All posts by Ray Barbier

I am just an average man who loves writing, thinking and trying to inspire kindness, love, understanding and Compassion in others and try to find them within myself.

Misinformation is a common thread between the COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS pandemics – with deadly consequences


Disinformation can derail public health measures vital to controlling the spread of infectious disease. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Cristian Apetrei, University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences

Since health officials confirmed the first COVID-19 cases, misinformation has spread just as quickly as the virus. Social media may have made the amount, variety and speed of misinformation seem unprecedented, but COVID-19 isn’t the first pandemic where false and harmful information has set back public health.

Misinformation altered how people trusted their governments and doctors during the 1918 influenza pandemic. It fueled the 19th century smallpox anti-vaccine movements through some of the same arguments as those currently used against the COVID-19 vaccine.

What sets the COVID-19 pandemic apart, however, is the sheer magnitude of damaging disinformation put in circulation around the world. Data shows that regions and countries where disinformation thrived experienced more lethal pandemic waves despite vaccine availability. In the U.S., for example, viewership of a Fox News program that downplayed the pandemic is associated with increased COVID-19 cases and deaths. Similarly in Romania, disinformation is a contributing factor to the country’s disastrous fourth wave of COVID-19. https://www.youtube.com/embed/Xl9zgDGko5U?wmode=transparent&start=0 The COVID-19 infodemic began as soon as the first few cases of infections were confirmed.

The problem of misinformation has been so widespread that it has its own word: “infodemic,” a portmanteau of “information” and “epidemic.” Coined by journalist David Rothkopf during the 2003 SARS outbreak, it describes a situation where “a few facts, mixed with fear, speculation and rumor, are amplified and relayed swiftly worldwide by modern information technologies.”

Infodemics can affect economies, politics, national security and public health. The COVID-19 infodemic became such a problem that the Royal Society and the British Academy released an October 2020 report noting its significant impact on vaccine deployment, endorsing legislation that prosecutes those who spread misinformation.

As a researcher who studies HIV and lived through the AIDS pandemic, I felt a sense of déjà vu as COVID-19 disinformation spread. In the 40 years since the emergence of AIDS, society has learned how to cope with the disease with more effective diagnostics, treatments and preventive strategies, transforming AIDS from a lethal condition to a chronic disease.

However, there are striking parallels between the HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 pandemics that show the dire consequences disinformation can have on both patients and society as a whole.

Denying the existence of a virus or a pandemic

There are people who deny the existence of COVID-19. There are abundant claims on social media that the virus that causes COVID-19 has never been isolated, or it is insufficiently characterized. Others do not contest the existence of COVID-19, but ignore the severe consequences of infection.

In general, these groups tend to also deny germ theory, claiming that infectious diseases are not caused by pathogens like viruses and bacteria. Instead, they promote the idea that pathogens don’t cause disease, but rather are a consequence of it. https://www.youtube.com/embed/J0UTqngnsuY?wmode=transparent&start=0 Misinformation is just one common theme between the COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS pandemics.

Likewise, some denied the role of the HIV virus in AIDS infection. AIDS denialist Peter Duesberg was one person who disseminated this misinformation, which had been refuted by the scientific community at large. But his erroneous claim still reached the then president of the Republic of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, who banned the use of lifesaving antiretrovirals in public hospitals. This decision resulted in the deaths of over 330,000 people from HIV/AIDS between 2000 and 2005.

Mbeki’s decision was considered so damaging that scientists and physicians worldwide signed the Durban Declaration, reiterating that HIV indeed causes AIDS and urging Mbeki to reconsider his decision. While the government did reverse the ban after strong international political pressure, the damage had been done.

Gain of function claims

Gain of function experiments involve manipulating a pathogen to understand what contributes to its ability to cause disease. At the same time, such experiments can give pathogens new abilities, such as making viruses more transmissible or more dangerous to humans. Conspiracy theorists have made claims that the COVID-19 virus resulted from alterations to a bat version of the virus that gave it the ability to replicate in human cells.

But these claims ignore several key facts about the COVID-19 virus, including that all coronaviruses from bats can infect humans without additional adaptation. The mutations that increased the transmissibility of COVID-19 occurred after it started circulating in people, resulting in even more infectious variants.

HIV also saw conspiracy theories claiming that it was created in a lab for genocide. But research has shown that HIV also naturally evolved from an animals. African non-human primates are natural hosts to a vast group of viruses collectively called simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIV). Despite their high rates of SIV infection in the wild, these primate hosts typically don’t experience symptoms or progress to AIDS. Throughout the evolutionary history of SIV, jumping to a new host species involved naturally occurring genetic changes over the course of thousands of years.

