Thursday, May 31, 2012

Two-faced corporate support for denial

Union of Concerned Scientists shines a light on some corporate hypocrisy: An overwhelming scientific consensus supports the reality of human-induced global warming and the importance of prompt action to limit its impact. Constructive, science-based public discussion of climate change impacts and policy solutions is urgently needed. Unfortunately, many U.S. companies are using their influence to muddy the waters—casting unwarranted doubt on the science, adding confusion to the policy discussion, and holding back or slowing down action on solutions.

The 2012 UCS report, A Climate of Corporate Control, looks at statements and actions on climate science and policy by 28 U.S. companies, shows how these contributions can be problematic, and suggests steps that Congress, the public, the media, and companies themselves can take to address the problem.

Corporations have the right, of course, to weigh in on public policy issues that affect their interests. But too often they do so irresponsibly, misrepresenting and misusing science at the public's expense, and in recent years their influence has grown.

Corporations skew the national dialogue on climate policy in a variety of ways—making inconsistent statements across different venues, attacking science through industry-supported organizations, and taking advantage of the secrecy allowed them by current legal and regulatory structures.

Some corporations are contradictory in their actions, expressing concern about the threat of climate change in some venues—such as company websites, Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings, annual reports, or statements to Congress—while working to weaken policy responses to climate change in others....

Dealing with dry in Nevada

Ashley Hennefer in the Reno News Review: Despite the flurry of late spring storms, Nevada’s dry winter is one of several reasons for the revision of the state’s drought plan—which entails the formation of the Nevada Drought Response Committee comprised of the Nevada State Climate Office, Division of Emergency Management and Division of Water Resources.

The new plan is timely with summer approaching and the wildfires that continue to spring up in the region, including a fire last week in Douglas County, which destroyed two homes.

According to the drought plan document, the plan “identifies a system to use in monitoring the magnitude, severity and extent of drought within the state on a county-by-county basis; sets a framework in place for actions based on three stages of drought response: drought watch, drought alert and drought emergency; establishes a drought response committee to implement the plan, report to the governor and assemble task forces to serve as experts in drought-affected areas as liaisons to local and federal government and sources of information; [and] outlines the significance of a drought event and types of drought encountered in Nevada.”

The committee has placed a stage 2 (severe) drought alert on Churchill, Clark, Elko, Eureka, Humboldt, Lander, Lyon, Pershing, Storey, Washoe and White Pine counties. Stage 1 (moderate) drought watch counties include Carson, Douglas, Esmeralda, Lincoln, Mineral and Nye. According to the drought plan, a stage 3 ranking would require action, including an emergency drought declaration, and could lead to the activation of Nevada’s Emergency Operations Center.

While some scientists say that the droughts are partly affected by climate change, Nevada has a long history of severe droughts that can last for years...

A silver albumen print of a photograph by Timothy H. O'Sullivan of desert sand hills near sink of Carson, Nevada, 1867

Climate change led to collapse of ancient Indus civilization

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution: A new study combining the latest archaeological evidence with state-of-the-art geoscience technologies provides evidence that climate change was a key ingredient in the collapse of the great Indus or Harappan Civilization almost 4000 years ago. The study also resolves a long-standing debate over the source and fate of the Sarasvati, the sacred river of Hindu mythology.

Once extending more than 1 million square kilometers across the plains of the Indus River from the Arabian Sea to the Ganges, over what is now Pakistan, northwest India and eastern Afghanistan, the Indus civilization was the largest—but least known—of the first great urban cultures that also included Egypt and Mesopotamia. Like their contemporaries, the Harappans, named for one of their largest cities, lived next to rivers owing their livelihoods to the fertility of annually watered lands.

“We reconstructed the dynamic landscape of the plain where the Indus civilization developed 5200 years ago, built its cities, and slowly disintegrated between 3900 and 3000 years ago,” said Liviu Giosan, a geologist with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and lead author of the study published the week of May 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. “Until now, speculations abounded about the links between this mysterious ancient culture and its life-giving mighty rivers.”

Today, numerous remains of the Harappan settlements are located in a vast desert region far from any flowing river. In contrast to Egypt and Mesopotamia, which have long been part of the Western classical canon, this amazingly complex culture in South Asia with a population that at its peak may have reached 10 percent of the world’s inhabitants, was completely forgotten until 1920’s. Since then, a flurry of archaeological research in Pakistan and India has uncovered a sophisticated urban culture with myriad internal trade routes and well-established sea links with Mesopotamia, standards for building construction, sanitation systems, arts and crafts, and a yet-to-be deciphered writing system...

Once extending more than 1 million square kilometers across the plains of the Indus River from the Arabian Sea to the Himalayas and the Ganges, over what is now Pakistan, northwest India and eastern Afghanistan, the Indus civilization was the largest—but least known—of the first great urban cultures that also included Egypt and Mesopotamia. Named for one of their largest cities, the Harappans relied on river floods to fuel their agricultural surpluses. Today, numerous remains of the Harappan settlements are located in a vast desert region far from any flowing river. (Liviu Giosan, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Stefan Constantinescu, University of Bucharest; James P.M. Syvitski, University of Colorado.)

Iraq's PM warns Arab states may face 'water war'

BBC: Arab states could be headed towards a future war over water if they do not act quickly to tackle shortages, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has warned. At a conference in Baghdad, he urged countries to work together in order to prevent conflict in the arid region.

Issues include desertification, poor water management, and the need for most Arab countries to rely on the goodwill of upstream states for river water.

Arab countries are seeking to address the water crisis with a unified plan.

The BBC's Rami Ruhayem in Baghdad says Arab leaders have in the past failed to tackle common crises because of infighting and inefficiency. And with popular uprisings tearing through the region, their differences seem to be getting even worse, our correspondent adds....

A destroyed Iraqi truck north of Kuwait City in the first Gulf war, 1991

‘Poor governance compounding climate change challenges’ in Pakistan

Faiza Ilyas in (Pakistan): Poor governance and lack of natural resources’ management have intensified the gravity of challenges posed by climate change as the vulnerable communities living along the country’s coastline are the most deprived in terms of basic needs such as water, education, health and economic wellbeing, said speakers at a programme organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-P) in collaboration with its project partner LEAD Pakistan.

