Pages: 1 ... 3 4 [5] 6 7 ... 10
 on: Feb 10, 2016, 07:13 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
‘No evidence’ that EU's illegal timber policy is working

Leaked review shows that EU law is failing to prevent $100bn a year trade in illegal timber - or that rules are even being implemented

Wednesday 10 February 2016 10.43 GMT

There is “no solid evidence” that an EU law has done anything to prevent the illegal timber trade or even that it has been implemented, according to a draft commission review seen by the Guardian.

Nine EU countries have still not imposed penalties or taken action against timber traffickers and six others have yet to carry out checks on importers as required by the EU’s timber regulation.

The review finds that “only a fraction” of private sector firms use independent monitoring groups to source their timber, and that loopholes anyway exempt many types of timber import from scrutiny.

Alexandra Pardal, a spokeswoman for the campaign group Global Witness, said that the EU’s law had been a landmark in the fight against deforestation “but almost three years after its introduction, we haven’t seen a single prosecution in Europe.”

“If EU member states are serious about cracking down on the drivers of illegal logging, they need to start abiding by their own laws – by seizing illicit timber and prosecuting the companies that import it.”

Global Witness says that it has presented EU authorities with “clear evidence” of illegal timber being exported to Europe from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic, but that no action was taken.

Greenpeace is also demanding an Interpol investigation into a boat that it suspects of being laden with illegal timber, which is reportedly docked in Bilbao at present, after being towed away from the French coast.

The global illegal logging industry is worth up to$100bn a year, according to Interpol estimates.

The commission review did detect a drop in timber imports to the EU between 2010 and 2013, but found that this was mostly because of economic stagnation in Europe and high timber demand in Asia.

“There is no solid evidence to show that the due diligence system obligation so far has been effective in preventing illegally harvested timber and that operators across the EU have consistently implemented their due diligence requirements to date,” it says.

Part of the problem is that only the first seller of timber to the European market has to verify a product’s legality, so contraband spot checks tend to be ineffective.

“Competent authorities do not yet have the capacity and resources they would need for effective application of the regulation,” the review says.

It goes on: “Only a fraction of operators, with a rough estimate of 100 to 200, currently use a due diligence service with monitoring organisation support and verification services.”

The findings chime with a recent European Court of Auditors study which reported that the regulation had been poorly designed, badly managed and largely ineffective.

Government authorities are often too under-resourced to carry out its measures thoroughly. Greece and Hungary are currently facing legal proceedings for non-implementation of the law.

“Proper checks on timber being traded in the EU are the keystone of the EU Timber Regulation,” said Emily Unwin, a lawyer for the green law firm, ClientEarth. “This law can and must prevent illegal logging around the world, but we have to get the enforcement right. Industry needs accountability. Governments must commit resources.”

Illegal logging is thought to be responsible for around one-fifth of greenhouse gas emissions, more than from all the world’s ships, trains, planes and cars combined.

 on: Feb 10, 2016, 07:06 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Organic honey is a sweet success for Cuba as other bee populations suffer

When the Caribbean state was no longer able to afford pesticides – which have been linked with declining bee populations – it made a virtue out of a necessity

Reuters in San Antonio de los Baños
Tuesday 9 February 2016 17.00 GMT

Long known for its cigars and rum, Cuba has added organic honey to its list of key agricultural exports, creating a buzz among farmers as pesticide use has been linked to declining bee populations elsewhere.

Organic honey has become Cuba’s fourth most valuable agricultural export behind fish products, tobacco and drinks, but ahead of the Caribbean island’s more famous sugar and coffee, said Theodor Friedrich, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) representative for Cuba.

“All of Cuba’s honey can be certified as organic,” Friedrich told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Its honey has a very specific, typical taste; in monetary value, it’s a high-ranking product.“

After the collapse in 1991 of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s main trading partner, the island was unable to afford pesticides due to a lack of foreign currency, coupled with the US trade embargo. By necessity, the government embraced organic agriculture, and the policies have largely stuck.

Now that the United States is easing its embargo following the restoration of diplomatic ties last year, Cuba’s organic honey exporters could see significant growth if the government supports the industry, bee keepers said.

