Daily Archives: July 22, 2016

The World Is Blue, Sylvia A. Earle

A Silent Spring for our era, this eloquent, urgent, fascinating book reveals how just 50 years of swift and dangerous oceanic change threatens the very existence of life on Earth. Legendary marine scientist Sylvia Earle portrays a planet teetering on the brink of irreversible environmental crisis.

In recent decades we’ve learned more about the ocean than in all previous human history combined. But, even as our knowledge has exploded, so too has our power to upset the delicate balance of this complex organism. Modern overexploitation has driven many species to the verge of extinction, from tiny but indispensable biota to magnificent creatures like tuna, swordfish, and great whales. Since the mid-20th century about half our coral reefs have died or suffered sharp decline; hundreds of oxygen-deprived “dead zones” blight our coastal waters; and toxic pollutants afflict every level of the food chain.

Fortunately, there is reason for hope, but what we do—or fail to do—in the next ten years may well resonate for the next ten thousand. The ultimate goal, Earle argues passionately and persuasively, is to find responsible, renewable strategies that safeguard the natural systems that sustain us. The first step is to understand and act upon the wise message of this accessible, insightful, and compelling book.

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Microbes in our guts have been with us for millions of years

Different types of gut microbes have coevolved with humans for millions of years.

J. Luecke/University of Texas at Austin

By Ann GibbonsJul. 21, 2016 , 2:00 PM

Humans did not evolve alone. Tens of trillions of microbes have followed us on our journey from prehistoric ape, evolving with us along the way, according to a new study. But the work also finds that we’ve lost some of the ancient microbes that still inhabit our great ape cousins, which could explain some human diseases and even obesity and mental disorders.

Researchers have known for some time that humans and the other great apes harbor many types of bacteria, especially in their guts, a collection known as the microbiome. But where did these microbes come from: our ancient ancestors, or our environment? A study of fecal bacteria across all mammals suggested that the microbes are more likely to be inherited than acquired from the environment. But other studies have found that diet plays a major role in shaping the bacteria in our guts.

To solve the mystery, Andrew Moeller turned to wild apes. As part of his doctoral dissertation, the evolutionary biologist, now a postdoc at the University of California, Berkeley, studied gut bacteria isolated from fecal samples from 47 chimpanzees from Tanzania, 24 bonobos from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 24 gorillas from Cameroon, and 16 humans from Connecticut. In these samples, he and colleagues at the University of Texas (UT), Austin, compared the DNA sequences of a single rapidly evolving gene that is common in the gut bacteria in apes, including humans. They then sorted the different DNA gene sequences into family trees.

It turns out that most of our gut microbes have been evolving with us for a long time. Moeller found that two of three major families of gut bacteria in apes and humans trace their origins to a common ancestor more than 15 million years ago, not primarily to bugs picked up from their environment. But as the different species of apes diverged from this ancestor, their gut bacteria also split into new strains, and coevolved in parallel (a process known as cospeciation) to adapt to differences in the diets, habitats, and diseases in the gastrointestinal tracts of their hosts, the team reports today in Science. Today, these microbes are finely adapted to help train our immune systems, guide the development of our intestines, and even modulate our moods and behaviors.

“It’s surprising that our gut microbes, which we could get from many sources in the environment, have actually been coevolving inside us for such a long time,” says project leader Howard Ochman, an evolutionary biologist at UT Austin.

…(read more).

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New agriculture reform bill would lift curtain on secretive food lobby practices

Boards supporting sectors of the agricultural industry from eggs to beef to avocados are cited in the new bill. Photograph: Alamy

Sam Thielman in New York Thursday 14 July 2016 06.00 EDT

Republican senator Mike Lee and New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker’s proposed law would require agricultural marketing programs to make budgets public

A new bill proposing restrictions on lucrative and controversial government-backed farm promotion programs is expected to be introduced by Utah Republican senator Mike Lee and New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker on Thursday.

The move would affect the American Egg Board, the body revealed by the Guardian last year to have used its funds to wage a massive and secret campaign against Hampton Creek, a startup selling egg-free mayonnaise.

The law would broadly reform US Department of Agriculture marketing boards that allow small groups of executives, usually representatives from the largest agricultural producers, to spend funds collected from their smaller competitors, ostensibly to promote American farming.

Boards supporting sectors of the agricultural industry from eggs to beef to avocados are cited in the new bill.

Agricultural marketing programs, or “checkoff” programs, collect levies on commodities made in the US and use the funds to promote those commodities. But the restrictions on those funds are not always obeyed by the boards themselves, say the senators.

