Best of our wild blogs: 15 Nov 17

25 Nov and 16 Dec, 2017 (Saturdays) - Free guided walk at Chek Jawa Boardwalk
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Volunteer efforts creating the momentum to #GoHazeFree
People's Movement to Stop Haze

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Safety team activated after otters 'invade' Changi Airport

Today Online 14 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE — There was a breach at Changi Airport on Tuesday (Nov 14) morning by a group of unusual suspects: a family of otters.

Changi Airport activated its Airside Safety team after its surveillance system detected the animals on its premises.

The otters were eventually guided out towards Changi Beach, a Changi Airport Group (CAG) spokesman said.

"There was no disruption to airport operations," the CAG spokesman added.

The "invasion" by the otters was captured on video which has been shared widely on social media.

Video footage showed close to a dozen of the mammals scurrying around the tarmac, close to a Singapore Airlines plane. At one point in the video, the otters were directly below an aircraft engine.

CAG said that otter sightings are a rare occurrence on Changi Airport's premises.

"Besides regular wildlife patrols, a surveillance system is in place to prevent and detect Foreign Object Debris, including wildlife," the CAG spokesman said.

As Changi Airport is situated close to forested areas and the coast, wildlife straying into its premises is not unusual.

Other common wildlife infringing airport premises include birds.

Birds are a concern for aeroplanes as they may get sucked into an engine or strike the windscreen — a phenomenon known as bird strike.

In 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 safely landed in the Hudson River after striking a flock of geese shortly after take-off, causing the plane to lose power in its two engines.

Otters spotted at Changi Airport tarmac guided out to the beach
Channel NewsAsia 14 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE: A rare sight on the tarmac of Changi Airport on Tuesday morning (Nov 14) when a family of otters was seen scurrying near a stationary Singapore Airlines plane.

"The Airside Safety team was activated to guide the otters safely out towards Changi Beach," said a Changi Airport Group (CAG) spokesperson in response to Channel NewsAsia's queries.

The spokesperson added that there was no disruption to airport operations.

Changi Airport said its surveillance system detected a family of otters early on Tuesday morning, adding that such sightings on its premises are rare.

"Besides regular wildlife patrols, a surveillance system is in place to prevent and detect foreign object debris, including wildlife," said the CAG spokesperson.

"Safety is a top priority at Changi Airport – should any wildlife be detected on the runway, flight operations will be halted temporarily so that the safety team can attend to the situation immediately."

The otters are likely part of the family spotted at Pasir Ris, said N Sivasothi, a senior lecturer of biological sciences at the National University of Singapore.

Mr Sivasothi, who also runs the OtterWatch group which consolidates otter sightings in Singapore, told Channel NewsAsia that this was his first time he has heard of otters at Changi Airport.

"Otters regularly explore new areas adjacent to their territories to look for suitable places to hunt for food, rest, sleep and breed," he said, adding that the animals also search for new areas when they have lost existing territories.

"If an area is unsuitable, they will not stay there for long."

Mr Sivasothi added that it was important for airports to have a wildlife hazard management plan to prevent wildlife from entering.

As for members of the public who come across otters, Mr Sivasothi's advice is that they should not approach the animals and just enjoy watching them from a distance.

Otters spotted on Changi Airport tarmac
Jan Lee New Paper 14 Nov 17;

Some 10 otters were spotted at Changi Airport early yesterday morning during a heavy downpour, wandering onto the tarmac where a Singapore Airlines plane was parked.

A video clip posted on a Nature Society Facebook page yesterday shows the otters waddling beneath the stationary plane before moving to the runway.

A Changi Airport Group (CAG) spokesman told The New Paper yesterday their airside safety team was activated to guide the otters safely out towards Changi Beach. She said airport operations were not disrupted.

The spokesman added: "Otter sightings are a rare occurrence on Changi's premises. Besides regular wildlife patrols, a surveillance system is in place to prevent and detect foreign object debris, including wildlife. Safety is a top priority at Changi Airport - should any wildlife be detected on the runway, flight operations will be halted temporarily so that the safety team can attend to the situation immediately."


