2018-04-27 |

EU to ban outdoor use of bee-harming neonic pesticides

Bees Neonics harm wild bees and honeybees (Photo: CC0)

The European Union will ban the outdoor use of widely used insecticides due to the danger they pose to bees. On April 27, EU member states backed a proposal by the European Commission to restrict the use of three active substances (imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam) to permanent greenhouses. The necessary qualified majority was reached in the Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, with 18 member states voting in favour of a ban, including France, Germany, Italy and the UK. “All outdoor use of the three substances will be banned and the neonicotinoids in question will only be allowed in permanent greenhouses where no contact with bees is expected,” the Commission said in a statement. Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis welcomed the vote, stressing that “the Commission had proposed these measures months ago, on the basis of the scientific advice from the European Food Safety Authority.” In February, a major EFSA risk assessment spanning 1,500 scientific studies re-confirmed that neonicotinoid pesticides pose a serious threat to wild bees and honeybees. “Bee health remains of paramount importance for me since it concerns biodiversity, food production and the environment,” said the commissioner Andriukaitis.

Environmentalists and scientists welcomed the ban. Greenpeace EU food policy adviser Franziska Achterberg said: “This is great news for pollinators and our wider environment, but there was never any question that these three neonicotinoids had to go. Now the EU must make sure that they are not simply swapped with other harmful chemicals.” She highlighted that these three neonicotinoids are just the tip of the iceberg and that there are many more pesticides, including other neonicotinoids, that are just as dangerous for bees and food production. “Governments must ban all bee-harming pesticides and finally shift away from toxic chemicals in farming.” Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex, said the “EU decision is a logical one” given the “abundant evidence from lab and field studies that neonicotinoids are harmful to bees, and a growing body of evidence linking them to declines of butterflies, aquatic insects and insect-eating birds”. However, he also warned that “we will simply be going round in circles” if the three neonicotinoids are simply replaced by other similar compounds such as sulfoxaflor, cyantraniliprole and flupyradifurone. “What is needed is a move towards truly sustainable farming methods that minimise pesticide use, encourage natural enemies of crop pests, and support biodiversity and healthy soils,” Goulson stressed. (ab)

2018-04-20 |

Argentine small-scale farmers give away vegetables in land protest

Verdurazo Verdurazo in 2016 (Photo: Emergente,, cc:

Farmers in Argentina have distributed tonnes of produce for free as part of a protest to demand access to land. The event dubbed “el verdurazo” started on Tuesday, with some 1,500 farmers gathering outside Congress in the capital of Buenos Aires in order to press for the passage of a law that would enable family farmers and other small producers to buy the land they farm. During the three-day protest, farmers handed out a total of 30,000 kilograms of vegetables to everyone who came to their campsite. People, most of them pensioners, were queuing to get heads of lettuce, tomatoes, beans or eggplant unloaded from the back of trucks. The protest was organised by the farmworkers union “Unión de Trabajadores de la Tierra” (UTT), which represents 14,000 small-scale farming families in 16 provinces of the country. The organisation advocates a law that would improve the situation of Argentina’s small-scale farmers. “This bill responds to the needs of hundreds of thousands of small producers who produce more than 60% of the food consumed in the country with 13% of the country’s arable land,” UTT said in statement. “Families that live off the land, on the land and for the land, but whose land does not belong to them. They are prisoners of expensive and speculative rents that eat up large parts of the fruit of their labour. If farmers do not own their land, this does not only mean having to pay a rent, it also means not being able to put down roots, not being able to make plans and having to live in precarious housing conditions.”

On Wednesday, UTT presented its proposal in a public hearing in the Chamber of Deputies. The billed called “Fondo Fiduciario Público de Crédito para la Agricultura Familiar” would facilitate access to land through credits with low interest rates for small farmers. “The state should take action on this matter. We do not want handouts. We propose soft loans, an extension of the government housing program Procrear to rural areas, so that farmers can gain access to the land that is the basis of their work, in the same way urban residents get help buy their own homes,” UTT said. The union welcomed the participation of legislators, public institutions and organisations in the hearing but they were deeply disappointed at the absence of the Ministry of Agro-industry. The union argues the government is supporting large land-owners and agribusiness while marginalising small producers. According to UTT, the national government will give 145 million dollars to agribusiness in 2018, for example with credits handed out due to the drought or tax cuts for soy farmers. “We accuse the government of transferring $145 million to the largest sector, which grows fodder for Chinese pigs,” a UTT representative said. “Zero pesos for everyone else. There’s (money) for the big players and nothing for the small ones.” The union projects that with 100 million pesos (5 million dollars) for the Procrear Rural programme, 500 small-scale farmers could get access to 500 hectares of land, which would allow them to produce food for 62,500 families per year. (ab)

