source of methane emissions is enteric fermentation, or the digestion of organic materials by livestock, predominantly beef cattle. This is also the largest source of agricultural emissions overall, contributing 37 percent of the total.

Livestock contribute to global emissions in other ways as well. Manure deposited and left on pastures is a major source of nitrous oxide emissions because of its high nitrogen content. When more nitrogen is added to soil than is needed, bacteria convert the extra nitrogen into nitrous oxide and release it into the atmosphere. Emissions from manure on pasture in Asia, Africa, and South America together account for as much as 81 percent of global emissions from this source. These emissions from the three regions increased 42 percent on average between 1990 and 2010, reflecting an increase in range-based livestock populations; elsewhere, these emissions either decreased or stagnated.

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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…)

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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Oct17

Organizations Push for Global Ban on Genetically Modified Trees

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Five organizations released a letter in early October 2012 to the executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity demanding a global ban on genetically modified (GM) trees. World Rainforest Movement, Global Justice Ecology Project, the Campaign to Stop Genetically Engineered Trees, Global Forest Coalition, and Biofuelwatch oppose the potentially damaging impact of GM trees on the environment and Indigenous communities.

GM trees pose inevitable and irreversible threats to forest ecosystems and the people who inhabit them. (Photo credit: Washington State Department of Natural Resources)

“The forestry industry is involved in developing GM trees for use in its industrial plantations, in order to achieve trees that can grow faster, have reduced lignin content for production of paper or agrofuels, are insect or herbicide resistant, or can grow in colder temperatures,” stated Isis Alvarez of Global Forest Coalition. “This research is aimed at increasing their own profits while exacerbating the already known and very serious impacts of large scale tree plantations on local communities and biodiversity.”

According to a 2012 report by Global Justice Ecology Project, GM trees pose “significant risks” to carbon-absorbing forest ecosystems and the global climate. Trees with less lignin would be more prone to pest attacks and would rot more quickly, altering soil structure and releasing greenhouse gases more quickly. Other dangers range from increased “flammability, to invasiveness, to the potential to contaminate native forests with engineered traits.” According to the Sierra Club, “the possibility that the new genes spliced into GE trees will interfere with natural forests isn’t a hypothetical risk but a certainty.” The substitution of natural forests by GM monocultures for industrial use would also threaten biodiversity, in the same way that oil palm plantations do today. Many of these consequences would impact Indigenous communities, reducing the ecosystem services that they rely on for their livelihoods and survival.

Despite these risks, several GM tree projects are moving forward. The GM tree research and development company ArborGen has a request pending with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to sell half a billion cold-tolerant eucalyptus seedlings each year for bioenergy plantations in the southern United States. Since eucalyptus trees are a documented invasive species in both Florida and California, this has raised red flags for many. Both the Georgia Department of Wildlife and the US Forest Service have submitted comments to the USDA expressing concerns about the impact of plantations on native ecosystems. Meanwhile, several universities, timber corporations, and seedling manufacturers in the Pacific Northwest are also collaborating to develop GM poplar trees for bioenergy production. About 30 species of poplar trees already grow from subtropical to subalpine regions across the United States, Canada, and Europe, meaning there is a serious risk of genetic contamination.

The Sierra Club warns that the “commercial development of out-of-doors applications in the absence of environmental safeguards is a prescription for disaster,” and it is clear that GM tree plantations pose inevitable and irreversible threats to forest ecosystems and the people who inhabit them. Today, 245 organizations and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations from 49 countries support a global ban on GM trees, according to Global Justice Ecology Project.

Do you think the development of GM trees should continue? Are there ways to regulate and limit the negative impacts of GM trees on the environment? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Carol Dreibelbis 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.

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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.

Sep06

Sustainable Development through Information: the Community Innovation Resource Center

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By Victoria Russo

Today Nourishing the Planet highlights the Community Innovation Resource Center, a program started by Kaganga John, a Ugandan community activist, farmer, and environmentalist.  Through a partnership with the Global Giving Project, the program aims to collect funds for technological hardware including computers with internet capabilities, radios, and televisions in order to improve the flow of information to Kaganga John’s home community of Kikandwa. Throughout Kaganga John’s life, he has seen his community struggle with chronic issues of hunger and environmental degradation. As a young adult he committed himself to improving the quality of life in his community; through projects such as the Resource Center, he will sustain these changes for future generations to come.

The Community Innovation Resource Center aims to improve the flow of information to Kaganga John’s home community of Kikandwa (Photo credit: Community Innovation Resource Center)

Kaganga John knows firsthand the difficulty and importance of obtaining quality education. Largely self-educated, he started his own second-hand bookstore in order to have greater access to knowledge. When Kaganga John saw that his community largely lacked quality education, he dedicated his life to improving the situation. After helping to reforest, educate, and ensure the sustainability of his community, Kaganga John now faces the challenge of connecting Kikandwa with the rest of the world. Kikandwa is located 50 kilometers from the nearest technology resource center, and has, until recently, lacked access to the internet. Kikandwa is not unique in this respect, as only 10 percent of Ugandans have access to the internet, though that number is growing. Kaganga John hopes that the Global Giving Project will allow his fellow community members to increase their knowledge and to share their experiences with others facing similar challenges.

