Bananas could replace potatoes in warming world

Climate change could lead to bananas becoming a critical food source for millions of people, a new report says.

Researchers from the CGIAR agricultural partnership say the fruit might replace potatoes in some developing countries.

Cassava and the little known cowpea plant could play increasingly important roles in agriculture as temperatures rise.

People will have to adapt to new and varied menus as traditional crops struggle say the authors.
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Responding to a request from the United Nations’ committee on world food security, a group of experts in the field looked at the projected effects of climate change on 22 of the world’s most important agricultural commodities.

Blooming bananas

They predict that the world’s three biggest crops in terms of calories provided – maize, rice and wheat – will decrease in many developing countries.

They suggest that the potato, which grows best in cooler climates, could also suffer as temperatures increase and weather becomes more volatile.

The authors argue that these changes “could provide an opening for cultivating certain varieties of bananas” at higher altitudes, even in those places that currently grow potatoes.

Report: Water shortages increasingly will offer weapon for states, terror groups

By Karen DeYoung, Thursday, March 22, 4:19 AM

Fresh-water shortages and more droughts and floods will increase the likelihood that water will be used as a weapon between states or to further terrorist aims in key strategic areas, including the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa, a U.S. intelligence assessment released Thursday says.

Although “water-related state conflict” is unlikely in the next 10 years, the assessment says, continued shortages after that might begin to affect U.S. national security interests.

The assessment is drawn from a classified National Intelligence Estimate distributed to policy-makers in October. Although the unclassified version does not mention problems in specific countries, it describes “strategically important water basins” tied to rivers in several regions. These include the Nile, which runs through 10 countries in central and northeastern Africa before traveling through Egypt into the Mediterranean Sea; the Tigris-Euphrates in Turkey, Syria and Iraq; the Jordan, long the subject of dispute among Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians; and the Indus, whose catchment area includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Tibet.

“As water problems become more acute, the likelihood … is that states will use them as leverage,”

Plant hardiness map revealed

The first daffodils have crept into flower and the snowdrops have peaked already. If you think winters aren’t what they used to be, you’re not alone.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday released a plant hardiness zone map of the nation that shows generally warmer winter low temperatures than the department’s previous map from 1990.

The new map divides the country into 13 zones arranged by minimum winter temperatures, in 10-degree increments. Among the shifts: The District and most of Virginia and Maryland are squarely in the relative balm of Zone 7. Specifically, they fall in the warmer half of Zone 7 where the mercury, on average, doesn’t go below 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Previously recorded in southeastern coastal Virginia, this zone now defines the coastal communities of the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River.

The colder Zone 6, which once embraced the Piedmont area and included much of Fairfax and Montgomery counties, is now pushed west of the Blue Ridge.

“The new map is generally one 5-degree Fahrenheit half zone warmer than the previous map throughout much of the United States,” said Kim Kaplan, of the Agricultural Research Service.

8.5 million trees planted in campaign

PETALING JAYA – MORE than 8.5 million trees have been planted in Malaysia as of March, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Douglas Uggah Embas.

The planting was part of a nationwide Green the Earth: One Citizen, One Tree campaign that was launched in April last year to fight global warming and to mitigate climate change.

A total of 26 million trees are expected to be planted by 2014.

On Saturday, Douglas Uggah joined about 200 volunteers including university students to plant 1,800 seedlings at the Ayer Hitam Forest reserve in Puchong.

The campaign carried out under the ExxonMobil’s 2011 Community Projects programme started two years ago and its goal is to plant a total of 5,000 trees at the forest reserve by 2012. — THE STAR/ANN

8.5 million trees planted in campaign

Trees provide natural record of El Niño trends

Studying treering records from the southwestern United States, University of Hawaii scientists have helped assemble a 1,100-year historical picture of the climate phenomenon known as El Niño, offering an avenue to understanding how weather patterns could change in a warming world.

El Niño, associated with warmer than usual sea surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific, typically produces a wide array of violent weather, including more rain and intense storms in some areas, less rain in others. The massive El Niño of 1997-98, for instance, caused flooding and landslides in Northern California, drought and famine in Bangladesh and drought and forest fires in the Philippines; 2,100 people died worldwide.

UH scientist Jinbao Li said by email that the record implies that warmer oceans will lead to more severe El Niños and the opposite phenomena, La Niñas, and more extreme climate conditions around the globe. But a final verdict awaits better climate models, he said.

Formally known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation, the phenomenon also brings rainy winters to the U.S. Southwest, where tree rings are wide in wet years and narrow in dry years.

UH researchers Li, Shang-Ping Xie, Fei Lui and Jian Ma analyzed the tree-ring records available in a database called the North American Drought Atlas and found that the results correlated closely with the 150-year sea surface temperature records in the tropical Pacific.

The Green Leaf» Grow aquaponics, Grow Hawaiian

The Green House is offering three workshops on Saturday, April 2.

