13.10.2016 |

Africa remains the main target for land grabs by foreign investors

Most of the area targeted was formerly owned by local communities (Photo: CC0)

Since the year 2000, foreign investors have acquired 26.7 million hectares of land around the globe for agriculture, with Africa being the most affected continent. This means that around 2 per cent of the arable land worldwide, or roughly the equivalent to an area the size of the United Kingdom and Slovenia together, has been transferred into the hands of foreign investors. That is the message of a new report released by the Land Matrix, an independent initiative that collects and evaluates data on land acquisitions in low- and middle-income countries. The report shows that these concluded international land deals for agriculture are only the tip of the iceberg. Overall, the Land Matrix captures 1,204 concluded deals (for all intentions), which cover over 42.2 million hectares of land. In addition, intended deals target 20 million hectares and failed deals 7.2 million hectares. The 26.7 million hectares under contract for agricultural purposes consist of 1,004 different agreements. In the case of almost 70 per cent of these land deals, agricultural activities have already started. “We are observing not only that more and more agricultural lands have changed hands, but also that they are increasingly being actively cultivated and used – for example, to grow grain, oil palms, and sugar cane,” said GIGA research fellow Dr. Kerstin Nolte, one of the report’s authors. The cultivation of food crops is the main intention of agricultural investment with 9.2 million hectares, followed by unspecified agricultural intentions (5.6 million hectares). This can largely be attributed to so-called flex crops which can have multiple end uses, for example as food, animal feed, fuels or industrial materials. Oil palm is the largest of these crops, with multiple usages including food, fuel and cosmetics. On 5.1 million hectares of land, investors intended to produce agrofuels. The report says Africa is the continent most impacted by land deals, with 422 deals covering a total area of 10 million hectares. Eastern Europe is the second most important region, mostly due to the large average size of land per deal: 96 concluded deals are covering 5.1 million hectares. Southeast Asia is another heavily impacted region. Most of the investors are from Malaysia, the United States, Great Britain, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia. Western European investors are involved in 315 land deals covering nearly 7.3 million hectares. Land deals often target areas that have previously been used for agriculture by local farmers and communities. This creates increased competition for land and the potential for conflicts with the local population, frequently leading to forced displacements. “A lack of transparency and the marginalisation of local stakeholders weaken the bargaining position of smallholder farmers and pastoralists, including indigenous peoples” , warns co-author Markus Giger from the University of Bern. The report says that during the start-up phase, when farms are being established, there is high labour demand for construction work and infrastructure development, but this lasts for a short period of time only. “We find very low intensities of labour, suggesting the prevalence of capitalintensive production methods and therefore limited capacity to create rural employment.” Large-scale land acquisitions can also have negative consequences for the environment due to agro-industrial production methods. One key concern is an increase in water scarcity. According to the authors, more research is needed to determine the economic, social and political impacts of land grabs. “The more we know about these deals, the better we can understand how they will affect local people,” the authors conclude. They also highlight the need to assess the impact of large-scale land acquisitions in the context of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the international community in 2015. (ab)

10.10.2016 |

Report debunks myth that US agribusiness is feeding the world’s hungry

US farmers are not feeding the hungry (Photo: CC0)

