Regenerative Economies for a Regenerative Civilization

Author: John Fullerton

“There is nothing more difficult to plan, nor more dangerous to manage, than the creation of a new system. For the creator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old system and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new one.”
— Niccolo Machiavelli

Einstein once said, “It is the theory which decides what we can observe.” i

I believe this assertion holds both truth and great wisdom. Its macro importance is trivial when the world operates according to a theory that fits the context of the times. Its importance becomes paramount when the world is running on a theory that no longer fits the realities at hand. NOW is such a time.

The so-called “practical people” who dismiss theory as being “academic” (by which they mean unimportant) have missed this critical distinction. We are in trouble now precisely because such “practical people” run the world today. As a result, we are literally flying blind. And the consequential turbulence – the complex and interconnected political, social, economic, financial, and ecological crises swirling around us – is accelerating.

Now I’m a practical person by training, a former Wall Street banker. But I have been obsessed for over a decade now with the many fundamental incongruities and paradoxes that inhabit our modern, highly reductionist, finance-driven, economic ideology (of both the left and the right). The list is long: the exponential function at the heart of finance-driven economic growth on a finite planet; the shareholder-value principle taught at most leading business schools and driving most corporate decision-making; the discount rate that discounts the value of a hospitable planet for our children whom we love more than life; Modern Portfolio Theory that is the basis for most investment allocation decisions, and Value at Risk as the guiding metric of financial risk, despite the well-understood limitations of both and their track records of failure. And the one that got me started down this path: how to reconcile the invisible hand with the Golden Rule.

My obsession with these incongruities led to the creation of Capital Institute. Since our founding in 2010 we have been collaborating on this journey with a determined and growing network of fellow explorers, including the courageous pioneers who have been on the case for decades. Our work has culminated in the theory that informs “Regenerative Capitalism: How Universal Principles and Patterns Will Shape Our New Economy,” ii and our forthcoming Regenerative Finance white paper due out later this year. This theory is more rediscovery, synthesis, and extension than it is genuinely original insight. But rest assured, this theory has also been experienced first hand in working models on the ground both through my own direct investment practice and then via our story telling initiative, The Field Guide to Investing in a Regenerative Economy.iii Not only theory informing practice, but practice informing theory.

My premise is that the history of economic thought did not end with Keynes and Hayek, or Minsky and Friedman, leaving us nothing to do but shout our ideological beliefs across the public square. I believe this early stage of understanding regenerative economies is the natural next step in the evolution of economic thinking, bringing economics into alignment with our latest scientific understanding of how the universe actually works, building upon the profound advances of ecological economics as developed by Herman Daly and colleagues. The potential and structure of regenerative systems applies to both ecological and humanistic values; it is not simply a “green” idea. We already see expressions of regenerative efforts emerging all around us, although they are often invisible to those observers still trapped in the outdated reductionist paradigm. Until now, this transition has been hampered by the lack of an effective story.


Court Ruling a Victory for Mexico Farmers and Anti-GMO Activists

Authors: Mercedes López Martínez and Ercilia Sahores

On March 8, 2016, Mexican farmers, consumers and activists scored a major victory when a federal appeals court ruled that genetically engineered corn can’t be grown in Mexico until a class action lawsuit, filed by scientists, consumers, farmers and activists has been resolved.

The March 8 ruling allows the biotech industry to continue experimental trials of GM corn, but with a new twist—the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA) will now require regular assessments of the impact of the of the test crops on neighboring non-GM fields and human health.

This recent victory follows a seven-year battle that has drawn together a broad coalition of coalition of individuals and civil society organizations, including scientists, farming groups, beekeepers, indigenous groups, environmental groups, human rights groups and artists bound together by a single mission: to protect the integrity of Mexico’s most popular agricultural crop. The coalition, called Sin Maíz, No hay País (Without Corn, There is No Country), has for years been collecting scientific data about GMOs introduced in Mexico.

The Organic Consumers Association’s Mexico-based team, working through our sister organizations, Vía Orgánica and Asociación de Consumidores Orgánicos, is proud to have played a role in achieving this victory. We also know that this is just the first of many legal hurdles we will have to overcome in our continued battle to defend the integrity and diversity of Mexico’s corn and its connection with an entire culture.

