No. 5/11

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2011 International Year of Forests
The United Nations General Assembly declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests to raise awareness on sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests. or











  • Bamboo: How “green” is it?

Source: The Guardian (UK), 10 April 2011

The introduction of this super-fast-growing grass into UK homes in the form of plates, bowls, paint brushes, bathroom towels and bed-linen was accompanied by much loud noise about its eco-credentials. Bamboo textiles, in particular, were explicitly labelled as eco, green and/or good for the planet, suggesting that your towels or yoga leggings could single-handedly halt climate change.
Then last year regulators in the US and Canada stopped the party. They ordered the re-labelling of some 450 000 clothing and textile products from the marketable "eco-friendly" bamboo to the less-appealing "rayon". Less appealing from a green point of view because producing rayon (viscose) is a highly polluting activity. Under the microscope scientists could see no difference between "bamboo" products and viscose, where the finished fibre is extruded from cellulose by applying a large amount of chemicals and results in hazardous air pollutants. Bamboo's eco credentials were in tatters.
But this is unfair. As a material it has big plus points. Lately, product designers have used it to make a lightweight concept car, the Phoenix, which surely deserves to wear an eco tag. The bamboo is woven with rattan, steel and nylon to make the body of the car, handmade by a team of craftsmen in just 10 days. It is strong and light and created without the heavy industry, huge energy and extensive tooling normally demanded in car production.
But what of bath towels, a more prosaic bamboo item? Steven Handley of sells bamboo homewares and insists certified bamboo is eco, especially when compared with the main alternative, cotton. "Can it be right that cotton uses over 25 percent of all insecticides and 12 percent of all pesticides in the world, but is grown on only 3 percent of available farmland?" he asks (rhetorically). Grown right, he insists, bamboo also prevents soil erosion, sequesters 12 tonnes of CO2/ha (30 percent more than trees), is self seeding — meaning it need not be replanted (a boon in areas of economic hardship) — and is better able to survive drought and flooding than cotton.
But how do you know that it is grown right and, more specifically, processed without harmful pollutants? First ask the retailer. There is no getting away from some chemical use — the cellulose must be dissolved into a viscose solution, but this should take place in what is called a closed-loop system where harmful chemicals are recovered and recycled. This quietly assures better bamboo, but it is still best to avoid shouting.
For full story, please see:



  • Blueberries: The many benefits

Source: Environmental News Network, 12 April 2011

Blueberries can grow wild practically anywhere in the north-eastern United States and Canada, covering vast stretches of meadows and becoming the dominant plant. Amazingly, they thrive after forest fires, even after they burn themselves. Blueberries also offer great health benefits. According to a new study from Texas Woman's University (TWU) in Denton, TX, blueberries have a positive effect on aging, metabolism, and inhibiting the development of fat cells.
The berry is great for the heart and cardio system due to its high polyphenol antioxidant content. These compounds have the ability to scavenge free radicals such as hydrogen peroxide, which must be removed from cells to maintain healthy metabolic function. These antioxidants can also be found in a variety of other fruits such as blackberries, raspberries, and grapes.
According to Shiwani Moghe, graduate student at TWU, blueberries could play a large role in reducing the epidemic of obesity. She tested whether the blueberry polyphenols played a role in adipocyte differentiation, which is the process where a relatively unspecialized cell acquires the specialized features of an adipocyte. An adipocyte is an animal tissue cell specialized for the synthesis and storage of fat.
Plant polyphenols are known to resist the development of fat cells. They actively break down fat compounds and lipids. The idea is to see if these plant polyphenols could be translated into fighting fat cells in animals, i.e. humans. Moghe was determined to find out if the blueberry polyphenols could inhibit obesity at the molecular level.
She experimented on tissue cultures taken from lab mice, giving each different doses of blueberry polyphenols to see their effect on adipocyte differentiation. The higher dose group had a 73 percent decrease in fat compounds. The lower dose group had a 27 percent decrease.
"We still need to test this dose in humans, to make sure there are no adverse effects, and to see if the doses are as effective. This is a burgeoning area of research. Determining the best dose for humans will be important," said Moghe. "The promise is there for blueberries to help reduce adipose tissue from forming in the body."
This research was presented at the Experimental Biology 2011 meeting for the American Society for Nutrition on 10 April 2011.
For full story, please see:



  • Bushmeat in France: Black market thrives in Paris

Source: The World, 16 March 2011

It is Friday night in one of Paris’s many African restaurants, but thirty-something Congolese immigrant Roger will not be having anything listed on the menu. He called ahead to arrange a special order — porcupine in a black sauce, with a side of cassava.
At US$34, the porcupine dish is twice the price of regular menu items. But Roger says it is worth it. He says eating French food seems like eating the same thing all week.
“You cannot make the difference between fish or chicken or beef,” Roger says. “But in Africa, you can make the difference between porcupine, snake, and crocodile. All animals have got a unique taste.”
Roger says he eats what is known as bushmeat twice a week — that is, animals killed in the wild from his home continent. His favourites are porcupine, snake and the anteater-like pangolin.
The three animals are among a dozen species that are commonly smuggled into France to cater to the country’s African community. The meat often ends up for sale at the African market, near Chateau Rouge metro station, where bushmeat is hawked by illegal vendors who sell only a small number of items from bags or baskets. The bushmeat is generally hidden from view. You have to ask for it, and have an African face to get any kind of positive response. Street sellers risk a fine of up to US$100 000 and four years in jail for selling illegal bushmeat.
Not everything considered bushmeat is illegal in France. But the illegal market is big enough that it worries French authorities. Paris health inspector Serge Hauteville says it is a problem because the products often do not live up to European health standards. In particular, health officials worry the animals are not killed or transported in hygienic conditions.
Environmentalists, meanwhile, have their own concerns. A 2010 study by scientists from the Zoological Society of London, and published in the journal Conservation Letters, monitored seizures of illegal African bushmeat at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport over a three-week period. Based on the results, the researchers estimated that more than five metric tons of African bushmeat is smuggled through that one airport every week, or 260 tons a year.
Still, the African bushmeat trade here in Paris likely represents just a tiny fraction of all of the wild animals killed for meat in Central and West Africa every year. And not all conservationists see the European smuggling as a major concern.
Veterinarian Phillipe Chardonnet, head of the International Foundation for Fauna Management, points out that millions of Africans rely on bushmeat for protein. Chardonnet says most of the animals hunted — species like porcupines and cane rats — are plentiful and can sustain hunting pressure. Often, he says, farmers, government authorities and development agencies consider them pests.
Chardonnet’s organization, which promotes wildlife conservation and sustainable hunting, does supports some anti-bushmeat initiatives, especially for apes and other protected species. But he says for them to work, the efforts must be associated with positive measures that involve local communities.
“You have to have people on your side,” Chradonnet says. “You must understand their livelihood, their culture, and their taste for wild meat.”
Chardonnet acknowledges that the smuggling of some of this wild meat in France does carry health concerns. But he says the relative quantities are too small to make it a serious issue.
For full story, please see:



  • Bushmeat in Tanzania: Giraffe in serious danger

Source: The Citizen (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) in, 17 April 2011

The Giraffe, Tanzania’s national emblem, is increasingly becoming an easy target for bushmeat hunters, and wildlife protectors are warning that if the trend is not checked now, the towering African animal will soon be extinct.
It is illegal to for anyone to kill a giraffe since it is sanctified as a national symbol and an exemption can only be granted by the President. Nevertheless, there has been a growing trend of giraffe poaching, especially in the country's game-controlled areas.
Figures obtained from Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (Tawiri) indicate, for instance, that a census conducted in 2002 in Selous Game Reserve established that there were 6 712 giraffes but the number has decreased sharply, with the 2006 census indicating that there were only 3 163 giraffes remaining.
While a 2006 census in the Serengeti established that the number of giraffes increased from 5 246 in 2006 to 12 078 in 2010, between February and December 2007, a total of 210 giraffes were killed in West Kilimanjaro, and local game rangers say that on average, 20 giraffes are killed every month. It means a lot has to be done if the country is to save this unique animal, say wildlife experts.
"The giraffe is an attractive target to poachers because it has a lot of meat on their bones. Meat from one giraffe can be equal to the meat you get from, say, four elands," said the game warden who preferred to remain anonymous for security reasons.
The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Ezekiel Maige, said his Ministry was aware of the growing trend in giraffe poaching, adding that relevant measures are underway, including carrying out investigations. "We are doing all we can to fight poaching but we are limited in terms of staff and resources," said Mr Maige.
For full story, please see:



  • Chestnuts: New hope for the old chestnut

Source: Los Angeles Times, 16 April 2011

From atop a small hill in Virginia (USA), Fred Hebard has views into the past and the future. Ahead of him: the ancient peaks of southern Appalachia. American chestnut trees once held sway across those hazy hills, numbering some 4 billion across the eastern United States.
Behind Hebard: a fledgling forest of spindly chestnut trees, their young branches bare and quivering in the cold wind. If all goes well, those trees are the beginning of a new species, one created in a chestnut mating project aimed at salvaging the American chestnut tree from near extinction.
Hebard might never know if the plan succeeds. It could take decades to determine whether the trees behind him show high levels of blight resistance. "And that only tells you if you have a chance" at full resistance, said Hebard, chief scientist of the American Chestnut Foundation, who has devoted his life to crossbreeding nuts.
Americans spend US$20 million/year importing chestnuts from Europe and Asia; the meaty nuts are gluten-free, cholesterol-free and a lot less fattening than other nuts; chestnuts also make a terrific beer.
“If we keep on losing components of our forests, what are we going to have left?" said Hebard, explaining the passion for a tree that is not even extinct, and for a nut that is imported easily from Europe and Asia for use in salads, stuffings, bread and in toasty bags sold from food carts in New York City.
America used to produce billions of those nuts until a blight imported from Asia attacked trees in New York. The disease spread quickly, and between 1904 and 1940, the trees were nearly wiped out. Those that remained were either not blight-resistant or too few and widespread to produce healthy offspring to sustain the species, whose healthiest specimens grew to 100 ft tall. The trees' absence had a trickle-down effect on wildlife that foraged for chestnuts. Some experts say the panther's disappearance from this region can be traced to the trees' disappearance, because the rodents that were panther prey lost a key food source. It would be decades before the crossbreeding program would take hold. Now, after crossing blight-resistant Chinese chestnuts with non-resistant Americans, the foundation has begun widespread test plantings of a nut that is 15/16 American and 1/16 Chinese. It hopes the equation will produce a tree that has the Chinese version's resistance to disease and the American version's ability to thrive in North America's climate.
"Tree-breeding is not for the impatient," said foundation spokeswoman Meghan Jordan, who says the American chestnut tree's relatively low profile adds to the challenge. “And as long as chestnuts are easily available, it can be difficult to persuade people that America needs its own chestnut trees.”
Hebard points to the trees' historical significance in this part of the country. "This was the last holdout of a subsistence economy," Hebard said of the region, "and the chestnut was a very important part of that economy. It wove itself into the psyche."
To say that chestnut foundation members are excited about the new nut — in scientific terms dubbed the B3F3 — is putting it mildly. Hebard gets more requests from chestnut lovers vying for the right to plant a few B3F3s or their seedlings than he can grant.
Most test plantings are on government-run forestland, but some private citizens have become overseers of one or more B3F3s.
For full story, please see:,0,1886901.story?track=rss



  • Maple syrup: Only sweetener with nutrients

Source: United Press International (UPI), 29 March 2011

North American Indians always used maple syrup as a medicine but today's doctors are catching up, a U.S. expert says.
Phil Lempert — food industry analyst — says maple syrup is running in the Northeast United States and Canada. He says when the Indians discovered sap in trees and boiled it down to syrup it was used as an all-purpose seasoning much the way salt is used today and as a medicine.
Maple syrup has about three times the sweetening power of cane sugar and only 40 calories per tablespoon, but unlike any other sweetener, maple syrup is a great source of manganese and a good source of zinc," Lempert says in a statement.
"Manganese protects your cells from free radicals, keeps bones strong, promotes optimal thyroid function, helps maintain blood sugar levels, and more. Zinc also helps balance blood sugar, supports the immune system as well as optimal smell and taste."
University of Rhode Island (USA) researchers found more than 20 compounds in maple syrup have been linked to human health — 13 of which are newly discovered in maple syrup.
For full story, please see:



  • Maple Syrup: Canadian scientist slams maple syrup study touting health benefits

