News in brief - February 2016

15 febrero 2016

Well-documented links exist between increased deforestation of an area and the emergence of diseases. Previously, the relationship was established between deforestation and Ebola (FW 196) and, more recently, rising cases of zoonotic malaria (Plasmodium knowlesi). Now deforestation is a suspected factor in the spread of the Zika virus. The Journal of Global Health argues that, while the increase in infectious disease is not the only threat posed by deforestation, it has the most direct, measurable impact on health. It says that forest clearance alters ecosystem dynamics and leads to new breeding habitats for disease vectors such as mosquitoes, fleas and ticks. People living within or near these fragmented forests are therefore at risk of infection, and measures must be developed to reduce the risk. Halting deforestation would seem an obvious first step.

A powerful new documentary shows how the EU is driving land grabs across the world to feed the surging demand for agricultural commoditiesLand Grabbing, by Austrian director Kurt Langbein, weaves the stories of the investors and the companies behind this drive for land with those suffering its consequences. From the community in Sierra Leone whose livelihoods are threatened by a Chinese company producing biofuel for the EU market, to Cambodian villagers evicted to make way for a palm oil plantation, to the Ethiopian women working for a pittance in desperate conditions to produce tomatoes for export, the film is a searing indictment of the misery caused by the rush for agricultural land.

Genetically engineered trees are controversial for various reasons (FW196FW202): their negative social and environmental impacts are documented, and their claimed benefits have tended not to materialise. Now it appears that the business practices of companies promoting them are among these reasons: One of the world’s leading producers of genetically engineered trees and suppliers to the forestry industry, ArborGen, suffered a major setback when it was fined USD 53.5 million for tricking a group of employees into accepting changes to lucrative incentive packages. The judge also ruled against ArborGen’s three parent companies – International Paper, MeadWestvaco and the New Zealand-based Rubicon – which plan to appeal against the verdict, a potentially lengthy process. Rubicon’s share price has dropped by more than a third since September 2015, when it looked likely that ArborGen would lose the dispute.

With the dust settled on the COP21 UN climate change conference, Samuel Nnah Ndobe, Cameroonian agricultural specialist and founding member of the Accra Caucus on Forests and Climate Change, has written a blog for Fernabout what the 12 December climate agreement means for forest communities in the Congo Basin.

 FERN works to achieve environmental and social justice with a focus on forests and forest peoples' rights in the policies and practices of the European Union.

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