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Summary of the Monoculture Farming

In today’s post, I will summarise what I have learnt in this semester’s blogging experience.

Environmental Pollution impacts include:

  1. Soil contamination through the tranformation of synthetic fertilisers and chemicals used to ensure that the monoculture remains pest and disease-resistant
  2. Water pollution in the form of Eutrophication (anthropogenic) which can cause;
  3. Waters and ocean acidification. For the impacts of ocean acidifcation, please refer to Stephano’s blog “Save the Oceans”. He focused on ocean acidification and has thoroughly discussed the impacts.
  4. The geographies to eutrophication
  5. Soil and ground water contamination of Nitrate and its health impacts
  6. Air pollution and Climate change due to the reduction of carbon sinks with deforestation.
  7. Health impacts on farmers, consumers and the vulnerability of children and infants
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Monoculture Farming Part 2: Pollution and Health Impacts (2)

Hey guys, I’m back with the 2nd portion to the post. This post will look at the wider health implication of the pollution caused by monoculture farming!

Groundwater contamination and Nitrate pollution

In one of my previous post, I mentioned that the need to apply nitrogen fertilisers, insecticide and fungicide rigorously to minimise Tropical Race 4 (TR 4) has caused the contamination of groundwater and aquifers. Since most chemical applications to the monoculture crops are either nitrogen or phosphorous based, the dissolution of nitrogen (when in contact water from precipitation, irrigation, surface runoffs, infiltration and existing water bodies) will become a nitrate compound. Nitrate then contaminates the groundwater and should groundwater be a source of drinking water, it can be a potential health risk.

Nitrate contamination: Blue Baby Syndrome and Impacts on Adults

A big thank you to Grace for researching on this portion when we were preparing for the briefing note assignment!

Infants who are formula-fed are vulnerable if the contaminated water is used to prepare the formula (Canterbury Breastfeeding Advocacy Service, 2014). Affected infants have an abnormally high amount of methaemoglobin in their blood, hence the condition’s scientific name, methaemoglobinaemia. Unlike regular haemoglobin, methaemoglobin cannot transport oxygen in the bloodstream. The result can be severe oxygen depletion in tissues and thus bluish tinge to the skin (Fewtrell, 2004). Infants under the age of 6 months have yet to have mature haemoglobin that can revert back to its original state if it ever becomes binded to the nitrite to become methemoglobin (Community and Public Health, 2013). Severe methemoglobinemia can result in brain damage and death because there is insufficient oxygen transported to the brain (brain death) and asphyxiation.

You can see the blue-ish tinge in the infant’s feet. Blue Baby Syndrome is not just a problem in the developing countries; developed countries where mothers prefer formula milk feeding over breast feeding may also increase the infant’s exposure to nitrate contaminated waters. Big TNC Nestle has been involved with several controversies for introducing the syndrome into Africa, by making formula powder extremely affordable there, and for marketing formula milk as ‘healthier’ than breast milk.

Pregnant women, adults with reduced stomach acidity, and people deficient in the enzyme that changes methemoglobin back to normal hemoglobin are all susceptible to nitrite-induced methemoglobinemia. The most obvious symptom of methemoglobinemia is a bluish color of the skin, particularly around the eyes and mouth. Other symptoms include headache, dizziness, weakness or difficulty in breathing.

Nitrate contamination of drinking water may increase cancer risk, because nitrate is endogenously reduced to nitrite and subsequent nitrosation reactions give rise to N-nitroso compounds; these compounds are highly carcinogenic.

And Yeahhhhhh. This is the last post on Monoculture Farming. I will move on the theme of Animal Farming soon. So stay tune 😀

1. Canterbury Breastfeeding Advocacy Service. (2014). Canterbury Breastfeeding Advocacy Service. [online] Available at: http://whanauoraservices.co.nz/services/breastfeeding-advocacy [Accessed 6 Mar. 2015].

2. Community and Public Health. (2013). Nitrate in Drinking Water: Frequently Asked Questions. [online] Available at: http://www.cph.co.nz/Files/DrinkWaterFAQNitrates.pdf [Accessed 6 Mar. 2015].