Cuba produced more than 7,200 tonnes of organic honey in 2014, worth about $23.3m, according to government statistics cited by the FAO.

The country’s industry is still tiny compared with honey heavyweights such as China, Turkey and Argentina. But with a commodity worth more per litre than oil, Cuban honey producers believe they could be on the verge of a lucrative era.

With 80 boxes swarming with bees, each producing 45kg (100lb) of honey a year, farm manager Javier Alfonso believes Cuba’s exports could grow markedly in the coming years.

His apiary, down a dirt track in San Antonio de los Baños, a farming town an hour’s drive from the capital, Havana, was built from scratch by employees, Alfonso said.

“There is just a bit of production now, but it can get bigger,” he said, looking at the rows of colourful wooden boxes.

Like other Cuban bee farmers, he sells honey exclusively to the government, which pays him according to the world market price and then takes responsibility for marketing the product overseas.

Most of Cuba’s honey exports go to Europe, he said. He would like to be able to borrow money to expand production, but getting credit is difficult, he said, so for now his team of farmers build their own infrastructure for the bees.

“It’s a very natural environment here,” said Raul Vásquez, a farm employee. “The government is not allowed to sell us chemicals – this could be the reason why the bees aren’t dying here” as they have been in other places.

While Cuba’s small, organic honey industry aims to reap the rewards of increased trade with the United States, honey producers in other regions are under threat, industry officials said.

Bee keepers in the United States, Canada and other regions have long complained that pesticides are responsible for killing their bees and hurting the honey industry more broadly.

The US Environmental Protection Agency released a study in January indicating that a widely used insecticide used on cotton plants and citrus groves can harm bee populations.

“I don’t think there are any doubts that populations of honeybees [in the United States and Europe] have declined … since the second world war,” Norman Carreck, science director of the UK-based International Bee Research Association told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Climate change, fewer places for wild bees to nest, shifts in land use, diseases and pesticides are blamed for the decline, he said.

Because it is pesticide-free, Cuba’s organic bee industry could act as protection from the problems hitting other honey exporters, said the FAO’s Friedrich, and could be a growing income stream for the island’s farmers.

“The overall use of pesticides is fairly controlled, he said. “Cuba has been immune to the bee die-offs hitting other regions.”

 on: Feb 10, 2016, 07:04 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Female bamboo shark is due for virgin birth at sea life centre in UK

Female shark that has had no contact with males for more than two years produces two fertile eggs
Female white-spotted bamboo shark

Press Association
Tuesday 9 February 2016 17.28 GMT

A female shark that has had no contact with males of its species for more than two years is due to give birth to two babies. The white-spotted bamboo shark arrived at Great Yarmouth Sea Life Centre in 2013, having been evacuated from the badly flooded sister centre in Hunstanton, also in Norfolk.

She has been the only member of her species at the centre in that time and has had no contact with male sharks. But experts at the centre have revealed that she has produced two fertile eggs, which are due to hatch in nine months’ time.

If the births are successful, the babies would be amazing examples of conception without a male – a phenomenon that has only recently been identified in sharks.

Marine biologist and shark expert Darren Gook said: “They will be the first such births in the Sea Life network, and we’re excited and privileged to be expecting such a miraculous event.”

The discovery of the two eggs containing valid embryos comes within days of the announcement in Germany of a second-generation virgin birth involving the same species at a research facility in Munich.

Gook said: “The process is called parthenogenesis, and has long been known to occur in domestic chickens and some reptiles, but was not recorded in sharks until 2008. Females somehow manage to add an extra set of chromosomes to their eggs to produce offspring that are either clones or half-clones of themselves.

“It has been recorded in bonnethead, blacktip and zebra sharks, as well as white-spotted bamboos. It was assumed offspring born this way were infertile and it was an evolutionary dead end, but events in Germany have now disproved that.”

One explanation for asexual reproduction, Gook added, is that it is nature’s way of ensuring the survival of the species if there is a drastic decline in numbers that makes it harder for males and females to locate each other.

