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Brazil’s transgenic sugarcane stirs up controversy

  • Brazil’s transgenic sugarcane stirs up controversy

Copyright: Icaro Cooke Vieira for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Speed read

  •  Sugarcane borer causes losses of around US$ 1.5 billion per year
  • Experts warn of lack of environmental impact studies in Brazil
  • Damage to biodiversity, including non-target insects, is among potential risks
 
[RIO DE JANEIRO] A genetically modified (GM) cane variety that can kill the sugarcane borer (Diatraea saccharalis) has been approved in Brazil,  to the delight of some scientists and the dismay of others, who say it may threaten Brazilian biodiversity.

Brazil is the second country, after Indonesia, to approve the commercial cultivation of GM sugarcane. The approval was announced by the Brazilian National Biosafety Technical Commission (CTNBio) on June 8.

Sugarcane borer is one of the main pests of the sugarcane fields of South-Central Brazil, causing losses of approximately US$1.5 billion per year.

“Breeding programmes could not produce plants resistant to this pest, and the existing chemical controls are both not effective and severely damaging to the environment,” says Adriana Hemerly, a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, in an interview with SciDev.Net.

“Studies conducted outside Brazil prove that protein from genetically modified organisms harms non-target insects, soil fauna and microorganisms.”

Rogério Magalhães

“Therefore, the [GM variety] is a biotechnological tool that helps solve a problem that other technologies could not, and its commercial application will certainly have a positive impact on the productivity of sugarcane in the country.”

Jesus Aparecido Ferro, a member of CTNBio and professor at the Paulista Júlio de Mesquita Filho State University, believes the move followed a thorough debate that began in December 2015 — that was when the Canavieira Technology Center (Sugarcane Research Center) asked for approval to commercially cultivate the GM sugarcane variety.

“The data does not provide evidence that the cane variety has a potential to harm the environment or human or animal health,” Ferro told SciDev.Net.

To develop the variety, scientists inserted the gene for a toxin [Cry] from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) into the sugarcane genome, so it could produce its own insecticide against some insects’ larvae.

This is a technology that “has been in use for 20 years and is very safe”, says Aníbal Eugênio Vercesi, another member of the CTNBio, and a professor at the State University of Campinas.

But Valério De Patta Pillar, also a member of the CTNBio and a professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, points to deficiencies in environmental risk assessment studies for the GM variety — and the absence of assessments of how consuming it might affect humans and animals.

According to Pillar, there is a lack of data about the frequency with which it breeds with wild varieties. Data is also missing on issues such as the techniques used to create the GM variety and the effects of its widespread use.

Rogério Magalhães, an environmental analyst at Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment, also expressed concern about the approval of the commercial transgenic cane.

“I understand that studies related to the impacts that genetically modified sugarcane might have on Brazilian biodiversity were not done by the company that owns the technology,” said Magalhães in an interview with SciDev.Net. This is very important because Brazil’s climate, species, and soils differ from locations where studies might have taken place, he explained.

Among the risks that Magalhães identified is contamination of the GM variety’s wild relatives. “The wild relative, when contaminated with transgenic sugarcane, will have a competitive advantage over other uncontaminated individuals, as it will exhibit resistance to insect-plague that others will not have,” he explained.

Another risk that Magalhães warns about is damage to biodiversity. “Studies conducted outside Brazil prove that Cry protein from genetically modified organisms harms non-target insects, soil fauna and microorganisms.”

Magalhães added that some pests have already developed resistance to the Bt Cry protein, prompting farmers to apply agrochemicals that are harmful to the environment and human health.

This piece was originally published by SciDev.Net’s Latin America and Caribbean desk.

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The Christian Science Monitor

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Making-a-difference/Change-Agent/2014/1117/Ghana-s-success-in-fight-against-hunger-holds-lessons-for-others
It started with a simple move to change the tax code so that farmers could keep more of the value of their cocoa crop.
By Chris Arsenault, Thomson Reuters Foundation

NOVEMBER 17, 2014

ROME — As India starts its version of Brazil’s famous zero hunger campaign, the world’s most populous democracy could take some inspiration from Ghana.