How Does Your Garden Grow…Backyard Aquaponics
Environmental Engineer Jeremai Cann, aka Dr. Sustainability, will lead this workshop covering everything you need to know to start your own aquaponics system (organic gardening with fish and plants). Grow your own dinner and lessen your reliance on imported food!
The Green House
Saturday, April 2nd
10:00 – 11:30pm
Fee $20

“Turn used water into real savings” — Greywater Harvesting
Jeremai Cann will lead this workshop on how to create your own “greywater” catchment system. Greywater refers to the reuse of water drained from baths, showers, washing machines, and sinks for irrigation and other water conservation applications. Reduce your use of tap water while helping the environment and lower your monthly water bill.
The Green House
Saturday, April 2nd
2:00-3:30pm
Fee: $20

It’s Easy Being Clean…Natural Green Cleaning Recipes
Learn how to whip up a batch of handmade soap and explore simple cleaning recipes that are safe, effective, inexpensive. You may already have many of the ingredients in your kitchen cupboards. A booklet of natural cleaning recipes will also be shared.
The Green House
Saturday, April 2nd
2:00-3:30pm
Fee: $20

Advanced registration required for all workshops.

Go to www.thegreenhousehawaii.com to register online, or call (808) 524-8427.

A Bird That Likes Shade-Grown Coffee

I wrote in Thursday’s paper about the challenges that Colombian coffee growers face from climate shifts on their mountaintop farms, and how Cenicafé, the national coffee institute, is doing research to breed coffee plants to better resist warmer, wetter weather.

Most everything at Cenicafé’s lush mountain campus in western Colombia is coffee-centric. There are chemists who analyze the brew’s chemical content to understand what mix of molecules makes for great flavor. There are gardens filled with coffee plants from all over the world for breeding new heartier variants. There are geneticists studying the coffee genome.

But Cenicafé scientists are also studying a little bright blue bird whose plight has gained widespread attention in the United States: the cerulean warbler.

The cerulean warbler is on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s “red list” of threatened species. Once plentiful in the United States, its population is decreasing faster than that of any other eastern songbird.

A big part of the problem is that much of the cerulean warbler’s breeding ground in states like West Virginia and Tennessee has been destroyed by forest-felling and mountaintop coal mining. Conservation groups are fighting to save the species, and its plight features prominently in Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel, “Freedom.”

So what does this have to do with Colombian coffee? It turns out that the cerulean warbler winters in Colombia and other countries in the northern part of South America. And it seems to prefer the forest canopy of its mountain coffee-growing regions.

So scientists are working to better understand the warbler’s winter habitat, and to make sure it is preserved.

Heat Hampers Colombian Coffee Crop, Jeopardizing Supply

TIMBÍO, Colombia — Like most of the small landowners in Colombia’s lush mountainous Cauca region, Luis Garzón, 80, and his family have thrived for decades by supplying shade-grown, rainforest-friendly Arabica coffee for top foreign brands like Nespresso and Green Mountain. A sign in the center of a nearby town proclaims, “The coffee of Cauca is No. 1!”

But in the last few years, coffee yields have plummeted here and in many of Latin America’s other premier coffee regions as a result of rising temperatures and more intense and unpredictable rains, phenomena that many scientists link partly to global warming.

Coffee plants require the right mix of temperature, rainfall and spells of dryness for beans to ripen properly and maintain their taste. Coffee pests thrive in the warmer, wetter weather.

Bean production at the Garzóns’ farm is therefore down 70 percent from five years ago, leaving the family little money for clothing for toddlers and “thinking twice” about sending older children to college, said Mr. Garzon’s 44-year-old son, Albeiro, interviewed in a yellow stucco house decorated with coffee posters and madonnas.

The shortage of high-end Arabica coffee beans is also being felt in New York supermarkets and Paris cafes, as customers blink at escalating prices. Purveyors fear that the Arabica coffee supply from Colombia may never rebound — that the world might, in effect, hit “peak coffee.”

Study Links Rise in Rain and Snow to Human Actions

An increase in heavy precipitation that has afflicted many countries is at least partly a consequence of human influence on the atmosphere, climate scientists reported in a new study.

In the first major paper of its kind, the researchers used elaborate computer programs that simulate the climate to analyze whether the rise in severe rainstorms, heavy snowfalls and similar events could be explained by natural variability in the atmosphere. They found that it could not, and that the increase made sense only when the computers factored in the effects of greenhouse gases released by human activities like the burning of fossil fuels.

As reflected in previous studies, the likelihood of extreme precipitation on any given day rose by about 7 percent over the last half of the 20th century, at least for the land areas of the Northern Hemisphere for which sufficient figures are available to do an analysis.

The principal finding of the new study is “that this 7 percent is well outside the bounds of natural variability,” said Francis W. Zwiers, a Canadian climate scientist who took part in the research.