The two eggs have been removed to the safety of a nursery tank, where visitors will be able to see them and where they will be closely monitored for the full term of their development.

 on: Feb 10, 2016, 07:02 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Man charged with using alligator as dangerous weapon at Wendy's drive-thru

Joshua James threw the 3ft 6in-long reptile through the window of a Florida fast-food restaurant before leaving without paying for a soft drink

Associated Press
Wednesday 10 February 2016 00.08 GMT

Alligators have been used as shoes, briefcases, university mascots, lunch and now, authorities say, a deadly weapon.

Joshua James, 24, was arrested Monday and charged with assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill after Florida fish and wildlife conservation officials say he threw a 3ft 6in-long (1.1metre) alligator through the window of a drive-thru Wendy’s in Palm Beach county in October.

He was also charged with illegally possessing an alligator and petty theft. Jail records show he was released on $6,000 bail on Tuesday.

Joshua James was taken into custody, charged with assault with a deadly weapon, after officials said he threw an alligator into the kitchen of a fast food restaurant in Loxahatchee, Florida.

He was ordered to have no contact with animals.

Wildlife officer Nicholas Guerin said in his report that James drove his pickup truck to the window at about 1.20am on 11 October. After an employee handed James his drink, he threw the alligator through the window and drove off.

No one was hurt. Guerin captured the alligator and released it into the wild. Guerin said James was tracked down through video surveillance and a purchase at a nearby convenience store.

Guerin wrote that James admitted throwing the alligator in a December interview. He said James told him he had found the alligator on the side of the road and put it in his truck.

 on: Feb 10, 2016, 06:58 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Escaped pig shows up at New Hampshire polling station - video


Candidates have been accused of acting ham-fisted this election, but surely this New Hampshire pig takes the cake ... or bacon. The 600-pound swine managed to escape his nearby farm in Pelham, New Hampshire, on Tuesday and later showed up outside a polling station, harassing local authorities and generally acting piggish

Click to watch: <iframe src="" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

 on: Feb 10, 2016, 06:55 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Swarm of moths blanket Queensland town of Winton

Video shows thousands of insects clinging to hotel walls in town locals say is often overrun by the winged creatures when they breed after rain

Australian Associated Press
Wednesday 10 February 2016 05.16 GMT

The outback Queensland town of Winton has been blanketed by a swarm of moths after heavy rain in the region.

A video posted to Facebook on Wednesday shows thousands of the tiny winged creatures filling the gutters of a car park and clinging to the walls of the Winton hotel.

Max Jurd, a barman at the pub, said the town is often overrun by insects when they breed after rainfall.

However, he’d never seen anything this extreme. “It’s been going for three days,” he said.

“I was raking them up in garbage bags and taking them to the dump.

“The best way to avoid them is just to turn off all your lights at night, but you still hear them banging into the walls and roof, it honestly sounds like rain.”

Winton, with a population of fewer than 1,000, is about 900km inland from the Queensland coast.

Click to watch: <iframe src="" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

 on: Feb 10, 2016, 06:49 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Fast-track breeding could bring a second Green Revolution

Green revolution: Fast-track breeding is beginning to develop crops that can produce more and healthier food – without controversial genetic engineering.

By Richard Conniff, Yale Environment 360

In Zambia during the current planting season, a corn crop will go into the fields that begins the process of rapidly boosting vitamin A content by as much ten-fold – helping to address a nutritional deficiency that causes 250,000-500,000 children to go blind annually, most of them in Africa and Asia. In China, Kenya, and Madagascar, also this planting season, farmers will put out a crop of Artemisia annua that yields 20 to 30 percent more of the chemical compound artemisinin, the basis for what is now the world’s standard treatment for malaria.

Both improvements are happening because of fast-track breeding technology that promises to produce a 21st-century green revolution. It is already putting more food on tables – though it’s unclear whether it can add enough food to keep pace as the world’s human population booms to 9 billion people by 2050.

