Better agricultural systems can reduce greenhouse gas emission by 20 to 60 percent


Photo credit: Kathmandu Post

Carbon-neutral farming

by Pramod Aryal 

The Dudh Koshi glacier basin in the Everest region will melt by 50 percent in 2050 and by 70 to 90 percent in 2100 if global temperatures continue to rise, a 2015 report issued by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (Icimod) has predicted. This implies that the Indian Subcontinent is facing desertification. Furthermore, if proper measures are not taken to contain and bring down global temperatures, scientific communities have predicted that a ‘mega drought’ lasting more than three decades could hit the US by the middle of this century. It would dry up vegetation and lead to unprecedented wildfires, aggravating carbon accumulation. Compounded with the possible desertification of the Indian Subcontinent, the global environmental consequences are beyond comprehension.

Chances of food shortages cannot be overlooked. Efforts have been made to reduce the carbon footprint in the energy and transportation sectors, and agriculture is the next stop

Land desertification is the most important ecological problem in China.


Photo credit: Sixth Tone

Cheng Zhe plays with a large pile of harvested cotton, Awat County, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,Nov. 21, 2016. Li You/Sixth Tone

From Tufts to Dust, Cotton Accelerates Xinjiang Desertification

by Denise Hruby and Li You

In front of a steep, meter-high sand dune, Cheng Zhe stops his pickup. So far, the only obstacles he’s come across during the 50-kilometer drive from his home to the edges of the Taklamakan Desert have been potholes the size of his truck’s tires.

A fence made from reeds to each side was meant to protect the asphalt from the encroaching sands, but from here on, the road belongs to the desert.

“It’s our way of stopping the desert from expanding,” Cheng said, eyeing the fence. In the face of the growing desert, the little reed fence had a short life span: Sand has gobbled it up, then spread out onto the bumpy road that leads through the Taklamakan Desert.

After the Sahara, the Taklamakan Desert is the world’s largest moving-sand desert. It covers vast swaths of northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region and stretches all the way to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan in the east, making it roughly the size of Germany. In the winter, temperatures can drop below minus 20 degrees Celsius.

And like other deserts in China, the Taklamakan is growing. The Gobi Desert, for example, devours 3,600 square kilometers of grassland each year.

Climate change is one reason for desertification. Another is human activity, such as overgrazing and deforestation, and a third can be attributed to farmers like the Chengs, who came to Xinjiang in the early ’90s to grow a crop that is among the most water-intensive in the world: cotton.

Read the full article: Sixth Tone

Desertification in Central Asia



The Socio-Economic Causes and Consequences of Desertification in Central Asia

This book contains a selection of papers presented at the Advanced Research Workshop on a The Socio-economic causes and consequences of desertification in Central Asiaa (TM) held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in June 2006. The meeting provided a forum for scientists from Central Asia and NATO countries to discuss the human dimensions of the desertification process. Papers presented to the meeting examined recent scientific evidence on the impact of desertification and contributed to the formulation of coherent national and regional policies for the management of watersheds, rangelands, and irrigated agriculture. These issues were examined from the perspective of environmental policy formulation, with respect to overgrazing by livestock, and in terms of a series of case studies of natural resource degradation and desertification control.

Third Summer School “Integrated Land Use Systems” (ILUS) in Freiburg, Germany


by Steffen Entenmann – Freiburg University


The rapidly growing world population and changes in food consumption are placing increasing pressure on agricultural and forestry production systems. However, the classic intensification approach to increase yield of food and biomass by genetic homogenization, mechanization and application of pesticides and fertilizer, has led in many places to negative environmental and social consequences such as soil degradation, eutrophication, decline in fresh water resources, loss of biodiversity, land-use conflicts, as well as a loss of employment.

Against this background, Integrated Land Use Systems (ILUS), which combine different types of land uses and integrate several management goals in the same patch or landscape mosaic, are gaining more and more attention. It is assumed that ILUS provide a higher level of ecosystem goods and services, are less vulnerable to the risks of global change and markets, and are better suited to the livelihood strategies of local populations.

The Summer School will introduce participants to important ILUS (e.g., agroforestry systems), the socio-economic context in which they developed, and to critical analysis of their ecological, social and economic performance.

The Summer School will be organized by the Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources of the University of Freiburg and will take place from 12th – 30th of June 2017. Scholarships from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) are available to support travel and living expenses for up to 15 participants. For more information:

Could you use Physcomitrella patens in the combat of desertification, a moss that is highly tolerant against drought ?

MY HYPOTHESIS (Willem Van Cotthem)

A highly drought-tolerant moss like Physcomitrella patens can possibly be used to stabilize soils that are subject to erosion (see image above). If so, one could spread spores of this moss species over the soil and keep the surface moistened for a shorter time (mist or plastic sheet as cover until spore germination ?). Once installed on a limited surface, the moss can probably disperse through spore formation.  I would not be surprised if one would confirm that other moss species are also highly drought-tolerant and could be used to limit soil erosion in desertifying areas.

