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‘A serious risk’: Mexican villagers take on cartel-backed avocado farms as water dries up

‘A serious risk’: Mexican villagers take on cartel-backed avocado farms as water dries up

A man shows a pump removed from an unlicensed water intake in the mountains of Villa Madero, Mexico, 17 April 2024.
Copyright AP Photo/Armando Solis

After enduring years of drought and ‘invading’ fruit farmers in Mexico, these locals are taking matters into their own hands.

Desperate Mexican villagers are taking direct action on commercial avocado farms that are drying up streams while a severe drought drags on.

Rivers and even whole lakes are disappearing in the once green and lush state of Michoacan, in the mountains west of Mexico City. Drought has combined with a surge in the use of water for the country’s lucrative export crops, led by avocados.

In recent days, subsistence farmers and activists from the Michoacan town of Villa Madero organised teams to go into the mountains and rip out illegal water pumps and breach unlicensed irrigation holding ponds.

A potential conflict looms with avocado growers – who are often sponsored by, or pay protection money to, drug cartels.

How are Mexican residents taking on commercial farms?

Last week, dozens of residents, farmworkers and small-scale farmers from Villa Madero hiked up into the hills to tear out irrigation equipment using mountain springs to water avocado orchards carved out of the pine-covered hills.

The week before, another group went up with picks and shovels and breached the walls of an illegal containment pond that sucked up water from a spring that had supplied local residents for hundreds of years.

“In the last 10 years, the streams, the springs, the rivers have been drying up and the water has been captured, mainly to be used for avocados and berries,” said local activist Julio Santoyo, one of the organisers of the effort.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Large-scale factory farms have become the biggest source of water pollution in the U.S.

Your hotdogs and burgers may be doing more than feeding friends at a barbeque.

Large-scale factory farms and confined feedlot operations have become the biggest source of water pollution in the United States.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to monitor factory farm pollution back in 2005 — but it has yet to actually do so. We can’t afford to wait any longer.

Factory farms, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs, generate millions — if not billions — of gallons of waste each year. In fact, the largest factory farm has been known to generate up to 369 million tons of waste per year. And while every animal produces waste, this level of highly concentrated manure can wreak serious havoc on the health of the environment and on the public.

When massive amounts of fertilizer, animal waste and other pollutants aren’t managed properly, they foul our waterways and release harmful chemicals like ammonia and methane into the environment. Extended exposure to these potent chemicals can result in serious health consequences such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.

Additionally, animal waste can leach toxic heavy metals and nitrates into waterways. Elevated nitrate levels in our drinking water can be dangerous for our health, and even cause low oxygen levels in infants and low birth weight.

These risks are why the EPA announced plans to monitor factory farm pollution almost 20 years ago. However, the agency has yet to release finalized plans to observe factory farm pollution and ultimately make decisions based off of the observations. This delay has allowed factory farms to continue emitting hazardous pollutants without sufficient oversight.

It’s the EPA’s duty to hold major polluting industries responsible and to safeguard public health and the environment in the process.

Thinking food: What’s ‘healthy’ and ‘sustainable’?

Bowl of sustainable vegetables for vegan diet

The rise of veganism has brought a sea-change in how many people eat, even for those who haven’t fully given themselves over to a wholly plant-based diet. ‘Veganuary’, which started in 2014, has been a compelling campaign to change people’s diets, urging them to forego any animal-based food. Veganism is increasing in interest – a recent YouGov poll (commissioned by Veganuary) found that 36% of adults thought that it was ‘admirable’, which implies it is something that many people may think about doing, but only the remarkable would pursue.

Healthy diets don’t come from the overconsumption of processed foods and that goes for veganism as much as for any type of diet. The vegan market has opened up a huge door to industrial food producers and out of it has come a raft of ultra-processed foods: vegan ‘cheese’, fake meat and products that are heavy on salt and additives. Have a good hard look at the Impossible Burger which garnered so much attention when it was introduced – its key ingredient is a ‘vat-grown, genetically engineered form of the heme iron’ called Soy leghemoglobin. It’s important to remember that just because it’s vegan, doesn’t make ultra-processed food healthy.

A vegan or ‘plant-based’ diet, as it is often called, eschews meat, dairy, fish and bugs as well (which are eaten in many parts of the world)…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The fight over food at the UN’s Food Summit

The fight over food at the UN’s Food Summit

Food Summit image via the International Science Council

The UN’s Food Systems Summit was held last week in New York. This sounds like it ought to be a good thing, given the sense of impending crisis around the food sector. But a lot of people aren’t happy about it. There have been protests by people who say they have been excluded from the process, critical op-ed articles, and pre-summit withdrawals by some invited stakeholders.

