As we look for advanced technology to replace our dependence on fossil fuels and to rid the oceans of plastic, one solution to the climate crisis might simply be found in rocks. New research found that dispersing rock dust over farmland could suck billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the air every year, according to the first detailed large scale analysis of the technique, as The Guardian reported.
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By Matt Kasson, Brian Lovett and Carolee Bull
Home gardening is having a boom year across the U.S. Whether they're growing their own food in response to pandemic shortages or just looking for a diversion, numerous aspiring gardeners have constructed their first raised beds, and seeds are flying off suppliers' shelves. Now that gardens are largely planted, much of the work for the next several months revolves around keeping them healthy.
Start With Prevention<p>Just as preventive steps like maintaining a balanced diet help keep humans healthy, home growers can take many actions to help their gardens thrive.</p><p>One key step is assessing soil fertility – the ability of soil to sustain plant growth – which can vary widely depending on your location and soil type. Low soil fertility limits food production and predisposes plants to disease and pests. University extension <a href="https://soiltesting.wvu.edu/" target="_blank">soil testing labs</a> can help evaluate the quality of garden soil and identify nutrient deficiencies and acidic soils, often at no charge.</p>
Using weed barrier landscape cloth for planting rows and mulching between rows is an effective way to suppress weeds. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND
Diagnosing Problems<p>Common plant pathogens include <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/viral/introduction/Pages/PlantViruses.aspx" target="_blank">viruses</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/prokaryote/intro/Pages/Bacteria.aspx" target="_blank">bacteria</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/nematode/intro/Pages/IntroNematodes.aspx" target="_blank">nematodes</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/oomycete/introduction/Pages/IntroOomycetes.aspx#:%7E:text=The%20oomycetes%2C%20also%20known%20as,foliar%20blights%20and%20downy%20mildews." target="_blank">oomycetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/fungalasco/intro/Pages/IntroFungi.aspx" target="_blank">fungi</a>. All of these microorganisms, especially at an early stage of infection, are too small to see. But when they proliferate, they cause changes in plants that we can recognize.</p><p>Unlike insects, which move around on six legs or on wings through the air, pathogens can move unseen and unchecked from leaf to leaf on the wind, through the soil or in droplets of water. Some microbes have even formed intimate relationships with insects and use them as vehicles to move from plant to plant, which makes these pathogens even more challenging to manage. Unfortunately, by the time some pathogens make their presence known, the damage is already done.</p><p>We recently conducted a <a href="https://twitter.com/kasson_wvu/status/1265989041725624323" target="_blank">Twitter poll</a> of gardeners nationwide to find out which culprits plagued their gardens. People named <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/aphids" target="_blank">aphids</a>, <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/squash-vine-borer" target="_blank">squash vine borers</a>, <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/squash-bug" target="_blank">squash bugs</a> and <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/flea-beetle" target="_blank">flea beetles</a> as the most problematic insect pests. Their most troublesome pathogens included <a href="https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/plant-disease/fruit-vegetable-diseases/powdery-mildew" target="_blank">powdery mildew</a>, <a href="https://plantpath.ifas.ufl.edu/rsol/Trainingmodules/BWTomato_Module.html" target="_blank">tomato bacterial wilt</a> and <a href="https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/plant-disease/fruit-vegetable-diseases/downy-mildew" target="_blank">cucurbit downy mildew</a>.</p><p>To manage such perennial challenges, the first step is to spend time closely looking at your plants. Do you notice any insects consistently hanging around, or molds colonizing leaves or other plant parts? How about symptoms such as blight, stunting, or leaves that are yellowing, browning or wilting?</p>
This white fungal growth is an early sign of powdery mildew on a leaf of susceptible summer squash. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND
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The demands of feeding a planet rapidly careening toward 10 billion people, coupled with the environmental degradation that industry and development has caused, has left much of the world's soil depleted of nutrients. A professor who studies soil science and is looking to improve the dirt for farmers around the world has been awarded the 2020 World Food Prize for his work, as NPR reported.
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By Albert Van Dijk, Luigi Renzullo, Marta Yebra and Shoshana Rapley
2019 was the year Australians confronted the fact that a healthy environment is more than just a pretty waterfall in a national park; a nice extra we can do without. We do not survive without air to breathe, water to drink, soil to grow food and weather we can cope with.
Environmental condition scores by local government area, and values for each of the seven indicators. See more data on www.ausenv.online.