The history behind Monsanto’s Assault on Mexico’s Corn

In 2009, changes in Mexican law allowed biotech giants like Monsanto to conduct trials of GMO corn in approved regions of the country.

Two years later, in 2011, Monsanto and Syngenta asked for a permit to plant GM corn in several states in Northern Mexico. Not surprisingly, they found legal loopholes and sympathetic government officials. The imminent infiltration of GM corn in Mexico threatened Mexico’s ancient tradition of seed exchanges and seed banks. It also threatened to cross contaminate native corn crops, pollute the environment, destroy biodiversity, poison the people and bring poverty to small producers by privatizing corn production through the sale of proprietary patented seeds—just as industrial GMO crops have done in other parts of the world.

This new and imminent threat led to the creation of the 73-member Sin Maíz, No hay País Coalition which has since worked tirelessly to protect and defend Mexico’s traditional corn economy and culture. In July 2013, the coalition filed a lawsuit challenging the government’s process for permitting the planting of GM corn, on the basis that GM corn would threaten biodiversity for current and future generations.

Monsanto and Syngenta responded by hiring the best international and national law firms to fight off the coalition’s team of legal experts, some of whom worked pro bono. The coalition sought national and international funding. OCA has so far contributed $30,000 to support the struggle.

In 2014 and 2015, multinational agribusiness companies, led by Monsanto and Syngenta, filed a number of lawsuits in an attempt to defeat the coalition. They were unsuccessful and instead only strengthened the grassroots group, which gained increasing national and international attention.

As the coalitions’ class action suit gained momentum, it was challenged by more than 70 entities, including Syngenta, Pioneer, DuPont and Monsanto, governmental agencies such as the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) and SAGARPA.

The formal trial, which ultimately led to the March 8 ruling, began in January 2016.

A heritage worth protecting

Mexico is home to 59 native varieties of corn. The Mexican people have crafted over 600 unique corn-based dishes, creating a rainbow of colors and flavors that come from each unique variety. The story of Mexico’s most commonly produced grain dates back thousands of years, when corn was first domesticated in Mesoamerica. That’s when the relationship between human beings and plants first developed, giving birth to the center of genetic heritage and diversity of corn and a culturally and protein rich civilization.

So central to Mexico’s culture is corn, that it has been the subject of entire books. One of those books, “Men of Maize,” written by Miguel Ángel Asturias and based on the sacred book of the Mayan Popol Vuh, explores the deep connection between the Mexican people and teocintle, as the grandfather of corn

It’s a heritage Sin Maíz, No hay País is determined to vigilantly protect, despite this recent first-round victory. The coalitions demands will not ease until the federal courts:

  • Admit that, voluntarily or involuntarily, significant contamination of non-GM fields has already taken place.
  • Acknowledge that GMO crops affect the human right to conservation, sustainable use and fair and equal participation of biological diversity in native corn because they violate the Law on Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms.
  • Acknowledge that agricultural biodiversity will be highly affected by the release of GMO corn.
  • Declare the suspension of the introduction of transgenic maize in all its various forms, including experimental and pilot commercial plantings, in Mexico, birthplace of corn in the world.

For more information:

Donate to keep Monsanto’s GMO corn out of Mexico.


Mercedes López Martínez is the networking coordinator for Vía Orgánica.

Ercilia Sahores is Latin America Political Director for Regeneration International.

A Great Day: Saving the World from Catastrophic Climate Change

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Author: Courtney White

“Dec 1, 2015, will be one of the most important days in human history. It will be seen as the tipping point when the world was saved from catastrophic climate change.” – André Leu, President of the IFOAM (Organics International)

One of the most significant events at the recent UN climate summit in Paris went largely unnoticed.

We know the headlines: In an effort to slow dangerous climate change, representatives from 197 nations concluded a two-week marathon of negotiations by signing a breakthrough agreement that commits governments to targeted reductions in greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2020.