At The Counter Lela Nargi wrote a good explainer of what’s going on:

At the pre-summit, global leaders declared intentions to forge an international road map for the future of agriculture on a rapidly changing planet. They were “expected to step up and launch bold new actions, solutions, partnerships, and strategies” to vastly improve food and ag systems. “That’s where the decisions (were) made,” explained professor Molly Anderson about the decision to protest the pre-summit. “The cake (was) baked at the pre-summit and the summit will be the celebration where they eat the cake.”

‘Tech-heavy, corporate centric’

Anderson has some skin in this game. She is a member of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), which has withdrawn its participation in the Summit, criticising ‘opaque methods of decision-making and a favoring of tech-heavy, corporate-centric private sector voices.’

At heart, this dispute is about competing values and visions of a food future. Anderson’s perspective is that the UN Summit is over-interested in tech food futures such as digitisation, gene editing, and precision agriculture, which “won’t help the poorest and hungriest people in the world very much, and will make the gap between the very poor and hungry and the wealthy even wider than it is now.” In contrast:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Catch my Drift? Herbicide Drift, Curling Tomato Leaves, and Food Safety

Catch my Drift? Herbicide Drift, Curling Tomato Leaves, and Food Safety

There’s all kinds of maladies that can strike your garden plants throughout the season- diseases, insects, negligence, and more.  But one common issue we are seeing more and more here in the corn belt and other places with lots of crop production is herbicide drift.  Of course, you don’t have to have a corn or soy field nearby to have issues with drift – it can happen anywhere and anytime an herbicide is applied and proper precautions aren’t taken, even when you or a neighbor are just treating a small area in the yard.  There are other avenues of herbicide damage on plants as well, such as using herbicide-treated grass clippings as mulch in the garden.

A wide variety of plants can be damaged by herbicide drift from a variety of different products – trees, shrubs, roses, vegetables, and more.  The damage can be slight to severe, and unless the dose is large most plants will grow out of the damage.  Vegetables and fruits, though, are of particular concern due to the potential food safety risk from residues of unknown herbicides on the plants.  Therefore, it is especially important to be able to identify signs of herbicide drift and take the appropriate course of action which is usually and unfortunately removal of the plant from the garden.

I have to remove the plants!?!?

Yes, you read correctly, I said removal of the plant!  I, along with many of my extension colleagues, encourage gardeners who have drift or herbicide damage on their plants to remove them from their gardens. Why take such a drastic measure, especially if the plant may actually recover and “grow out” of the damage?  The answer is mainly one of safety…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Imagine Earth Day in ten years

It’s a bit of a challenge, to imagine what Earth Day will look like in ten years. Part of that challenge arises from the fact that it depends on what we do throughout that decade to deal with and try to correct the ravages of incipient climate change effects. Perhaps I should approach it thus.

First of all, regardless of what we do to offset these shifting trends, the oceans will continue to rise and ice will still melt at the poles, in Greenland, the Himalayas, Andes, Alps and elsewhere. We have already set things in motion that won’t be reversed or restored for thousands of years. Just bringing back icecaps and glaciers alone will take millennia, just like their time for creation. We have squandered an irreplaceable asset that we took for granted, not knowing it was at stake.

Second, there are things we can do to reverse these tides of change on the ground. We need to cover the planet in greenery and restore our soils to full health. This calls for changing our ways of fertilization and corporate agribusiness, which have alienated us from the flowering source of fruitful largesse from an earth grown by Nature. We must come to understand our environment in all its urgent demands on us to engage with it through alliance and not in adversarial combat. This is a war in which we will all lose the bounties by which we are borne. We need to open our eyes.

Third, if we do nothing, our fate is unknown and worthy of fear. The threat descending upon us is simply unfathomable in its fury. We have only just started to see our results in large storms and destructive fires that are placing our seashores and forests at risk – along with our very lives…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A third of global farmland at ‘high’ pesticide pollution risk

A third of global farmland at ‘high’ pesticide pollution risk

Nearly two-thirds  of global agricultural land is at risk of pesticide pollution, a study says
Nearly two-thirds of global agricultural land is at risk of pesticide pollution, a study says

A third of the planet’s agricultural land is at “high risk” of pesticide pollution from the lingering residue of chemical ingredients that can leach into water supplies and threaten biodiversity, according to research published Monday.

The  has soared globally as  has expanded, prompting growing fears over  and calls to cut hazardous chemical use.

Researchers in Australia modelled pollution risk across 168 countries with data on the usage of 92 active pesticide ingredients and found “widespread global  risk”.

