What about Our Grasslands? Abandoning Meat May Spell Disaster for Vital Ecosystems

Recent opinion articles advocate eliminating meat from human diets, or using artificial meat substitutes, to fight climate change. However, many experts believe that grazing animals used for meat are the key to the future health of the most altered, destroyed and endangered ecosystems on earth: grasslands.

That makes plant-based diets potential ecological disasters.

Of the 1.9 billion acres in the lower 48 U.S. states, 788 million are grassland. Globally, grazing animals and grazing land ecosystems evolved together through mutual adaptation. Human history has demonstrated that improperly grazed grasses become unhealthy, and leaving grasslands alone actually degrades them, whereas properly grazed lands become healthier.

Grasslands provide vital “ecosystem services” by sequestering carbon underground in extensive root systems, using up carbon dioxide, producing oxygen, filtering and storing water, providing habitat for other important species, and when grazed, converting cellulose that we cannot digest into high-quality protein that we can digest.

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A World of Hurt: 2021 Climate Disasters Raise Alarm over Food Security

  • Human-driven climate change is fueling weather extremes — from record drought to massive floods — that are hammering key agricultural regions around the world.
  • From the grain heartland of Argentina to the tomato belt of California to the pork hub of China, extreme weather events have driven down output and driven up global commodity prices.
  • Shortages of water and food have, in turn, prompted political and social strife in 2021, including food protests in Iran and hunger in Madagascar, and threaten to bring escalating misery, civil unrest and war in coming years.
  • Experts warn the problem will only intensify, even in regions currently unaffected by, or thriving from the high prices caused by scarcity. Global transformational change is urgently needed in agricultural production and consumption patterns, say experts.

In July, a video went viral on social media in Argentina showing people walking across what looks like a desert. But it isn’t a desert. This is the bed of the Paraná River, part of the second-largest river system in South America. Normally the stream rises in Brazil and reaches the sea via the River Plate, draining a vast watershed covering all of Paraguay, southern Brazil and northern Argentina. Normally the water volume flowing to the Atlantic roughly equals that of the Mississippi River.

What’s happening now is not normal. The drying up of large stretches of river comes as the most severe drought since 1944 afflicts the region. No relief is expected in the short term. According to forecasts from Argentina’s Ministry of Public Works, the lack of rain will last for at least another three months.

Besides damaging crops, the drought also means barge-hauled grains can’t get to market cheaply, forcing Argentina to support commodities transport with $10.4 million, and costing the nation’s grain farmers and exporters $315 million. It’s likely consumers will ultimately foot the bill.

The Paraná region is experiencing “a veritable environmental holocaust,” says Rafael Colombo, a member of the Argentinian Association of Environmental Lawyers.

The multiple causes, he states, include “a complex and diversified series of anthropomorphic interventions, associated with the expansion of agro-industrial, ranching, forest, river and mining extractivism over the last 50 years.” Add to that the impact of global human-caused climate change.

Due to lack of rain at the source of the São Francisco River, Brazil’s Sobradinho reservoir is experiencing the worst drought in its history. Image by Marcello Casal Jr/Agência Brasil (CC BY 3.0 BR).

A world of hurt

Extreme weather impacts can be expected to dot various parts of the planet every year, but the Paraná watershed drought isn’t an outlier in 2021. Instead, it represents the new normal as major regional bread baskets around the globe are assaulted by unusually high temperatures that exacerbate simultaneous record droughts, bringing disastrous wildfires. Floods, too, are unprecedented this year: While the Paraná endured record drought, the neighboring Amazon watershed in Manaus, Brazil, was battered by unprecedented June deluges.

These planet-wide events all combined are having a detrimental impact on crops and livestock, and though it is too early to calculate the full cost, the world will likely see significant price hikes in coming months on everything from tomatoes to bread to beef.

“Unprecedented” looks to be the theme best describing 2021’s extreme weather events: In mid-July, China’s Henan province, one of the country’s most populous regions, was hit by a year’s worth of rain — 640 millimeters (more than 2 feet) — in just three days, a phenomenon “unseen in the last 1,000 years.”

At least 71 people died and 1.4 million people fled the floods, even as China braces for more heavy rain. The deluge also impacted 972,000 hectares (2.4 million acres) of cropland, and — while much of that region’s grain crop had been harvested previously — processing, storage and transportation of summer grains could be affected, with floodwaters damaging flour factories.

China isn’t alone. In late July, parts of India saw 594 mm (23 inches) of rain in just days, while Manila and outlying provinces in the Philippines were inundated by torrential rains, causing mass evacuations and crop damage.

Extreme heat waves and drought have smashed records across the U.S. West, from southern California to Nevada and Oregon. As the unprecedented mega drought deepens, California’s water regulators this week took a highly unusual step: forbidding thousands of farmers from extracting water from major rivers and streams for irrigation. The drought is surely going to be bad news for spaghetti lovers: California grows more than 90% of America’s canned tomatoes and a third of the world’s supply. Expect much higher prices and “cue the tomato hoarding.”

Don Pedro Reservoir in California (the brown areas should be covered in water). The deepening unprecedented mega drought there means thousands of farmers who annually extract water from rivers and streams for irrigation will be unable to tap those sources this year. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.
As mega fires again burn across the U.S. West in 2021, firefighting resources are being stretched to the limit. Forest Service NW via Twitter.

Meanwhile, 91 wildfires are currently raging across the U.S., devastating ecosystems and infrastructure. Three million acres have burned so far this year, with the fire season far from over, while during the same period last year only 2.1 million acres burned. Western U.S. climate change-induced mega fires are also having adverse agricultural commodities impacts, with farmers and ranchers now saddled with skyrocketing fire insurance rates, often increasing by tens of thousands of dollars. “[T]he trend has sent shock waves through California’s agricultural regions,” says online environmental news service Grist. Those exorbitant insurance rates could push some farms out of business, or make agriculture too risky to insure.