This was justifiably big news. After 20 years of failed attempts to craft an international consensus on climate action, most spectacularly in Copenhagen in 2009, the world simply had to get its act together. It did so, to well-earned applause, on December 12, 2015.

So what happened on December 1?

That’s the day the French government launched the 4 per 1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate, a plan to fight climate change with soil carbon. The initiative’s goal is this: to increase global soil carbon stocks by 0.4 percent per year by drawing down atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) via the increased photosynthesis of regenerative farming and land use.

On the surface, that may not sound like a lot of carbon, (it amounts to 10 billion tons of carbon per year sequestered in global soils), but French scientists say it’s enough to halt human-induced annual increases in CO2 globally.

That sounds like a front page headline to me!

How will the initiative succeed? The key is regenerative agriculture. France, for example, intends to hit its 4/1000 target by employing agro-ecological practices on 50 percent of its farms by 2020.

Agro-ecological practices restore damaged land and build biologically healthy soil through the use of cover crops, perennial plants, no-till farming, and livestock grazing patterns that mimic nature. If managed properly, these nature-based practices not only increase carbon stocks in soil, they also can dramatically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced by the use of fossil fuel in industrial agriculture, one of the biggest polluters on the planet.

Agro-ecological practices also increase resilience to climate change. In an op-ed published days after the French announcement in Paris, Michael Pollan and Deborah Barker wrote:

Regenerative farming would also increase the fertility of the land, making it more productive and better able to absorb and hold water, a critical function especially in times of climate-related floods and droughts. Carbon-rich fields require less synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and generate more productive crops, cutting farmer expenses.

Those are bold, but as we’ll see later, realistic claims. But here’s the best news: Regenerative agriculture is a shovel-ready solution to climate change.

Agro-ecological practices are practical, profitable and have been ground-tested by farmers and ranchers around the world for decades. In fact, shovel-readiness is a big reason why more than 100 nations, international NGOs and farmers’ organizations signed onto the 4/1000 Initiative–and why many more have signed on since then.

After years of neglect, soil carbon is now viewed as key to how the world manages climate change. “[It] has become a global initiative,” said French Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll. “We need to mobilize even more stakeholders in a transition to achieve both food security and climate mitigation thanks to agriculture.”

“The time for talking is finished,” said IFOAM’s André Leu. “Now is the time for doing. The technology is available to everyone. It is up to us to mobilize in time. Let’s start working to get this done and give our world a better future.”

Paying for regeneration

A critical step will be creating a viable carbon economy where regenerative farmers and ranchers can be paid to build soil carbon. This has been a difficult challenge so far, but thanks to the Paris Agreement, 197 nations now have a huge incentive to draw down their emissions to meet official targets. And regenerative agriculture can help get them there.

From the carbon emitter’s perspective, offsetting carbon dioxide emissions with verifiable increases in soil carbon, validated now by the French government’s 4/1000 Initiative, will likely stimulate other nations to create market-based mechanisms which, in turn, will encourage farmers and ranchers to adopt regenerative practices, round and round. From society’s perspective, all this is great news!

Creating carbon markets isn’t a new idea. Over the past twenty years, a variety of efforts have been made to energize a voluntary carbon credit trading system, including programs in Europe, Australia, New England, California, and Vancouver, British Columbia, each with varying degrees of success. In New Mexico, where I live, the state legislature considered a bill in 2015 that would have created a policy framework for enacting a carbon credit system–a first for the state.

New Mexico attempted to established a carbon credit as a contract right and to create a five-member board to review and audit the credits as potential offsets for carbon emitters. The board specifically identified the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and its accumulation within plants, soils and geologic formations as a legitimate means by which a credit can be created–also a first (specifically, one carbon credit equaled one metric ton of CO2 or its equivalent).

Unfortunately, the bill didn’t become law, and it’s not the only model for paying for regeneration. But the bill represents an important step toward stimulating market-based responses to climate change.

Serious concerns about the shortcomings of carbon offset markets (sometimes called cap-and-trade) have been raised. This is especially true for organic, regenerative and family-scale agriculture, which could easily be pushed aside by large industrial producers. Here’s a useful primer on how climate-friendly agriculture can be treated fairly in a carbon economy.