American farmers and agribusiness are not feeding the world’s poor and hungry, most agricultural exports from the U.S. rather go to the wealthiest nations. This is the finding of a new report released by Environmental Working Group (EWG), that clearly debunks the myth cultivated by the agribusiness lobby that the world depends on U.S. farmers to double their production to feed a global population of 9 billion people by 2050. “We wanted to dig into the fictitious notion that America’s farmers are feeding people in undernourished countries, and the assertion that so-called ‘modern’ farming techniques are our only option if we ever hope to do so,” said Anne Weir Schechinger, EWG’s senior analyst for economics and author of the report. “This is simply a myth adopted and deployed by U.S. agribusiness to distract the public from reality. The indisputable facts are that we are sending mostly meat products and animal feed to wealthy countries, and we are not sending much food at all to those nations struggling to feed their people.” In 2015, the top 20 importers of U.S. agricultural products – 19 individual countries and the European Union – accounted for 86 percent ($114.4 billion) of the total value of U.S. agricultural exports. EWG’s analysis determined that most of the top importers of U.S. exports had very high or high human development scores, and low levels of hunger. Canada, China, Mexico and the EU are the top four export destinations. According to the data compiled by EWG, meat and dairy products, along with animal feed, accounted for 50 percent of all U.S. agriculture exports to the top 20 destinations in 2015. This means that agricultural exports from the U.S. chiefly meet the demand for more meat and more diverse diets from already affluent countries, or those with growing personal wealth. Only less than 1 percent of U.S. agricultural exports last year went to the 19 countries with the highest levels of undernourishment, including Haiti, Yemen and Ethiopia. Even though the U.S. provides almost half of all food aid to those countries, between 2004 and 2013, U.S. exports and food aid combined contributed between only 2 to 4.4 percent of the food supply of those 19 undernourished countries. “To claim that U.S. farmers and agribusinesses must go all-out to feed the world - regardless of the consequences to human health and the environment - amounts to wrapping a business opportunity in the cloak of moral necessity,” says the report. EWG reminds that modern farming systems that depend heavily on fertilizers and chemicals cause considerable damage to air, water and land resources, as well as public health. For example, farm runoff is often responsible for toxic algal blooms and polluted drinking water. Pesticides from farm fields and antibiotic-resistant bacteria from confined animal enclosures are just another problem. According to the report, experts on world hunger agree that the root cause of hunger is poverty. What U.S. agribusiness really needs to do to help end world hunger while protecting the environment is to help small farmers in the developing world increase their productivity and income, and to promote “agro-ecology” everywhere, including in the U.S., the report concludes. “Reducing poverty, increasing income for women, providing nutrition education, improving infrastructure like roads and markets to increase access to food, and ceasing wars and conflict could all help undernourished populations better feed themselves.” (ab)

05.10.2016 |

Stunting and poverty prevent 250m children from reaching their full potential

250m children are unable to reach their full potential (Photo: CC0)

Almost 250 million children worldwide are exposed to stunting or extreme poverty, being at risk of not reaching their full developmental potential, new research shows. According to a series of papers published in the medical journal The Lancet, 43% of children younger than 5 years of age in low-income and middle-income countries are falling short of their potential because of adversities they face in early life. The period between conception and a child’s second birthday, the first 1,000 days of life, are crucial to development. If children suffer from chronic undernutrition during early life, they are likely to end up to short for their age and brain development may be seriously affected. “Some catch-up is possible in height-for-age after 24 months, with uncertain cognitive gains,” warns one paper. According to the authors, extreme poverty increases children’s likelihood of exposure to “an accumulation of adversities”, including family stress, child abuse or neglect, food insecurity, and exposure to violence, which are often compounded by living in communities with limited resources. The series of papers “introduces evidence that successful policies for early childhood development focus on equipping families with the time, resources, knowledge, and skills they need to provide nurturing care,” writes Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, in a comment article. She said that the research “emphasises the importance of well coordinated efforts across sectors, including health, nutrition, education, welfare, social protection, environmental safety and conservation, agriculture, and water and sanitation.” If no action is taken now, societies around the world will have to pay a high price. The scientists warn that “for the 43% of children estimated to be at risk of poor development due to extreme poverty and stunting, their average percentage loss of adult income per year is likely to be 26%.” This is exerting a strong downward economic pull and trapping families in poverty. The scientists estimate that the cost of not acting immediately to some countries can be twice their spending on healthcare. That studies found that progress to reduce the number of children under 5 years exposed to stunting or extreme poverty has been distributed unevenly across regions. In sub-Saharan Africa, 66% of children are estimated to be at risk of poor development because of stunting and poverty. In South Asia, the figure is 53%. “The science shows us that biology is not destiny – and that what children experience in the earliest days and years of life shapes and defines their futures,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “We need to turn that science into an alarm bell because the development of millions of children is at urgent risk.” World Bank president Jim Yong Kim told the Guardian that he would use the World Economic Forum in Davos each year to name and shame countries that fail to tackle their high stunting rates. Decisive action will be needed if the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are to be met. In September 2015, the international community pledged to end all forms of malnutrition by 2030, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age. (ab)