They stressed the need for an efficient institutional mechanism at the union council level to address problems being caused by climate variability. The event held under a five-year project, ‘Building capacity on climate change adaptation in coastal areas of Pakistan’, was held to launch two studies — Socioeconomic baseline of Pakistan’s coastal areas and Negotiating known unknowns: ‘better’ climate adaptation practices from the Indian Ocean basin.

...Sharing some salient features of the research on the socioeconomic baseline of coastal areas, Ali Dehlavi, the study’s co-author representing the WWF-P, informed the audience that the coastal areas of Kharo Chan and Keti Bunder located in Thatta district and Jiwani in Gwadar district had been selected for the research.

The communities in these coastal areas, he said, lived in abject poverty and were deprived of the most basic necessities of life. “Of the three sites, Kharo Chan showed the highest incidence of poverty as measured by the national poverty line, with nearly 50pc of households earning Rs50 per day or less. More than 40pc and 20pc of our sampled households at Keti Bunder and Jiwani, respectively, fall below the poverty line,” he said....

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Gulf coast vulnerable to extreme erosion in Category 1 hurricanes

US Geological Survey: Seventy percent of the Gulf of Mexico shoreline is vulnerable to extreme erosion during even the weakest hurricanes, according to a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey released just prior to the start of the 2012 hurricane season.  

USGS scientists used state-of-the-art modeling to determine the probabilities of erosion, overwash and inundation during direct hurricane landfall for sandy beaches along the entire U.S. Gulf Coast shoreline. 

The research is expected to help emergency managers at local, state and federal levels as they prepare for hurricane events in this and future seasons. Planners will be able to determine how different categories of hurricanes would impact their beaches and surrounding communities, helping them better protect lives and property.  The report also includes an interactive map that allows users to focus on different parts of the Gulf Coast shoreline to view how the probability of erosion, caused by waves and storm surge, will vary depending on hurricane intensity.  

... "Beaches along the Gulf of Mexico are extremely vulnerable to erosion during hurricanes, in part, because of low elevations along the coast," said Hilary Stockdon, a USGS research oceanographer and lead author of the study.  "For example, the average elevation of sand dunes on the west coast of Florida is eight feet. On Florida’s Atlantic coast, the average is 15 feet." ... During category-1 hurricane events on the Gulf Coast, wave height and storm surge combine to increase water levels at the shoreline by 14 and a half feet higher than their normal levels.

"People continue to build communities in coastal areas that shift and move with each passing storm," said Stockdon. "This model helps us predict the potential impact of future storms and allows us to identify where the most vulnerable areas are located along the coast."...

In Gilchrist, Texas, the Gulf of Mexico shoreline showing the effects from Hurricane Ike. A view from the deck of a house that survived the destruction. Jocelyn Augusitno/FEMA

Adaptation to climate change will no longer be enough says NGO report

Tierney Smith at the website for Responding to Climate Change, or Much more focus will have to be placed on rehabilitation and compensation for those hit by climate change, as mitigation and adaptation methods fall short, according to an NGO report. What the world will look like with worsening climate change is still largely unknown. But the report says the warning signs of this imagined world are already before us.

It warns that predictions suggest climate change could inflict devastating damage to ecosystems, human life, land and property. These predictions include the destruction of the world’s forests and corals, extreme land degradation and desertification, polar ice melt, storms, floods and drought.

In a joint report by CARE, ActionAid, German Watch and WWF they call for the resultant loss and irreversible impacts of climate change to be addressed quickly – with the world set to overshoot the 2°C threshold, moving instead towards a 4-6°C world.

A world where those in the poorest nations will suffer worst from climate change impacts, which will leave much of Sub-Saharan Africa struggling for food and many Pacific Island completely submerged by water. Loss and damage cannot be avoided, says the report, and the conversations going on amongst politicians and negotiators must reflect this....

Stillaguamish River (South Fork) flood at Granite Falls in Washington, nine feet above flood stage, shot by Walter Siegmund, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

The unbearable excitement of dredging

Sit down, calm yourself, take a deep breath... and prepare for the most exciting story of our time (sorry-- something about dredging brings out my cruel side).  From the Dredging News Online: The Central Dredging Association (CEDA) has issued a position paper on climate change adaptation and dredging.  CEDA says it is committed to environmentally responsible management of dredging activities and this paper seeks to raise awareness, to help the dredging community prepare for consequences of climate change, and to understand how dredging can contribute to adaptation measures.

...Geographically, this CEDA position paper focuses on northwestern Europe but other parts of the CEDA area may face similar challenges. "Climate change is now a fact," said CEDA. "It is also now widely accepted that human activities are playing a role in the increase of greenhouse gas emissions that have accelerated global warming during the last century, although the significance of the human contribution is still a matter of debate.

"The position paper highlights the main implications of climate change for dredging and discusses potential preparatory and adaptation measures in general terms. "It elaborates on specific climate change issues and adaptation requirements/options in relation to three typical environments in which dredging takes place: open coasts; seaports, estuaries and access channels and inland waters.

"Innovation and flexibility will be crucial factors for successful and sustainable adaptation both in terms of technical solutions and in the regulatory context," states the document....

A barge named Resolution during dredging operations on the Yarra River, Melbourne, shot by Melburnian, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

‘When the sirens were silent’ – an important read for learning from the Joplin tornado disaster

Jason Samenow in the Washington Post: One of the worst tornadoes of the modern era devastated the city of Joplin a year ago, killing 161 people and leaving vast destruction that produced $3 billion in damages. Little could’ve been done to avoid the catastrophic economic losses, given the intensity of the tornado, at the very top of the scale (EF-5). But Mike Smith, in his new book, “When the sirens were silent,” makes a compelling argument that the people of Joplin were let down.

