Whether it’s accompanying chips or slathered on a burger, ketchup is our trusted companion as BBQ season approaches.
But it seems the popular condiment might have a new look very soon.
That’s because Heinz plans to roll out completely renewable paper bottles, to help the environment.
The new bottles will be made with wood pulp and will be available alongside the current glass and plastic options.
And the good news is that these paper bottles will not affect the taste of the ketchup.
The new containers will be made in partnership with Pulpex – which also created a paper bottle for whisky brand Jonnie Walker – and are part of Heinz’s long-term plan to make all of its packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.
Recently, scientists at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in the US have developed bacteria-killing biodegradable food packaging that addresses two major concerns of the food industry today – food waste and eco-friendliness.
Heavy rain in most of Ivory Coast’s cocoa-growing regions last week will spur growth of the April-to-September mid-crop but could cause mouldy beans, farmers said on Monday.
Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer, is in its rainy season which runs from April to mid-November.
Farmers across the country said the mid-crop harvest was picking up, with lots of beans leaving plantations.
However, heavy rain and overcast weather in the western region of Soubre, at the heart of the cocoa belt, and in the southern region of Agboville are making it difficult to properly dry the beans, farmers said.
“Drying time is becoming very long. There is a risk of having mouldy beans in our deliveries in the coming weeks,” said Jean Bouadou, who farms near Soubre, where 67.8 millimetres (mm) of rain fell last week, 35.3 mm above the five-year average.
Recently, scientists at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in the US have developed bacteria-killing biodegradable food packaging that addresses two major concerns of the food industry today – food waste and eco-friendliness.
In the eastern region of Abengourou and the southern region of Divo, where rains were also well above the average, farmers said growing conditions were excellent and they expected a plentiful mid-crop harvest.
In the centre-western region of Daloa, where rains were above average, and in the central regions of Bongouanou and Yamoussoukro, where rains were below average, farmers said trees looked good, with many large ripening pods.
“If it continues to rain, the mid-crop will not end abruptly,” said Moustapha Sanon, who farms near Daloa, where 28.4 mm of rain fell last week, 5.4 mm above the average.
Average temperatures ranged from 27 to 30.5 degrees Celsius last week.
In England, the number of squashed bugs declined by 65 per cent. Welsh data showed a 55 per cent decline, while Scotland recorded a decline of 28 per cent.
The results reveal “huge losses,” warns Buglife Director of communications and fundraising Paul Hetherington.
“It’s likely that things will get worse rather than better without us doing potentially quite a lot of work to intervene,” he adds.
Habitat destruction, pesticide use, and climate change have all contributed to the stark decline.
Why do insect declines matter?
Flying bugs are critical for biodiversity.
Insects are food for animals such as birds, bats, reptiles, and fish. They also perform vital roles such as pollination of crops and wildflowers and nutrient recycling. Beetles, wasps, and dragonfly families also act as predators for smaller insects helping with pest control.
If they die out, the entire ecosystem – and food production system – would suffer.
“We tend to take [insects] for granted, they’re in the background and we don’t notice them, but they are absolutely crucial to life as we know it,” Hetherington says.
“If we lost pollinators in the UK alone, you’d be putting £2 billion ( € 2.37 billion) on your food bill.
“We’re worried about inflation now, imagine how bad inflation would be then.
“[If we lose] dung beetles, another quarter of a billion pounds on our food bills every year.”
The environmental effects would also be catastrophic.
If insect declines aren’t halted, eight out of ten wildflower species in the UK could disappear.
The majority of songbirds would die out, with just four or five species able to survive without healthy insect-populations.
What can we do to reverse these declines?
The survey makes for sobering reading, but it’s not too late to save flying bugs.
“On the positive side, because [insects] have relatively short life spans, you can turn things around in a fairly short space of time,” Hetherington says.
A fast-spreading bacteria could cause an olive-oil apocalypse.
“If we do the right things, in the right places, we can make a difference.”
Governments have a large role to play too, and can limit habitat loss and reduce mass pesticide usage.
But individuals can play their part too. Letting grass grow long and sowing wildflowers in gardens are crucial to helping increase insect populations.
“If you plant a group of herbs, and you let them flower, you’ve created the equivalent of a motorway service station, where pollinators can drop off, fill themselves up, and be able to make the distance to the next really good piece of habitat,” he says.
He also encouraged people to download the Buglife app and start recording bug-splats.
“The more people taking part in the survey, the better the data will be, and the more we will be able to pinpoint what’s going on at a much smaller level.”
PFAS-tainted sewage sludge is used as fertilizer in fields and report finds that about 20m acres of cropland could be contaminated.
About 20m acres of cropland in the United States may be contaminated from PFAS-tainted sewage sludge that has been used as fertilizer, a new report estimates.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 9,000 compounds used to make products heat-, water- or stain-resistant. Known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t naturally break down, they have been linked to cancer, thyroid disruption, liver problems, birth defects, immunosuppression and more.