Source: The Ottawa Citizen in, 11 April 2011

The use of a new academic study to tout the health benefits of maple syrup — including a newly discovered compound that has been named "Quebecol" in honour of the world's No. 1 source of maple syrup — has been slammed as "irresponsible" by a top Canadian authority in public science.
A U.S. researcher funded by a Quebec farming council and Canada's federal Agriculture Ministry has identified more than 50 "beneficial compounds" in pure maple syrup, a finding that Quebec's syrup producers say will launch a "new era" in the long history of the iconic Canadian liquid, driven by the "number of healthy compounds" it contains.
"Maple syrup is becoming a champion food when it comes to the number and variety of beneficial compounds found in it," University of Rhode Island (USA) chemist Navindra Seeram, an expert in phenolic compounds found in food, said in a summary of research presented this week at the American Chemical Society's national conference in Anaheim, California. "It is important to note that in our laboratory research we found that several of these compounds possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which have been shown to fight cancer, diabetes and bacterial illnesses."
Seeram's research findings were initially trumpeted last year by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers after about 20 new compounds were discovered in the evaporated sap after boiling. The latest round of research is again being hailed by the Federation, whose president Serge Beaulieu said in a statement that "investing in maple syrup knowledge and innovation will bring the products to another level in a few years."
About 80 percent of the world's maple syrup is produced in Quebec.
Seeram's research has proven to be marketing boon for the Federation, which estimates that news about last year's findings reached 100 million people worldwide. "Given its amazing potential for human health and interesting nutritional value," maple syrup "is a natural choice for people looking to eat well," Federation Marketing Director Genevieve Beland said in a statement issued Friday.
But some of the claims surrounding the U.S. findings have drawn a sharp rebuke from Joe Schwarcz, Director of the McGill University Office for Science and Society and a popular author and commentator on scientific issues.
"This study is of academic interest, and that is all," Schwarcz said. "To suggest that maple syrup is healthy because it contains a number of phenolic compounds is rumpled thinking that needs to be straightened out. Phenolics are not rare — they are abundant in fruits and vegetables." He also expressed concern that consumers hearing about "healthy compounds" in maple syrup could let their appetites for the sweet treat run wild.
"Any suggestion that maple syrup is 'healthy' is irresponsible and may make scientifically shallow people eat more." Schwarcz also took aim last year at some of the "hype" surrounding the U.S. research. In a column published in the Montreal Gazette, he described Seeram as a "respected researcher" who conducted a "commendable analysis" of the chemical constituents maple syrup and discovered some interesting, previously undetected compounds in the process. But Schwarcz also argued that "finding antioxidants that have not been previously detected is nothing more than a testimonial to improved laboratory techniques."
He added: "Some of these might, indeed, slow the multiplication of cancer cells in a Petri dish, but that is a long way from showing the trace amounts found in maple syrup have any effect on human health."
But Seeram also said Quebecol and some of the other previously unknown compounds discovered in maple syrup could turn out to be important disease-fighters when isolated, extracted and concentrated for medical research applications. "We are not saying that this is going to cure diabetes — obviously not," he said. "But this is interesting chemistry. There could be a compound present this food that could then be taken and synthesized into a medicine. Is this not how great discoveries start?"
For full story, please see:



  • Maple syrup: Spring proves sweet for maple-sugaring

Source: The Boston Globe, 3 April 2011

The local maple sugaring season will be drawing to a close soon, and local sugar farmers say the yield, so far, has been good. In Wellesley (Massachusetts, USA), Babson College’s stately maple trees produced sap for maple syrup for the first time this season.
A few weeks ago, Lisa MacDonald, the school’s Director of residential living, and her husband, Trevor, a Vermont native, pulled out their sugaring supplies and tapped two large trees on College Drive. Since 5 March, their three taps have on most days each produced more than three gallons of sap.            It takes 40 gallons of the sap to boil down to a gallon of maple syrup. The MacDonalds had produced more than two gallons of the sweet syrup, which they plan to share with Babson faculty, staff, and students, according to Nancy Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the college.
The Natick Community Organic Farm, which has tapped about 600 maple trees in Natick, Sherborn, Wellesley, and Dover, said its sap-harvesting season has been respectable this spring. The farm had produced more than 165 gallons of syrup, administrator Trish Wesley Umbrell said last week.
The season will continue until the weather changes; the sap only runs when the nights fall below freezing and the days are over 40 degrees Fahrenheit, she said.
Statewide, maple producers are having a strong season overall, Winton Pitcoff, a spokesman for the Plainfield-based Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, announced recently. There are just over 300 maple producers in Massachusetts, annually producing around 50 000 gallons of syrup worth an estimated US$3 million, Pitcoff said, and they are hoping the season continues at least through this week.
For full story, please see:



  • Mulberries: One of life's sweetest addictions

Source: Orlando Sentinel (USA), 27 March 2011

This year's crop is the biggest ever, and for some reason the birds — cedar waxwings, in particular — have not arrived to eat them.
Despite what the nursery rhyme suggests ("Round and round the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel"), the mulberry is not a small plant. It is a large, deciduous tree. The fruit develops on new growth and hangs from bendable limbs accessible by both adults and children. There are no thorns to contend with on this powerhouse of productivity, and it is one of the first plants to bear edible goodies in spring.
Red mulberries are native to America, but both white and black mulberries originated in China and were imported to this country in the 1700s.
Silkworms feed exclusively on the leaves of white mulberries. In Asia, the trees are an integral part of the silk-making industry. In the United States, the primary use of mulberry trees is to provide shade and attract wildlife. Dozens of birds feed on the early season fruit.,0,4565466.column



  • Shea butter in Ghana: Government to boost shea nut industry

Source:, 7 April 2011

The government is to establish a Shea nut development board to set recommended prices for Shea nut to give adequate returns to the women who pick the nuts in rural areas. The government will also provide protective equipment and tricycles for the women to enable them to pick about 65 percent of the country’s Shea nuts which go rotten or are burnt by bush fires.
Vice President of Ghana, Mr John Dramani Mahama, who announced this when he opened an International Conference on Shea Nuts, said the government would also open up the road network in areas where Shea trees are grown.
The conference was attended by stakeholders in the Shea industry from 27 countries in Africa, Europe, Asia and the United States of America. The event also marked the inauguration of the Global Shea Alliance (GSA) to streamline activities in the shea industry.
Mr Mahama said over the last decade the Shea nut industry had seen tremendous growth, noting that the trade in Shea nuts and butter alone had grown by more than 1 100 percent. He said the value of exports of Shea nuts was about US$10 million in 2000 and it hit almost US$120 million last year.
“If we are to add the value of semi-finished and finished products, this is quite easily a multi-billion dollar industry,” he stressed.
Mr. Mahama said Shea was highly coveted as a natural cosmetics ingredient and essential to the world’s food industry, particularly in the manufacture of chocolate. The Vice President said Shea nuts are conterminous with the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) belt and are, therefore, significant as instruments for converting what was currently a belt of poverty into a region of prosperity.
He added that work on the first processing plant had started at Buipe in the Northern Region, while two additional processing plants would be constructed and urged members of the GSA to promote awareness of Shea nut to increase its demand and drive its continued growth.
The US Ambassador to Ghana, Mr Donald Teitelbaum, urged producers of Shea nut in Africa to add value to the produce and desist from merely exporting the nuts. He also asked the producers to focus on efficiency and improve the quality of the Shea nuts in order to be more competitive on the international market.
The President of the GSA, Ms Eugenia Akuete, said her efforts would focus on improving pricing for Shea nut in order to improve the living standards of the women who pick the nuts.
For full story, please see:



  • Shea butter in Ghana: The struggling shea industry

Source:, 4 April 2011

The Shea Industry in Ghana is surviving in some of the unhealthiest business conditions in spite of the abundant evidence that the sector employs over 600 000 women and men and commands a huge revenue, hence its significant contribution to poverty reduction.
Nevertheless, the entire Shea sector is inundated with difficulties and uncertainties some which defy reason. The story of the Shea Industry from the life of the tree to nut production, nut picking, nut processing, local butter processing, market access to pricing is rife with problems.
The Shea tree occurs in the wild mostly in the three Northern Regions and some parts of Northern Volta and the Brong Ahafo Region. The tree is not protected by law as many natural resources are. As a result it must survive the risk of honey tappers setting it on fire for the sake of a few cups of honey, or common annual bushfires from some herdsmen who want early fresh grass for their cattle or some native doctor combing the bush with a cutlass looking for his medicine.
It also risks being cut for charcoal production or firewood by poor village woman or as local material for building and artisanship. Against this backdrop, huge numbers of both young and mature Shea trees disappear annually through one or the other form of destructive activities as outlined above. The destruction of Shea trees constitutes the number one factor which significantly reduces the country's nut production capacity.
But the destruction of Shea trees is not the only challenge to the potential of nut production in Ghana. Seeds needed for nuts processing are also lost through stiff competition over Shea fruits by humans, birds and other livestock. There are reports that some herdsmen feed their cattle and other livestock with Shea fruits.
Some think the root of the problems facing the industry can be traced to inequalities facing women and children, the primary pickers and processers of Shea nuts. These people historically lack the voice and power to obtain the necessary attention from society to address issues that affect them most.
Shea nut processing is an arduous task: it begins with the removal of the flesh around the seed. This is largely performed by women and their children, with no other tool than their bare hands. The bald seeds are par boiled and dried and the hard shells removed before storing. The seeds par boiled or fresh cannot be dried properly with the shells and once the shell has been removed the real nut becomes susceptible to a wide range of pests. This often results in huge loss of capital. People continue to suffer loses of stocks of Shea nut through pests' attacks during storage.
Nuts successfully processed are either used by the women themselves to process into Shea butter or sold to export companies. The local market is the biggest outlet for locally produced Shea butter because the issue of quality standards bars producers from the international markets. There is the need for national certified standards that conform to international practices to aid local producers to enable them to enjoy the fruit of their labour. But before that is done the struggle of the women and children in the industry could be reduced. The International Conference organized by the Global Shea Alliance, which will kick off in Ghana this week, needs to address these issues. 
For full story, please see:



  • Shea butter in Uganda: Shea butter could be lifeline for Ugandan women

Source: CNN International, 11 April 2011

Omollo, who is now in her thirties, has been gathering shea nuts since she was a young child, crushing them up and using the oil they produce for things like cooking and body lotion.
Now it is hoped that this regional tradition could bring hundreds of women out of poverty and revive the local economy torn apart by years of conflict.
Non-profit organization Bead for life has brought together 760 women farmers, many rebuilding their lives after two decades of civil war, and started a business processing and selling the nuts they gather.
The shea tree grows throughout Sahelian Africa, from Senegal to Ethiopia. But some say the sub species, nilotica, which grows in northern Uganda and Southern Sudan, is particularly special.
"Shea butter is commonly associated with West Africa but the trees in northern Uganda produce a high-quality oil that, if compared, is softer and perfect for cosmetics," said Torkin Wakefield from Beadforlife.
The group is on a mission to bring local shea butter to the international cosmetic and soap market by buying the women's organic nuts and turning them into "butter."
            Bead for life says Omollo has been made a coordinator for a buying centre in Orum. "When Bead for life came here they did a wonderful thing and increased the price of buying shea nuts," she told Beadforlife. "So even if you just bring a little, you get a lot of money. Life is better because of the shea."
The women pick the nuts, shell, dry and process them before they are bought. The nuts are then made into butter by a Ugandan presser.
Bead for life says this year it hopes to press between 20-30 tons of butter, but the aim is to eventually get the women to make it themselves. "We have plans in the coming years for the women to own a couple of small hand pressers so they can sell us the butter instead of the nuts, so the women can make more money," Wakefield explained.
But this grassroots organization has much bigger plans for the future. "The hard thing for Ugandans is to build a sustainable market," Wakefield said. "Many companies have tried and failed in the past. We are looking at working with international cosmetic companies because our biggest desire is that this becomes an industry way bigger than what our project will do, where the cosmetic companies of the world say we want this ingredient, this is a premium, high-quality ingredient," she continued.
"I have confidence that once companies start using the product a market will develop. Once a market develops jobs will be created for thousands of people that can harvest nuts across northern Uganda and Southern Sudan," says Wakefield.
For the women farmers it is still one step at a time. Bead for life is also about to launch a trading process so as well as buying nuts, it will let women trade them for things like ploughs, school books and seeds.
For full story, please see:



  • Wildlife: As larger animals decline, forests feel their absence

Source: Yale Environment News 360, 31 March 2011

With giant tortoises, elephants, and other fruit-eating animals disappearing from many of the world’s tropical woodlands, forests are suffering from the loss of a key function performed by these creatures: the dispersal of tree seeds. But a new experiment shows that introduced species may be able to fulfil this vital ecological role.
The island of Mauritius, for example, was settled by Dutch sailors in the 1600s. Within a few decades, all the large, native fruit-eating animals, or frugivores, had been driven to extinction. The lost included not only the famous flightless dodo, but also a giant lizard and two species of tortoise. The demise of these creatures reverberated through the island’s ecosystem, affecting fruiting plants that had co-evolved with the local frugivores and relied on them to spread their seeds onto fertile ground.
Today native Mauritian plants, under siege from a tide of invasive competitors and predators, hang on only in a few small conservation management areas. Even where invasive plants are laboriously weeded out by hand, large-fruited native tree populations are dwindling because of a lack of fruit-eating animals to disperse the trees’ seeds.
But Dennis Hansen, an ecologist at the University of Zurich (Switzerland), believes there is an efficient, practical way to restore some of Mauritius’ lost ecological dynamics: Bring in large tortoises from other island chains as substitute seed dispersers to fill the niche of the extinct native tortoises. As part of a restoration effort on Ile aux Aigrettes, an uninhabited islet off the Mauritius coast, the Mauritius Wildlife Federation and the Mauritius Government in 2000 introduced giant Aldabra tortoises to test whether the tortoises could help revive native vegetation. The tortoises are now dispersing the seeds of several native plants and are knocking back an invasion of the exotic tree, Leuceana leucocephala, by devouring its seedlings. The introduced tortoises began breeding in 2003 and have produced more than 200 offspring, some of which are being reared in captivity for later release in restoration projects on nearby Round Island and Rodrigues Island.
The Aldabras have rescued at least one endangered plant — Diospyros egrettarum, a species of ebony endemic to Mauritius — by devouring the ebony fruits and defecating intact seeds as they roam through the landscape. Restricted to one small surviving patch of plants before the arrival of the tortoises, ebony seedlings now sprout all over the islet, spears of new life rising out of tortoise dung.
The loss of seed dispersers is a serious problem in tropical forests worldwide. Even forests that appear intact in terms of their vegetation are fated to change dramatically when large frugivores are lost.
In the Peruvian Amazon, hunting of large monkeys for bushmeat has altered the shape of the forest, as seedlings of plants with wind-dispersed seeds come to dominate. In heavily hunted parts of Ngotto Forest, in the Central African Republic, the disappearance of large animals — including primates, elephants, and hornbills, a group of fruit-eating birds — led to a drop in the diversity of young trees. The trees that declined were all large-seeded, including cola nut and African star apple. In Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest, when hunting knocked down numbers of agouti — a large native rodent that caches seeds underground — an endemic species of palm was less likely to produce successful new seedlings. In Uganda, the krobodua tree bears large fruits, and appears completely dependent on a dwindling population of forest elephants to aid its reproduction. In Roraima, Brazil, the movements of tapirs can be mapped from the air by charting clumps of indigenous palm trees that sprout out of tapir dung. The tapir, like most large native mammals of the tropics, is threatened by the impacts of both bushmeat hunting and habitat loss.
Over the past 30 years, ecologists have begun to explore in greater depth the partnerships between fruiting plants and the animals they feed, particularly in the tropics. They have uncovered striking shifts in the plant communities of forests that have lost their large native frugivores. In tropical rainforests, about 70 percent of tree species need animals to disperse their seeds. (Seeds that fall beneath the parent tree are often targeted by beetles and rodents that devour them before they can sprout. Those that do germinate face stiff competition for light and space). As forest clearing and hunting for bushmeat accelerate across the world’s tropics, wildlife populations continue to dwindle. As a result, regenerating forests are dominated by trees whose seeds travel by wind or water, while those that produce large, hefty seeds designed to travel via animals are in decline.
The most insidious kind of extinction, notes Hansen, is the loss of interactions. “Species interactions can be more important than species identity,” he says. “What is vital is to have a healthy set of relationships that provide pollination, seed dispersal, herbivory, predation and decomposition. It is the dynamics that need to be up and running.”
One of the tenets of conservation management holds that alien species are ecologically harmful. But a new study is pointing to research that demonstrates that some non-native plants and animals can have beneficial impacts. Nevertheless, restoring large animals is key to maintaining resilient, diverse ecosystems. In some cases — like Mauritius, where native frugivores are gone forever — this may mean using similar but exotic species, like the Aldabra tortoise. Some conservationists may see such species introductions as a radical departure from conservation tradition, which has in the past focused intensely on rescuing individual threatened species. But evidence emerging from research and restoration efforts scattered around the world suggests that the careful introduction of new animal and bird species may be an important tool for ecologists in the future.
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  • Wildlife: UN-backed meeting calls for stronger measures to protect gorillas

Source: UN News, 31 March 2011

A United Nations-backed meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, has concluded with a call for better enforcement of laws to protect endangered gorillas in 10 African countries. The two-day meeting that ended yesterday, organized by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals under the UN Environment Programme (UNEP/CMS), was the first ever gathering of UN agencies, governments in the region, local wildlife authorities, NGOs and global experts to tackle wildlife crime that threatens gorillas.
Participants reviewed current conservation activities affecting the four sub-species of gorillas in East and Central Africa, and discussed solutions to address the major threat of commercial poaching for bushmeat and live trade in gorillas.
“Joint efforts to apply wildlife law are important because gorillas play a key role in the ecology of Africa’s forests,” said CMS Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema. “Their loss has an impact on the health of the whole ecosystem and, by extension, on everyone who lives in or benefits from these forests.”
According to a news release issued by UNEP/CMS, local, national and international law enforcement efforts are essential to protect gorillas and their rainforest habitat. The UN is already working closely with INTERPOL and national governments to curb the trade in live apes and bushmeat, as well as the illegal harvesting of timber. INTERPOL offered its global network of national offices to help combat wildlife crime relating to gorillas and other endangered species. “A global response is required against environmental and wildlife crime,” said Bernd Rossbach, the Director of INTERPOL’s Specialized Crime Unit. “In this endeavour, it is important for all countries to work through a multi-disciplinary approach that also uses INTERPOL’s established National Central Bureau network and its Environmental Crime Programme to communicate intelligence and to provide support in capacity- building efforts,” he added.
The meeting stressed the need to strengthen the capacity of law enforcement agencies, collaboration between governments and coordination with UN missions, such as MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  MONUSCO assisted with transferring orphan gorillas to a sanctuary in July 2010 to combat the illegal cross-border trade in baby gorillas.
The CMS Agreement on the Conservation of Gorillas and their Habitats, which came into force in 2008, provides the framework for regional cooperation in the long-term protection of gorillas in the 10 countries of the Congo Basin, ranging from Nigeria in the west, to Angola in the south and Uganda in the east. Collaboration among regional countries is already bearing fruit, according to UNEP/CMS, which noted that while gorilla populations across Africa are in decline, the numbers of two small populations of mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda are on the rise.
CMS continues to support regional efforts, which were initiated during the Year of the Gorilla in 2009 to fight the illegal trade in endangered species. Earlier this year, Gabon, assisted by the charity Conservation Justice and partially funded by CMS, achieved what might be the biggest arrest related to ape poaching yet in Africa. Thirteen heads and 32 hands of gorillas and chimpanzees were confiscated from five wildlife smugglers, along with the remains of elephants, leopards, lions and other endangered species. The smugglers are all awaiting trial in Gabon.
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  • Armenia: ATP and UN plant trees to celebrate International Year of Forests

Source: Armenia Tree Project (ATP), 13 April 2011

Four hundred and twenty trees were planted by government officials, Ambassadors, and representatives of the international community at an event organized by the UN Department of Public Information, Armenia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Armenia Tree Project (ATP), and the Avan administrative district of Yerevan.
The tree planting took place on 8 April 2011 to celebrate Earth Day and the International Year of Forests. The initiative was intended to support Armenia's efforts to strengthen the management, conservation, and sustainable development of forests for the benefit of current and future generations.
Dafina Gercheva, UN Resident Coordinator, said: "Every citizen has a right to live in a safe and healthy environment and it is our obligation to protect the environment. Protection and sustainable use of natural resources is the main objective of many UN projects aiming at environmental protection in Armenia through broader involvement of local communities and promoting connectivity in productive landscape and forests management."
The UN General Assembly declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests in an effort to raise awareness on sustainable management, conservation, and sustainable development of all types of forests.
Areg Maghakian, ATP Associate Director, stated, "Our goal is to assist the Armenian people in using trees to improve their standard of living and protect the global environment. Although our tree planting activities are ongoing, we are extremely honoured to partner with the UN, the MFA, and Avan administrative district to demonstrate our commitment to the environment and be a part of global Earth Day celebrations by contributing to the creation of more green spaces in Yerevan."
"The United Nations will continue its cooperation with the Government and civil society on projects aimed at sustainable development of Armenia, protecting the environment and natural resources, thus contributing to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals," noted the UN in a press release after the event.
ATP's mission is to assist the Armenian people in using trees to improve their standard of living and protect the environment, guided by the need to promote self-sufficiency, aid those with the fewest resources first, and conserve the indigenous ecosystem. ATP's three major programs are tree planting, environmental education, and sustainable development initiatives.
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  • Belize: Tourism industry aiming for a lighter carbon footprint

Source: SolveClimateNews in Reuters, 12 April 2011

Increased tourism is threatening to exacerbate coastline erosion and loss of wetlands in poorer countries already suffering from global warming hazards. But a rising number of eco-conscious travellers are forcing some in the tourist industry to change their ways.
In popular ecotourism hotspots like Belize, where tourism accounts for 20 percent of the economy, the issue of greener tourism has become so prominent that a state policy is underway. Seleni Matus, Director of the Belize Tourism Board, said the country, which gets about 250 000 visitors/year, is developing a sustainable tourism master plan that aims to provide a framework for tour operators and resort owners to mitigate and adapt to the risks of climate change.
The Central American country is already experiencing the effects of warming such as storm surges, rising seas and coral bleaching on the Belize Barrier Reef. Matus declined to provide specifics about the plan, which should be completed in June, but noted that accommodating those tourists who travel with a lighter carbon footprint was a major driver.
"Travellers now come to destinations wanting to learn more about what the destination is doing" to mitigate the impacts of climate change, she told SolveClimate News. One such example of catering to the eco-conscious is the 100-acre Cotton Tree Lodge, founded in 2007 and sited on the Moho River near Punta Gorda in southern Belize. The lodge, which can sleep up to around 50 people, is partly solar powered and grows about 80 percent of the produce it serves to guests on its property, though climate change is making this harder.
Armando Sam, who oversees the lodge's organic garden, told SolveClimate News that especially arid dry seasons and more unpredictable rainy seasons have affected the lodge's crops. Planting times have been adjusted and irrigation is now being provided to deal with fluctuating weather, he said.
While ecotourism is growing, Matus said that unplanned tourism development could be having multiple ill effects on the country. A group of students from Cornell University's Centre for Sustainable Global Enterprise (USA) was in Belize last month to begin calculating the environmental, social and economic costs of tourism on the nation for the first time.
The project, a collaborative effort with the Belize Tourism Board and two global "voluntourism" groups, will assess the investment needed to maintain proper infrastructure in a coastal environment, explained Megan Epler Wood, Director of the Toronto-based Planeterra.
One known problem is the destruction of the country's massive mangrove forests, the seaside trees and shrubs that thrive in salty waters. Mangroves protect the shoreline from soil erosion, serve as buffers to stormy seas and absorb heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Wood told SolveClimate News. About 68 percent of Belize's 1 100-mile-long coastline is protected by an estimated 185 000 acres of mangroves, according to a 2009 report from the World Resources Institute. The group found that Belize's mangroves provide between US$111 million and US$167 million in avoided damages every year.
A new study suggests that clearing the country's mangroves, which store more carbon than most forests, could also strain the absorptive capacity of the ecosystem.  
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  • Brazil rejects panel's request to stop dam