3. Fewtrell,, L. (2004). Drinking-water nitrate, methemoglobinemia, and global burden of disease: A discussion. Environmental Health Perspectives, 112(14), 1371-1374.

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Monoculture Farming Part 2: Pollution and Health Impacts (1)

Hi guys! I’m nearing the end of the theme on monoculture farming. There are 2 parts to this episode. They will discuss the health effects that pollution caused by monoculture farming can bring about, not just to the farmers, but also the the wider population.

Use of chemical applications and varying extent of health Impacts to farmers

The World Health Organization estimates that there are 3 million cases of pesticide poisoning each year and up to 220,000 deaths, primarily in developing countries. Pesticide application are not very precise, and often affect non-target organisms, such as natural vegetation in the area, and even humans.Children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of pesticides (Lah, 2011). Even very low levels of exposure during development may have adverse health effects. I think this is a strong justification for the anti use of child labour in many of the coffee and cocoa plantations. Children are at greater risk from exposure to pesticides because of their small size. Relative to their size, children eat, drink, and breathe more than adults. Their bodies and organs are growing rapidly, which also makes them more susceptible (Lah, 2011).

Controversy about the safety of the weed killer recently erupted in Argentina, one of the world’s largest exporters of soy. In May 2009, an environmental group petitioned Argentina’s Supreme Court, seeking a temporary ban on glyphosate use after an Argentine scientist and local activists reported a high incidence of birth defects and cancers in people living near crop-spraying areas (Gammon, 2009). Scientists there also linked genetic malformations in amphibians with exposure to glysophate. Glysophate is a active ingredient used in Roundup (a top American weed killer).

That will be the end of today’s post. This post will be the second last post for the monoculture farming theme! I will move on to the theme of animal farming soon! Stay tuned 😀

1. Gammon, C. (2009). Weed-Whacking Herbicide Proves Deadly to Human Cells. [online] Scientificamerican.com. Available at: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/weed-whacking-herbicide-p/ [Accessed 5 Mar. 2015].

2. Lah, K. (2011). Effects of Pesticides on Human Health – Toxipedia. [online] Toxipedia.org. Available at: http://www.toxipedia.org/display/toxipedia/Effects+of+Pesticides+on+Human+Health [Accessed 5 Mar. 2015].

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Monoculture Farming Part 2: Air Pollution (3)

I am finally back to continue with the post on monoculture. To be honest, I feel that the organisation of my blog post is quite messy…. Not too sure how I can go about categorising my posts so that I can digress/ raise other interesting points without looking too haphazard.

Today’s post will focus on the air pollution/atmospheric damages caused by monoculture farming. It will also look into the health implications for the farmers. Since I have explained in greater detail about eutrophication, a form of water pollution from monoculture, I will not focus on water pollution anymore for monoculture. Unless I find something interesting….

The myth of bettering the air, atmosphere and reversing Climate Change

The capitalist market naively claims that afforestation and reforestation through monoculture farming are quickest ways to fix climate change. However, it is optimistic to assume that the monoculture plantation would absorb the carbon dioxide.

Studies show that forests need to stand for many years before they lock-in carbon and act as carbon sinks because most of the carbon is found in the soils. Vegetation respire through their leaves (Stomata) and when shedding of leaves occur, they return carbon to the soil. Monocultures are not forests/ecosystems and do not stand long enough to lock-in carbon in the soil. Moreover, monocultures inhibit soil carbon up-take by frequent tilling and pesticide use.

The Clean Development Mechanism, the biggest offset scheme under the UNFCCC, allows projects that include monoculture plantations under the Aforestation/Reforestation track to sell carbon credits to polluters in the North. In addition, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) under the UNFCCC and the World Bank is a controversial scheme because it does not differentiate between industrial tree plantations and forests.

I’ll be back for more…. Hopefully I can finally reach the section on the human health impacts of monoculture……. Stay tuned 😀

Here’s the link to the REDD controversy!

1. http://www.carbontradewatch.org/issues/monoculture.html

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Monoculture Farming Part 2: Case study of Killer Bananas (2)

Today, I will continue with my post on monoculture farming and the soil pollution that is caused.