The bottom line is this: We need state and federal policies that make the polluters pay, create publicly-controlled pools of money, and pay regenerative farmers and ranchers for building carbon stocks in their soils.

Science is on our side

Markets and their regulators will require sound science and hard numbers–credible and verifiable–to work effectively. This is a challenge, however, because understanding soil carbon involves chemistry, biology, ecology, hydrology, and agronomy—which means the science can get complex quickly, for researchers and laypeople alike. Fortunately, there has been a veritable explosion of soil carbon science recently, creating a clearer portrait of carbon’s potentials.

One researcher whose work has shed exciting light on regenerative agriculture is Dr. David Johnson, a molecular biologist at New Mexico State University. Johnson believes that “getting the biology right” is critical to creating significant increases in soil carbon stocks.

It’s essentially a two-step process, according to Johnson: (1) get life back into soils that have been stripped of their biological fertility by industrial agriculture; and (2) employ practices that bring about a shift in the soil from bacteria-dominated to fungi-dominated communities. The latter is important because fungi are the “carbon brokers” between plant roots and soil microbes. This process also improves soil structure which improves its ability to resist erosion–equally crucial to long-term carbon storage.

Of course, all of this soil rebuilding can be undone by the plow, which exposes microbes to the killing effect of heat and light. That’s why not turning the soil over is a key component of regenerative agriculture.

Johnson’s research also shows that “getting the biology right” reduces the amount of carbon that is “burped” back into the atmosphere (as CO2) by microbes as a waste product. This is important because the viability of long-term carbon storage in soils–and thus the size of monetary payments to farmers and ranchers from markets–depend on there being more carbon flowing into the soil system than flowing back out.

It’s not just about money. Additional carbon improves plant productivity, improves water infiltration and soil water-holding capacity, reduces the use of synthetic amendments, and promotes a healthy environment for pollinators and other beneficial insects.

A win-win for the land and ourselves!

Johnson notes that nature is three to four times more productive than any agricultural system yet devised by humans. And nature achieves that productivity without pesticides, synthetic amendments, irrigation or monocropping.

“Shouldn’t we be asking what we’re doing wrong?” Johnson said in an interview. “Plus, nature had the capacity to increase soil carbon in the past. Our task is to find out how it was done and mimic it in our current practices.”

Improved soil fertility, better food, more efficient use of water, reduced pollution, fewer energy requirements, better animal health, increased biodiversity, and keeping global warming in check–all possible for as little as 4 per 1000 a year!

For more information see:

Carbon Sequestration Potential on Agricultural Land by Daniel Kane, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Soil Carbon Restoration: Can Biology Do the Job? by Jack Kittredge, Northeast Organic Farming Association


Courtney White, co-founder and former executive director of the Quivira Coalition, is the author of multiple essays and books, including “Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon Country” and “The Age of Consequences.”  

Meet John D. Liu, the Indiana Jones of Landscape Restoration

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He’s known to some as the “Indiana Jones” of landscape degradation and restoration.

John D. Liu, ecosystem restoration researcher, educator and filmmaker, has dedicated his life to sharing real-world examples of once-degraded landscapes newly restored to their original fertile and biodiverse beauty. Liu is director of the Environmental Education Media Project (EEMP), ecosystem ambassador for the Commonland Foundation and a visiting research fellow at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

We recently sat down with Liu, the newest member of the Regeneration International (RI) Steering Committee. In this interview, Liu walks us through large-scale ecosystem restoration projects in China and Rwanda. We learn that when humans work with nature, degraded landscapes can be restored in a matter of years, and economies can be regenerated, putting food security and climate change mitigation within our reach.

In order to survive as a species, Liu explains, humanity must shift from commodifying nature to ‘naturalizing’ our economy.

Interview with John D. Liu, February 4, 2016

RI: What is the significance of the Paris Agreement, reached at the COP21 Climate Summit in December (2015), for the pioneers, such as yourself, of the landscape restoration movement?