Farther east, in Colorado and Utah, cattle ranchers are feeling the pain too. As their drought worsens, many have reluctantly decided to cull their herds. “Everyone is gonna be selling their cows, so it’s probably smarter now to do it, while the price is up, before the market gets flooded,” said Buzz Bates, a rancher from Oab, Utah.

The West’s drought has also created ideal conditions for grasshopper eggs to hatch, leading to widespread infestation and crop loss. “I can only describe grasshoppers in expletives,” said one Oregon farmer. “They are a scourge of the Earth … They just destroy the land, destroy the crops.”

Locust in Indonesia. Major infestations hit Africa last year and the U.S. this year. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

The specter of global hunger

Drought this year is exacerbating hunger in some of Earth’s poorest countries. Southern Madagascar is experiencing its worst drought in four decades. Maliha, 38 years old and a single mother of eight, told Reliefweb: “Since the rain stopped, the children are not eating regularly. I give them whatever I can find, like cactus leaves. With this diet, they have diarrhea and nausea, but we have no choice. At least it doesn’t kill them.”

According to World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley, the food crisis in Madagascar has been building for years: “There have been back-to-back droughts which have pushed communities right to the very edge of starvation.” More than 1 million Madagascans have been left “food insecure,” without access to “sufficient, safe and nutritious food,” he said.

He’s emphatic as to the reason: “This is not because of war or conflict; this is because of climate change.”

As disaster follows disaster, some evoke tales of the 10 plagues found in the Old Testament, sent by God to punish humanity for its evil. Not even the plague of locusts is missing: Just a year ago, the Greater Horn of Africa and Yemen suffered the largest desert locust outbreak in 25 years, triggered by record rains. In Ethiopia alone more than 356,000 tons of cereals were lost, leaving almost 1 million people food insecure.

Women wait to receive emergency hot meals for their malnourished children in the village of Sihanamaro, Androy region, southern Madagascar. Image courtesy of WFP/Krystyna Kovalenko.
Children eat food distributed by the World Food Programme in the village of Sihanamaro, Androy region, southern Madagascar. Image courtesy of WFP/Krystyna Kovalenko.

Commodities impacted planetwide

Extreme weather continues slamming crops across the world at a time when food prices are already near the highest in a decade. The list goes on: Flooding in China’s key pork-producing region has raised the threat of animal disease. Devastating rains in the EU are raising fears of widespread fungal diseases in grains. And in the High Plains along the U.S.-Canada border, grains and livestock are at risk as predicted deepening drought keeps commodities brokers and farmers on edge. Russia, another global bread basket, is also hot and dry, and wheat crop expectations have fallen.

Brazil is one of the most important agricultural exporters in the world. But prolonged drought there is causing concerns for 2021’s second corn crop. Drought and rare freezing weather are hurting coffee-growing regions too, which are suffering some of their coldest weather in 25 years. On July 29, a wide area of Brazil even saw snow. (Climate chaos, while it produces substantially more heat records, also sometimes generates extreme cold.) The coffee harvest will be damaged. World coffee prices are rising.

Other crops could be impacted, as Brazil is the planet’s biggest exporter of sugar, orange juice and soybeans. “There’s no other country in the world that has that kind of influence on the world market conditions — what happens in Brazil affects everyone,” Michael Sheridan, director of sourcing and shared value at Intelligentsia Coffee, a Chicago-based roaster and retailer, told Bloomberg.

Flooded area in the town of Qingshanqiao in Ningxiang, Hunan, China in 2017. The country is again seeing terrible flooding in 2021 — the future is almost surely to be worse unless greenhouse gas emissions are slashed quickly. Image by Huangdan2060 via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0).
Drought in parts of India left farmers and livestock owners in desperate conditions for most of this year. Such events did occur in the past, but are now becoming increasingly more frequent, stressing communities and entire nations. Image by srinivasa krishna via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Feast or famine: Profiting from disaster

As elsewhere, Brazil’s climate disasters are regionalized, only damaging harvests in some places, but not others. In unaffected areas, farmers are doing well, even better than expected because world commodity prices have climbed, partly because of droughts around the planet. And as is so often the case in the commodities market, one farmer benefits from another’s disaster, though the big commodities traders have the versatility and economic power to weather whiplash weather — at least for now.

The Brazilian government’s statistics authority, IBGE, is expecting a “record-breaking harvest of grains, cereals and oilseeds in 2021.” Agribusiness outside the drought-affected Paraná region is jubilant. Maurilio Biagi Filho, whose family owns vast sugar plantations, says that it is “very rare” for high agricultural prices to coincide with record production. “When that happens, it’s extraordinary,” he adds.

A similar phenomenon is evident in the U.S., where the fortunes of two very different corn belts have emerged. The U.S. Southeast is experiencing “great summer weather” (cool and wet), while the Northwest is facing “a terrible drought” (hot/dry weather). “The crux of the matter is the crop is being damaged in the West, and improving in the East,” comments one farming media source.

Maurílio Biagi Filho, one of Brazil’s largest agribusiness magnates, is expecting a big boost in income this year due to a hike in world commodity prices caused by the nation’s droughts. Image courtesy of JornalCana.

This mixed economic picture comes with a caveat: As 2021 unfolds and the global climate crisis deepens year-on-year, forecasts say fewer and fewer farmers may benefit, with extreme weather disasters and failed harvests proliferating.

In the 1990s, a Woods Hole Research Center scientist, describing impending climate chaos, put it this way: “Think of a pot of cool water on the stove. Add heat to the pot and keep adding it. The water will start to move, swirling in increasingly erratic and intensifying patterns. Small bubbles arise, then bigger bubbles appear as you add energy to the system, until you’re at a rolling boil. That’s a good metaphor for global climate change: as emissions rise, extreme weather events pop up more often, randomly and unpredictably everywhere.”