Fast-track breeding is also giving agronomists a remarkable tool for quickly adapting crops to climate change and the increasing challenges of drought, flooding, emerging diseases, and shifting agricultural zones. And it can help save lives: In the absence of prevention, half those victims of vitamin A deficiency now die shortly after going blind, according to the World Health Organization; and in 2010, lack of adequate treatment – meaning artemisinin – contributed to the deaths of 655,000 children from malaria.
Recommended:In Pictures Dairy Farm

The fast-track technology, called marker-assisted selection (MAS), or molecular breeding, takes advantage of rapid improvements in genetic sequencing, but avoids all the regulatory and political baggage of genetic engineering. Bill Freese, a science policy analyst with the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit advocacy group, calls it “a perfectly acceptable tool. I don’t see any food safety issue. It can be a very useful technique if it’s used by breeders who are working in the public interest.”

Molecular breeding isn’t genetic engineering, a technology that has long alarmed critics on two counts. Its methods seem outlandish – taking genes from spiders and putting them in goats, or borrowing insect resistance from soil bacteria and transferring it into corn – and it has also seemed to benefit a handful of agribusiness giants armed with patents, at the expense of public interest.

By contrast, molecular breeding is merely a much faster and more efficient way of doing what nature and farmers have always done, by natural selection and artificial selection respectively: It takes existing genes that happen to be advantageous in a given situation and increases their frequency in a population.

In the past, farmers and breeders did it by walking around their fields and looking at individual plants or animals that seemed to have desirable traits, like greater productivity, or resistance to a particular disease. Then they went to work cross-breeding to see if they could tease out that trait and get it to appear reliably in subsequent generations. It could take decades, and success at breeding in one trait often meant bringing along some deleterious fellow traveler, or inadvertently breeding out some other essential trait.

Molecular breeding enables growers to get the improvements they want far more precisely, by zeroing in on the genes responsible for a given trait. If genetic engineering is a tool for “bludgeoning the genome,” as Cornell University researcher Susan McCouch puts it, what molecular breeding does instead is to “open a window” into how the genome works, enabling researchers to collaborate with it.

Sequencing the entire genome of a species is the first step, and this process, which cost millions of dollars a decade ago, is down now to the low thousands. Next, researchers sort out which genes are responsible for a given function, the bottleneck in the process so far, though McCouch says it becomes faster and cheaper with each new species that gets sequenced, because nature tends to employ the same mechanisms from one species to another. Finally, researchers map out markers – bits of genetic material that are linked to those genes, to flag whether or not the desired genes are present in a given individual.

“It’s not uncommon for a company to want to combine 10 or 20 traits in a variety,” says Harry Klee, a specialist in tomato breeding at the University of Florida in Gainesville. In the past, to get the perfect combination of traits using conventional methods, “you would have to put out millions of plants in the field.” Instead, breeders typically simplified, narrowing down their wish list to a few key traits.

With tomatoes, for instance, as many as 30 or 40 different genes influence taste – too many variables to juggle. So shelf life and appearance inevitably trumped taste. “But this is where molecular breeding really pays off,” says Klee. Breeders now use genetic markers to automatically screen one-inch-tall seedlings and immediately weed out the 99 percent they don’t want, cutting years off the breeding timetable. That makes it easier to get to desirable cross-breed quickly – and also stack up a complex array of traits in a single strain. As a result, says Klee, even mass-produced supermarket tomatoes should actually taste good five years from now.

In the two decades since researchers first proposed molecular breeding in 1989, high costs and the difficult work of discovery have largely confined the technology to big companies working in commodity crops like corn and soybeans. But as costs fall even faster than Moore’s Law would predict and genetic methods become routine, researchers are now also applying them to the so-called orphan crops on which much of the developing world depends. Molecular breeding is not as effective so far for crops that propagate clonally, including such tropical staples as cassava, sweet potato, yams, bananas, and plantains. But for rice and many other crops, it enables breeders to quickly tailor a plant to a particular environment or taste.

“Every village has its own favorite rice,” says Ian Graham, director of the University of York’s Centre for Novel Agricultural Products. “The challenge is if you come up with a great trait, how on earth do you put that trait into all these local varieties easily, economically, and quickly? Sequencing gives you the tool to do it. That’s the secret of really making molecular breeding work for the developing world.” There are still economic barriers, he says, but equipment to set up a basic laboratory in a developing country “is on the order of $100,000 instead of millions.” Thus genetic methods have the potential to make breeding more local, more democratic, and aimed at enhancing biological and agricultural diversity, instead of stripping it away.

