Posts Tagged ‘Conservation’


U.S. Ag Education Groups Make Soil Health a Priority

Pin It

By Carol Dreibelbis

In the United States, some agricultural organizations are beginning to recognize the value of training new leaders in sustainable farming practices. In the state of Nebraska, Nebraska Agricultural Education and the Nebraska Future Farmers of America Association (FFA) are in their second year of providing teachers and students with the skills they need to conserve and restore the local landscape, thanks to a three-year, $200,000 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

Nebraska educators gain skills to take back to their classrooms as part of the Soils Project’s “Excellence in Ag Science Day” 20workshop. (Photo credit: National Cooperative Soil Survey)

With the awareness that the world may need to feed an additional 3 billion mouths by 2050, Nebraska Agricultural Education aims to “prepare students for successful careers and a lifetime of informed choices in the global agriculture, food, and natural resource systems.” The organization provides in-class and experiential instruction to more than 13,000 students in 148 schools each year.

With 93 percent of its land devoted to agriculture, Nebraska is one of the United States’ most productive agricultural areas. In 2012, it ranked first nationally in terms of commercial red meat production, the area of irrigated land harvested, and Great Northern beans production. In 2011, it ranked second in ethanol production capacity, with 24 operating plants having production capacity of 2.2 billion gallons (83,279,059,600 liters). In 2010, total cash receipts from farm marketings were over $17 billion, representing 5.5 percent of the U.S. total. In 2008, it was ranked eighth nationally in certified organic cropland acres (52,551 ha) and eighth in certified organic pasture acres (21,518 ha).

The Nebraska FFA Association supports Nebraska Agricultural Education’s leadership and career development roles, with the understanding that “today’s agriculture education students will be…responsible for ensuring a safe and stable food and fiber supply for the growing world.” The FFA reaches more than 6,500 high school students in Nebraska.

During the 2011–12 grant year, 100 schools in Nebraska received free soil testing kits and professional development training for teachers through the Nebraska Agricultural Education Soils Project. More than 100 FFA educators attended a two-day workshop in June 2011 on soil science, where they received soil guides and participated in field- and lab-based exercises to learn how to use the kits.

The soil quality kits, which include buckets, vests, gram scales, measuring wheels, soil probes, spades, measuring tapes, and other equipment, enable the educators to teach their own students how to assess important soil properties, including moisture, electrical conductivity, temperature, phosphate, nitrate and nitrite, pH, aggregate stability, organic matter, respiration, bulk density, and infiltration. Proper soil management can prevent land degradation (i.e. erosion), which can impact agronomic productivity, the environment, food security, and even quality of life. According to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, “Global efforts to halt and reverse land degradation are integral to creating the future we want…Sustainable land use is a prerequisite for lifting billions from poverty, enabling food and nutrition security, and safeguarding water supplies. It is a cornerstone of sustainable development.”

The soil science workshop received overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants. “There is so much great information and materials to help me teach soil science. Thank you so much for allowing me to be part of it,” said Amber Endres, an agricultural educator in Hartington, in northeast Nebraska. Beyond the trainings, follow-up sessions provide resources and education to additional teachers.

Ed George, the Soils Project coordinator, views the initiative as a way to boost students’ confidence and engagement both in and out of school. He notes that the Soils Project enables students to recognize the impact that humans have on the environment, to engage with local environmental concerns, and to grow into “future leaders, with the skills to sustain Nebraska’s land productivity and soil health.

What is your region doing to develop future leaders in agriculture and conservation? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project.


“Green” Economic Development Can Hurt the World’s Poor

Pin It

By Sophie Wenzlau

There is a dark side to the green economy. Or so say researchers with the STEPS Centre, a U.K.-based interdisciplinary research and policy center that unites development studies with science and technology studies.

According to the Journal of Peasant Studies, “green grabbing” is likely to further impoverish the world’s poor. (Photo Credit: Human Rights House Network)

The group’s observations in Africa and elsewhere suggest that land and resources in developing countries are increasingly being appropriated—transferred from the poor to the powerful—in the name of “green” economic development, ranging from efforts to promote biofuels, to carbon-offset schemes, to conservation and ecotourism initiatives. This rapidly growing practice, known informally as “green grabbing,” is forcing people to leave their homes and their land, and is responsible for increasing poverty worldwide, they say.