Climate chaos breeds food insecurity and political instability

The downside to the current hike in commodity prices is already becoming clear for many: With millions of poor people hit by climate disasters, governments in financially strapped countries are having to provide food relief. “Food inflation is the last thing governments need right now,” Carlos Mera, an analyst at Rabobank, told the Financial Times.

Higher food prices often generate political unrest, even in countries where dissent is firmly repressed. In early July, protesters took to the streets in southwestern Iran, chanting anti-regime slogans and demanding greater access to water for drinking, for farmlands and their cattle.

But the climate crisis shows no sign of easing: On June 22, Nuwaiseeb, Kuwait, recorded temperatures of 53.2° Celsius (127.7° Fahrenheit). In neighboring Iraq and Iran, temperatures didn’t lag far behind. All-time records were broken in Turkey too (where wildfires are incinerating farm animals), and in both Northern Ireland and northern Japan. Moscow was hit by a historic heat wave in June, with temperatures soaring to 34°C (93°F), a 120-year record. These heat waves are bad news for global food supplies and prices — and for national security.

High food prices, caused partly by climate change-driven drought, are believed to have been a key factor behind the unrest that spread across a swath of the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, generating the Arab Spring.

Prescient journalist Ross Gelbspan, writing in 1997, warned the world of the perpetual “coming state of emergency,” a deepening and disruptive climate change abyss — an extreme weather maelstrom into which food production systems, whole populations, governments and countries would fall and fail, bringing hunger, human misery, civil unrest and war.

Carlos Mera, a senior analyst at Rabobank, a Dutch banking and financial services company, on a trip to Brazil to analyze the coffee harvest, dialing in to a teleconference in 2019. Image via Twitter.

Climate breakdown

The consensus is growing: Today, almost all scientists and policymakers (besides the politicians aligned with fossil fuel interests) agree that the underlying cause of the current climate crisis is a hundred years — less than a nanosecond in the planet’s history — of human activity, pumping billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Recently, a draft report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), scheduled to be published at the beginning of next year, was obtained by the AFP news agency. AFP says the report reads as “by far, the most comprehensive catalogue ever assembled of how climate change is upending our world.” The IPCC warns that the devastating impacts of global warming will be painfully obvious before a child born today turns 30.

Just like Rafael Colombo, the Argentine environmental lawyer, the IPCC points to a witch’s brew of anthropomorphic influences: greenhouse gas emissions, degradation of land under intensive agriculture, deforestation, overuse of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, overgrazing, and over extraction of water for farming and other uses. But still, emissions rise along with population and the reckless use of resources.

Soy plantation abutting tropical forest in Brazil. Deforestation and land degradation due to aggressive agribusiness expansion are among anthropomorphic impacts in the Amazon region — impacts that also include increasing drought brought by climate change. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.
Global droughts are undermining centuries of human progress, denying water for crops, livelihoods, and for survival. Image courtesy Petterik Wiggers / UN WFP.

An urgent need for ‘transformational change’

The draft IPCC report states: “We need transformational change operating on processes and behaviors at all levels: individual, communities, business, institutions and governments. We must redefine our way of life and consumption.”

Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, associate professor at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University, says vastly improved farming techniques are the way forward. He told Mongabay there must be “greater investments in R&D and ‘climate-smart’ agriculture … to compensate for the climate change ‘headwind.’” He emphasized, “These investments need to be done now — or yesterday.” Generating higher output from “climate-smart plants” would allow humanity to “sustain historical growth rates in [crop] production without having to increase inputs.”

Colleen Doherty, an associate professor of biochemistry at North Carolina University, takes a similar approach, suggesting that “climate-smart” agriculture could be achieved partly by creating far more resilient plants. “We have to breed crops for conditions that we don’t even know right now what they are going to be. Things are changing so rapidly that we need to be able to anticipate what the problems are before they happen,” she said, adding with cautious optimism: “We’ve barely touched the potential of plants.”

If such an approach is to work, it must deliver much more than improved technology has achieved in the last couple of decades. A recent paper, “Anthropogenic climate change has slowed global agricultural productivity growth,” shows that climate change has wiped out seven years of improvements in agricultural productivity over the past 60 years. Ortiz-Bobea, the paper’s lead author, said that “the slowdown effect” may well intensify, as “global agriculture is growing increasingly vulnerable to climate change” and “global warming is accelerating.”

A very different method for confronting the crisis is laid out by the regenerative agriculture movement. Its proponents are skeptical of scientists’ capacity to breed more resilient plants. “Despite billions of dollars being spent on research and media hype there is not one major crop that has benefited from genetically engineered modifications to make them significantly more resilient to drought,” André Leu, international director of Regeneration International, told Mongabay, though biotechnology companies and researchers do claim some progress in that field of development.

Woman stands outside her home destroyed by floods in Kenya. Image © Greenpeace.
Aerial view of flooded villages and farmland in Kenya. In May, 40,000 people were displaced, hundreds of lives lost, crops destroyed and livestock drowned. Extreme weather events, including floods and droughts are becoming more frequent and more intense as the climate crisis deepens. With the current COVID-19 crisis and locusts invasion, flooding exacerbates the food security situation in the country. Image © Greenpeace.

Answers will not emerge from laboratories, he argues, but by working with rural communities who have acquired an unrivaled knowledge of local ecosystems through centuries of experience. “There are numerous published studies showing that increasing agro-biodiversity through a mix of crop species and varieties, along with farmer-led participatory breeding, increases drought and extreme climate weather resilience,” he said. “These systems are now working globally on every arable continent.” Moreover, advocates say regenerative agriculture can “substantially mitigate climate change” by sequestering significant greenhouse gas emissions.

