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Peru to End Palm Oil Driven Deforestation by 2021

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Peru to End Palm Oil Driven Deforestation by 2021

Two palm oil plantations in Peru supplanting primary forest.

Environmental Investigation Agency

By Genevieve Belmaker

Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.


If JUNPALMA honors the deforestation-free agreement, Peru will be the second country in South America after Colombia to make such a commitment.

The announcement was made during IX Expo Amazonica, which is focused on the promotion and debate over the Peruvian Amazon's sustainable development. If successful, Peru could be palm oil deforestation-free by 2021, according to the NWF.

During the expo, Peru's Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation Gustavo Mostajo reportedly said that the national government aims to develop deforestation-free agriculture with a focus on family farms and small producers.

Palm oil smallholder farmers function as independent palm producers and sell palm to nearby plantations. The exchange isn't always financial — it often involves in-kind benefits like credit during early years when the trees aren't producing yet.

JUNPALMA echoed Mostajo's sentiment.

"We are committed to ensuring this agreement becomes a reality," said Gregorio Saenz, JUNPALMA's General Manager, in a statement last week. The process has been two years in the making.

In addition, more than 1,000 Peruvian indigenous organizations have long worked to secure formal land titling for their communities, totaling some 20 million hectares. In early 2016, certificates of possession for 17 plots in Santa Clara de Uchunya were granted in an area claimed by the community as part of its ancestral territory.

Later in 2016, the Amazon Conservation Association published satellite imagery in the Aguaytía River region around plantations in Santa Clara de Uchunya showing rapid deforestation. The Santa Clara de Uchunya story is typical of how deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon occurs as people move in and clear land in a bid to obtain land titles.

Progress toward arresting the development of the Peruvian Amazon has been fraught with massive hurdles.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) — the world's largest palm oil sustainability certification association — is comprised of a mixture of palm oil producers, activist groups and consumer companies.

The organization has faced defections in its member roster in Peru, such as the Peruvian Melka group. Then in 2016 the Melka group had a fire sale of some of their controversial land holdings in Peru, according to the Forest Peoples Programme. The consortium was linked to large-scale destruction of rainforests in the Peruvian Amazon, clearance of primary forests and conflicts with indigenous peoples. For instance, the group allegedly cleared over 5,000 hectares of forest in indigenous territory between 2010-2015

Organizations in the RSPO can issue complaints over issues like the illegal clearing of forests and the occupation of indigenous territory.

This 2017 file photo shows the edge of recently cleared rainforest in Peru for a commercial oil palm estate.

John C. Cannon

Scientists at Monitoring the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) have been monitoring the situation for years. In 2018, MAAP released a baseline for oil palm deforestation driver. Their analysis found 86,600 hectares (214,000 acres) of oil palm, and of that deforestation included at least 31,500 hectares for new plantations. That's approximately the size of about 59,000 football fields.

The JUNPALMA agreement could be a key part of arresting that destruction. Those involved include Peru's Ministry of Agriculture, private companies in the palm oil sector, and NGOs. The full list of potential signatories has not yet been determined, according to NWF.

"There is a draft agreement that has been drawn up by the Ministry of Agriculture, JUNPALMA and civil society," NWF's spokesperson Mike Saccone told Mongabay, noting that the agreement "serves as a roadmap towards a formal agreement."

He said that NWF doesn't anticipate that the agreement will be disruptive to domestic or international markets. "Any oil palm that is growing before the agreed cutoff date can be maintained in production, and opportunities to improve productivity on existing land can be promoted," he said.

Saccone added that the significant step for the palm oil industry and country should play out fairly smoothly.

"This is a first for Peru, and we don't see this getting stopped," Saccone said. "While the agreement would be a very new step…we don't anticipate any major problems in obtaining a signed agreement."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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