“Across the world, ecosystems are for sale,” writes Melissa Leach, director of the STEPS Centre, in an op-ed published last June by the news network Al Jazeera. She notes that businesses, environmental organizations, and governments are buying up huge tracts of land for “green” initiatives worldwide, often with unsettling consequences. Leach writes that in Mozambique, for example, “a company with British capital is negotiating a lease with the government for 15 million hectares, or 19 percent, of the country’s surface,” in order to capitalize on the “carbon credits” that can be derived from trees grown on the land and traded internationally.

In some cases, the sale of land for “green” purposes excludes local populations from accessing the natural resources on which they depend. In other cases, the sale of land for such purposes excludes residents from their land and homes altogether. Leach notes, “green grabbing builds on well-known histories of colonial and neo-colonial resource alienation in the name of the environment.”

“Green grabbing” is likely to further impoverish the world’s poor, according to 17 case studies recently published in a massive special issue of the Journal of Peasant Studies. When farmers and pastoralists are excluded from their land, they are excluded from their livelihoods, the studies argue. And such exclusion can stall and reverse indigenous economic development.

According to Leach, both environmental principles and principles of fairness should guide the development of the green economy: “If market-based mechanisms are to contribute to sustainable development and the building of economies that are not only green but also fair, then fostering an agenda focused on distribution, equity, and justice in green market arrangements is vital.”

This perspective mirrors other recent criticisms of the green economy as being just another route to the “financialization of nature,” to the detriment of “commonly shared” resources such as water, forests, and fish.

Leach concludes by noting that true sustainable development must incorporate an emphasis on “nurturing and legitimizing more interconnected human-ecological relationships and understandings,” so that nature is recaptured “from the market’s grasp.”

Sophie Wenzlau is a food & agriculture research associate with the Worldwatch Institute.  


Investing in Global Food Security: CGIAR Food and Agriculture Research Agenda Worth US $5 Billion

Pin It

By Sophie Wenzlau 

According to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the world’s largest publicly funded global agricultural research partnership, “feeding a global population of 9 billion people by 2050 will require at least a 70 percent increase in global food production and a 50 percent rise in investments in the agricultural sector.” At the Fourth Agriculture and Rural Development Day gathering, CGIAR unveiled a new global research portfolio worth US$5 billion over five years. The announcement was made two days prior to the commencement of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, where food security and sustainable agriculture were identified as international priorities. According to the UN, “a profound change of the global food and agriculture system is needed if we are to nourish today’s 925 million hungry and the additional 2 billion people expected by 2050.”

CGIAR research aims to increase the productivity of small farmers in developing countries (Photo Credit: CGIAR)

This past summer the partnership officially launched 15 new programs, which include research intended to mitigate climate change, enhance agricultural productivity and boost food security; intended to promote the conservation and restoration of water, land, forests, and ecosystems; and, more specifically, to augment the cultivation of rice.

CGIAR’s ambitious portfolio aims to “deliver the scientific, policy, and technological advances needed to tackle the major global development challenges of the century for the benefit of the poor and the planet.” A top priority of the new research agenda is to increase the productivity of small farmers—who, according to CGIAR, provide up to 80 percent of the food supply in developing countries—without damaging the environment.

CGIAR researches ways to reduce rural poverty, increase food security, improve health and nutrition, and ensure the sustainable management of natural resources. The CGIAR Consortium is composed of fifteen member centers, which are responsible for conducting research on behalf of the partnership. For the past 40 years, CGIAR’s research has promoted the conservation, revitalization and sustainable management of natural resources, and has simultaneously boosted yields on farms around the world.

Frank Rijsberman, the new CEO of the CGIAR Consortium, claims that, “science and the environment need to be best friends if we are to achieve a food secure future.” He notes, “investing in agricultural research is a critical first step to kick-start the innovation engine for a sustainable, food secure future.”