Source: The New York Times in Amazon News, 7 April 2011

Brazil’s government emphatically refused on Tuesday to suspend work on a huge hydroelectric dam in the Amazon, despite pleas that the project could displace tens of thousands of indigenous people and cause environmental harm.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States, had asked Brazil on Friday to halt construction of the Belo Monte dam, slated to be the world’s third largest, until it complied with its legal obligations to consult with indigenous groups. The commission said the consultations needed to be “free, prior, informed, of good faith and culturally appropriate.” Among its requests were measures to prevent the spread of diseases that could result from the population flow during construction.
But on Tuesday Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the demands “premature and unjustified,” saying the government had complied with its obligations under Brazilian law.
The dispute is the latest in the long battle between the government, which is determined to construct the dam to keep up with rising energy demand, and an array of environmental and human rights advocates, including Hollywood titans and former President Bill Clinton.
The US$17 billion dam would divert the flow of the Xingu River along a 62-mile stretch in Pará state.  Environmental groups say it would flood more than 120 000 acres of rain forest and local settlements, displacing 20 000 to 40 000 people and releasing large quantities of methane.  Brazil says the number of displaced would be much lower.
President Dilma Rousseff, who was chief of staff and energy minister under her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has expressed an unwavering commitment to Belo Monte despite her stated desire to be more sensitive to human rights.
Brazil uses hydroelectric power for more than 80 percent of its energy, and David Fleischer, a political science professor at Brasilia University, said the government “is going to move forward with the Belo Monte project regardless of any complaints or protests.”
Higher federal courts have rejected legal challenges to the project, which is nearing a final decision by Ibama, Brazil’s environmental protection agency. A president of Ibama, Roberto Messias Franco, resigned last April, reportedly over government pressure to approve environmental licenses for Belo Monte.  His successor, Abelardo Bayma Azevedo, asked to leave for “personal reasons” days after Ms. Rousseff became president in January.
Meanwhile, groups allied against Belo Monte have continued the fight. At a sustainability conference in Manaus last month, Mr. Clinton called on Brazil to show leadership in finding alternative energy solutions. Noting that he was “naturally sympathetic with indigenous peoples,” he added, “I want you to lead the rest of the world into the 21st century on this.”
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  • Brazil: The Cerrado, Brazil’s other biodiverse region loses ground

Source: Yale Environment 360, 14 April 2011

While Brazil touts its efforts to slow destruction of the Amazon, another biodiverse region of the country is being cleared for large-scale farming. But unlike the heralded rainforest it borders, the loss of the cerrado and its rich tropical savannah so far has failed to attract much notice.
Brazil is justly proud of how much it has reduced deforestation in the Amazon, with rates of forest loss down 70 percent since 2004. But how has this been accomplished? The answer, at least in part, is by invading a new ecological frontier of equal importance — but with much less public visibility. Today, Brazil’s bush clearers from agribusiness are moving across the cerrado, the most biologically rich savannah in the world, which occupies a huge expanse of the high plains of central Brazil on the Atlantic side of the Amazon basin.
In recent years, the rate of ecological destruction in the cerrado has been twice that in the Amazon. And while the majority of the Amazon rainforest survives, more than 60 percent of the cerrado’s former 200 million ha has disappeared under the plough, mostly within the last two decades.
The cerrado has its own rich array of unusual mammals, including armadillos, anteaters, tapirs, and maned wolves, as well as thousands of endemic vascular plants adapted to drought and fire. But while the cerrado shares a place with the Amazon on Conservation International’s list of the world’s top 25 biodiversity hotspots, so far the outrage over its devastation has remained minimal.
The soils of the cerrado — a complex mosaic of grass and woodland — were once regarded as too acidic to grow crops. But since Brazil’s agronomists began applying industrial quantities of lime in the 1980s, these soils have been transformed. The cerrado now produces 70 percent of Brazil’s farm output.
As more roads and railways penetrate the once empty interior north of the country’s shiny modernist 1960s capital, Brasilia, the land rush is intensifying and land prices are soaring. While most of the corn grown in the cerrado is consumed in Brazil, and much of the sugar cane goes to fill the tanks of the country’s ethanol-fuelled vehicles, the soya, cotton, coffee, and other crops largely go for export.
All this, says local biology professor Fernando Lutz, is a tragedy. The world has shown its enthusiasm for saving the Amazon, he says, but it has ignored the fate of the cerrado for too long. The cerrado has more than 4 000 endemic species of plants. It contains a third of all Brazilian biodiversity — more, for some groups of species, than the Amazon.
Flavio Marques, environmental advisor to the Bahia state prosecutor in Barreiras, calls the cerrado a black hole for conservation. Only two percent of the ecosystem is protected. While Brazil’s national forest code requires developers in the Amazon to leave 80 percent of the forest intact as “legal reserves,” the requirement in the cerrado is a mere 20 percent.
Brazilian staff of Conservation International (CI) is trying to rectify the situation; they have a strategy for engaging with the farmers, creating a coalition of those willing to comply with existing conservation laws and to establish conservation corridors across the cerrado. Is the strategy working? Farmers made clear that if conservation and profit can go together, it can work.
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  • Côte d'Ivoire: Animals find sanctuary with scientists

Source: Science Magazine, 29 March 2011

In an 85km² swath of rainforest in the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire's Taï National Park (Ivory Coast), monkeys call to one another, chimps drum on tree trunks, and tiny antelopes rustle through the underbrush. That is where researchers have been studying primate communities for more than three decades. Step outside the research zone, though, and the animal sounds fall silent. The forest is noticeably emptier as a result of heavy poaching. Field researchers all over the world have noticed that long-term research sites double as sanctuaries, but they have never had the numbers to prove it. Now they do.
In 1979, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, established a research site within Taï National Park to study chimpanzees, and a decade later another group began studying monkeys nearby. Back then, the entire park was teeming with animals, says Geneviève Campbell, a graduate student in primatology at Max Planck, but illegal hunting has since been on the rise. As in many parts of Africa, there are few rangers and little money for extensive patrols, and poachers operate with impunity throughout much of the park, Campbell says. Studies have shown that tourist traffic deters poachers, who may steer clear of other people in part to avoid getting caught. But nothing of the sort had been documented for researchers.
For the present study, published online today in Biology Letters, Campbell and several colleagues established 75-km-long study transects, or temporary flagged paths. They spaced the transects evenly throughout a 200-km² area that encompassed most of the long-term research area, where the chimpanzee and monkey projects are located, and adjacent park forest. The researchers walked each transect three times during an 11-month period, tallying the primates and duikers — small antelopes — that poachers target, as well as evidence of their presence, such as chimp nests and duiker dung. They also recorded signs of poaching, such as campsites, traps, and empty gun cartridges.
They fed the numbers into a computer model to test whether distance from the research area, density of people, forest type, or distance to the park border best predicted the presence of animals and signs of poaching. Sure enough, distance from the research area was the only consistent and significant predictor. There were at least six times more animals near and within the research area than farther outside. The researchers found almost no signs of poaching within and around most of the area and up to 15 times as many signs outside it.
"Now people can at least say with certainty that their presence [has] a positive effect," Campbell says. She hopes the study will provide researchers with ammunition when they seek funding for long-term work in heavily poached areas. These have become a grim reality in many places, and even researchers more interested in behaviour than conservation are realizing that they need to get involved. "All the primate populations are threatened," Campbell says. Even for researchers who are not conservation-minded, she says, "if their study animals are dying, they cannot continue their research."
Joshua Linder, a biological anthropologist with James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia (USA) says he has noticed the protective effect of long-term research sites in Cameroon, where he studies primates and the bushmeat trade. Linder says he appreciates the confirmation provided by the paper and has no doubt that it will be cited in many grant applications and papers. But whether it will burst open the funding gates is another question.
Fabian Leendertz, a wildlife veterinarian with the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, runs the veterinary program for the Taï chimpanzee research project and has worked with the monkey project. In a 2008 paper, he and colleagues documented the transmission of viral respiratory disease from people to chimpanzees living in the Taï research area, highlighting research's possible negative consequences. But the bigger picture was abundantly clear even then, he says. "There are way more animals in the research area than around [it]," Leendertz says, and when it comes to long-term research projects, "the benefit is, I think, always bigger than the possible harm."
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  • Finland: A substantial business has grown out of a spruce resin salve

Source:, 15 April 2011

A Finnish company has developed spruce resin into a pharmaceutical salve. A project in Lapland helps turn other natural products into businesses, too.
At the turn of the millennium, physician Arno Sipponen at the outpatient clinic in Kolari, Western Lapland was treating patients with bedsores so bad that nothing seemed to help. He was told by a nurse that there was one more method — the traditional Lappish spruce resin (Picea abies) salve. However, it could not be bought at a pharmacy, but from a local farmer, Mr. Timo Kyrö, who made it himself. Sipponen decided to give the salve a try.
Within six months, even apparently hopeless bedsores of several years’ standing were healed. Now a company called Repolar Oy, headed by Arno’s father, physician and Professor Pentti Sipponen, produces the resin salve industrially in the city of Espoo. Called “Abilar,” the salve can be bought at all Finnish pharmacies and is used by several primary health care and specialised medical care units.
The resin salve is a good example of what can be made out of a natural product by refining it. The price of the resin in a tube of salve is much higher than the price paid to its gatherer — and so it should be. The increase in price is based on value added, and it means work and wellbeing: the resin is gathered, purified, turned into salve, packaged and delivered to the consumer.
“There is a lot of profitable activity going on in the value chain. We should strive to achieve the same with other natural products, too,” says Mr. Rainer Peltola, Project Coordinator at MTT Agrifood Research Finland.
Peltola heads the research carried out in the ‘Lappi luo’ project in the city of Rovaniemi. The project aims at furthering the natural products sector and to create new industries in Lapland. The project develops indicators to determine the importance of natural products for the turnover of a business.
Internationally, the best-known Finnish berry refiner is perhaps the cosmetics company Lumene. Rainer Peltola stresses that forest berries and natural herbs offer a great variety of business potential. The northern light combined with the cool growing conditions result in plant properties which are not found in the south. This is known to everyone who has tasted both Spanish and Finnish strawberries. “Still, way too little effort has been expended on studying the primary production of forest berries in Finland,” Peltola regrets. Silviculture methods, for example, should be studied: what will happen to berries if the surrounding forest changes?
“The benefit to society could be bigger. It is high time to realize that forests have other valuables in them besides timber,” Rainer Peltola thinks.
“Scientific evidence is important” Seeing the effects of the resin salve on bedsores, the Sipponens wanted to research its properties scientifically: were the bedsores getting better just by accident or was the salve really effective? Both microbiological laboratory tests and comprehensive clinical tests were carried out. The results were published in 2008 in the British Journal of Dermatology, a leading publication in the field of skin diseases.
”The key word is scientific evidence. That is my advice to those who are launching other Finnish natural products,” emphasizes Pentti Sipponen.
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  • India begins long fight to protect its patents

Source: (India), 31 March 2011

Some estimates in India say western companies are booking 2 000 wrong patents every year on homemade Indian remedies or on the Indian system of medicine. Experts believe since most of India’s traditional knowledge is in Sanskrit, Hindi, Persian, Arabic, Urdu, Tamil, etc., piracy becomes easy, since the knowledge remains inaccessible to international patent offices.
Already, India had to sweat hard to convince international bodies to revoke a patent on the healing properties of turmeric and the anti-fungal properties of neem, which an American company booked and touted as major discoveries.
The Indian government is now collaborating with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a specialized agency at the United Nations (UN), to protect its traditional knowledge. WIPO Director General Francis Gurry, who was in India to attend an international conference, believed that this development was a concrete and potential answer to protect the patents and the knowledge of poorer countries.
Gurry said developing countries were mostly the victims of big companies indulging in biopiracy and misappropriation of traditional knowledge. Even though such issues are being dealt with at various multilateral forums, no global framework for protecting traditional knowledge has been established.
India has now set up a Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) to protect knowledge and prevent grant of wrong patents. A collaborative project between the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the TKDL enables cancellation or withdrawal of wrong patent applications concerning India’s traditional knowledge at zero cost in a few weeks.
In sharp contrast, in the absence of TKDL, it took 10 years (1995-2005) to get the neem patent invalidated for antifungal properties at the European Patent Office (EPO). The TKDL has created a unique mechanism for overcoming language and format barriers by scientifically converting and structuring the available information contents of 34 million pages of ancient texts into five international languages, English, Japanese, French, German and Spanish.
Through two features on TKDL, an examiner can read a Sanskrit verse in international languages at any International Patent Office on his computer screen.
So far, it has helped India protect about 226 000 medicinal formulations similar to those of neem and turmeric. On an average, it takes five to seven years to oppose a granted patent at the international level. This could cost anywhere between US$200 000 and US$600 000 million, beyond the means of the Government of India.
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  • Kazakhstan: Tigers could reappear under new plan