The West African country “has met zero hunger,” Jose Graziano da Silva, head of the Food and Agriculture Organization said last month.

Former Ghanaian president John Kufuor can take at least some of the credit for this.

It started with a simple move to change the tax code when Kufuor’s government first took office in 2001.

Taxes on cocoa, a key export crop, stood at 60 percent of the market price, so growers could keep only 40 percent of the value of their production.

“We reversed this, giving the farmers 60 percent of the profits,” Kufuor said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “The state had been over-taxing the farmer.

“Farmers needed chemicals for fighting pests and fertilizers, the government paid for this.”

The investment paid off, and cocoa production doubled within four years, sending more money into state coffers for infrastructure investment.

The government then turned its attention to trying to mitigate deforestation. In 1960, more than 60 percent of the country was covered in forest but deforestation has decreased coverage to 21.7 percent today.

The state allowed landless families and unemployed people to use land where the forests had been cut, to plant crops interspersed with new trees in what became known as the Modified Taunga System.

After getting training from the state, local residents were able to earn an income when the trees were harvested, preventing additional land from being logged and improving food security for some of Ghana’s most vulnerable citizens.

Finally, the country tried to move up the value chain for its cocoa production.

“Chocolate, which is loved internationally, especially by the ladies, wasn’t part of our traditional diet,” Kufuor said. “The beans were exported.

“We saw the need to attract top quality processors to Ghana.”

Some large multinational confectionery companies moved in and set up factories, though the country still exports more raw beans than refined chocolate.

“The objective is to add value locally so 70 percent of the cocoa is processed and only 30 percent is exported [raw]. We are moving towards this,” Kufuor said.

Ghana’s per capita GDP shot up to $1,300 in 2007 from $400 in 2001, thanks largely to growth in the agriculture sector, high commodity prices, and the discovery of oil, which allowed it to reach lower middle income status and meet the Millennium Development Goals on poverty reduction ahead of schedule.

“One of the key factors [in Ghana’s success] has been strong political commitment at the highest level,” FAO Ghana representative Lamourdia Thiombiano said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“They subsidized production, put resources into boosting capacity, and invested in providing services to farmers.”

“More production led to relatively better access to food,” Thiombiano said.

Significant development challenges remain, despite the improvements in agriculture, and Ghana ranked 138 out of 187 countries surveyed in the U.N. 2014 Human Development Report.

Today Kufuor, who gives speeches on the U.N. circuit and runs his own foundation, is optimistic that “rays of hope” and good policies will continue to improve food security in a world where 1 in 8 people still suffer from chronic malnutrition.

• This article originally appeared at Thomson Reuters Foundation, a source of news, information, and connections for action. It provides programs that trigger change, empower people, and offer concrete solutions.

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sci dev logoAEV00002UKImage credit: Adrian Evans /

 

 

 

 

 

Speed read
-The draft SDGs ignore biodiversity’s effect on food, health and poverty

-A holistic approach is critical, UN meeting hears

-Participants pledge to double biodiversity-related funding for poorer nations

Biodiversity is moving up the global development agenda, following a major meeting of policymakers at the 12th Conference of Parties (COP12) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

With countries working on setting the next targets after the Millennium Development Goals, biodiversity is already included as one of the proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the UN draft working document agreed in July.

However, the current draft does not acknowledge biodiversity’s effects on global issues such as health, poverty and food security.

These effects took centre stage at the event in Pyeongchang, which was attended by around 3,000 delegates from 6-17 October.

“If we tackle poverty, inequality and environmental issues in separate silos, we can’t succeed. We have to have holistic approaches,” said UN Development Programme boss Helen Clark.

Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, executive secretary of the CBD, told environment ministers and other delegates that its 2010 biodiversity plan was critical. “We will not be able to achieve sustainable development if we do not implement the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity,” he said.