Dozens of industries use PFAS in thousands of consumer products, and often discharge the chemicals into the nation’s sewer system.
The analysis, conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), is an attempt to understand the scope of cropland contamination stemming from sewage sludge, or biosolids. Regulators don’t require sludge to be tested for PFAS or closely track where its spread, and public health advocates warn the practice is poisoning the nation’s food supply.
“We don’t know the full scope of the contamination problem created by PFAS in sludge, and we may never know, because EPA has not made it a priority for states and local governments to track, test and report on,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s legislative policy director.
All sewage sludge is thought to contain the dangerous chemicals, and the compounds have recently been found to be contaminating crops, cattle, water and humans on farms where biosolids were spread.
Sludge is a byproduct of the wastewater treatment process that’s a mix of human excrement and industrial waste, like PFAS, that’s discharged from industry’s pipes. Sludge disposal can be expensive so the waste management industry is increasingly repackaging it as fertilizer because excrement is rich in plant nutrients.
EWG found Ohio keeps the most precise records of any state, and sludge has been applied to 5% of its farmland since 2011. Extrapolating that across the rest of the country would mean about 20m acres are contaminated with at least some level of PFAS. Faber called the estimate “conservative”.
EPA records show over 19bn pounds of sludge has been used as fertilizer since 2016 in the 41 states where the agency tracks the amount of sludge that’s spread, but not the location. It’s estimated that 60% of the nation’s sludge is spread on cropland or other fields annually.
A fast-spreading bacteria could cause an olive-oil apocalypse.
The consequences are evident in the only two states to consistently check sludge and farms for PFAS contamination. In Maine, PFAS-tainted fields have already forced several farms to shut down. The chemicals end up in crops and cattle, and the public health toll exacted by contaminated food in Maine is unknown. Meanwhile, the state is investigating about 700 more fields for PFAS pollution.
“There’s no easy way to shop around this problem,” Faber said. “We shouldn’t be using PFAS-contaminated sludge to grow food and feed for animals.”
The health cost of using sludge outweighs the benefits, advocates say. Many have questioned the sense in spending billions of dollars to pull sludge out of water only to inject the substance into the nation’s food supply, and calls for a ban on the practice are growing louder.
“The EPA could today require treatment plants to test sludge for PFAS and warn farmers that they may be contaminating fields, but it has refused to do so,” Faber said.
In a blue bay that spans the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, fishermen from both countries recently aired grievances in a rare face-to-face meeting thanks to the efforts of marine biologist Jean Wiener.
The meeting, overseen by Dominican naval officers with rifles, was no small feat for Wiener, who has been forced to work on conserving this biologically sensitive region from afar — his house in Bethesda, Maryland — because of rampant violence in Haiti, his homeland. Now the prize-winning biologist stood in the Caribbean heat at the mouth of a spot called the Massacre River, trying to bring together the two sides and find a solution that will not only save their livelihoods but also vital marine resources in a region under extreme pressures from climate change.
“The constant fishing, or overfishing, in these areas has decimated an entire ecosystem,” said Rodolfo Jimenez, director of an agricultural border project in the Dominican Republic.
The Haitian fishermen, standing across from Jimenez on the beach, agreed. But they also said they were not to blame for the damage in the Monte Cristi National Park in northwestern Dominican Republic.
For marine biologist, Haitian gangs make work dangerous
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A fisherman pulls his net back onto his boat in the waters surrounding Cap-Haitien, Haiti, Friday, March 11, 2022. A prize winning marine biologist is working to bring together fishermen from Haiti and the Dominican Republic and find a solution that will not only save their livelihoods but also vital marine resources in a region under extreme pressures from climate change. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)
Wiener’s work has grown in significance over the years in large part because of charcoal vendors in Haiti who hack down trees for cooking fuel and, more recently, wade into the country’s mangroves, the tropical vegetation that is a natural barrier against the Caribbean’s destructive hurricanes.
It was the first trip for Wiener, leader of Foundation for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity, since November 2021, his absence largely attributed to the violent gangs that have engulfed the Haitian capital in recent years. Nominally present already and undermined further with the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise, the government has done little to wrest control from the gangs.
For years, Wiener used to visit Haiti every month or so, but now restricts his trips to only a few times a year while being compelled to work remotely and delegate more responsibility to staff members dispersed throughout the country. Haiti is just too dangerous otherwise. So when he does come, as he did for three weeks in March, he hopscotches the country via puddle-jumper plane; travel by road is too perilous.
It’s a conundrum that bedevils Jean and others like him around the world. As climate change plays a greater role in contributing to conflicts, that in turns makes it more difficult to carry out scientific research and work on environmental projects that seek to offset the effects of climate change. The environmental group Global Witness released a report last year noting that 2020 saw a record number of environmental activists killed around the world; the death toll of 227 was the highest number recorded for a second consecutive year, with Colombia having the highest number of recorded attacks, with 65, and Mexico second, with 30.