2018-04-15 |

IAASTD report calling for radical changes in agriculture turns ten

Photo IAASTD co-chairs Judi Wakhungu, Hans Herren and Director Bob Watson in 2008

The way the world grows its food has to change radically to better serve the poor and hungry if we are to cope with a growing population and climate change while avoiding social breakdown and environmental collapse. That was the message of the press release published on April 15th 2008, announcing the adoption of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). On behalf of the United Nations and the World Bank, more than 400 scientists had summarised the state of global agriculture, its history and its future in a four-year-process. The outcome was a 600-page global report, five separate regional reports, as well as one synthesis report and seven executive summaries for decision makers which were adopted sentence by sentence by an intergovernmental plenary in Johannesburg on April 11th 2008.

The assessment found that modern agriculture has brought significant increases in food production. But the benefits have been spread unevenly and have come at an increasingly intolerable price, paid by small-scale farmers, workers, rural communities and the environment. “Business as usual will hurt the poor. It will not work,” said Professor Robert Watson, who was Director of the IAASTD. “We have to applaud global increases in food production but not everyone has benefited,” he stressed. “Continuing to focus on production alone will undermine our agricultural capital and leave us with an increasingly degraded and divided planet.” Watson argued that “business as usual would mean more environmental degradation and the earth’s haves and have-nots splitting further apart. It would leave us facing a world nobody would want to inhabit.” The report called for institutional, economic and legal frameworks to be put in place that combine productivity with the protection and conservation of natural resources like soils, water, forests, and biodiversity.

The IAASTD clearly debunked the myth that industrial agriculture is superior to small-scale farming in economic, social and ecological terms and recognised the pivotal role that small-scale farmers play in feeding the world. “Opportunities lie in those small-scale farming systems that have high water, nutrient and energy use efficiencies and conserve natural resources and biodiversity without sacrificing yield,” was one of 22 key findings of the global summary. The report called for more investment in smallholders in order to combat hunger. “Significant pro-poor progress requires creating opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship, which explicitly target resource poor farmers and rural laborers,” was another finding. “This will require simultaneous investments in infrastructure and facilitating access to markets and trade opportunities, occupational education and extension services, capital, credit, insurance and in natural resources such as land and water.”

The civil society groups that participated in the IAASTD process welcomed the report even though they did not fully agree with some of the government-negotiated conclusions. “A new era of agriculture begins today” was the headline of their statement released on April 15th 2008. The organisations, that included Greenpeace, Pesticide Action Network or Third World Network, described the IAASTD as “a sobering account of the failure of industrial farming” that “calls for a fundamental change in the way we do farming, to better address soaring food prices, hunger, social inequities and environmental disasters.” They said its key message was that small-scale farmers and agro-ecological methods provide the way forward to avert a food crisis and meet the needs of local communities. “We call on all governments, civil society and international institutions to support the findings of this report, implement its progressive conclusions, and thereby jumpstart the revolution in agricultural policies and practices that is urgently needed to attain more equitable and sustainable food and farming systems.”

Ten years have passed since the adoption of the report. When asked about his opinion on its impact, IAASTD Co-chair Hans Herren said in 2016 that the report had been “gaining traction at many different levels”. In an interview for a brochure about the IAASTD, Herren said that one of the messages which had made it to the mainstream of international discussions was “the recognition that present agriculture and food systems are not in line with the need for a sustainable world” and that “agriculture must transform from being a contributor to a solver of problems such as climate change, public health or environmental degradation”. What has been most ignored according to Herren is the need to also radically transform industrial food systems. “It is still assumed that developed countries, with their unsustainable industrial agriculture and food systems have to ‘feed the world’,” he said. “The message that countries need to maximize their own capacity to produce food and protect their own farmers, also addressed as food sovereignty, has yet to be taken into account in the agriculture and food policies of developed countries.” (ab)

2018-04-09 |

Symposium: Scale-up agroecology to transform food and agricultural systems

Farmer Family farmers must remain central to scaling up agroecology (Photo: CC0)

It is necessary to scale up agroecology in order to transform food and agricultural systems and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This was the message of the 2nd International Agroecology Symposium that came to a close in Rome on April 5th after three days of discussion and knowledge exchange and saw the launch of the “Scaling up Agroecology Initiative”. The event brought together more than 700 participants with representatives from 72 governments, around 350 civil society and other non-governmental groups, and six UN organisations. It builds on the first agroecology symposium held in 2014 at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome, followed by a series of regional meetings, which highlighted the important role agroecology can play.