The bill would make the budgets of checkoff programs public. It would also require the programs to disclose any use of outside contractors, such as publicity firms or advertising agencies.

Lee, a conservative who champions limited government and often criticizes federal programs for “waste, fraud and abuse”, is rarely seen agreeing with the more liberal Booker, but here the issue unites environmentalists and capitalists.

…(read more).

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Statement from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on the Signing of the Global Food Security Act | USDA Newsroom

Statement from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on the Signing of the Global Food Security Act

WASHINGTON, July 20, 2016 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today released the following statement on S.1252, the Global Food Security Act of 2016, signed by President Obama today:

“Agriculture’s vital role in our economic success and national security is a bond that we share with other nations all over the world. With agricultural development as a core component of his strategy, President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative has achieved impressive results in combating poverty and hunger, reaching millions of small farmers with tools and technologies and delivering critical nutrition to millions of children. In effect, Feed the Future represents the best of our American values-compassion, innovation, collaboration, and progress toward a world free of hunger and inequality. As the world and our climate continue to change, we know that our work must continue. With the signing of the Global Food Security Act by the President today, we can be assured that this important work will carry on long past this Administration. USDA has been committed to ensuring that our contributions – through research and innovation, capacity building, technical assistance to build agricultural productivity, and school feeding programs– produced meaningful results. I am grateful that with the enactment of this legislation, the United States will continue to play a leading role in helping create a more food secure world and, therefore, a more secure United States of America.”

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Obama signs Global Food Security Act to end hunger

Fernanda Crescente, USA TODAY 1:26 p.m. EDT July 21, 2016

(Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP)

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan bill promoting global food security, resilience and nutrition could make hunger history, President Obama said Wednesday during the White House Summit on Global Development.

The Global Food Security Act of 2016, which the president signed before attending the summit, determined it is in the U.S. national security interest to accelerate growth that reduces poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

“Development isn’t charity,” Obama said. “It’s one of the smartest investments we can make in our shared future, in our security, in our prosperity.”

Establishing a correlation between conflict and the violation of basic human dignity, Obama said these investments would “endure well into the future.” The new law allocates over $7 billion to initiatives that focus on agriculture, small-scale food producers and the nutrition of women and children worldwide.

The summit reinforced Obama’s efforts to help other countries improve their standards of living, mostly through programs directly targeting poverty, food security and health.

“No society can flourish, children can’t flourish if they’re going hungry,” Obama said. “We can’t ask a child to feed her mind when she can barely feed her stomach.”

A panel analyzing Feed for the Future, a 2009 Obama initiative created to address spikes in world food prices, opened the day of events. Since its foundation, Feed the Future has worked with several foreign nations to prioritize food security.

“The most critical part of Feed the Future is its ability to listen to countries and respond to the need of those countries,” said Agnes Kalibata, president of the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa.

In 2015 alone, Feed the Future helped over 9 million small-scale farmers and rural families adopt practices that improved agricultural productivity, boosting their incomes by more than $800 million.

…(read more)

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Rewriting Africa’s Agricultural Narrative | Inter Press Service

By Friday Phiri

Albert Kanga’s plantain farm on the outskirts of Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

ABIDJAN, Cote d’Ivoire, Jul 18 2016 (IPS) – Albert Kanga Azaguie no longer considers himself a smallholder farmer. By learning and monitoring the supply and demand value chains of one of the country’s staple crops, plantain (similar to bananas), Kanga ventured into off-season production to sell his produce at relatively higher prices.

“I am now a big farmer. The logic is simple: I deal in off-season plantain. When there is almost nothing on the market, mine is ready and therefore sells at a higher price,” says Kanga, who owns a 15 Ha plantain farm 30 kilometres from Abidjan, the Ivorian capital.

Harvesting 12 tonnes on average per hectare, Kanga is one of a few farmers re-writing the African story on agriculture, defying the common tale of a poor, hungry and food-insecure region with more than 232 million undernourished people – approximately one in four.

Albert Kanga on his plantain farm. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

With an estimated food import bill valued at 35.4 billion dollars in 2015, experts consider this scenario ironic because of Africa’s potential, boasting 60 percent of the world’s unused arable land, and where 60 percent of the workforce is employed in agriculture, accounting for roughly a third of the continent’s GDP.

The question is why? Several reasons emerge which include structural challenges rooted in poor infrastructure, governance and weak market value chains and institutions, resulting in low productivity. Additionally, women, who form the backbone of agricultural labour, are systematically discriminated against in terms of land ownership and other incentives such as credit and inputs, limiting their opportunities to benefit from agricultural value chains.

“Women own only one percent of land in Africa, receive one percent of agricultural credit and yet, constitute the majority of the agricultural labour force,” says Buba Khan, Africa Advocacy Officer at ActionAid.