Values for 15 environmental indicators in 2015, expressed as the change from average 2000-2018 conditions. Similar to national economic indicators, they provide a summary but also hide regional variations, complex interactions and long-term context. ANU Centre for Water and Landscape Dynamics
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Arctic winters are meant to be frigid, but because of rising temperatures and climate change, they aren't cold enough. The permafrost, the thick subsurface layer of frozen soil that stores one of the world's largest natural reserves of carbon, is thawing. As it does, it releases potent greenhouse gases that accelerate climate change. European scientists have now found that resettling massive herds of large herbivores could combat this effect and save up to 80 percent of all permafrost soils around the globe until 2100.
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Restoring and protecting the world's soil could remove the equivalent of the U.S.'s annual greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere.
Organic farmers in Africa face an arduous journey getting cropland certified, limiting exports and frustrating farmers who say ecological practices could increase food security while protecting the land.
Fighting Hunger<p>Conventional farming uses artificial fertilizers and pesticides, some of which kill wildlife and may damage human health, particularly in countries where they are poorly regulated or overused.</p><p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/why-biodiversity-loss-hurts-humans-as-much-as-climate-change/a-48579014" target="_blank">A landmark report on biodiversity</a> published by UN-backed scientists last year found that converting land for intensive agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of wildlife loss and degradation of nature — and that this, in turn, endangers the global food system through the less of healthy soil, clean waterways and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/insect-apocalypse-dying-ecosystem-species-loss-a-52160360/a-52160360" target="_blank">insects that pollinate plants</a>.</p>
Access to Finance<p>The area of organic farmland in Africa has doubled in the last decade to 2.1 million hectares, FiBL data shows, with the biggest organic centers in North and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/feeding-east-africa-locals-skeptical-of-gm-crops/a-42385062" target="_blank">East Africa</a> and the crops they grow enjoyed the world over. In Kenya, nuts and coconuts dominate organic output. In Tunisia it is olives. Ethiopia and Tanzania are big coffee-growers, while in Uganda, home to the most organic producers in Africa, the crop of choice is cacao.</p><p>Despite some successes, farmers such as Nashera and Koleta, in Kenya, are caught in a bind between domestic markets not willing to pay a premium for organic food and wealthier regions to which they cannot export without expensive certification. A survey of African farmers by UNCTAD in 2016 found that a quarter of stakeholders thought access to finance had gotten more restrictive in the last five years. Only 13 percent said it had become more efficient.</p><p>But the industry is held back by more than just money, said Okisegere Ojepat, CEO of trade association Fresh Produce Kenya. A lack of crop-specific research and equipment, including understanding of weather patterns and pest control, is keeping farmers from innovating. Pushing for more organic farming without building technical capacity would not be sustainable in the long run, said Ojepat. "It is a double-edged sword."</p><p>Organic farmers looking to reach markets abroad are trying short-term fixes. To reduce the cost of certification — which requires paying auditors from Europe and North America to fly in and inspect farms — organic farmers could apply to be certified together, said Claire Nasike, founder of environmental educational charity the Hummingbird Foundation and an agroecologist at Greenpeace Africa, which has trained a network of farmers who are now applying to be certified as a group.</p><p>"The farmers are able to hold each other accountable," said Nasike. "If one person messes it up, the entire group's certification is cancelled."</p>
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Current estimates of carbon emissions from melting Arctic permafrost rely on a model of a gradual melt. New research has found abrupt thawing of permafrost which means carbon emissions estimates should be doubled. The rate at which permafrost is thawing in the Arctic is gouging holes in the landscape, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
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Hanging on a gate is a sign reading: "Potatoes — healthy and delicious." The slogan, to which the word "rare" could justifiably be added, is in line with Cornel Lindemann-Berk's philosophy of quality over quantity. "We don't have enough rain in the summer," he tells DW. "And since we don't want to water them, we've turned this weakness into a strength."