“The extent to which failed states make it difficult for scientists and the international scientific community to work on these issues simply means it will be more difficult to solve these problems,” said Peter Gleick, president emeritus and a senior fellow with the Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based research group that focuses on water issues.
In several reports released in October, the U.S. signaled that climate change would occupy a central role in security strategy, a policy shift that underscores how climatic changes are exacerbating long-standing problems. One of the studies identified 11 countries that were of “greatest concern,” because they were especially vulnerable to climate change and unable to deal with the attendant problems. Haiti was among them.
The Caribbean nation has the highest travel advisory from the U.S. State Department due to kidnapping, crime and civil unrest. Kidnapping, the State Department says, “is widespread and victims regularly include U.S. citizens.”
The kidnappings have persisted for years, rising significantly after the 2017 departure of a U.N. peacekeeping mission. In October, a group of missionaries was abducted by a powerful gang and held for ransom.
Campaigners say the sector leads to overexploitation of stocks while pushing up prices and aggravating local unemployment.
The March meeting took place at the mouth of a river with a name that harkens back to a bloody episode on the island of Hispaniola: The Massacre River, also the Dajabón River. Though named for an earlier massacre, it’s mostly known for when Dominican soldiers in 1937 executed thousands of Haitian families and Dominicans of Haitian descent.
The antipathy toward Haitians persists today, not least with Dominican President Luis Abinader’s newly launched plan to build a multimillion-dollar, 118-mile (190-kilometer) wall along the border.
In the end, the March trip to Haiti proved fortuitously uneventful—though danger wasn’t far away.
When Wiener visited the southwestern part of the country, his driver got wind of protesters’ plans to storm the local airport. The attack didn’t happen until after Wiener flew out, a few days later: People ran onto the tarmac and torched a small plane.
One day during his recent visit to northern Haiti, Wiener gave a snorkeling lesson. While wading in the surf, a pufferfish floated toward the group.
Wiener gently picked up the prickly fish with both hands, walked a few steps out and sent the pufferfish into the ocean.
“We really know that there’s a part, you know, where you can be in a classroom,” Wiener said later from the hotel, where a few security guards patrolled the grounds. “But it is critically important that people actually get out and touch and see and feel the environment.”
North Korea’s office workers and factory labourers have been dispatched to farming areas around the country to join a fight against drought, state media reported on Wednesday, amid concerns over prolonged food shortages.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had called for measures to improve a tense food situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic and typhoons, despite slight improvements early last year.
Drought and floods have long posed a seasonal threat to North Korea, which lacks irrigation systems and other infrastructure, and any serious natural hazards could cripple its reclusive economy already reeling from international sanctions and a near halt of trade.
The North’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper said government officials and company and factory workers joined hands with farmers nationwide in distributing pumping equipment and developing water resources in drought-prone regions.
It did not specify any damages so far, but said those efforts are aimed at countering an ongoing dry spell and bracing for an upcoming drought.
“Systematic, aggressive efforts are under way to raise public awareness and mobilise all available capabilities to prevent crop damages from drought in advance,” the paper said.
North Korea’s weather authorities on Tuesday warned of prolonged dry weather across the country until early next week, according to the official KCNA news agency.
The weather agency said last week that the average temperature for April was 2.3 Celsius (36.1 Fahrenheit) degrees higher than usual, with just 44 percent of its average rainfall nationwide.
Kilimanjaro, Mt Kenya, Rwenzoris snow caps gone by 2040s.
In Anju and Kaechon, north of the capital Pyongyang, people created ponds, added fertiliser and growth enhancer to crops, and sent tractors, trucks and cultivators to carry water to farms, Rodong said.
Another dispatch said young labour units, which are called dolgyeokdae or youth brigades and usually mobilised in major infrastructure projects, have recently built waterways in the eastern port city of Hamhung as part of efforts to modernise and expand irrigational facilities.
In March, the United Nations urged Pyongyang to reopen its borders to aid workers and food imports, saying its deepening isolation may have left many facing starvation.
North Korea has not officially confirmed any COVID-19 cases, but it had closed borders and travel restrictions, before briefly resuming trade with China early this year.
The World Food Program estimated that even before the pandemic hit, 11 million, or more than 40 percent of the population, were undernourished and required humanitarian assistance.
Responsible for roughly one-third of the world’s carbon emissions, the global food system is one of the key places for transformative action.
The satellite imagery is staggering: an Antarctic ice shelf roughly the size of New York City collapsing into the ocean. Its demise, captured and reported by NASA scientists in mid-March, was only the latest startling news from a region where temperatures have soared up to 40° Celsius (72° Fahrenheit) above average.
From melting ice sheets to tornadoes ravaging New Orleans and wildfires sweeping Texas, it’s ever clearer that the climate crisis is here, now. In its sixth major report since 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) conveyed the urgency: “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet,” said IPCC Working Group II co-chair Hans-Otto Pörtner. “Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future.”