Mr Abbas Ismail, course manager for Temasek Polytechnic's diploma in aviation management and services, said that although the otters might be in danger running around the tarmac, flights and passengers should be safe.

He said: "In this instance, there is no aircraft movement, so there should not be any danger."

But Mr Ismail acknowledged there would be a risk to flight safety if the otters found their way onto a plane.

He said: "If they go up into the plane and perhaps bite something or cause some damage that cannot be detected easily, then yes, there is a chance of malfunction."

Wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai said the animals most likely swam upstream from the Changi River.

Mr Rajathurai said: "As the otter population goes up, they have to find new areas for food and homes, so they are constantly on the move.

"This is part of their journey, a temporary excursion."

The otters likely followed the waterway up to the airport. He said better grating for the waterway entry at the airport could resolve the issue.

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Hornbills spotted at Commonwealth Crescent

Channel NewsAsia 14 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE: A pair of hornbills were spotted at Commonwealth on Sunday (Nov 12), perched near an air-conditioner compressor on the 10th floor.

Channel NewsAsia reader Chia Mei Kim saw the birds at around 11.05am outside her unit in Block 108 Commonwealth Crescent, where they lingered for about 20 minutes.

This was the fourth or fifth sighting of hornbills in the area, Ms Chia said. She added that to her knowledge, residents have not attempted to interact with or feed the birds.

Ms Chia also said that she had encountered more hornbills in the Holland Village area in September this year.

Speaking to Channel NewsAsia, ornithologist David Tan identified the birds as oriental pied hornbills (Anthracoceros albirostris).

Mr Tan added that hornbills have increased rather dramatically in number in recent years, partly due to the breeding programme by the National Parks Board (NParks) and Wildlife Reserves Singapore, and the ongoing nest box strategy by NParks. This is despite the species being extinct in Singapore as recently as the 1970s, he said.

Mr Tan said that he is unsure if hornbills favour a particular movement pattern, but added that they seem to be consistently found in certain areas such as Changi, Pulau Ubin, Holland Village and the Botanic Gardens.

He advised against interacting with the birds as hornbills are “fundamentally wild” and may “retaliate” if they feel threatened.

“Feeding wildlife is also unadvisable as it may alter the behavioural patterns of the hornbills. Regular feeding may increase the degree to which hornbills are dependent on humans, and overprovision of food may artificially inflate the hornbill population and cause these birds to become urban pests.”

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Completion of Lornie Highway postponed to early 2019

Channel NewsAsia 14 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE: Lornie Highway, which will connect MacRitchie Viaduct to Adam Flyover, will be completed later than scheduled due to an extended deadline for public exhumation and the main contractor's financial restructuring.

The new dual four-lane road, which was originally scheduled to be opened at the end of this year, will be progressively opened in two phases starting from the third quarter of next year, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) on Tuesday (Nov 14).

The southbound highway towards Adam Flyover is expected to open in the third quarter of next year while the northbound highway towards MacRitchie Viaduct will open in the first quarter of 2019.

The site of the highway, which runs through Bukit Brown Cemetery, meant the public exhumation had to be done before construction works could begin.

Public exhumation of affected graves at the site was supposed to be completed by the end of 2013 but since only a small number of graves were claimed, LTA had to extend the deadline for next-of-kin to register their claims.

The deadline was extended to after the Qing Ming festival in 2014 and public exhumation was completed a year later than originally scheduled.

In addition, the main contractor Swee Hong faced financial difficulties in 2014 which slowed down work on the project. After obtaining a court order in February 2015 to propose a debt restructuring plan, the pace of work was resumed in November that year.

LTA said that it decided to retain the contractor on good faith as the company was upfront about it situation while also presenting a recovery plan, and subsequently took the necessary steps to restructure financially.

"LTA also took into consideration that the contractor had, with the support of many local subcontractors and suppliers, kept works going safely albeit at a slower pace as they underwent restructuring," it said.