On the last day of the event, the Chair of this year’s symposium, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, summarised why agroecology is key to transforming food and agricultural systems: “Agroecology offers multiple benefits, including for increasing food security and resilience, boosting livelihoods and local economies, diversifying food production and diets, promoting health and nutrition, safeguarding natural resources, biodiversity and ecosystem functions, improving soil fertility and soil health, adapting to and mitigating climate change, and preserving local cultures and traditional knowledge systems”. However, despite many successful agroecological experiences in all regions of the world, there is still a lack of awareness among key decision-makers of the potential of agroecology to tackle to multiple challenges and contribute to achieving the SDGs. Therefore, the Chair’s summary also outlines a vision for the way forward for the scaling up of agroecology, including a list of urgently needed commitments from stakeholders. De Souza Dias called on governments to develop policy and legal frameworks to promote and support agroecology and sustainable food systems, and to remove “perverse incentives” for unsustainable agriculture. “It is critical that legal and regulatory frameworks are implemented in a way that ensures transformative change towards sustainable agriculture and food systems based on agroecology, and respects, protects and fulfills farmers’ rights and access to productive resources such as land, water and seeds.”

In his summary, de Souza Dias called on FAO to develop a detailed 10 year action plan for agroecology and to begin implementing the Scaling up Agroecology Initiative launched at the event. The initiative was presented in a 17-page document that shows the potential of agroecology to contribute to the 2030 Agenda, lists the key challenges and opportunities to the scale-up of agroecology, gives the core areas of work the initiative will focus on and explains how this should be achieved through a wide cooperation among a broad range of actors and institutions. “It’s time to scale up the implementation of agroecology,” FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said in his closing remarks. “We have succeeded in moving from talking about what is agroecology, to now having specific program targets to be achieved in the next few years, and strong support from civil society and those governments who have worked hard to make this symposium a success,” he added. Da Silva also highlighted that family farmers must remain central in this process: “When we speak of agroecology, we are not speaking of strictly technical matters. I would like to stress the social aspect, so when we say that we are going to strengthen the role of agroecology in FAO’s work, we are saying that we are going to strengthen the role of family and small-scale farmers, fisher folk, pastoralists, women and youth.” (ab)

2018-04-06 |

Agricultural intensification in Europe has led to biodiversity loss, scientists warn

Field Agricultural intensification has led to biodiversity decline (Photo: CC0)

The biodiversity of Europe and Central Asia continues to decline, with land-use change being the main driver. Production-based subsidies have led to intensification in agriculture and forestry, accelerating biodiversity loss. This is the message of the regional assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services for Europe and Central Asia, one of four landmark science reports released in March by IPBES, an intergovernmental body on biodiversity. The four regional reports cover the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, Africa, as well as Europe and Central Asia and were written by more than 550 leading experts from more than 100 countries over the past three years. In every region, with the exception of a number of positive examples, biodiversity and nature’s capacity to contribute to people are being degraded, reduced and lost due to a number of common pressures – habitat stress; overexploitation and unsustainable use of natural resources; air, land and water pollution; increasing numbers and impact of invasive alien species and climate change, among others.

According to the Summary for Policymakers of the regional report for Europe and Central Asia, natural ecosystems are in a bad state. Wetlands have declined by 51% since 1970 and natural and semi-natural grasslands, peatlands and coastal marine habitats have been degraded. “A total of 73% of the assessments of the European Union’s freshwater habitat types show an unfavourable conservation status. Across Europe and Central Asia, lakes, ponds and streams are altered and disappearing as a consequence of agricultural intensification, irrigation and urban development combined with climate change,” the summary reads. The authors mention the case of the Aral Sea, once the fourth largest lake in the world, which has now almost disappeared due to water abstraction for crop cultivation.