Smith, senior vice president at AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, acknowledges the historic intensity of the tornado meant some loss of life was inevitable, but contends two interrelated factors worsened the human toll:
  • The tornado siren system was flawed and, on that day, was exposed
  • The National Weather Service didn’t have its finest day
The book, a quick read, is a stirring call to action to improve tornado warning communication in this country. ... His comments on the inconsistencies and flaws in sounding tornado sirens are most alarming. The problems he says, are systemic, and not limited to Joplin.

The basic problem, Smith says, it that sirens are sounded too often in most places. Sometimes they sound in an entire county for a warning that covers just a sliver of it; sometimes for other thunderstorm phenomena like large hail and/or strong straight-line winds; and sometimes for false alarm warnings – warnings for tornadoes that were incorrectly detected....

Rural women in Peru key to adaptation of seeds to climate change

Mariela Jara in AlertNet via IPS:  For ages, rural women in the Peruvian highlands have been selecting and storing seeds, ensuring their preservation. But the authorities have failed to tap into this storehouse of knowledge and experience, despite the contributions it could make to the design of effective policies for adaptation to climate change, which poses a growing threat to the women�s livelihoods.Peru's campesinas or peasant women have played this role from time immemorial, handing down their knowledge by oral transmission. But today their traditional know-how is insufficient to help them endure unseasonal rainfall, extreme frosts, gale-force winds and other climate change-related phenomena.

The national meteorology and hydrology service projects a 0.2 to 0.5 degree Celsius rise in temperature in Peru by 2030-2050 due to global warming. As a result, the rainy season will continue to change, which will have a heavy impact on agricultural production.

Experts predict that the difficulties already faced by families who depend on agriculture will thus be aggravated, and that women will especially feel the effects, due to gender inequality. But they also say it is possible to start coming up with viable medium to long-term adaptation measures.

...But the sociologist told IPS that although women suffer the brunt of this situation, they can also develop skills that allow them to play an active role in adaptation, as shown by the Flora Tristán Centre in the southern Andean region of Cuzco and the northern coastal region of Piura, where it is carrying out a project on climate justice and rural women....

Women farming in the Peruvian highlands, around 1940

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What is your nitrogen footprint? is a website focused on one of the main concerns of this website -- nitrogen pollution. They also have a nitrogen calculator! Worth a look: The human creation of reactive nitrogen (all N species except N2) by food and energy production has profound beneficial and detrimental impacts on people and the environment (1).  Agricultural uses, including both food production and consumption, contribute the most reactive nitrogen to the environment.  The main beneficial impact of the agricultural use of reactive nitrogen is the food produced by nitrogen fertilizer and human-enhanced biological nitrogen fixation.  These two processes provide the N to sustain about half of the world’s population (2).  The detrimental impacts result because a large fraction of the N used in food and biofuel production, and all of the N used in non-biofuel (i.e. non-agricultural) energy production, are lost to the environment.  Of the N used to produce food, about 80% is lost before consumption, and the remainder is lost after consumption as human waste.

Once lost to the environment, this nitrogen moves through the Earth’s atmosphere, forests, grasslands and waters causing a cascade of environmental changes that negatively impact both people and ecosystems.  These changes include smog, acid rain, forest dieback, coastal ‘dead zones’, biodiversity loss, stratospheric ozone depletion and an enhanced greenhouse effect (3).

The human influences on both the nitrogen and carbon cycles of the Earth are important to understand and to manage.  Over the past decade, great progress has been made in communicating to the public the role that their actions have on the carbon cycle and the environment.  For two reasons this is not the case with nitrogen.  First, there has been less scientific focus on nitrogen.  Second is the challenge in communicating to the public the complexities of nitrogen’s interactions with the environment.  One way to address the latter is through a nitrogen footprint model: N-Calculator....

A 42 foot Caterpillar Lexion combine harvester unloading wheat to an auger wagon pulled by a tracked Caterpillar Challenger tractor on the move near Pallamallawa, New South Wales, Australia. Shot by Cyron Ray Macey, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Groundwater depletion in semiarid regions of Texas and California threatens U.S. food security

Newswise: The nation's food supply may be vulnerable to rapid groundwater depletion from irrigated agriculture, according to a new study by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and elsewhere The study, which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, paints the highest resolution picture yet of how groundwater depletion varies across space and time in California's Central Valley and the High Plains of the central U.S. Researchers hope this information will enable more sustainable use of water in these areas, although they think irrigated agriculture may be unsustainable in some parts.

"We're already seeing changes in both areas," said Bridget Scanlon, senior research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin's Bureau of Economic Geology and lead author of the study. "We're seeing decreases in rural populations in the High Plains. Increasing urbanization is replacing farms in the Central Valley. And during droughts some farmers are forced to fallow their land. These trends will only accelerate as water scarcity issues become more severe."

Three results of the new study are particularly striking: First, during the most recent drought in California's Central Valley, from 2006 to 2009, farmers in the south depleted enough groundwater to fill the nation's largest man-made reservoir, Lake Mead near Las Vegas—a level of groundwater depletion that is unsustainable at current recharge rates.

Second, a third of the groundwater depletion in the High Plains occurs in just 4% of the land area. And third, the researchers project that if current trends continue some parts of the southern High Plains that currently support irrigated agriculture, mostly in the Texas Panhandle and western Kansas, will be unable to do so within a few decades.

California's Central Valley is sometimes called the nation's "fruit and vegetable basket." The High Plains, which run from northwest Texas to southern Wyoming and South Dakota, are sometimes called the country's "grain basket." Combined, these two regions produced agricultural products worth $56 billion in 2007, accounting for much of the nation's food production. They also account for half of all groundwater depletion in the U.S., mainly as a result of irrigating crops....

Groundwater depletion has been most severe in the purple areas indicated on these maps of (A) the High Plains and (B) California's Central Valley. These heavily affected areas are concentrated in parts of the Texas Panhandle, western Kansas, and the Tulare Basin in California's Central Valley. Changes in groundwater levels in (A) are adapted from a 2009 report by the U.S. Geological Survey and in (B) from a 1989 report by the USGS.

