The Year of the Locust

Article sourced from Mail & Guardian

Simon Allison

21 Feb 2020

East Africa Locust Swarm Illustration

In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle

The Bible, Revelation 9:7-10

The Empty Quarter does not get a lot of water. This is one of the harshest deserts in the world, centred in the triangle of land that connects Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, and even today it is a place where humans tread with extreme caution. “It is a bitter, desiccated land which knows nothing of gentleness or ease,” wrote Wilfred Thesiger, the explorer, in Arabian Sands.

Thesiger made his name by becoming one of the first Europeans to traverse the Empty Quarter. He was in the Arabian Peninsula on official business: it was his job to survey and map the population of desert locusts. As inhospitable as the conditions in the Empty Quarter may be, it is here that some bands of locusts have made their home.

For the most part, these creatures live in small groups that are easy for the casual observer to miss. Their brown, chitinous exoskeletons (pictured left) are hard to spot against the backdrop of the desert. At this stage in their life cycle the insects mostly keep to themselves. It is a lonely existence, dedicated only to survival.

But sometimes — rarely — it rains in the Empty Quarter. And then everything changes.

Towards the end of May 2018, Cyclone Mekunu struck the Arabian Peninsula. Over the course of three days, more than 60cm of rainfall was recorded in Salalah, a port in Oman. The rains created lakes in the middle of the Empty Quarter, which typically receives just three centimetres of rain every year.

In the wet, desert locusts change their behaviour so dramatically that for a long time scientists assumed they were looking at another species. This is their gregarious phase (pictured right). Eggs that have lain dormant, sometimes for years, begin to hatch. Adults begin breeding at a furious rate: so quickly that, every three months, the size of the locust population multiplies by 20. There are so many of them that camouflage becomes impossible, so they turn bright yellow, a signal to predators that they are dangerous and may not taste very nice. The babies — known as hoppers, because they cannot yet fly — are bright pink, for the same reason.

In October 2018, just as the locusts’ second three-month breeding cycle was coming to an end, a second cyclone struck the Arabian Peninsula. Cyclone Luban dropped another 30cm of rainfall in the area. The hoppers feasted on the new vegetation. They grew into mature adults and began yet another breeding cycle.

Six months after that first cyclone, these small bands of locusts had grown into a swarms that were 400 times larger than the original locust population. Nine months on, the swarms were 8 000 times larger, and the locusts were running out of food. It was time to move.

Locusts swarm over Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, in July 2019. (Photo by Mohammed HUWAIS / AFP)


The locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank.

— The Bible, Proverbs 30:27

Keith Cressman has one of the world’s most unusual jobs. His official title is Senior Locust Forecasting Officer for the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Unofficially, he is a locust whisperer, responsible for figuring out where locust swarms may form and to where they might travel once they do.

Accurate forecasting prevents locust swarms from spiralling out of control — out of human control, that is. The earlier that land can be treated, usually with insecticide, the less likely it is that the locusts can continue their exponential growth.

Half of Cressman’s job is science. From his office in Rome, he speaks to national-level locust monitoring units in two dozen frontline countries in North Africa, the Sahara Desert, the Arabian Peninsula and Southwest Asia. Each country is responsible for monitoring their desert areas, looking for any unexpected vegetation or unusually wet conditions that might encourage locusts to breed. These reports are supplemented by satellite data, as well as wind and weather predictions, and all the information is fed into a centralised locust tracking database, which goes back to the 1930s. (Humans have been tracking locusts for even longer than that; locust invasions are one of humanity’s oldest nemeses and records date back to Biblical times).

“The other 50 percent, dare I say, is intuition. It’s a feeling. I’ve been doing this for more than three decades,” he said. “I know all of these countries. I’ve been in the deserts of all of these countries. I know the people collecting the data … I have a feeling of how the locusts are going to respond, how they are going to behave. So I suppose the whole thing is half science, and half art.”

In 2018, watching from afar as the two cyclones hit Saudi Arabia, Cressman’s intuition kicked in. He knew that conditions were perfect for locust breeding. But because the area is so remote, and so vast, he did not appreciate the scale of the problem until the insects started to move.