28.09.2016 |

Large-scale agricultural investments cause hunger and poverty in Ethiopia

Farmer in Ethiopia (Photo: CC0, PeterW1950)

Ethiopia’s development plans focused on large-scale agricultural investments have perpetuated poverty and hunger and led to forced evictions of local communities and the seizure of land and water resources, a new study shows. According to the report released on September 27 by the Oakland Institute, a US-based policy think tank, efforts to tackle food insecurity have failed despite the country’s acclaimed economic miracle and double-digit growth rates. “In 2016, over 18 million people required food assistance in Ethiopia – a crisis attributed to El Niño-induced drought,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute. “This narrative, while convenient for the government and its allies, ignores the chronic food insecurity in the country – 8 to 18 million Ethiopians have depended on food or cash handouts for their survival each year over the last decade.” While some effort was made to support smallholder farmers to increase production, the key government strategy to drive development has been the promotion of large-scale industrial farming. The five-year Ethiopia Growth and Transformation Plan, launched in 2010, mainly focuses on large-scale agricultural investments, in particular for export crops such as sugar or cotton, as well as large dams for both electricity and irrigation. “By 2011, the government had earmarked 3.6 million hectares for large-scale agriculture, and recently announced that over 11.5 million hectares are available to investors,” said Frederic Mousseau, author of the report. The government also put in place the Commune Development Program, also known as “villagization” program, to resettle 1.5 million people in lowland areas which were targeted for large-scale agricultural plantations. “Tens of thousands of farmers and pastoralists have been forcibly resettled through the government’s ‘villagization’ program to free up fertile lands for investors,” says Mousseau. “With their traditional livelihoods destroyed, many people now rely on food aid for their survival.” A key government objective is to make Ethiopia one of the world’s largest sugar producers. According to the report, several sugar expansion plans are underway, including a project in the Lower Omo Valley, which will encompass up to five sugar factories and 150,000 hectares of sugarcane plantations that rely on Gibe III Dam for irrigation. The Oakland Institute warns that Gibe III could reduce the Omo River flow by as much as 70%, threatening the livelihoods of 200,000 Ethiopians and 300,000 Kenyans who depend on the downstream water flow for herding, fishing, and flood-recession agriculture. Between 2010 and 2020, sugar expansion plans will cost an estimated $11.2 billion and much more will be spent for irrigation schemes and dams. The report points out that Gibe III alone cost $1.8 billion. Drawing on lessons from Ethiopia’s past and recent experiences in Brazil, where sugarcane expansion benefited large landowners and agribusinesses at the expense of farm laborers and smallholder farmers, the author questions the logic behind the government plans. Sugar and cotton plantations in the Awash Valley, established in the 1950s, drastically reduced land and water availability for people and cattle, undermined food security, destroyed key drought coping mechanisms, and stirred up violent conflicts between different groups over the remaining resources. “Prevailing disregard of the negative impacts of the past development strategies bounds the Ethiopian government to replicate failed plantation and irrigation schemes and doom itself to repeat mistakes on a much larger scale throughout Ethiopia,” the report warns. The government would do better to reconsider its plans and promote development that will actually benefit all Ethiopians, including pastoralists and small-scale farmers. (ab)

26.09.2016 |

More action needed to tackle global food waste, report finds

Not fit for sale: carrots (Photo: Pixabay, WikimediaImages)