This Is Conventional Organic Farming<p>This family-run business in Germany's Rhineland region is one of 10 farms across the country taking part in a project to test and implement practical and economically viable conservation measures alongside traditional agriculture.</p><p>By taking part in the project, which is known as F.R.A.N.Z. (Future Resources, Agriculture & Nature Conservation) and runs from 2017 to 2027, Lindemann-Berk is on his way to becoming an organic farmer.</p><p>"As part of this project, we don't use liquid manure or crop protection agents," he says. "The yield is sometimes zero, because weeds such as thistles and burdock are rampant here." For every crop plant, around 30 unwanted herbs and grass also push through the ground.</p><p>Lindemann-Berk has been making losses on grain and rapeseed for years. But when he took over the Gut Neu-Hemmerich farm three decades ago he converted several disused buildings into flats and offices, and so he doesn't have to rely on agriculture alone to make a living. Nonetheless, it's still important to him to plant a diversity of grains. He doesn't cultivate monocultures but practices crop rotation, just as farmers did centuries ago. Varying what he grows each year helps to regenerate the soil, while also reducing disease and pests.</p><p>As part of other experiments for F.R.A.N.Z, Lindemann-Berk has sown corn and runner beans together. The beans grow up the corn plants and prevent light from reaching the soil, thereby significantly reducing the growth of weeds. Because the beans are rich in protein and the corn contains starch, the mix also lends itself to cattle feed.</p><p>"Skylark-windows" — rectangular strips in the shape of windows which are cut into the crops — were also introduced in the fields. This allowed the heavily decimated bird population to breed undisturbed on the ground among the dense grain.</p><p>Lindemann-Berk only uses fertilizers and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/deadly-pesticides-in-eu-produce-from-turkey/a-52142826" target="_blank">pesticides</a> in an emergency — and even then in homeopathic doses.</p><p>"Too much fertilizer can even cause unwanted weeds to multiply. We've been calculating the requirements for more than 40 years. Using soil samples, we examine the amount of nutrients in the soil and calculate exactly how much fertilizer we need to use in order to get a good yield. Only then do we buy what we need," he says.</p>
High Tech in the Fields<p>He also prefers to use organic fertilizer made of animal excrement. "It's delivered from the Netherlands, because there's hardly any livestock nearby," he says. His farm supplies grain for the Dutch cattle. "So why shouldn't we get the animal's excrement back?" he asks wryly. "Organisms in the soil digest the valuable liquid fertilizer and excrete minerals like nitrogen, which the plants then absorb through their roots."</p><p>This liquid crop protection mixture can be applied to troublesome plants using a satellite-navigated and digitally controlled syringe. This kind of work is particularly effective after sunset.</p><p>With the help of his own weather station, data collected from the soil and the meteorological service, Lindemann-Berk can make forecasts in order to calculate the risk of attack from fungus. Even then, pesticides should only be used if the plant isn't able to help itself.</p><p>By using lactic acid bacteria, Lindemann-Berk was able to dramatically reduce his use of chemical fungicides.</p><p>Once the harvest is complete, he takes soil samples again. "So far, the measurements have shown no <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/defending-glyphosate-a-roundup-of-german-agribusiness-sentiments/a-48841453" target="_blank">residues of glyphosate</a> and its breakdown products within the grain," he says.</p><p>He points to the shelf behind him, which is full of files, explaining how he has to keep his records for five years. Although <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/germany-sets-new-restrictions-on-glyphosate/a-46172338" target="_blank">fertilizer regulations have been tightening for many years</a> now — <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/german-farmers-overregulation-is-the-last-thing-we-need/a-51418355" target="_blank">causing many farmers to give up on agriculture</a> — he says the positive impacts won't show up in groundwater for 30 years.</p>
Not an Organic Farm — but Still Environmentally Friendly<p>Organic farms can only treat their plants with copper formulations, which stimulate growth and act as deterrents against fungus. Although it's a heavy metal, people still need copper in small doses to help with blood formation and to support a functioning nervous system.</p><p>"We do everything we can to be environmentally friendly, and do what the organic farms do so well," says Lindemann-Berk. "Because no one wants to harm the environment. Agribusinesses have been working in the same places for hundreds of years."</p><p>Sustainable practice is a priority here. But in order to be certified as an organic farm, he would need to pluck the weeds by hand and — as was done centuries ago — regularly rake the soil around the plants to uproot unwanted herbs and grasses.</p><p>"No one wants to do this job, not even young people doing an internship," he says. And so the job is left to machines, in the age of industrial agriculture in Germany.</p><p>Lindemann-Berk gives his plants plenty of space to grow, which allows them to absorb enough nutrients from the soil, and in turn leads to well-aerated earth that is less susceptible to fungal diseases. He also calls on customers who pay too much attention to the appearance of their fruits and vegetables to reconsider.</p><p>"If I offer my customers tasty and untreated apples from the orchards, you'll always get complaints about a few marks on the fruit," he says, adding that people want produce that is both organic and flawless. "Those two things don't go together."</p>
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Jamini Mohan Mahanty is out for a morning walk every day. At 91, he is hale and hearty. A resident of Jharbagda village in Purulia district, West Bengal, Mahanty thanks the "green mountain" in his village for having added some extra years to his life.