One strategy the report highlights is agroecology. Defined in the report as a “holistic approach” to farming, agroecology as a practice includes techniques such as intercropping and planting cover crops, integrating livestock and trees into landscapes, and deploying organic farming methods to enhance biodiversity and soil health while eliminating dependence on external inputs like pesticides and synthetic fertilizer. It’s a nature-based solution that can “contribute to both climate mitigation and adaptation,” the IPCC stresses. It’s also a solution grounded in an embrace of the human rights of Indigenous and small-scale producers, as articulated in the 13 principles of agroecology from the United Nation’s High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition.
A science, a practice, and a movement
While its principles trace back millennia, agroecology’s roots in academia originate in the 1920s and 1930s as agronomists increasingly looked at how farming and ecosystems could be integrated. The term itself dates to Mexico in the late 1970s: It was there that a group of researchers were beginning to raise the alarm about a suite of relatively new agricultural practices being promoted there and in other key regions of the world. Dubbed the “Green Revolution” and underwritten initially by the Rockefeller Foundation, the approach centered on high-yielding hybrid seeds, whose vigor was only possible with annual seed purchases and massive investments in irrigation systems along with heavy use of fossil fuel-based fertilizers, herbicides, and other pesticides.
As Liz Carlisle, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, describes in Healing Grounds: Climate, Justice, and the Deep Roots of Regenerative Farming, Mexican scientist Efraím Hernández Xolocotzi, Mexican plant pathologist Roberto García Espinosa, and Californian ecologist Steve Gliessman were documenting how agricultural practices long embraced by Indigenous Mayan farmers in Mesoamerica were producing high yields without the financial and ecological costs of Green Revolution methods. As they spent time in the field, the colleagues “came to believe that these farmers’ approaches were far more effective than the ones being promoted by their own institution,” Carlisle writes. They decided to develop a new academic program, one that would put these farmers’ voices “front and center.”
It was the summer of 1978 when they launched a master’s degree program at the Colegio Superior de Agricultura Tropical. The focus? What they called “agroecology.” From the beginning, they grounded the concept in wisdom from Indigenous communities and in the voices of farmers themselves. Echoes of this work reverberate in the IPCC report today, whose authors stress agroecology’s roots in Indigenous and local knowledge around the world.
Agroecology proponents are quick to underscore that the concept refers not simply to these agricultural practices and the academic field that has blossomed around them, but as Maywa Montenegro, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told Mongabay, “The field of agroecology includes the academy, but very importantly is not limited to it. Agroecology is a science, practice, and a movement.”
Shifting resources and local resilience
While the new IPCC report helps underscore just how much potential agroecology holds, the movement element of agroecology is critical because achieving the mitigation and adaptation potentials of agroecology will require major transformations in policy—and a substantial shift in public and private resources.
The report shows what benefits could accrue from such a shift, particularly for greater climate resilience. By building healthy soil, agroecological practices like agroforestry provide “buffers against drought,” note the IPCC authors, and “reduce soil erosion during storms.” Adopting agroforestry—integrating trees into farming landscapes—”shelters stock and crops in heat waves.” And agroecology, which emphasizes multi-cropping, leads to increased “resilience to disease and pests,” say the authors. With “high confidence,” they write, “adoption of agroecology principles and practices will be highly beneficial to maintaining healthy, productive food systems under climate change.”
Agroecology also significantly reduces food system emissions. In one study the IPCC cites, a European Union-wide shift toward agroecology would cut the region’s emissions by 47% compared with 2010 levels without affecting its food security. Another cited study echoed this finding, showing that these practices don’t just hold yields steady, but can actually increase them: Small-scale farmers adopting agroecological practices across Asia, Africa and Latin America on farms of 2 hectares (5 acres) or smaller saw their yields jump by 25%.
The resiliency benefits of agroecological practices in the face of the climate crisis have been well-documented. Perhaps nowhere has this mattered more than in the Philippines. Made up of more than 7,600 islands, the country’s geography has made it one of the most at risk from the climate crisis, but leaders in the agroecology movement there have seen the results of decades of work. Cris Panerio, the national coordinator of a food and farming NGO called MASIPAG at the forefront of that organizing, told Mongabay that their farmers have reported recovering faster after being hit by typhoons and floods—extreme weather events made worse by the climate crisis—compared with their conventional counterparts. They credit agroecological practices, including planting rice varieties their farmers have bred for adaptation to such conditions.
Through farmer-led and participatory rice-breeding projects, MASIPAG has collected and developed more than 2,000 rice varieties since 1985. “In contrast to the hybrid rice developed by IRRI [International Rice Research Institute] or PhilRice [Philippine Rice Research Institute],” Panerio explained, “seeds that need to be purchased year after year and require synthetic inputs to deliver high yields, MASIPAG varieties can be saved and shared among farmers, and flourish without pesticides or synthetic fertilizer.” Today, MASIPAG farmers are independent from the formal rice breeding sector, says Panerio, tapping their own seed banks and a central backup seed bank should they need it.
