Scientists: protect vast Amazon peatland to avoid palm oil ‘environmental disaster’

An area of recently discovered peatland in South America needs to protected from the region’s burgeoning palm oil sector if it is to avoid “environmental disaster”, according to a new study.

The peatland in Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin in northeast Peru – discovered in 2009 by Finnish scientist Outi Lähteenoja – is said to contain 3.14 gigatons of carbon, roughly equivalent to two years of CO2 emissions from the United States.

Scientists have said that economic development in the region, like road-building and the arrival of commercial agriculture threatens the important ecosystem.

Palm oil – the relentless advance

Palm oil is already expanding rapidly in Latin America. The industry’s sustainability watchdog, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), said in 2015 that 6% of the world’s palm oil comes from the region.

The researchers note that while commercial agriculture is yet to expand into the Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin peatlands, rice paddies and plantations have begun encroaching on wetlands in other parts of the country. At the same time, palm oil plantations have also been developed in the country.

Just south of the Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin in the Ucayali Region in east Peru, more than 9,400 hectares (ha) of forest has been cleared for oil palm plantation since 2011, according to the conservation group Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP).

The most immediate threat to the peatland comes from infrastructure projects, like road building, as Ian Lawson, a lecturer in geography and sustainable development St Andrews University and one of the authors of the research, explained.

“The development of commercial agriculture and transport infrastructure are conspiring to make remote areas in Peru more accessible to world markets”, he told Energydesk.

“There’s been lots of discussions about infrastructure projects. All these things could make it easier for commercial agriculture to come in. In the next 15 years, if those transport projects take off you could imagine that this area could experience significant deforestation.”

Tim Baker, an associate professor of geography, at Leeds University, who has spent years studying the Peruvian rainforest, agreed:

“One of the threats is the interest in connecting this region with the rest of Peru, through transport links. The government has long looked at plans to build road links from Iquitos to western Peru. Once you have any type of transport link, that will make deforesting and introducing other land uses more possible.”

Learning lessons from Indonesia

Peatlands are bogs made up of carbon-rich, decomposed plant material, or peat. When healthy, they act as carbon sinks, reducing carbon in the atmosphere through plant growth.

But agricultural development can cause peatlands to dry out, causing them to gradually release carbon into the atmosphere and become more susceptible to forest fires.

Palm oil can be especially destructive to peatland, with the plantations leading to the land being drained and falling into rapid decay.

In Indonesia, a country famous for its tropical peatlands, Harvard University researchers estimated that over 90,000 people suffered premature deaths in devastating forest fires in 2015 which were linked to the rapid expansion of palm oil and other intensive agriculture in the country.

To prevent future fires the Indonesian government recently introduced new restrictions on developing on peatland.

Currently, the vast majority of the world’s palm oil comes from Southeast Asia, specifically Malaysia and Indonesia. But as the industry continues to expand, companies have been looking to move into South America and Africa.

The recent discovery of a massive area of peatland, thought to be the size of England in the Congo Basin, added to conservation calls in Central Africa.

A huge conservation opportunity!

Now, all sides of the palm oil debate are making noises about learning the lessons from Southeast Asia, and cultivating the commodity in a more sustainable way. And Baker is keen to talk the opportunity in Peru, as well as the threats.

“The exciting thing about Peru is that we’ve got a little time. We can do something now. We can put in place land use designations and develop sustainable management practises that will buffer the region from these threats”, he said.

“Whereas in Southeast Asia huge areas of peatland forest have been lost, in Peru you can still protect a whole eco-system with these peatland characteristics. The threats are there: the transport links, the potential for commercial agriculture, but we have to see to this as an opportunity for conservation too.”

 


 

Joe Sandler-Clarke is a UK-based journalist specialising in investigative and public interest stories. His writing has been published in the Guardian, Independent, The Sunday Times, VICE and others, and he curently works at Greenpeace UK.

This article was originally published on Greenpeace Energydesk.

 

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Scientists: protect vast Amazon peatland to avoid palm oil ‘environmental disaster’

An area of recently discovered peatland in South America needs to protected from the region’s burgeoning palm oil sector if it is to avoid “environmental disaster”, according to a new study.

The peatland in Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin in northeast Peru – discovered in 2009 by Finnish scientist Outi Lähteenoja – is said to contain 3.14 gigatons of carbon, roughly equivalent to two years of CO2 emissions from the United States.

Scientists have said that economic development in the region, like road-building and the arrival of commercial agriculture threatens the important ecosystem.

Palm oil – the relentless advance

Palm oil is already expanding rapidly in Latin America. The industry’s sustainability watchdog, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), said in 2015 that 6% of the world’s palm oil comes from the region.

The researchers note that while commercial agriculture is yet to expand into the Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin peatlands, rice paddies and plantations have begun encroaching on wetlands in other parts of the country. At the same time, palm oil plantations have also been developed in the country.

Just south of the Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin in the Ucayali Region in east Peru, more than 9,400 hectares (ha) of forest has been cleared for oil palm plantation since 2011, according to the conservation group Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP).

The most immediate threat to the peatland comes from infrastructure projects, like road building, as Ian Lawson, a lecturer in geography and sustainable development St Andrews University and one of the authors of the research, explained.

“The development of commercial agriculture and transport infrastructure are conspiring to make remote areas in Peru more accessible to world markets”, he told Energydesk.

“There’s been lots of discussions about infrastructure projects. All these things could make it easier for commercial agriculture to come in. In the next 15 years, if those transport projects take off you could imagine that this area could experience significant deforestation.”

Tim Baker, an associate professor of geography, at Leeds University, who has spent years studying the Peruvian rainforest, agreed:

“One of the threats is the interest in connecting this region with the rest of Peru, through transport links. The government has long looked at plans to build road links from Iquitos to western Peru. Once you have any type of transport link, that will make deforesting and introducing other land uses more possible.”

Learning lessons from Indonesia

Peatlands are bogs made up of carbon-rich, decomposed plant material, or peat. When healthy, they act as carbon sinks, reducing carbon in the atmosphere through plant growth.

But agricultural development can cause peatlands to dry out, causing them to gradually release carbon into the atmosphere and become more susceptible to forest fires.

Palm oil can be especially destructive to peatland, with the plantations leading to the land being drained and falling into rapid decay.

In Indonesia, a country famous for its tropical peatlands, Harvard University researchers estimated that over 90,000 people suffered premature deaths in devastating forest fires in 2015 which were linked to the rapid expansion of palm oil and other intensive agriculture in the country.

To prevent future fires the Indonesian government recently introduced new restrictions on developing on peatland.

Currently, the vast majority of the world’s palm oil comes from Southeast Asia, specifically Malaysia and Indonesia. But as the industry continues to expand, companies have been looking to move into South America and Africa.

The recent discovery of a massive area of peatland, thought to be the size of England in the Congo Basin, added to conservation calls in Central Africa.

A huge conservation opportunity!

