Dams and biodiversity

Photo credit: bluechannel24

Balbina Dam has hit populations of mammals, large gamebirds and tortoises, researchers say, warning against hydro push.
Widely hailed as ‘green’ sources of renewable energy, numerous hydroelectric dams have been built worldwide, but research reveals they are far from environmentally friendly.

Brazil: Hydroelectric dams drastically reduce tropical forest biodiversity

A study puiblished in online journal PLOS ONE from the University of East Anglia (UEA) has revealed the drastic effects of the major Amazonian Balbina Dam on tropical rainforest biodiversity. The research reveals a loss of mammals, birds and tortoises from the vast majority of islands formed by the creation of the vast Balbina Lake, one of the world’s largest hydroelectric reservoirs.

Lead author and UEA graduate Dr Maíra Benchimol, of the Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz, Bahia, Brazil, said: “Hydroelectric dams have been thought to be an environmentally friendly source of renewable power, and in recent years have been built to supply the burgeoning energy demands of emergent tropical countries.

Previous studies have shown that large dams result in severe losses in fishery revenues, increases in greenhouse gas emissions and socioeconomic costs to local communities. Our research adds evidence that forest biodiversity also pays a heavy price when large dams are built.

Read the full article: bluechannel24

Better water management practices in Ghana


Improving water productivity in crop-livestock farming systems in northern Ghana


Smallholder farmers in northern Ghana face a number of water-related challenges. Soil fertility is inherently low and in decline due to continuous cropping. Erratic rainfall patterns result in alternating floods and droughts, and there are limited small-scale irrigation technologies to bridge farmer family income and food security during 6-monthly dry season.

Some of these challenges could be addressed through better water management practices. For example, rainwater harvesting or sourcing groundwater through shallow wells for supplementary irrigation during the rainy season. This enables farmers in northern Ghana to increase the productivity of their crop and livestock farming systems. They can grow vegetables in the dry-season when they are in strong demand and the higher prices will provide important income for better livelihoods during the dry season.

Read the full text: Africa Rising

Studying and sharing the best practices towards “bottom up” approaches to improving agriculture

Photo credit: CGIAR-WLE

Ahmed sets up his satellite imaging equipment in the field

Photo Credit: Faseeh Shams

The region’s best farmer…and an eye in space can prove it!

New innovations are revolutionizing the measurement of water productivity

By James Clarke

Farmer Ahmed may not know it yet, but he is a water productivity champion. Satellites scanning the Doukkalla Irrigation Scheme in Morocco have identified his fields as being the most productive in the area – up to 3 times the crop yield of his neighbors for a similar amount of water used.

So what is he doing right?

At this point, explained Wim Bastiaanssen of UNESCO-IHE, speaking at the session Agricultural water productivity; Can it be monitored?, part of this year’s Stockholm World Water Week, we don’t really know. The power of real-time satellite imaging has allowed researchers to single out such successful farms, but extension workers would need to pay Ahmed a visit to find out why he does so well. Being able to identify such productive individuals, enthuses Bastiaanssen, opens up new possibilities for learning and sharing.

In development jargon, Farmer Ahmed is a “positive deviant” – an individual who seems to be getting it right, without necessarily getting direct assistance from development professionals. The concept originally arose in public health, but now agriculture wants in on the act. Studying and sharing the best practices of such people has been part of a growing trend towards “bottom up” approaches to improving agriculture.

“Farmers look to their neighbors to measure their performance,” said session convener, Jopp Hoogeeven of FAO, so agriculturists and water managers need to take note.

Targeted Technology

To assess water productivity (WP) at field level in this way, satellites measure evapo-transpiration – the rate at which plants are growing and emitting water into the atmosphere. It is a technique that is fast developing and provides a hitherto unattainable degree accuracy on how plants are performing, and where and when they are doing so. This approach will also be important for measuring the progress of the Sustainable Development Goals relating to water and sustainable agriculture.

The session overall reflected on the huge possibilities that modern remote sensing and big data is now opening up for improving WP.

Read the full article: CGIAR-WLE

Training programs cultivating a new generation of farmers

Photo  credit: Food Tank 

22 May 2012, Dangala, Central African Republic – Farmer Field School (FFS) facilitator Samson Dangaza (center) discussing with local farmers the outcome of an improved peanut cultivation. – http://foodtank.com/assets/images/head/farmer_field_school.jpg

As the global farmer population ages, training new farmers becomes critical to sustainably feeding the world.

Growing Farmers Around the Globe

Worldwide, the average farmer is around 60 years of age. Recruiting new and young farmers and helping them get the training they need to sustainably feed the world is essential to long-term food security. Here are 10 training programs cultivating a new generation of farmers.

A project of the Cargill Sustainable Cocoa initiative, Cargill’s Farmer Field Schoolsreach 25,000 farmers annually at 300 locations around the world, including Côte d’Ivoire, Vietnam, Brazil, and Indonesia. The Field School is a 10-month intensive course on agricultural techniques, bookkeeping, personal health, and environmental and social issues. Upon completing the course, farmers are eligible for sustainability certification through Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance.

Apprenticeships in Ecological Horticulture at the University of California Santa Cruz’s Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems provide training in organic and small-scale farming. The six-month course, held at the Center’s 30-acre farm and 3-acre garden, teaches a variety of organic and sustainable farming techniques through hands-on experience with greenhouses, gardens, orchards, and fields.