Supercomputer will help researchers map climate change down to the local level

Stephen P. Nash in the Washington Post:  An advance guard of 18-wheelers is scheduled to roll into a business park in Cheyenne, Wyo., this week to unload components of a supercomputer called Yellowstone. This 1.5-quadrillion-calculations-per-second crystal ball will model future climate and forecast extreme weather.

“It’s a big deal,” said climate scientist Linda Mearns of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. Yellowstone will help researchers calculate climate change on a regional, rather than continental, scale. With a better grasp of how warming may affect local water resources, endangered species and extreme winds, local and state governments will be able to plan more effectively.

....As climate models become more complex and detailed, limited computing power bottlenecks the research. Broad-brush models use less power, but they often cannot consider details that drive local climate, such as complex coastlines or the mountain ranges and valleys that affect rainfall. Researchers refer to this as a problem of “model resolution.”

“If you have an old digital camera that doesn’t have as many megapixels as a new one, you want to get that [new] camera because it takes sharper pictures, and you can store a lot more pictures on it,” said Richard Loft, a director in the computing lab at NCAR. “It’s the same thing with Yellowstone. We’ve increased our ability to generate more-detailed pictures of the climate system, so we get a sharper, crisper view of things.”

...Yellowstone will be able to generate climate projections for seven-square-mile “pixels,” instead of the 60-square-mile units typically in use now. “We’ve already had the model resolution to confirm the warming of the planet but not to talk about the winners and losers at the regional scale,” Loft said...

Albert Bierstadt's 1881 painting, Yellowstone Falls

Memo to Rio+20: 'green economy' doesn't mean monetising nature

Hannah Griffiths in the PovertyMatters blog at the Guardian (UK): ...As the Rio+20 anniversary conference approaches, a battle rages over the definition of another term: "green economy". "A green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication" is a key conference theme. It sounds good, but what does it mean?

According to one of the official preparatory documents...: "Several delegations proposed the valuing of ecosystem services and internalising of environmental externalities as key elements of a green economy, as well as green accounting (pdf); while some delegations cautioned against further marketisation of nature's services."

The jargon masks some diametrically opposing views. On one side, many northern governments are saying we trash the natural world because we don't value it properly. So far, so good. But they go on to confuse "value" with "price", which is where it all starts to break down. They argue that to conserve or protect the resources and functions we need from nature, we need to ascribe a financial value to them and bring them into the market. Then we will pay the proper price for nature and stop destroying it.

...A market-based approach to dealing with natural resources is not an entirely new concept. The idea behind the UN's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation programme (Redd), for example, is that if the carbon stored in forests is valued and quantified, forests will be seen as more valuable standing than they would be cut down.

But by allowing companies to "offset" their logging by planting tree plantations, Redd has opened the door to the legal destruction of rainforests. It has also led to the confiscation of land from people who often do not have formal ownership deeds to the land they have used in common for generations. For example, in Uganda more than 22,000 people were evicted from their land, allegedly at gunpoint, to allow the New Forests Company, a UK firm, to plant trees to earn carbon credits....

Deforestation in the Usambara Mountains in Lushoto District, Tanga Region, Tanzania. Shot by Mohsin S. Karmali, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license

Tree planting helps Pakistani farmers weather floods

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio in AlertNet: Abdul Qadir Shah, a cotton farmer in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, has been able to spring back from the destructive floods of the past two years thanks to his decision to plant mango, date and neem trees on his 14-acre plot.

When floodwaters hit Khairpur Mir’s district, some 400 miles (644 km) northeast of Karachi, in 2010 and then again in 2011, Qadir Shah suffered financial losses of 4 million rupees ($44,000) as his cotton crop was ruined. “But income from mango and date palm trees, which I had planted some four years earlier in my cotton field and on the edges of nearby irrigation waterways, provided enough money to let me repair damaged water channels, buy cotton seed, farm tools and pesticides, and other inputs for cultivating my farmland again this year,” he explained.

...Following the devastating floods, Qadir Shah realised that cultivating trees alongside crops can be of great help when natural disasters wipe out harvests. Now he is spreading the word. “I have persuaded other farmers, who have been unable as yet to emerge from the economic damages from the ravaging floods, to plant trees beside their crops to survive losses from crop failures in the future,” he told AlertNet, pointing to new seven-month-old trees now growing on agricultural land in the area.

As well as providing crucial income, Qadir Shah’s 90 mango trees, 20 date palms and 25 neem trees – whose oil is used in health products - have curbed soil erosion, reduced water evaporation and strengthened the unlined channels that supply irrigation water to his fields from the Khairpur West canal, which is fed by the Sukkur Barrage....

A panorama in Khairpur, shot by Mnazirawan, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Monday, May 28, 2012

Evidence in Australia's ashes

Martyn Pearce in PhysOrg about the "Black Saturday" bushfires in Australia: The numbers that belong to Black Saturday are extraordinary, and horribly sobering. ...But hidden within the numbers and the sheer horror of the day’s events, is hope. Hope for answers. Because while the scale of the fires was unprecedented, they also provided an unprecedented opportunity for quality research. Some of that research has been conducted by a team of 10 scientists, including Dr Phil Gibbons and Dr Geoff Cary from the Fenner School of Environment and Society at ANU.

The research team looked at 12,000 measurements from 500 houses affected by the Black Saturday fires. It was a sample size which had never been achieved before in bushfire research. ... Perhaps unsurprisingly, what they found suggested there was no simple solution. But they did find that one solution helped more than most.

“Clearing trees and shrubs within 40 metres of houses was the most effective form of fuel reduction,” says Gibbons. “This type of clearing was twice as effective as prescribed burning on Black Saturday.”... “Prescribed burning alone will not protect your house from fire – that’s an important thing for everyone to realise. We found that the proximity of prescribed burning was far more important than the amount of prescribed burning within the landscape,” says Gibbons.

“The recommendations of the Royal Commission focus on increasing the area of prescribed burning rather than where it should be conducted,” adds Cary. “But our research indicated that the proximity of prescribed burning to houses was more important than the total area of prescribed burning in the landscape.”...