If the contract had been terminated or another tender was called, this would have led to further project delay, loss of public monies and also negatively impact the local subcontractors and suppliers engaged by the contractor, said LTA.

With debts fully paid in July 2017, Swee Hong and its subcontractors have also deployed additional manpower to accelerate the construction works for the highway.

The company is on track to complete the project by the first quarter of 2019, LTA added.
Source: CNA/ad

First phase of Lornie Highway to open by 3rd quarter of 2018
ASYRAF KAMIL Today Online 15 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE — The Lornie Highway, a new dual four-lane road that connects MacRitchie Viaduct to Adam Flyover, will open progressively from the third quarter of 2018, about nine months behind schedule.

In a news release on Tuesday (Nov 14), the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said the new highway will open in two phases, with the southbound highway towards Adam Flyover operating first.

This will be followed by the northbound highway towards MacRitchie Viaduct that will open in the third quarter of 2019.

The LTA said the project was planned to be completed by the end of this year. However, a revised construction schedule, as well as the financial restructuring of its main contractor for the project, had affected the project’s completion.

Public exhumation of graves at the Bukit Brown cemetery to facilitate the construction of the highway had initially delayed the construction schedule, the LTA said.

The statutory board had extended the deadline for the exhumation by a year, from 2013 to 2014 until after the Qing Ming festival, as only a small number of graves were claimed by the next-of-kin.

In addition, the LTA said that its main contractor for the project — Swee Hong Limited — had also faced financial difficulties in 2014.

Swee Hong Limited was earlier awarded the design and build tender for the project in August 2013 for the “construction of a vehicular bridge spanning over the existing creeks and hillocks of Bukit Brown, and three vehicular underpasses located at the junctions of Lornie Road/Sime Road and Andrew Road/Lornie Road”.

The company was also contracted to convert the existing Lornie Road to a dual two-lane road, as well as implementing active mobility infrastructure such as park connectors and wider footpaths.

The northbound highway towards MacRitchie Viaduct that will open in the third quarter of 2019. Photo: LTA

The LTA said Swee Hong Limited had first informed them of its financial situation in October 2014 and had obtained a court order in February 2015 to “propose a Scheme of Arrangement to implement a debt restructuring plan”, which allowed the pace of work to continue.

“As Swee Hong had been upfront about its situation, presented a sound recovery plan, and took all the necessary steps to restructure financially, LTA decided to retain the contractor on good faith,” the LTA said.

“LTA also took into consideration that the contractor had, with the support of many local subcontractors and suppliers, kept works going safely albeit at a slower pace as they underwent restructuring.”

The LTA added that terminating its contract with Swee Hong Limited and calling for another tender would have led to “further delay, loss of public monies and also negatively impact the local subcontractors and suppliers” engaged by the company.

The construction company has since fully paid off its debt in July 2017, and the Scheme of Arrangement has since come to an end.

It is on track to complete the project by the first-quarter of 2019.

The LTA added that it is closely monitoring the works onsite to ensure that the contractor meets the project’s revised completion timeline safely, and in a manner that meets construction standards.

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Malaysia: Flash floods hit several parts of Johor; bad weather predicted across 8 other states

Ahmad Fairuz Othman New Straits Times 14 Nov 17;

BATU PAHAT: A total of 23 people from 10 families in Lorong Budin at Km31.5 of Jalan Batu Pahat-Ayer Hitam had to be evacuated to a flood relief centre after their homes were inundated following a two-hour heavy downpour on Tuesday.

Johor Civil Defence Force director Colonel Mat Zin Bujang said the victims were sent to the Lorong Telekom Ayer Hitam Community Rehabilitation Centre Hall at about 4am.

"Continuous heavy rain for more than two hours caused a nearby canal to overflow into the neighbourhood and this caused the flash flood.

"The authorities are still monitoring the water level at the areas as rain continued until late morning," said Mat Zin.