Now, all sides of the palm oil debate are making noises about learning the lessons from Southeast Asia, and cultivating the commodity in a more sustainable way. And Baker is keen to talk the opportunity in Peru, as well as the threats.

“The exciting thing about Peru is that we’ve got a little time. We can do something now. We can put in place land use designations and develop sustainable management practises that will buffer the region from these threats”, he said.

“Whereas in Southeast Asia huge areas of peatland forest have been lost, in Peru you can still protect a whole eco-system with these peatland characteristics. The threats are there: the transport links, the potential for commercial agriculture, but we have to see to this as an opportunity for conservation too.”

 


 

Joe Sandler-Clarke is a UK-based journalist specialising in investigative and public interest stories. His writing has been published in the Guardian, Independent, The Sunday Times, VICE and others, and he curently works at Greenpeace UK.

This article was originally published on Greenpeace Energydesk.

 

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Scientists: protect vast Amazon peatland to avoid palm oil ‘environmental disaster’

An area of recently discovered peatland in South America needs to protected from the region’s burgeoning palm oil sector if it is to avoid “environmental disaster”, according to a new study.

The peatland in Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin in northeast Peru – discovered in 2009 by Finnish scientist Outi Lähteenoja – is said to contain 3.14 gigatons of carbon, roughly equivalent to two years of CO2 emissions from the United States.

Scientists have said that economic development in the region, like road-building and the arrival of commercial agriculture threatens the important ecosystem.

Palm oil – the relentless advance

Palm oil is already expanding rapidly in Latin America. The industry’s sustainability watchdog, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), said in 2015 that 6% of the world’s palm oil comes from the region.

The researchers note that while commercial agriculture is yet to expand into the Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin peatlands, rice paddies and plantations have begun encroaching on wetlands in other parts of the country. At the same time, palm oil plantations have also been developed in the country.

Just south of the Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin in the Ucayali Region in east Peru, more than 9,400 hectares (ha) of forest has been cleared for oil palm plantation since 2011, according to the conservation group Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP).

The most immediate threat to the peatland comes from infrastructure projects, like road building, as Ian Lawson, a lecturer in geography and sustainable development St Andrews University and one of the authors of the research, explained.

“The development of commercial agriculture and transport infrastructure are conspiring to make remote areas in Peru more accessible to world markets”, he told Energydesk.

“There’s been lots of discussions about infrastructure projects. All these things could make it easier for commercial agriculture to come in. In the next 15 years, if those transport projects take off you could imagine that this area could experience significant deforestation.”

Tim Baker, an associate professor of geography, at Leeds University, who has spent years studying the Peruvian rainforest, agreed:

“One of the threats is the interest in connecting this region with the rest of Peru, through transport links. The government has long looked at plans to build road links from Iquitos to western Peru. Once you have any type of transport link, that will make deforesting and introducing other land uses more possible.”

Learning lessons from Indonesia

Peatlands are bogs made up of carbon-rich, decomposed plant material, or peat. When healthy, they act as carbon sinks, reducing carbon in the atmosphere through plant growth.

But agricultural development can cause peatlands to dry out, causing them to gradually release carbon into the atmosphere and become more susceptible to forest fires.

Palm oil can be especially destructive to peatland, with the plantations leading to the land being drained and falling into rapid decay.

In Indonesia, a country famous for its tropical peatlands, Harvard University researchers estimated that over 90,000 people suffered premature deaths in devastating forest fires in 2015 which were linked to the rapid expansion of palm oil and other intensive agriculture in the country.

To prevent future fires the Indonesian government recently introduced new restrictions on developing on peatland.

Currently, the vast majority of the world’s palm oil comes from Southeast Asia, specifically Malaysia and Indonesia. But as the industry continues to expand, companies have been looking to move into South America and Africa.

The recent discovery of a massive area of peatland, thought to be the size of England in the Congo Basin, added to conservation calls in Central Africa.

A huge conservation opportunity!

Now, all sides of the palm oil debate are making noises about learning the lessons from Southeast Asia, and cultivating the commodity in a more sustainable way. And Baker is keen to talk the opportunity in Peru, as well as the threats.

“The exciting thing about Peru is that we’ve got a little time. We can do something now. We can put in place land use designations and develop sustainable management practises that will buffer the region from these threats”, he said.

“Whereas in Southeast Asia huge areas of peatland forest have been lost, in Peru you can still protect a whole eco-system with these peatland characteristics. The threats are there: the transport links, the potential for commercial agriculture, but we have to see to this as an opportunity for conservation too.”

 


 

Joe Sandler-Clarke is a UK-based journalist specialising in investigative and public interest stories. His writing has been published in the Guardian, Independent, The Sunday Times, VICE and others, and he curently works at Greenpeace UK.

This article was originally published on Greenpeace Energydesk.

 

Read about the science about great looking hair by reading this blog. omgmachinesreview16.com Доска объявлений Витрина подать объявление о продаже авто, недвижимости Unsere iAllgäu Platform ist für Alle gebaut. Städte im Allgäu, lokale Angebote und Veranstaltungen zu finden. Kultur-Events sind für uns sehr wichtig. Viele touristen kommen jährlich hier. Normaleweise 2-3 Tage ist ein Kurzurlaub für Vielen. Mit iAllgäu im Allgäu können Sie interesante Hot-Spots online aussushen. Die Platform hat eine starke online präsentation auf Facebook. Bitte folgen Sie uns auch da. Möglichkeiten in der Alpenregion zu finden ist natürlich relevant für Heute. Online entspannen mit iAllgäu Are you looking for electronic components suppliers? Check out Green Light Electronics Try the hcg drops for weight loss and lose two pounds per day. Inbound and outbound call center software – a part of the sophisticated route management solution provided by Prism Visual Software, Inc. to companies performing route sales, equipment service, and pre-order delivery. flip hoesjes, insteek hoesjes, book cases, sport armbanden, telefoon accessoires telefoonhoesjes vergelijken? Bekijk nu ruim assortiment en kies de goedkoopste online telefoonhoesje! if you have concerns about that moldy smell in your basement, you should visit the experts at Healthful Home brands You can find quality herbal incense online at wholesale prices from ScentsDirect.net. They offer free shipping on all orders. CT Airlink provides Airport Transportation to and from JFK (John F. Kennedy), LaGuardia (LGA), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), Hartford Bradley Airport (BDL), Boston Logan Airport (BOS). We operate Sedans, SUVs and luxury vans for Limo Service CT to LaGuardia, JFK, Hartdford Bradley, NYC, Manhattan, Newark Airport . Allow us to assist you getting to and from all airports in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey with total ease and comfort or to provide private charter service with our Limo Service CT or Car Service CT for the entire duration of your stay. Fast Money Loans is the best solution compared to personal loan interest rates in all banks of Singapore. Loan approval within 24hrs. NYC Airports Limo provides the Transportation, Limousine Service throughout New York Counties Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Putnam, Dutchess, Delaware, Sullivan, Ulster, Greene, Columbia, Upstate NY, Albany and Queens by using our Car Service NY including New Jersey, Connecticut, John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK), LaGuardia Airport(LGA), EWR (Newark Airport), HPN (Westchester County Airport), Atlantic City Casino, Mohegan Casino, Foxwoods Casino, Manhattan, Brooklyn & Bayonne Cruise Terminals. auburn opelika events supportauburn Http://www.reddragonwebmedia.com For the best party bus rentals in the Boston area you will find Party Bus Boston to be the best in the business. Intertronix Security Stickers Tamper Evident and Security Labels Solutions: Custom Holograms, Authentication Stickers and Warranty Seals. 여성분들 밤알바나 유흥알바찾을때 어디를 찾으시나요? 제가볼때는 여우알바나 호박알바 를 찾는것이 가장 좋다고 생각됩니다. 왜냐면 업계 1등이거든요 근데 호박알바에선 이벤트도 많이하고 참 좋은거 같아요