A member of the Newham Rural Fire Brigade attending the 7 February 2009 Black Saturday fires at Kilmore East, Victoria, shot by Georgehobbs, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Today’s environment influences behavior generations later

Eric Sorensen at Washington State University News: Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and Washington State University have seen an increased reaction to stress in animals whose ancestors were exposed to an environmental compound generations earlier. The findings, published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, put a new twist on the notions of nature and nurture, with broad implications for how certain behavioral tendencies might be inherited.

The researchers—David Crews at Texas , Michael Skinner at Washington State and colleagues—exposed gestating female rats to vinclozolin, a popular fruit and vegetable fungicide known to disrupt hormones and have effects across generations of animals. The researchers then put the rats’ third generation of offspring through a variety of behavioral tests and found they were more anxious, more sensitive to stress, and had greater activity in stress-related regions of the brain than descendants of unexposed rats.

"We are now in the third human generation since the start of the chemical revolution, since humans have been exposed to these kinds of toxins,” says Crews. "This is the animal model of that. The ancestral exposure of your great grandmother alters your brain development to then respond to stress differently,” says Skinner. "We did not know a stress response could be programmed by your ancestors’ environmental exposures.”

The researchers had already shown exposure to vinclozolin can effect subsequent generations by affecting how genes are turned on and off, a process called epigenetics. In that case, the epigenetic transgenerational inheritance altered how rats choose mates....

An illustration of the interrelation between genetics and epigenentics (drawn from cancer research, but the idea is similar), from the National Institutes of Health

Annual flooding losses set to reach £1 billion

Alex Johnson in a blog on the Independent (UK): Underinvestment in defences and climate change means the annual cost of flooding in England and Wales has reached £1bn, suggests a new report.

The cost of individual major flooding events is also rising, according to the research by SearchFlow who quote the Environment Agency’s estimate that a major coastal flood in the Humber estuary could cause £266m worth of damage. As sea levels rise, this could increase to £1.4bn by 2040.

The Environment Agency predicts that in the next 30 years sea levels will rise by around 40cm so without improvement in flood defences this would increase the number of properties at significant risk of flooding in the east of England by 48% – by 2040 the cost of a major coastal flooding event could reach £16bn. Naturally, losses of this level would place a heavy strain on the insurance market.

“The twin impacts of climate change and ongoing property development mean the danger of flood liability is growing rapidly,” said Richard Hinton, business development director of SearchFlow. “So great is the potential risk from rising sea levels and construction on the floodplain to accommodate a rising population, the UK’s flood liability could come to dominate the global reinsurance market. In practice, that would mean many in high risk areas would be unable to obtain insurance at all, which would significantly reduce the value of their properties and potentially could put homeonwners in breach of their mortgage agreements....

Peter Cooper took this shot of 2007 flooding in Abingdon, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Development banks agree on common reporting method for adaptation finance's sponsor wire: After months of collaboration and research, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and five other multilateral development banks (MDBs) have come to various agreements on a protocol and process for adaptation finance reporting. This is a move considered critical to the MDBs' efforts to monitor and evaluate financial resources for climate change.

This progress came at the MDB Adaptation Finance Tracking Workshop, led by the AfDB on 22 May on the sidelines of the Climate Change Conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), held from14 to 25 May in Bonn, Germany. The MDBs agreed on the adaptation concept that they will adopt, as well as the high level principles of the joint methodology, and a roadmap to test and disclose the methodology by the 2012 UN Climate Change Conference (COP18) in late November.

"Having a joint MDB methodology for tracking aid spending that contributes to climate change adaptation means the MDBs and development partners can engage in substantive analysis of climate finance. We will be better able to measure, report and verify climate financial flows and the results they support," stated Mafalda Duarte, AfDB Chief Climate Change Specialist...

A Burroughs Accounting Machine, shot by Chris Kennedy, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

North Korea says severe drought threatens crops, but little aid likely

Washington Post via the AP: North Korea is reporting a serious drought that could worsen already critical food shortages, but help is unlikely to come from the United States and South Korea following Pyongyang’s widely criticized rocket launch.

North Korea has had little rain since April 27, with the country’s western coastal areas particularly hard hit, according to a government weather agency in Pyongyang. The dry spell threatened to damage crops, officials said, as the country enters a critical planting season and as food supplies from the last harvest dwindle.

In at least one area of South Phyongan Province where journalists from The Associated Press were allowed to visit, the sun-baked fields appeared parched and cracked, and farmers complained of extreme drought conditions. Deeply tanned men, and women in sun bonnets, worked over cabbages and corn seedlings. Farmers cupped individual seedlings as they poured water from blue buckets onto the parched red soil.

“I’ve been working at the farm for more than 30 years, but I have never experienced this kind of severe drought,” An Song Min, a farmer at the Tokhae Cooperative Farm in the Nampho area, told the AP. It was not clear whether the conditions around Nampho were representative of a wider region. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said it had not yet visited the affected regions to confirm the extent and severity of the reported drought....

Sunday, May 27, 2012

US Southeast coast braces for heavy rain, winds from Beryl

MSNBC: Subtropical storm Beryl began moving faster toward an expected landfall Sunday night on the Southeast U.S. coast, threatening Memorial Day beachgoers with forecast conditions of dangerous surf and drenching rains from northeast Florida up through a swath of the Carolinas.

Tropical storm warnings were in effect for the entire Georgia coastline, as well as parts of Florida and South Carolina, the National Hurricane Center said. Forecasters at the center in Miami said the system of powerful thunderstorms was expected to make landfall sometime Sunday night in the region.

Beryl was technically considered a "subtropical storm," but the system of menacing storms was expected to bring winds and rain to the area regardless of its official classification. On Sunday morning, Beryl was centered about 165 miles (270 kilometers) east of Jacksonville, Fla., and about 180 miles (290 km) southeast of Savannah, Ga. Forecasters said the system had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph) and was moving west-southwest at 10 mph (17 kph).