Meanwhile, heavy rain in the morning also led to flash flood in Kampung Pasir, near Jalan Skudai here.

Mat Zin said the Civil Defence Force received a report of flash flood in several areas in the village at about 6am.

He said the flash flood was caused by heavy downpour and rising water levels at Sungai Skudai.

"The authorities are monitoring the levels at the river and the Civil Defence Force has been directed to be on alert at the area.

"So far, no residents have been relocated to relief centres," he said.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department today issued a forecast of thunder storms and heavy rain with strong winds for nine states in the peninsula, which included Johor.

The forecast issued at 12.30pm on its Facebook indicated that the Segamat and Tangkak districts in Johor were among areas that will see bad weather until late evening.

Other states that were expected to see the same weather pattern were Kedah (Yan, Pendang, Kuala Muda, Sik, Baling, Kulim and Bandar Baharu), Penang, Perak (Kerian and Larut, Matang and Selama), Selangor (Gombak, Petaling, Klang, Kuala Langat, Sepang and Hulu Langat), Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, Negri Sembilan, Melaka and Pahang (Bentong, Temerloh, Maran, Bera, Rompin, Pekan and Kuantan).

Johor floods: 59 victims still at shelters
yee xiang yun The Star 15 Nov 17;

JOHOR BARU: Fifty-nine victims are still at two temporary flood shelters in Muar and Batu Pahat.

The victims from 16 families have been staying at the relief shelters since Monday (Nov 13) after their houses in Jalan Batu Pahat and Kampung Sungai Pulai, Muar were flooded.

The affected areas in Batu Pahat are Lorong Budin KM 31.5 Jalan Batu Pahat, Kampung Parit Khalil and Kampung Parit Samion, said Johor Civil Defence Department director Colonel Mat Zin Bujang.

He said the 37 victims from the villages were seeking shelter at the Dewan Pusat Khidmat Penyayang, Ayer Hitam until the floodwaters recede.

The floodwaters reached about 0.3m but the situation is manageable, Col Mat Zin said, adding that the authorities are working closely with various agencies to monitor the floods.

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Malaysia: Seven detained over fish bombing in Kota Belud, 200kg of fish and explosive devices seized

stephanie lee The Star 14 Nov 17;

KOTA KINABALU: About 50 explosive devices and approximately 200kg of "bombed fish" were seized during a raid in waters of Kota Belud on Tuesday (Nov 14).

The 2.30am raid by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) also saw seven foreign fishermen detained.

MMEA Sabah and Labuan director First Admiral Mohd Zubil Mat Som said the items and suspects were seized from five pump boats raided at Mantanani Kecil.

He said that the raid was conducted based on information about suspicious people and activities in the area.

Mohd Zubil added that the suspects aged 18 to 45 have been remanded for further investigations.

He said the MMEA was probing the case under the Fisheries Act 1985, the Explosives Act 1957, and the Immigration Act 1959/1963.

"We take incidents of fish bombing seriously," he said, warning all fishermen to not use illegal fishing methods which can damage the ecosystem and marine life.

He said the MMEA would continue conducting raids to prevent such activities as well as crimes at sea.

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Malaysia: Restaurant owner held for selling exotic meat without permit

stephanie lee The Star 14 Nov 17;

KOTA KINABALU: A restaurant owner is in trouble for allegedly selling various types of exotic meat.

The owner who operates on Jalan Bulbul in Semporna was nabbed on Nov 12 following a tip-off.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said the raid was a continuation of their operations to hunt for turtle poachers in Semporna.

"During the raid, our officials found the meat of various protected species kept in freezers at the restaurant," he said in a statement late Tuesday.

Inspection around the premises also found two live monitor lizards and two live reticulated pythons, also protected species, being kept in cages.

The restaurant owner is being investigated under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

On Nov 13, wildlife rangers also caught three people allegedly possessing deer meat without a license in their vehicle.

"A lorry driver and his passenger, aged 60 and 61, were caught during a roadblock along the Tawau-Kalabakan road," Tuuga said.