As yet, neither approach is translating into the “transformational change” that the draft IPCC report calls for, largely because governments worldwide have yet to act aggressively to address the scale of the catastrophe unfolding planetwide at breakneck speed. And few analysts hold out much hope this will change at the vital COP26 climate summit this November in Scotland.

Meanwhile, the situation continues to deteriorate: Forecasts released this month by the International Energy Agency predict the world will record “the highest levels of carbon dioxide output in human history” this year.

Many scientists and policymakers fear that the very survival of the human species is now at risk. The draft IPCC report warns: “Life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems. Humans cannot.”

Dried-out rice fields in the Anosy region of southern Madagascar. As food insecurity worsens globally, national security could be threatened in many countries. Image courtesy of Daniel Wood/SEED Madagascar.

Reposted with permission from Mongabay

Four Ways to Tackle the Climate and Biodiversity Crises Simultaneously

landmark report by the world’s most senior climate and biodiversity scientists argues that the world will have to tackle the climate crisis and the species extinction crisis simultaneously, or not at all.

That’s because Earth’s land and ocean already absorbs about half of the greenhouse gases that people emit. Wild animals, plants, fungi and microbes help maintain this carbon sink by keeping soils, forests and other ecosystems healthy.

Failing to tackle climate change meanwhile will accelerate biodiversity loss, as higher temperatures and changing rainfall patterns make survival for many species more difficult. Both problems are intertwined, and so solutions to one which exacerbate the other are doomed to fail.

Luckily, there are options for addressing climate change and biodiversity loss together, called nature-based solutions. If implemented properly, these measures can enhance the richness and diversity of life on Earth, help habitats store more carbon and even reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, making ecosystems more resilient while slowing the rate at which the planet warms.

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This Forest Has Remained Wild for 5,000 Years-thanks to the Soil

We sometimes think that the Amazon rainforest has not been modified by humans and can peep into the Earth’s past. In the last few years, scientists have learned that many parts of the Amazon are completely untouched. The Amazon has been cultivated by indigenous peoples for thousands of years, and only centuries ago there were cities and farmlands. But that’s not the case everywhere.In a new study at PNASResearchers have found that the rainforests of the Putumayo region of Peru have been home to relatively unaltered forests for 5,000 years, and that the people who lived there have found a long-term way to coexist with nature. .. Silica and charcoal in the soil.

“Even experienced ecologists find it very difficult to tell the difference between a 2,000-year-old forest and a 200-year-old forest,” said Nigel, an ecologist and co-author of the paper at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.・ Pitman says. PNAS paper. “There are more and more studies showing that many of the Amazon forests we consider to be wilderness are actually only 500 years old, because the people who lived there were also by Europeans. He died in a pandemic and the forest grew again. “

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Are Corporate Claims of Regenerative Agriculture Real?

Regenerative agriculture could save the world. Or at least it belongs in the toolbox to help reduce and reverse climate change. EarthDay.org chose it as a major theme for their 2021 campaigns because so few people are familiar with this important strategy.

But like so many good ideas, corporate marketing teams are already coopting regenerative agriculture into a meaningless buzzword. What is regenerative agriculture really? And how can you as a consumer separate the green from the greenwashed?

Regenerative Agriculture

Like other sustainable agriculture movements, regenerative agriculture focuses on the health of the soil. Conventional, agrochemical-based farming methods’ impacts on soil health are well documented: erosion, diminished tilth, and destruction of microbiotic communities.

Globally, more than 90% of conventionally farmed soils are thinning and a third of Earth’s soils are already degraded. Sustaining soil is not enough – it’s necessary to regenerate it.

Soil Schism

While everyone can agree that soil restoration is at the heart of regenerative agriculture, it is a fairly new movement that lacks the widely recognized standards of organic farming. The new system, Regenerative Organic Certified, is still fine-tuning its standards and has only issued a handful of certifications. There are two competing approaches to regenerative agriculture.

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How Pesticides Are Harming Soil Ecosystems

The first year after Jason Ward began transitioning his newly purchased conventional farm to organic production, he started seeing more earthworms in the soil beneath his corn, soybeans, and wheat fields. By the third year, he had spotted numerous nightcrawlers—big worms reaching up to eight inches long—on his 700-acre farm in Green County, Ohio.

With conventionally farmed land, “anything synthetic is hurting the natural ecosystem of the soil,” said Ward, whose acreage is now largely certified organic. “As you transition away from that, the life comes back.”

By life, Ward means the rich diversity of insects and other soil invertebrates—earthworms, roundworms, beetles, ants, springtails, and ground-nesting bees—as well as soil bacteria and fungi. Rarely do conversations about the negative impacts of pesticide use in agriculture include these soil invertebrates, yet they play a vital role in soil and plant health and sequestering carbon. Worms eat fallen plant matter, excrete carbon-rich casts and feces, cycle nutrients to plants, and create tunnels that help the soil retain water. Beetles and other soil insects feed on the seeds of weeds, or prey on crop pests such as aphids.

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Nature Funding Must Triple by 2030 to Protect Land, Wildlife and Climate

(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Global annual spending to protect and restore nature needs to triple this decade to about $350 billion by 2030 and rise to $536 billion by 2050, a U.N. report said on Thursday, urging a shift in mindset among financiers, businesses and governments.

The inaugural State of Finance for Nature report looked at how to tackle the planet’s climate, biodiversity and land degradation crises, estimating about $8 trillion in investment would be needed by mid-century to safeguard natural systems.

Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), told the report launch the amounts required may sound large but “it’s peanuts when we are frankly talking about securing the planet and our very own future”.

“Our health, the quality of our lives, our jobs, temperature regulation, the housing we build and of course the food we eat, the water we drink” all depend on well-functioning natural systems, she said.

Report co-author Ivo Mulder, who heads UNEP’s climate finance unit, said financial flows should work with nature rather than against it.