Sophie Wenzlau is a research associate with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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


Protected Planet Report 2012 Highlights Need to Conserve Global Biodiversity

Pin It

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.


Saturday Series: An Interview with Diane Ragone

Pin It

By Carly Chaapel

In our new Saturday Series, we interview inspiring people that our readers have nominated. These people are working on the frontlines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone? E-mail your suggestions to Danielle Nierenberg!

Name: Diane Ragone

Location/Affiliation: The Breadfruit Institute of the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG)

Dr. Diane Ragone, Director of the Breadfruit Institute
(Photo credit: Julia Flynn Siler)

Bio: Dr. Diane Ragone is the Director of the Breadfruit Institute, headquartered on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The institute promotes the conservation and use of breadfruit, a tropical starchy tree fruit, for both reforestation and food.

What sparked your interest in breadfruit cultivation in the first place?

I’ve been interested in breadfruit since I began my graduate work in 1983. I was mainly interested in traditional fruit trees in the Pacific Islands. Then, I wrote a term paper on breadfruit, and I became really interested in its importance to plant diversity and food security. I set out to collect samples of each variety and study them from a conservation perspective. I lived in Samoa for a year, which is a center for breadfruit diversity. From there, I started traveling and eventually collected breadfruit varieties from over 50 tropical islands.

We are a private nonprofit organization that is headquartered in Hawaii. We have four gardens across the Hawaiian Islands and one in southern Florida. For me, the garden is the ideal place to be, as breadfruit is an important collection focus. I connected with NTBG for a partnership as a graduate student because I could help the garden accomplish their mission to discover, research, conserve, and educate people about tropical plants with my own work. I have worked there since 1989 in various programs, and in 2003, the garden created the Breadfruit Institute. Our main breadfruit collection is on Maui, and all the gardens are open to visitors for self-guided tours.



COMACO strengthens incentives, expands efforts to western Luangwa Valley

Pin It

By Graham Salinger 

Community Markets for Conservation(COMACO), the group behind the It’s Wild local food brand in Zambia that sells everything from organic rice to honey, is expanding its conservation efforts to the western regions of the Luangwa Valley.

COMACO hopes that a recent plan to strengthen incentives for practicing sustainable agriculture will help preserve the Luangwa Valley’s environment and wildlife (Photo Credit: Paola Bouley).

COMACO was founded thirty years ago and helps farmers in Zambia grow indigenous crops instead of relying on poaching wildlife as their primary source of income. COMACO also works to reduce the practice of chitemene, which involves cutting down and burning trees as a method of producing ash to improve crop yield. The organization focuses on training farmers in conservation methods and establishing markets to sell products through the It’s Wild brand. The It’s Wild brand is sold in major supermarket chains across Zambia, including ShopRite, Checkers, and Spar.

COMACO has provided training for more than 40,000 small-scale farming families living across the Luangwa Valley. In 2009 it purchased over 3,000 tons of agricultural commodities from small scale farmers. COMACO works with over 1,329 former hunters in efforts to use agriculture as an alternative to poaching.

Looking to build on these successes, COMACO is working with the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) to extend its operations to areas in the west that have not been involved in the process. This year, ZAWA has given COMACO data on areas where illegal poaching is still common, allowing COMACO to target its efforts to specific regions. The new plan offers increased incentives for people to give up hunting in favor of farming, “the whole principle of COMACO is to offer communities a choice: a better life with skills, trade and food security through COMACO—or –a continued reliance on natural resource destruction at their own risk….”explained COMACO in announcing plans to strengthen current efforts.



Nourishing the Planet TV: Looking to Women to Chart a New Course for Environmental Conservation

Pin It

In this week’s episode, Nourishing the Planet discusses how New Course is connecting on-the-ground conservation efforts with funders to ensure women farmers are involved in environmental conservation.