Panerio’s group fosters farmer-to-farmer learning, emphasizing rice and habitat diversity. In the rice fields of their members, Panerio describes fish ponds integrated with raised beds growing a variety of vegetables, and livestock incorporated onto farms. Native forest and fruit trees are also included whenever possible. “You can only imagine the biomass from such a farm system,” Panerio said, “with everything, except the food itself and firewood, turned into biofertilizers through composting or mulching.” All this adds up to a much smaller carbon footprint than that of a farm dependent on purchased seeds and fossil fuel-based pesticides and fertilizer.
An ‘explicit’ climate solution
The benefits of such agroecological approaches led the authors of this IPCC report to emphasize their feasibility and effectiveness as a climate solution. As Cornell University professor Rachel Bezner Kerr, a coordinating lead author on the chapter on food, fiber and ecosystem products, told Mongabay, previous IPCC reports have mentioned agroecology, “but this report is highlighting the emerging and increased evidence around agroecology as an adaptation and mitigation solution.” Indeed, agroecology is mentioned throughout the report, including in the chapter on health and, importantly, Bezner Kerr notes, it’s included in the Summary Report for Policymakers. For Bezner Kerr, this is a sign of the “deeper understanding of humanity’s dependence on biodiversity and healthy ecosystems. Agroecology is one of those strategies that links people to nature in a very explicit way.”
It’s this dependency Bezner Kerr has been documenting through decades of research in partnership with farming communities, particularly in Malawi where she’s been conducting fieldwork in partnership with a local nonprofit as part of a 22-year-long research collaboration. When reached by Skype, Bezner Kerr described the work there, partnering with farmers to document food security, nutrition and biodiversity on the landscapes where farmers have adopted agroecology approaches. Bezner Kerr emphasized that this is exactly the kind of participatory learning the report lauds: “The report emphasizes the evidence that inclusive adaptation strategies are essential, and agroecology is one of those approaches that emphasizes co-knowledge production, participatory and inclusive methods. It’s not just about adding compost to soil, it’s much more than that.”
For agroecology critics, a common charge is that it cannot scale, but Bezner Kerr argues it’s quite the opposite: agroecology “lends itself to scaling out because it relies on farmer-to-farmer methodologies, local knowledge, available resources, and adaptation to local context.” Indeed, many agroecological efforts around the world operate across significant landscape scales: Panerio’s organization in the Philippines includes a network of hundreds of organizations reaching 30,000 farmers directly, and roughly three times as many through those farmers’ relationships. In another example, community managed natural farming efforts in Andhra Pradesh, India, now include 700,000 farmer participants. Globally, La Via Campesina, which was founded in the mid-1990s, now represents more than 300 million smallholder farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolks, Indigenous peoples, agricultural and food workers, landless peoples, women, youth, consumers, urban food-insecure people, and NGOs.
In his 1981 book The Gift of Good Land, U.S. farmer and poet Wendell Berry urged us to address our thorniest crises by “solving for pattern.” A poetic phrase for systems thinking, solving for pattern is a call for solutions that create a cascade of co-benefits. Agroecology is just such a solution. For those farmers in the Philippines, it has meant resilience in the face of extreme climate shocks while producing nourishing food for their own communities and achieving independence from expensive inputs. For the farmers Bezner Kerr is working with in Malawi, it means agricultural approaches that boost local biodiversity, not diminish it.
The counterpoint—what my mother Frances Moore Lappé and I called “solving by dissection” in our book Hope’s Edge—is the tactic of applying a technical fix to a discrete aspect of a crisis, without considering the whole and triggering a cascade of consequences. As Berry wrote, such a “solution” is dangerous “because it acts destructively upon the larger patterns in which it is contained. It acts destructively upon those patterns … because it is formed in ignorance or disregard of them.”
For years, the IPCC has warned against “solve by dissection” responses to the climate crisis, and in this latest report the authors underscore the concern even more clearly. As Maarten van Aalst, a contributing lead author, noted: “We have explicitly added the notion that responses to climate change can generate significant risks of their own: maladaptation inadvertently creating or aggravating risks.”
For Bezner Kerr, a food system maladaptation would be the rush to respond to droughts by promoting irrigation, for example. “In the short term, irrigation can reduce climate risks for producers and consumers,” she said, “but if done in an area with limited groundwater and with capital-intensive irrigation, it can lead to groundwater depletion, salinization, and worsening inequalities and debt loads for small-scale producers.” In contrast, agroecology can help farmers thrive in drought conditions by using seeds bred for drought tolerance, building soil organic matter so the land can retain more water, or using swales and other techniques to capture rainfall—all of which are good for the ecosystem and for the farmer.