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Ditching Meat Isn’t the Answer for Climate Change. Better Farming Is.

Suddenly, meat is out in the high-end food world. Eleven Madison Park, a New York City restaurant with three Michelin stars, recently announced that when it reopens after a pandemic-forced hiatus, the menu will be vegan. The cooking site Epicurious is no longer publishing new beef recipes, and the San Francisco restaurants run by another three-Michelin-starred chef, Dominique Crenn, went meatless a little over a year ago. Meat-substitute brands like Impossible Foods (which raised $200 million its latest round of venture capital funding last year) and rival Beyond Meat (which recently struck high-profile deals with Subway and KFC) are booming.

At first glance, this seems like good news. Many of these restaurants cite boosting sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint as reasons for their decisions; forcing the food system to reckon with how commercial meat production contributes to greenhouse gas emissions is a noble goal. But rejecting meat outright is unlikely to bring anywhere near enough consumers on board to solve the underlying environmental problems plaguing our food system.

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World Bee Day: No Pollination, No Life

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On May 20 we celebrate World Bee Day. Bees, like other pollinators, play a key role in making life possible on our planet.

Without pollination there is no life

It is known that 75 percent of the world’s crops depend on pollinators; without them, most of the fruits, flowers, and seeds that we know would not exist. Without pollinators, we would not witness the diversity we still enjoy today, despite the great damage that humans have caused to landscapes and ecosystems. The ecosystem service provided by bee pollination and other pollinators is crucial and immeasurable.

There are approximately 20,000 species of pollinating wild bees distributed throughout the world —except for Antarctica—and approximately 1,800 of these species live in Mexico, the second country with the largest diversity of bees in the world after the United States 1.

Beekeeping practices with “domesticated” bees are very diverse and vary from region to region: from stingless bees in Mexico and Guatemala to the practices of the Gurung, collectors of hallucinogenic honey from the Himalayas.

Pollinators’ life under threat

Pollinators in general, and Apis mellifera in particular, which is the best known bee species for giving us honey, pollen, propolis and other by-products, are under threat.

The deterioration of bee colonies is directly related to degenerative agricultural practices.

Industrial agriculture leads to loss of habitat due to deforestation, monocultures that threaten biodiversity, and the use of pesticides. On top of this, stressors caused by the climate crisis are also greatly affecting bee colonies’ survival. A phenomenon that is becoming more and more common is Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Although we usually hear about the effect of CCD on domestic honey bees, CCD is also devastating wild bee populations.

For beekeepers, the evidence of collapse is easily visible when they open the beehive box: hives have less and less population or are even uninhabited, as if bees had fled. It is also possible to see worker bees return to the entrance of the hive lost and disoriented, walking in circles, in some cases not even recognizing their own hive.

More and more traces of pesticides are found in pollen and in the hives themselves, in particular neonicotinoids, which affect the central nervous system of the insects and cause disorientation.

Bees are directly poisoned by these pesticides and their immune systems weaken, making them more susceptible to pathogens such as mites, bacteria, fungi and viruses which, even though they have always existed, are now growing in alarming numbers.

Real or adulterated honey?

Along with coffee and olive oil, honey is one of the most adulterated food products in the world. Beekeepers in Mexico who practice natural and regenerative beekeeping, respecting the cycles of the hive organism and its vital stages, are affected by a drastic drop in honey prices as a result of the commercialization of adulterated honeys. This causes unfair competition and a collapse in the price of honey both in the domestic and export markets, and it particularly affects those who practice agroecological and regenerative beekeeping. Adulterated honey is made from corn and cane syrups.

This “honey” (we use quotation marks because it is far from being honey) lacks the nutrients and properties of real honey, which is high in minerals, vitamins and trace elements, and has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and soothing properties.

China is directly involved in adulteration of honey in Mexico and around the world. According to FAO, in the last fifteen years, China has increased honey production by 88% due to an increase in external demand. However, the number of hives in China for the same period only increased by 21%. The large increase in honey production and the comparably much more modest increase in the number of hives is striking.

Honey labelling is often not very transparent. Unless its ingredients include glucose or high fructose syrup, additives used to increase its volume, prevent it from solidifying and increase production, it is difficult to recognize the adulteration process with the naked eye and without performing a quality test. 

Another way to adulterate the honey and confuse the consumer is to mix different types of honey (different in their origin, not in their flowering) and not specify its source, or directly lie about the real origin.

There are, however, some home tests that can help: 

  • If you put the honey on a spoon or on your finger and it runs off, then it is definitely adulterated.
  • If you put the honey in a glass of water and it dilutes, it is most likely adulterated. Real honey would go to the bottom of the glass.
  • With the passage of time, real honey will crystallize and will not remain liquid. This is a key indicator of whether or not it has been adulterated.

The solution: awareness and acting consciously

First of all, you have to understand that real honey is expensive. The high price tag reflects the effort and dedication that the beekeeper has to put in to produce honey in an honest and regenerative way, but in fact, it should be even more expensive if we consider all the effort the bee puts into producing honey.

On average, to produce a kilo of honey requires the work of about 2,500 bees. Each bee will have to fly up to 60 kilometers a day to find suitable flowers and will do so for around twenty-one days, sucking nectar from six hundred flowers.

When you understand all that goes into honey production, it becomes clear that buying a kilo of honey for a dollar is nonsense. The price of honey in Mexico and in other parts of the world has decreased due to the proliferation of adulterated honeys, as we mentioned before. It is crucial to buy honey directly from local producers and beekeepers, or buy certified honeys, understanding that the price you pay is directly proportional to its nutritional value and that it supports the beekeeper who practices fair and regenerative beekeeping.

Stricter regulations should also be promoted not only in terms of labelling, but also quality control and traceability of honey through its pollen.