I would be very pleased to be kept informed on possible research projects. Sincere thanks.

Photo credit: Google

The bryophyte Physcomitrella patens. (Photo: AG Reski / University of Freiburg im Breisgau)

Physcomitrella patens is highly tolerant against drought, salt and osmotic stress.

by Frank W., Ratnadewi D., Reski R.

Plant Biotechnology, University of Freiburg, Schaenzlestr. 1, 79104 Freiburg, Germany.

in Planta. 2005 Jan;220(3):384-94. Epub 2004 Aug 18.


In order to determine the degree of tolerance of the moss Physcomitrella patens to different abiotic stress conditions, we examined its tolerance against salt, osmotic and dehydration stress.

Compared to other plants like Arabidopsis thaliana, P. patens exhibits a high degree of abiotic stress tolerance, making it a valuable source for the identification of genes effecting the stress adaptation.

Plants that had been treated with NaCl tolerated concentrations up to 350 mM. Treatments with sorbitol revealed that plants are able to survive concentrations up to 500 mM.

Furthermore, plants that had lost 92% water on a fresh-weight basis were able to recover successfully.

For molecular analyses, a P. patens expressed sequence tag (EST) database was searched for cDNA sequences showing homology to stress-associated genes of seed plants and bacteria. 45 novel P. patens genes were identified and subjected to cDNA macroarray analyses to define their expression pattern in response to water deficit.

Among the selected cDNAs, we were able to identify a set of genes that is specifically up-regulated upon dehydration. These genes encode proteins exerting their function in maintaining the integrity of the plant cell as well as proteins that are known to be members of signaling networks. The identified genes will serve as molecular markers and potential targets for future functional analyses.

“The only way to avoid these food crises is to build small farmers’ resilience to climate change by investing in climate-smart agriculture”


Photo credit: UN News Centre

One of the areas most affected by extreme hazards, in particular natural hazards, is the Dry Corridor of Central America, with recurrent droughts, excessive rains and severe flooding affecting agricultural production. Photo: FAO

Nicaragua’s ‘Dry Corridor’ to benefit from UN-backed sustainable agriculture project

About 30,000 families in 58 municipalities in Nicaragua’s ‘Dry Corridor,’ the area of the country most affected by droughts and climate change, are expected to benefit from a financial agreement between the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Nicaragua to boost sustainable agricultural production.

“In recent months, we have seen how bad things can be, not only for small farmers, but for the entire population living in the area,” said Ladislao Rubio, IFAD’s Country Programme Manager for Nicaragua, noting that the rise in temperatures caused by the El Niño phenomenon made agriculture almost impossible, leaving more than 3.5 million people in Central America dependent on food aid to survive.

“The only way to avoid these food crises is to build small farmers’ resilience to climate change by investing in climate-smart agriculture,” he added.

Regional falling agriculture production has led to food insecurity and particularly a decline in household incomes and has stretched rural families and indigenous people’s resilience.

With the investment, the UN agency, through the Dry Corridor Rural Family Sustainable Development Project (NICAVIDA) project, addresses the situation of Nicaraguan smallholders living in the Dry Corridor, a strip of land in which with 52 per cent of soils are overused and 40 per cent is strongly or severely eroded.

Read the full article: UN News Centre

Reforestation with native trees, mostly willows


Photo credit: The San Diego Union-Tribune

Flavio Sanchez, of Habitat Restoration Sciences, Inc., carries a cottonwood tree to be planted in a habitat restoration area at the Lake Calavera Preserve. (Charlie Neuman)

Going native at Lake Calavera Preserve


by Phil Diehl Contact Reporter

Hunndreds of carefully cultivated young native trees and shrubs are taking root at Carlsbad’s Lake Calavera Preserve where a grove of invasive Mexican fan palms was recently cut down and hauled away.

A wide palette of trees and plants — oaks and cottonwoods, marsh elder and lizard tail — was installed at the preserve this week as part of a habitat restoration project coordinated by the city.

The palms may have been pretty, but in wildlife areas such as the preserve, they are a nuisance that attracts rats and other rodents, while crowding out desirable native plants and animals, officials said.

“You give them an inch, and they’ll take an acre,” said Eddie Rosas, a foreman for Habitat Restoration Sciences, the company hired by Carlsbad to tackle the replanting project.

The restoration project is designed to compensate for vegetation removed as part of the maintenance of the Lake Calavera dam. The preserve, with more than six miles of public hiking trails, is on the northeastern end of Carlsbad near the Oceanside border and is notable for the ancient volcanic cone at its center.


Most of the trees planted this week were willow cuttings. Workers took hundreds of cuttings from three types of willows — arroyo, red and black — already growing in the preserve and then stored the inch-thick, 4-foot-long cuttings for a week in buckets of water, like flowers in a vase.