Miracle cures

During a public health crisis, researchers and health officials are learning about a disease in real time. While missteps are expected, these can be perceived by the public as hesitation, incompetence or failure. https://www.youtube.com/embed/Sg3-KxH9iqc?wmode=transparent&start=0 There are some steps you can take to identify misinformation.

As researchers looked for possible COVID-19 treatments, others were offering their own unproven drugs. Multiple treatments for COVID-19, including ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, were tested and abandoned. But not before large amounts of time, effort and money were spent on disproving claims that these were supposed miracle treatments. Similarly for HIV, frustration and anxiety from a continued lack of available treatments amid rising deaths led to fraudulent cures, with price tags of tens of thousands of dollars.

Even though treatment delays and changing guidelines are a natural process of learning about a new diseases as it unfolds, they can open the door to disinformation and generate distrust in doctors even as they care for infected patients.

Preventing misinfodemics

The next pandemic is not a question of if but when and where it will occur. Just as important as devising ways to detect emerging viruses is developing strategies to address the misinfodemics that will follow them. The recent monkeypox outbreak has already seen similar spread of mis- and disinformation about its source and spread.

As author Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said, “A lie is more comfortable than doubt, more useful than love, more lasting than truth.” Countering misinformation is difficult, because there are reasons other than ignorance for why someone believes in a falsehood. In those cases, presenting the facts may not be enough, and may sometimes even result in someone doubling down on a false belief. But focusing on urgent scientific and medical needs to the exclusion of rapidly addressing misinformation can derail pandemic control. Strategies that take misinformation into account can help other pandemic control measures be more successful.

Cristian Apetrei, Professor of Immunology, Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Meditation holds the potential to help treat children suffering from traumas, difficult diagnoses or other stressors – a behavioral neuroscientist explains


Meditation and mindfulness techiques are becoming increasingly common in school settings. Alexander Egizarov/EyeEm

Hilary A. Marusak, Wayne State University

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The big idea

Children actively meditating experience lower activity in parts of the brain involved in rumination, mind-wandering and depression, our team found in the first brain-imaging study of young people under 18 years old. Over-activity in this collection of brain regions, known as the default mode network, is thought to be involved in the generation of negative self-directed thoughts – such as “I am such a failure” – that are prominent in mental disorders like depression.

In our study, we compared a simple form of distraction – counting backward from 10 – with two relatively simple forms of meditation: focused attention to the breath and mindful acceptance. Children in an MRI scanner had to use these techniques while watching distress-inducing video clips, such as a child receiving an injection.

We found that meditation techniques were more effective than distraction at quelling activity in that brain network. This reinforces research from our lab and others showing that meditation techniques and martial arts-based meditation programs are effective for reducing pain and stress in children with cancer or other chronic illnesses – and in their siblings – as well as in schoolchildren during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This study, led by medical student Aneesh Hehr, is important because meditation techniques such as focused attention on the breath or mindful acceptance are popular in school settings and are increasingly used to help children cope with stressful experiences. These might include exposures to trauma, medical treatments or even COVID-19-related stress. https://www.youtube.com/embed/SpjWb9teKSY?wmode=transparent&start=0 Here’s what happened at one elementary school that made meditation part of its curriculum.

Why it matters

Researchers know a lot about what is happening in the brain and body in adults while they meditate, but comparable data for children has been lacking. Understanding what is happening in children’s brains when they meditate is important because the developing brain is wired differently from the adult brain.

These findings are also important because caregivers and health care providers often use distraction methods like iPads or toys to help children cope with pain and distress, such as medical procedures. However, those techniques may largely rely on the prefrontal cortex, which is underdeveloped in youth.

This means that stress and emotion regulation techniques that rely on the prefrontal cortex may work well for adults but are likely to be less accessible to children. Meditation techniques may not be dependent upon the prefrontal cortex and may therefore be more accessible and effective for helping children manage and cope with stress.

What’s next

We still have a great deal to learn about how meditation affects brain development in children. This includes what types of meditation techniques are most effective, the ideal frequency and duration, and how it affects children differently.

Our study focused on a relatively small sample of 12 children with active cancer, as well as survivors who may have experienced significant distress over the diagnosis, treatment and uncertainty about the future. Future studies with larger sample sizes – including children with a wider diversity of diagnoses and exposures to early adversity or trauma – will help researchers like us to better understand how meditation affects the brain and body in children.

