What we’re reading: Mekong megadrought, melting chocolate

A view of the Mekong river basin from Laos.

A view of the Mekong River basin from Laos, one of the six countries supported by it. (© jmbaud74/Flickr Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In this occasional series, Human Nature shares three recent stories of interest in our world.

1. Mekong megadrought erodes food security

The story: The worst drought ever recorded in Vietnam is parching lands and threatening the possibility of a food crisis in parts of Southeast Asia, Science magazine reported. A U.N. report released in March notes that the Mekong River is at its lowest levels since records began nearly a century ago.

Experts point to the El Niño weather phenomenon as a major cause of the drought, abetted by a proliferation of dams upstream that have further constricted the flow of the river.

The Mekong River basin — spanning six countries and nearly twice the size of California — directly supports the livelihoods of more than 60 million people. It has been called both the “fish basket” and “rice bowl” of Southeast Asia, the river’s waters providing an estimated 80% of the protein consumed in the region.

Looking ahead: Researchers were to brief Vietnamese officials on the potential effects of the drought — a potential glimpse of the country’s agricultural future amid a changing climate.

Read more here.

2. Chocolate meltdown: Feeling the heat

The story: First wine. Then coffee. Now, add chocolate to the list of potential agricultural casualties of climate change: Rising average temperatures in West Africa — the source of most of the world’s cocoa — could upend this notoriously drought-sensitive crop.

This, in turn, is bad news for the region’s forests: A new study from researchers at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture and elsewhere forecasts that cocoa production will migrate outside its current growing zone, leading to deforestation in Liberia, Cameroon and the Congo River basin.

Looking ahead: Adapting to this new reality without risking forests, the authors write, will require a shift in farming techniques, incentives to increase production in places where cocoa still thrives and policies to ensure that new cocoa is grown on land that is already deforested.

Read more here.

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3. The difficult birth of Brazil’s first ‘green municipality’

The story: It was 2007, and Paragominas, a municipality in northern Brazil, had a problem: It had the second-highest rate of deforestation in the country, and the government was cracking down, cutting off access to credit and sending in armed soldiers to expel illegal loggers and shut down sawmills.

What followed was a bold experiment that has seen Paragominas slash its deforestation rate as part of a broader effort by Brazil to protect its forests at the local level — with the aim of attracting businesses looking to sustainably source their raw materials.

In this special report, Ecosystem Marketplace chronicles the development of the initiative starting in its darkest hour, when riots in Paragominas risked derailing the entire country’s new efforts to protect its forests.

Read more here.

Bruno Vander Velde is Conservation International’s editorial director.

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