Khan believes Africa may not be able to achieve food security, let alone sovereignty, if women remain marginalised in terms of land rights, and the World Bank Agenda for Global Food System sourcebook supports the ‘closing the gender gap’ argument.

According to the sourcebook, ensuring that women have the same access to assets, inputs, and services in agriculture as men could increase women’s yields on farms by 20-30 percent and potentially reduce the number of hungry people by 12-17 percent.

But empowering women is just one of the key pieces to the puzzle. According to the African Development Bank’s Feeding Africa agenda, number two on its agenda is dealing with deep-seated structural challenges, requiring ambition and investments.

According to the Bank’s analysis, transforming agricultural value chains would require approximately 280-340 billion dollars over the next decade, and this would likely create new markets worth 55-65 billion dollars per year by 2025. And the AfDB envisages quadrupling its investments from a current annual average of US 612 million to about 2.4 billion dollars to achieve this ambition.

…(read more).

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Biodiversity, GMOs, Gene Drives and the Militarised Mind | Inter Press Service

By Dr Vandana Shiva

TRANSCEND Member Prof. Vandana Shiva is a physicist, ecofeminist, philosopher, activist, and author of more than 20 books and 500 papers. She is the founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and has campaigned for biodiversity, conservation and farmers’ rights, winning the Right Livelihood Award [Alternative Nobel
Prize] in 1993. She is executive director of the Navdanya Trust.

NEW DELHI, Jul 18 2016 (IPS) – A recent report from the National Academy of Science of The United States, titled Gene Drives on the Horizon : Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty, and Aligning Research with Public Values”, warns:

Dr Vandana Shiva

“One possible goal of release of a gene-drive modified organism is to cause the extinction of the target species or a drastic reduction in its abundance.”

Gene Drives have been called “mutagenic chain reactions”, and are to the biological world what chain reactions are to the nuclear world. The Guardian describes Gene Drives as the “gene bomb”.

Kevin Esvelt of MIT exclaims “a release anywhere is likely to be a release everywhere”, and asks “Do you really have the right to run an experiment where if you screw up, it affects the whole world?”

The NAS report cites the case of wiping out amaranth as an example of “potential benefit”. Yet, the “magical technology” of Gene Drives remains a Ghost, or the Department of Defence of the United States Government’s secret “weapon” to continue its War on Amaranthus Culturis.

The aforementioned study on ghost-tech was sponsored by DARPA (The Pentagon’s Research Ghost) and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (The ghost of the Microsoft Monopoly). DARPA has been busy.

Interestingly, Microsoft BASIC was developed on a DARPA Supercomputer across the street from MIT, at Harvard. Where does DARPA end and MIT start? Where does Microsoft end and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation start.

The orientation of our technologies has been dictated by the DARPA-Mind, a Mechanical Mind trained in War, and Gates continues to colonise meaning, just as gates had done to our lands, and the Green Revolution has done to our food.

Our planet has evolved, in balance, creating balance, for 4.6 billion years. Homo sapiens emerged around 200,000 years ago. About 10,000 years ago, Peasants developed the selection and breeding of seeds and domesticated agriculture began.

Human creativity combined with nature to provide the abundance that allowed the evolution of societies and species. Humanity and Nature renewed each other, sustaining civilisation and providing the potential for the Industrial Revolution.

75 years ago DARPA-Mind began its Extermination Experiment, and sent humanity off-axis. The Chemicals, Materials, and Technologies acquired during “The War”, and patented (interestingly, the Internal Combustion Engine Patent belongs to Texaco), were forced on Amaranthus Culturis – The Cultures of Living Cycles.

DARPA-Mind called it “The Green Revolution”, colonised the meanings of those two words, and began Stockpiling Chemicals of War in Our Fields; there is nothing “green” or “revolutionary” about Extermination, it must be a secret service code name for the assault that now has the names “Gene Drives”, “CRISPR”, or more accurately, Genetic Engineering.

“CASE STUDY 6: CONTROLLING PALMER AMARANTH TO INCREASE AGRICULTURE PRODUCTIVITY

Objective: Create gene drives in Palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri also called pigweed), to reduce or eliminate the weed on agricultural fields in the Southern United States.


Rationale: Palmer amaranth infests agricultural fields throughout the American South. It has evolved resistance to the herbicide glyphosate, the world’s most-used herbicide (Powles, 2008), and this resistance has be- come geographically widespread.”