When vegetation starts to run low, older locusts emit a scent that tells the others that it is time to leave. The insects are not strong enough to fly against the wind, and so they are hostage to it, being carried helplessly in the direction the prevailing current or monsoon. This is more ingenious that it sounds: wind always travels towards areas of low pressure, where it is more likely to rain.

In early 2019, over the course of several months, the winds carried the bulk of the desert locust swarms south into Yemen, where they found new vegetation and more good rain. Some locusts were carried north, into Iran, and from there into Pakistan.

Another generation of breeding was undisturbed, because the conflict in Yemen made it impossible for anyone to stage any kind of intervention.

From Yemen, easterly winds in mid-2019 carried the locusts into Somalia and Ethiopia. Neither country is a stranger to locust invasions, but the sheer scale of this one was different. Although authorities were able to treat more than two million hectares of land with insecticide ahead of the arrival of the swarm, it was not enough. Ethiopia has just three planes that can be used for locust control, according to the Washington Post, while the ongoing conflict in Somalia means that there are some areas that the government cannot reach.

From his office in Rome, Cressman tracked the progress of the swarm with considerable alarm. He looked at the wind and weather patterns, and in mid-2019 he issued a warning to Kenya: watch out, the locusts are probably coming your way. In mid-October, he confirmed his warning: the locusts are definitely coming, and will be in Kenya by the end of the year.

At this stage, although the locust numbers were high, they were not yet catastrophic. Eventually the insects would run out of food, or climate conditions would not be right for new generations to hatch.

But not this time. “A single event tipped the whole thing into a very serious situation. And that was another cyclone,” said Cressman.

Cyclone Pawan made landfall in the Horn of Africa on December 7 2019, in almost exactly the same area as the locust swarms. Pawan was not an especially strong cyclone, but the unseasonal rain it dumped on the region’s arid landscape was enough to allow for two new generations of breeding, creating the most severe plague of locusts since 1986.

Their eyes humbled, they will emerge from the graves as if they were locusts spreading, racing ahead toward the Caller. The disbelievers will say, ‘This is a difficult day

The Quran 54:7-54:8

About 25 years ago, Baldwyn Torto and his team taught themselves to talk to locusts. Torto was, and remains, a chemist at the Nairobi-based International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), where he was responsible for analysing the chemical signals that form the basis for locust communication.

“We were trying to understand the chemical language used by locusts to keep them cohesive, as a group. We were able to decode this chemical language. One language is used by the hopper stage, and when they become adults they switch to a different type of chemical language,” Torto said

Not only was ICIPE able to decode the locusts’ language, but it was able to produce chemicals to mimic it. “It’s exciting to discover a chemical and then you present it to the insect, and the insect responds in exactly the way you think it would … it allows you to use an insect’s own communication to modify the behaviour of the insect.”

This was a major breakthrough. Although it took a decade of field testing to be sure, now scientists can disrupt the locust breeding cycle by overwhelming hoppers with chemical signals from adult locusts. This leaves them confused, disorientated and vulnerable to predators. But it only works if you know where the locusts are breeding — and if you get there in time. For the current outbreak, it is already too late.

As of mid-February, locust swarms had spread to 17 counties in Kenya, to 12 northeastern districts of Uganda, to Magwi county in South Sudan and to northern Tanzania. Swarms remain in northeastern Somalia and southeastern Ethiopia. Some of these swarms are the size of cities, measuring 40km in width and 60km in length. There are up to 80-million locusts per square kilometre.

Each day, each one of these billions of insects can eat their own body weight. In Kenya alone, they are consuming the same amount of food per day as Kenya’s entire population. They are passing through farms — many of which are subsistence farms — and leaving nothing edible behind them. As the locusts feast, 13-million people in East Africa are likely to go hungry.

“Locusts outbreaks can cover a whole region, and Africa is always more vulnerable, and small-scale farmers are the biggest losers,” said Torto.

Against the destructive power of the swarms, and their huge numbers, local authorities are powerless. Kenyan police have resorted to throwing tear gas grenades and shooting bullets into the swarms. There are not enough planes and equipment to distribute insecticide over such vast areas. Not that insecticides are necessarily the solution: they are indiscriminate killers that will decimate the populations of other insects such as bees and wasps, causing even greater long-term damage to the environment.

