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Ecological News

Seizing Control of Our Destinies

Farm Wars - Thu, 07/31/2014 - 05:29
Once again the call is going out for peoples and regions under the hand of oppressive, dictatorial regimes, to secede from the nation state and become 'self governing communities'.
Categories: Ecological News

Indigenous Seed Savers Gather in the Andes, Agree to Fight Climate Change with Biodiversity

Yes! Magazine - Thu, 07/31/2014 - 01:37

Indigenous people from Asia and South America gather potato seed at the Parque de la Papa. Photo by Adam Kerby / IIED.

On top of a rugged Andean mountain situated high in Peru’s Cusco region, on 30,000 acres of conserved land known as Parque de la Papa (Spanish for “Potato Park”), indigenous farmers met in late April to discuss conditions they feared were threatening their ancestral lands.

They came from as far as Bhutan and China, and from as near as the mountain itself. They discovered that their cultures were more similar than they had expected, and that one concern had been troubling all of them: Climate change was making it harder to grow food on the mountains that had sustained them for centuries. They were meeting to do something about it.

One farmer noted how signs of climate change had been subtle for the past 15 years, but have become conspicuous in the last three.

During a series of talks held between April 26 and May 2, the farmers forged a unique partnership entailing the exchange of indigenous crop varieties and farming methods, which they hope will protect agricultural biodiversity in the face of climate change. The exchange will begin with potato seeds—a sturdy crop that thrives in the mountains of China, Bhutan, and Peru—and will enable the farmers to experiment together from a distance, so they can find the hardiest, most resilient varieties.

Doing so will ensure better food security for the farmers’ families and communities because having more seeds that can survive the unknown, potentially destructive effects of climate change will increase their yields and mitigate strains on various resources.

Crop diversity is a serious issue but one commonly overlooked in the United States, where the food system tends to rely on just a few varieties of each plant species; traditional farmers in the Andes, on the other hand, might grow hundreds of ancient potato varieties. The world has lost 75 percent of its crop diversity in the last 100 years, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Today, many crops are cultivated in high-tech laboratories and tightly controlled experimental farm plots. These environments fail to mimic real-life growing conditions, according to Krystyna Swiderska, who works for the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), which helped organize the April meeting. Most seeds used in modern agriculture, in other words, can only grow in ideal situations and might not survive in the chaotic, unpredictable ones that exist in nature.

Seeds shared in the context of this project will be subject to a stringent protocol that ensures their safety and purity.

The gathering included representatives of the Naxi people from Meiquan and Stone Village in Yunnan, China; the Monpa and Ura people from Bhutan; the Quechua and Q'ero people from Parque de la Papa; and the Q'ero Ayllu from Cusco.

“Communities cannot act alone because this issue is common [to us all],” said Andean farmer Lino Mamani in a video conference call. Mamani also curates the traditional seeds collection at Parque de la Papa, where six Quechua communities live and grow about 600 varieties of potato. “We can learn more from others with similar problems about technology that might be useful.”

When asked how climate change had affected their livelihoods, Parque de la Papa farmers began to stir in their seats, waiting for an opportunity to share their stories. One farmer noted how signs of climate change had been subtle for the past 15 years, but have become conspicuous in the last three.

“I’m farming some crops in lower areas now,” he said.

“I noticed crops like beans and maize having to be grown in higher elevations,” said another farmer. “But we might not have land in higher elevations. Also, it rains when it shouldn’t, and rains stronger.”

Farmers and scientists

But, the farmers seemed to agree, the challenge is also yielding some positive outcomes: It’s pushing them to adapt their traditional methods of farming and to include other methods that might enhance their production. These include learning how to grow plants that pollinate themselves, farming newer potato varieties, and working with a fuller collection of seeds thanks to a collaboration with scientists at the International Potato Center, a research institution based in Lima that runs a gene bank facility.

“Scientists would just take seeds from us, not recognizing our knowledge.”

The center will facilitate the exchange between farmers, and will fund much of the research conducted by its own scientists—who not only analyze the genetic potential of indigenous seeds in the center’s labs but also study the farmers’ traditional process on the Andean hillsides. Although seed exchange among farmers is an age-old custom, seeds shared in the context of this project will be subject to a stringent protocol that ensures their safety and purity, especially in transit. The actual exchange of raw material will not begin until such a system has been approved and implemented by the International Potato Center, according to Swiderska.

As farmer Mamani stated, “It’s time traditional knowledge and science work together.”

For years, however, they did not. Indigenous farmers from the Andes have long distrusted modern agriculture and felt exploited by its methods of research. For more than 40 years, scientists who worked for the center collected seeds from the Cusco region to advance the institution’s research and development. They refused to share their information with the farmers or even credit them for the success of their traditional methods, said Swiderska.

But that relationship has been improving recently. In 2005 the IIED partnered with Asociación ANDES, a Cusco-based nonprofit that has worked with Parque de la Papa farmers since 1998, to broker a “Repatriation Agreement” with the International Potato Center. The agreement granted Cusco farmers access to the Center’s collection of native potato seeds, which had been extracted years earlier from indigenous land and locked away in the gene bank.

“Small-scale and indigenous farmers rarely get access to seeds in gene banks,” Swiderska wrote in an email. “So seed exchange between farmers is important to enable them to [experiment with] new seed varieties”

Working with scientists has been an emotional, challenging process, Mamani said. “Scientists would just take seeds from us, not recognizing our knowledge.”

But the tides are turning as climate change edges on, pushing science and tradition closer together to resolve common goals and slow the process of agricultural degradation. As Mamani said, “Scientists have been taught now how to collaborate with us. They have to respect our knowledge.”