It is also essential to be aware of the impact that the use of pesticides has on bees and to support campaigns to ban them, facilitating the conservation and restoration of ecosystems for bees and other pollinators.

We invite you to continue exploring this topic. You can find more concrete actions on the Save the Bees Campaign, an initiative of the Organic Consumers Association.

1 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982220315967

Ercilia Sahores is the Latin America Director of RI. To sign up for RI’s email newsletter, click here.

Hope Below Our Feet

Peer-Reviewed Publications on Well-Managed Grazing as a Means of Improving Rangeland Ecology, Building Soil Carbon, and Mitigating Global Warming

Prepared by Soil4Climate Inc.

Updated May 2021

Left: Soil with approximately 7% soil organic matter at North Dakota farmer Gabe Brown’s holistically managed ranch. Top right: Kroon family holistically managed ranch on left side of fence, Karoo region, South Africa, with livestock density about 4X that of the neighbor’s ranch on right side of fence. Bottom right: Holistically managed herd on Maasai lands in Kenya. (Top right photo by Kroon family. Left and bottom right photos by Seth J. Itzkan.)

Accelerating regenerative grazing to tackle farm, environmental, and societal challenges in the upper Midwest

2021 Viewpoint by Spratt et al. in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation defines “regenerative grazing” as a “win-win-win” component of “regenerative agriculture” that “uses soil health and adaptive livestock management principles to improve farm profitability, human and ecosystem health, and food system resiliency.”

Spratt et al. 2021, doi:10.2489/jswc.2021.1209A

https://www.jswconline.org/content/jswc/76/1/15A.full.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Expanding grass-based agriculture on marginal land in the U.S. Great Plains: The role of management intensive grazing

2021 paper by Wang et al. in Land Use Policy finds that the adoption of management intensive grazing (MIG) is a key factor for restoring marginal croplands to permanent grassland cover to enhance environmental benefits across the Great Plains from a social perspective. It also notes that compared to conventional tillage-based crop production, grass-based agriculture can provide substantially more ecosystem benefits and that management intensive grazing (MIG) offers the potential to enhance grassland resilience, thereby increasing the profitability of grass-based agriculture.

Tong Wang, Hailong Jin, Urs Kreuter, Richard Teague,Expanding grass-based agriculture on marginal land in the U.S. Great Plains: The role of management intensive grazing, Land Use Policy, Volume 104, 2021,105155,ISSN 0264-8377, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2020.105155.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264837720324935

Adaptive multi-paddock grazing enhances soil carbon and nitrogen stocks and stabilization through mineral association in southeastern U.S. grazing lands

2021 paper by Mosier et al. in Journal of Environmental Management finds that adaptive multi-paddock grazing (AMP) increases both soil carbon and soil nitrogen stocks when compared with conventional grazing (CG). Specifically, carbon stocks were increased 13% and nitrogen stocks 9%.  It concludes, “Findings show that AMP grazing is a management strategy to sequester C and retain N.”

Mosier S, Apfelbaum S, Byck P, Calderon F, Teague R, Thompson R, Francesca Cotrufo M, Adaptive multi-paddock grazing enhances soil carbon and nitrogen stocks and stabilization through mineral association in southeastern U.S. grazing lands, Journal of Environmental Management, Volume 288, 2021, 112409, ISSN 0301-4797, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2021.112409 

Ecosystem Impacts and Productive Capacity of a Multi-Species Pastured Livestock System

2020 paper by Rowntree et al. documents the soil carbon increases from “holistic planned grazing” in a multi-species pasture rotation (MSPR) system on the USDA-certified organic White Oak Pastures farm in Clay County, Georgia. Over 20 years, the farm sequestered an average of 2.29 metric tonnes of carbon per hectare per year (2.29 Mg C/ha/yr).  The paper also shows that the area required to produce food in this regenerative way was 2.5 times that of conventional farming (which would have resulted in soil degradation and toxic chemicals impact). It notes that production efficiency comes at a cost of “land-use tradeoffs” that  must be taken into consideration.

Rowntree JE, Stanley PL, Maciel ICF, Thorbecke M, Rosenzweig ST, Hancock DW, Guzman A and Raven MR (2020) Ecosystem Impacts and Productive Capacity of a Multi-Species Pastured Livestock System. Front. Sustain. Food Syst. 4:544984. doi: 10.3389/fsufs.2020.544984

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fsufs.2020.544984/full

Climate change mitigation as a co-benefit of regenerative ranching: insights from Australia and the United States

2020 paper in Interface Focus finds that “‘Managed grazing’ is gaining attention for its potential to contribute to climate change mitigation by reducing bare ground and promoting perennialization, thereby enhancing soil carbon sequestration (SCS).” The paper explores principles and practices associated with the larger enterprise of ‘regenerative ranching’ (RR), which, it states, “includes managed grazing but infuses the practice with holistic decision-making.” It argues that the holistic framework is appealing “due to a suite of ecological, economic and social benefits” and notes that climate change mitigation a “co-benefit.”

Gosnell H, Charnley S, Stanley P. 2020 Climate change mitigation as a co-benefit of regenerative ranching: insights from Australia and the United States. Interface Focus 10: 20200027. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsfs.2020.0027

A half century of Holistic Management: what does the evidence reveal?

2020 paper in Agriculture and Human Values provides a meta-analysis of Holistic Management (HM) considering “epistemic”  differences between disciplines associated with the agricultural sciences. It concludes that the way to resolve the controversy over HM is to “research, in partnership with ranchers, rangeland social-ecological systems in more holistic, integrated ways.” This broader approach to research, it argues, can account for “the full range of human experience, co-produce new knowledge, and contribute to social-ecological transformation.”