The Green Revolution of the 1960s largely achieved its huge leap in productivity by streamlining plants and farming methods to work across hundreds of millions of hectares, regardless of local tastes or environments. It re-designed plants for high-input industrial agriculture, so they could respond to an intensive regimen of fertilizers, water, and pesticides, regardless of the environment. But the molecular Green Revolution will work, says McCouch, by fine-tuning crops to perform in a particular environment, minus additional input. Farmers are backing off growing rice in water, for instance, “because they can’t afford the water, there isn’t enough water in the world.”

Molecular breeding will also build crops, McCouch says, to “respond constructively to changes in the environment that we cannot predict,”like flooding and drought. “A really big challenge in discovery genetics right now,” she says, “is to understand how plants sense environments: How do they count number of days? How do they count the number hours of daylight? How do they know when to grow and when to hold their breath if they’re underwater? Once we make the discovery of which genes allow the plants to sense these things, then we can do marker-assisted selection” and move those genes into local varieties that already have the other traits farmers want.

The potential for molecular breeding to help farmers adapt to a rapidly changing world became evident last month when Nature Biotechnology published an article about rice breeding in Japan. Geneticists at the Iwate Biotechnology Research Center 130 miles north of Fukushima were already using molecular breeding to improve the cold-tolerant rice variety preferred by farmers there, when last year’s earthquake hit. The subsequent tsunami left a huge swath of rice paddies – 58,000 acres, representing almost a fifth of the nation’s rice supply – contaminated with too much salt for conventional farming. The researchers promptly switched their focus to salt-tolerant genes. Instead of taking five years to produce a suitable crossbreed by conventional methods, they now hope to deliver those seeds to affected farmers in just two years, for the 2014 growing season.

 on: Feb 10, 2016, 06:47 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
A rice revolution?

Rice demand is growing and climate change threatens this important food source. But a system of intensified cultivation may boost yields dramatically without the need for more expensive hybrid seeds, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides.

By P.K. Read, Food Tank

Rice is the most important grain in terms of human consumption, according to numerous sources, including the International Rice Research Institute and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Globally, rice provides 20 percent of all calories consumed as food, and up to 70 percent in some regions. A 2010 Oxfam report also states that rice cultivation is the “single largest source of employment and income for rural people.”

Rice remains a crop that is grown predominantly on smallholder farms around the world, with the majority of rice farms smaller than two hectares (five acres) and an average global yield of approximately four tons/hectare. A major transition to hybridized seeds, agrochemical fertilizers, and pesticides took place in many areas during the so-called Green Revolution between 1940-1970, improving rice quality and yields over some earlier traditional cultivation methods.

But while rice production has remained level over the past decades, rice demand has steadily expanded with growing populations.

With temperatures rising around the globe, and at least one recent study by a team of scientists led by Jarrod R. Welch showing that rice fields in Asia are sensitive to increasing temperatures and decreasing solar radiation, it’s more important than ever to find methods that maintain or further improve rice crop yields.

One method that has been gaining notice is System of Rice Intensification (SRI), an approach developed by Fr. Henri de Laulanié in Madagascar beginning in 1983.

There has been evidence that SRI has produced yields double the world average. A smallholder farmer in northern India, Sumat Kumar, used SRI to produce 22.4 tons of rice from a single hectare in 2012, breaking the world record.

SRI differs from other modern, conventional crop management techniques in that it does not focus on the specialized seeds, fertilizers, and chemical inputs, all of which can represent high costs for smallholder farmers with limited amounts of acreage.

Rather, SRI is a crop-management approach that can be adjusted to local conditions and requirements based on its four interacting principles: Early, quick and healthy plant establishment; reduced plant density; improved soil conditions through enrichment with organic matter; and reduced and controlled water application.

These principles form the basis of SRI practices, which can be adapted to local conditions such as water availability, soil conditions, weather, labor availability, and access to seeds. Using SRI does not require growers to convert to fully organic agriculture, although it can be accommodated to organic growing. 

Typical SRI practices include early transplantation of seedlings into paddies, wider plant spacing, single planting as opposed to the conventional planting of three to six seedlings in a clump, an avoidance of continuous soil flooding, and early, frequent weed control.