Source: WWF, 14 April 2011

WWF-Russia, together with the government and experts of the Republic of Kazakhstan announced today a new programme to return tigers to the region.
The plan seeks to relocate Amur tigers from the Russian Far East to suitable habitat in Kazakhstan near the delta of the Ili River, south of Balkhash Lake.
A recent study has shown the tigers from both the Caspian and Amur regions are genetically identical so the translocation of tigers between these areas is a suitable option. The tigers of the Caspian region, which includes Kazakhstan, went extinct because of poaching and habitat loss, but both these threats are now starting to be adequately addressed.
The Caspian or Turan tiger (Panthera tigris virgata) was last recorded in the wild in the early 1970s and there are none in captivity, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' (IUCN) Red List.
In March 2011, the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Karim Masimov underlined his interest in developing the tiger restoration programme in a meeting with WWF-Russia Director Igor Chestin and WWF Central Asia Programme Head Olga Pereladova.
"We have agreed that WWF and the Ministry of Environment in Kazakhstan will draw up a comprehensive programme to reintroduce the tiger in the area around Lake Balkhash", said Chestin. "With a strong plan and proper protections in place, tigers can again roam the forests and landscapes of Central Asia."
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  • Malaysian monkey malaria “could spread in humans”

Source:, 15 April 2011

Monkeys in Malaysian forests are a reservoir for a rare form of malaria that could become a significant cause of disease in humans throughout South-East Asia, a study warns.
The malaria parasite Plasmodium knowlesi is transmitted between monkeys by forest-dwelling mosquitoes. This limits transmission to humans and, at present, there are only around 300 human cases per year.
But as human populations grow and the forest shrinks, people are likely to venture into the forest more often and in greater numbers. This, said the researchers, could lead the parasite to evolve, enabling it to pass more easily between humans and monkeys.
Balbir Singh, Director of the Malaria Research Centre at the University of Malaysia, Sarawak (UNIMAS), and colleagues first showed in 2004 that P. knowlesi causes deadly disease in humans. They did not know whether the disease is maintained in the human population or whether the monkeys act as wild reservoirs from which humans get infected.
Singh, who led the current study, published last week (7 April) in PLoS Pathogens, said he suspected macaque populations in Sarawak, Borneo, were a reservoir for P. knowlesi — and were the source of human malaria cases seen in local hospitals — as monkey populations in other areas are also known to act as malaria reservoirs.
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  • Paraguay: NGO sues to save forest for natives

Source: AFP, 12 April 2011

An NGO supporting the rights of native Paraguayans said Monday that it filed complaints with environmental authorities over the destruction of forests in the north-western Chaco region. The Support Group for the Totobiegosode (GAT) says that 3 600 ha of virgin forest in land where Paraguay's Ayoreos-Totobiegosode Indians live has been destroyed.
"It is the last redoubt of the Ayoreos-Totobiegosode Indians in Paraguay," said Jorge Vera, a member of the NGO that filed the suit. Vera said the complaint was filed at the office of the environmental prosecutor and the Secretariat of the Environment.
Vera alleged that two Brazilian firms, River Plate and BBC S.A., are responsible for the destruction, and said that indigenous groups, local residents and foreigners made the government offices aware of the forest destruction, in part based on satellite photographs.
The companies were allegedly extending their land for cattle ranching and violated Indian territory near the pantanal region, a vast wetlands area that extends into Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia.
"These firms did not have a license from the Secretariat of the Environment. We have observed and noted the destruction of forest in a 2 300 ha area, and another of 1 300 ha," said Juan Rivarola, an official with the Secretariat of the Environment.
Rivarola said it appears to be a violation of a law that punishes crimes against the environment. Experts from his office visited the site and confirmed the deforestation, he said.
The jungle dwelling Ayoreo-Totobiegosode people are the last natives in the Americas living outside of the Amazon rainforest who do not have contact with the outside world.



  • Peru: Demand for gold pushing deforestation in Amazon

Source:, 20 April 2011

Deforestation is on the rise in Peru's Madre de Dios region from illegal, small-scale, and dangerous gold mining. In some areas forest loss has increased up to six times. But the loss of forest is only the beginning; the unregulated mining is likely leaching mercury into the air, soil, and water, contaminating the region and imperilling its people.
Using satellite imagery from NASA, researchers were able to follow rising deforestation due to artisanal gold mining in Peru. According the study, published in PLoS ONE, two large mining sites saw the loss of 7 000 ha of forest — an area larger than Bermuda — between 2003 and 2009.
"We present recent evidence of the global demand for a single commodity and the ecosystem destruction resulting from commodity extraction, recorded by satellites for one of the most biodiverse areas of the world," the researchers write.
Jennifer Swenson, lead author from Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment (USA), says in a press release that such mining is "plainly visible from space." There are also "many scattered, small but expanding areas of mining activity across Madre de Dios that are more difficult to monitor but could develop rapidly like the sites we have tracked over time," adds Swenson.
Swenson and her colleagues clearly link the rise in unregulated mining to rising gold prices.
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  • UK: How to forage

Source: The Observer, 10 April 2011

One of the most versatile of our spring-flowering woodland plants forms vivid green patches in damp shady places on the alluvial soil beside woodland streams. Ramsons, Allium ursinum, or wild garlic, requires no searching for: if trodden on it is instantly identified by a strong aroma of onions. There is no need to uproot the narrow bulbs; instead collect a handful of the bright green, lily-of-the-valley-like leaves. Better still, pick a few clusters of the white flowers with their six narrow petals – their al dente texture and subtle taste, when eaten raw, puts the leaves in the shade.
For those requiring more solid sustenance, the underground tubers of pignut, Conopodium majus, a small plant that grows in ancient woods, are worthy of the search, especially in May. At this time the finely divided, carrot-like leaves are topped by thin stalks bearing tiny clusters of white cow-parsley-type flower heads. In former times free-range pigs found autumn nourishment from uprooting the plant, while Shakespeare's Caliban dug them out with his long nails. The hazelnut-like tuber lies at least 8cm under the soil surface, so a penknife or trowel is useful. The sliced "nuts" can be eaten raw in salads or cooked as part of stews and stir fries.
Elder, also called elderberry, is a genus of between five and 30 species of shrubs or small trees constituting the genus Sambucus of the moschatel family, Adoxaceae. In the eyes of a forager, elder has the status of a weed but as May gives way to June this small, much-branched tree, with its fissured, corky bark, is transformed by clusters of creamy, fragrant flowers. Elder leaves are inedible, but the flowers can be deep fried in batter and are readily transformed into a delicious cordial with the help of sugar, lemon juice and citric acid. Elder is the preferred home of one of our strangest fungi, known for years as Jew's ear (Auricularia auricula-judae) but recently renamed jelly ear. Emerging from trunks and branches throughout the year, especially following rain, the ear-shaped, translucent brown fruit have the consistency of tough jelly babies. Finely sliced, they make a tasty addition to a stir fry or risotto, and after stewing and blending, the resultant glutinous soup is flavorsome and filling, if a rather odd colour.
April is high season for a much-prized and odd-looking woodland fungus known as the morel (any of various species of edible mushrooms in the genera Morchella and Verpa). Its tan-coloured cap is covered with honeycomb-like pits and resembles an elongated brain on a stalk. Morels grow to 10cm on well-drained soil in open woodland. Morels are easily preserved by drying and can be rapidly reconstituted in warm water; the resulting taste and texture are every bit as good as with fresh ones.
A woodland plant that is more common in the north of England and in parts of Scotland, sweet cicely flowers (Myrrhis odorata) can be found as early as April. Good news for people suffering from diabetes: the sweetener found in this plant is not sugar and can be enjoyed by all.
Woodland foraging can even provide the ingredients for some unusual wines. You will have to wait until next year to make birch sap wine, as the peak collecting season is in early March, when the sap is rising. However, the end of May is the best time to collect young oak leaves, from which you can make a simple white wine with the help of sugar, oranges and yeast. Once bottled, it can be drunk immediately, preferably on a hot summer's day.
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  • USA: Wolves taken off the US Endangered Species List

Source: Environmental News Network, 14 April 2011

For the first time ever, the US Congress has removed an animal from the Endangered Species List, a process typically done by a federal, non-political, science-based agency. The action by the US Congress sets a new precedent for altering the Endangered Species List based on political influence, enraging environmental groups. The removal would take effect in two western states that have known issues with wolves: Montana and Idaho. Wolves would now be managed by each state's wildlife agency, inevitably leading to commercial hunting.
The gray wolves of the northern Rocky Mountains had been nearly hunted to extinction. Safeguards were put in place due to their inclusion in the Endangered Species List, and their numbers rebounded. Now, they have grown to a level that is apparently unacceptable to certain residents of these Northern Rockies states. Ranchers complain that wolves prey on their livestock, and hunters complain that they are thinning out elk and moose herds too much.
The congressional action was backed by Representative Mike Simpson, Republican of Idaho, and Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, who is up for re-election in 2012.           Environmental groups have taken notice, and have criticized the Interior Department for having approved this action. Michael T. Leahy, Rocky Mountain Regional Director of the advocacy group, Defenders of Wildlife, said "Now, anytime anybody has an issue with an endangered species, they are going to run to Congress and try to get the same treatment the anti-wolf people have gotten." The Interior Department had no comment.
State officials in the two affected states have a different view. They believe that the wolf population has to be culled due to the threats they pose to elk, moose, and deer. The issue was recently taken to court in a federal lawsuit brought by environmental groups against state officials. The two sides reached a proposed settlement, but it was rejected by Judge Donald W. Molloy. Since the courts were unable to produce a positive outcome for the state officials, they brought their issue to the US Congress where it passed.
As part of the budget bill, many federal agencies had to take big cuts, including the Department of Agriculture, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Passing off protection of the wolf population to state agencies in two states probably saved the federal government some money. But it also set a worrying precedent for how the Endangered Species List can be changed
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  • Vietnam creates reserve for newly-discovered, nearly-extinct mammal, the saola

Source:, 15 April 2011

The Vietnamese government and local people have approved a Saola Natural Reserve to protect one of the world's most endangered — and most elusive — mammals. Only discovered by the outside world in 1992, the saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) inhabits the lush forests of the Annamite Mountains. No one knows how many saola remain, but it has been classified as Critically Endangered as it is likely very few.
Recently, conservationist William Robichaud told that the saola was "perhaps the most spectacular zoological discovery of the 20th century", comparing it only to the discovery of the okapi in central Africa in 1900.
The new reserve in Quang Nam Province rests on the border of Vietnam and Laos."This new reserve will create a biodiversity corridor connecting the East of Vietnam to West side of Xe Sap National Park in Laos," explained Ms. Tran Minh Hien, Country Director of WWF Vietnam, in a statement.
There are no specimens of saola in zoos, making reintroduction impossible should the species go extinct in the wild. Over a dozen individual saolas have been held in captivity, but all died within a few months time.
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  • Air pollution “damaging Europe's wildlife havens”

Source: BBC News, 15 April 2011

Air pollution is damaging 60 percent of Europe's prime wildlife sites in meadows, forests and heaths, according to a new report. A team of EU scientists said nitrogen emissions from cars, factories and farming was threatening biodiversity. It is the second report this week warning of the on-going risks and threats linked to nitrogen pollution.
The Nitrogen Deposition and Natura 2000 report was published at a key scientific conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. Earlier this week, the European Nitrogen Assessment — the first of its kind — estimated nitrogen damage to health and the environment at between £55bn and £280bn a year in Europe, even though nitrogen pollution from vehicles and industry had dropped 30 percent over recent decades.
Nitrogen in the atmosphere is harmless in its inert state, but the report says reactive forms of nitrogen, largely produced by human activity, can be a menace to the natural world.
Emissions mostly come from vehicle exhausts, factories, artificial fertilizers and manure from intensive farming.
The reactive nitrogen they emit to the air disrupts the environment in two ways: It can make acidic soils too acidic to support their previous mix of species. But primarily, because nitrogen is a fertilizer, it favours wild plants that can maximise the use of nitrogen to help them grow. In effect, some of the nitrogen spread to fertilize crops is carried in the atmosphere to fertilize weeds, possibly a great distance from where the chemicals were first applied.
The effects of fertilization and acidification favour common aggressive species like grasses, brambles and nettles. They harm more delicate species like lichens, mosses, harebells and insect-eating sundew plants.
The report said 60 percent of wildlife sites were now receiving a critical load of reactive nitrogen. The report's lead author, Dr Kevin Hicks from the University of York's Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), told BBC News that England's Peak District had a demonstrably low range of species as a result of the reactive nitrogen that fell on the area."Nitrogen creates a rather big problem that seems to me to have been given too little attention," he said.
"Governments are obliged by the EU Habitats Directive to protect areas like this, but they are clearly failing." He said more research was needed to understand the knock-on effects for creatures from the changes in vegetation inadvertently caused by emissions from cars, industry and farms.
At the conference, the delegates agreed "The Edinburgh Declaration on Reactive Nitrogen". The document highlights the importance of reducing reactive nitrogen emissions to the environment, adding that the benefits of reducing nitrogen outweigh the costs of taking action.
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  • Amazon forest authorities agree on activities for International Year of Forests