Governments and businesses worldwide need to accelerate efforts to reduce food waste if target 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) on food waste is to be met. This is the message of a new report released on September 22 by Champions 12.3, a coalition of leaders from government, business and civil society. The report is the first in an annual series of publications providing an assessment of the world’s progress towards the target of halving, by 2030, “global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses”. The report finds that governments and organisations across Europe, Africa and the United States have taken a number of notable steps over the past year since the SDGs were adopted, but considering the enormous scale of the food waste problem more effort is needed. Almost one-third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted. Food loss and waste is responsible for roughly $940 billion in economic losses globally per year and 8% of greenhouse gas emissions. “Reducing food loss and waste can be a triple win. It can help feed more people. It can save money for farmers, companies, and households. And reductions can alleviate pressure on climate, water, and land resources,” the report says. The authors recommend nations, cities and businesses in the food supply chain to move quickly to (1) set reduction targets, (2) measure progress and (3) take action to reduce food loss and waste. According to the report, targets set ambition and this motivates action. Therefore, every country, city and company involved in the food supply chain should set food loss and waste reduction targets consistent with SDG target 12.3 in order to ensure sufficient attention. Some governments and companies have already adopted such targets, the report finds. For example, the US announced the goal of halving food loss and waste by 2030. The report warns that target setting so far is limited to a few regional blocks and some large multinational companies. If target 12.3 is to be met, however, every country, especially major emerging economies, as well as all companies in the food supply chains need to take part. With regard to the second recommendation, although there is some progress, much more is needed when it comes to measurement. “An old adage is that ‘what gets measured gets managed.’ This also holds true for food loss and waste”, the report says, calling on governments and companies to quantify and report on food loss and waste and monitor progress over time through 2030. Government action to achieve SDG Target 12.3 will likely occur at the country or even subnational level, requiring quantification at that geographic scale. The report mentions the UK as a leader in this area, having one of the most extensive estimates of country-level food waste in the world. In particular, the British nonprofit institution WRAP has published several countrywide food waste estimates. Also the EU has issued a number of estimates for food loss and waste levels across its 28 Member States. With regard to companies, Tesco, a leading food retailer with stores in 11 countries, was named a pioneer. Since 2013, Tesco has been conducting an annual food loss and waste inventory for its operations and publicly reporting the results. “It was a move that was instrumental in showing us where we needed to focus our efforts. Once we identified the problems areas we knew where to act,” said Tesco’s CEO Dave Lewis. Setting targets and measuring food loss and waste are important, the report found, but ultimately governments, companies, farmers, and citizens need to act. Since the launch of the SDGs, there have been many notable actions by countries, companies, and others to tackle food waste. In February 2016, France adopted a law that requires supermarkets to donate unsold yet still edible food to charities. In August, Italy passed related legislation making food donations easier, including provisions that businesses will not face sanctions for giving away food past its sell-by date and that businesses will pay less waste tax the more they give away. Governments and companies should accelerate and scale up adoption of policies, incentives, and practices that reduce food loss and waste, the report concludes. (ab)

22.09.2016 |

UN General Assembly calls for action on antimicrobial resistance

Antibiotics are also used in farming (Photo: CC0)