Of the assessed species living exclusively in Europe and Central Asia, 28% are threatened. Among the most endangered species groups are mosses and liverworts, half of which are threatened with extinction. In Western and Central Europe and the western parts of Eastern Europe at least 37% of freshwater fish, 33% of both freshwater snails and vascular plants, as well about 23% of amphibians are currently threatened with extinction. About 71% of fish and 60% of amphibians with known population trends have been declining over the last decade. Across Europe and Central Asia, 42% of terrestrial animal and plant species with known trends have declined in population size over the last decade. The authors found that the main causes of this decline are habitat loss, degradation and pollution due primarily to unsustainable agriculture and forest management, natural resource extraction and invasive alien species. Monocultures, and all forms of homogenization of landscapes, such as the conversion of grasslands to crops, and agricultural intensification have caused uniformity in species composition and thus declining diversity.

According to the authors, nature’s material contributions to people, such as food and energy, have been promoted at the expense of other functions. “The people of the region consume more renewable natural resources than the region produces,” said Prof. Markus Fischer, co-chair of the Europe and Central Asia report. For example, Western Europe’s ecological footprint is 5.1 global hectares per person and its “biocapacity” is 2.2 hectares per person, meaning Western Europeans depend on net imports of renewable natural resources and material contributions of nature to people. Food availability in Central and Western Europe relies significantly on imports from countries, both outside and within the region, particularly on millions of hectares of cropland harvested per year in Argentina, Brazil, China and the US. “Although this is somewhat off-set by higher biocapacities in Eastern Europe and northern parts of Western and Central Europe,” Prof. Fischer added.

The authors warn that economic growth, as measured through traditional gross domestic product (GDP), across Europe and Central Asia has indirectly reinforced drivers of biodiversity loss. Policy instruments persist, such as harmful agricultural and fishing subsidies, which continue to impede transitions towards a sustainable future. However, the authors also stress that this can be changed and that a range of promising policy options are available to safeguard biodiversity. These include measuring national welfare beyond GDP. Decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation would require a transformation in policies and tax reforms across the region, assisted by new indicators that incorporate well-being, environmental quality, employment and equity, biodiversity conservation and nature’s ability to contribute to people. Speaking about these policy options, IPBES chair Sir Robert Watson said: “Although there are no ‘silver bullets’ or ‘one-size-fits all’ answers, the best options in all four regional assessments are found in better governance, integrating biodiversity concerns into sectoral policies and practices (e.g. agriculture and energy), the application of scientific knowledge and technology, increased awareness and behavioural changes.” (ab)

2018-03-28 |

Land degradation threatens human well-being and biodiversity, UN report

Drought Land degradation reduces crop yields (Photo: CC0)

Land degradation is threatening the well-being of 3.2 billion people worldwide, pushing the planet towards a sixth mass species extinction, a major UN-backed report has warned. By 2050, land degradation and climate change together are predicted to reduce crop yields by an average of 10% globally and could force up to 700 million people to migrate. According to the comprehensive global IPBES assessment adopted on March 26 by the 129 member governments of the independent intergovernmental body, the main drivers of land degradation are human activities, mainly agriculture. “Rapid expansion and unsustainable management of croplands and grazing lands is the most extensive global direct driver of land degradation, causing significant loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services – food security, water purification, the provision of energy and other contributions of nature essential to people. This has reached ‘critical’ levels in many parts of the world,” IPBES said in a press release. Land degradation cost the equivalent of about 10% of the world’s annual GDP in 2010 through the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, the authors found.

The report, written by more than 100 leading experts from 45 countries in three years of work, was adopted in Medellín, Colombia. It draws on over 3,000 scientific, government, indigenous and local knowledge sources and was extensively peer-reviewed. According to the authors, the underlying drivers of land degradation are the high-consumption lifestyles in the most developed economies, combined with rising consumption in developing and emerging economies. “High and rising per capita consumption, amplified by continued population growth in many parts of the world, can drive unsustainable levels of agricultural expansion, natural resource and mineral extraction, and urbanization – typically leading to greater levels of land degradation,” IPBES warns. Crop and grazing lands now cover more than one third of the Earth´s land surface, with recent clearance of native habitats, including forests, grasslands and wetlands, being concentrated in some of the most species-rich ecosystems on the planet. By 2014, more than 1.5 billion hectares of natural ecosystems had been converted to croplands. Less than 25% of the Earth’s land surface has escaped substantial impacts of human activities. The IPBES experts project that this figure will have fallen to less than 10% by 2050. “Wetlands have been particularly hard hit,” said Dr Luca Montanarella, co-chair of the assessment. “We have seen losses of 87% in wetland areas since the start of the modern era – with 54% lost since 1900.”