They highlighted several acutely vulnerable ecosystems in South Africa, China, India, Australia and Argentina, at the nexus of high pollution risk, high water scarcity and high biodiversity.

The study, published in Nature Geoscience, found that overall 64 percent of global  —approximately 24.5 million square kilometres (9.4 million sq miles)—was at risk of pesticide pollution from more than one active ingredient, and 31 percent is at high risk.

“It is significant because the potential pollution is widespread and some regions at risk also bear high biodiversity and suffer from water scarcity,” said lead author Fiona Tang, of the University of Sydney’s School of Civil Engineering.

Tang said there were a number of factors that would contribute to a region becoming a potential contamination hotspot, including using excessive amounts of pesticides or those containing highly toxic substances.

Some environmental factors may also slow the breakdown of the pesticides into non-toxic substances, like cold temperatures or low soil carbon, while heavy rainfall might also cause high levels of run-off.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Kelly MacNamara, phys.org, pesticides, agriculture, industrial agriculture, modern agriculture, food production, food, pollution

Monsanto, Big Food, and Big Ag Move to Co-opt the Organic and Regenerative Movement

Monsanto, Big Food, and Big Ag Move to Co-opt the Organic and Regenerative Movement

green button on a black keyboard that says GREENWASHING surrounded by green markers

There’s one skill that Big Food and Big Ag corporations have in abundance: taking control of every situation and corrupting it into an opportunity for profit.

For example, as consumer interest in the terms “natural” and “sustainable” increased, industrial agribusiness began to use these unsubstantiated terms to market greenwashed products. These products were, in fact, just the opposite—made with pesticide-laden, factory farmed, and/or genetically engineered ingredients. Even the powerful Organic movement, which actually is based on specific certifiable practices and inputs, has required constant safeguarding against corporate attempts to dilute its meaning.

Now, we will also diligently have to defend the up-and-coming Regeneration movement against attempts by agribusiness corporations to co-opt it and undermine its transformative power.

In the past few years, Big Food and Big Ag corporations such as Bayer/MonsantoCargillWalmartGeneral MillsDanoneUnilever, and others have jumped on the bandwagon and publicly presented themselves as leaders in the regenerative agriculture movement. But something smells fishy. For one, these companies are completely leaving out organic practices in their definition of regenerative agriculture. As long as a farm uses certain conservation practices such as reduced tillage or cover crops, these companies seem to think that toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, biotechnology, and corporate control of farms and farmers are all A-okay.

Seriously? Aren’t these all things that helped propel us into our public health and environmental crises in the first place? Their motives make sense, though, when you consider that these companies derive a significant portion of their profits from these destructive industrial agriculture technologies and inputs in the first place. If these companies can keep making profits off of destruction while putting on a good public image of being “regenerative,” this win-win for them must appear appealing indeed.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Julia Kloehn, organic consumers association, greenwashing, big food, big ag, regenerative agriculture, industrial agriculture, organic food production, organic agriculture, organic farming

Regenerative Agriculture part 3 | Working With Nature, Not Suppressing It

Regenerative Agriculture part 3 | Working With Nature, Not Suppressing It

In the third and final installment in this series on regenerative agriculture, Peter Dunne explains how regenerative agriculture is about working with nature, not suppressing it. We’re often told nature and agriculture can’t share the same space. But we urgently need a paradigm shift, because true resilience only comes through diversity. Full series will be available to download as a pdf.

The Insidious Agrochemical Treadmill

The backdrop for the emergence of regenerative agriculture, and its emphasis on soil as a fulcrum of farming has been the ongoing, worsening ecological crisis and the phenomenon of climate change. Both are anthropogenic. At the farm level, declining economic returns have become commonplace. Although sometimes influenced by the first, perhaps it is the last issue which is persuading increasing numbers of farmers that the current agricultural paradigm is not working.

Over the past handful of decades, farmers have found themselves resorting to ever-increasing inputs to improve production to maintain financial income as the real farm-gate price fell. It has long become a downward spiral. It is the classic treadmill created by the continual adoption of technology. To ensure a viable farm business, the system had come to favour yield above all other considerations.

In contrast, regenerative agriculture is about returning to systems reliant on an understanding of how natural ecology produces without anthropological intervention. The latter is then about working with nature, not governing it, or suppressing it to the degree where, as often now predominates, nature and agriculture cannot share the same physical space. It has become an either or. Monocultures devoid of nature have become commonplace whereas true resilience, in fact, only comes through diversity.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…


Healthy Crops: A New Agricultural Revolution

First published in 1985 by agronomist Francis Chaboussou, Healthy Crops: A New Agricultural Revolution is republished online in full here for the first time!