Environmental impacts of using fungicides and pesticides: Soil Contamination and degradation

Pesticides undergo degradation to transform into less toxic/harmful substances to become more environmentally compatible to its applied areas. Degradation involves both biotic and abiotic transformation processes. Biotic transformation is influenced by microorganisms while abiotic transformation involves processes such as chemical and photochemical reactions. Redox gradient in soils, sediment types or aquifers often determine which transformations can occur (NCBI, 2009).

Transformed products (TP) from pesticides remain problematic because some are are more potent than their parent forms.For example, they can increase in their potential to reach and pollute drinking water resources such as groundwater and surface waters, if their polarity is higher than the parent forms’ (NCBI, 2009).

Heavy treatment of soil with pesticides and fungicides can cause populations of beneficial soil microorganisms to decline. Overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides have effects on the soil organisms that are similar to human overuse of antibiotics. Indiscriminate use of chemicals might work for a few years, but in the case of TR4, a new strain of the Panama disease, pathogens prove to be mutating and evolving, immuned to the chemicals.

That will be all for today. Stay tune to (3) , which will continue with the water and air pollution through the use of chemicals on the plantation, and the health effects on the farmers. 😀

Check out some of these links to get more insights about Killer Bananas!

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2984095/
  2. http://www.unctad.info/en/Infocomm/AACP-Products/COMMODITY-PROFILE—Banana/
  3. http://qz.com/164029/tropical-race-4-global-banana-industry-is-killing-the-worlds-favorite-fruit/  (this is a great blog!)
  4. http://www.clubofmozambique.com/solutions1/sectionnews.php?secao=business&id=2147485738&tipo=on
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Monoculture Farming Part 2: Case study of Killer Bananas (1)

Disclaimers: Some of you may find the photo disturbing, so please proceed with care and discretion. 

As promised, this post will look at the environmental pollution caused by banana cropping and discuss the health effects of such causes of pollution have on the banana farmers.

Background information about Banana as a commodity:

Of the agricultural products, the banana is the fourth most important food product within the least developed countries, being the staple food for some 400 million people. Of all the fruits, it holds first place by production volume and is among the five most consumed fruits (FAOSTATS, 2005) . Latin America and the Caribbean supply more than 80% of exports. Many of these countries are highly dependent on bananas for a significant part of their foreign income, which can lead up to 20%.

While the African region produces the biggest share of Bananas, the top 3 producers are India, China and Brazil

Global Banana Production share 2012 FAOSTAT While the African region produces the biggest share of Bananas, the top 3 producers are India, China and Brazil

On many banana plantations, fungicides and insecticides are applied as many as forty times a year, amounting to a total use of nearly 44 kilograms per hectare (IBID, accessed 2015).

Why is there a need to apply fungicides and insecticides so vigorously?

The cultivation of bananas for export is delicate and costly because the plant is very fragile.  It is susceptible to diseases and fungal-growth. The latter became a prominent problem in the 1990s, when the farmers realised that the Banana was no longer soft-bearing, and instead rotting into fibrous mass (Quartz, 2014).

The Fungus Strain Tropical Race 4, a deviant of the Pananma Disease, affecting the growth of Cavendish Banana in Mozambique

This pathogen is extremely contagious. Soil and agricultural machinery stained with TR4 are capable of transmitting this pathogen to the future batches of Bananas that are grown on the soil, or harvested with the machinery. It is also very persistent, meaning that it could stay in the soil for approximately 40 years (Viljoen. A, 2014). The vulnerability of the Bananas to be susceptible to such Fungal growth necessitates the frequent application of fungicide and also pesticides to minimise the potential of the vessels (soil, machinery, insects) to be stained with the pathogen. Apart from the fungicides, herbicides such as paraquat are often used to eliminate weeds.

That will be all for today. I have exceeded the word limit, so stay tune to Part 2 cont, which will continue with the sil pollution caused by the use of chemicals on the plantation, and the health effects on the farmers. 😀

Check out some of these links to get more insights about Killer Bananas!