(L) A view of the barren mountain in 1996 and (R) a restored landscape as seen in 2006. Mongabay India
Long Walk for Firewood<p>Another major problem that villagers, especially the women faced was the near absence of firewood as there were hardly any trees, "We had to walk for three to four kilometres for firewood and the entire day was lost in the travel. It was also risky and cumbersome for the women to walk for such a long distance carrying the firewood on their heads. Besides, some couldn't afford the money required to buy firewood for fuel," said another villager.</p><p>Villagers realized that turning the mountain green could save them from the torment of inclement weather coupled with water shortage issues. But it was easier said than done as the mountain spread across 376 acres of land and required extensive labour and funds for plantations.</p><p>An NGO involved in nature <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/conservation" rel="noopener noreferrer">conservation</a> came to their rescue. The <u><a href="http://www.tsrd.org/" target="_blank">Tagore Society For Rural Development</a></u> (TSRD), a non-profit engaged in rural work, agreed to do the plantation work on the entire stretch while the community was given the responsibility of maintaining and protecting the green cover. </p><p>"A group of villagers contacted us and told about the problems they were facing. We were overwhelmed by their passion to grow a forest. We then decided to do the plantation," said Prahalad Chandra Mahato, 70, senior employee of the NGO.</p><p>Subsequently, in 1999, a village committee involving 60 members of Jharbagda village of Manbazar-1 block was formed for plantation at a community land of around 300 acres.</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYzNDA1Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5OTk1MDExM30.Vj6WT9OiMU3jVqI4zb-DCPJY9qXEjmiRaufIRTd0-c4/img.jpg?width=980" id="01077" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dadebea5768c9346fa9800b45e177704" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Committee members representing the villages for plantation on the barren mountain. Gurvinder Singh / Mongabay India
Villagers can now collect dry leaves for fuel from the forest on the Makino Raghunath Mountain. Earlier, they would have to walk long distances to get firewood. Gurvinder Singh / Mongabay India
The Stretch Turned Green Within a Few Years<p>Within a span of a few years, the landscape, starting with five villages started changing. "The first visible sign was the easy availability of firewood for fuel. The dried leaves that fell from the trees were collected by us and used as fuel. It not only saved us from the ordeal of walking for several kilometers but also reduced our expenditure on buying wood for fuel. It encouraged us to protect the forest and shoo out anyone trying to destroy it," said Kalyani Mahanty, 40, a homemaker in Jharbagda.</p><p>The forest also led to an increase in the groundwater level and brought down the constant quarrels among villagers, "The groundwater level that had depleted to 40-50 feet (and went down even more in summers) became normal and was available at 15-20 ft. The easy availability of water brought peace to the village," she added.</p><p>The dense green cover also ensured the presence of biodiversity and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/elephants" target="_self">elephants</a> began to traverse the forest that was once barren, "We first noticed the movement of elephants in 2005. There was a sense of jubilation among villagers. There were also constant sighting of snakes and other animals. Birds are now regular here," said Bikash Mahanty, 40, who resides at the neighbouring Radhamodhobpur village.</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYzNjUzNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMTI0OTUxOX0.S9eG2GAmbVZI6yhmzwCPauTUEIvlfSCae47Lrt0O2cQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="8554a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f3bc72b3aba749959342680b81c62168" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The Makino Raghunath Mountain, a once-barren mountain where plantation took place between 1999 and 2002, restoring its greenery. Mongabay India
Trenches Being Dug to Store Rainwater<p>The state government in collaboration with TSRD is now digging trenches down the mountain to stop the wastage of rainwater and to make the soil nutritious, "The water in the trenches would make the soil nutritious while the overflowing water would be stored in a nearby pond and used for farming. It would also recharge the groundwater," said Badal Maharana, 43, team leader, <u><a href="https://usharmukti.nregawb.in/" target="_blank">Ushar Mukti</a></u> project, TSRD Purulia Unit.</p><p>He further said that around 1.5 feet deep trenches have been dug up in 50 hectares of land after the start of the work last year.</p><p>"The trenches would certainly help in storing the rainwater and would be used for multiple purposes. We are also trying to make it an animal corridor to facilitate their movement but the presence of habitation near the forest is a hurdle to the plan. The efforts of the villagers stand as a classic example of how environment conservation is vital for the survival of every individual," said Niladri Sarkar, Block Development Officer (BDO), Manbazar-1 block in Purulia district.</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYzNDA2NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTYwNDg5NX0.H_elNTErtxSE5y_j_8ATWT6x72fppFDmnTzGgEQQp9A/img.jpg?width=980" id="2e943" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d8953097e3227af62caf8b1d5aa4fdc0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The overflowing water from trenches would flow into the nearby pond and would be used for farming. Gurvinder Singh / Mongabay India
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Madagascar has embarked on its most ambitious tree-planting drive yet, aiming to plant 60 million trees in the coming months. The island nation celebrates 60 years of independence this year, and the start of the planting campaign on Jan. 19 marked one year since the inauguration of President Andry Rajoelina, who has promised to restore Madagascar's lost forests.