Liu: There is now recognition of soil carbon, which was not the case in the past. The best and perhaps only way for humanity to massively affect carbon disequilibrium in the atmosphere is to restore natural ecological function of soils through the restoration of biomass, biodiversity and accumulated organic matter.

One of the things that I have been learning about, and that has most impressed me, is the difference between natural systems, which have huge organic layers, and human systems, which are massively degraded and actually have lost their organic material.

In Paris, we’ve started to turn the corner. Instead of just talking about greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, we’re now seeing [climate change] spoken about as a holistic problem. When you see it holistically, you find out that CO2 and GHG emissions are a symptom of systematic dysfunction on a planetary scale… Human impact on the climate is not simply emissions; it is degradation.

There is a way forward. That is why I am so excited about the early work I did in the Loess Plateau and in Ethiopia, Rwanda and other countries. When you increase organic matter, you increase biomass and you protect biodiversity. You get a completely different result than if you just totally destroy those systems. So I don’t think that the political agreements go far enough, but they are starting to reflect reality, which is better than before.

RI: In Paris, RI encountered skepticism about the potential power of regenerative agriculture and landscape restoration to restore climate stability and feed the world. Can you tell us about your experience with the Loess Plateau restoration project in China and how it impacted your perspective on the potential of restoration?

Liu: There was a moment in the mid-1800s when Thomas Malthus reported that the rate of agricultural increase was happening arithmetically while human population growth was logarithmic. He posited huge famine and this pushed the development of industrial agriculture. But what I’ve seen is that this is based on huge assumptions and those assumptions are basically false. If you think that you can get higher productivity by reducing hydrological function, or the natural fertility in the land or the biodiversity of a biome then you are just sadly mistaken. You can get higher yields of monocultures for a short time but you ultimately destroy the basic fundamental viability of the entire system. So you are creating deserts. This is what happened in the Loess Plateau and this is what happened in every cradle of civilization.

It isn’t inevitable that human beings degrade these systems; we simply have to understand them. It is our understanding, our consciousness of these systems that determines what they look like. What I’ve noticed is that degraded landscapes are coming from human ignorance and greed. If you change that scenario to one of consciousness and generosity, you get a completely different outcome. And that is where we have to go, where we need to go. We are required to understand this. We have to act now as a species on a planetary scale. This has to become common knowledge for every human being on the planet. This has been our mission for the past 20-some years.

RI: Apart from the ecosystem benefits, the Loess Plateau project also helped lift 2.5 million people in four of the poorest provinces in China out of poverty. Is that correct?

Liu: Well, there are different ways to look at it because the Loess Plateau project influenced more than just the project areas. It changed national policy. Some of the negative behaviors, such as slope farming, tree cutting or free ranging of goats and sheep—behaviors that were devastating to biodiversity, biomass and organic material—were banned nationwide because of the work done on the Loess Plateau.

Landscape restoration does not only change ecological function, it changes the socio-economic function and when you get down to it, it changes the intention of human society. So if the intention of human society is to extract, to manufacture, to buy and sell things, then we are still going to have a lot of problems. But when we generate an understanding that the natural ecological functions that create air, water, food and energy are vastly more valuable than anything that has ever been produced or bought and sold, or anything that ever will be produced and bought and sold – this is the point where we turn the corner to a consciousness which is much more sustainable.

RI: It’s almost as if a global paradigm shift is needed to start accounting for nature in the economy. ‘Naturalizing’ the economy as you would say.

Liu: We have to be very careful not to commoditize nature. We need to naturalize the economy. What this means to me is that natural ecological functions are more valuable than ‘stuff.’ When we understand that, then the economy is based on ecological function. And that is exactly what we need in order to mitigate and adapt to climate change, to ensure food security, and to give every individual on the planet equal human rights. Suddenly we are in another paradigm. It’s similar to the shift from flat earth to round earth paradigm.

We need to realize that there is no ‘us and them.’ There is just us. There is one earth and one humanity. We have to act as a species on a planetary scale because we will all be affected by climate change. We have to come together to decide: What do we know? What do we understand? What do we believe as a species?