WITNESS: Investigating ocean acidification (Part 2)

The continental shelf rolls out for some hundreds of kilometres west of Ireland’s Galway coast, before the Rockall Trough. Here the seafloor falls sharply off the shelf down to abyssal depths of over 3000 metres. Continentals shelves like this are host to a range of marine ecosystems, including cold water corals; a much less discussed variety compared to their warm water cousins.

 According to Dr Tríona McGrath, a marine scientist at the National University of Ireland Galway, and funded by Ireland’s Marine Institute : “The Rockall Trough hosts an array of cold water coral ecosystems, interacting with a range of water masses along the Irish continental margin, Rockall Bank and Porcupine Bank. These deep water reef structures support a rich biodiversity and are particularly vulnerable in a more acidic ocean.”

The cold water corals of the North Atlantic are vital for fisheries and act as sources of biodiversity. To look at how increasing carbon dioxide will affect these ecosystems and the fisheries they support, oceanographers are now measuring the carbonate system in the surrounding water, with a particular focus on ocean acidification. That was the aim of a team from Ireland’s Marine Institute as they boarded the Celtic Explorer research vessel in February of this year.

Dr Evin McGovern, also from the Marine Institute, points out that “not many people are aware of the Irish coral reef biodiversity hotspots which we are only beginning to fully map and understand.

“These deep sea corals, primarily Lophelia pertusa, occur on the shelf and seamount slopes and canyons, usually between 200m and 1000m depth, and differ from tropical coral reefs in that, living in the dark they do not have photosynthetic algal symbionts.”

 And coral is only part of the looming problem relating to increasing ocean acidification. In the future, it is projected that more acidic oceans will adversely impact on entire food chains related to the ocean. Ocean acidification projections for the end of the century do not look good.

 “There has already been an increase in ocean acidity of 26% since the start of the industrial revolution, which is directly due to humans emitting carbon dioxide to the atmosphere,” explains Dr McGrath. “If we continue to burn fossil fuels at our current rate, it is projected there will be an increase in ocean acidity of 170% by the end of the century.

“This rate of acidification is 10 times faster than any acidification event in the oceans for over 55 million years, and quite likely for over 250 million years.”

It is the rate at which this change is taking place where the real concern lies. Will our marine life and ecosystems be able to adapt to such a fast rate of change in the surrounding seawater?

All this depends on how we collaborate on an international level through divestment from fossil fuels. But such seemingly obvious steps are often met with challenges which can be the cause of frustration for many scientists.

According to Dr McGovern, “the role of the science community is to provide the factual evidence, including projections for future changes based on our best understanding, and also to advise on the uncertainties associated with these.”

However, in this new era there is an alarming (and well documented) amount of rejection of the relationship between human introduced atmospheric carbon dioxide and global warming amongst some world leaders.

McGovern says: “our research in Ireland contributes to a global effort in this field. Maybe those politicians who deny climate change should join a mid-winter research survey in the north Atlantic to see how hard won this high quality data is before they dismiss it on a whim.

This Author

Conor Purcell is a Science & Nature Writer with a PhD in oceanography. He can be found on twitter @ConorPPurcell and some of his other articles at cppurcell.tumblr.com

 

 

 

The ARTS Interview: Soundscape Artist, Matthew Shaw

Matthew Shaw is affable, artistic and environmentally friendly so when he confesses to having just returned from shooting nightingales in Basra I’m shocked. That is until the sound sculptor explains that he was actually after footage of the bird and its iconic song and that his ‘Basra’ was, in fact, a recreation of the notorious Iraqi city at a now-abandoned military base in Kent. Suddenly, I feel on much safer ground. 

Shaw visited the site as part of a People Need Nature delegation of naturalists, ecologists, writers, poets, visual artists and musicians granted rare access to Lodge Hill in Medway to document how nature is quietly repossessing 815 acres that were once home to MOD barracks. His atmospheric sound and video recordings have evolved into Lodge Hill, a film and soundscape that poignantly celebrate how the blackthorn and bramble scrub is slowing elbowing aside the concrete in a precious and much-needed habitat for the owner of one of the world’s most loved birdsongs.  

At this point, I should make a confession. I first heard Shaw’s soundscapes a year ago and immediately became a fan. In fact, I have barely listened to anything else since. His multi-levelled music is immersive and captures the ‘genius loci’ or spirit of place with awe-inspiring sensitivity. Shaw explains: “I think of my music as primitive photography. It is a way of recording a sense of place that can never be repeated. I try to explore the atmosphere that is intrinsically present at each site I visit.”

I am lucky enough to witness the artist in action as I join Shaw on a walk at one of his favourite spots near his Dorset home and on a glorious spring day at Hengistbury Head, a dominant and important prehistoric site where he carefully sets up a digital recorder and explains: “This exact scene will never be heard again. Where I position the recorder will catch the sound of the breeze, waves lapping the shore or fishermen unloading the catch from their boats and, if it were recorded again, it would inevitably be slightly different. In that way, it is naturally nostalgic, creating its own sonic footprint, constantly changing, evolving.”

Shaw’s modus operandi draws on his hard-earned experience as a musician. His first taste of the business was as a teenager in Cheshire when he was the drummer in a punk band. Eventually, he moved on to performing as Tex La Homa, a successful post-rock project formed in 2000.

Shaw wrote, played and produced four critically-acclaimed albums and toured most of Europe, Japan and the US during the next 10 years. But now his passion is ambient music.

On our walk, he records the pure sound of one environment, then a few hundred yards away, he uses a micro keyboard to introduce delicate washes of sound infused with background atmosphere, placing the emphasis on notes and harmonies that interest him. Back in his studio, he may layer a bird’s song or melody with guitar or keyboard loops to sculpt the finished article.

He is also a painter and his textural canvases are equally atmospheric. He says, “Like with a sketch, you don’t have to complete every form to see what it is. If you only draw two lines of a triangle your eye still sees it as a triangular shape. I try to do the same thing with my music. It’s about getting the right balance of spontaneity with the overall intention for the music and then realising when it’s done.”