Source: IISD News, 31 March 2011

The first meeting of forest authorities of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO), held in Bogotá, Colombia, from 29-30 March 2011, agreed on a set of common activities during the International Year of Forests (IYF) and on guidelines for medium- and long-term cooperation under ACTO's Strategic Agenda for Amazonian Cooperation. 
The meeting brought together the forest authorities and foreign ministries of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru and Suriname. To commemorate the IYF, the authorities agreed to, inter alia: undertake activities regarding prevention, management and combat of forest fires; convene a regional workshop in preparation for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20) on "Vision of Amazonian Countries Regarding Their Forests for Rio+20"; an agenda of international activities to set out an ACTO position on Amazonian forests; and a photo contest.
In her opening address to the meeting, Sandra Bessudo Lion, High Presidential Counsellor for Environmental Management and Biodiversity, urged ACTO member States to strengthen joint efforts to conserve and sustainably use Amazonian forests as the globally strategic ecosystem they represent.
The forest authorities agreed to hold their second meeting in Bolivia in the first quarter of 2012, at which time they will assess the results of IYF efforts.
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  • Biodiversity cause still lags behind climate change — despite UN's attempts

Source: The Guardian (UK), 14 April 2011

2010 was the United Nations' International Year of Biodiversity, but if that fact somehow passed you by, you are by no means alone. A survey has found that last year's global campaign to raise awareness of biodiversity and stimulate action to preserve it has had virtually no impact.
On Wednesday, the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) published the results of the survey of attitudes and knowledge relating to biodiversity and the natural environment. More than 1 700 people were interviewed in March on topics ranging from their use of public parks to their participation in conservation volunteering programmes.
Researchers found that 18 percent of respondents know "a lot" about biodiversity in 2011 compared with 20 percent in 2009; 30 percent know "a little" compared with 24 percent; 18 percent have "only heard the name" compared with 21 percent; and 31 percent have not even heard of it, down from 32 percent.
It would be rash to draw the conclusion that people are not concerned about biodiversity. In the same survey, 78 percent of respondents agreed that they "worry about changes to the countryside in the UK and loss of native animals and plants". Concern for organisms and their habitats is very much a part of the public consciousness; the term "biodiversity" clearly is not.
The problem is compounded by a dearth of campaigns against species loss. This is in itself surprising. The causes and effects of reduced biodiversity are easy to communicate and understand, compared with the complicated mechanisms and myriad effects of climate change. Where the polar bear cub has become the poster child for climate change activists, any number of organisms could champion the cause of biodiversity, from the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed red panda to the adorably gormless slow loris. As PR campaigns go, biodiversity is not short on endangered ambassadors.
This may be precisely the problem, however. Although the overarching message of a biodiversity campaign is fairly simple to grasp — preserve the variety of life on Earth and its natural environments — the practical implications encompass wildly different ecosystems and environments.
Even so, the UN's definition of biodiversity runs to no fewer than 261 words — too long by about 200 words. Understanding the meaning of biodiversity, with a pithy definition, is perhaps the best way to get it bandied around outside of biology textbooks.
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  • EU herbal medicines law set for legal challenge

Source:, 29 March 2011

An EU ban on unregistered herbal medicine will be difficult to implement fairly and is set to be challenged in the courts, campaigners have claimed in advance of an impending deadline for the sector. 
On 1 May the EU's Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive — first passed in 2004 — will come into full effect, compelling herbalists to conform to new registered standards.
The initiative affects manufactured products sold online or in shops without the supervision of a practitioner. From May onwards the distribution and purchase of such unregistered medicinal herbal remedies will become illegal.
Campaigners for the industry are set to challenge the full introduction of the directive and claim that member states are adopting varying standards to its implementation.
Dr. Robert Verkerk, executive and scientific director of the UK-based Alliance for Natural Health — an NGO promoting natural remedies — said: "At the end of April we plan to challenge the directive first of all in the High Court in London, on the grounds that it is disproportionate, non-transparent and discriminatory. We then hope to have the case referred to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg."
Verkerk said that countries such as the Czech Republic and the Netherlands were adopting a liberal approach to implementation which meant that many herbal remedies could be construed as ordinary foodstuffs and thus escape regulation. He added that other states, notably the UK and Belgium, were approaching the directive more vigorously, outlawing many more unregistered herbal remedies.
Meanwhile in France a petition against the directive has been launched by a group of natural remedy stakeholders calling itself “Le Collectif pour la Défense de la Médecine Naturelle.”
It also complains of the variety of different approaches taken in member states and claims the directive imposes a disproportionately costly administrative burden on numerous natural remedies which have existed in Europe for centuries and are not dangerous. A statement from the campaign said: "We simply want the right to treat ourselves using alternative methods."
Examples of remedies threatened following the expiry of the deadline include traditional European herbal cures using hawthorn and meadowsweet in addition to a swathe of herbs used in traditional Indian Ayurvedic, Chinese and Amazonian remedies.
Exact data on the use of herbal medicines is scarce. However, an influential US-based medical journal, the New England Journal of Medicine, estimated that in 2003 European countries spent almost €3.5 billion (at manufacturers' prices to wholesalers) on over-the-counter herbal medicines.
Dr Robert Verkerk, executive and scientific director of the UK-based Alliance for Natural Health, said: "The problem is that [synthetic chemical ingredients] are deemed necessary by formulators in order to meet the pharmaceutical stability standards set by the EU directive. Forcing non-European herbal traditions into a European straitjacket would effectively corrupt these great traditions. A new, more appropriate and affordable system of quality control is urgently required to prevent discrimination against the long-standing traditions, and this is something we aim to push for through our planned judicial review," Verkerk said. 
Irish liberal MEP Marian Harkin, who is a member of the NGO Health First Europe, said: "There are real concerns that many of these herbal remedies will not be available to the public anymore. Many have been in use for thousands of years. There are issues about how they are to be assessed: can you use pharmaceutical techniques to assess something that is not a pharmaceutical product? A lot of these remedies will disappear."
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  • Expanding forests in the northern latitudes

Source: Environmental News Network, 23 March 2011

According to a recent United Nations report, forested areas in Europe, North America, the Caucasus, and Central Asia have grown steadily over the past two decades. While tropical areas have steadily lost their forests to excessive logging and increased agriculture, northern areas have seen increases caused by conservation efforts. However, the long-term health and stability of northern forest lands may be imperilled by the effects of climate change.
The UN says that forests in these areas have grown by 25 million ha in the last 20 years. "In addition to forest area, the volume of wood in pan-European forests is growing by over 430 million m³/year due to the expansion of the forest area and increases in stock levels," the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said on World Forest Day, as experts gathered in Geneva to review trends in forests and forest resources in Europe and North America.
These forests play a great role in the world's carbon cycle, acting as a repository for carbon dioxide, a primary greenhouse gas. Northern forests account for about 40 percent of the world's forest according to the UNECE. They are generally classified as boreal or temperate. The 25 million ha by which these forests have increased is slightly larger than all of the United Kingdom, and accounts for eight percent of all the forest in the region. Most of the increase has occurred on the Eurasian continent; North America accounts for only one fifth of the growth.
UN Researchers warn that increasing climate variability can have negative consequences on the forest gains seen in recent years. For example, North American forests have been troubled by outbreaks of the mountain pine beetle which are linked to warmer winters. Since the 1990's, these insects have devastated over 11 million ha. Damage can also occur from weather such as heavy winds, storms, and snow. Climatologists have linked an increasing rate of extreme weather events to increased climate variability.
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  • Giant fish help the Amazon rainforest grow

Source: Amazon News, 12 April 2011

A fruit in the flooded Amazon falls from a tree and plops in the water. Before it can even sink to the floor, a 60-pound monster fish with a voracious appetite gobbles it.  Nearly a week later — and miles away — the fish expels its waste, including seeds from the fruit eaten long ago and far away. One fortunate seed floats to a particularly suitable spot and germinates.  Many years later the new fruit tree is thriving, while the same monster-fish returns from time-to-time, waiting for another meal to drop from the sky. This process is known as seed-dispersal, and while researchers have studied the seed-dispersal capacity of such species as birds, bats, monkeys, and rodents, one type of animal is often overlooked: fish. 
Jill T. Anderson, a post-doctoral associate at Duke University (USA), however is one of a few researchers who have begun to connect the dots between massive fruit-eating Amazonian fish, such as the weighty tambaqui (Colossoma macropomum), and the diversity and health of the Amazon rainforest.  Unfortunately just as researchers are uncovering the importance of these fish, the fish themselves are vanishing in many parts of the Amazon due to unregulated and overfishing.
The seed dispersal activities of many animals is essential for the Amazon and other forests, because, as Anderson explains: "plants rely on the seed dispersal activities of these animals (i.e. birds, bats, monkeys, tapirs, rodents, and fish) to move seeds away from the mother tree to good sites for germination […] For pioneer species like Cecropia (a genus of tree that we studied), seeds might need light gaps to germinate — that is, seeds might have very specific requirements for germination."
In a 2009 study Anderson and her colleagues studied two species of frugivorous fish — the tambaqui and the pirapitinga (both known as pacus) — in Peru. Picking through over a million seeds, they documented 44 species of seeds, including 36 from trees and lianas, from the guts of 195 individual fish.
"But," she says, "it is likely that [tambaqui] disperse seeds of many more species in different locations. For example, Michael Goulding [from the] Wildlife Conservation Society has done beautiful work, documenting a diverse array of species in the diet of Colossoma macropomum (and other fruit-eating fishes) in Brazil."
A paper published by Anderson and other researchers this year outlines that the tambaqui are truly long-distance dispersers."In our study, fish can carry seeds up to 5.5 km, although it is likely that larger (older) fish can disperse seeds much farther than that," says Anderson.  The older the fish, according to research, the more effective it is at dispersing seeds
"Previous studies of ours, and our colleagues, have shown that younger fish consume fewer fruits and disperse fewer viable seeds," explains Anderson adding that "in this study, our models indicate that smaller (younger) fish do not disperse seeds as far as larger (older) fish."
Of course, this finding has implications for conservation, since older fish are vanishing from ecosystems due to overexploitation by locals.
"[Tambaqui] is very important commercially.  The population size of this species has decreased by up to 90 percent in some parts of its range over the past several decades because of overfishing.  Fish is the primary source of protein for human populations throughout the Amazon, so it is not surprising that people would overfish a massively large fruit-eater," Anderson says.
While humans likely have fished for tambaquis and other pacus for millennia, rising populations in the Amazon and increasingly easy access to once impenetrable places have pushed big fruit-eating fish into treacherous territory.  Even if these species do not vanish altogether, a significant drop in the population or a loss of older individuals has the potential of impacting the diversity and abundance of the Amazon rainforest.
Neither the tambaqui, the pirapitinga, nor any of the pacu-like species have yet been evaluated by the IUCN Red List, the main authority behind extinction threats.
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  • Honeybees get a helping hand