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


On the Frontlines: An Interview with Peter Hammerstedt

Pin It

By Marlena White

Name: Peter Hammerstedt

Affiliation: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Bio: Peter Hammerstedt is a regular cast member of Animal Planet’s “Whale Wars,” which covers the anti-whaling efforts of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. He will also appear on “Whale Wars: Viking Shores,” premiering Friday, April 27, at 9:00 PM (ET). The series will focus on Operation Ferocious Isles, the Sea Shepherd’s campaign against whaling in the Faroe Islands of the North Atlantic. Peter is passionate about animal rights and has often put himself in harm’s way to protect them. When he is not working on Sea Shepherd campaigns, he is pursuing a degree in Media and Communications at Stockholm University and actively campaigning with the Swedish Animal Rights Alliance.

Peter Hammarstedt can be seen on Animal Planet’s “Whale Wars: On Viking Shores.” (Photo credit: Animal Planet)

How did the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society become involved with whaling in the Faroe Islands?

Sea Shepherd has a long history of both bringing attention to and intervening in the pilot whale slaughter on the Faroe Islands, known as “The Grind.” Captain Paul Watson launched two ship-based campaigns to oppose the hunt in 1985 and 1986 and again in 2000. On all three occasions, no pilot whales were killed while Sea Shepherd patrolled the islands. In 1986, Sea Shepherd brought a film team from the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) to the Faroe Islands in order to capture the cruelty of the hunt, resulting in the award-winning documentary Black Harvest. The film captures a dramatic confrontation of when a Faroese gunboat pursues the Sea Shepherd’s vessel and attacks them with tear gas, in an unsuccessful attempt to seize the ship and arrest the crew.



Honoring Grassroots Environmental Leaders

Pin It

By Alison Blackmore

This is the second post in our 2-part series on the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize. Click here to read the first post.

Earlier this week, we featured three of the six 2012 recipients of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize winners. Today, we highlight three more of these inspiring environmental leaders: Edwin Gariguez of the Philippines, Caroline Cannon of  Alaska, and Sofia Gatcia of Argentina.

Winners at the San Francisco 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize Ceremony. (Photo Credit: Goldman Environmental Prize)

In 2009 Intex, a Norwegian mining company, planned to build an open-pit nickel mine on the Philippine island of Mindoro, home to Catholic priest Edwin Gariguez. The project would produce several million tons of toxic waste, contaminating the island’s water resources and destroying the tropical forests. In order to protect the well-being of his community, Gariguez co-founded the Alliance Against Mining, a coalition of thousands of indigenous peoples, farmers, and local and provincial political leaders. Mindoro led communities in numerous protests against the mining project, even in the face of violence and verbal harassment from mining officials and the military. In 2002, Gariguez took his fight to the Norwegian parliament, bringing international attention to the mining project. In 2010, this pressure led to an investigation into the mine’s environmental and social violations by the Philippine government, who consequently revoked Intex’s permit for the mine.



Goldman Environmental Prize Announces this Year’s Winners

Pin It

This is the first in a series of blogs on the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize Winners.

By Alison Blackmore

The Goldman Environmental Prize is awarded annually to six environmental heroes whose local and community-based efforts to protect natural resources have created significant change, often at great personal risk. Each recipient receives an award of US$150,000 to continue their inspiring work.

The 2012 recipients of the Goldman Environmental Prize. (Photo Credit: Goldman Environmental Prize)

The Goldman Environmental Foundation recently announced the 2012 winners, and today we highlight three of this year’s six recipients of the prestigious prize: Ikal Angelie of Kenya, Ma Jun of China, and Evengina Chirikova of Russia.

Since 2008, Ikal Angelei has been fighting the Ethiopian government’s construction of the Gibe 3 Dam along the Omo River. The project threatens to rapidly deplete the already dwindling water levels of East Africa’s Rift Valley’s Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake and home to a thriving ecosystem which provides a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of farmers, herdsmen, and fishermen. In 2011, her organization, Friends of Lake Turkana, a group comprised of indigenous communities dependent on the lake’s resources, successfully urged members of the Kenyan parliament to demand an independent environmental assessment of the dam from Ethiopia before they continue with construction. Friends of Lake Turkana also convinced major investors in the project, including the World Bank and the European Investment Bank, to withdraw their consideration for financing the dam, leaving the Ethiopian government struggling to find funding to continue the project.