RI: Tell us about your work in Rwanda.

Liu: Rwanda is an interesting case study because of the 1994 genocide. This sort of a situation is ground zero. It is a reset. Every family, every person was affected. In 2006, I was invited to Rwanda by the British government and the Global Environment Facility (GEF). What I saw in my travels were bare hillsides, erosion and sediment loads in river systems. I presented my findings to the president, prime minister, parliament, cabinet, ministries of environment and agriculture, universities and press. We put films on TV. I explained each of these natural systems and what you have to do to correct it. And at the same moment in time, everyone in Rwanda was talking about ecological function.

Several weeks later, the government wrote me a letter saying thank you for coming to Rwanda to share your experiences. Then they wrote me a second letter, in which  they said we believe you and we’re rewriting our land use policy laws to reflect that economic development in Rwanda must be based on ecological function.

The measures Rwanda has taken have led to regeneration. They had food security when there was famine in East Africa. They have had increasing use of renewable energies and lessening of dependence on fossil fuels. If human beings can go to hell yet they can somehow come back and work to build a fair, equitable and sustainable society, that is a good thing. We need to watch carefully how Rwanda develops, as a lesson for the world.

RI: Can you tell us about the widespread detrimental impacts that industrial agriculture is having, particularly with regards to loss of biodiversity? Why is biodiversity essential to sustain life as we know it?

Liu: Evolutionary trends favor more biodiversity, more organic matter. The industrial or degenerative agriculture model favors less biodiversity, less biomass, less organic matter. This disrupts photosynthesis, hydrological regulation and moisture, temperature and it artificially elevates evaporation rates. Industrial agriculture sterilizes soil with UV radiation. It is just wrongheaded.

Humans went down the wrong path. But once we begin to understand these evolutionary trends, we understand that we have to get back in alignment with them. That is where regenerative agriculture and landscape restoration come in. We’ve seen the results at large scale and we’ve seen them on a smaller scale. This is the way forward for sequestration of carbon, this is the way forward for fertile healthy soils, this is the way forward for food security this is the way forward for meaningful work for everyone. We understand this. This is the basis of wealth and sustainability for humanity.

RI: If there were one behavior or habit of humans that you could magically change, what would it be?

Liu: It is clear right now that economics is driving today’s problems. There are a lot of assumptions in economics that are simply false. Economics now says that extraction, manufacturing, buying and selling can create wealth. This is bullshit. We are creating poverty by doing this. We are creating degradation of the landscapes. So few people in a tiny minority are accumulating vast material possessions in this system, while billions of people are living in abject poverty at the edges of large degraded ecosystems. Others can no longer even stay in their homes, and millions of people are migrating to escape from the horrible conditions. Well this cannot work. This must change.

What I have noticed is that ecological function is vastly more valuable that extraction, production, consumption, and buying and selling things. What we really need to understand is: “What is money?” If I were going to leave one thing for the people to think about it is this: What is money? What is it? It is basically a storehouse of value, a means of exchange, and a trust mechanism. That means it is an abstract concept; it can be anything that we want it to be. If we say that money comes from ecological function instead from extraction, manufacturing buying and selling, then we have a system in which all human efforts go toward restoring, protecting and preserving ecological function. That is what we need to mitigate and adapt to climate change, to ensure food security, to ensure that human civilizations survive. Our monetary system must reflect reality. We could have growth, not from stuff, but growth from more functionality. If we do that and we value that higher than things, we will survive.


Alexandra Groome is Campaign & Events Coordinator for Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association.

Epic Drought and Food Crisis Prompts South Africa to Ease Restrictions on GMOs

Author: Lorraine Chow

In the face of a food crisis and a devastating drought, South Africa is planning to relax its rigid laws over genetically modified (GMO) crops and boost imports of its staple food, maize, from the U.S. and Mexico, government officials told Reuters.

Government officials said that South Africa needs to import about 1.2m tonnes of white maize and 2.6m tonnes of yellow maize from the U.S. and Mexico.