Source: New Internationalist (UK), 1 March 2011

It is hard work being a honeybee. Varroa mites and other parasites feed on them and destroy hives; moths feed on wax and destroy honeycomb; bacterial diseases infect larva and damage colonies; fungal and viral diseases affect bees at various stages of their lifecycle; and agricultural pesticides and insecticides, picked up while foraging for pollen, go on to poison bees inside the colony. All of this, coupled with changes in weather patterns, habitat loss and the mysterious colony collapse disorder, has led to the widely reported crisis of the honeybee.
A collapse of the global bee population would be a major threat to food production. It is estimated that a third of everything we eat depends upon insect pollination — around 80 percent of which is carried out by honeybees.
The plight of the honeybee has led to a resurgence of amateur beekeeping. Backed by research which shows that honeybees in urban areas often have access to more biodiversity than their rural peers, beehives have been set up in the back gardens and rooftops of cities around the world, and interest in beekeeping courses has soared.
The vast majority of beekeepers still use the same rectangular hive box developed by Lorenzo Langstroth in the mid-1800s, along with a set of practices, such as feeding sugar to bees and suppressing bee swarming, aimed at producing larger quantities of honey.
However, many of these practices are criticized by a growing movement of sustainable beekeepers. These “barefoot beekeepers” ( have developed alternative approaches which emphasize small-scale, low-cost, chemical-free beekeeping with simple equipment and locally adapted bee populations. These bee-friendly methods result in lower honey harvests, but stronger and healthier bee populations. David Heaf, author of The Bee Friendly Beekeeper, explains that although there have been no scientifically conducted studies on natural beekeeping, he has not heard of any report of “so-called colony collapse disorder from any natural beekeepers”.
Much like organic farming, which reduces the need for artificial inputs, natural or sustainable beekeeping uses methods which respect the needs of both bees and the natural environment. This low input approach means that sustainable beekeeping can be widely taken up by both hobby beekeepers with spare roof space and small-scale entrepreneurs in developing countries. Such beekeepers can play a fundamental role in helping to reverse the decline in bee populations.
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  • New partnership established to address threats to forests in the Mediterranean

Source: UN Regional Information Centre for Western Europe, 6 April 2011

A new partnership for Mediterranean forests has been established to address major threats to the region's forests being exacerbated by the severe impact of climate change. The partnership was announced at the Second Mediterranean Forest Week, which is taking place in Avignon, France (5-8 April).
"The Collaborative Partnership on Mediterranean Forests will help raise awareness on the wealth of vital functions Mediterranean forests provide. These include soil and water protection, landscape values, carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation. It is urgent that we join efforts to restore and preserve their functions for future generations," said Eduardo Rojas-Briales, Assistant Director-General of the FAO Forestry Department.
The partnership involves 12 institutions and organizations including FAO and will focus primarily on six countries in the southern and eastern Mediterranean: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. The new partnership offers a way for stakeholders in the region to address the mounting challenges facing Mediterranean forests and draw greater attention to their value and the urgent need to protect them.
The Mediterranean Basin every year loses between 0.7 and one million ha of forests due to fires, corresponding to an economic loss of an estimated €1 billion. The Mediterranean region is also confronted with a considerable increase in longer and more frequent drought and heat waves, resulting in the growing risk of large scale forest fires as well as more water scarcity, affecting both rural and urban populations.
Total forest area in the Mediterranean region is 73 million ha, or 8.5 percent of the region's total land area. Mediterranean forests provide a diversity of products such as wood, non-wood forest products including cork, fodder for livestock and aromatic plants and game, all of which are important for socio-economic development and contribute to food security and poverty alleviation in rural areas.
But Mediterranean forests also are facing a mix of threats such as climatic change, agricultural expansion, tourism, urban development and other land use practices that are contributing to forest losses.
The partnership is designed to integrate policies and investments at the country level in order to adapt forests to climate change; this would involve sectors such as forestry, agriculture, urban development, water, environment, land use planning, education and tourism.  It is also aimed at developing a joint regional approach to forest management and in particular, to wildfire prevention, through the sharing of expertise, knowledge and best practices. At a local level the partnership will help to promote sustainable forest management among all stakeholders, including local communities, forest owners and managers, farmers, herders, environmentalists, protected areas managers and researchers.
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  • Tropical countries aim for global forest pact

Source:, 18 April 2011

Representatives from more than 30 countries are expected to hammer out a formal agreement for future discussions on forest and climate issues when they meet next month in the Republic of Congo, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
The summit, which will be held from 31 May through 3 June in Congo's capital of Brazzaville, will be attended by nearly 500 delegates from tropical countries, donor nations, NGOs, and multilateral entities, including multiple branches of the United Nations. Representatives from countries that hold more than 80 percent of the world's rainforests are expected to attend.
“This summit will be extremely important for the future of the world’s major rainforests,” said Henri Djombo, the Republic of Congo’s Minister of Sustainable Development, Forest Economy and the Environment, in a statement.
The summit aims to produce "a joint statement on tropical forests, climate, and sustainable development to feed into the future Climate Agreement in Durban, South Africa (COP, 17), and the Rio+20 Summit in Brazil," according to WCS.
Forests are seen as key to any future climate framework since they offer a path for developing countries to contribute to greenhouse gas reductions. Deforestation and forest degradation presently account for more than one-tenth of carbon dioxide emissions and are furthermore a leading threat to biodiversity. Protecting forests is therefore seen as an attractive strategy for fighting climate change. Industrialized nations are expected to fund these efforts via the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) mechanism.
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  • West Africa: UNWTO to support ecotourism in region

Source:, 8 April 2011

An international donors' conference of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), taking place in Dakar, Senegal next month will be looking to mobilize funds to support a sustainable tourism development project in cross-border parks and protected areas spanning ten countries in West Africa.
The project, designed to unlock the tourism potential of seven cross-border parks stretching across ten West African countries, aims to maximize tourism's role in poverty reduction and economic development, improve the lives of local communities, provide jobs and income, and protect the region's biodiversity.
The “West Africa Parks Project” is based on a regional approach to tourism development. The ten participating countries — Benin, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Sierra Leone — are working together to maximize the potential of the areas they share by reinforcing regional integration and collaboration.
Through such cooperation, countries can jointly address issues of common concern, promote the parks and their natural assets on a regional basis, and increase preservation possibilities and socio-economic development through cross-border tourism.
A portfolio of funding opportunities will be presented at the conference to interested donors and investors, outlining major funding requirements. Examples include providing equipment and training to park wardens to prevent poaching and enhance conservation; improving access to clean water and sustainable energy; developing micro-finance mechanisms for local tourism entrepreneurs; and implementing micro enterprise support systems, especially for women and youth.
The portfolio is based on a study undertaken by UNWTO and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and funded by the Sustainable Tourism-Eliminating Poverty (ST-EP) Foundation and the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), to assess the viability of sustainable tourism development in the country parks and make them "market ready."
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International Workshop on Bioprocessing, Policy and Practice
Ebene, Mauritius
20-22 April 2011
This workshop, co-organized between UNESCO and the Centre for Phytotherapy and Research, Mauritius, aims to share information and experience of the Indian Ocean Small Island Developing States and Madagascar in the conservation, management and exploitation of the region’s medicinal plants. Special emphasis will be laid on:

  • the role of natural products chemistry and potential for drug development in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries;
  • policy frameworks for management and conservation;
  • and intellectual property rights and access and benefit sharing.

            By bringing together scientists, policy makers and traditional medicine practitioners, it also aims to provide a platform where the stakeholders from the region can exchange information and concerns, establish working links to existing medicinal plant databases, and create a network within the sub-region for exchange and development in relevant fields. Particular attention will be paid to integrating the perspectives, concerns and rights of traditional medical practitioners into the process.
For more information, please contact:
Prof. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim: [email protected]
Ms Roumita Seebaluck: [email protected]
Dr Fawzi Mahomoodally: [email protected]  



CBD: International meeting on sustainable use of biological diversity
1-3 June 2011
Montreal, Canada
An international meeting on Article 10 (sustainable use of biological diversity) with a focus on Article 10(c) (customary use of biological diversity) will take place in June in Montreal at the premises of the CBD Secretariat. With the participation of Parties, Governments and international organizations, and representatives of indigenous and local communities, the meeting aims to build on the Addis Ababa Principles and Guidelines, to develop further guidance on sustainable use and related incentive measures for indigenous and local communities and also consider measures to increase the engagement of indigenous and local communities and governments at national and local levels in the implementation of Article 10 and the ecosystem approach.
Parties, Governments and international organizations, and indigenous and local community organizations are invited to nominate experts on sustainable use and customary sustainable use of biological diversity to participate in the meeting.
For more information, please contact:
Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity
United Nations Environment Programme
413 Saint-Jacques Street, Suite 800
Montreal, QC, H2Y 1N9, Canada
Tel: +1 514 288 2220, Fax: +1 514 288 6588
E-mail: [email protected]



International Conference on Silvicultural Management for Forests Producers of Edible Mushrooms
Castilla y León, Spain
9-11 June 2011
The International Conference on Silvicultural Management for Forests Producers of Edible Mushrooms is a workshop organized by the Forest Research Centre Valonsadero (Government of Castilla y León), with the aim of contributing to the promotion in Europe of a multifunctional and sustainable forest management integrating and enhancing ecological and socioeconomic functions of edible wild mushrooms.
The objectives of the conference are to: raise the awareness of environment managers about the ecological and socioeconomic importance of the fungi-forest interaction; transfer to environment managers the latest scientific findings in micoselviculture and to suggest to environment managers new tools for diagnosis and planning that guarantee the fungal conservation and diversity; announce the results of the Myas RC project and its future challenges in regulation and commercialization; and organize the members of the Working Group on Forest Mycology and Truficulture of the SECF to address significant challenges.
For more information, please contact:
Consejería de Medio Ambiente de la Junta de Castilla y León
C/ Rigoberto Cortejoso, 14,
47014, Valladolid, España
Fundación Cesefo: [email protected]



CIFOR Policy Conference
15 June 2011
The Royal Society, London, UK

CIFOR and partners will host a global forum on the role of environmental income and forests in rural livelihoods and poverty alleviation. Results from the PEN global study and other large-scale comparative research projects will be presented. The aim is to strengthen the case for institutionalizing data collection of previously “hidden” environmental income.  
For more information and to register, visit or email: [email protected]



"El Bosque sin Frontera para Todos y por el bien Común"
29, 30 de Junio y 1 de Julio de 2011
Managua, Nicaragua
El objetivo principal de este evento es destacar la importancia estratégica de los ecosistemas forestales para la conservación de la biodiversidad, desarrollo socioeconómico y cultural de la región centroamericana. 
Específicamente se espera:
a. Valorar y analizar el estado o situación del Sector Forestal en la Región Centroamericana.
b. Analizar el estado de avance, aplicabilidad e impacto de los instrumentos regionales centroamericanos como el PERFOR y la ERA en el desarrollo Forestal y Agroforestal. c. Valorar la importancia del sector forestal en los diferentes ecosistemas.
d. Valorar la importancia del Sector Forestal para el desarrollo económico y sociocultural de Centroamérica
e. Valorar la contribución de los bosques de Centro América para la seguridad alimentaria  y bienestar de la población.
Datos de contacto:
FAO Representation in Nicaragua
Km. 8.5 Carretera Masaya
Costado Oeste MAGFOR Central
Reparto Santo Domingo
Managua, Nicaragua
Teléfono: +505-22760425
Fax: +505-22551193
Correo electrónico: [email protected]



International Symposium on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants
Peten, Guatemala
16-19 August, 2011
This International Society for Horticulture Science International Scientific Symposium (History of Mayan Ethnopharmacology) aims to provide a unique opportunity for understanding and appreciating the indigenous medicinal plant use in current and historical Mayan culture.  Guided tours of historical sites at Tikal and other cultural events are planned in addition to the scientific program.
Scientific sessions in Ethnopharmacology are focused on indigenous practices and market development. Additional sessions will include medicinal plant cultivation, biodiversity, and essential oils. Pharmacognosy sessions are planned to explore the physical, chemical, and biological properties of medicinal plants. Plant scientists, historians, anthropologists, and those interested in Mayan culture and natural medicines should plan to attend. A number of keynote speeches are scheduled to address major issues in science, industry and research related to medicinal plants.
Dates to remember:

  • 15 May 2011: end of early registration period for students from Guatemala
  •  17 May 2011: deadline to submit an abstract
  •  30 May 2011, deadline for hotel reservation at the symposium site
  •  1 June 2011: end of online registration period

For more information, please see:



9th World Bamboo Congress
10-13 April 2012 (Antwerp, Belgium)
17-21 September 2012 (Toulouse, France)
Every three to four years the World Bamboo Organization (WBO) organizes a World Bamboo Congress (WBC) which is the culmination of the Organization’s efforts to physically unite bamboo enthusiasts and professionals. The aim of the WBC is to bring together people from around the world to meet, discuss, network, collaborate, and exchange with the intention of improving understanding and stimulating potential. Ever since its inception in Puerto Rico in 1984, each WBC has been uniquely informative, educational, culturally and intellectually challenging.
The 9th WBC will be a two part event taking place between Belgium and France.  The Congress will focus on the future use of bamboo in Europe and innovations in bamboo development. Apart from a series of meetings and conferences, the schedule will also include field visits, a Trade Fair for bamboo products and allied wares (machinery, tools, etc.), and complimentary exhibit booths for “not-for-profit, non-profit, or non-government” organizations (i.e. UNIDO, national bamboo societies, etc.).
For more information, please contact:
Mr. Kamesh Salam
President, World Bamboo Organization
C/O Cane and Bamboo Technology Center
Mother Teresa Marg
Guwahati, Assam
E-mail: [email protected]