World leaders have sounded the alarm about antimicrobial resistance and called for immediate action to curb the overuse of antibiotics in human patients and farm animals. In a high-level meeting on September 21, the UN General Assembly adopted a declaration aimed at curbing the spread of infections that are resistant to antimicrobial medicines. It is only the fourth time in history that a health issue has been discussed at the assembly, so far only HIV, noncommunicable diseases and Ebola made it on the agenda. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) happens when bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi become resistant to medicines that were previously able to cure them, making it increasingly difficult to treat common and life-threatening infections like pneumonia and post-operative infections. The head of states committed to addressing the root causes of AMR across all sectors. According to a joint press release by several UN institutions, the high levels of AMR worldwide are the result of overuse and misuse of antibiotics and other antimicrobials in humans, animals (including farmed fish), and crops, as well as the spread of residues of these medicines in soil, crops, and water. “AMR is a problem not just in our hospitals, but on our farms and in our food, too. Agriculture must shoulder its share of responsibility, both by using antimicrobials more responsibly and by cutting down on the need to use them, through good farm hygiene,” said Dr José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Alastair Kenneil, a campaigner with the non-profit organisation Farms not Factories, finds clearer words: “For decades factory farmers have been pumping antibiotics into livestock to compensate for inhumane and disease-inducing conditions. Now, bacteria are fighting back,” he wrote in the Ecologist. AMR is predicted to have significant social, health security, and economic consequences that will seriously undermine the development of countries. According to a recently released World Bank report, drug-resistant infections could cause low-income countries to lose more than 5% of their GDP and push up to 28 million people, mostly in developing countries, into poverty by 2050. “Antimicrobial resistance threatens the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and requires a global response,” said Peter Thomson, the President of the 71st session of the UN General Assembly. He described the adopted UN declaration as “a good basis for the international community to move forward”. The UN nations reaffirmed their commitment to develop national action plans on AMR, based on the global action plans on antimicrobial resistance developped by the WHO, the FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health. Peter Stevensen, chief policy advisor at the animal welfare organization Compassion in World Farming, welcomed the FAO action plan. “However, it fights shy of offering effective solutions,” he told Global Meat News. The UN declaration also recognises the need for stronger systems to monitor drug-resistant infections and the volume of antimicrobials used in humans, animals, and crops, as well as increased international cooperation and funding. “Antimicrobial resistance poses a fundamental threat to human health, development, and security. The commitments made today must now be translated into swift, effective, lifesaving actions across the human, animal, and environmental health sectors. We are running out of time,” urged Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO. (ab)

14.09.2016 |

“A marriage made in hell”: Monsanto accepts Bayer’s $66bn takeover bid

Monsanto and Bayer pave the way for a merger (Photo: CC0)

Monsanto has accepted a takeover bid from the German chemical giant Bayer, opening the way for the creation of the world’s biggest seed and pesticide company. In a joint press release, Bayer and Monsanto announced on Wednesday that they agreed on a 66 billion dollar deal under which Bayer will be paying USD 128 per share in an all-cash transaction. “We are pleased to announce the combination of our two great organizations,” rejoiced Bayer’s chief executive Werner Baumann. The signing of the merger agreement puts an end to a takeover battle that stretched over four months. The 66 billion dollar offer represents a 44 percent premium over Monsanto’s share price on May 9, the day before Bayer’s first written proposal to the US seed giant and producer of the world’s most widely used weedkiller Roundup. The deal also includes a two billion dollar antitrust break fee which Bayer will have to pay if the deal is not concluded or fails to obtain the necessary regulatory approvals. The proposed merger would create a new company with about 26 billion US dollars (23 billion euros) in sales that according to BBC News would control more than a quarter of the global supply of seeds and pesticides. While Bayer and Monsanto stress their “deep commitment to innovation and sustainable agriculture practices” and the new company’s contribution to feeding “an additional 3 billion people in the world by 2050 in an environmentally sustainable way”, environmental and anti-GMO activists fear exactly the opposite will be the case. Adrian Bebb, campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said “Bayer's buyout of Monsanto is a marriage made in hell, which threatens to further lock in industrialised agriculture at the expense of nature, farmers and the wider public. He added that “this mega corporation will be doing its best to force damaging pesticides and GM seeds into our countryside” although public support for local and greener food continues to boom. The merger agreement was described as a “disaster for the world's food system” by Aisha Dodwell, a food campaigner at Global Justice Now: “The creation of this mega-argibusiness would mean that a single terrifying corporate behemoth is now the world’s biggest company for both seeds and fertilisers, putting them firmly in control of the world’s farming inputs.” Bayer and Monsanto hope that the deal, which is subject to regulatory approval on both sides of the Atlantic, will be closed by the end of 2017. The Monsanto Bayer merger is not the only deal threatening to increase the concentration in the seed and pesticide market. Dow and DuPont announced a 130bn dollar merger last year, while ChemChina’s 44bn dollar acquisition of Syngenta recently received approval from an important U.S. regulator, removing a key hurdle to the takeover. “We already know that these agri-businesses use aggressive techniques to further their market share and increase profit margins and do not act in the best interests of small-scale farmers, public health or the environment," Aisha Dodwell warns in a statement. (ab)