Producing and publishing his own downloads and delicately-crafted CDs gives him a good indication of when he has got the measure right: “Some completed pieces have had layers of work in them, while others, for example Venus Rosalia are sketches. I found that this track was particularly popular, which may be down to its spontaneity.”

When Shaw performs his soundscapes in public, it only serves to enhance the work. “I enjoy playing live as it adds a creative tension,” he says. “Subliminal decisions are made on stage about how long to leave a theme repeating or to layer more tones on top.”

Choice of location is crucial to the equation. Shaw needs to feel an affinity with the place and often finds himself drawn to stone circles, natural springs and ancient religious sites. “In many spiritual traditions there is a sense of the sacred attached to a place, the home of a higher force. Exploring this has fueled my thinking.” He continues, “It’s about me being in the right place mentally to pick the right spot to absorb the sounds. I’ve often gone to a place specifically to record but somehow it doesn’t work. It can’t really be rushed. If I don’t slow down and tune in, it just doesn’t work.”

He is so absorbed by his work that it is only after a full two hours of strenuous walking that we sit down to catch our breath. “After walking for a while, it feels good to rest.” Shaw admits, “In this state, a natural meditation takes over and you are able to really focus on what is around you.” I nod agreement, although my focus appears to be mainly on the blister developing on my right heel.

The Dorset headland with its fascinating archeological features, pounding waves and outrageously expensive beach huts (one recently sold for £400,000) provide an endless source of inspiration on Shaw’s doorstep but the Mad-Max fantastical staging at the Medway military base presented him with a truly unique and unmissable opportunity. He explains, “The abandoned houses were a mix of replica streets from Ireland and re-purposed old-fashioned council houses now dressed to represent Basra for street-fight training. It felt like being on a silently sinister film set after all the crew and actors had long departed.” 

The chance to hear the nightingale’s incredible tune was clearly tempting but accepting the invitation was not without its dangers. The site is still littered with explosives and Shaw vividly remembers the security briefing designed to discourage his group from venturing off the beaten track. The pep talk included a rundown of various devices that they might encounter should they be foolish or unlucky enough to stray off the official paths. It concluded with the comment: “And this is a tank mine. Don’t bother trying to identify these. If you step on one, there’ll be nothing left of you to worry about it.” 

Fortunately, Shaw was undaunted, accepted the challenge and found at the Lodge Hill site a schizophrenic treasure trove where open spaces and ancient woodlands were interspliced with disused buildings, crude razor wire, and danger signs but within it all, the subtle signs of nature reasserting its dominance are visible with grasses and trees fighting through chemical spills and discarded ammunition to bloom each spring, cheered on by a heartening soundtrack of birdsong.

It’s not clear how long this state of play will be allowed to continue. There are plans for 5,000 houses to be built on the land, which would not only destroy the nightingale habitat but radically change the nature of the area which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Whether the next incarnation of this former military camp ends up being as a museum, a managed nature reserve, a park or a middle-class estate to meet the local authority’s housing targets, at least the elusive and mesmerising spirit of place has been now lovingly captured for posterity in Shaw’s work, without, thankfully, disturbing a landline in the process.

Mathhew Shaw’s Lodge Hill film and soundscape: Lodge Hill

Matthew Shaw: http://www.texlahoma.com/

People Need Nature: https://peopleneednature.org.uk/

 

This Author

Gary Cook is a conservation artist and the Ecologist’s Arts Editor. For more on his work or to contact him see below.

Latest coverage: zoomorphic.net

Online: cookthepainter.com

Twitter: twitter.com/cookthepainter

Instagram: instagram.com/cookthepainter

Society of Graphic Fine Art: sgfa.org.uk/members/gary-cook/

Blog: cookthepainter.com/blog

The Ecologist: tinyurl.com/zpkefjc

 

 

We need more organic farming!

A new review of the evidence around organic farming has been published by researchers at the University of British Columbia in the prestigious Science Advances journal.

The study reviewed existing scientific evidence to assess the performance of organic farming against a wide range of indicators – from crop yields to farmer livelihoods.

The review reiterates many of the benefits of organic farming, while also highlighting key areas where more research is required.

Despite some gaps in the evidence, it is abundantly clear from this new analysis – and from the authors’ own conclusions – that organic agriculture has a crucial role to play in building a fair and environmentally sustainable food system.

The authors note that organic farming delivers considerable benefits for biodiversity, with an average of 40-50% more wildlife on organic farmland compared to non-organic.

The study also highlights the benefits of organic farming for soil health, including reduced soil erosion and increased water retention, which in turn improves resilience to flooding and droughts.

Multiple benefits for the environment, farmers and consumers

In addition, the existing evidence shows that organic farms generally consume less energy and emit fewer greenhouse gases than non-organic farms. The authors also point out that organic farms rely on natural processes for crop fertilisation (such as nitrogen-fixing plants).

That’s unlike much non-organic agriculture which depends heavily on fossil-fuel based fertilisers – namely manufactured nitrogen and mined phosphate. Similarly, organic farms use fewer and less-toxic pesticides – a benefit for the environment, farm workers and consumers.

The research also points to evidence that organic systems provide more benefits to farmers and farm workers. For example, research has found that organic farms are more profitable and more resilient that non-organic farms.

In addition, farmers tend to have greater access to cooperatives and farmer networks, and to credit and health programmes. Organic farm workers are also less likely to be exposed to hazardous pesticides. Indeed, reduced health risk is one of the primary reasons given for adopting organic practices in developing countries.

From the public’s point of view, again, the study highlights benefits of organic. The authors cite recent research which found high levels of beneficial nutrients in organic food, as well as to the absence of pesticides found in organic.

On this latter point, the study notes that avoidance of pesticides could provide a significant health benefit, especially for people in countries with lax pesticide legislation or with high levels of pesticides in non-organic food.

The researchers note the difference in price between organic and non-organic food. However, the authors go on to note that this price difference can vary hugely – in the United States, it can be as little as 7%. Importantly, the authors point out that the difference in price could decrease considerably if organic production increased, since distribution and processing costs would be lower.

More research required

Despite the wealth of strong evidence, there remain a number of gaps in our knowledge around the impacts of organic farming, and the authors of this review rightly focus on these gaps.

They highlight, for example, the fact that most of the existing research has been carried out in North America and Europe, and that there is scant evidence from low-income or developing countries. Given that some three quarters of organic producers are in developing countries, this is clearly an area which urgently needs to be better understood.

Due to these knowledge gaps, there is some speculation on certain aspects of organic compared to non-organic agriculture. For example, while acknowledging higher levels of wildlife on organic farms, the study’s authors suggest that these benefits could diminish as a result of lower yields, since more land would be required to grow the same amount of food.