The report found that land degradation is a major driver of climate change, with deforestation alone contributing about 10% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. Another factor has been the release of carbon previously stored in the soil, with land degradation between 2000 and 2009 responsible for annual global emissions of up to 4.4 billion tonnes of CO2. However, soils could contribute to mitigating climate change due to their carbon absorption and storage functions. The authors say that the avoidance, reduction and reversal of land degradation could provide more than a third of the most cost-effective greenhouse gas mitigation activities needed by 2030 to keep global warming under the 2°C threshold. “Land degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change are three different faces of the same central challenge: the increasingly dangerous impact of our choices on the health of our natural environment,” said Sir Robert Watson, Chair of IPBES and Director of the World Agriculture Report (IAASTD) released in 2009. “We cannot afford to tackle any one of these three threats in isolation – they each deserve the highest policy priority and must be addressed together.” He added that “the evidence also shows that we know how to protect and partially restore our vital natural assets”.

To stop and reverse land degradation, the authors call for coordinated policies between different ministries in order to encourage more sustainable production and consumption practices of land-based commodities. They recommend eliminating ‘perverse incentives’ that promote land degradation and promoting positive incentives that reward sustainable land management. The report notes that successful examples of land restoration are found in every ecosystem, and that many well-tested practices and techniques, both traditional and modern, can avoid or reverse degradation. In croplands, for instance, options include reducing soil loss and improving soil health, the use of salt tolerant crops, conservation agriculture and integrated crop, livestock and forestry systems. Options on the consumer side to avoid further agricultural expansion into native habitats are shifts towards less land degrading diets, such as those with more plant-based foods and less animal protein from unsustainable sources, and reductions in food loss and waste. “Fully deploying the toolbox of proven ways to stop and reverse land degradation is not only vital to ensure food security, reduce climate change and protect biodiversity,” said Dr Montanarella, “It’s also economically prudent and increasingly urgent.” (ab)

2018-03-22 |

Nature-based solutions for sustainable water management in agriculture

Photo2 Drip irrigation in Niger (Photo: ICRISAT,,

Almost half of the world’s population lives in regions with severe water stress and climate change will worsen the situation. However, nature-based solutions, such as reforestation, the protection of wetlands or water-efficient agricultural practices, can improve the supply and quality of water and reduce the impact of natural disasters. This is the message of the UN World Water Development Report 2018. Currently, an estimated 3.6 billion people live in areas that are potentially water-scarce at least one month per year, and this number could increase to some 5.7 billion by 2050. Climate change will put further pressure on the global water cycle, with wetter regions generally becoming wetter and drier regions becoming even drier. Urbanisation, deforestation and the intensification of agriculture will add to these challenges. The global demand for water has been increasing at a rate of about 1% per year over the past decades due to population growth, economic development and changing consumption patterns. The report projects that demand will continue to grow. Industrial and domestic demand for water will increase much faster than agricultural demand, although agriculture will remain the largest user.

The report says that the challenge is to meet this demand in a way that does not exacerbate negative impacts on ecosystems. Ecosystem degradation is already a major problem. Although about 30% of the global land remains under forest cover, at least two thirds of this area are in a degraded state. Most of the world’s soil resources, notably farmland, are in only fair, poor or very poor condition. This has serious impacts on water cycling due to higher evaporation rates, lower soil water storage and more surface runoff accompanied by increased erosion. Since the year 1900, an estimated 64–71% of the natural wetland area worldwide has been lost due to human activity. This ecosystem degradation is negatively affecting hydrology. But nature-based solutions in agriculture could make a difference.

The report argues that agriculture needs to use resources, including water, more efficiently and reduce its external footprint. It calls for sustainable food production, which enhances ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes, for example through improved soil and vegetation management as well as farming practices that minimise soil disturbance, maintain soil cover and ensure crop rotation. The authors stress that “agricultural systems that conserve ecosystem services by using practices such as conservation tillage, crop diversification, legume intensification and biological pest control perform as well as intensive, high-input systems”. They cite a study that assessed agricultural development projects in 57 low-income countries and found that using water more efficiently combined with reductions in the use of pesticides and better soil cover increased average crop yields by 79%.