Torto wants to work on another solution. His hypothesis is that locust eggs release a chemical scent, which is the signal for them to hatch. If this scent can be isolated, reasons Torto, then it can be detected — and then the sands in which those eggs incubate can be treated with insecticide before the young hoppers emerge. ICIPE has approached donors to help with this research, but it’s a slow process. “We hope that the incubation period for donors is shorter than the incubation period for the eggs,” he said.

Until any new solutions are found, the areas affected by the locust swarms are at the mercy of the weather and the wind. Come June, the direction of the wind is expected to change, with the coming of the southwest monsoon. Only then is East Africa likely to see some respite, when the winds will drive the locusts back into the Red Sea, across the Arabian Peninsula and into parts of Pakistan, which is already facing a locust invasion of its own, one so severe that the country has declared a national emergency.

As the world warms, so locust invasions are likely to become more frequent and larger. “There is a link between climate change and the unprecedented locust crisis plaguing Ethiopia and East Africa,” warned António Guterres, the UN secretary general. “Warmer seas mean more cyclones generating the perfect breeding ground for locusts. Today the swarms are as big as major cities and it is getting worse by the day.”

“I think as an entomologist, you have a tremendous amount of respect for them,” said the FAO’s Cressman. “When you actually see a swarm in the field, it’s the awesome power of mother nature, like when you see a hurricane or a tornado, it’s the same with locusts. These guys are professional survivors. They have so many tricks to survive the harshest weather.

“They’ve been through climate change several times and survived. How we fare is another story.”


Simon Allison

Africa Editor for @MailandGuardian. Also @ISSAfrica.

Leaf blowers contributing to ‘insect armageddon’ and should be avoided, German government warns

Article sourced from Independent Digital News & Media Limited

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Leaf blowers are fatal to insects and should not be used unless absolutely necessary, the German government has told citizens, days after a disturbing new report warned than an ongoing “insect armageddon” threatens all life on Earth.

The often noisy gardening tools are heavily polluting and pose the “risk that small animals are absorbed or blown and thereby damaged”, the Ministry for the Environment said.

The statement, which came at the urging of a Green MP, stopped short of ordering an all-out ban, saying the machines should be avoided except for situations where they are “indispensable”.

It is the latest in a raft of measures taken by the German government to protect insect populations, after a 2017 study suggested that within 30 years flying insects had declined by more than 75 per cent in 60 of the country’s protected areas.

© Getty

The move follows a report from a top UK ecologist, published last week, which warned bugs are dying out eight times faster than larger animals, with 40 per cent of the roughly one million known insect species facing extinction as a result.

“If insect declines are not halted, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems will collapse, with profound consequences for human wellbeing,” Professor Dave Goulson’s report for the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust concluded.

Professor Goulson said: “The main causes of decline include habitat loss and fragmentation, and the overuse of pesticides. Wild insects are routinely exposed to complex cocktails of toxins which can cause either death or disorientation and weakened immune and digestive systems.”


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Germany was one of the first countries where scientists tried to quantify the extent of insect population decline for all species. Researchers were shocked by their findings in 2017, which came at a time when UK scientists first began to question the widespread use of industrial pesticides.

In September, the German government announced a roughly €100m (£85m) action plan to protect insects, which includes shoring up environmental regulation and limiting the use of pesticides. The controversial weed killer glyphosate will be banned by 2023.

But despite scores of cities across the US having previously instituted restrictions or bans on leaf blowers, the German government stopped short of calling for a ban.

The official statement said there was not enough scientific evidence of the harm caused by leaf blowers to support a ban, but did say: “Leaf blowers are not only deafeningly loud and pollute the air through their internal combustion engines, they also harm the soil biology seriously.”

Gallery: Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards 2019 (Atlantic)

The dangers posed by leaf blowers hinted at a larger trend that could be harming insect populations, according to Dr Edward Turner, a lecturer at the University of Cambridge’s zoology department and curator of insects at the university’s zoology museum.

“I think that leaf blowers fall into the category of being ‘too tidy’ and this can be very bad for insects,” Dr Turner told The Independent.

“Generally, if we were to cut our road verges and open grass areas less frequently, let some weeds grow along our pavements, and leave leaves to decompose more, I think it would benefit insects a lot.