Our findings underscore the need to understand precisely how meditation techniques work. Exciting recent studies have begun to examine how participating in mindfulness and meditation-based programs can shape brain functioning in children.

Understanding how these techniques work is also essential for optimizing how they could be applied in health care settings, such as coping with needle-related procedures or for helping children manage the negative effects of stress and trauma.

Hilary A. Marusak, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, Wayne State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Random thoughts 9/11/202


Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com

The world seems to be going through a time of turmoil and division, these are the times in which poets, authors, musicians, and artists are needed. We need voices of reason out there, images, words, songs, and creativeness to inspire peace and unity.

The world is in need of something that inspires unity, peace, and compassion. And that inspiration can come from all of us in the community that blog, vlog, podcast, and/or make music and art. Right now there are too many people out there pushing distrust, anarchy,, and negativity. We need more positive and constructive influence out there.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I hope that my fellow bloggers and content creators pick up the torch of positivity and put out content that helps heal our society and stamp out the negativity that seems to have a grip on this world we now live in. We all must learn to put our differences aside or at least learn to accept our differences in order to bring this world towards a world of peace and compassion.

Photo by Iarlaith McNamara on Pexels.com

A dreamer I may be, but I rather believe we all can come together and make a positive impact than surrender to the thought we all are doomed and there is no hope for humankind.

Blessings to all

Ray Barbier

Reducing gun violence: A complicated problem can’t be solved with just one approach, so Indianapolis is trying programs ranging from job skills to therapy to violence interrupters to find out what works


Participants in ‘violence prevention’ programs seek to deescalate conflicts before they turn deadly. Andre Chung for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Thomas D. Stucky, IUPUI

Indianapolis is no stranger to gun violence. The city is also trying many promising approaches to reducing violence that – if proven successful – could benefit other urban areas across the U.S.

The city’s homicide rate in 2020, at 24.4 per 100,000 residents, was approximately triple the national average, and the city’s highest on record. Approximately 80% of those homicides were perpetrated using firearms.

Gun homicides ended about 240 lives there in a recent two-year period, according to a study regarding this city of 900,000 people. The number of people who were shot but survived was far higher, and firearms account for a significant number of suicide deaths.

I’m a former police officer who has studied policies and programs that seek to prevent gun violence since the late 1990s. I have periodically partnered with Indianapolis officials and community agencies on anti-violence initiatives coordinated by the local government with many private- and nonprofit-sector partners since 2004.

Though some approaches developed in other places have worked here, and Indianapolis has implemented many programs that have been shown to make a difference elsewhere, there’s still not enough data to pinpoint which specific programs are the most effective.

But given the urgency of the problem, I believe it’s important to keep test-driving promising methods based on the information available so far. And because Indianapolis experiences many of the same gun violence issues that other medium and large cities face, what’s learned here can apply in many other places.

Stepping up efforts to reduce gun violence

Indianapolis intensified its efforts to reduce gun violence in 2006, when 144 people died by homicide – up 27% from a year earlier.

That year Bart Peterson, then serving as the city’s mayor, created the Community Crime Prevention Task Force, in which I played a role. Its mission was to seek evidence-based recommendations to reduce violence.

After reviewing the relevant academic research, I identified best practices and the most promising violence-prevention strategies. The task force, in turn, made recommendations to the Indianapolis City-County Council.

The city subsequently began to increase funding for efforts to reduce gun violence in coordination with the Indianapolis Foundation, a local charity.

This private-public partnership has been supporting nonprofits engaged in several approaches to reducing gun violence ever since.

The overarching purpose of all these programs is to help the people who are the most likely to be wounded or killed by a gun to obtain services, such as job training and health care, in their communities and change norms away from gun violence to reduce that risk.

Because people killed by guns in Indianapolis are most likely to be male, young and Black, young Black men are a major focus for all the programs. Researchers have also determined that 3 in 4 gun homicide victims and suspects in the city were known to law enforcement through prior investigation, arrests or convictions. So that is another factor in terms of determining who gets these services.

Employing formerly incarcerated people

Other grants from the private-public partnership in Indianapolis have funded cognitive behavioral therapy for people at risk of engaging in or being victims of gun violence. This is a method in which people get help identifying and pushing back on their negative thoughts and behaviors, making it easier to resolve disputes without resorting to violence.

The city has also partnered with several community organizations to prevent gun violence.

One such group is Recycleforce, which hires formerly incarcerated people to recycle old electronic goods. It’s among several enhanced transitional job programs that provide services and training to the recently incarcerated.

One study showed that Recycleforce participants were 5.8% less likely to be arrested and 4.8% less likely to be convicted of a crime in the first six months of the period reviewed. However, in the second six months, the benefits were no longer statistically significant.