However, existing evidence does not support this concern, with organic farms having an average of 50% more wildlife compared to a 20% lower yield. In any case, the authors also go on to note that the yield gap could be closed if more investment was put into developing organic-specific crop species. Around 95% of crops used in organic farming have been bred for intensive, high-input farming systems.

The review also questions whether enough nutrients and plant fertilisation would be available through natural processes alone if all agriculture transitioned to organic. Existing research on this question is not clear but there is a broader, more important point to make about the way we currently use farmland.

Over 25% of the world’s land is used to graze livestock, and almost 35% of cropland is used to grow animal feed – this is a disproportionate amount of land compared to the amount of nutrition livestock provides us. We must halt rainforest and other habitat destruction, eat more seasonally and more locally, and reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint overall.

Organic is not a panacea – but it is a key part of the solution

The authors state in their conclusion that organic agriculture cannot be a ‘Holy Grail’ for food security in part because it is simply a method of production.

This is, of course, correct. Many of the worst deficiencies in the global food system come down to other factors – from scandalous levels of food waste and diets rich in meat and dairy products, to lack of access and affordability in developing countries.

As the authors note, making these changes could have a great impact overall. However, it is wrong to assume that organic farming does not have a vitally important role to play in the future of our food system. This review found that organic agriculture performed better or at least as well as non-organic farming on every factor, except yield.

However, the authors (in common with most commentators) use an extremely narrow definition of ‘productivity’ – yield of crop per hectare of farmland. This is simply a measure of output, not productivity.

No other industry ignores all the key variable inputs needed to achieve output apart from the space occupied by the production process, as is typically the case with farming. Farming output is achieved by using land, but also requires other inputs such as labour, fuel, fertilisers (mined, manufactured or from other crops and livestock), irrigation and pesticides. All these inputs must be assessed to measure productivity.

When all these other inputs are taken into account, the productivity of organic farming is likely to be significantly better than non-organic systems. This is vital, because resources other than land may be more limiting, with the impact of soil degradation, lack of water availability, and the need to make massive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, all likely to reduce output.

Influencing wider agricultural practice

The authors wait for the final paragraph to unequivocally set out their view – and it’s a positive one. “From a broad policy perspective, we conclude that organic agriculture offers many benefits and could be an important part of a suite of strategies to improve the sustainability and equity of our food system.”

The then raise another critical point, that non-organic farmers are increasingly adopting organic practices: “the influence of organic agriculture extends beyond the ~1% of agricultural land it covers at present. Many conventional farms have, in recent years, increased the use of organic practices such as conservation tillage, cover cropping, or composts.”

Bridging the ‘organic – conventional’ divide and sharing knowledge is vitally important if we are successfully to rise to the challenge of feeding a growing population sustainably, healthily and fairly. We could not agree more with their conclusion:

“A further expansion of organic agriculture and integrating successful organic management practices into conventional farming are important next steps.”

 


 

The paper:Many shades of gray – The context-dependent performance of organic agriculture‘ is by Verena Seufert & Navin Ramankutty and published in Science Advances.

Peter Melchett has been Policy Director of the Soil Association, the UK’s main organic food and farming organisation, working on campaigns, standards and policy, since 2001. He runs an 890-acre organic farm in Norfolk, with beef cattle and arable seed crops.

He is a member of the BBC’s Rural Affairs Committee, and was a member of the Government’s Rural Climate Change Forum and Organic Action Plan Group, and the Department of Education’s School Lunches Review Panel. He received an honorary doctorate from Newcastle University in 2013, was on the Board of the EU’s £12m ‘Quality Low Input Food’ research project, and is a Board member for two EU research projects on low input crops and livestock.

 

Natural gas leaks from power plants, refineries, 100 times greater than thought

Researchers at Purdue University and the Environmental Defense Fund have concluded in a recent study that natural gas power plants release 21-120 times more methane than earlier estimates.

Published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the study also found that for oil refineries, emission rates were 11-90 times more than initial estimates.

The study concludes: “Results indicate that Natural Gas Power Plants and oil refineries may be large sources of CH4 emissions and could contribute significantly (0.61 ± 0.18 Tg CH4/yr, 95% CL) to U.S. emissions.” One Tg (teragram) is equal to one megatonne.

Natural gas, long touted as a cleaner and more climate-friendly alternative to burning coal, is obtained in the US mostly via the controversial horizontal drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’).

The scientists measured air emissions at three natural gas-fired power plants and three refineries in Utah, Indiana, and Illinois using Purdue’s flying chemistry lab, the Airborne Laboratory for Atmospheric Research (ALAR). They compared their results to data from the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program.

The study was commissioned and funded by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), with a grant from the Afred P. Sloan Foundation. EDF stated in a press release:

“Power plants currently use more than one third of natural gas consumed in the US and the volume used is expected to increase as market forces drive the replacement of coal with cheaper natural gas. But if natural gas is going to deliver on its promise, methane emissions due to leaks, venting, and flaring need to be kept to a minimum.”

Methane leaks major source of emissions

Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide but hangs around the atmosphere for a shorter time, with a global warming effect 84-87 times that of CO2 over a 20-year period, according to the EPA. These fugitive methane emissions are thus equivalent to about 50 megatonnes (Mt) per year of CO2, roughly a tenth of US CO2 emissions in 2015 (5,200 Mt).

Methane is “a better fuel all around as long as you don’t spill it”, Paul Shepson, an atmospheric chemistry professor at Purdue, said in a press release. “But it doesn’t take much methane leakage to ruin your whole day if you care about climate change.”

The researchers were careful to differentiate between emissions related to natural gas combustion versus leakage, with the latter found to be the primary source of methane emissions in this small, preliminary study.

Previous estimates of methane emissions were reported to the EPA from the facilities themselves and were restricted to what came out of the smokestack, which means they excluded leaks from equipment such as steam turbines and compressors.

The study was done as part of EDF’s ongoing series of studies measuring methane emissions and leakage throughout the US natural gas supply chain. EDF said in its press release that the Purdue scientists plan to follow up with research at additional oil refineries and power plants. Purdue stated in a press release that support for the research also came from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Natural gas recently eclipsed coal as a power source feeding the US electric grid, according to data published by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

“For decades, coal has been the dominant energy source for generating electricity in the United States. EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) is now forecasting that 2016 will be the first year that natural gas-fired generation exceeds coal generation in the United States on an annual basis”, explained the EIA in March 2016.

“Natural gas generation first surpassed coal generation on a monthly basis in April 2015, and the generation shares for coal and natural gas were nearly identical in 2015, each providing about one third of all electricity generation.”

Trump admininstration dismantling methane regulations

The Purdue-EDF research results were published the same week President Donald Trump proposed massive cuts to the EPA, which would include a 23% cut to the enforcement division tasked with overseeing emissions at gas-fired power plants and oil refineries.

The Trump administration has also announced its intentions to halt former President Barack Obama’s proposed methane emissions rule for gas situated on US public lands and has already reversed the Obama EPA’s information request for methane emissions data from US domestic oil and gas producers.