46.       Request: Call for papers for a special issue on Institutions for Sustainable Development
From: Marian Aggrey, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 15 April 2011

Natural Resources Forum, a United Nations Sustainable Development Journal, a quarterly journal issued by the Division for Sustainable Development of the United Nations, calls for papers for a special issue on institutional framework for sustainable development, to be published in 2012.
This special issue seeks to take stock on progress made since the Earth Summit in 1992 in the area of institutions for sustainable development at all levels. It looks as well to provide a view of the obstacles and bottlenecks to the further implementation of sustainable development principles or tools. Among others, angles of interest can include:

  • Issues with the vertical integration of sustainable development decisions, commitments and policies across different spatial scales (from the multilateral level to the local level), and role of specific instruments in enhancing such integration (e.g. ISO 26 000);
  • Evaluation of the state of implementation of specific Rio Principles, including conflicts with other principles or institutional practices and recommendations for further progress;
  • Integration of sustainable development paradigm, principles (e.g. integrated perspective, Rio principles) and concepts (e.g. public participation, institutional coordination, disclosure of information, gender equality) in sectoral and economy-wide strategies, plans and policies at the regional and national level ; assessment of the integration in decision-making and at the implementation level, in relation to specific institutional setups and governance structures;
  • Evaluation of policy review mechanisms (e.g. WTO, ILO, NEPAD, NSDS) and how they could be used to promote better integration of sustainable development in national policy documents;
  • Assessment of international and national level monitoring systems in support of sustainable development: technical, institutional gaps and possibilities for improvement;
  • Assessment of the impacts of multilateral financing institutions and donors’ institutions and delivery mechanisms on the take-up of sustainable development considerations in strategic plans and investments in developing countries;
  • Evaluation of local experiences in practical implementation of sustainable development principles (e.g. participatory budgets, local Agenda 21);
  • Assessment of the role of international standards and voluntary practices (e.g. CSR, environmental reporting, fair trade) on sustainability.

            Articles should contain original material and should be between 6 000 and 8 000 words in length. Contributions to the journal are accepted at the NRFs manuscript submission site at
Deadline for submission: 15 July 2011.
Questions and comments can be addressed to:
Natural Resources Forum
A United Nations Sustainable Development Journal
E-mail: [email protected]




47.       Forests for Human Health
From: IISD Reporting Services, 6 April 2011

The Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) has produced a press release on forests and human health on the occasion of World Health Day, 7 April 2011. The latest in the series of monthly press releases in support of the International Year on Forests 2011, it stresses the role of forest products as mostly untapped resources for medicines for human health.
The CPF, a voluntary arrangement among 14 international organizations and secretariats with substantial programs on forests, states that a only small fraction of plants, animals, fungi and microbes in forests have been analyzed for pharmaceutical properties, and notes the importance of traditional medicines used to treat diseases such as malaria. It highlights that sustainable forest management is critical to preserving this and other vital ecosystem services.
For more information, please see: IUFRO Press Releases for International Year of Forests



48. FAO finalizes second Asia-Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study
From: Patrick Durst, Senior Forestry Officer, FAO Regional Office, Bangkok, 8 April 2011

The new publications include:

  • "Asia-Pacific Forests and Forestry to 2020", which covers all the major aspects of forestry development across the whole of the Asia-Pacific region;
  • Subregional reports for Southeast Asia, East Asia, the Pacific and the Greater Mekong Subregion, which contain a wealth of information on developing trends, future scenarios and priorities to reach sector goals;
  • "Forest policies, legislation and institutions in Asia and the Pacific. Trends and emerging needs for 2020", written in collaboration with the TNC RAFT Program, The Centre for People and Forests and with support from USAID.

In addition, the following reports, which formed the foundation for the outlook study, are available:

  • Twenty one country papers, submitted by Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission member countries;
  • Eleven thematic papers on aspects of forests and forestry including poverty, environmental services, NWFPs, cultures and forests, forest products industry competitiveness, gender and biomass energy.

The reports are available at:
For further information, please contact Patrick Durst at: [email protected] 



49. Varroa: Still a problem in the 21st century
From: International Bee Research Association, 18 April 2011

On Saturday (16th April 2011) the International Bee Research Association launched an important new book on the major problem affecting bees worldwide, the parasitic mite Varroa destructor at the British Beekeepers Association Spring Convention.
One of the book’s authors, Professor Keith Delaplane of the University of Georgia, USA, was a key speaker at the convention. He said: “it is simply non controversial among the world’s practicing bee scientists that Varroa destructor is problem number one”. 
In recent years, the world’s headlines have been full of stories of mass deaths of honey bee colonies, but scientific consensus suggests that there is no single cause, and that different interacting factors may be occurring in different regions. It is inescapable, however, that varroa is present in all regions where recent colony losses have occurred, and the mite is known to interact with other pests and diseases, principally viruses. Varroa is, however, not a new problem. It was first identified as a serious pest more than half a century ago, and chemical and other control methods have been available for decades. It remains a problem because conventional approaches to control have failed, with the mite becoming resistant to many of the chemicals used. Other problems affecting bees have diverted attention away from the search for more effective methods for control of varroa.
In this new book, a team of international scientists addresses all aspects of the varroa problem, with chapters on: mite biology; varroa and viruses; chemical control; Integrated Pest Management; biological control and breeding bees for varroa tolerance. The final chapter looks forward at prospects for improved control and innovative ways to tackle the problem.
For further information, please contact:  
Norman Carreck, Scientific Director
International Bee Research Association
16 North Road, Cardiff, CF10 3DY, U.K.
Registered Charity No: 209222
Tel: +44 (0)29 2037 2409,
Fax: +44 (0) 5601 135640
Tel. +44 (0)791 8670169
Email: [email protected]



50. Women’s Knowledge: Traditional Medicine and Nature
From: Traditional Knowledge Bulletin, 13 April 2011

The Islands of Reunión, Mauritius and Rodrigues have their own unique medical traditions. These medical traditions have emerged from multiple origins through a process of creolization, but they are also closely tied to the natural world in which they have adapted and evolved. They thus provide a key to understanding the wider societies, which are engaged in a constant dialectic between tradition and modernity.
Beginning at the end of the Seventeenth Century, these islands were gradually populated by peoples originating from Europe, Madagascar, Africa, India, China, and even Polynesia and Australia. The interchange between the medical traditions originating from each of these places has given rise to a common knowledge, transmitted largely by women.
This book brings to our attention the knowledge of medicinal plants and medical practices of these women, with special focus on childbirth. It also considers the place of medicinal knowledge within these evolving societies who are actively confronting the threats and opportunities that globalization poses to local identities.
The book will be launched at the International Workshop on Bioprocessing, Policy and Practice: Conservation and use of Medicinal plants of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) of the Indian Ocean and Madagascar (20-22 April 2011 - Ebène, Mauritius).
For more information, please see:



51. Other publications of Interest
From: NWFP Programme

Cheikhyoussef, A. Shapi, M. Matengu, K. Ashekele, H. M. 2011. Ethnobotanical study of indigenous knowledge on medicinal plant use by traditional healers in Oshikoto region, Namibia. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. 7:10. 39 ref.

Hirsch, P.D., Adams, W.M., Brosius, J.P., Zia, A., Bariola, M. and Dammert, J.L. 2010 Acknowledging conservation trade-offs and embracing complexity. Conservation Biology. 25: 259-264.

Lincoln, K., & Orr, B. 2011. The use and cultural significance of the pita plant (Aechmea magdalenae) among Ngobe women of Chalite, Panama. Economic Botany. 65: 1, 13-26. 42 ref.

Mabey, R. 2004. Food for free. USA: Collins.

Manjunatha, G. O., Dabgar, V. M., Dasar, G. V., & Patil, S. K. 2009. Conservation of NWFPs species through sustainable harvesting and cultivation in farm and Betta lands in Uttara Kannada District (Karnataka). MyForest. 45:4, 437-444. 6 ref.

Persha, L., Agrawal, A., and Chhatre, A. 2011. Social and Ecological Synergy: Local Rulemaking, Forest Livelihoods, and Biodiversity Conservation. Science: 331.

Phelps, J., Webb, E.L., and Koh, L.P. 2010 Risky business: an uncertain future for biodiversity conservation through REDD+. Conservation Letters.

Shepard, G. H., &Ramirez, H. 2011. "Made in Brazil": human dispersal of the Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa, Lecythidaceae) in Ancient Amazonia. Economic Botany. 65: 1, 44-65.95 ref.

Sipponen A, Jokinen JJ, Sipponen P, Papp A, Sarna S, Lohi J. 2008. Beneficial effect of resin salve in treatment of severe pressure ulcers: a prospective, randomized and controlled multi-center trial. British Journal of Dermatology.158:1055-62.

Sudha, G., Valavi, K.V., Thottappilly, P. and Thottappilly, G.. 2011. Interesting, delicious, neglected, underutilized and under-researched fruits and products of the mulberry family in Valavi, S. G., Peter, K. V., & Thottappilly, G (eds).The jackfruit. 3-18. 50 ref. India: Studium press.
Abstract: Seven important fruits and products of mulberry family (Moraceae) are briefly described, viz. Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), Breadfruit (A. altilis), Fig. (Ficus carica), Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera), Black Mulberry (Morus nigra), Milk Tree (Brosimum utile) and the Paper Mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera, syn. Morus papyrifera), although they fall under underutilized, neglected and under-researched crops. The Jackfruit tree or Jack or simply known as jak and its fruit, jackfruit, is known as the "poor-man's food". It is a seasonal tropical fruit, consumed and preserved in various forms. Apart from their nutritive and medicinal values, quite a few of these underutilized fruits have excellent flavour and very attractive colour.

Vliet, N. & Van Mbazza, P. 2011. Recognizing the multiple reasons for bushmeat consumption in urban areas: a necessary step toward the sustainable use of wildlife for food in Central Africa. Human Dimensions of Wildlife. 16:1, 45-54. 46 ref.




    • Wales to DNA “barcode” plants

Source: BBC News (Wales), 7 April 2011

Wales is set to be the first country to produce a DNA barcode for every one of its native flowering plants, scientists claim. “The Barcode Wales project” will aim to catalogue all 1 143 species of native flowering plant based on each plant's unique gene sequence.
This would mean that the tiniest fragment of leaf or pollen grain could be used to identify any plant in Wales. It would also allow scientists to better understand the plants' genetics. The information will help biologists to track the status of pollinating insects, such as bees. And the database itself could be used to test the authenticity of Welsh products, including honey, and help identify plant fragments in forensic examinations.
Dr Natasha de Vere from the National Botanic Garden of Wales is leading the study along with her colleagues, Dr Tim Rich from the National Museum of Wales, and Professor Mike Wilkinson from Aberystwyth University. The team is taking on the substantial task of collecting samples from every species of Welsh flora. Using a combination of freshly picked plants and dried specimens housed in the National Museum Wales collections, they have gathered examples of all of Wales' "floral heritage". The scientists have extracted and sequenced a section of the DNA code from each plant.
Dr de Vere explained that, to identify species with DNA barcoding, scientists look specifically at its genes. These are chunks of DNA that code for the protein material that makes up the plant - the plant's "building blocks". The unique gene sequences can be used as identifiers or barcodes. The barcodes can then be compared to other plant barcodes from across the world, held in the International Barcode of Life Database.
"We are currently working on the spreading bellflower, a critically endangered plant that has declined throughout Wales," explained Dr de Vere. "We are looking at the DNA of plants now and comparing them to plants 100 years ago by extracting DNA from herbarium specimens."
By comparing the DNA barcodes of modern day plants with specimens from the Natural History Museum of Wales, the team will be able to determine if plants are losing their genetic variation. The results of the Barcode Wales project are due to be published this summer; the findings will be used to establish tailored conservation programmes for Welsh plants.
The scientists hope eventually to extend the project to include the rest of the UK.
For full story, please see:



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last updated:  Monday, April 30, 2012