Gosnell, Hannah & Grimm, Kerry & Goldstein, Bruce. (2020). A half century of Holistic Management: what does the evidence reveal?. Agriculture and Human Values. 10.1007/s10460-020-10016-w. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10460-020-10016-w

Soil greenhouse gas emissions as impacted by soil moisture and temperature under continuous and holistic planned grazing in native tallgrass prairie. 

2020 paper in Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment finds that holistic planned grazing protocols, used in adaptive multi-paddock (AMP) management, had superior ecological performance in a tallgrass prairie region when compared with high-density continuous  grazing and medium-density continuous grazing systems. Results demonstrate AMP grazing had lower soil temperature, higher soil moisture, and lower N2O and CH4 emissions.

Dowhower, S. L., Teague, W. R., Casey, K. D., & Daniel, R. (2020). Soil greenhouse gas emissions as impacted by soil moisture and temperature under continuous and holistic planned grazing in native tallgrass prairie. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 287, 106647. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2019.106647

Impacts of holistic planned grazing with bison compared to continuous grazing with cattle in South Dakota shortgrass prairie

2019 paper in Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment demonstrates that Adaptive Multi-paddock (AMP) grazing increases fine litter cover, water infiltration, forage biomass and soil carbon stocks in a comparison with heavy continuous grazing (HCG) on shortgrass prairie of the Northern Great Plains of North America. 

Hillenbrand, M., Thompson, R., Wang, F., Apfelbaum, S., & Teague, R. (2019). Impacts of holistic planned grazing with bison compared to continuous grazing with cattle in South Dakota shortgrass prairie. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 279, 156–168. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2019.02.005

 

Simulating the influence of integrated crop-livestock systems on water yield at watershed scale

2019 paper in the Journal of Environmental Management shows that Integrated crop-livestock (ICL) systems have superior water retention (reduction in “water yields”) than in crops systems without a livestock grazing rotation. 

Pérez-Gutiérrez, J. D., & Kumar, S. (2019). Simulating the influence of integrated crop-livestock systems on water yield at watershed scale. Journal of Environmental Management, 239, 385–394. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2019.03.068

 

 

 

 

Impacts of soil carbon sequestration on life cycle greenhouse gas emissions in Midwestern USA beef finishing systems

2018 Michigan State University study in Agricultural Systems finds 1.5 metric tons of carbon per acre per year drawdown via adaptive multi-paddock grazing, more than enough to offset all greenhouse gas emissions associated with the beef finishing phase.

Stanley, P. L., Rowntree, J. E., Beede, D. K., DeLonge, M. S., & Hamm, M. W. (2018). Impacts of soil carbon sequestration on life cycle greenhouse gas emissions in Midwestern USA beef finishing systems. Agricultural Systems, 162, 249-258. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2018.02.003

The effect of Holistic Planned Grazing™ on African rangelands: a case study from Zimbabwe

2018 paper in African Journal of Range & Forage Science finds positive long-term effects on ecosystem services (soils and vegetation) for Holistic Planned Grazing (HPG) and shows this approach enhancing the sustainability of livestock and wildlife.

Peel, M., & Stalmans, M. (2018). The effect of Holistic Planned Grazing™ on African rangelands: a case study from Zimbabwe. African Journal of Range & Forage Science, 35(1), 23-31. doi:10.2989/10220119.2018.1440630 https://doi.org/10.2989/10220119.2018.1440630

Enhancing soil organic carbon, particulate organic carbon and microbial biomass in semi-arid rangeland using pasture enclosures

2018 study in BMC Ecology demonstrates that controlling livestock grazing through the establishment of pasture enclosures is the key strategy for enhancing multiple ecological indicators including total soil organic carbon, and that “the establishment of enclosures is an effective restoration approach to restore degraded soils in semi-arid rangelands.” Other improved indicators include particulate organic carbon, microbial biomass carbon, and microbial biomass nitrogen. 

Oduor, C.O., Karanja, N.K., Onwonga, R.N. et al. Enhancing soil organic carbon, particulate organic carbon and microbial biomass in semi-arid rangeland using pasture enclosures. BMC Ecol 18, 45 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12898-018-0202-z

Grasslands may be more reliable carbon sinks than forests in California

2018 paper in Environmental Research Letters finds that California grasslands are a more resilient carbon sink than forests in response to 21st century changes in climate. The paper also notes that, in data compilations, herbivory has been shown to increase grassland C sequestration rates.

Dass, P., Houlton, B. Z., Wang, Y., & Warlind, D. (2018). Grasslands may be more reliable carbon sinks than forests in California. Environmental Research Letters, 13(7), 074027. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/aacb39

https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aacb39

 

The role of ruminants in reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint in North America

2016 Texas A&M study in Journal of Soil and Water Conservation finds 1.2 metric tons of carbon per acre per year drawdown via adaptive multi-paddock grazing and the drawdown potential of North American pasturelands is 800 million metric tons of carbon per year. 

Teague, W. R., Apfelbaum, S., Lal, R., Kreuter, U. P., Rowntree, J., Davies, C. A., R. Conser, M. Rasmussen, J. Hatfield, T. Wang, F. Wang, Byck, P. (2016). The role of ruminants in reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint in North America. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 71(2), 156-164. doi:10.2489/jswc.71.2.156 http://www.jswconline.org/content/71/2/156.full.pdf+html

 

 

 

Potential mitigation of midwest grass-finished beef production emissions with soil carbon sequestration in the United States of America

2016 paper in Journal on Food, Agriculture & Society finds that where soil carbon sequestration is included in a life cycle assessment of Midwest grass-finished beef production systems, such systems can be overall carbon sinks.

Rowntree, J., Ryals, R., Delonge, M., Teague, R. W., Chiavegato, M., Byck, P., . . . Xu, S. (2016). Potential mitigation of midwest grass-finished beef production emissions with soil carbon sequestration in the United States of America. Future of Food: Journal on Food, Agriculture & Society, 4(3), 8. https://asu.pure.elsevier.com/en/publications/potential-mitigation-of-midwest-grass-finished-beef-production-em

Emerging land use practices rapidly increase soil organic matter

2015 University of Georgia study in Nature Communications finds 3 metric tons of carbon per acre per year drawdown following a conversion from row cropping to regenerative grazing.