The plan estimated that US$150-440 billion a year was needed in biodiversity-related financial flows to reverse species and habitat loss, compared with the US$50 billion a year in 2010 being spent worldwide.

At the beginning of the COP12 event, the UN released a report showing progress was lagging on biodiversity goals known as Aichi targets set out in the CBD’s 2010 biodiversity plan.

For example, the key target of halving the rate of biodiversity loss, backed by a US$2.2 billion fund created at the 2010 COP meeting in Nagoya, Japan, is nowhere near being reached, according to projections in the Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 (GBO4) report.

Habitat loss

At a separate high-level meeting that took place on 16 and 17 October, ministers of the environment signed the so-called Gangwon declaration, pledging to double biodiversity-related funding for developing countries and maintain this level until 2020 to reach the Aichi biodiversity conservation targets.

Despite opposition from some larger developing countries, including India and Brazil, which cited budget constraints and the need to hold richer countries to their funding commitments, the meeting agreed that signatories should “mobilise domestic resources”. This breakthrough clause, unusual in UN documents, will mean that national budgets should give more priority to biodiversity issues.

Other areas falling well short included stemming species loss, habitat destruction, overfishing and pollution. And it seems that such declines as well as pressures on habitats are only growing, said Derek Tittensor, senior marine biodiversity scientist at the UN Environment Programme. “We’re making some effort, but, at the moment, we’re not seeing the benefits,” he told SciDev.Net.

“There has been an increase in resources and that is projected to continue into the future — that’s partly what has come out of the COP12 meeting in Korea — but the big question is whether that will be sufficient to arrest the decline in the state of biodiversity that we observed and projected,” he added.

Others, however, were more optimistic. GBO4 “is just a starting point”, said Anne-Hélène Prieur-Richard, acting executive director of international biodiversity research programme DIVERSITAS. “Some of the targets are very far from being able to be achieved by 2020. However, we also know there are lags between the time of starting actions on the ground and the time you get the fruits of them,” she told SciDev.Net.

‘Pyeongchang road map’

“It is my strong belief that these decisions will enable us to turn many of the indicators in GBO4 from yellow to green.”

Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, CBD In total, the meeting adopted 33 decisions referred to collectively as the ‘Pyeongchang road map’.

Among the decisions was an agreement to establish a technical expert group to examine how synthetic biology products should be regulated. COP12 agreed that risk assessment and regulations must tally with the ‘no-harm principle’ that activities avoid damaging the environment of other states or areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

But the highlight of the meeting, according to delegates, was the entering into force of a treaty signed four years ago that opens up access to genetic resources and a mandatory fair sharing of the benefits derived from them.

The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits arising from their utilisation to the CBD came into force on 12 October after the 50th ratification.
– See more at: http://www.scidev.net/global/biodiversity/news/biodiversity-deeper-role-sdgs.html#sthash.P1rHT8Ki.dpuf

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fruit flya286fe2be5

 

 

 

Photo: ©USDA/Scott Bauer.
A female oriental fruit fly (Bactrocera dorsalis) laying eggs in the skin of a papaya.

 

Research findings should reduce trade barriers and boost pest control measures

28 October 2014, Rome/Vienna – Four of the world’s most destructive agricultural pests are actually one and the same fruit fly, according to the results of a global research effort released today. The discovery should lead to the easing of certain international trade restrictions and also aid efforts to combat the ability of these harmful insects to reproduce, experts said.

The so-called Oriental, Philippine, Invasive and Asian Papaya fruit flies, the study shows, all belong to the same biological species, Bactrocera dorsalis, which is causing incalculable damage to horticultural industries and food security across Asia, Africa, and the Pacific.

The international collaborative effort, involving close to 50 researchers from 20 countries, began in 2009 and was coordinated by FAO and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It followed an integrative approach, examining evidence across a range of disciplines.