The third person detained was travelling the same route in a 4WD.

All three will be investigated under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

Exotic meat found stored in Semporna restaurant
AVILA GERALDINE New Straits Times 14 Nov 17;

KOTA KINABALU: A restaurant owner was arrested following the discovery of an assortment of meat of protected species in Semporna.

A team from the Sabah Wildlife department recovered cuts of pangolin, civet cat, flying fox and bearded pig meat stored at the restaurant on Sunday.

State Wildlife director Augustine Tuuga said two monitor lizards and two reticulated pythons kept in cages were also found at the restaurant.

“We have detained the restaurant owner. Investigations are being carried out under Section 41(2) of the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 for possession of protected species," he said.

The offence carries a fine between RM30,000 and RM100,000 or jail term between one year and three years or both, if convicted.

Tuuga said the raid was conducted as part of the department's opeartions to hunt turtle poachers in the east coast districts.

The following day, the team moved further inland to Sungai Udin in Tawau. The operation focused on a road block along the Tawau-Kalabakan road.

During the operation, the team stopped a lorry and found deer meat in their vehicle.

Tuuga said the lorry driver and his passenger were detained for possesing dear meat without permit.

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Malaysia: Man pleads not guilty to possessing 85 pangolins

The Star 14 nov 17;

ALOR SETAR: A 37-year-old claimed trial at the Sessions Court here to four charges of possessing 85 pangolins without a valid permit and harming the endangered animals.

Lim Choon Beng pleaded not guilty to committing the offence with two others still at large at a house in Changlun on Nov 7 when the charges were read to him before Sessions Court judge Azman Abu Hassan on Tuesday (Nov 14).

He was accused of having possessed 16 pangolins along with the two still at large, an offence under Section 68 (1)(a) of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.

Lim and the two others were also charged with possessing another 41 pangolins without a valid permit, an offence under Section 69(1) of the same Act.

For the fourth charge, Lim and the two others were charged under Section 86(1)(c) of the Act with intentionally causing harm to the 85 pangolins by tying them up in a netted plastic sack.

In submissions for bail, Wildlife Department prosecution officer Mohamad Rafaee Abdul Hamid proposed bail of RM65,000 for all four charges.

However, Lim's counsel G Ravishankar asked for a lesser bail, saying that his client is currently unemployed and supporting two young children.

Judge Azman allowed bail at RM40,000 with one surety and fixed Dec 11 for submission of documents and re-mention.

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Indonesia: Four of 10 beached whales in Aceh die

Gemma Holiani Cahya and Hotli Simanjuntak The Jakarta Post 14 Nov 17;

Four out of 10 sperm whales that were beached at Ujong Kareung Beach in Aceh Besar regency in Aceh died in the early morning on Tuesday while the rest had been taken back to open waters.

Around 50 rescuers from various offices were deployed since Monday to release the whales, with support from local people acting as volunteers.

“They were stranded in shallow waters, only two meters deep. So it was hard for us to release them,” Head of Lampulo PSDKP Basri told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

He explained that the first three whales had died before being taken back into the sea.

“We released seven of them to the sea this morning, but one of them returned to the beach again, dead. We are still monitoring the other six, making sure they will not strand themselves again,” Basri said.

Along with three ships from the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, local fishermen lent their boats to help with the release and monitoring of the whales, as some of them suffered wounds after hitting rocks on the beach.

Local people had flocked to the beach since Monday to witness the stranded whales. They took pictures and shared live video via various social media platforms.

Marine and Fisheries Campaign Coordinator for World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia Aryo Tjiptohandono told the Post that in a lot of cases, beached whales that have been released will die due to their wounds.

“Crowd control around the area is very important to reduce the stress level of the whales,” he said.

Indonesian volunteers save six beached whales
Reuters 13 Nov 17;

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian volunteers managed to save six whales beached on the northern tip of Sumatra but four died, a conservation official said on Tuesday.