Despite being the world’s eighth largest producer of GMO crops, South Africa has very strict regulations over GMOs. The nation requires that GMO food carry a label, strains entering the country must be government-approved and imported GMO crops are not allowed to be stored. Instead, the crops must be transported immediately from ports to mills.

Makenosi Maroo, spokeswoman at the Department of Agriculture, told Reuters that the country is planning to allow importers to temporarily store consignments of GMO maize at pre-designated facilities, to allow much bigger import volumes.

“In anticipation of the volumes expected to be imported into South Africa, the (GMO) Executive Council has approved the adjustment of a permit condition which relates to the handling requirement,” Maroo told the news agency. “There is therefore no intention to relax safety assessment or risk management procedures prescribed.”

Keep Reading on Ecowatch

How Forest Loss Is Leading To a Rise in Human Disease

Author: Jim Robbins

A growing body of scientific evidence shows that the felling of tropical forests creates optimal conditions for the spread of mosquito-borne scourges, including malaria and dengue. Primates and other animals are also spreading disease from cleared forests to people.

In Borneo, an island shared by Indonesia and Malaysia, some of the world’s oldest tropical forests are being cut down and replaced with oil palm plantations at a breakneck pace. Wiping forests high in biodiversity off the land for monoculture plantations causes numerous environmental problems, from the destruction of wildlife habitat to the rapid release of stored carbon, which contributes to global warming.

But deforestation is having another worrisome effect: an increase in the spread of life-threatening diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. For a host of ecological reasons, the loss of forest can act as an incubator for insect-borne and other infectious diseases that afflict humans. The most recent example came to light this month in the Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases, with researchers documenting a steep rise in human malaria cases in a region of Malaysian Borneo undergoing rapid deforestation.

This form of the disease was once found mainly in primates called macaques, and scientists from the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene wondered why there was a sudden spike in human cases. Studying satellite maps of where forest was being cut down and where it was left standing, the researchers compared the patchwork to the locations of recent malaria outbreaks. They realized the primates were concentrating in the remaining fragments of forest habitat, possibly increasing disease transmission among their own populations. Then, as humans worked on the new palm plantations, near the recently created forest edges, mosquitoes that thrived in this new habitat carried the disease from macaques to people.

Keep Reading on Yale Environment 360

Crisis Response: When Trees Stop Storms and Deserts in Asia

Author: Kathleen Buckingham 

This is the first installment of our Restoration Global Tour blog series. The series examines restoration success stories in Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe and North America. Tune in over the coming months for additional installments, or check out our Restoration Diagnostic for more information.

A history of deforestation has made Asian nations like Vietnam, China and South Korea especially vulnerable to coastal storms, floods and sandstorms. Yet just as these nations have experienced similar crises, they’re also all pursuing a solution—restoring degraded landscapes.

In fact, reforestation, afforestation and changing agricultural policies have played a large role in bringing these countries from the brink to prosperity. WRI recently analyzed Asia’s restoration practices to inform the design of our Restoration Diagnostic, a method for evaluating existing and missing success factors for countries or landscapes with restoration opportunities.  Here’s a look at how these countries overcame disasters by restoring degraded land:

Protecting Mangroves in Vietnam

Vietnam has lost more than 80 percent of its mangrove forests since the 1950s. During the American War with Vietnam (1955–75), the U.S. military sprayed 36 percent of the mangroves with defoliant in order to destroy strongholds for military resistance. Since then, extensive areas have been converted into aquaculture, agricultural lands, salt beds and human settlements. More than 102,000 hectares (252,000 acres) of mangroves were cleared for shrimp farming from 1983 to 1987 alone.

With diminishing mangroves, the country’s coast became increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters like tropical cyclones.  Over the past 30 years, more than 500 people died or went missing every year due to natural disasters, thousands were injured, and annual economic losses totaled 1.5 percent of GDP.

Keep Reading on World Resources Institute

View the Map of Restoration Case Examples

Unless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity By 2050

Author: Drew Hansen

Capitalism has generated massive wealth for some, but it’s devastated the planet and has failed to improve human well-being at scale.

• Species are going extinct at a rate 1,000 times faster than that of the natural rate over the previous 65 million years (see Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School).