Machmuller, M. B., Kramer, M. G., Cyle, T. K., Hill, N., Hancock, D., & Thompson, A. (2015). Emerging land use practices rapidly increase soil organic matter. Nature Communications, 6, 6995. doi:10.1038/ncomms7995 https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms7995

 

 

 

 

GHG Mitigation Potential of Different Grazing Strategies in the United States Southern Great Plain

2015 paper in Sustainability finds that a conversion from heavy continuous to multi-paddock grazing on cow-calf farms in the US southern Great Plains can result in a carbon sequestration rate in soil of 2 tonnes per hectare per year or approximately 0.89 tonnes per acre per year. In a sensitivity analysis that accounts for farm animal emissions, this sequestration in soil is sufficient to make the farm a net carbon sink for decades.

Wang, T., Teague, W., Park, S., & Bevers, S. (2015). GHG Mitigation Potential of Different Grazing Strategies in the United States Southern Great Plains. Sustainability, 7(10), 13500. Retrieved from http://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/7/10/13500

 

 

 

 

 

 

Global Cooling by Grassland Soils of the Geological Past and Near Future

2013 paper in Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences by University of Oregon Department of Geological Sciences professor Gregory J. Retallack shows the co-evolution of ruminants and grassland soils (mollisols) was essential for geologic cooling of the past 20 million years – leading to the conditions suitable for human evolution – and can be an instrumental part of the necessary cooling in the future to reverse global warming.

Retallack, G. (2013). Global Cooling by Grassland Soils of the Geological Past and Near Future (Vol. 41, pp. 69–86): Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-earth-050212-124001

Sustainability of holistic and conventional cattle ranching in the seasonally dry tropics of Chiapas, Mexico

2013 study in Agricultural Systems finds practitioners of Holistic Management in the dry tropics region of Chiapas, Mexico have denser grass, deeper topsoil, and more earthworms in their pastures than conventional graziers, and that “Holistic management is leading to greater ecological and economic sustainability.”

Ferguson, B. G., Diemont, S. A. W., Alfaro-Arguello, R., Martin, J. F., Nahed-Toral, J., Álvarez-Solís, D., & Pinto-Ruíz, R. (2013). Sustainability of holistic and conventional cattle ranching in the seasonally dry tropics of Chiapas, Mexico. Agricultural Systems, 120, 38-48. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2013.05.005

Tall Fescue Management in the Piedmont: Sequestration of Soil Organic Carbon and Total Nitrogen

2012 study in Soil Science Society of America Journal demonstrates improved grazing management systems can have an enormous benefit on surface soil fertility restoration of degraded soils in the southeastern United States, and managed grazing can sequester 1.5 metric tons of carbon per hectare per year.

Franzluebbers, A. J., D. M. Endale, J. S. Buyer, and J. A. Stuedemann. 2012. Tall Fescue Management in the Piedmont: Sequestration of Soil Organic Carbon and Total Nitrogen. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 76:1016-1026. doi:10.2136/sssaj2011.0347 

Effect of grazing on soil-water content in semiarid rangelands of southeast Idaho

2011 paper in Journal of Arid Environments finds simulated holistic planned grazing (SHPG) had significantly higher percent volumetric-water content (%VWC) after two years of comparison with similar ranch plots using rest-rotation (RESTROT), and total rest (TREST) systems in semiarid rangelands of southeast Idaho. Measured percent volumetric-water content were 45.8 for SHPG and 34.7 and 29.8 for RESTROT and TREST, respectively.

Weber, K. T., & Gokhale, B. S. (2011). Effect of grazing on soil-water content in semiarid rangelands of southeast Idaho. Journal of Arid Environments, 75(5), 464-470. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaridenv.2010.12.009

 

 

Grazing management impacts on vegetation, soil biota and soil chemical, physical and hydrological properties in tall grass prairie

2011 paper in Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment demonstrates multi-paddock grazing of the type recommended by Allan Savory, and representative of Holistic Management, led to improved soil health indicators including higher bulk density, greater infiltration rate, and increased fungal/bacterial ratios when compared with continuous single-paddock grazing, typical of conventional practice. Soil organic matter averaged 3.61% in the multi-paddock ranches, compared to 2.4% for heavy continuous, single-paddock grazing.

Teague, W. R., Dowhower, S. L., Baker, S. A., Haile, N., DeLaune, P. B., & Conover, D. M. (2011). Grazing management impacts on vegetation, soil biota and soil chemical, physical and hydrological properties in tall grass prairie. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 141(3–4), 310-322. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2011.03.009

Benefits of multi-paddock grazing management on rangelands: Limitations of experimental grazing research and knowledge gaps

2008 chapter in “Grasslands: Ecology, Management, and Restoration,” published by H. G. Schroder, finds in a comprehensive literature review that multi-paddock rotational grazing produces superior results for grassland ecology when compared to conventional continuous grazing. It also finds that misunderstandings exist in the management techniques needed to achieve these benefits and in the scientific protocols required to assess them. 

Teague, W. R., Provenza, F., Norton, B., Steffens, T., Barnes, M., Kothmann, M. M., & Roath, R. (2008). Benefits of multi-paddock grazing management on rangelands: Limitations of experimental grazing research and knowledge gaps. In H. G. Schroder (Ed.), Grasslands: Ecology, Management, and Restoration (pp. 41-80): Nova Science Publishers, NY. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/285918973_Benefits_of_multi-paddock_grazing_management_on_rangelands_Limitations_of_experimental_grazing_research_and_knowledge_gaps