The rescuers worked late into Monday night to free six of 10 massive sperm animals using ropes and patrol boats and turn them back into the waters off Aceh province.

“Some people got injured on the coral and the high tide was also an obstacle but we tried our best,” said Sapto Aji Prabowo, head of the Aceh conservation agency.

“It is an important lesson for us on how to evacuate such huge animals if it happens again.”

Prabowo said it was not known why the sperm whales, which among the biggest mammals on the planet, had washed up in shallow water.

“We plan to collect samples from the dead whales to determine the cause of death and for future research,” he said.

Officials will bury the dead whales as soon as possible as there is a risk of gases building up and causing the carcasses to explode.

Earlier this year, authorities in New Zealand had to cut holes in hundreds of pilot whales that washed up on beaches on the South Island to keep them from bloating and exploding.

“If we leave them there to rot, that could also cause disease,” said Prabowo.

Volunteers will use excavators to move and bury the animals. An adult sperm whale can grow up to 12 meters and weigh up to 57 tonnes.

Though unusual, whale beachings have been seen in other parts of Indonesia, a vast archipelago of over 17,000 islands.

In 2016, 29 pilot whales were briefly trapped in a mangrove swamp off the eastern coast of Java, but managed to free themselves or were helped back out to sea by fishermen.

Officials previously said 12 whales had been stranded in Aceh.

A Race to Save 10 Stranded Whales
CHRISTINA CARONNOV New York Times 13 Nov 17;

Rescuers in Indonesia worked late into Monday night to rescue a pod of sperm whales that had become stranded in the shallow waters of an island near the northwest tip of Sumatra in Aceh Province.

The 10 whales were spotted Monday morning, according to Whale Stranding Indonesia, a marine mammal conservation organization based in Jakarta, Indonesia, that has been monitoring the rescue on its Facebook page.

Local officials, aided by nonprofits like World Wildlife Fund Indonesia, coordinated a rescue effort using nets, tarpaulins and boats, the group said.

As daylight gave way to darkness on Ujung Kareung beach, the rescuers didn’t give up. As of about midnight local time they were still working, Whale Stranding Indonesia told The New York Times via a Facebook message.

Earlier in the day, the rescuers successfully relocated five of the whales to deeper water, Nur Mahdi, the head of the Aceh Province marine and fisheries office in Sumatra, told The Associated Press. They are also treating two injured whales and attempting to refloat the others, he said.

“The team seems to be determined to work during night time to release the remaining whales,” Whale Stranding Indonesia reported.

Two more whales were released just before sunrise, the group said, according to an official from the Center for Coastal and Marine Resources Management, the regional marine and fisheries authority in Indonesia.

Time was of the essence in this situation, in part because whales that come near land are at risk of suffocation and organ failure.

“If you’re 60,000 pounds and your body is meant to float around then gravity can take its toll,” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, the director of the North American office of Whale and Dolphins Conservation, a nonprofit that has assisted with whale strandings in the United States.

In addition, the shock of being stranded evokes a stress response.

“Elevated levels of adrenaline also take toll on the organs,” Ms. Asmutis-Silvia said. It’s similar to that of a human that has been in a car accident, she added.

It’s unclear why the pod of whales swam so close to shore. Sperm whales, which are listed as an endangered species, are the largest of the toothed whales. They are not usually found in waters less than 984 feet deep, and prefer areas two times deeper than that, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries.

In February, more than 650 pilot whales became stranded at the northern tip of South Island in New Zealand for reasons that were also unknown, and about 400 of them died. Pathologists hoped to find answers by studying some of the dead animals.

And in April, officials said they were investigating an “alarming” number of humpback whale strandings along the Atlantic coast.

There are multiple reasons these events can happen, Ms. Asmutis-Silvia said, including navigational error, changes in the environment, a wayward hunt for food or tidal changes.

Sperm whales tend to travel as a group and are unlikely to abandon their podmates.

“When they’re in tight social groups they’re in this together,” Ms. Asmutis-Silvia said.