A second study used in-depth interviews to assess the program. It suggested that the peer-mentor model Recycleforce follows works well.

Preventing future gunshots

A large Indianapolis hospital, Eskenazi, also runs several important anti-violence programs. One, called Prescription for Hope, assists people treated there for gunshot wounds.

Like similar hospital-based programs around the country, the one based at Eskenazi helps participants develop effective life skills and connects them with community resources to reduce criminal and risky behaviors.

An initial study of the program showed that only about 3% of participants returned to the emergency department with a repeat violent injury within the first year, compared with an 8.7% rate when the program wasn’t underway. This translates to a two-thirds reduction in the likelihood that someone with a violent injury will need similar emergency medical assistance in the future.

‘Violence interruption’

In 2021, Indianapolis began to hire “violence interrupters” to calm contentious situations and reduce the risk of violent retaliation.

The “violence interruption” method connects people with personal ties to those most at risk of becoming involved in gun violence as victims or perpetrators.

Violence interrupters try to mediate disputes and calm things down on the streets, at parties and during funerals before any shooting starts. They have credibility with violence-prone people because of their past experiences.

The interrupters also help at-risk people to obtain services and to change gun violence norms in their communities.

Violence interruption, part of a growing public health approach to reining in violence, originated in Chicago in 2000. Now called the “cure violence model,” it has spread quickly amid generally positive research results.

Indianapolis was employing about 50 violence interrupters as of mid-2022.

More federal funding

Most of the city’s violence-prevention grants funding these efforts have been relatively small until now, ranging from US$5,000 to $325,000.

But U.S. cities, including Indianapolis, now have have until 2024 to tap into a comparatively large stream of federal funding for community-based violence intervention. That money was included in the $1.9 trillion stimulus package enacted in 2021.

Using these federal funds, the city is partnering with the Indianapolis Foundation to award grants totaling $45 million from 2022 through 2024 for local efforts to reduce gun violence.

Fortunately, Indianapolis’ homicides appear to be declining in 2022 compared with a year earlier.

As a local resident, I certainly welcome this news. But as researcher, I consider it to be too soon to tell whether this trend will continue or what the many public and private efforts to reduce gun violence underway will accomplish.

Thomas D. Stucky, Professor of Criminal Justice, IUPUI

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Making America’s New “Hybrid” Home Energy-Efficient Year Round


(NewsUSA) – The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the face of America’s workplace. In fact, an increasing number of folks might find their “new office” feels a lot like home — because it is literally their home.Our post-pandemic “return to the office” may look very different with hybrid or fully remote work models rapidly rising in popularity. Studies support this trend with 83% of workers believing a hybrid model would be optimal going forward, according to an Accenture survey. Further, 87% of managers believe working from home is the future, according to Remote-How research.While the new dynamic promises an improved work-life balance, it will also cause energy use and utility bills to skyrocket with technologies, appliances and systems running overtime at unprecedented levels — making optimal, energy-efficient home climate control a greater challenge.The good news is that families can prevent a utility-bill blitz by following a few simple tips. With home heating and cooling accounting for nearly half of home energy use, small steps can go a long way.* Ease Into Electric: According to Columbia University’s Earth Institute, electric systems are a solution to decarbonize home climate control. Among the most energy-efficient heating and cooling products, electricity-powered ductless mini-split systems, offered by companies including Fujitsu General America, can save as much as 25% on your energy bill. Mini-splits use thin copper tubing to pump refrigerant from an outdoor compressor directly into an indoor air-handling unit, where the air is quietly distributed to the interior space.* Get “Smart” About Climate Control: When it comes to smart home temperature control, there are Smart HVAC Systems and Smart Thermostats. Smart HVAC systems have built-in Internet capability and can be controlled directly without additional equipment. Smart Home Thermostats create “smart” systems by enabling remote temperature control via a mobile or Internet-connected device or voice-operated home automation system.* Voice Your Preference: Take control of your comfort. Most HVAC manufacturers offer apps that enable systems to be controlled from anywhere using a mobile device. Voice-control capability uses digital assistants, such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home, to verbally dictate home temperatures. Easily controlling the temperature more closely allows homeowners to be more comfortable and improve energy savings.* Find Your Efficient Comfort Zone: Many of us live in homes designed for bigger families, but have yet to downsize. If you find yourself using a fraction of your home on a regular basis, consider upgrading to a zoned ducted, or ductless system. That will allow you to save energy heating and cooling spaces where you and your family don’t spend a lot of time. This will multiply savings as you’re not only needing less cooling, but you also gain from a more efficient system in the spaces you do still use.* Try Low-tech Fixes: Simple changes can have a big impact. Take advantage of the sun’s energy to heat your home by opening your south-facing curtains at sunrise to make best use of “passive solar gain.” Force down warm air. Denser, cooler air stays closer to the ground, and warmer air rises. So, force it downwards with a low-speed fan. Insulate and fill the gaps. Warmed air leaking out around poorly sealed window frames, power sockets, recessed light fittings, and other gaps is a big source of heat loss in homes. And thick curtains help to insulate glass at windows.If your family is spending a lot more time at home and your utility bills are soaring, a ductless heating and cooling system is definitely a worthwhile investment. Many Fujitsu systems have an Energy Star rating that is more than twice as efficient as the minimum standard set by the government. To learn more or find a contractor near you, call 888-888-3424 or visit www.constantcomfort.com