As DeSmog previously reported, Carl Icahn, the business tycoon who interviewed and vetted current EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, owns petrochemical refineries with a documented history of exceeding allowable emissions rates set by the EPA.

In addition to being a major donor to Trump’s campaign, Icahn also serves as an adviser on regulatory issues to the Trump White House, a position set to benefit his extensive business holdings and raising concerns about conflicts of interest. Icahn, however, has dismissed these concerns, telling Bloomberg Businessweek:

“It may sound corny to you, but I think doing certain things helps the country a lot. And yeah, it helps me. I’m not apologizing for that.”

 


 

Steve Horn is a Research Fellow for DeSmogBlog and a freelance investigative journalist.

This article was originally published on DeSmogBlog. Some additional reporting by The Ecologist.

 

How to fix the East Africa Crisis

The droughts which have engulfed East Africa have left millions of people on the brink of starvation in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. The effects of dry El Niño years, amplified by climate change-induced high temperatures and erratic rains, have led to food shortages, dead livestock and the subsequent loss of livelihood for millions of people.

In Northern Kenya pastoralists have suffered not just from a lack of rain, but also unexpected flash floods.  At the end of a dusty road, snaking through the flat, low lying, lava-rubble plains of the Dida Galgalu desert lies the village of Burgabo. It has one of the oldest boreholes drilled by the colonial government in 1954. Burgabo is the only watering point for miles around and the high temperatures, long trekking distances and extended waiting times has claimed the lives of thousands of small livestock. Many donkeys, the main form of transport for pastoralists, have also perished. 

The other day while herders patiently waited for their turn to access the limited water hole, a huge dust cloud engulfed the area and the pastoralists all rushed to the nearby tin houses for shelter. Then rain started to pound the rooves as wind whipped across the treeless plain. Herders exchanged worried looks until after 30 minutes the sky cleared. A confused and traumatised herder, soaked with mud and water came shouting and the villagers rushed to find out what had happened. The unexpected flash flood had killed more than 700 sheep and goats.

Livestock represent livelihoods. Due to the severe droughts in the Horn of Africa and the conflict in South Sudan, nearly 16 million people are facing starvation. Humanitarian relief is essential which is why the Disasters Emergency Committee has triggered an appeal to bring vital supplies to those affected.

The short term needs are stark, but the long term solutions are the other side of the same coin. Such extreme climatic changes are a warning we need a global transition to a low carbon world and this is a message understood in countries where this crisis is unfolding.

Recent polling revealed that 64% of Kenyans would vote in the general elections this summer for a political party that is committed to providing renewable energy. The study also showed that currently only one per cent of the population use clean energy for cooking, which indicates the scope for renewables growth in the country.  

As the world continues to heat up, and many African countries warm at a faster rate than the global average, the kind of emergency playing out on our TV screens will only return unless we do something about it. Helping African countries to leapfrog the kind of polluting industrial revolution that Britain benefited from is one way we can do this. That’s why it’s especially galling to see Britain’s contribution to the Green Climate Fund attacked in the UK press.  This climate finance is designed to help these vulnerable countries adapt to the ravages of a climate they did nothing to change; to make them more resilient and save both lives and money in the long term.  

This kind of climate-smart aid is the least the developed world can do, having got wealthy by using up much of the planetary carbon budget. And yet this promised funding, which is also the rich world’s side of the bargain in much of the international climate negotiations is now being targeted by those who want to see the UK aid budget scrapped. The good news is that where we have invested ahead of time in resilience programmes the suffering in the current crisis has been much reduced – so it does work.

The British public are responding to the current DEC Appeal which will save millions of lives in East Africa. But it’s vital that the British Government ensure that they address the long term needs of the region by keeping its promises to the Green Climate Fund and the low carbon transition of the developing world.

This Author

Joe Ware is a writer and journalist at Christian Aid and a regular Ecologist New Voices contributor. You can follow him on twitter at @wareisjoe.

To make a donation to the DEC Appeal visit www.christianaid.org.uk

 

 

 

 

 

Green groups must denounce the sham ‘smart meter’ scandal

We desperately need green NGOs and campaigners to campaign for time-of-day-electricity charging.

Only then we will get real smart meters, not the sham ones that are being installed now.

The so-called smart meters, being rolled out in a house near you, are mainly a bit of meaningless hype which won’t do the very thing that popular mythology thinks they will do.

That is, to ensure that electricity prices are geared so that they fit in with when electricity is being generated: with lower prices when solar and wind output are high, for example, and rising steeply on cold, still December evenings.

The Government and OFGEM need to implement grid and distribution charges that would discourage electricity companies from supplying energy to their customers at peak times. Such charges would make it much more likely that the electricity industry would encourage their consumers, through their pricing policies, to consume less electricity during peak times.

As the green energy revolution gathers pace, and the number of electric cars increases, we ought to be making the system really smarter. This involves incentivising consumers to charge their electric cars and perform other functions (wash clothes, etc) at times when there is a surplus of generating capacity rather than when there is a shortage.

Nothing smart about ‘smart meters’

But practically none of the 53 million smart meters being rolled out across the country can do this. I have heard of one small supplier that offers tariffs according to time of day, but regrettably such efforts will be stymied by the failure of the electricity system as a whole to encourage this type of scheme.

In theory electricity suppliers will have an incentive to encourage their consumers to buy electricity at times when there is a surplus of electricity, and thus when it is cheapest on the wholesale electricity markets (ie power coming from power generators).

But alas, the system does not do enough to encourage this. This is because if a brave electricity company (Green Energy perhaps?) does introduce time-of-day pricing they will help their competitors as well by reducing the general prices on the wholesale market. The other electricity companies will just act as free loading parasites and the smart company will be sharing their gains with them.

One solution to this is for the Government to regulate the electricity distributors to ensure that they introduce substantial charges on suppliers for use of the system when there is peak demand for electricity. Thus all electricity suppliers will have a greater interest in introducing ‘time-of-day’ electricity charging schemes.

Then we might see some real smart meters being installed that allow this. There are some small variable charges for using the system at the moment but they are paltry compared to what needs to be done to encourage a decentralised energy system that responds to consumers and clean energy needs rather than the needs of the big electricity companies.

Electricity distributors also need to be given more incentives to develop storage systems on their local electricity ‘feeder’ systems rather than increase distribution capacity from the high voltage network by installing bigger transformers.

Left to themselves, OFGEM, power companies and government will do nothing

However this will not happen if the electricity industry is left to itself. The Government and OFGEM will shuffle a few reports and do nothing of any consequence.

All the electricity industry will do, as witnessed by the current smart meter fiasco, is to channel slogans about how consumers can be greener into feather bedding their own interests. In this case this doesn’t extend much further than saving costs on sending around somebody to read the electricity meter!