“Really importantly … We should limit our use of herbicides and insecticides to an absolute minimum, especially in our urban green spaces and gardens.

“Basically, I think we just need to be a little less tidy and a little more tolerant of ‘weeds’ and I think insects and therefore lots of other species would benefit.”

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Lewis Pugh announces record-breaking swim for ocean protection

Article sourced from

London, 26 June 2018

Endurance swimmer and UN Environment Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh today announced his plans to swim the entire length of the English Channel – his longest distance ever – to draw attention to the urgent need for ocean protection.

He will be the first person to ever attempt to swim the whole length of the English Channel wearing just swimming trunks, cap and goggles – braving exhaustion, cold and the busy ocean traffic to deliver a message for the environment. Averaging five hours and 10-20km every day, the 560km swim along the English coastline will take him from July 12 until late August to complete.


“I’ve been swimming in the world’s oceans for 30 years,” Lewis Pugh said. “This is not a long time in ecological terms, and yet I’ve seen the oceans change before my eyes.”


The expedition is the latest in a series of swims in some of the most challenging environments on earth, including the Arctic and the North Pole. As UN Environment Patron for the Oceans, Pugh has used these challenging expeditions to draw attention to the fragility of the world’s marine ecosystems.


Armed with only a Speedo and goggles, he was the first swimmer to take to water across the North Pole in 2007, to highlight the melting of the Arctic sea ice.


“UN Environment is immensely grateful for every kilometer that Lewis Pugh swims. By taking bold action and being willing to take risks, he draws attention to one of the world most urgent issues: the state of our marine ecosystems,” Head of UN Environment Erik Solheim said. “It takes advocates like Lewis Pugh to inspire people into action for our oceans, in ways that nobody else can.”


In his position as UN Environment Patron of the Oceans, Pugh has supported the Clean Seas campaign on marine litter through his swims and advocacy. Global marine waters are under immense pressure from the large amounts of plastic pollution ending up in the oceans –8 million tonnes every year.


At the same time, other types of pollution, along with overfishing, tourism, recreation and coastal development are disturbing the fragile marine ecosystems around the world.


By embarking on the ‘The Long Swim’, Pugh is driving his message on ocean protection home, calling on the British government to strengthen and expand the Marine Protected Areas around the UK and Overseas Territories. Out of the UK’s 750,000 square kilometres of coastal waters, only 7 are fully protected.


“It has been shown that fully protected Marine Protected Areas give distressed and degraded seas their best chance of recovery,” Pugh said. “But the need for action is urgent, and the time to act is now. In a few years’ time, it will be too late to fix this crisis.”


‘The Long Swim’ will mark the start of a worldwide campaign entitled Action for Oceans, an initiative that is calling on governments to fully protect at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. Surfers Against Sewage, one of the UK’s leading marine conservation charities will be hosting regular beach clean-ups along the swim route.


In preparation for his long and difficult challenge, Pugh has been training in the cold and rough waters of the coast of South Africa and the Falkland Island.



About UN Environment

UN Environment is the leading global voice on the global environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. UN Environment works with governments, the private sector, the civil society and with other UN entities and international organizations across the world.


About Clean Seas

UN Environment launched #CleanSeas in February 2017, with the aim of engaging governments, the general public, civil society and the private sector in the fight against marine plastic litter.
By connecting individuals, civil society groups, industry and governments, UN Environment aims to transform habits, practices, standards and policies around the globe to dramatically reduce marine litter and the harm it causes.


For more information, please contact:

Keith Weller, Head of News and Media,


With Spring on its way, and the accompanying increase in the bug population, we thought this article from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) may be helpful.

Do you have bugs in your house and want to get them out humanely? You can! Even if insects can be scary to a lot of us, they’re probably unaware that they’re trespassing and don’t deserve to be squished. It’s important to remember to have empathy for even the smallest among us and to teach those around us kindness with our actions. Here are some tips for redirecting them away from your place without harming them.