The ability to precisely identify pests is central to pest management, including quarantine measures or bans applied to internationally traded food and agriculture products such as fruit and vegetables.

Keeping exotic fruit flies out is a major concern for many countries. The study’s findings mean that trade restrictions linked to the Oriental fruit fly should now fall away in cases where the insect is present in both the importing and exporting country, according to Jorge Hendrichs from the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture in Vienna.

“This outcome has major implications for global plant biosecurity, especially for developing countries in Africa and Asia,” said the study’s lead author, Mark Schutze, from the Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre (PBCRC) and the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

“For example, the Invasive –now Oriental — fruit fly has devastated African fruit production with crop losses exceeding 80 percent and has led to widespread trade restrictions with refusal of shipments of products into Asia, Europe and Japan, and significant economic and social impacts on farming communities,” Schutze added.

Using sterilized males to mate with wild females

The findings of the study will also simplify techniques like the use of sterilized males to prevent the growth of pest populations.

A form of insect birth control, the sterile insect technique involves releasing mass-bred male flies that have been sterilized by low doses of radiation into infested areas, where they mate with wild females. These do not produce offspring and, as a result, the technique can suppress, if applied systematically on an area-wide basis, populations of wild flies in an environmentally friendly way. The FAO/IAEA Agriculture and Biotechnology Laboratories have demonstrated that the four fruit flies freely interbreed, which means that instead of using males from the four supposedly different species, mass-produced sterile Oriental fruit fly males can now be used against all the different populations of this major pest.

“Globally, accepting these four pests as a single species will lead to reduced barriers to international trade, improved pest management, facilitated transboundary international cooperation, more effective quarantine measures, the wider application of established post-harvest treatments, improved fundamental research and, most importantly, enhanced food security for some of the world’s poorest nations,” Schutze said.

The findings of the FAO/IAEA coordinated study, published in the journal Systematic Entomology means that the four, previously considered distinct fruit-fly species, will now be combined under the single name: Bactrocera dorsalis, the Oriental fruit fly.

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Parthenium News July 2014_Page_01

From: Asad Shabbir [mailto:asad.iags@pu.edu.pk]

Subject: International Parthenium Weed Newsletter

Dear Network members and colleagues,

Please see attached to this email another issue of international parthenium weed newsletter. I sincerely thank to all who contributed to this issue.

As a recap, this issue’s topics are as follows:

Parthenium hysterophorus is Recommended for Regulation in European and Mediterranean Countries
• What’s in a Name? The Conscious Decision to Choose “Famine Weed” As the English Common Name for the Invasive Alien Plant Parthenium hysterophorus in South Africa
• International Workshop on Biological Control and Management of Parthenium hysterophorus Addis Ababa and Adama, Ethiopia, 13-17 July 2014
• A Successful First Season of Insect Agent Releases on Parthenium Weed in South Africa, and Other Biological Control Activities
• Parthenium Weed Status and Control in Malaysia
• Control of Parthenium Weed in an Urban Town of Faisalabad, Pakistan
• Upcoming Conferences on Weed Science and Invasive Species
• Recent Publications on Parthenium Weed

Enjoy the read!

Asad Shabbir

Asad Shabbir, PhD
Assistant Professor
Ecology and Environmental Management Unit|Department of Botany|
University of the Punjab, Quaid-e-Azam campus 54590 Lahore, Pakistan
 +92 42 99231152 l +92 42 99231187 l  asad.iags@pu.edu.pk

Note:  For more information regarding the Parthenium Network and to receive a complete version of the 10 July  2014 Parthenium Newsletter please contact Asad Sahabbir, co-editor at  asad.iags@pu.edu.pk

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grist

A BEACON IN THE SMOG

kealiapondnationalwildliferefugeByron Chin
Hawaii’s Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge

http://grist.org/news/feds-move-to-restrict-neonic-pesticides-well-one-fed-at-least/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=Daily%2520July%252021&utm_campaign=daily

By John Upton
Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge
Byron Chin
Hawaii’s Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge
So far the EPA has refused to ban use of neonicotinoid insecticides — despite mounting evidence that they kill bees and other wildlife, despite a ban in the European Union, despite a lawsuit filed by activists and beekeepers.