Rather than put all their efforts into ensuring system flexibility the network operators emphasise how we need more power lines to be built.

Organisations like FOE and 10:10 need to get to grips with the smart meter issue and start making demands. Otherwise we shall carry on hearing the same old stories about how we need dozens of gigawatts more of centralised power stations – rather than decentralised, variable renewable energy sources.

The committees that decide policy are stuffed with with the representatives of the existing energy establishment dedicated to resist change all costs. Without smart grid charges, slogans like ‘decentralised energy’ and ‘smart energy systems’ will remain meaningless marketing catchphrases used by the electricity industry to allow them to ‘carry on profiteering’ as near as possible to their current form.

Please don’t let this happen!

 


David Toke is Reader in Energy Policy at the University of Aberdeen.The Conversation He blogs at Dave Toke’s green energy blog where this article was originally published.

References:

 

 

Ecologist Special Report: Colombian Coffee Growers Adapt to a Changing Climate

Although petroleum is easily Colombia’s biggest export, the one more associated with Colombia is coffee. Coffee is both a point of pride and a significant economic driver for Colombia. Coffee cultivation employs approximately 570,000 families, providing 800,000 direct jobs and another 1.6 million indirect jobs, accounting for the employment of roughly 25% of Colombia’s rural population .

Colombia’s environment makes it an ideal place for the cultivation of Arabica, its primary coffee varietal. Arabica accounts for 70% of all coffee sold worldwide and grows best in areas with a steady, year-round rainfall of between 1.0 to 1.5 meters? and at altitudes between 1,300 and 1,500 meters. It is no wonder, then, that Colombia’s southwestern mountain region is also its prime growing area. This region has year-round precipitation ranging between 0.5 and 3 meters (1-1.5m on average); temperatures between 8°C and 24°C and an exceptionally rich soil due largely to Colombia’s remarkable biodiversity.

A Changing Climate Threatens Harvests

Steadily, however, these natural advantages are being eroded as a changing climate alters Colombia’s coffee growing terrain. Daily high temperatures in the mountains have been increasing by an average of 0.1°C per year, while daily lows decreased by an average of 0.5°C per year between 2008 and 2011. At the same time, precipitation patterns have changed drastically. The onset of the rainy season has shifted forward and rainfall patterns have changed from steady precipitation to marked swings between dry sun and heavy downpours.

These changes have placed enormous stress on coffee plants, resulting in crop yields of both diminished size and quality for many coffee growers. The higher high temperatures have also encouraged the population growth and uphill spread of coffee pests such as the “coffee rust” fungus and the coffee borer beetle, which can wreck havoc on a plantation. Coffee pests aren’t the only creatures that have moved higher with the changing weather, however. Other plants and animals have also been moving slowly uphill, where they act as invasive species competing for the same nutrients as the coffee plants. This makes life harder for coffee growers, who must exert extra effort to ward off both the newcomer species and the traditional coffee pests.

How Coffee Farmers Adapt to a Changing Climate

The International Coffee Organization (ICO) – the largest international lobby for the coffee industry – lists climate change as one of the most important factors adversely affecting small coffee farmers. The ICO goes on to point out that “Smallholders produce the bulk of the world’s coffee and the industry cannot afford a steeply falling output in this sector”. Coffee growers in Colombia are already keenly aware of this and have been working hard to adapt to their new reality through a combination of varied farming practices and heightened pest control.

To guard against the economic catastrophe of a failed coffee crop, many growers now mix in other cash crops such as yucca and tomatoes, alongside their coffee plants or experiment with growing hybrid coffee plants that are better adapted to climate extremes or are better able to resist pests. Some growers have explored alternate business practices that allow them to diversify their income, rather than relying solely on coffee production. But even in these cases, however, coffee remains vital to the survival of the plantation.

The greatest tools that farmers have to fight the pests are array of chemical and biological pesticides and tedious manual labor. The primary biological pesticide in use is a fungus called Beauveria bassiana. B. bassiana is a predator of the coffee rust fungus and has been used extensively throughout modern coffee cultivation. It is sensitive to humidity, however, needing humid soil to grow. As many coffee growing areas now experience longer dry hours during the day, B. bassiana‘s effectiveness has slowly diminished.

Two coffee plantations, or Fincas, serve as examples of the challenges in adapting to climate change and a third demonstrates the difficulty of measuring climate change and coordinating comprehensive efforts to combat it.

Smallholders Struggle to Stay Afloat

Juan Gildardo Giraldo Suárez manages Finca el Llano, a family-run plantation of roughly 150,000 coffee plants in the idyllic town of Jardín: “The truth is, the climate has been a problem for us lately,” he says. “In the past four or five years, it’s been very difficult to plan and care for our crops because we haven’t been able to predict the weather like before.”

Up until four or five years ago, he explains, weather cycles had remained fairly consistent. During the dry season, the farmers knew roughly how much sun and what temperatures to expect. Likewise, the rain fell in very consistent patterns during the rainy season, to which the coffee grown in the region was well adapted. Now, however, the rain falls more erratically and in more intense downpours.

These effects translate to additional working hours without added pay for the workers of El Llano, who must tend to young, temperature-vulnerable plants and spend more time combating pests. To ensure income in the case of a bad coffee harvest, Juan Gilardo and his family mix in crops such as yucca and tomatoes. Adding to their troubles, the higher temperatures cause fewer flowers to grow, from which coffee beans develop, leading to smaller harvests.

Cenicafé, the Colombian coffee research institution, has developed a selection of hybrid varietals, bred for various traits. Some are more resistant to pests or to environmental conditions such as extended sunlight, while others are bred for more desirable flavor profiles. To this end, el Llano has increasingly cultivated a strain called Castillo el Rosario, which is a pest-resistant varietal that they hope will help restore their harvest sizes in the near future.

Pest control represents a significant drain on resources for a Finca the size of el Llano. Only 10 people work the steep mountainside plots during the harvest and the increased pest load requires many more hours spent manually inspecting and removing infected leaves and berries. Pesticide use helps to cut down on the manual labour, but cannot be relied upon extensively. The Achilles heel of chemical pesticides is that each formulation selects for the few bugs capable of resisting its effects. If you go straight to the strongest formulation and select for those that can live through the experience, you quickly have no tools left, with which to fight off the next infestation.

Juan Gildardo also uses coffee rust predator B. bassiana, but the lengthening dry daytime periods frequently render the soil too dry for it to grow and the heavy rains then wash it away, along with topsoil.

Larger Coffee Farms, More Diversified Business Models

Further south, the Hacienda la Venecia plantation provides a glimpse of what bigger, wealthier plantations can do to mitigate the effects of climate change. In addition to coffee cultivation, Juan Pablo Echeverría, the general manager of Hacienda la Venecia, has diversified his plantation’s business profile to incorporate tourism and has invested heavily in business relations with high-end specialty roasters in addition to experimenting with hybrid Arabica coffee varietals.