A forgotten classic, Healthy Crops offers a critical exploration of the plant science behind the success of organic, agroecological, biodynamic and other holistic agricultural approaches, as well as the catastrophic failure of chemically-intensive industrial agriculture.


The book’s central thesis, though technical, is put simply by Gaia ancestor and Brazilian organic pioneer Jose ‘Lutz’ Lutzenberger in the foreword:

“A pest starves on a healthy plant…the more poisons we apply, the more diseases and pests we get”

Trophobiosis –  a challenge to chemical agriculture

Francis Chaboussou’s theory of ‘trophobiosis’ describes how and why, on a biochemical level, healthy crops which are getting what they need from the surrounding ecosystem – in terms of minerals, nutrients, fungi-  are more resistant to pests and disease.

Far from protecting these crops, Chaboussou argues that chemical pesticides undermine plant health and resilience, making pest attacks more likely and, by extension, undermining the health and resilience of all who consume them.

Trophobiosis, he argues, “explain(s) the reasons for the failure of chemical pesticides, whether fungicides, insecticides, or (above all) herbicides.”

Healthy Crops challenges the foundational assumptions of agro-chemical corporations the world over, whose business model is based not on promoting plant health, but eliminating pests by chemical means.

Instead, it advocates for holistic, integrated approaches to maintaining plant health, as part of the wider agro-ecosystem, as the best and most effective means of reducing the impacts of pests and diseases.

These approaches, which place plants and their health at the centre of agricultural concern, have the dual benefit of producing more nutritious produce, which Chaboussou argues should be considered alongside yield as a measure of success.

A forgotten classic rediscovered

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Global soils underpin life but future looks ‘bleak’, warns UN report

It takes thousands of years for soils to form, meaning protection is needed urgently, say scientists

Scientists describe soils as like the skin of the living world, vital but thin and fragile, and easily damaged by intensive farming, forest destruction, and pollution.
 Scientists describe soils as like the skin of the living world, vital but thin and fragile, and easily damaged by intensive farming, forest destruction, and pollution. Photograph: Zsolt Czeglédi/EPA

Global soils are the source of all life on land but their future looks “bleak” without action to halt degradation, according to the authors of a UN report.

A quarter of all the animal species on Earth live beneath our feet and provide the nutrients for all food. Soils also store as much carbon as all plants above ground and are therefore critical in tackling the climate emergency. But there also are major gaps in knowledge, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) report, which is the first on the global state of biodiversity in soils.

The report was compiled by 300 scientists, who describe the worsening state of soils as at least as important as the climate crisis and destruction of the natural world above ground. Crucially, it takes thousands of years for soils to form, meaning urgent protection and restoration of the soils that remain is needed.

The scientists describe soils as like the skin of the living world, vital but thin and fragile, and easily damaged by intensive farming, forest destruction, pollution and global heating.

 It’s time we stopped treating soil like dirt – video

“Soil organisms play a crucial role in our everyday life by working to sustain life on Earth,” said Ronald Vargas, of the FAO and the secretary of the Global Soil Partnership.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Food for thought

Food for thought

Leander Jones looks at the role of community supported agriculture as a 21st-century antidote to the destructive and increasingly fragile corporate agricultural model

Members of the Basta community supported agriculture collective working the farm. Image courtesy of Hof Basta.

In the past few decades fundamental flaws in the global food system have been increasingly thrust into the public eye. The rise of industrial agriculture – combining increased use of fertilisers and pesticides with aesthetics-focused crop modification and long-distance transportation – has led to devastation of the environment and turbocharged an extractive model that thrives on exploitation of the world’s producers. The relentless quest to maximise production – and profits – per acre is destroying the very land on which this production depends. It is akin to setting your house on fire to save on energy bills.

The fragility of food systems is being exposed by the Covid-19 crisis as global production and transportation have been rocked. The UN Food and Agriculture programme has warned of ‘biblical’ famine threatening hundreds of millions of people.

Making space

Alternative models of non-industrial food production have historical roots stretching back decades and are numerous in their iterations. Community-supported agriculture (CSA) is one example. As a practice it seeks to connect consumers directly with producers, with the aim of fostering community, creating fair exchange and sharing risks. The idea’s growth and popularity correlates with the rise of environmentalism.