  • How to Prevent Bugs From Coming In

The first step to keeping bugs out of your house is not giving them a reason to enter it. Keep all dishes washed, take trash out frequently, and make sure that unrefrigerated companion-animal food is tightly sealed and put away when your animal companion isn’t eating. Keep counter-tops wiped down with a vinegar-and-water solution, and sweep, mop, and vacuum regularly. All this will help reduce the number of times that you need to do the rest of the actions on this list.


  • How to Remove Large Bugs

Spiders, centipedes, and, yes, cockroaches can seem frightening when you come upon them. But the truth is that they don’t know who you are or that they’re in your space, and they’re probably more afraid of the tall figure hovering over them than you are of them. An easy way to remove them is by using a cup and a sheet of paper. Place the cup over them, gently slide the piece of paper under the cup, and then release them outside.


  • How to Keep Ants Away

Ants can be difficult to remove when there are a lot of them, so a smart thing to do is to put humane repellent around your home. If ants are coming in through cracks in doors and windows, pour a line of cream of tartar where they enter the house and they won’t cross over it. A cinnamon stick, coffee grinds, chili pepper, paprika, cloves, or dried peppermint leaves near the openings will also repel ants. You can also squeeze the juice of a lemon at the entry spot and leave the peel there. Planting mint around the foundation of the house will also keep ants away.

If you keep an eye out around your home, there are many ways that you can turn compassion into action. With these tips, you can start saving lives while also making your home feel safer and cleaner!

Public Health Physician Warns of Smart Meter Dangers

Find out more about PETS (Pet Empowerment in Townships)


PETS originated in Cape Town in 2007, it was founded by Anoux Massey. A Johannesburg branch started in 2010 run under the same principles as the Cape Town PETS. Nicole Badenhorst heads the JHB team. The Johannesburg branch focuses on communities South of JHB such as Orange farm Township, Walkerville etc.

PETS (Pet Empowerment in Townships) strives to empower animals in townships and poor communities. They work with the community to improve the lives of these disadvantaged animals by giving them daily meals, warm shelters, regular inoculations, sterilisations and vet care in emergencies. They also rehome animals that are unwanted, unloved or lost. They try to instil in the communities, a responsibility and pride for their animals by not just empowering the animals, but also by educating and helping the people to uplift themselves. They believe in working hand in hand with the animals and people of these impoverished areas to create unity, trust and stability for all.



  • Non-Profit: They rely solely on public and corporate donations to cover the costs of their astronomical vet bills, feeding schemes, sterilisations projects and upkeep of their foster pets.
  • Pro-life: They only ever euthanise if it is in the animals best interests and there are no other options – they fight for each life.
  • Pro-active: They do not sit around and wait for animals in need to come to them. Instead they spend every free minute they have (much to the distress of their families) in the townships LOOKING for the animals that need help.
  • Sterilisation: Their main focus is sterilisation in townships. Since 2007, they have sterilised over 5000 animals in JHB and Cape Town.
  • Foster Care: They believe in foster care because it enables the animal to become part of a loving and caring family immediately which enables it to feel safe, loved and nurtured. In these environments the animals flourish far quicker than they would have in a kennel situation. Foster care allows PETS to understand the needs and likes of the pets in their care and they are able to match them up with families that would be most suitable for their needs.

PETS is run by a group of members and volunteers that invest every spare minute into helping animals. They are not paid for what they do and they still have their day-time jobs. They are wholly indebted to all their wonderful foster families, volunteers and supporters; without their support only a small amount of what they do today would be possible.

PETS does not have a shelter. All their animals are in foster homes. They have adoption days where people are able to meet the pets, otherwise it can be arranged to meet them at the foster homes. They can only take in as many animals as their foster homes can cater for and therefore adoption is extremely important in order to be able to assist more animals in need.




Fostering is not a lifetime commitment but it is a commitment to saving a life! Foster parents look after dogs/cats until PETS can find them a forever home. They are responsible for the wellbeing of the pet- feeding them, taking them to the vet, bringing them to adoption days etc. PETS covers the vet fees. To become a foster parent please contact



  • Dog and Cat food
  • Bowls
  • Collars and leashes
  • Blankets and beds
  • Kennels
  • Tick and flea treatments or shampoo and de-wormers




The PETS vet bill can reach up to R60 000 a month! They rely solely on donations from the public to assist with this.