Tropical storm conditions — meaning maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (72 kph) — were expected to reach the coast late Sunday morning or afternoon and continue through the night. Three to six inches of rain were forecast for a wide area from northern Florida up the coast to the southeastern portion of North Carolina. Some coastal flooding also was in the forecast, as the rain could cause high tides.

Dangerous surf conditions, including rip currents, are possible from northeast Florida to North Carolina in the coming hours, forecasters added. Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown ordered a state of emergency, ending the Jazz Festival early and urging people to stay out of the water and off the streets, reported....

Wrong year, wrong storm, wrong location, so just consider this image of a Norfolk, Virginia storm in 2003 as a generic stand-in for Beryl. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Michael Pendergrass. (RELEASED)

Fund for 'climate justice' launched

Press Association: A fund aimed at helping some of the world's poorest communities tackle climate change will be launched in Scotland later this week.

First Minister Alex Salmond will be joined by the former Irish president, human rights champion Mary Robinson, when he launches the climate justice fund in Edinburgh on Thursday. Details of the fund are expected to be announced then.

Looking ahead to the event, Mr Salmond said: "The huge injustice of climate change is that it is those who have done the least to cause the problem, the most vulnerable from the world's poorest communities, who are hardest hit. That is why Scotland is committed to working towards climate justice."

The First Minister welcomed the support of Ms Robinson, a former UN high commissioner for human rights. He said: "Climate justice links human rights and development, and puts people at the heart of our economic system. Mary Robinson's support is testament of the key role Scotland is playing in delivering climate justice...."

Mary Robinson speaking at the University of California, shot by Eho1114, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Transparency challenges in the Maldives

Musliha Hassan in the Minivan News (Maldives):   A lack of consolidated institutions for climate governance poses key challenges to the Maldives’ effort to save the country from dangers of climate change. One of the lowest-lying countries in the world, with an average elevation of 1.5 meters above sea level, the Maldives is extremely vulnerable to the affects of climate change, such as sea level rise.

In international climate negotiations, as a developing country and a member of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Maldives has been a vocal advocate for strong mitigation and adaptation strategies against climate change. The country has also been a recipient of large amounts of funding for climate change mitigation and adaptation projects, under both bilateral and multilateral funding schemes.

According to a preliminary report on Climate Governance Integrity by Transparency Maldives, approximately US$160.5 million dollars is currently being spent on various projects through externally funded grants and loans.

However, the report stated that according to the Government, management of mitigation and adaptation projects has proven to be a difficult task as a result of limitations in human resources, institutional capacity, and local expertise in the field...

Pakistan is ‘food insecure’ despite agricultural output growth

The News (Pakistan): Despite growth of agricultural output Pakistan is still ‘food insecure’ and facing high level of ‘hunger and malnutrition”, and climate change is threat to this country that can be tackled by educating communities, said Vice Chancellor, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Dr Rashid Amjad.

He was addressing project inception workshop on ‘Climate Change Adaptation; Water and Food Insecurity in Pakistan’ here on Friday. The workshop was organised by Pakistan Institute of Development Economics. Dr Nadeem-Ul-Haque, Deputy Chairman Planning Commission, was the chief guest on the occasion, and Vice Chancellor, PIDE, Dr Rashid Amjad chaired the session.

The project gets technical and financial support from Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The research partners include PIDE, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), and Social Policy Development Centre (SPDC), Karachi. The overall objective of the project is to generate quality information on the subject and building research capacity.

Dr Rashid Amjad said that Pakistan was the gift of Indus and our economy was built on it and still majority of our people depend for their livelihood on agriculture irrigated with its waters. About 80 % of our exports are related to agriculture sector, he added. He emphasized that climate change was reality and being most vulnerable country Pakistan needs to build resilience by adaptation like strengthening communities...

The Indus River delta from space

Are we prepared for total monsoon failure?

Hari Pulakkat in the Economic Times (India):  By the end of this week, the South West monsoon would have hit Indian shores. During a period of economic crisis, it would be one of the few welcome developments, although few people would look at it that way. The arrival of the South West monsoon is an event that is taken for granted, as surely as the arrival of summer or winter every year.

However, climatologists are now beginning to question this certitude. The South Indian monsoon has switched off completely in the past, sometimes for as much as ten seasons. Are we prepared for a scenario when the monsoon fails totally for ten years?

This question seems increasingly important as we - at least some countries - prepare responses to natural disasters. In India, policy-makers have prepared responses - at least in theory - for dealing with earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis, infectious diseases like dengue fever and so on. They have discussed, probably without any serious conclusions, what would happen if there was a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

No one has prepared a response or even remotely imagined a scenario where the monsoon fails completely, not just for a year but for a whole decade or forever. It would be India's ultimate natural disaster, following a nuclear war closely in terms of impact on people. Yet it is one disaster for which India would be completely unprepared...

Monsoon clouds over Lucknow, shot by Sunnyoraish, public domain

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Smoke from huge wildfire envelops parts of New Mexico, Arizona

Russell Contreras in the Boston Globe: Wildfires cast a pall over Memorial Day weekend in parts of the West Friday as smoke from a massive New Mexico blaze prompted widespread air-quality warnings and high fire danger in Colorado spurred officials to put thousands of firefighters on standby.

The privately owned ghost town of Mogollon was placed under a voluntary evacuation order as firefighters worked to tame the wildfire in the southwestern New Mexico woods, which has grown to 85,000 acres or more than 130 square miles.

Two lightning-sparked fires merged Wednesday to form the giant Gila Wilderness blaze, which has destroyed 12 cabins and seven small outbuildings. The Baldy fire was first spotted May 9 and the Whitewater blaze was sparked May 16, but nearly all of the growth has come in recent days due to relentless winds. More than 500 firefighters were battling the blaze.

The strong winds pushed ash 35 to 40 miles away, while smoke from the giant fire spread across the state and into Arizona. The haze blocked views of the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque, and a smell of smoke permeated the air throughout northern New Mexico.

Health officials as far away as Albuquerque and Santa Fe issued alerts for the holiday weekend, advising people to limit outdoor activities and keep windows closed. They said the effects on most people would be minor but noted mild throat and eye irritation or allergy-like symptoms could be expected. Officials warned people with heart and lung conditions to be especially diligent in minimizing their exposure to the smoky air...