But if the EPA is somehow still unclear on the dangers posed by neonics, it need only talk to the official who oversees federal wildlife refuges in the Pacific Northwest and Pacific Ocean.

Kevin Foerster, a regional boss with the National Wildlife Refuge System, directed his staff this month to investigate where neonics are being used in the refuges they manage — and to put an end to their use. Foerster’s office is worried that farming contractors that grow grasses and other forage crops for wildlife and corn and other grains for human consumption on refuge lands are using neonic pesticides and neonic-treated seeds. There are also fears that agency staff are inadvertently using plants treated with the poisons in restoration projects.

“The Pacific Region will begin a phased approach to eliminate the use of neonicotinoid insecticides (by any method) to grow agricultural crops for wildlife on National Wildlife Refuge System lands, effective immediately,” Forster wrote in a July 9 memo that was obtained and published last week by the nonprofit Center for Food Safety. “Though there will be some flexibility during the transition and we will take into account the availability of non-treated seed, Refuge managers are asked to exhaust all alternatives before allowing the use of neonicotinoids on National Wildlife Refuge System Lands in 2015.”

An information sheet attached to the memo notes that “severe declines in bee fauna have been a driving force behind the growing concern with neonics,” but that other species are also being affected. The information sheet also warns that pesticide drift, leaching, and water runoff can push neonics into wildlife habitats near farmed lands.

The use of the pesticides in U.S. wildlife refuges has triggered outcries and lawsuits from groups that include the Center for Food Safety. “Federal wildlife refuges were established to protect natural diversity,” said Paige Tomaselli, an attorney with the center. “Allowing chemical companies to profit by poisoning these important ecosystems violates their fundamental purpose and mission.”

Foerster’s move will help protect nearly 9,000 acres of refuges in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands from ecosystem-ravaging poisons.

But the memo has significance beyond that. It confirms that wildlife experts within the federal government are acutely aware of the dangers that the poisons pose. Now we just need the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the EPA to talk to each other.

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Image

http://www.ekantipur.com/the-kathmandu-post/2014/05/02/onsaturday/back-to-basics/262360.html

Kathmandu Post

Image

By: PRAGATI SHAHI

KATHMANDU, MAY 02 –
Integrated Pest Management has been adopted by a growing number of organic farms in all districts of Nepal

Arjun Neupane, a farmer in Dhaibung, Rasuwa, owns a farm that’s all organic. His prize produce is tomatoes, and they grow in a plastic-roofed shed that’s surrounded on all sides by marigold plants. The rest of his farmland, used for growing cauliflower and spinach, is spotted with plastic drums that house a slurry of buffalo dung and urine mixed with titepati, neem and sisnu leaves. It’s the employing of slurries of this kind that’s at the heart of a farming method called Integrated Pest Management (IPM)—a method that’s been adopted by a growing number of organic farms in all districts of Nepal.

The IPM philosophy is a simple one: It’s a way of using, as much as possible, plants (mostly those that grow in the wild) and animal waste to keep pest numbers down and fertilise the soil at the same time. The buffalo urine in the slurry, which Neupane ferries by the bucketloads to his vegetable beds, acts as a fertiliser—by adding nutrients such as ammonia in its natural form to the soil—and the plants used in the slurry kill germs and keep away animals such as rodents, with their bitterness. Live plants, too–such as the marigold plants around Neupane’s greenhouse—can be marshalled as a defensive front: in Neupane’s case, they keep at bay the nematodes, a kind of worm, which would otherwise prey on his tomatoes.