According to the nonprofit SRI International Network and Resources Center, the goal is to create nutrient-rich soil and provide individual plants with the space to grow, allowing them to develop a stronger root system, which leads to stronger plants and overall larger yields. And according to Oxfam, “growing more rice with less water and agrochemical inputs is essential for future food security and environmental sustainability.” SRI methods have been used in 40 countries, and the overall results are impressive:

    47 percent increase in yields.
    40 percent reduction in water use.
    23 percent reduction in costs.
    68 percent increase in household incomes.

The principles and practices of SRI have been applied with success to other crops as well, according to SRI and Oxfam. These include wheat, sugarcane, finger millet, teff, and legumes. When used with other crops, the method is known as the System for Crop Intensification.

 on: Feb 10, 2016, 06:43 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

'Climate smart' farming tackles challenges of a warming world

With temperatures rising and extreme weather becoming more frequent, 'climate-smart agriculture' is using a host of measures — from new planting practices to improved water management — to keep farmers ahead of climate change.

By Lisa Palmer, Yale Environment 360

Rice is a thirsty crop. Yet for the past three years, Alberto Mejia has been trying to reduce the amount of water he uses for irrigation on his 1,100-acre farm near Ibague in the tropical, central range of the Colombian Andes.

He now plants new kinds of rice that require less water. He floods his paddies with greater precision and has installed gauges that measure the moisture content of the soil. On a daily basis he can determine how much nitrogen the plants need, and he relies on more advanced weather forecasting to plan when to fertilize, water, and harvest the grain.

“We are learning how to manage the crops in terms of water, which will be a very, very good help for us now and in the future,” Mejia says, adding that the current El Niño weather pattern has caused serious drought. “We have very difficult days — hot, with no rain. It’s dry. There are fires in the mountains ... Growing crops makes it a complicated time here.”

Ever since a drought devastated his yields five years ago, Mejia has been eager to integrate sweeping changes into his rice production. He believes that the weather has become more erratic and is concerned that future climate change will make rice farming even more difficult. As a result, and with the help of his local rice growers association and scientists from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, he is embracing what has come to be known as “climate-smart agriculture.” These are agricultural techniques that protect farmers from the effects of global warming and improve crop yields, while also limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

The growing move to climate-smart agriculture is strongly supported by dozens of organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and the CGIAR Consortium, a network of 15 international research centers that work to advance agriculture research globally. The Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, launched last September, aims to strengthen global food security, improve resilience to climate change, and help 500 million small farmers adapt to more stressful growing conditions.

Another rationale behind climate-smart agriculture is to adjust to the new growing conditions in a sustainable fashion because yield gains experienced in the Green Revolution — particularly with rice and wheat — have stagnated. Using seeds specifically bred to withstand certain temperatures or moisture levels, coupled with better water management, can help to keep improving agricultural productivity.

For example, in Rwanda projects include better management of rainfall on steep hillsides and terracing that prevents water runoff and erosion. In Senegal, various organizations are providing planting, growing, and harvesting information to women, who do the majority of farming but have historically not benefited from agriculture extension services because communications have focused on crops men tend to grow, such as corn, sorghum, and millet. The women receive text-message alerts and information on blackboards at community outposts to provide them with advice on seeds, fertilizer, planting methods, or weather patterns that affect the crops women commonly cultivate, including rice, tomatoes, and onions.

Colombia’s farmers learned a hard lesson in 2010 and 2011 when drought, high temperatures, and acute water shortages devastated crops. That’s one reason the country’s agriculture ministry, farming organizations, development agencies, and researchers sought ways to improve resiliency, especially as climate change is predicted to increase weather variability.

Researchers at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia teamed up with Fedearroz — the Colombian rice-growers association — and the Colombian Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology, and Environmental Studies to analyze climate and rice production patterns in selected regions of Colombia. Andrew Jarvis, director of the decision and policy analysis program at CIAT, says that through analysis of big data, researchers and trade groups can provide rice growers with specific recommendations to improve production practices and avoid the worst impacts of climate variability.