Seedlings at the tree-planting site in Ankazobe district, Madagascar, on Jan. 19. Valisoa Rasolofomboahangy / Mongabay<p>For the planting season that runs until April, the Rajoelina administration wants 60 million seedlings to be planted across 40,000 ha (99,000 acres). <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/11/madagascars-bold-reforestation-goal-lacks-a-coherent-plan-experts-say/" target="_blank">Experts interviewed by Mongabay</a> last November said it would be a formidable undertaking, especially for a country where almost 80 percent of the population does not have access to grid electricity, and felling trees to make charcoal for cooking is a widespread practice. Reconciling the immediate needs of the country's poor and the long-term goal of stemming and then turning the tide of deforestation will be tough, observers say. It remains to be seen whether Rajoelina has the will to see it through, given his <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/01/madagascars-next-president-to-take-office-bears-suspect-eco-record/" target="_blank">checkered record</a> on the environment.</p><p>Madagascar has hosted tree-planting drives in the past, but the push from the president's office this time around is expected to make a difference. Nirina Rakotonanahary, 30, a participant at the launch, said it was his first time taking part in a tree-planting drive, which he said was popularized by the president. Close to 200,000 seedlings were gathered in nurseries for the launch event and transported to the Ankazobe site on trucks. For the national campaign, an estimated 100 million seeds have been rounded up by regional centers of the environmental ministry and its partners. The seedlings are being distributed free of cost to institutions and associations from government-run nurseries.</p><p>The launch made it clear the government is trying to strike a balance between planting endemic species and agroforestry species, some of which are exotic and invasive. The 50 species that are available at the nurseries include exotic acacia, eucalyptus, fruit trees and various spice trees. Rakotonanahary said he planted fruit trees because if the yield was good, they might be able to export the produce.</p>
Seedlings at the tree-planting site in Ankazobe district, Madagascar, on Jan. 19. Valisoa Rasolofomboahangy / Mongabay<p>To secure the trees, especially those viewed as useful by people, will be an uphill task. "We want to encourage people to plant and not consume the fruits of the trees inside the parks or cut them to make charcoal," said Mamy Rakotoarijaona, director of Madagascar National Parks. Despite being protected areas, national parks in Madagascar have also witnessed significant deforestation; they have now emerged as important sites for the reforestation campaign.</p><p>To extend the drive to remote areas, the government plans to use drones and airplanes. During the launch event, about 5 tons of seeds in the form of seed balls were dropped from an aircraft over 500 ha of land. Each ball of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/soil">soil</a> is packed with 25 seeds. The success rate measured in terms of how many seeds survive and germinate is about 60 percent, according to a government release that cited a pilot project carried out in 2018. The ministry of environment also said the practice would save on the cost of plastic bags that hold seedlings before they are transplanted.</p><p>The immediate concern is to sustain the momentum for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/tree-planting" rel="noopener noreferrer">tree planting</a>, and in the longer term to ensure that gains are not frittered away. The president, in his speech, said that meeting concrete targets and following up with action would be central to the campaign. "This time, the action will be continuous, and there will be a follow-up. The state will recruit guards to monitor and protect the young plants," Alexandre Georget, Madagascar's environment minister, said at the launch.</p>
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