The report gives further examples for nature-based solutions in agriculture: Following a severe drought in the Indian state of Rajasthan in 1986, NGOs worked alongside local communities to set up water harvesting structures and regenerate soils and forests in the region. This led to a 30% increase in forest cover, groundwater levels rose by several metres and cropland productivity improved. Another solution is the System of Rice Intensification that enables savings of 25 to 50% in water requirements and 80 to 90% in seeds while raising paddy output by 25 to 50%, depending on the region. The UN sees a huge potential in rain-fed systems that account for the bulk of current production and family farming and hence provide the greatest livelihood and poverty reduction benefits. “The theoretical gains that could be achievable at a global scale exceed the projected increases in global demand for water, thereby potentially reducing conflicts among competing uses,” the report reads.

However, the use of nature-based solutions remains marginal due to the lack of enabling conditions. The report argues that payment for environmental services schemes would provide monetary and non-monetary incentives to communities, farmers and land owners to protect, restore and conserve natural ecosystems and to adopt sustainable agricultural and other land use practices. It calls for a shift in agricultural policy to finance the further uptake of nature-based solutions. “This requires overcoming the fact that the vast majority of agricultural subsidies, and probably the majority of public funding and almost all private sector investment in agricultural research and development, support the intensification of conventional agricultural, which increases water insecurity,” the authors write. (ab)

2018-03-14 |

Arctic seed vault turns ten, now storing over 1 million seed samples

Seed Vault Svalbard Global Seed Vault (Photo: Matthias Heyde,,

The seed samples stored in the Arctic seed vault have surpassed the 1 million mark as the world’s largest seed collection celebrates its tenth anniversary. On February 26, Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway received over 76,000 new seed samples for long-term storage, bringing the total number of unique crop varieties deposited in the last decade up to 1,059,646 samples. The large concrete construction is hosted deep inside a mountain on a remote island in the Svalbard archipelago, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. “It is simply impressive that 1 million seed samples from all over the world have now found their way to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault,” Norway’s Minister of Agriculture and Food, Jon Georg Dale, said in a statement. “It confirms the important role of the seed vault as a worldwide insurance for food supply for future generations and an ever-growing population.”

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary, representatives from 23 international gene banks gathered in Longyearbyen at the seed vault and brought with them 179 boxes with 76,330 new crop varieties. New seed samples were deposited from The World Vegetable Center in Taiwan, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) in Lebanon and Morocco as well as the International Potato Center in Peru, just to name a few seed banks. Among the crops deposited were duplicate seeds of vital staples like rice, wheat and maize. Other important crops stored in the vault were black-eyed pea (cowpea), a major protein source in Africa and South Asia, along with samples of sorghum, pearl millet and pigeon pea. The lesser-known crops that were safely stored in the vault included Bambara groundnut, which is being developed as a drought tolerant crop in parts of Africa, and the so-called Estonian onion potato, as well a varieties of beans unique to the eastern European country.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault first opened its doors on February 26, 2008 as a backup facility for the world’s seed banks. It is owned by the Norwegian Government and operated under a three-party agreement between the Norwegian Government, NordGen and the Crop Trust. The vault has a full capacity of 4.5 million different seed types. While the total number of unique crop varieties deposited over the last 10 years is 1,059,646, there are currently only 967,216 crop varieties in the vault. This is due to the fact that in 2015 and 2017, ICARDA requested some of its deposits of wheat, lentil, chickpea and other crops because its own seed bank in Syria became unable to operate due to civil conflict. Thanks to the seeds deposited in the seed storage facility, ICARDA was able to re-establish its research and conservation work at its sites in Lebanon and Morocco and has since then managed to duplicate and return thousands of these varieties to Svalbard.

“The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is an iconic reminder of the remarkable conservation effort that is taking place every day, around the world and around the clock – an effort to conserve the seeds of our food crops,” said Marie Haga, Executive Director of the Crop Trust. “Safeguarding such a huge range of seeds means scientists will have the best chance of developing nutritious and climate-resilient crops that can ensure future generations don’t just survive, but thrive,” she added. However, the seed vault also needs conservation efforts: In 2017, melting permafrost caused by unusually warm temperatures risked flooding the vault. Although the water did not reach the frozen chambers deep within where the seeds are stored, reinforcements are underway to prepare the construction for the consequences of climate change. Norway has recently announced it will spend 100 million Norwegian Crowns ($12.7 million) to upgrade the doomsday seed vault. The project includes the construction of a new, concrete-built access tunnel to make sure the seed vault remains dry. (ab)