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2984095/
  2. http://www.unctad.info/en/Infocomm/AACP-Products/COMMODITY-PROFILE—Banana/
  3. http://qz.com/164029/tropical-race-4-global-banana-industry-is-killing-the-worlds-favorite-fruit/  (this is a great blog!)
  4. http://www.clubofmozambique.com/solutions1/sectionnews.php?secao=business&id=2147485738&tipo=on
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Monoculture farming part I: Deforestation and the use of fertilizers

Today’s post will kick start the 1st theme of the entire blog- Monoculture commercial farming.

What is monoculture?

Monocultures are large areas of land cultivated with a single crop, which can include both food-base agriculture and plantation farming. Monoculture farming is the most common form of commercial farming in the world.

A major problem associated with monoculture is that land that has been devoted to agriculture for a single species will suffer a great diminish of soil fertility. The rain-forest soil in which they are originally planted is particularly rich in nutrients. However, deforestation to make way for monoculture plantations has resulted in the loss of a great amount of productive land. The transition to agriculture from natural vegetation often cannot hold onto the soil and many of these plants, such as bananas, coffee, cotton, and wheat, can actually increase soil erosion beyond the soil’s ability to maintain itself (WWF).

Since only a minority of areas have good soils, which after clearing are eroded by the heavy rains during the window period (between post deforestation and maturing of crop yields), soil fertility decline and farmers will either intensify their use of fertilizers or clear additional forest.

Erosion can be extremely costly for developing countries. For example, Costa Rica loses about 860 million tons of valuable topsoil every year, while Madagascar, loses almost 400 tons/ ha annually. In the late 1980s, Java, Indonesia was losing 770 million metric tons of topsoil every year at an estimated cost of 1.5 million tons of rice, enough to fulfill the needs of 11.5-15 million people.

Aforementioned, producers tend to either clear more forests or intensify the use of fertilizers. For the former, the expansion of the fields to make up for the diminished production per hectare causes the cycle of destruction again, resulting in a positive feedback system in environmental pollution, accentuating its impacts.

For the latter, the intensifying use of fertilizers was associated with a 6.87-fold increase in nitrogen fertilization and a 3.48-fold increase in phosphorus fertilization. Coupled with the need to increase more food supply to meet the demands of the rising population, the anticipated doubling of global food production would be associated with approximately 3-fold increases in nitrogen and phosphorus fertilization rates.

These projected changes can have drastic impacts on the diversity, composition, and functioning of the remaining natural ecosystems, and their ability to provide society with a variety of essential ecosystem services. The largest impacts would be on freshwater and marine ecosystems, which would be greatly eutrophied by high rates of nitrogen and phosphorus release from agricultural fields.

Aquatic nutrient eutrophication can lead to loss of biodiversity, outbreaks of nuisance species, shifts in the structure of food chains, and impairment of fisheries. These are possible because the algae blooms, associated with eutrophication, can cause anoxia/ hypoxia, a condition in which the dissolved oxygen content in the water is diminished. This makes it difficult to maintain the aquatic biodiversity at status quo. Moreover, oxygen demanding wastes, such as food waste, dead plant and animal tissue that consumes oxygen dissolved in water during its degradation, can deplete the already limited dissolved oxygen required for survival of aquatic organism.

The bloom covers an area over 8,500 square miles

Massive Phytoplankton bloom a.k.a algae bloom in the Gulf of Mexico due to fertilizer run off from the Mississippi River

Eutrophication is also a source of carbon dioxide emission. When the aquatic organisms die from anoxia/ hypoxia, they decompose due to bacterial and fungi activity; and in the process oxygen is consumed and nutrients are released together with carbon dioxide and energy. This rise in carbon dioxide emission will in turn cause ocean acidification when the eutrophied water sources flows into the oceans.

It is evident that environmental pollution caused monoculture commercial farming is multi-faceted, where environmental pollution can occur at any stage of the farming (deforestation, use of fertilisers, harvesting and fallow periods), and can have impacts across the 4 spheres of the Earth.

That will be all for today, and stay tune 😀

The next post will be on focused on the environmental pollution caused by banana commercial farming, and its accompanying health effects.