Basta (‘Enough’ in Italian) is a CSA collective that has been running since 2013 near Berlin. The founders, Anna and Olli, bought a plot of land with the help of the Kulturland Genossenschaft (Cultivated Land Cooperative), in which small producers pool their resources to buy land and take it off the market. Individual farmers pay a yearly tariff back to Kulturland, while the land is owned in common.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How our food choices cut into forests and put us closer to viruses

How our food choices cut into forests and put us closer to viruses

As the global population has doubled to 7.8 billion in about 50 years, industrial agriculture has increased the output from fields and farms to feed humanity. One of the negative outcomes of this transformation has been the extreme simplification of ecological systems, with complex multi-functional landscapes converted to vast swaths of monocultures.

From cattle farming to oil palm plantations, industrial agriculture remains the greatest driver of deforestation, particularly in the tropics. And as agricultural activities expand and intensify, ecosystems lose plants, wildlife and other biodiversity.

The permanent transformation of forested landscapes for commodity crops currently drives more than a quarter of all global deforestation. This includes soy, palm oil, beef cattle, coffee, cocoa, sugar and other key ingredients of our increasingly simplified and highly processed diets.

The erosion of the forest frontier has also increased our exposure to infectious diseases, such as Ebolamalaria and other zoonotic diseases. Spillover incidents would be far less prevalent without human encroachment into the forest.

We need to examine our global food system: Is it doing its job, or is it contributing to forest destruction and biodiversity loss — and putting human life at risk?

What are we eating?

The food most associated with biodiversity loss also tends to also be connected to unhealthy diets across the globe. Fifty years after the Green Revolution — the transition to intensive, high yielding food production reliant on a limited number of crop and livestock species — nearly 800 million people still go to bed hungry; one in three is malnourished; and up to two billion people suffer some sort of micronutrient deficiency and associated health impacts, such as stunting or wasting.

Forest cut down for an agricultural field
A large soy field cuts into the forest in Brazil. (Shutterstock)

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Weeds: Real Nutrition, For Free

Weeds: Real Nutrition, For Free

If you’re walking over chickweed and dandelion in your lawn or ignoring a nettle patch by the garden wall as you hop in the car and drive to the grocery store and pharmacy, you’re passing up opportunities for a quality of nutrition that no supermarket or pharmacy can ever provide.

When our grandparents were told, “eat your veggies,” that was good advice. But nowadays there are veggies, and then there are other veggies. In terms of nutrition, they’re not all created equal.
Imagine a graph that measures nutrition. At the bottom there is very little nutrition, and at the top there’s lots.

Image by author, Kate Martignier

On this graph, I’d place supermarket vegetables at the bottom, heirloom varieties of vegetables and herbs from home gardens, community gardens, and small, diverse farms in the middle, and wild/undomesticated plants (many of them known as “weeds) at the top.

Supermarket Veggies – Seriously Lacking In Variety And Nutrition

The food plants we see in the supermarket represent a tiny sliver of all the food plants available to us.

There are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world yet fewer than 20 species now provide 90% of our food.

Plants for a Future

Besides being a very narrow representation of the plant foods available to us, supermarket vegetables are the least nutritious veggies you could be eating. They almost (through no fault of their own) shouldn’t be called by the same name.

Most likely you already know all the reasons why, but just in case, two of the main reasons supermarket vegetables are unable to do a good job of nourishing us are:

  • they’re bred for appearance and keeping ability over nutrition, vigor, or anything else remotely useful, and

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Dead Zones: Industrial Agriculture versus Ocean Life

Dead Zones: Industrial Agriculture versus Ocean Life

Worldwide, there are now over a thousand coastal areas where fish can’t breathe. The nitrogen that makes crops grow is also destroying offshore ecosystems.

“Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first.” —Frederick Engels 

Talk about bad timing. This year’s Shelfwide Hypoxia Cruise, the annual scientific expedition that measures oxygen-depleted waters off the Louisiana coast, started on July 25, just after Hurricane Hanna raged through the area. High winds and waves continued through the cruise, thoroughly mixing the water column: high-oxygen surface waters were forced deep, and low-oxygen bottom waters were pushed off the continental shelf.

As a result, the official area of year’s dead zone is 5,048 square kilometers, the third-smallest since surveys began in 1985. Future charts and graphs will require a footnote, explaining that weather conditions produced a misleading result.

Northern Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone after Hurricane Hanna, July 2020.[1]

If the survey had been done a week earlier, or a couple of weeks later, the low-oxygen area would likely have been three or four times as large, because the conditions that deplete oxygen on the continental shelf haven’t changed.

#  #  #

In the summer of 1972, an environmental assessment study for a proposed oil facility off the coast of Louisiana found something unexpected — an area below the surface, where the water contained little or no oxygen. In waters that had long supported a large and profitable fishing industry, there were areas where fish couldn’t breathe.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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