09.09.2016 |

TPP trade deal undermines climate change goals for agriculture, report warns

Global trade and climate goals in conflict (Photo: CC0)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other trade deals undermine climate goals, putting our planet and food systems at risk, a new report warns. In “The Climate Cost of Free Trade”, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) presents many examples of how trade rules already conflict with climate goals and shows how the TPP deal between the United States and 11 other Pacific rim nations, signed in February 2016, could create further barriers for nations trying to meet their Paris climate pledges. National commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are at the heart of the Paris agreement, the authors write, and almost 80% of countries’ national climate plans include actions on agriculture. Agriculture plays a key role for achieving the climate goals since the global food system, including agricultural production and land use, is responsible for one-third of global emissions. However, TTP could become a major obstacle for countries that want to reduce agricultural emissions and make farming systems more resilient, the report warns. “Most of agriculture’s global emissions are associated with the growth of an industrial model of agriculture designed to compete in global markets and take advantage of international trade rules put in place over the last several decades. Not surprisingly, global agribusiness companies sit prominently on US trade advisory committees and companies like Cargill and Monsanto are flexing their lobbying muscles in support of new trade deals.” According to the report, the trans-pacific deal aims at harmonizing food safety rules between countries, including rules on pesticide and veterinary drug residues, demanding they be “least trade restrictive,” rather than prioritizing public health and sustainable agricultural production, says IATP. The organisation also fears that TTP, that will cover some 40% of the world economy, will be a door-opener for genetically modified crops (GMOs). The deal sets forward rules to expand the use and acceptance of GMOs. These crops are mainly commodity crops that can be stored and sold on the global market, such as corn, soybeans and cotton. They are heavily dependent on synthetic fertilizers (a major greenhouse gas contributor) and are largely used as animal feed for the meat and dairy industry which are also major emitters. The authors consider this the wrong track: “Numerous international reports, from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, to the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, Technology for Development (IAASTD) to the most recent International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, have pointed to the imperative of greater biodiversity in agricultural systems to adapt to climate change. Less diversity and more homogeneity results in agricultural systems vulnerable to extreme weather, new pests and weeds, all of which are expected outcomes of climate change.” In addition, IATP criticises that the TPP deal requires all participating countries to sign on to UPOV91, a global seed breeders’ rights treaty which prohibits farmers and breeders from exchanging protected seeds, hindering climate adaptation efforts. The report demands that trade deals should no longer be considered in isolation, or given priority over other agreements or global goals: “Trade policy is too influential, and provides too many obstacles for successful governing on issues like climate change, health, food security and natural resource management - issues that the WTO and other free trade agreements are ill-equipped to handle,” the authors conclude. (ab)

05.09.2016 |

New study reveals humans’ growing ecological footprint

Human pressures on the planet are increasing (Photo: CC0)