Farms in tropical regions and in the developing world are particularly vulnerable to climate extremes, says Jarvis, because they don’t have access to good irrigation or reservoirs during the dry season. Farmers have survived by being good at adapting and adjusting to patterns of rain and weather, but increasingly erratic weather fluctuations and the pace of change can overwhelm traditional methods of coping, he points out.

For farmers like Mejia, who plant new fields each month to maintain a continuous cash flow, shifting production to a certain period each year runs counter to what farmers learned from their fathers and grandfathers. But increasingly unstable weather in recent years has left many farmers more willing to try new ideas. “They realize that climate change is a long-term threat,” says Jarvis. “In the short term, it is showing itself as climate variability, and so we need to adjust to it.”

Mejia is a numbers guy and keeps careful records of his farm. Most of his recent agriculture modifications have proven successful, such as planting new kinds of rice and using greater precision of flooding the paddies exactly when they need water — hence the humidity meters. Each day he checks how much nitrogen the plants need and consults the weather equipment at the farm, such as how much rain has fallen, the wind speed, the high and low temperatures, and, most importantly, a forecast that now extends to eight days.

Previously, his rice paddies used a water rotation pattern of three to four days of flooding before they were drained. His rice grower’s association told him he can get away with flooding the fields every five to eight days if he measures moisture levels in the soil. Still, the worst effect on yields has been extreme weather, and his yields have dropped 30 to 40 percent in the last two years because of a drought. As a result, he has started planting fewer fields during droughts since investments in seeds and fertilizer will almost surely be lost, he says.

Another Colombian farmer, Oscar Perez, plants 320 acres of rice annually, in addition to corn and cotton, on his farm in the hot and humid area of Cordoba near the northern Colombian coast on the Caribbean. Following the advice of Fedearroz and CIAT, Perez has begun not planting fields to avoid losing seed and incurring the expense of fertilizers and labor costs that cannot be recovered.

“When there is no rain, you just don’t produce,” says Perez, who has operated his farm for the past 15 years. Perez has begun taking advantage of better weather forecasting and also avoids applying fertilizer when heavy rains are predicted so it will not be washed away. In addition, he is using better seed selection to gain improved yields for conditions that are determined to be wet, dry, or moderate that season.

The variety of methods that are being called “climate-smart” vary greatly and cut across all areas of farming. For example, climate-smart-inspired agricultural changes in rice farming in Vietnam include a greater focus on more effectively alternating the flooding and drying of rice paddies. The rice farmers do not rely on traditional transplanting of rice seedlings into flooded fields as a means of weed control. That reduces the release of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, which typically emanates from flooded fields.

Rather, the method now being used in Vietnam relies more on chemicals to control weeds. The use of chemicals can contaminate the water, but the tradeoff means the rice crop is spared from the debilitating effects of drought, while farmers achieve intensified production and increased yields. As a result, farmers in Vietnam have reduced the amount of seed used per field by 70 percent, reduced water use by 33 percent, and cut the application of nitrogen fertilizer by 25 percent, according to CGIAR research. In addition to detailed monitoring of water levels in the soil, the farmers use high-yield seeds bred with traits that can withstand the occasional soaking of saltwater caused by rising seas.

Chris Hegadorn, director of global food security at the U.S. State Department, said that the U.S. decision to join the Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture represents an important step in “integrating climate change policies into all areas of our work.” He added that climate-smart agriculture “will help protect lives and livelihoods, especially for the tens of millions of vulnerable small-holder farmers around the world.”

But some experts involved with global development say that, in itself, climate-smart agriculture will be insufficient in a world of rising temperatures and soaring populations, especially in places like Africa. Interventions at the farm level can only go so far if water is unavailable or soils degrade. It’s necessary, experts say, to look beyond the farm and manage entire landscapes that support people, food production, and nature.

Seth Shames, director of policy at the non-profit group, EcoAgriculture, says that preserving the ecosystems of an area — including forests and wetlands — will become an essential part of supporting agriculture. But he warns that if serious efforts aren’t made to slow climate change, even the most innovative agricultural techniques can only accomplish so much.