• Since 2000, 6 million hectares of primary forest have been lost each year. That’s 14,826,322 acres, or just less than the entire state of West Virginia (see the 2010 assessment by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN).

• Even in the U.S., 15% of the population lives below the poverty line. For children under the age of 18, that number increases to 20% (see U.S. Census).

• The world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050 (see United Nations’ projections).

How do we expect to feed that many people while we exhaust the resources that remain?

Human activities are behind the extinction crisis. Commercial agriculture, timber extraction, and infrastructure development are causing habitat loss and our reliance on fossil fuels is a major contributor to climate change.

Keep Reading in Forbes

Corporate vision of the future of food promoted at the UN

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La Via Campesina, ETC and GRAIN media release | 15 February 2016

Corporate vision of the future of food promoted at the UN: More than 100 civil society organizations raise alarm about FAO biotechnology meeting

(Rome, Monday 15 February, 2016) Just when the biotech companies that make transgenic seeds are merging, the corporate vision of biotechnology is showing up at FAO. At today’s opening of the three-day international symposium on agricultural biotechnologies convened by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome, more than 100 social movement and civil society organisations (CSOs) from four continents have issued a statement denouncing both the substance and structure of the meeting, which appears to be another attempt by multinational agribusiness to redirect the policies of the UN agency toward support for genetically-engineered crops and livestock.

Here you can download the statement and list of signatories.

The global peasant and family farm movement, La Via Campesina, invited CSOs to sign the letter when the symposium’s agenda became public. Two of the FAO keynote speakers are known proponents of GMOs, and the agenda and side events over the three days include speakers from the Biotechnology Industry Organization (a biotech trade group in the USA), Crop Life International (the global agrochemical trade association), DuPont (one of the world’s largest biotech seed companies) and CEVA (a major veterinary medicine corporation), among others. FAO has only invited one speaker or panelist openly critical of GMOs. Worse, one of the two speakers at the opening session is a former assistant director general of FAO who has pushed for so-called Terminator seeds (GMO seeds programmed to die at harvest time forcing farmers to purchase new seeds every growing season), in opposition to FAO’s own public statements. The second keynoter’s speech is titled, “Toward ending the misplaced global debate on biotechnology”, suggesting that the FAO symposium should be the moment for shutting down biotech criticism.

In convening the biased symposium, FAO is bowing to industry pressure that intensified following international meetings on agroecology hosted by FAO in 2014 and 2015. The agroecology meetings were a model of openness to all viewpoints, from peasants to industry. But the biotech industry apparently prefers now to have a meeting they can control. This is not the first time FAO has been drawn into this game. In 2010, FAO convened a biotechnology conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, that blocked farmers from its organising committee, and then tried to prevent their attendance at the conference itself.

“We are alarmed that FAO is once again fronting for the same corporations, just when these companies are talking about further mergers amongst themselves, which would concentrate the commercial seeds sector in even fewer hands,” the CSO statement denounces.

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Cover Crops, a Farming Revolution With Deep Roots in the Past

Author: Stephanie Storm

When Mark Anson came home with his hair on fire after a seminar on the seemingly soporific topic of soil health, his younger brother, Doug, was skeptical.

What had Mark lit up was cover crops: fields of noncash crops like hairy vetch and cereal rye that act on soil like a nourishing facial after the harvest.

Mark, 60, and his two brothers, together with assorted sons and sons-in-law, run Anson Farms, a big commercial soybean and corn operation in Indiana and Illinois. Concern about the soil quality of the family’s fields had nagged at him for some time. “Our corn was wilting when temperatures hit 103 degrees,” he said, and such heat isn’t so unusual in the summer. “I felt like I had a gorilla on my shoulder.” What he learned about the benefits of cover crops gave him hope.

But to Doug, planting some noncommercial crops seemed an antiquated practice, like using a horse-drawn plow. Cover crops had long been replaced by fertilizers. Still, he shared his brother’s concern about their soil. Its texture was different, not as loamy as it had once been, and a lot of it was running off into ditches and other waterways when it rained.

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