Although human pressure on natural habitats is growing at an alarming rate, threatening especially the world’s species-rich biodiversity hot spots, the ecological footprint is not increasing as fast as the world population. This is one findings of a team of researchers from the University of Northern British Columbia, the University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The study, published in the journal Nature Communications on August 23, is an update to an earlier human footprint map released in 2002. Using data from satellites and on-ground surveys, the scientists analysed the impacts of human activities on the environment between the years 1993 and 2009. They looked at different human pressures, including data on the extent of built surfaces, roads and railways, navigable waterways, crop and pasture land, human population density and night-time lights. The team found that while the global population grew 23% and the world economy grew 153% over this 16-year-period, the global human footprint increased only by 9%. Dr. Oscar Venter of the University of Northern British Columbia who led the study said this is encouraging since “it means we are becoming more efficient in how we use natural resources.” However, human pressures have had severe and extensive environmental impacts. “Our maps show that three quarters of the planet is now significantly altered and 97 percent of the most species-rich places on Earth have been seriously altered. There is little wonder there is a biodiversity crisis,” said Dr. James Watson, co-author of the study from the University of Queensland and WCS. Regions that are very rich in biodiversity and host large numbers of threatened species, so-called biodiversity hotspots, are affected most. Only a few places with many threatened species remained impact-free, including central Borneo and the Central Asia Deserts. Overall, in around 71% of the world’s different ecological regions human pressures have increased by over 20% since 1993. Forests tend to suffer most from environmental pressures, for example the temperate broadleaf forests of Western Europe, the eastern United States and China; the tropical dry forests of India and parts of Brazil as well as the tropical moist forests of south-east Asia. The researchers said one of the main drivers of deforestation and biodiversity loss is the expansion of agriculture. “The suitability of lands for agriculture appears to be a major determinant of the intensity, extent and temporal trends of pressures across the globe,” they write. Agriculture has expanded into more marginal lands. While the most suitable areas showed little change since 1993, areas moderately suitable for farming have seen a rapid increase in human use since then. The authors highlight that maintaining biodiversity will require extensive restoration to remove and mitigate existing pressures, especially in the world’s most biologically valuable regions. Efforts may be particularly successful where pressures have arisen only recently, as the time-lags before biodiversity declines could mean that many species could still be saved, they added. (ab)

30.08.2016 |

Neonicotinoid insecticides linked to long-term wild bee decline in England

Bee in a rapeseed field (Photo: CC0)

New research has linked the the large-scale and long-term decline in wild bee species across England to the use of the controversial neonicotinoid pesticides. According to a study published on 16 August in the journal Nature Communications, wild bees are negatively affected by exposure to neonicotinoids on oilseed rape. “Over recent years there has been a growing body of evidence that seed-coated neonicotinoids are harmful to beneficial insects, including bees. However, most of these studies are based on short-term experiments on honeybees,” explained co-author Dr. Nick Isaac from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Oxfordshire. “Our study is different because we looked at long-term trends for 62 wild bee species across all of England.” The researchers used bee population data collected by volunteers from more than 31,818 surveys across more than 4000 square kilometres of land across England between 1994 and 2011. This time period covers the years before and after the introduction of wide-scale commercial use of neonicotinoid seed treatments on oilseed rape in 2002. The scientists also analysed data on the area planted with oilseed rape over this 18-year period and the proportion of neonicotinoid seed treatment applied to this crop before planting. The scientists found evidence suggesting that the decline in wild bee populations was, on average, three times stronger among species that habitually forage on oilseed rape, for example the buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris), than among species that regularly forage on a range of floral resources. “As a flowering crop, oilseed rape is beneficial for pollinating insects. This benefit however, appears to be more than nullified by the effect of neonicotinoid seed treatment on a range of wild bee species, “ said lead author Dr Ben Woodcock. Although the authors admit that neonicotinoids may not be considered in isolation of other pressures such as habitat loss, pathogens, climate change and other insecticides, they call attention to the large exposure risk to pollinators: According to the study, neonicotinoids comprised 80% of the worldwide insecticide seed treatment market in 2008 or 24% of the total insecticide market. In 2013, the European Union imposed a temporary ban on the use of three neonicotinoids – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam to protect bees. This moratorium is currently being reviewed. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is expected to complete its new assessments of the risks to bees posed by three neonicotinoid pesticides by January 2017. However, the British government has already temporarily lifted the ban on neonicotinoids last year, allowing “emergency rules” for the use of the insecticide in certain parts of the UK. (ab)


Donors of globalagriculture Bread for all biovision Bread for the World Misereor Heidehof Stiftung Hilfswerk der Evangelischen Kirchen Schweiz Rapunzel
English versionDeutsche VersionDeutsche Version