AGRICULTURE: Livestock production unsustainable, researchers say

Oct. 08, 2010

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Livestock production could account for 70 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions considered a safe amount by 2050 if demand for animal meat, poultry, eggs and dairy continues to increase as projected, according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Transportation, electricity and other sources of heat-trapping gases already account for 80 percent of today's emissions. So something will have to give if safe temperature thresholds are not to be exceeded.

"We're not suggesting that everyone in the world become vegan or vegetarian," said lead author Nathan Pelletier, who did the study with Peter Tyedmers while at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

 Full Story available for MHC faculty, staff, and students through E&E Publishing

AUSTRALIA: Farmers protest plan to cut back irrigation water supply

Oct. 08, 2010

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Under a plan meant to restore Australia's drying rivers, farmers in the Murray-Darling food bowl would lose more than a third of their irrigation water supply and see a drop in their agricultural output.

Farmers have warned of farm closures, loss of jobs and higher food prices if a the plan, proposed by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, is adopted by the Labor minority government. They said the plan would cost the economy A$1.4 billion a year.

Environmentalists support the proposal, saying it will help the nation cope with droughts in the future brought on by climate change.

Full story available for MHC faculty, staff, and students through E&E Publishing

NYT: U.N. Raises Concerns as Global Food Prices Jump

Sep. 09, 2010

Posted by Ruby Maddox under In the News
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UNITED NATIONS — With memories still fresh of food riots set off by spiking prices just two years ago, agricultural experts on Friday cast a wary eye on the steep rise in the cost of wheat prompted by a Russian export ban and the questions looming over harvests in other parts of the world because of drought or flooding.

Food prices rose 5 percent globally during August, according to the United Nations, spurred mostly by the higher cost of wheat, and the first signs of unrest erupted as 10 people died in Mozambique during clashes ignited partly by a 30 percent leap in the cost of bread.

“You are dealing with an unstable situation,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, an economist at the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.

“People still remember what happened a few years ago, so it is a combination of psychology and the expectation that worse may come,” he added. “There are critical months ahead.”

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AGRICULTURE: Rapid expansion of farmland has a downside -- report

Sep. 09, 2010

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Dina Fine Maron, E&E reporter

Rising food prices and a desire to stake a claim in the biofuel market amid mounting environmental pressures have fueled a global scramble to buy up large tracts of agricultural lands in recent years, according to a new World Bank report.

While those purchases can lead to bumper crop yields in otherwise underutilized lands and inject money into developing countries struggling to help combat poverty, such acquisitions can also lead to exploitation of local communities and uncompensated land losses, Juergen Voegele, director of agriculture and rural development at the World Bank, wrote in the report.

Still, the work largely backs the practice of selling large plots of land to foreign investors -- a phenomenon the authors say has surged in recent years, with the majority of buyers eyeing agricultural lands in Africa. Ramping up productivity on those lands, when managed correctly, can reduce deforestation, since food and fuel needs for the next decade can be met with better management of existing lands, the World Bank projects.

Full Story available for MHC Faculty, Staff, and Students through E&E Publishing

AGRICULTURE: Climate-related famine sprawls over western Africa

Jul. 21, 2010

Posted by Ruby Maddox under In the News
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Nathanial Gronewold, E&E reporter

UNITED NATIONS -- Climate change is largely to blame for a massive food shortfall and looming famine in Africa's Sahel region, the United Nations' top humanitarian chief told governments in a desperate request for more money to help deal with the crisis.

Failed rains in the dry zones of western Africa are rapidly escalating into the world's largest humanitarian catastrophe, yet governments and much of the international press seem to be oblivious to the situation, said John Holmes, head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). In a briefing, he urged nations to fund his agency's appeal for hundreds of millions to halt malnutrition and looming starvation in several arid states.

Successive droughts have seen harvests fail, leading to rapidly rising food costs and diminishing incomes for millions of families. Worst affected is Niger, where half of that nation's 15 million people now face severe food shortages and hundreds of thousands of children are receiving care in medical feeding stations.

Full Story available for MHC Faculty, Staff, and Students through E&E Publishing 

Resistance to weedkillers a growing problem for engineered crops -- NAS

Apr. 13, 2010

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Paul Voosen, E&E reporter

Farmers' dependence on the weedkiller Roundup and its generic alternatives threatens to undermine environmental gains that have accompanied widespread use of genetically engineered crops, the National Academy of Sciences said in a report today.

More than 80 percent of the corn, soy and cotton grown in the United States has been engineered with bacterial genes to resist insect pests or the Roundup herbicide, also known as glyphosate. The glyphosate-resistance trait has become so prevalent that many farmers now have a "nearly exclusive reliance on glyphosate for weed control," the report says.

Since the introduction of glyphosate-resistant crops, up to nine important weed species, like giant ragweed and pigweed, have independently evolved resistance to the weedkiller. This resistance was not spread by the crops' pollen, but rather through strong selection pressure caused by the nearly indiscriminate use of the herbicide.

(Full Story available to MHC Faculty, Staff, and Students through E&E Publishing

Hampshire College Farm Center Tour

Apr. 12, 2010

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The Hampshire College Farm Center and the Miller Worley Center for the Environment invites you to a tour of the Hampshire College Farm Center

This event is part of the 5-College Food Network, and will explore the Hampshire Farm Center’s operations and potential for future 5-college collaborations. The tour will begin at 4:30 p.m. at the Hampshire College Farm Center. The address for the Farm Center is 793 West St.

Please email center-environment@mtholyoke.edu  so we have an idea of how many to expect.

For more information on the Farm Center please visit:
http://www.hampshire.edu/academics/5728.htm

 

The struggle of farming a land where 'normal' has lost its meaning

Mar. 29, 2010

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Jessica Leber, E&E reporter

SAKAI, Kenya -- No one complained that the rains were late when they watered the parched hills and muddied the roads here in December. Normally, they would have begun weeks earlier.

Villagers were grateful the rain had come at all.

"God is great. After these two seasons of the worst drought, now there is something in the fields," proclaimed Daniel Muthembwa, 76, an elder in this small farming community, a three-hour drive on winding roads from Nairobi. Around him, cornstalks dotted the green slopes and promised relief from the worst dry spell he could remember. Never had two seasons' crops and three years of rains failed so completely, he said.

"Normal" has little meaning in Sakai today. Kenya is struggling to emerge from a drought that put 4 million on food aid last year and saw at least 10 million facing starvation, the highest levels in two decades, according to one report. And while dry spells are old hat in a nation dominated by an arid and semiarid climate, today rising global temperatures are ending what little predictability farmers could count on in the past.

Experts predict climate change will increase Kenya's already tough food security challenges. Its small landholding farmers feed most of the country and also make up most of its swelling poor population. By 2080, the World Bank estimates that African agricultural output could fall by 16 percent.


(Full Story available for MHC Faculty, Staff, and Students through E&E Publishing)