Panerio sees maladaptation in the promotion of glyphosate-based herbicides like Roundup to reduce plowing and thus soil carbon loss. While glyphosate can reduce the need to till for weed control, Panerio has seen the consequences of widespread use of this herbicide: Setting aside its health risks which are now widely known, the introduction of genetically engineered corn and other crops resistant to glyphosate—the two are marketed together heavily—traps farmers in debt. “Corn farmers get their inputs from traders, the same people who buy the farmers’ corn,” Panerio said. “In the end, the traders profit two ways: One from the sale of inputs (engineered corn seeds, pesticides, and fertilizer) and the other for the low price of the corn.”
He also sees the ecosystem impacts: the widespread use of glyphosate causes soil erosion year-round. “In the dry season, areas sprayed with glyphosate have no vegetation and are devastated by wind erosion,” Panerio said. “In the wet seasons, the topsoil is washed away by rain after the corn is harvested.”
Planting more trees is one of a combination of solutions to combating climate change, but some trees are far better than others. Which ones though? Scientists have designed an experimental forest in England to work out the best formula for achieving ambitious tree planting targets.
Mounting evidence and growing momentum
For agroecology advocates, its multiple benefits are its superpower. As this latest IPCC report documents, evidence of these benefits continues to mount. Other recent studies have pulled together evidence from the field, including “The Politics of Knowledge” from the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, which emphasizes how small farmers and Indigenous peoples are co-creators and scientists in demonstrating agroecology’s impact. (Disclosure: The foundation where the writer works is a member of the network.)
Worldwide, the momentum for agroecology is growing, within the academy and beyond. Since the first academic agroecology program launched in 1978, the field has exploded. There are now dozens of agroecology schools and programs around the world. UCSC’s Montenegro notes the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association’s growing list of degree-granting programs in agroecology as well as applied student farm programs, where students learn experientially. Her own university has had a long-standing, esteemed agroecology program and recently launched a new agroecology major. Even in the United States, where the vast majority of agricultural land goes to high-input commodity production, and half of all corn is diverted to ethanol, there is “palpable excitement about the resurgent interest in agroecology,” Montenegro said.
The movement beyond the walls of the academy is growing, too. Its advocates know, however, that for agroecology to really take hold, it will require a significant transformation of how agriculture is financed and incentivized, and where research dollars go. Today, relatively little public and private funding is geared to these approaches. One study found that among European donors, less than 15% of agricultural budgets were directed toward agroecological approaches. Among philanthropies focused on climate solutions, food systems funding has historically been a tiny fraction—with agroecology representing even less. That is changing, too, with efforts like the Agroecology Fund and other networks within philanthropy promoting agroecological solutions.
“Given the very limited investment in agroecological research and implementation to date,” Bezner Kerr said, “the fact that there is such evidence points to even greater potential should it be given more investment and attention by governments and other groups interested in adaptation and mitigation solutions.” This is one of the reasons why it’s important, advocates stress, that agroecology be considered holistically: it’s not just what happens on the farm, it’s the social movements needed to move policy and shift power into the hands of farmers themselves.
Nearly half a century ago, when those researchers sought a way to describe the practices they were documenting in the fields of Indigenous farmers in rural Mexico, the term agroecology resonated. Today, it’s a concept that provides a pathway for tapping long-held local wisdom to address one of the world’s most pressing crises.
Buildings should be more productive, and it starts with growing food on our roofs.
When greenhouses were popularized in the 19th century, they revolutionized the way plants and produce were grown. Today, greenhouses can maintain constant temperatures all year long, making them ideal for harsher climates. But here’s the catch: They’re very energy-intensive.
That is, unless they’re solar-powered.
In Barcelona’s Sierra de Collserola Natural Park, a group of architecture students recently built a prototype for a solar greenhouse that can grow its own food—and produce its own energy. Built from pine timber that was sourced from the region, the 130-square-foot greenhouse sits on a tiny plot of land next to Valldura Labs, a self-sufficient habitat research center. And while this greenhouse is located in nature, the concept can be replicated across city rooftops and refugee camps, where basic needs like food and energy are harder to meet.
The greenhouse was developed during a master’s program at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia. The students lived on campus for a year and built the two-story structure in two months, led by architects Vicente Guallart and Daniel Ibáñez.
In 2014, Guallart wrote a book called The Self-Sufficient City. Then the chief architect of Barcelona, Guallart argued that buildings should be more productive and that we should produce food and energy locally. In many ways, the greenhouse is an interpretation of Guallard’s philosophy.
The structure is laid out across two floors: Plants germinate downstairs and then continue to grow upstairs. An angled glass roof helps capture sunlight during the day, while LED and UV light helps produce like lettuce, tomatoes, and eggplant grow at night. The roof is decked out with solar panels in a checkered pattern, while windows at the front and back can be opened for natural ventilation. An irrigation system infused with nutrients helps speed up the growth, as well. (As an added bonus, instead of soil, they used sawdust from the cut timber.)
Both the LED panels and the irrigation system are powered by the solar panels. The greenhouse only uses about 50% of the energy it produced, which left the other half for the nearby Valldura Labs facility. (Guallart says they could’ve covered the entire roof in solar panels and had 75% of energy left over, but budget restrictions made that difficult.)