PETS rescues are in foster care and it is hard to get them adopted as they don’t get seen as much by the public. They put together monthly pamphlets with all their pets for adoption. They rely on the public to help them by printing these catalogues and placing them in shops / businesses / vets so that the rescues have a chance to be “Seen” and hopefully pull on someone’s heart-strings.



PETS concentrates on sterilising township animals in order to prevent unwanted litters and help reduce the increasing population of dogs and cats without homes. Almost 3 MILLION animals are euthanised every year in South Africa due to over population. Sterilisation also prevents types of Cancers and diseases which are prevalent in the townships because of the amount of unsterilised animals.

Help make a difference in a dog/cats life and reduce the number of unwanted litters as well as pain and suffering from it. Sponsor a sterilisation, vaccination, deworming and de-flea treatment of a township dog/cat for R550. You can choose the pet you would like to sterilise from the PETS website


img_4041Many dogs in the townships do not have adequate shelter. PETS provides kennels to every dog they sterilise/treat. The kennels are made by local residents in the township whom PETS employs, but they can only order as many as funds allow. They also collect second hand kennels (in decent condition) to redistribute. As of August 2016 PETS JHB have distributed over 700 kennels to the township dogs. Thousands more are still in need!


You can help by sponsoring a medium kennel for R350 or donating a second hand kennel you no longer use.


The ultimate way you can help the organisation is by adopting one of their rescues and giving them a wonderful life. This is the biggest wish – for the rescues to find loving homes. As soon as a pet is adopted, PETS is able to help another animal in need.



To find out more about PETS JHB or get in touch with them please email or visit their website

CITES success: the longer term care of illegally-traded wild animals to be improved

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-8-35-46-amFollowing the release of our report exposing the lack of information recorded around the fate of seized animals, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) this week announced it will explore an improved process

This week we, and several other animal welfare and conservation organisations, are celebrating a positive global move to better protect live wild animals after they are seized from smugglers by enforcement agencies.

The move follows publication of our recent report ‘Tip of an iceberg’, in collaboration with the University of Oxford Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), which called for action to strengthen data and better protect animals.

At the world’s biggest wildlife conference, which ended in Johannesburg this week, signatories to CITES (a 183-government-strong treaty that regulates the wildlife trade and combats wildlife crime), committed to better reporting of trafficked wildlife, as well as pledging greater transparency around the outcomes for wild animals following their confiscation.

Plugging gaps in the system

Our report revealed that between 2010 and 2014, more than 64,000 live wild animals were seized by wildlife enforcement agencies. Yet information about seizure numbers and outcomes for the animals was severely lacking, as it has not been a formal CITES requirement.

We raised concerns that the animals may have been inappropriately handled and treated, or may even have re-entered illegal trade.



A successful outcome

A draft resolution and two draft decisions were officially adopted at the recent conference, including:

  • an evaluation of current practices on the reporting of live wild animal seizures, and what happens to them after they have been confiscated by the CITES authorities in all countries
  • the development of a questionnaire to assess the usefulness of current guidelines on what to do with confiscated live wild animals (e.g. when and how to return them to the wild, whether to place them in captivity and under what conditions, or whether for humane reasons they should be euthanized).


Working together

At the CITES meeting, members of the Species Survival Network (SSN), together with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) highlighted the negative animal welfare and conservation impacts of failing to effectively deal with confiscated live wild animals.

They also called for the consolidation of existing resolutions focused on this issue, for increased efforts to collect data (via a questionnaire) and for an evaluation of existing practices to help improve future decision-making and country-specific action plans.

Humane Society International (HSI) and the SSN Animals in Captivity Working Group also presented a study titled ‘Establishing and Working with Rescue Centres Designated under CITES’, summarizing the input of 15 rescue centres from around the world with the intent of facilitating CITES-established guidance on designating and working with these facilities.

Next steps

These positive outcomes will be taken forward by CITES at the next meeting of its Standing Committee, scheduled for December 2017, and the results of this work will be presented at the next Conference of the Parties in 2019.

We and other Species Survival Network members and IFAW, have asked to be on a working group so we can continue to inform and encourage ongoing efforts to address this important animal welfare and conservation issue.