The University of Vermont’s (UVM) Farmer Training Program combines classroom learning and field experience on the university’s 10-acre Catamount Educational Farm. Students learn sustainable farming from expert farmers and educators, and graduate with a Certificate in Sustainable Farming from UVM.

In Zanzibar, the International Fund for Agricultural Development has established over 700 farmer field schools in nine rural districts. Each field school is led by smallholder farmers and has 15 to 20 members, 62 percent of whom are women. The groups get together throughout the growing season to learn new skills and techniques from each other, a method which has shown tangible results for reducing poverty, improving food security, and increasing incomes for farmers.

Read the full article: Food Tank

Healthy indigenous crops to feed the world

Photo credit: Food Tank

Food Tank has compiled a list of indigenous fruits, vegetables, and grains from many regions that are nutritious, delicious, and contribute to sustainable livelihoods in rural communities across the globe.

34 Indigenous Crops Promoting Health and Feeding the World

Every day, plant species across the globe are disappearing. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that approximately 75 percent of the Earth’s plant genetic resources are now extinct, and another third of plant biodiversity is expected to disappear by 2050. Up to 100,000 plant varieties are currently endangered worldwide.

Unfortunately, most investments in agriculture are for crops such as wheat, rice, and maize, rather than for more nutritious foods or indigenous crops—and this focus has had devastating consequences. Global obesity rates have doubled over the last 30 years, increasing the risk of diet-related illnesses including diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease in industrialized and developing countries alike.

Many indigenous crops are environmentally sustainable, improve food security, help prevent malnutrition, and increase farmer incomes. Initiatives like the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC)’s Vegetable Genetic Resources System and Slow Food International’s Ark of Taste are working to catalog indigenous species of fruits and vegetables all over the world.

Food Tank has compiled a list of indigenous fruits, vegetables, and grains from many regions that are nutritious, delicious, and contribute to sustainable livelihoods in rural communities across the globe.


1. Fonio: This versatile and gluten-free species of millet from the savannahs of West Africa is nutritious, fast-growing, and suitable to dry conditions. Some ancient belief systems even claim the universe was created through a grain of fonio.

2. Baobab: This enormous African tree has fruits containing a dry pulp that is nutritious, flavorful, and useful as a thickening agent in food processing.

3. Moringa: Native to parts of Africa and South Asia, this versatile and fast-growing tree provides pods, leaves, and seeds that are packed with nutrients. Moringa is drought-resistant, grows well in sub-tropical regions, and even can be used to help purify water.

Read the full article: Food Tank

Edible native plants can be an attractive option in the drylands

Photo credit: Capital Press

Lacey Jarrell/ For the Capital Press Pat Clickener, left, and Annie Sedlacek sort woolly sunflower, a plant native to Southern Oregon, at Rock Bottom Ranch Koi & Nursery.

The Bonanza, Ore., nursery specializes in natives and drought-tolerant species.

Nursery grows its own natural, edible plants



BONANZA, Ore. — Edible native plants can be an attractive option for residential landscaping, according to Southern Oregon growers.

Owners of Rock Bottom Ranch Koi & Nursery in Bonanza, Ore., focus on hardy native plants for rugged Great Basin, high-desert conditions.

“The Great Basin extends throughout all the sand states. We’re dealing with low precipitation, high elevation and temperature extremes,” said former nursery owner Annie Sedlacek.

Earlier this year, Sedlacek, and her husband Leslie, sold the native plant nursery to Bob and Pat Clickener, but the couple is staying on to help the Clickeners acclimate to the nursery setting.

Rock Bottom features a wide array of native and drought-tolerant plants. Elderberries, golden currants and serviceberry are just a few of the decorative native Oregon edibles customers can pick up there.

“They are beautiful landscape plants, and they are really useful for wildlife and birds,” Sedlacek said.

According to Sedlacek, in addition to providing a nutritious return on investment, native edibles tempered to specific regional microclimates don’t require added fertilizers or maintenance.

“If you can have a beautiful native plant that can feed your family and shelter wildlife — plus keep your landscape less expensive to maintain — why would you select a different plant?”

Read the full story: Capital Press

We call them “weeds” and cast them aside

Photo credit: Herald and News

The writerAlex Spenser writes from her home in Klamath Falls and says she enjoys the energy and emotions of life. She was educated at Texas A&M University and on the Poetry Circuit of New York City.

A ‘weed” can be a lot more than just a weed

Drought-tolerant plants may become the planet’s salvation


I enjoy my dandelion that grows in the crack of my patio, where nothing else could; bright green foliage and lovely little yellow flowers all through the season.

These dandelions and thistles and what I grew up calling “tickle weed” (a native American grass that when run against your cheek tickles), and the beautiful giant wishes. Those Oregon natives that bloom in purple and yellow and brown, then poof! A giant wish!

And what do we do in payment for the wishes they grant? We call them “weeds” and cast them aside. We even poison ourselves, our ground water and our pets by spraying them with chemicals that kill at the root.

Resilient and beautiful

The native drought-tolerant plants are resilient and beautiful things and now, today, when our neighbors just 20 miles away are being given monetary incentives to take out their lawns because they use so much of our precious water, I was told to remove the plants from my yard.

Read the full story: Herald and News