Besides the roughly 1.3 million coffee plants on the plantation’s grounds, there now sit several hotel buildings complete with a pool and restaurant and a secluded hostel for travellers on a lower budget. Tours of the plantation are offered daily, complete with working examples of the entire coffee making process. La Venecia focuses on high bean quality (rather than quantity) and has forged business relationships with high-end roasters willing to pay a premium for beans and to pass that cost along to their consumers. This enables la Venecia to cover the cost of low-quality beans in their harvest that they would otherwise struggle to sell.

Like el Llano, la Venecia combats coffee pests with both pesticides and manual labour. In addition, La Venecia has a much larger workforce, which allows it to invest more time in manual inspection of coffee plants, thereby reducing its reliance on chemical pesticides.

Coordinating pest control practices poses another challenge. When asked if neighbouring smallholder farms benefit from la Venecia’s pest control efforts, Juan Pablo replies that the reverse is closer to the truth: “The bigger problem is when neighbours don’t make adequate pest control efforts,” he explains. In this scenario, those neighbouring Fincas act as pest ‘reservoirs’, from which successive infestations can be launched. Solving this problem requires a level of regional coordination and government support that doesn’t yet exist. “I can’t pay for [my neighbor’s] pesticide use and remain profitable,” Juan Pablo adds.

One advantage of la Venecia’s business success is that the Finca has more latitude to experiment with coffee cultivars. Juan Pablo has established several experimental plots to study which hybrids work best for the company. Running these experiments presents another challenge, however. It takes a minimum of 1.5 years to acquire preliminary data from an experimental cultivar. In reality though, according to Juan Pablo, you need at least two to three years to make a fully informed decision. Given the recent unpredictability in weather patterns, he is concerned that by the time those two to three years have passed, new hybrids would need to be planted to study the impact of new climate conditions.

Six years ago, Juan Pablo says, an el Niño event caused a 30% reduction of his Finca’s harvest. La Venecia has worked hard to guard against such events since then, but what would happen if several strong climate anomalies were to occur consecutively, as some climate models predict and as is happening right now in northern Peru? “A loss in production that strong two years in a row,” says Juan Pablo, “we couldn’t endure it.”

 The Uneven Distribution of Climate Change

Measuring climate change and predicting how it will affect a given region is a monumentally challenging task and one made even more complicated in mountainous regions, where the rugged topography generates many microclimates in one general area. In these regions, one valley can be dry and sunny while rain inundates the neighbouring valley.

Finca la Pradera, a plantation owned by Range Colombian Coffee, situated in Calarcá, near the city of Armenia, perfectly highlights this phenomenon. While other plantations scramble to adapt to their changing climates, la Pradera’ valley has experienced almost no change in weather patterns at all. Not even the extreme effects of the 2015 la Niña event, which has wrecked havoc with Colombia’s climate for the past two years, affected this small region of the state of Quindío.

Whereas fully organic farming methods are either impractical or ineffective in the face of changing weather and surging pests, the crew at la Pradera has been able to pursue a largely organic farming pipeline that allows them to sell their beans at premium prices around the globe. They must still include some measure of chemical pesticides in their mix, but they are able to rely much more on the help of B. bassiana and on painstakingly removing infected leaves and berries by hand.

Luis Eduardo García Morales, the owner of Finca la Pradera and Dr Juan Bueno, a microbiologist who works with the Finca, explain that one of the key benefits of using B. bassiana is that it evolves at roughly the same pace as its prey. That means that as it fights the coffee borer, it kills the microbes that are easiest for it to hunt first, thereby selecting for microbes that have some advantage against falling prey to B. bassiana. As food for B. bassiana becomes scarce, the bassiana microbes that have a genetic advantage enabling them to capture hardier prey become selected for. This leads to a cycle known in biology as the Red Queen Race, in which predator and prey continually adapt to each other’s tactics, each keeping the other somewhat in check.

Scientists and coffee pests also engage in a Red Queen Race, but in this case, the scientists are at a clear disadvantage. While selection of pesticide-resistant pests can occur in a single growing season, it typically takes around three years for a new chemical pesticide to go through testing and come to market. During this time, the new pesticide runs the risk of becoming obsolete before even being put to use.

Many scientists are actively researching the possibilities of developing new biological pesticides, such as novel strains of B. bassiana, but development times for these strategies are even longer, more costly and face some backlash from people who are wary of lab-grown organisms.

So how long can Finca la Pradera’s good climate luck hold? “That’s something that worries us,” admits Luis Eduardo. For the moment, there is neither any reason to expect Calarcá’s microclimate to change, nor any reason to expect it to remain untouched, amounting to a disquieting uncertainty.

“We want to pursue more organic methods,” Luis Eduardo says. “That’s an important part of who we are.” This desire runs deep. Beyond environmental concerns or desires to court the high-end organic coffee market, la Pradera’s focus on traditional farming methods connects them to the traditions and practices of their ancestors who populated this region.

That said, what would they do to adapt if the climate turned against them? How would they combat a sustained increase in pests that strained their ability to conduct pest control by hand? Dr Bueno mentions the advent of CRISPR, a new genetic technology that makes changes in an organism’s own genome to bring about some desired change, rather than introducing genes from other organisms, as happens with so-called GMOs. In this way, Dr Bueno explains, you could continue using organic practices with better-adapted plants and pesticidal fungi. Luis Eduardo ponders this for a moment and then exclaims “that would be awesome!” This is the sort of future that he can envision working towards.

So what does this all mean? Is the world facing an imminent coffee shortage due to a changing climate? Not necessarily, but the coffee industry and its billions of consumers are not out of the woods yet. For the time being, coffee growers are proving themselves quite adaptable to their changing climate, but the strain is showing in the upward trend of coffee prices around the globe. Studies by the ICO suggest that prices may stabilize in the future and that production in some countries, such as Ethiopia and Vietnam may increase as warming temperatures make more ground available for coffee cultivation, but much will depend on factors outside the coffee industry. Opening up more land to coffee plantation, for instance, must be balanced with competing needs for that same land and growers can expect considerable competition in this area.

There remains much that people can do to stave off a coffee-free future. Fedecafé, the Colombian coffee growers federation, already provides financial incentives to growers for planting pest and climate-resistant hybrids. Governments can invest in better weather-sensing infrastructure and communication networks between growers. Incentives can also be offered to budding scientists to conduct research in solutions to things like coffee pests. Colombia’s long history of civil war has resulted in a flight of many scientists from their country. With that war now coming to an end, now is a good time to give them reasons to return. 

Your coffee won’t disappear tomorrow, but keep an eye on places like Colombia for what the future holds. As one of the world’s three biggest coffee producers, what happens here will affect the entire coffee market.

This Author

Dr Forest Ray holds a PhD in biochemistry from Columbia University. He writes about ecological and conservation topics throughout Latin America and is a regular contributor to the Ecologist and Verge Magazine. He currently lives in Medellín, Colombia.