Governors Zero In On Window Film’s Energy Savings


(NewsUSA) – A third of U.S. Governors have recognized window film as a cost-effective solution to reducing energy costs in homes, protecting skin and home decor from the sun’s damaging UV rays, and enhanced window glass safety. The International Window Film Association (IWFA) is sharing recent proclamations kindly made by those governors on its website.”Consumers and government officials are zeroing in on window films as a cost-effective energy saving solution designed to reduce high utility bills and carbon emissions and they can be installed at about one-tenth the cost of a re-placement window and offer similar performance ratings,” explains Darrell Smith, executive director of the IWFA.Window films, which may be installed in a day or less without significant disruption, are widely seen to save about five to 10 percent of a building’s total energy bill. Many window films, which are all permanently adhered to the glass, are also designed to block 40 to 60 percent of room heat being lost through glass during the heating season while still reducing air conditioning costs by 30 percent during the cooling season.According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), cooling and heating account for more than half of the energy use in a typical U.S. home, making it the largest energy expense for most homes. The DOE also points out that roughly 40 percent of unwanted heat that builds up in a home comes in through windows and that windows also account for up to 50 percent of a building’s energy loss.Consumer awareness of the energy saving benefit of window film has increased nearly 50 percent in eight years, from 54 percent of Americans in 2014 being aware that window film can help control interior temperatures, to 79 percent of homeowners this year being aware that window film may improve the energy saving performance of their existing windows today.While window films differ in how they perform based on how they are manufactured, they can reduce solar heat gain in your home by as much as 80 percent. This means fewer if any hot spots, more even interior room temperatures and less power consumption so your air conditioning system may keep up with the sun’s heat.This benefit is especially noticeable when the sun is at it’s peak energy transmittance during the day, which is when utility companies have to produce more power to meet the increased peak demand from both homeowners and businesses. Find window film at www.iwfa.com

S.E Kentucky Suffers Bad Flooding in July 2022


Flooding In Southeast Kentucky has many residents without homes or worse, the death toll seems to be 15+ at this time, and is one of the worst flood disasters in decades. This is the time for those in surrounding areas and abroad to roll up their sleeves and pitch in to help their unfortunate neighbors. Businesses. churches, charities, and individuals can donate time and goods to help in this time of need.

Even if you’re unable to donate time you always can donate to an organization that will help the victims of the recent floods. I found this organization called Americares via FEMA, seems that they are legit and will funnel funds to help people out in disasters in the USA. link: Provide Medicine & Hope to People in Crisis (americares.org) Give it a click and help out your neighbors if you are able to.

For those who need shelter during this time, Listed below are some shelters that are in place.

Three Kentucky state parks—Jenny Wiley, Buckhorn Lane, and Pine Mountain—are open as shelters for people displaced by the severe flooding.

Breathitt County shelters: Breathitt County Courthouse
Floyd County shelters: Floyd Co Community Center
Hazard shelters: First Presbyterian Church, East Perry Elementary, West Perry Elementary, Gospel Light Baptist Church, Second Creek Church of God, Buckhorn Lake State Resort Lodge
Pike County shelters: Thacker Memorial Funeral Home, Shelby Valley High School.

My Prayers and thoughts go out to all of those affected by the flooding and may God bless us all.

Ray Barbier

Climate pioneers: how small farmers could be leading the way towards sustainable agriculture


Small farmers in Maza village, Morogoro, Tanzania. US government/Flickr

Zareen Pervez Bharucha, Anglia Ruskin University

Agriculture is a leading cause of climate change, but it is also undeniably affected by it. Farming must therefore change in order to keep up with global demands, while reducing its environmental impact. Without these necessary changes, it’s estimated that by 2030, the impacts of climate change will be even worse, causing yields to decline so much that we will cancel out any progress we have made towards eliminating global hunger.

