The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has this month warned that Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) swarms are invading cropping areas of northern Sudan. The swarms originated from winter breeding areas on the Red Sea coastal plains and subcoastal areas in northeast Sudan and southeast Egypt. The situation requires close monitoring as more swarms are expected to form in the coming weeks that could move into parts of Sudan and southern Egypt. If no further rains fall and the vegetation dries out, some of these swarms could move into the interior of both countries and also cross the Red Sea to the coast of Saudi Arabia.
Locusts belong to the Acrididae family (in the order Orthoptera which includes grasshoppers and crickets) and when triggered by certain cues such as increased crowding with other locusts have the ability to change their morphology, behaviour and physiology over several generations. This phase change occurs from a solitary to a gregarious phase, eventually causing the locusts to form dense hopper bands and swarms. One of the most serious locust pests is the Desert Locust.
A species of whitefly that transmits cassava mosaic virus has been detected in South Africa for the first time. The whitefly, Bemisia tabaci is a cryptic species complex containing some important agricultural pests and virus vectors. The term ‘cryptic species complex’ means that Bemisia tabaci is considered to be a complex of at least 24 different species that look almost identical but are in fact genetically different. Researchers from a range of organisations including the University of Johannesburg, the University of Witwatersrand and ARC-Vegetable and Ornamental Plant Institute conducted surveys to investigate the diversity and distribution of Bemisia tabaci species in 8 provinces in South Africa. The study aimed to update the information regarding the different Bemisia tabaci types present in the country.
Striga, a parasitic weed (also known as Witchweed,) has long been a problem in African nations; causing farmers to lose billions of dollars’ worth of crops annually. To make matters worse, the weed flourishes in conditions that characterise that of poor farming communities (small plots, mono-cropping, lack of oxen and natural manure and lack of agricultural inputs.)
Guatemala has declared a state of agricultural emergency after coffee rust fungus has affected approximately 193,000ha of coffee, equating to 70% of the national crop. As a result of the outbreak, Guatemala is releasing $13.7m (£8.7m) in emergency aid to help farmers buy pesticides and to inform farmers on ways to manage the disease. Honduras and Costa Rica have already declared national emergency and El Salvador and Panama are also affected.
Coffee is a major export crop in many Central American countries and it is thought that this disease outbreak, which has been called “the worst seen in Central America and Mexico” by John Vandermeer, ecologist at the University of Michigan, will lead to big job losses. The Institute of Coffee in Costa Rica has estimated that the latest coffee rust outbreak may reduce the 2013-2014 harvest by 50% or more in the worst affected areas.
Bees represent a proportion of the insects that contribute to the pollination of crops, and the potential impact of observed declines in bees on crop yields, as well as their importance as pollinators of wild flowers, has resulted in significant attention and controversy in determining the causes of bee declines. No single factor has been found to explain the decline in pollinators, and it is thought to be due to a range of interacting effects such as climate change, bee pestsand diseases, pesticide use, and habitat loss. More recently, some studies have implicated neonicotinoid insecticides in the pollinator decline, although to date evidence from different studies is conflicting and the topic remains highly debated.
In April 2012 the European Commission demanded a re-examination of the risks posed by the neonicotinoids, including imidacloprid and clothianidin, primarily produced by Bayer CropScience, and Syngenta’s thiamethoxam. A report published on Wednesday by scientists at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) assessed the risks posed to honeybees by these three neonicotinoids.
The report, ‘Global Food – Waste not, want not’, claims 30-50% (or 1.2-2bn tonnes) of all food produced is wasted. In the context of a rapidly growing global population this amount of waste simply isn’t acceptable. The report also notes the waste that lies behind the front-line statistics. For each item of food wasted the resources which have gone towards producing it are wasted too. In a world of water shortages and energy crises this inefficiency can be devastating.
Despite its strengths, the report is limited in one respect. It fails to examine the entire food production process and does not take into account one of the biggest causes of food waste – pre-harvest crop losses. Although the report notes that “frequently poor weather conditions or attacks by pests of all types reduce the quality or quantity of crop harvested” it fails to properly account for the huge global losses which occur. Continue reading →
Recently aired as part of The Climate Reality Project (founded by Al Gore), this documentary contains a 5 minute film about climate change and smallholder coffee production in Colombia. The film featured as part of a 24 hour online stream of climate documentaries and discussions to raise awareness and explain the varying impacts of global climate change.