IPM took off in the late 90s in Nepal, with the government’s encouraging farmers to make use of the method as an alternative to depending on chemical fertlisers, which are harsher on the soil and whose use over time can lead to the land’s turning effete. The government knew that it had to wean the farmers off chemical fertilisers if they wanted to preserve the farmlands’ soil. The advent of globalisation had by then seen a marked increase in Nepali farmers’ switching to various types of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, which had become readily available in all markets across the country. And the farming sector had transformed from one which primarily used organic fertilisers and biological agents to one that relied increasingly on fertilisers that degraded the soil quality of the farms and which furthermore had untold adverse effects on the environment and in turn on public health.

Most farmers who use only chemical fertilisers are locked in a vicious cycle. The chemical fertilisers produce better yields, and as most other farmers now opt for using chemicals (even as they further degrade their land), they have to keep up if they want to compete in the marketplace. Furthermore, many of them have also taken to using industrial-strength pesticides to keep away pests—such as insects, disease-bearing pathogens, weeds, rodents, and mites—which are the major constraints to increasing agricultural production and which can cause productivity losses of up to 40 percent. This increase in the use of chemical pesticides ends up not only upsetting the natural balance of chemicals of the soils in the fields, but also leads to an increase in the populations of secondary pests.

It was to help those farmers who wanted to get back to using biopesticides that the concept of the IPM approach was pushed by the government. The first phase of IPM farming in Nepal was launched just before the turn of the century by the Department of Plant Resources, under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. The government was aided in its venture by various developmental partners and together they helped set up the practice for farmers in various districts, including Jhapa, Morang, Bara, Chitwan, Kapilvastu, Bardiya, Banke, Kailali, Ilam, Kavre, Syangja, Surkhet, Dadeldhura, Tanahu, Dhading, Mustang and Manang.

Ironically, the government had to sell the idea as a ‘modern’ method of farming, even though local versions of IPM were what the farmers used to work with before the farmers switched wholesale to chemical fertilisers. Wood ash, for example, has been widely used for pest control in west Nepal for generations. Today, the national IPM Programme seeks to teach the farmers how to find their way back, says Yubak Dhoj GC, a government official and former coordinator at the Plant Protection Directorate. To help farmers make the switch, the government and various non-governmental agencies have set up IPM farmer schools all across Nepal, in which farmers such as Neupane learn the science of using botanical pesticides, which can be made from more than 50 plant species readily available in Nepal: plants such as neem, marigold, titepati, sisnu, garlic and timur are used in IMP to ward off pests such as the cabbage butterfly larvae, hairy caterpillars, cutworms, red ants, termites and aphids.

Today, it is estimated that around 11,000 farmers in 17 districts have completely adopted IPM techniques and that the number is increasing at the rate of more than 10 percent each year. Thus there are quite a few farmers who are getting sold on the idea, but there still remains the challenge of helping the IPM farmers compete with those who still haven’t given up the use of chemical fertilisers. The IPM model requires more man-hours in the field; furthermore, as Neupane, says, it’s difficult for IPM farmers like him to compete with farmers who use chemical fertilisers, andwhose tomatoes look larger, redder and juicier than his.

According to GC, the IPM programme is at a crossroads now. He says the government has to play a larger role in helping farmers such as Neupane. At present, the agricultural produce grown using chemical fertilisers and the IPM methods are competing in the same markets. The government doesn’t have the mechanism in place to certify certain products as being organic. If that were to happen, Neupane thinks that he could sell his tomatoes to hotels in Dhunche, where the tourists who prefer organic produce could seek vegetables like the ones he grows.

In cities like Kathmandu, there are already many farmers who are able to sell their products in the niche markets that the organic farmers, who employ IPM, have carved for themselves. For the farmers outside the Valley, the main draw of IPM farming is that the soil will remain fertile in the long run. These farmer can only compete with those who use chemical fertilisers, says GC, if the government were to provide subsidies and help improve market access for them. “We have been successful in involving the farmers in the IPM approach but have failed to improve the accessibility to the market for their products. Thus it’s still difficult for most of them to benefit from the agriculture practice they are adopting,” says GC.

Posted on : 2014-05-03 08:15

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