Steve McIvor, CEO World Animal Protection said: “We are facing a billion dollar, criminal industry. The CITES decision is a welcome step in the right direction for better protecting wild animals who suffer at the hands of those criminals involved in the illegal trading of wildlife.”

John Scanlon, Secretary General of CITES, said: “Increased efforts to tackle illegal wildlife trade will inevitably result in an increased number of live wild animals being seized and confiscated each year. CITES Parties need assistance in dealing with confiscated wild animals in a manner that minimizes the risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment and this community of interest is very well placed to provide assistance, including on suitable rescue centres and in developing best practice guidance.”

Why Good Soil Makes Healthy Food, Something We Unfortunately Aren’t Getting

When it comes to growing food, especially organic, having quality soil is crucial. In fact, after years of abusive agriculture systems providing our food, this fact is even more clear. Though still much healthier than the more sought-after processed foods, fruits and vegetables have actually decreased in nutritional value since the 70s. The reason why is in — or actually not in — the soil.

The evils of industrial monoculture systems have no doubt become more and more apparent in the public sphere, and once again, it’s these systems that are largely responsible for why our food is no longer as nutritious as it used to be. Not only do they poison the environment with pesticides and other chemicals, but they have also destroyed the soil. And, that’s a big problem.

Why Soil Is So Important

Permaculture guru Geoff Lawton explains the situation very well by comparing current eating habits to modern farming habits. In his line of thinking, if we look at human health now, based on artificial additives and chemical cocktails, versus when organic was just the status quo rather than a marketing scheme, the current system has caused serious damage, namely higher rates of diabetes, cancers, heart disease, allergies, obesity, and more.  The further we moved away from nature, the more unnatural overweight and ill we became.

Plants are the same. They used to be selected for nutrition and taste, and of course, having healthy, rich soil was crucial to producing good ones. But, yield, appearance, and shelf life surpassed these criteria, and our plants became reliant on GMOs and chemicals, the soil on artificial fertilizers. Our food, in turn, has become unnaturally large, just as we became overweight, and now lacks the minerals and microelements of nutrition that once came from healthy soils.

In essence, we’ve fed our fruit and veg on processed food, and the results pretty well match what we’ve seen from feeding humans processed food: oversized and undernourished.

What Healthy Soil Looks Like





Africa Studio/Shutterstock

A healthy soil is, no surprise, full of life. When we spray with pesticides, however, we kill both the insects we are targeting and lots of beneficial insects, worms, and other animals. When we spray fungicides, we kill troublesome diseases our plants might have, but we are also killing beneficial fungal networks in the soil. When we don’t add bacteria elements, like organic compost (or manures) to the soil, but instead inject herbicides, the beneficial bacteria isn’t there to keep things functioning. In short, a healthy soil has all of these things: insects, including pests; fungi, including those that destroy crops; and bacteria, symbiotically interacting with plants’ root systems.

Healthy soils, unlike those we see in the clean rows of monoculture crops, are covered in organic material, which is constantly being cycled back into the soil to regenerate the nutrients that were there. The decomposition of organic material feeds the soil so that it can feed the plants so that they can feed us. The biomass atop the soil also provides a protective habitat for the soil life, prevents erosion of topsoil from wind and rain, and stops the soil from drying out due to evaporation. Thus, healthy soils are rich in organic materials, full of life, moist and loose (mulch also prevents soil compaction).

Healthy soil is not bare and constantly tilled as seen in industrial agriculture. This would deplete the soil of nutrition, which in turn would deplete the crops, which in turn would deplete us.

Why Homegrown Is the Best

While there are plenty of organic sources of food out there out our disposal now, they might still be lacking. Many farms bearing the organic label still run rather sanitize, industrial systems with soil additives and pesticides derived from natural sources. Unfortunately, this can have a similar result, something akin to drinking orange juice instead of eating an orange or having white bread versus whole grain. There are a lot of trace minerals, fiber, and so on missing from the mix.

It’s probably a bit much too ask that we all become self-sufficient homesteaders; however, we can definitely grow a good bit, if not all of our fruit and vegetables, on a typical 1/4-acre suburban lot. Then, we have the ability to foster our own healthy soil and make sure our carrots are as nutrient dense as ever. That’s why homegrown is the best!