“If projections are correct, the destruction that will occur in agriculture will be so severe that those kinds of solutions will be swamped by reality and God knows what will happen,” says Shames. “In 20 to 25 years we will get to a point in some places that either it will be too hot, too dry, too wet, or too cold for the crops you are planting, and you will have to put something else in its place, which will be incredibly disruptive at best.”

 on: Feb 10, 2016, 06:40 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

Scientists tinker with plant receptors, produce drought-resistant crops

By tweaking a plant's ability to regulate water, scientists could make plants that survive longer in dry conditions.

By Claire Felter, Staff Writer 2/10/2016

Evidence of increasing levels of drought in some regions puts at risk the ability to successfully grow crops there. But what if plants could better keep their water supply from shrinking?

Scientists have tweaked plants’ chemical receptors that regulate water use so that they respond to a commonly used fungicide and, as a result, conserve water. The findings, which were published Wednesday in the journal Nature, may allow for crops to become more resistant to drought and heat stress.

Plants geneticists have known for some time that plants contain receptors that signal whether to conserve water or use it, but for years scientists were unable to locate these receptors. In 2009, a number of research teams pinpointed the receptors’ location and began investigating ways to manipulate them to improve crop production. One of those teams was led by University of California, Riverside, plant biologist Sean Cutler, and the group’s most recent work changes the way plant receptors work.

Normally, when a plant is not receiving sufficient water, it begins to increase production of abscisic acid (ABA). The chemical acts as the catalyst for abscisic acid receptors to regulate water use. And those receptors, which are part of a larger signaling network, do that by controlling the aperture of the plant’s stomata, or pores. The less open the pores are, the less water escapes.

“Plants face this intrinsic trade-off between growing and consuming water. There’s a need for the plant to coordinate its growth with how much water is available,” Cutler told the Monitor. “And plants use a small molecule hormone called abscisic acid to sort of make that signaling occur.”

So Cutler and his colleagues developed a new version of the ABA receptor that, when exposed to a commonly used fungicide called mandipropamid, responded in the same way it typically does to abscisic acid. The mandipropamid signaled the guard cells, which surround the stomata, to close the pores in order to keep water vapor in, rather than allowing it to escape in exchange for carbon dioxide.

Mandipropamid was a win-win for the research team: the chemical provided the research team with successful response by the altered receptor, and it had already passed the regulatory hurdles for use on farms.

“We wanted to take a molecule that was already used in agriculture so it had already gone through all those hurdles,” says Cutler. “We knew there was no intrinsic barrier to it being used in the field.”

They tested the receptors in Arabidopsis, an edible plant in the mustard family that is widely used in genetic testing, but they also saw the receptors work in tomato plants, a crop grown on almost every continent.

Repurposing the agrochemical in this way is providing one solution to a serious global issue: food security. Though substantially more crops will be needed in the near future to support the world's population, large quantities of potential food are being lost to drought each year, says Cutler. And although the findings of Cutler and his colleagues don’t yet address instances of extreme drought, common cases where farmers lose, say, one third of their crop yields could be resolved by the technique.

“All crops – all plants – need water to grow,” says Cutler. “We’re not going to turn tomatoes or corn into cacti, but what we’re trying to do is recover as much of the yield that gets lost to moderate drought.”

Altering the ABA receptor, however, does mean these plants better equipped to handle drought would be genetically modified ones. Some plant scientists claim that, by introducing foreign genes into plants, consequences like harmful mutations or the introduction of new pathogens could arise. Cutler argues that the new ABA receptor isn’t entirely foreign: they’re placing a plant gene back into a plant.

“We’re tinkering with the plant gene. We’re not putting back in things that were never ever there,” says Cutler.

Now the research team will spend more time investigating tomato plants and other widely-used crops to see how well they perform with the new receptors. They also hope to make the reprogrammed receptors as targeted as possible, so as to help the plant conserve water while avoiding any undesirable effects, like a plant’s leaves drying out and turning yellow.

“It will, we believe, allow us to be very precise in the physiological effects that we get and, we hope, minimize whatever negative effects there could be from activating it in other tissues or cell types besides those guard cells,” Cutler says.

Pages: 1 ... 3 4 [5] 6 7 ... 10