Some of those worst affected by climate change are small farmers (those working on land under two hectares). There are around 475m small farms around the world, cultivating around 12% of the world’s farmed land. Small farmers in the tropics and poorer agricultural communities will be particularly severely affected by climate change.

However, many of these small farmers are increasingly using innovative ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change. They are the true pioneers of climate-smart agriculture, using practices that maintain productivity while decreasing emissions. They are also producing a range of other benefits such as poverty alleviation, better nutrition and biodiversity conservation.

Sustainable but healthy yields

In the 20th century, farmers boosted yields by intensifying production: using more water, land, energy, synthetic pesticides and fertilisers. This model tended to assume that you couldn’t have high yields as well as environmental protection. Now, we understand that this is a false choice, and that sustainable intensification – producing healthy yields and higher incomes while building ecosystems on and around the farm – is possible. And it looks like small farmers are leading the way in implementing such sustainable intensification around the world.

There are three steps towards sustainable intensification. These are increased efficiency (doing more with less), substitution (replacing ineffective or harmful products) and redesign (changing the whole farm to be more sustainable). These steps are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

For example, rice plants are typically planted close together in flooded nurseries. But they can also be grown in nutrient-rich nurseries that aren’t flooded – something that saves around 40% of the water used compared to conventional production methods. However, the system is about more than simple resource efficiency – it actually involves a fundamental redesign of the whole system of rice production.

Rice farmer in Punjab, India. Neil Palmer (CIAT)/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Substitution involves replacing less efficient or harmful inputs such as synthetic pesticides, which can be harmful for wildlife, with better alternatives. You can also replace old crop varieties with new ones that can withstand sudden changes, or which need less water – important for climate resilience. New varieties may also be able to help reduce agricultural emissions. For example, plants with greater root mass could help sequester an estimated 50 to 100 tonnes of carbon per hectare.

Radical approaches

Radical redesign of farms involves techniques such as conservation agriculture – practices that minimise the disruption of the soil’s structure and biodiversity. Integrated pest management, which involves strategies to deal with pests without posing risks to the environment, and agroforestry, using trees in agriculture, are also good examples. A recent assessment estimated that around 163m farms worldwide (29% of the global total) practice some form of redesign.

The evidence shows that these methods are already helping small farmers achieve healthy yields while delivering a range of other benefits, including carbon sequestration, using less energy and synthetic inputs and climate resilience.

One example is the “push-pull integrated pest management”. Push-pull is a method of pest control that was developed in East Africa to help farmers deal with stemborers and striga weeds, which attack crops such as maize. Instead of relying exclusively on synthetic pesticides, farmers grow pest-repelling plants such as desmodium (which push the pests away) in among the main crop. They also plant borders around their fields of other crops such as such as Napier grass, which attracts pests (pull).

This keeps pests away from the main cereal crops, reducing losses. In recent years, push-pull systems have been adapted to include plants such as Brachiaria, which can tolerate hotter and drier climates. Such systems are used across 69,000 small farms across Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia.

Other methods of redesign are also being practised at scale by small farmers in other places. In India, 140,000 farmers in Andhra Pradesh and an estimated 100,000 in Karnataka practice “zero budget natural farming”. This is an initiative which promotes the natural growth of crops without adding any synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. In Africa, small farmers in Burkina Faso and Niger have taken up agroforestry and soil and water conservation, and transformed the landscape of around 500,000 hectares of degraded land.

The redesign of agriculture offers the best chances for achieving lower carbon, climate-proof agriculture in the 21st century. But, it requires new partnerships between farmers, development agencies, governments and researchers. Farming is knowledge intensive, and will be increasingly so in a changing world. Sustainable intensification initiatives that have spread to scale have all involved new initiatives to support collaboration and learning. Farmer field schools, training programmes for local farmers, are key to this. So are plant breeding programmes in which participating farmers get opportunities to make decisions at different stages during the process.

Ultimately, climate proofing is best achieved by improving the sustainability of existing systems. Small farmers already know what works. The challenge remains to help them spearhead the global spread of redesigned agriculture.

Zareen Pervez Bharucha, Senior Research fellow, Anglia Ruskin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Climate crisis: the countryside could be our greatest ally – if we can reform farming


The Yorkshire Dales, England. Jakob Cotton/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

Ian Boyd, University of St Andrews

Around 20% of the UK’s farms account for 80% of the country’s total food production, and they do this on about half of all the farmed land there is. At least 80% of farms in the UK don’t produce very much at all.

