Sustainability Science
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Sustainability Science
How might we keep the lights on, water flowing, and natural world vaguely intact? It starts with grabbing innovative ideas/examples to help kick down our limits and inspire a more sustainable world. We implement with rigorous science backed by hard data.
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The Rise of Small Farm Robots — Food is the New Internet — Medium

The Rise of Small Farm Robots - Food is the New Internet - Medium
Or why the miniaturization of farm machinery will help encourage small, diverse farms.
PIRatE Lab's insight:
When we think about the future in ten years, we’re going to see smaller machines rather than big ones,” said Rowbot’s founder Kent Cavender-Bares in a recent conversation of This Week in Startups podcast. The 64-row corn planters that crawl across the Heartland today are so large and expensive that they only make sense for the most gargantuan, and debt-worthy, farmers. They’re so heavy they compact the soil. And they don’t work if you decide to plant a rye, sorghum or anything besides corn. In contrast, Rowbot is small enough to get between the rows of corn, dropping fertilizer in microdoses, when the crop needs it. Much less fertilizer gets wasted and runs off the field to contaminate the water supply. These are things a big tractor simply cannot do. “Let’s say we just wanted to mix corn and soybeans on the same field. Today you can’t do that easily at scale.
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Overpackaged Foods

Tags:  food, economic,  food production, agribusiness, agriculture, unit 5 agriculture,

 


Via Seth Dixon
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Farming Now Worse For Climate Than Deforestation | Climate Central

Farming Now Worse For Climate Than Deforestation | Climate Central | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it
Farming is now the leading source of land-based greenhouse gas pollution as deforestation has slowed.

 

Efforts such as these to slow deforestation have delivered some of humanity’s few gains in its otherwise lackadaisical battle so far against global warming. A gradual slowdown in chainsawing and bulldozing, particularly in Brazil, helped reduce deforestation’s annual toll on the climate by nearly a quarter between the 1990s and 2010. This new study describes how this trend has seen agriculture overtake deforestation as the leading source of land-based greenhouse gas pollution during the past decade. While United Nations climate negotiations focus heavily on forest protections, the researchers note that delegates to the talks ignore similar opportunities to reform farming. “The decline in deforestation over the past decade or two is a success story,” Rob Jackson, a professor at Stanford University’s earth sciences school, said. He was not involved with the new study. The deforestation slowdown has, “in large part,” he said, been driven by new forestry rules in Brazil, by the U.N.’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) program, which funds forest conservation, and similar policies elsewhere.

PIRatE Lab's insight:

The new study, led by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and published in Global Change Biology, quantifies the reductions in climate pollution from the degradation and clearcutting of forests. Clearcutting most often clears space for agriculture, suggesting agriculture’s indirect climate impacts surpass the impacts of deforestation for timber and other commodities. The researchers aim to tally those indirect impacts later this year. This paper was an early step in a larger effort to better understand and report on the climate repercussions of how land is used. “Every year, we’ll have updates,” lead author Francesco Tubiello said.

The study is also a reminder that the burning of fossil fuels remains the main cause of global warming. Burning fuel produces about four times more climate pollution every year than forestry and agriculture combined — a figure that is growing. The research shows that the recent climate-protecting gains in forests are being nearly canceled out by efforts to satisfy the world’s growing appetite — particularly its appetite for meat. Greenhouse gases released by farming, such as methane from livestock and rice paddies, and nitrous oxides from fertilizers and other soil treatments rose 13 percent after 1990, the study concluded. Agricultural climate pollution is mostly caused by livestock. Cows and buffalo are the worst offenders — their ruminating guts and decomposing waste produce a lot of methane. They produce so much methane, and eat so much fertilized feed, that livestock are blamed for two-thirds of agriculture’s climate pollution every year. “We’re seeing an expansion of agricultural lands in some areas because of the growing global population,” Jackson, who is a co-chair of the Global Carbon Project, which studies the global carbon cycle, said. “We’re also seeing intensification of agriculture.”

Although annual climate pollution from deforestation is declining, experts warn that recent gains could quickly be reversed.Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest spiked recently following nearly a decade of declines, for example, as farmers and loggers rushed to exploit loopholes in forest protection laws. Some parts of Central Africa are seeing deforestation in areas where it was not previously a problem. And cutting down trees can reduce moisture levels in a rainforest, which could cause parts of the Amazon to start dying off — even if everybody’s chainsaws simultaneously jammed. The researchers drew on three global datasets to try to hone in on land’s changing contribution to global warming. Such impacts are harder to quantify accurately than are the pollution impacts of burning fuel. Governments invest fewer resources tracking and reporting complex climate indicators for deforestation and agricultural activity than is the case for the energy sector. The paper noted a gulf between global efforts to reduce the climate impacts of deforestation, and the dearth of a global response to the climate impacts of food production. REDD is a major focus of U.N. climate negotiations, but agriculture is barely discussed during the talks….