Whales are especially important to the ecosystem, she said, because their waste fertilizes phytoplankton, the plants that produce half the world’s oxygen.

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Switching to organic farming could cut greenhouse gas emissions, study shows

Study also finds that converting conventionally farmed land would not overly harm crop yields or require huge amounts of additional land to feed rising populations
Fiona Harvey The Guardian 14 Nov 17;

Converting land from conventional agriculture to organic production could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the run-off of excess nitrogen from fertilisers, and cut pesticide use. It would also, according to a new report, be feasible to convert large amounts of currently conventionally farmed land without catastrophic harm to crop yields and without needing huge amounts of new land.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found that by combining organic production with an increasingly vegetarian diet, ways of cutting food waste, and a return to traditional methods of fixing nitrogen in the soil instead of using fertiliser, the world’s projected 2050 population of more than 9 billion could be fed without vastly increasing the current amount of land under agricultural production.

This is important, as converting other land such as forests, cerrado or peatlands to agricultural use would increase greenhouse gas emissions from the land. The authors found that an increase in organic farming would require big changes in farming systems, such as growing legumes to replenish nitrogen in the soil.

However, other scientists were cautious over endorsing the report’s findings, pointing out that the size of the world’s agricultural systems and their variability, as well as assumptions about future nutritional needs, made generalisations about converting to organic farming difficult to make.

Sir Colin Berry, emeritus professor of pathology at Queen Mary, University of London, said: “As for all models, assumptions have to be made and what weight you attach to which item can greatly change outcomes. The assumption that grassland areas will remain constant is a large one. The wastage issue is important but solutions, not addressed here, to post-harvest- pre-market losses will be difficult without fungicides for grains. Some populations could do with more protein to grow and develop normally, despite the models here requiring less animal protein.”

Les Firbank, professor of sustainable agriculture at Leeds University, said: “One of the question marks about organic farming is that it can’t feed the world. [This paper] concludes organic farming does require more land than conventional methods, but if we manage the demand for food by reducing waste and reducing the amount of crops grown as animal feed, organic farming can feed the world.”

He warned: “[These] models can only be viewed as a guide: there are many assumptions that may not turn out to be true and all these scenario exercises are restricted by limited knowledge [and] are fairly simplistic compared to real life, but realistic enough to help formulate policy. The core message is valuable and timely: we need to seriously consider how we manage the global demand for food.”

Even without converting to organic production, however, the US, India, China and Russia – four of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters – could turn into some of the biggest absorbers of carbon, through better management of their agricultural land.

A separate new study shows that these countries have the greatest potential for the sequestration of carbon dioxide through changing the way soils are protected, through better farming methods that can also help to preserve declining soil fertility.

Scientists said the potential of using soil as a carbon sink was equivalent to taking between 215m and 400m cars off the road, even if only small changes are made, of a kind which should be achievable on all farms. The study, published on Tuesday in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, and conducted by experts from the Chinese Academy of Science, the Nature Conservancy NGO, and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, found that farming crops differently could make a big contribution to achieving the goals of the Paris agreement on climate change.

Today’s intensive agricultural methods, involving frequent tilling of soils and the excessive use of chemical fertilisers, could be replaced with the revival of older methods such as the increased use of manure, cover cropping, mulching and growing trees next to cropland. However, the role of land management in preventing dangerous levels of climate change has often been overlooked at the talks, where discussions over the burning of fossil fuels have dominated. This is partly because of the urgency of switching away from fossil fuels, and partly because land management is a diffuse and diverse problem spread across the globe from small farmers to agri-industrialists, whereas fossil fuel sources tend to be larger and more monolithic, such as coal-fired power plants.

The results will be presented to delegates at the UN COP23 climate talks in Bonn on Wednesday. Nations at the talks are discussing ways to increase the commitments on emissions reductions made alongside the Paris agreement, and which scientists say are currently inadequate to hold the world to no more than 2C of warming, the binding target under the landmark 2015 accord.

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