Palmer Amaranth has emerged as one of the superweeds. Instead of seeing the emergence of Palmer Amaranth as a superweed, as a result of the failure of the misguided approach of Herbicide Resistant GMOs, Monsanto & Co – which includes investors, scientists, corporations, DARPA, and Gates, are now rushing to drive the Amaranth species to extinction through the deployment of an untested Tool.

The tool of gene editing and gene drives – genetic “Copy-Paste”. Untested DARPA-Mind Tools have real impacts on our world. Intelligence requires that we stop, and assess why the tool of GMOs is creating superweeds, instead of controlling weeds, as it promised. Such assessment is real Science.

The ‘DARPA-Mind report’ casually states potential harm:

“Gene drives developed for agricultural purposes could also have adverse effects on human well- being. Transfer of a suppression drive to a non-target wild species could have both adverse environmental outcomes and harmful effects on vegetable crops, for example. Palmer amaranth in Case Study 6 is a damaging weed in the United States, but related Amaranthus species are cultivated for food in in Mexico, South America, India, and China.”

A scientific assessment would tell us that plants evolve resistance to herbicides which are supposed to kill them because they have intelligence, and they evolve. Denial of intelligence in life, and denial of evolution is unscientific. 107 Nobel Laureates – including two that have long passed on – “signed” a letter in support Genetic Engineering a few days ago. Clearly ‘Science’ did not prompt that “communication”.

…(read more).

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Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals: The Sooner, the Better

By Phillip Kaeding

The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals are projected onto UN headquarters. UN Photo/Cia Pak

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 19 2016 (IPS) – The first 1000 days after the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals are critical, according to a report published last week, urging UN member states to take action quickly.

“It’s a little bit like a pension,” Elizabeth Stuart of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) says, “the longer you leave paying into a pension, the more expensive it gets… The SDGs work the same way.”

The ODI compared current progress on some of the development goals with the goals and targets and showed that a delay of six years in Sub-Saharan Africa can almost double the effort that have to be put into achieving goals such as universal birth registration.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are supposed to be attained by 2030. A first review is in progress at the moment as part of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, although officially the goals have only been in place for 7 months, and most member states are yet to even gather baseline data, showing where they are beginning from.

Without explicit data, experts think that it will be difficult to motivate states to start working on the SDGs early. That is why the report “Leaving no one behind” emphasizes the benefits of tackling the most urgent development problems as soon as possible.

“It’s a little bit like a pension… the longer you leave paying into a pension, the more expensive it gets… The SDGs work the same way.” — Elizabeth Stuart, ODI.

At a high-level meeting here on Monday, many states expressed their approval of a quick start to implementation. Lilianne Ploumen, Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation stated that “you cannot only point at others, you also have to point to yourself”.

For Boima Kamara, Liberian Minister of Finance, it is important to “give voice to those who are marginalized” as a way to ensure that no one is left behind. Of course, apart from the unanimous approval of the 2030 Agenda, all participants at the event highlighted their own countries’ milestones.

However, one of the main issues is, as the Colombian representative Simon Gaviria said, that ‘leaving no one behind’ can mean “everything, and nothing, at the same time”. Each country therefore has to set a focus and re-structure the Agenda according to its own national context.

…(read more).

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Forests: To Farm or Not to Farm? This Is the Question!

By Baher Kamal
Credit: FAO

ROME, Jul 19 2016 (IPS) – The dilemma is critical: on the one hand, there is an absolute need to produce more food for the world’s steadily growing population; on the other, there is pressing urgency to halt -and further revert- the increasing trend to deplete the forests, which are as necessary for human survival as it is for ensuring their dietary needs.

So what is at stake ? Forests play a major role in sustainable agricultural development through a host of channels, including: water cycle, soil conservation, carbon sequestration, natural pest control, influencing local climates and providing habitat protection for pollinators and other species.

But agriculture accounts for the lion’s share of the conversion of forests. In the tropics and subtropics large-scale commercial agriculture and local subsistence agriculture are responsible for about 40 per cent and 33 per cent of forest conversion, respectively, and the remaining 27 per cent of deforestation happens due to urban growth, infrastructure expansion and mining.

How to achieve the two vital objectives? The top United Nations organisation dealing with food and agriculture speaks loud and clear while providing specific data.

“While agriculture remains the most significant driver of global deforestation, there is an urgent need to promote more positive interactions between agriculture and forestry to build sustainable agricultural systems and improve food security, says UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

This has been the key message of the FAO flagship publication The State of the World’s Forests, presented on July 18 at the opening of the one-week Session (Rome, 18-22 July) of the FAO Committee on Forestry (COFO).

“The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as the Paris Agreement on climate change, recognises that we can no longer look at food security and the management of natural resources separately,” says FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

…(read more).

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