At first glance, solar trees might seem impractical — more art than function when compared to the best solar panels. But solar trees offer a few surprising benefits over their ground-mounted counterparts.
The prototype was completed in September 2021, and it has already informed the design of a rooftop greenhouse for the highest timber building in Barcelona, which Guallart’s firm, Guallart Architects, is currently designing. At 1,600 square feet and 29 feet high, the greenhouse will be over 10 times bigger than the prototype. But solar greenhouses can be added on top of existing buildings, too. “If we decide we want to produce food and energy in our cities, we can do it, the only thing we need to do is adapt our buildings or make our buildings focused on that,” Guallart says. It all comes down to how many flat roofs your city has. (In Barcelona, he says about 80% are flat.)
For Guallart, the ultimate goal is to build communities that are able to grow their own food and produce their own energy. Outside of Beijing, Guallart Architects is now working on a self-sustaining housing complex with communal greenhouses and solar-powered roofs. “Instead of giving money to buy food and paying energy companies, we should empower communities and buildings by creating new infrastructures that will make them stronger, he says. “We can invest once and manage forever.”
The discovery shows the particles can travel around the body and may lodge in organs
Microplastic pollution has been detected in human blood for the first time, with scientists finding the tiny particles in almost 80% of the people tested.
The discovery shows the particles can travel around the body and may lodge in organs. The impact on health is as yet unknown. But researchers are concerned as microplastics cause damage to human cells in the laboratory and air pollution particles are already known to enter the body and cause millions of early deaths a year.
The scientists analysed blood samples from 22 anonymous donors, all healthy adults and found plastic particles in 17. Half the samples contained PET plastic, which is commonly used in drinks bottles, while a third contained polystyrene, used for packaging food and other products. A quarter of the blood samples contained polyethylene, from which plastic carrier bags are made.
“Our study is the first indication that we have polymer particles in our blood – it’s a breakthrough result,” said Prof Dick Vethaak, an ecotoxicologist at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands. “But we have to extend the research and increase the sample sizes, the number of polymers assessed, etc.” Further studies by a number of groups are already under way, he said.
“It is certainly reasonable to be concerned,” Vethaak told the Guardian. “The particles are there and are transported throughout the body.” He said previous work had shown that microplastics were 10 times higher in the faeces of babies compared with adults and that babies fed with plastic bottles are swallowing millions of microplastic particles a day.
“We also know in general that babies and young children are more vulnerable to chemical and particle exposure,” he said. “That worries me a lot.”
The new research is published in the journal Environment International and adapted existing techniques to detect and analyse particles as small as 0.0007mm. Some of the blood samples contained two or three types of plastic. The team used steel syringe needles and glass tubes to avoid contamination, and tested for background levels of microplastics using blank samples.
Vethaak acknowledged that the amount and type of plastic varied considerably between the blood samples. “But this is a pioneering study,” he said, with more work now needed. He said the differences might reflect short-term exposure before the blood samples were taken, such as drinking from a plastic-lined coffee cup, or wearing a plastic face mask.
“The big question is what is happening in our body?” Vethaak said. “Are the particles retained in the body? Are they transported to certain organs, such as getting past the blood-brain barrier?” And are these levels sufficiently high to trigger disease? We urgently need to fund further research so we can find out.”
The “disastrous” way in which plastic is used in farming across the world is threatening food safety and potentially human health, according to a report from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
An alarming new study finds that infant feces contain 10 times more polyethylene terephthalate (aka polyester) than an adult’s.
The new research was funded by the Dutch National Organisation for Health Research and Development and Common Seas, a social enterprise working to reduce plastic pollution.
“Plastic production is set to double by 2040,” said Jo Royle, founder of the charity Common Seas. “We have a right to know what all this plastic is doing to our bodies.” Common Seas, along with more than 80 NGOs, scientists and MPs, are asking the UK government to allocate £15m to research on the human health impacts of plastic. The EU is already funding research on the impact of microplastic on foetuses and babies, and on the immune system.
A new review paper published on Tuesday, co-authored by Vethaak, assessed cancer risk and concluded: “More detailed research on how micro- and nano-plastics affect the structures and processes of the human body, and whether and how they can transform cells and induce carcinogenesis, is urgently needed, particularly in light of the exponential increase in plastic production. The problem is becoming more urgent with each day.”
Value of global octopus trade doubled in almost 10 years.
Spurred on by soaring demand for seafood, a Spanish company plans to open the first commercial octopus farm next year but as scientists discover more about the enigmatic animals some warn it could be an ethical and environmental disaster.
“This is a global milestone,” said Roberto Romero, aquaculture director at Nueva Pescanova, the company pouring 65 million euros ($74 million) into the farm, which is pending environmental approval from local authorities.
At the company’s research centre in Galicia, northwest Spain, several octopuses silently propelled themselves around a shallow indoor tank.