2018-03-08 |

UN Women: Action is needed to empower rural women

Rural women Rural women ensure food security for their communities (Photo: CC0)

On almost every measure of development, rural women fare worse than rural men or urban women. They are disproportionately affected by poverty and unequal access to land and natural resources, infrastructure and services, and decent work and social protection, according to UN Women, the UN organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2018, UN Women draws attention to the rights and activism of rural women, who make up over a quarter of the world population and majority of the 43 per cent of women in the global agricultural labour force. Under this year’s theme “Time is Now: Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives”, they put a spotlight on the tireless work of activists who are fighting relentlessly for women’s rights worldwide.
UN Women highligts that rural women till the lands and plant seeds to feed nations, ensure food security for their communities and build climate resilience. Yet, compared to men, women and girls are still more severely affected by poverty and hunger. Their access to education, land and natural resources, water, livestock and machinery is often restricted due to deep seated gender inequalities and discrimination. For instance, less than 20 per cent of landholders worldwide are women, and while the global pay gap between men and women stands at 23 per cent, in rural areas, it can be as high as 40 per cent. Rural women lack infrastructure and services, decent work and social protection, and are left more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

UN Women stresses that decisive action is needed if we want to make the promise of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) a reality. Goal 2 aims at ending all forms of malnutrition and addressing the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women as well as doubling the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women by 2030. Goal 5 explicitly wants to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls everywhere. However, much more needs to be done in rural areas to ensure an adequate standard of living, a life free of violence and harmful practices for rural women, as well as their access to land and productive assets, food security and nutrition, decent work, education and health. But there is also good news: UN Women says that rural women and their organizations already represent an enormous potential, and they are on the move to claim their rights and improve their livelihoods and wellbeing. They are using innovative agricultural methods, setting up successful businesses and acquiring new skills, pursuing their legal entitlements and running for office. (ab)

2018-03-05 |

Neonic pesticides harm bees, European watchdog confirms

Bees Neonics harm wild bees and honeybees (Photo: CC0)

Neonicotinoid pesticides pose a serious threat to wild bees and honeybees, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has found. In a report published on Wednesday, the European watchdog updated its previous risk assessments of three neonicotinoids – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam – that are currently subject to restrictions in the EU because they harm bees. For the new assessments, which this time cover wild bees – bumblebees and solitary bees – as well as honeybees, EFSA’s Pesticides Unit collected and analysed 588 new studies. Altogether, EFSA considered more than 1,500 studies for the assessment. “There is variability in the conclusions, due to factors such as the bee species, the intended use of the pesticide and the route of exposure,” EFSA said. “Some low risks have been identified, but overall the risk to the three types of bees we have assessed is confirmed,” the watchdog concluded.

Scientists and environmentalists, many of whom had long warned against the use of neonics, welcomed the assessment. “This is an important announcement by EFSA that most uses of neonicotinoids are a risk to all bee species,” said Prof Christopher Connolly, who teaches Neurobiology at the University of Dundee. “Importantly they identify that high risk does not result from direct exposure to non-flowering crops, but to subsequent indirect exposure from field margins, adjacent crops and succeeding crops,” he added. Prof Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex, said that “in essence, the new EFSA report concludes that neonicotinoids are very likely to be harming both wild and domesticated bees.” He stressed that this time the evidence was stronger than in 2013. “The report also highlights remaining knowledge gaps, which are considerable. This is inevitable, given that there are nearly 2,000 species of bee in Europe, most of which have never been studied with regard to impacts of pesticides.”
The EFSA report is considered as crucial to whether the European moratorium on neonicotinoid use that was introduced in 2013 is to remain in place. In March 2017, the European Commission proposed a ban on the three neonicotinoids, except when they are used in greenhouses. On 22 March, its Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed will discuss the new EFSA assessment. “This is strengthening the scientific basis for the Commission’s proposal to ban outdoor use of the three neonicotinoids,” a spokeswoman for the Commission was quoted by Reuters. Environmental campaigners are calling for a complete ban of the use of neonicotinoids. “The evidence is overwhelming that bees, and the crops and plants they pollinate, are at dire risk from neonicotinoid pesticides,” said Franziska Achterberg, EU food policy adviser for Greenpeace. “National governments must stop dithering and back the proposed EU neonicotinoid ban as the first step to prevent the catastrophic collapse of bee populations,” she added. (ab)

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