Erin Sagen wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Erin is a contributor at YES! and a recent graduate of the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Follow her on Twitter at @erin_sagen.

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Categories: Ecological News

Brazil: death threats stalk Amazon shaman Davi Kopenawa

The Ecologist Magazine - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 23:18
As gold miners face eviction from Yanomami territory in the Brazilian Amazon, a rising tempo of death threats have been directed against the shaman Davi Kopenawa following his successful campaign.
Categories: Ecological News

The Missouri Biotech Protection Amendment

Farm Wars - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 22:18
It’s a biotech takeover disguised as a “right to farm” movement to protect small farmers. Don’t be fooled. Just look at the list of supporters.
Categories: Ecological News

Why freshwater dolphins are among the world’s most endangered mammals

The Ecologist Magazine - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 20:54
Humans are to blame for the drastic declines in river dolphin populations around the world, writes Rachel Nuwer. But what exactly are we doing wrong? Mainly, scientists have found, it's building dams - and so destroying and fragmenting their habitat.
Categories: Ecological News

Greener film shoots can also save costs, report says.

Environmental Health News - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 19:30
Film sets are notoriously wasteful places. Big movies can generate 225 tons of scrap metal, nearly 50 tons of construction and set debris, and 72 tons of food waste. But Hollywood crews are starting to change their ways - and the results could have surprising effects on their bottom lines.
Categories: Ecological News

Forensics for the farm keep food safe.

Environmental Health News - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 19:30
The same technology used at crime scenes to link a stray hair to a suspect can also find antibiotics or other medications in milk and meat. And the use of sophisticated testing is becoming increasingly available for livestock producers, who stand to lose lots of money if their products are tainted.
Categories: Ecological News

'Indiscriminate' use of antibiotics in poultry might be linked to growing resistance in Indians.

Environmental Health News - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 19:30
Claiming that it found antibiotic residues in chickens tested in Delhi, an environment body on Wednesday said use of antibiotics in poultry industry might be "strongly linked" to growing antibiotic resistance in Indians.
Categories: Ecological News

US GMO crop companies double down on anti-labeling efforts.

Environmental Health News - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 19:30
One year after the launch of a social media effort to allay consumers' concerns about the safety of foods made from genetically modified crops, U.S. companies that develop GMOs have further committed to a multimillion-dollar campaign to defeat attempts to add GMO labels to such foods.
Categories: Ecological News

Senate Dems’ bill would bring back Superfund tax.

Environmental Health News - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 19:30
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and two of his colleagues introduced a bill Tuesday to reinstate the Superfund tax, which charges certain industries fees to clean up contaminated industrial sites.
Categories: Ecological News

North Carolina gas drillers may gain exemptions from air pollution rules.

Environmental Health News - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 19:30
As fracking starts up in North Carolina, there are loopholes that would allow for air pollution near fracking sites. The second of two stories exploring air pollution rules and loopholes as the process begins.
Categories: Ecological News

UCLA-area water main break spews millions of gallons.

Environmental Health News - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 19:30
The trunk line break offered dramatic new evidence of Los Angeles' crumbling water infrastructure, which has been a recurring problem for years. Large sections of the water system are old and corroded, and the city has struggled to find the money to replace them.
Categories: Ecological News

Power of cooperation helps end Navajo Generating Station.

Environmental Health News - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 19:30
The days of the fossil-fuel economy are numbered. And even as we continue to rely on one such form of energy - natural gas - King Coal is destined to lose its energy crown. It is to the great credit of all involved that those affected by the future of Navajo Generating Station got together and worked it out.
Categories: Ecological News

Build more oil pipelines.

Environmental Health News - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 19:30
The recent boom in U.S. oil production has always come with an asterisk: The nation now has more crude than it can move through existing pipelines, which don't yet connect refineries with oil from non-traditional oil-producing areas such as North Dakota. There's no way to move much of the oil except by train.
Categories: Ecological News

GMO labeling bill lacks a scientific justification.

Environmental Health News - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 19:30
The anti-GMO movement continues to gain ground, and now there's a proposal that would create new food-labeling regulations. Few bills would achieve so little while costing so much.
Categories: Ecological News

The original geo-engineers.

Environmental Health News - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 19:30
If we want to construct a healthy and resilient world for ourselves and our fellow creatures, we could do worse than look to the lowly beavers for hints on how it can be done. They build a vibrant world for themselves and so many others by weaving one small limb into another, stick by stick by stick.
Categories: Ecological News

‘Maybe in America.’

Environmental Health News - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 19:30
Keeping Madagascar out of the world of disorder has to start by preserving its ecosystems, which are vital for sustaining its people and attracting tourism. But that requires good leadership, and good leaders today — anywhere — are the rarest species of all.
Categories: Ecological News

Maine parents, physicians press for disclosure of phthalates use in products.

Environmental Health News - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 19:30
Mothers, physicians and business owners were among those who called on the Maine officials Tuesday to monitor the use of potentially harmful chemicals called phthalates in children’s lunch boxes, toys, raincoats and other plastic products.
Categories: Ecological News

Government fails to vet chemical plants with terror risk.

Environmental Health News - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 19:30
The government has failed to inspect virtually all of the chemical facilities that it considers to be at a higher risk for a terror attack and has underestimated the threat to densely populated cities, congressional investigators say.
Categories: Ecological News

The reindeer herders who are battling an iron ore mine.

Environmental Health News - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 19:30
A British company has been carrying out test drilling for iron ore in an area of Scandinavia where the Sami, Europe's only indigenous people, have lived for thousands of years. Sami reindeer herders say the proposed iron ore mine could destroy their livelihood.
Categories: Ecological News
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