A fire in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in June 2011, shot by Larry1732, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

DNA evidence shows that marine reserves help to sustain fisheries

EurekAlert: Researchers reporting online on May 24 in the Cell Press journal Current Biology present the first evidence that areas closed to all fishing are helping to sustain valuable Australian fisheries. The international team of scientists applied a forensic DNA profiling approach to track the dispersal pathways of fish larvae throughout a network of marine reserves on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

"Marine reserves have been set aside to create resilient ocean ecosystems and help sustain fisheries, yet there has been little clear evidence that they can provide either," said Hugo Harrison from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University in Australia. "This study provides the first conclusive evidence that larval supply from marine reserves generates important recruitment subsidies to both fished and protected areas."

..."Until now, no one has been able to show that adequately protected reserve networks can make a significant contribution to the replenishment of fished populations," said Geoff Jones, lead author of the study. "The fate of the offspring of fish in the reserves has been a long-standing mystery. Now we can clearly show that the benefits of reserves spread beyond reserve boundaries."...

Photograph by DM289169, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Climate pact process stumbles as countries bicker in Bonn

Terra Daily via AFP: Less than six months after the world agreed to craft a new global climate pact by 2015, talks stumbled at a crucial preparatory meeting Friday as rich and poorer countries butted heads.

With the mood still strained by the fractious 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, negotiations in Bonn showed developed and developing nations split on apportioning responsibility for tackling global warming. Fast-growing countries like China and India insisted the West, which has been polluting more for longer, must shoulder more of the mitigation burden.

Amid fresh delays and procedural wrangling, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres warned the target of pegging global warming to a manageable 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) seemed to be slipping ever further away.

"Current efforts on mitigation are not sufficient, and the doors on improving the probabilities of a maximum two degrees are actually closing in on governments," she said....

Grumpyyoungman01created this map of a false dichotomy argument

Water, energy and land must be considered together if technology innovation is to succeed

Aisling Irwin in More technological innovation is needed to fight growing resource scarcity, but it will only be successful in achieving sustainable development if it considers the use of water, energy and land as interdependent issues, according to a European report.

Investment in innovation is required for sustainable agriculture, for achieving more efficient use of water and energy, and for rolling out renewable energy technologies, says the 'European Report on Development 2011–2012', funded by the European Commission and seven European states.

But failure to consider the three basic resources of water, energy and land as a 'nexus' — in which the use of one affects the availability of the other two — is leading to poor decisions that ultimately work against sustainable development, it says.

....The third in an annual series, the report, subtitled 'Confronting Scarcity', combines two strands of emerging thought. The first is that of absolute resource scarcity. Demand for energy and water is set to increase by 40 per cent in the next two decades, and demand for food — which will in turn be one of the factors increasing land demand — by 50 per cent. But there is not enough of these resources to meet the demand unless their management is transformed.

The second is that of the interconnectedness of resources, a phenomenon the authors believe is largely ignored in setting policy...

A community garden in Seattle, shot by Symi81, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Solomon Islands will benefit from participatory mapping workshop

Daniel Namosuaia in the Solomon Star: Solomon Island communities will greatly benefit from a new approach to climate change adaptation. This approach combines traditional knowledge of our people and technology to adapt to climate change issues that is hitting hard on coastal communities.

Highlight of the workshop is the Participatory three-dimensional modeling (P3DM). A community based mapping method that used local knowledge with scientific data like the elevation of the land and depth of the sea to produce stand-alone, scaled and geo-referenced relief models.

This method, integrated with more sophisticated tools can enhance resilience to climate change by adding value to traditional knowledge and promoting its integration in adaptation planning and advocacy processes.

Senior Coordinator of Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA) Giacomo Rambaldi said this new approach to climate change adaptation recognises the importance community knowledge. He said by recognising the voices of community and given them the responsibility and importance in climate change adaptation, it will be help draw up more effective policy and strategies...

Vangunu Island NNW peninsula in the Solomons, shot by Graeme Bartlett, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Friday, May 25, 2012

Brazilian president stands up for forest protections with vetos

The Union of Concerned Scientists: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced today that she is vetoing some of the controversial amendments to the country’s Forest Code that would have substantially weakened the country’s forest protection and climate mitigation actions.

The amendments – pushed through the Brazilian congress by agricultural interests – include granting amnesty to landowners who illegally deforested before 2008 and reducing the mandatory forest cover for landowners in the Amazon from 80 percent to only 50 percent.

In addition to threatening the Amazon, deforestation contributes to climate change. Harmful climate change emissions emitted through deforestation represent about 15 percent of the world's global warming pollution—more than the total emissions from every car, truck, plane, ship and train on Earth.

Below is a statement from Doug Boucher, director of climate research and analysis, and director of the Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative at the Union of Concerned Scientists: “We applaud President Rousseff today for vetoing the most dangerous parts of this law and for her continued commitment to ending Brazilian deforestation by 2020.

“The amendment that would have granted amnesty for illegal deforestation prior to 2008 would have been a dangerous precedent. Landowners would have been free to continue clearing forests under the assumption that another amnesty period would be offered. Had Rousseff not vetoed this section, it would have undermined the entire Forest Code.

“Brazil has already reduced deforestation by 68 percent since 2005. Through Rousseff’s vetos, Brazil can continue to build on its monumental progress to protect the Amazon and secure its role as the global leader in reducing carbon emissions.”...

Slash and burn agriculture in Brazil devastates forests, shot by Antonio Cruz, da Abr,Wikimedia Commons via Agencia Brasil,  under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Brazil license

Carbon dioxide emissions reach record high

Neela Banerjee in the Los Angeles Times: Emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide reached an all-time high last year, further reducing the chances that the world could avoid a dangerous rise in global average temperature by 2020, according to the International Energy Agency, the energy analysis group for the world’s most industrialized states.