Two technicians in waders plucked a mature specimen into a bucket for transfer to a new enclosure, with five other octopuses.
Building on decades of academic research, Nueva Pescanova beat rival companies in Mexico and Japan to perfect the conditions needed for industrial-scale breeding.
The commercial incentives for the farm, which is slated to produce 3,000 tonnes per year by 2026 for domestic and international food chains and generate hundreds of jobs on the island of Gran Canaria, are clear.
Between 2010 and 2019 the value of the global octopus trade ballooned to $2.72 billion from $1.30 billion, according to data from the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organisation, while landings only rose around 9% to 380,000 tonnes.
World's first octopus farm stirs ethical debate
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Fisherman Pedro Cervino, 49, kills an octopus with a wooden stick inside of its mouth after fishing it with pots, at estuary of Ferrol in Mugardos, in Galicia, northwestern Spain February 8, 2022. REUTERS/Nacho Doce
However, previous efforts to farm octopus have struggled with high mortality, while attempts to breed wild-caught octopus ran into problems with aggression, cannibalism and self-mutilation.
David Chavarrias, the centre’s director, said optimising tank conditions allowed the company to eliminate aggression and breed five generations in captivity.
“We have not found cannibalistic behaviour in any of our cultures,” he said.
But not everyone is convinced.
Since the 2020 documentary “My Octopus Teacher” captured the public imagination with its tale of a filmmaker’s friendship with an octopus, concern for their wellbeing has grown.
Last year, researchers at the London School of Economics concluded from a review of 300 scientific studies that octopus were sentient beings capable of experiencing distress and happiness, and that high-welfare farming would be impossible.
Raul Garcia, who heads the WWF conservation organisation’s fisheries operations in Spain, agrees.
“Octopuses are extremely intelligent and extremely curious. And it’s well known they are not happy in conditions of captivity,” he told Reuters.
Any farming operation aiming for a high quality of life by approximating their natural habitat – solitary on the sea bed – would likely be too expensive to be profitable, he said.
European Union laws governing livestock welfare do not apply to invertebrates and although Spain is tightening up its animal protection legislation, octopuses are not set to be included.
Nueva Pescanova has not provided specific details on tank sizes, density, or feed, citing trade secrecy. It has said the animals are constantly monitored to ensure their wellbeing.
Chavarrias said more research was needed to determine if octopus were truly intelligent.
“We like to say that more than an intelligent animal, it is a responsive animal,” he said “It has a certain capacity for resolve when faced with survival challenges.”
World's first octopus farm stirs ethical debate
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David Galvez, chef at the Casa Gallega restaurant, prepares an octopus to serve after cooking it in the traditional Galician way in Madrid, Spain, February 2, 2022. REUTERS/Juan Medina
Despite increasing concern for animal rights, demand is booming, led by Italy, Korea, Japan and Spain, the world’s biggest importer. Natural fishing grounds are feeling the strain.
“If we want to continue consuming octopus we have to look for an alternative … because the fisheries have already reached their limit,” said Eduardo Almansa, a scientist at Spain’s Oceanography Institute, which developed the technology used by Nueva Pescanova.
“For now aquaculture is the only available option.”
Half the seafood consumed by humans is farmed. The industry has traditionally pitched itself as a means of meeting consumer demand while alleviating pressure on fishing grounds, but ecologists say that obscures its true environmental toll.
Around a third of the global fish catch is used to feed other animals and rising demand for fishmeal for aquaculture is exacerbating stress on already depleted stocks, the WWF said.
Nueva Pescanova’s Chavarrias said he recognised the concern around sustainability and stressed the company was researching the use of waste fish products and algae as alternative feed but said it was too early to discuss the results.
Some activists say the solution is much simpler: don’t eat octopus.
“There’s so many wonderful vegan alternatives out there now,” said Carys Bennett of animal-rights group PETA. “We’re urging everyone to protest against this farm.”
The project is pending approval from the Canary Islands’ environmental department.
Asked if the department would consider opposition from rights-groups, a spokesperson said “all required parameters would be taken into account”.
North Yorkshire fishers found pots heavy not with brown crab but with prized invader.
Traditional octopus fishermen are also wary of the venture, worried it could push down prices and undermine their reputation for quality produce.
Pedro Luis Cervino Fernandez, 49, leaves the Galician port of Murgados at 5 a.m. every morning in search of octopus. He fears he will not be able to compete with industrial farming.
“Big companies just want to look after their bottom line … they couldn’t care less about small companies like us,” he told Reuters on his small boat off the Galician coast.
A few hundred miles inland at La Casa Gallega, a Madrid restaurant specialising in pulpo a la gallega – seared octopus with boiled potatoes and plenty of paprika – staff were unimpressed by the prospect of farmed produce.
“I don’t think it will ever be able to compete with Galician octopus,” said head waiter Claudio Gandara. “It will be like other farmed fish … the quality is never the same.”