In England, just 7% of farms produce over half of the country’s agricultural output – on 30% of its farmland. A little under half (42%) of England’s farms produce a meagre 2% of the total agricultural output, working just 8% of the country’s total land.

In an average year, mixed farming, livestock grazing and cereal farms make a financial loss on what they produce, and much of the income on these farms comes from government subsidy. In all these cases, this subsidy forms the majority of income. Livestock farming is the least profitable sector of all while some of the most profitable sectors like horticulture – producing everything from vegetables to soft fruit and tomatoes – receive very little subsidy.

Land is precious, and there are trade offs between designating enough to grow food and reserving it for other vital functions, like natural wilderness for biodiversity, recreation and carbon storage. This is as true in the UK as it is in the rest of the world.

Some farmers argue that they are the custodians of the land and the wildlife that live on it, but much of the evidence suggests that this role is neglected in the UK. Much farmed soil has been drained of its natural nutrients and now relies on artificial inputs like fertiliser. Rather than offering a haven for struggling bird species, it seems little progress has been made in halting declines in wildlife abundance on farmland.

A grey partridge – this species lives on farmland but has declined by more than 80% in the UK since 1970. Marek Szczepanek/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Agriculture is also a major emitter of greenhouse gases, accounting for about 10% of total UK emissions. Some estimates suggest that ten “calories” of fossil fuel energy is needed to produce a single calorie of protein.

The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy protected the right of people to farm unproductive land for the sake of countryside prosperity. But farming contributes only about 4% to the rural economy of England. Overall, UK agricultural production has stagnated in absolute terms since the late 1980s. This has meant unprofitable and environmentally damaging agriculture is maintained through subsidy. It’s time that a new policy shifted the balance.

Rewild, restore and reopen

Agriculture in the UK uses a vast amount of resources – energy, pesticides, water and mineral fertilisers – compared to the amount of goods it produces. For the productivity of agriculture to match other developed sectors of the economy like construction, agriculture would need to produce five to ten times more from the land it consumes.

Much of this inefficiency is caused by the energy used to produce fertilisers and livestock production. Only about 10-20% of vegetable matter fed to livestock is converted into meat for people to eat. Animals are often fed plant-based food produced on land which could also produce human food. Around 75% of the calories fed to livestock in the UK comes from these sources. As much as ten plant-based meals could be produced for the same material cost as it takes to produce one meat-based meal.

So what’s the alternative? If the UK wants to play its part in feeding the world, keeping people healthy and conserving the environment, there is a very simple way forward. Converting the 50% of land that’s mainly used for agriculture – but which only produces 20% of the UK’s total agricultural output – to other functions, including recreation, storing carbon and enhancing biodiversity.

This could be possible over ten years. It would give enough time for people involved in farming relatively unproductive land to adapt. Some of these people will still be paid from public funds but they could be tasked with rewilding their land to forest or other habitats that can lock away CO₂ and expand wildlife habitat. Some will also be rewarded for opening their land for public access. This will be especially important for land near urban areas as access to nature has serious benefits for human health.

Spending just two hours a week in nature has been shown to benefit a person’s health and mental wellbeing. Lukasz Szmigiel/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

Growing food in different ways could also make farming more efficient and it would be needed to make up for the small shortfall in production. Vertical farming, hydroponics and aeroponics are all techniques where food is grown according to the principles of manufacturing. This means it’s produced close to where it’s consumed, no pesticides are needed and all nutrients are closely controlled, reducing pollution.

Mobilising British agriculture to help the UK reach net zero emissions would be an incredibly valuable use of the UK’s landscape. But the main challenge to this is convincing the people who currently farm the relatively unproductive land that they need to be a part of this vision. The National Farmers Union – who represent many of these particular farmers – have done much to try and sustain the status quo, especially for livestock agriculture. Overcoming this social inertia will be hard work, but vital.


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Ian Boyd, Professor of Biology, University of St Andrews

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Three ways farms of the future can feed the planet and heal it too


Nature and technology can combine to help farms of the future nourish the earth and its inhabitants. SimplyDay/Shutterstock

Karen Rial-Lovera, Nottingham Trent University

Intensive agriculture may be nourishing most of the Earth’s inhabitants, but it’s doing the opposite to earth itself. Its dependence on singular crops, heavy ploughing machinery, fossil-fuel based fertilisers and pesticides is degrading our soils wildlife and nutrient cycles, and contributing a quarter of the planet’s unwanted extra heat.