Global emissions of carbon-dioxide, or CO2, from fossil-fuel combustion hit a record high of 31.6 gigatonnes  in 2011, according to the IEA’s preliminary estimates, an increase of 1 Gt, or 3.2% from 2010. The burning of coal accounted for 45% of total energy-related CO2 emissions in 2011, followed by oil (35%) and natural gas (20%).

According to the vast majority of climatologists, the rapid rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because of industrialization over the last 150 years has led to an increase in global average temperature by about 1 degree Celsius.

Scientists and the IEA contend that countries need to keep the global average temperature from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in order to avoid profound damage to life on Earth, from water and food scarcity to rising sea levels to greater incidence and severity of disease.

Last year’s jump in carbon emissions sets the world even more firmly on the path to hurtle past a two-degree Celsius increase. “The new data provide further evidence that the door to a 2C trajectory is about to close,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol...

The Asian 'brown cloud' spreads

Sid Perkins in Science Now: China and India are some of the world's top polluters, with countless cars, factories, and households belching more than 2 million metric tons of carbon soot and other dark pollutants into the air every year. These pollutants aren't just bad news for the countries themselves. A new study reveals that they can affect climate thousands of kilometers away, warming the United States by up to 0.4°C by 2024, while cooling other countries.

Some forms of pollution—especially light-colored aerosols such as sulfates that spew from power plants and volcanoes—scatter light back into space, cooling Earth. But dark aerosols, such as soot from diesel engines and power plants, absorb more sunlight than they scatter, gaining heat and warming the air around them. Rapidly developing countries, especially China, India, and those in southeastern Asia, are prolific sources of such aerosols. Over the past few decades, the pall hanging over the region has come to be known as "the Asian brown cloud."

Previous studies have shown that even though layers of air polluted with carbon aerosols become substantially warmer, the cloud slightly cools temperatures at ground level, by some estimates reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the surface by between 10% and 15%. The brown cloud also weakens winds during the Asian summer monsoon and changes the timing and location of monsoon rainfall. The cloud has dramatically thickened in recent decades, with some studies showing that dark aerosol emissions from China alone doubled between 2000 and 2006....

Smog in Delhi, a retouched image shot by wili hybrid, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Community drills part of Cuba's top-notch disaster response system

Patricia Grogg in IPS: A well-oiled prevention system that involves the entire country, from the highest spheres of government to the most isolated rural community, makes Cuba one of the best-prepared countries in the world when it comes to preventing deaths and mitigating risks in case of disasters.

Two-day community drills begin to be carried out a few weeks before the start of the Jun. 1-Nov. 30 Atlantic hurricane season, under the name Meteoro.  In the simulations run by the Civil Defence System, the authorities and ordinary Cubans rehearse their roles in prevention and evacuation plans to be implemented in case of disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, drought, fires or epidemics.

On Sunday, May 20, the western province of Pinar del Río rehearsed measures to be taken in case of flooding, while the central province of Cienfuegos held an evacuation drill to prepare for a possible ammonia leak. And mountainous regions in the east of the country practiced what to do in case of a major earthquake.

"This keeps us free of worry, because we know what we have to do in case of danger," a nurse commented to IPS during an evacuation drill at the América Arias Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital, which is located just 500 metres from the coast in Havana.

..."Our basic premise is to guarantee people’s safety," said Osmany Galbán, director of the 280-bed hospital which serves more than 300,000 people in four Havana municipalities. Because of its proximity to the sea, the hospital is at risk of flooding during hurricane season....

A Cuban television tower wrecked by Hurricane Ike in 2008, shot by Toledo Ramirez, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Ghana’s farm sector likely to be worst hit by climate change Ghana may be worst hit by the impact of Climate Change (CC) if adequate measures are not adopted to contain the brunt, according to  a report by the Environmental Protection Agency. The report cautioned that the current low yields than projected being experienced in the agric sector had been attributed to the effects of climate change.

It warned that yields in the agric sector are expected to further decrease, which may likely affect the vulnerable and the poor. The report termed the Policy Advice Series 2 highlights the negative effects of climate change on the agricultural sector in Ghana.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in  Article 1, defines climate change as: ‘A change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods’.

Historical data for Ghana from the year 1961 to 2000 clearly shows a progressive rise in temperature and decrease in annual rainfall. In Ghana, climate change is manifested through rising temperatures, declining rainfall totals and increased variability, rising sea levels and high incidence of weather extremes and disasters such as flash floods (Minia et al. 2004)....

A pineapple field in Ghana, shot by hiyori13, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Small grains are tough sell in Zimbabwe

IRIN: ...Erratic weather patterns in recent years and the disruptions caused by the 2000 fast-track land reform programme, which redistributed more than 4,000 white commercial farms to landless blacks, have combined to transform previously food secure Zimbabwe into a food insecure country in the past decade.
Poor rainfall during the 2011/12 season is expected to bring lower yields from the previous year, but the exact extent of any food insecurity is difficult to gauge. UN agencies, including the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which used to assess and report on crops to assist food security, have again been barred - as they were in 2011 - on the grounds of “national security”.
...Agriculture minister Joseph Made said during a field trip with delegates from several African countries in March 2012 that it was “time the country adopts crop diversification and accommodates small grains on a very serious note”, because the government is forced to make up crop shortfalls with cereal imports.
''A lot needs to be done to convince communal farmers to grow small grains. Even in the most arid regions like Matabeleland [in southern Zimbabwe], farmers are still stuck with maize as a staple crop,” Denford Chimbwanda, the former president of the Grain and Cereal Producers Association (GCPA), told IRIN.
''Despite the poor uptake of small grains by smallholder farmers, there have been efforts to promote these drought-resistant crops since the 1950s,” Sam Moyo, an agriculture expert and director of the African Institute of Agrarian Studies (AIAS), told IRIN. ''Calls to convert to small grains are not a new phenomenon - there are complex issues to address, though.”... 
Nkazimulo Ngwenya, Scientific Officer at ICRISAT-Bulawayo, checks the pearl millet seed crop at Matopos Research Station in Zimbabwe. Shot by Swathi Sridharan (ICRISAT), Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license