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Aug20

Aguaje: the Amazon’s New Superfruit Secret Is Out

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By Carly Chaapel

Researchers have stumbled upon yet another reason to save the Amazon rainforest. The aguaje fruit is just another nutrient-rich, pulpy gem with the potential to gain as much popularity as the now familiar acai berry or guarana extract. Local people living within the Peruvian Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve have cultivated this fruit, and a variety of others, as part of their culture. At the local market in the city of Iquitos, this small, scaly fruit generates US$4.6 million every year. But as global trends continue to rise in favor of unique, healthful food choices, the aguaje holds the capability to generate income for local growers and amp up Vitamin A intake for consumers around the world.

Aguaje is peeled and juiced for sale at the market. (Photo credit: Juan Forero, The Washington Post)

The aguaje fruit ripens on a palm tree, and when it is ready to eat, one must peel back the maroon scales before munching on the crisp yellow flesh inside. Tasters have compared the aguaje fruit to a carrot, although it boasts three times the amount of Vitamin A than this familiar orange root vegetable. Aguaje oil is also high in beta-carotene, oleic acid (also found in olive oil), and essential fatty acids that the human body cannot synthesize on its own. Amazingly, the oil also contains a naturally-occurring SPF that can filter ultraviolet rays and treat burns when applied topically.

University of Florida geographer and Professor Nigel Smith has devoted much of his career to research in the Amazon. In addition to its health benefits and pleasing taste, he believes that cultivation of the aguaje fruit by small farmers may play a part in the survival of a healthy rainforest ecosystem. Commercial farmers in the Amazon are often demonized for their large clear-cuts of monocropped staples such as coffee, soy, and rubber. However, small-scale farmers can actually play a positive role in maintaining a biologically diverse landscape that benefits both the natural ecosystem and the people living within it.

By encouraging a variety of edible plants to grow within the forest, these small-scale farmers are engaging in a form of agroforestry that uses the complex forest ecosystem as a model for highly productive food gardens. As one more element of a forest garden that flourishes in vertical layers of plant diversity, the aquaje provides another form of sustenance, should other crops fail due to pest damage, a disease outbreak, or severe weather.

Will the aguaje fruit become the next trend in exotic health food? It is already popular among local consumers, and value can be easily added by processing the fruit into juice, jam, or ice cream. If harvested sustainably, this humble tropical plant could boost the health of both the Amazon rainforest and a planet of 7 billion.

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Aug09

Innovation of the Week: Living Trees as Fence Posts

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By: Molly Redfield

Drive around Costa Rica’s windy mountainous roads and you will see numerous trees, from those bearing colorful fruits to others sporting thick spines, planted about 1 to 3 meters apart. Connected by long lines of barbed wire, these rudimentary-looking arrangements, known as living fences, have both economic and environmental benefits over their dead wood counterparts.

Living fences have economic and environmental benefits (Photo Credit: Arborsmith Studios)

Farmers across Central America plant living fences because these green barriers are a more economically feasible and readily accessible method for containing livestock and protecting crops. For one, the main materials of living fences are the branches of tree species that root from sticks and grow into larger trees. Shared among neighbors or sold at local markets, these sticks are much cheaper and more common than manufactured posts. Without the need for paint or preservatives, which can add toxins into the environment, maintenance costs also remain low. Additionally, animals graze on living fences, saving farmers costs in livestock feed.

By providing some shade and serving as windbreaks, living fences can significantly decrease the amount of energy farm animals need to regulate their body temperatures. As livestock allot this extra energy to growth and, in dairy cows, producing milk, farmers experience higher yields, whether in meat or milk, for planting living fences.

These tree posts also offer farmers the additional benefits of firewood, timber, fruits, tanning astringents, and dyes. In Costa Rica, the federal government even provides payment for ecosystem services (PES) to farmers with living fences. A study on a region where a 2002 to 2007 World Bank project funded and monitored the building of living fences throughout Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Colombia, reports that small landholding producers rank the conversion of conventional fences into their living alternatives as a high priority.

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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.

Aug04

City Orchard: Nourishing the Capital

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By Jameson Spivack

Bread for the City, a nonprofit group dedicated to providing food, medical care, and other necessities to D.C. residents who cannot afford them, recently began its newest project, City Orchard. City Orchard is a program that grows fruits and vegetables, which are then used to stock the shelves of Bread for the City’s food pantry. Whereas most food pantries rely on donations, Bread for the City is growing its own fresh, local produce, in partnership with Casey Trees, a group that protects the plant life in the D.C. area.

The City Orchard project grows fruits and vegetables for a D.C. food pantry. (Image credit: Bread for the City)

The project has already planted 200 apple, Asian pear, and persimmon trees and blueberry and blackberry bushes, and plans to have 800 more in the ground over the next year. Once they have matured in 2014, they will provide up to 40,000 lbs. of fruit per year, all of which will be given to the needy.

The idea for City Orchard came from Bread for the City’s nutrition consultant Sharon Feuer Gruber, who noticed there wasn’t enough fresh fruit on food pantry shelves. She then teamed up with Casey Trees, who had already been in talks with the University of the District of Columbia’s College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES) about using some of their property to create a community garden.

Through a USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant, Bread for the City received the funding it needed to get the garden started. City Orchard will provide fruits and vegetables to Bread for the City’s “Glean for the City” project, which collects fresh, free surplus produce. It will then distribute the nutritious food to the hungry in D.C. through its food pantries.

The project also provides a place for both D.C. residents and Bread for the City clients to learn about nutrition, urban farming, and the benefits of local, nutritious food. Through programs like nutrition and cooking workshops, residents can become more knowledge about and involved in the food they are eating.

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