But we’re not powerless to change the future of food. Nature and technological innovation are tackling these problems head on – and if the solutions they’re offering are incorporated on a large scale and used together, a new agricultural revolution could be on its way. Here are three of the most exciting developments that can help farms not just feed the planet, but heal it too.

Crops, trees and livestock in harmony

Several UN reports have highlighted agroecology – farming that mimics the interactions and cycles of plants, animals and nutrients in the natural world – as a path to sustainable food.

The approach uses a wide variety of practices. For example, instead of artificial fertilisers, it improves soil quality by planting nutrient-fixing “cover crops” in between harvest crops, rotating crops across fields each season and composting organic waste. It supports wildlife, stores carbon, and conserves water through the planting of trees and wildflower banks.

It also integrates livestock with crops. This may seem counter-intuitive given their inefficient land use and high emissions. But having a small number of animals grazing land doesn’t have to accelerate global heating.

Grassland captures carbon dioxide. Animals eat the grass, and then return that carbon to the soil as excrement. The nutrients in the excrement and the continuous grazing of grass both help new grass roots to grow, increasing the capacity of the land to capture carbon.

Carefully managed grazing can help the environment, not harm it. Millie Olsen/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

Keep too many grazing animals in one place for too long and they eat too much grass and produce too much excrement for the soil to take on, meaning carbon is lost to the atmosphere. But if small numbers are constantly rotated into different fields, the soil can store enough extra carbon to counterbalance the extra methane emitted by livestock’s digestive rumblings.

While this doesn’t make them a carbon sink, livestock bring other benefits to the land. They keep soil naturally fertilised, and can also improve biodiversity by eating more aggressive plants, allowing others to grow. And if local breeds are adopted, they generally don’t require expensive feed and veterinary care, as they’re adapted to local conditions.

Pesticides no more

Pests, diseases and weeds cause almost 40% of crop losses globally – and without care, the figure could rise dramatically. Climate change is shifting where pests and diseases thrive, making it harder for farmers to stay resilient.

Many commonly used herbicides, pesticides and fungicides are now also under pressure to be banned because of their negative effects on the health of humans and wildlife. Even if they’re not, growing resistance to their action is making controlling weeds, pests and diseases increasingly challenging.

Nature is again providing answers here. Farmers are starting to use pesticides derived from plants, which tend to be much less toxic to the surrounding environment.

They’re also using natural enemies to keep threats at bay. Some may act as repellents, “pushing” pests away. For example, peppermint disgusts the flea beetle, a scourge to oilseed rape farmers. Others are “pulls”, attracting pests away from valuable crops. Plants that are attractive for egg-laying but that don’t support the survival of insect larvae are commonly used for this purpose.

Nasturtiums are pest magnets – and they’re edible too. Shutova Elena/Shutterstock

Technology is also offering solutions on this front. Some farmers are already using apps to monitor, warn and predict when pest and diseases will attack crops. Driverless tractors and intelligent sprayers that can target specific weeds or nutritional needs have recently entered the market. Agritech companies are now also developing robots that can scan fields, identify specific plants, and decide whether to use pesticide or to remove a plant mechanically.

In combination, these methods can dramatically reduce agriculture’s reliance on herbicides and pesticides without lowering crop yields. This is important, since the world’s population is set to rise by a quarter in the next three decades.

Small tech, big difference

Soon, technology at an almost impossibly small scale could make a big difference to the way we grow our food. Companies have designed nanoparticles 100,000 times smaller then the width of a human hair that release fertiliser and pesticides slowly but steadily, to minimise their use and maximise crop yields.

New gene-editing techniques will also increasingly use nanomaterials to transfer DNA to plants. These techniques can be used to detect the presence of pests and nutrient deficiencies, or simply improve their resistance to extreme weather and pests. Given that increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events due to global heating are putting the very functioning of the global food system at risk, these advancements could be vital for preventing agricultural collapse.

Nanotechnologies aren’t cheap yet and researchers have yet to conduct rigorous tests of how toxic nanomaterials are to humans and plants, and how durable they are. But should they pass these tests, agriculture will surely follow the path of other industries in adopting the technology on a large scale.

Save for nanotechnology and advanced robots, the above solutions are already in use in many small-scale and commercial farms – just not in combination. Imagine them working in synchrony and suddenly a vision of sustainable agriculture doesn’t seem so far away anymore.


Click here to subscribe to our climate action newsletter. Climate change is inevitable. Our response to it isn’t.

Karen Rial-Lovera, Senior Lecturer in Agriculture, Nottingham Trent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.