...Doug Boucher, the director of climate research at the Union of Concerned Scientists, says agriculture’s climate impacts could be reduced without taking food off tables. Reducing the overuse of fertilizers, protecting the organic content of soils by changing farming practices, and keeping rice paddies flooded for fewer weeks every season could all contribute to a climate solution, he said.The biggest opportunities for reforming agriculture’s climate impacts can sometimes be found miles from where any food is grown. Reducing waste where food is sold, prepared, eaten and, in many cases, partly tossed in the trash as uneaten leftovers or unsellable produce, reduces the amount of land, fertilizer and equipment needed to feed everybody. “Shifting consumption toward less beef and more chicken, and reducing waste of meat in particular, are what seem to have the biggest potential,” Boucher said.

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No-till agriculture may not bring hoped-for boost in global crop yields, study finds

No-till agriculture may not bring hoped-for boost in global crop yields, study finds | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it
No-till farming appears to hold promise for boosting crop yields only in dry regions, not in the cool, moist areas of the world, this study found. As the core principle of conservation agriculture, no-till has been promoted worldwide in an effort to sustainably meet global food demand.
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Two of America's food giants commit to fighting climate change

Two of America's food giants commit to fighting climate change | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it
Kellogg's and General Mills have made some industry-leading promises to reduce harmful greenhouse emissions. It's a start.
PIRatE Lab's insight:

Great...now lets see some progress.

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Mercury News editorial: California should embrace breakthrough on groundwater protection

Mercury News editorial: California should embrace breakthrough on groundwater protection | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it
Water agencies are proposing serious regulations to protect the state's groundwater from over pumping in drought years like this, and the Legislature needs to seize the moment.
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UN News - Water scarcity among critical food security issues in Near East and North Africa – UN

UN News - Water scarcity among critical food security issues in Near East and North Africa – UN | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today warned that water scarcity is one of the most urgent food security issues facing countries of the Near East and North Africa, with fresh water availability in the region expected to drop by 50 per cent by 2050.
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77% of Americans Say Sustainability Factors Into Food-Purchasing Decisions

77% of Americans Say Sustainability Factors Into Food-Purchasing Decisions | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it
New research released Thursday reveals Americans are willing to sacrifice variety and dollars in order to eat more consciously. Although family satisfaction reigns supreme (97 percent), health and nutrition (93 percent) and sustainability (77 percent) are now also important factors when deciding which foods to buy, according to the 2014 Cone Communications Food Issues Trend Tracker.

Via Acquisti & Sostenibilità not-for-profit
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GMOs, Silver Bullets and the Trap of Reductionist Thinking

GMOs, Silver Bullets and the Trap of Reductionist Thinking | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it
The biggest problem with GMOs isn’t technology. It’s when technology is used as a silver bullet, without considering the broader food, social and…
PIRatE Lab's insight:

Spot on.

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A fungal virus threatens 80% of the global banana production—far more than a previous strain in the early 1900s

A fungal virus threatens 80% of the global banana production—far more than a previous strain in the early 1900s | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it

During harvest last year, banana farmers in Jordan and Mozambique made a chilling discovery. Their plants were no longer bearing the soft, creamy fruits they'd been growing for decades. When they cut open the roots of their banana plants, they saw something that was turning banana plants into a rotting mass. 

 

Scientists first discovered the fungus that is turning banana plants into this rotting mass in Southeast Asia in the 1990s. Since then the pathogen, known as the Tropical Race 4 strain of Panama disease, has slowly but steadily ravaged export crops throughout Asia. The fact that this vicious soil-borne fungus has now made the leap to Mozambique and Jordan is frightening. One reason is that it’s getting closer to Latin America, where at least 70% of the world’s $8.9-billion-a-year worth of exported bananas is grown.

 

 

Chiquita, the $548-million fruit giant with the world’s largest banana market share, is downplaying the risk. ”It’s certainly not an immediate threat to banana production in Latin America [where Chiquita's crops are],” Ed Lloyd, spokesman for Chiquita, told the Charlotte Business Journal in late December, explaining that the company is using a “risk-mitigation program” to approach the potential spread.


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
PIRatE Lab's insight:

For more about banana's see Dan Koeppel's Blog: http://www.bananabook.org

 

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Christian Allié's curator insight, March 8, 2014 4:01 AM

............."""""""""""""""""".........

 

[  ........  ]

......  And at $8.9 billion, bananas grown for export are only a fraction of the $44.1 billion in annual banana and plantain production—in fact, bananas are the fourth-most valuable global crop after rice, wheat, and milk. Where are the rest of those bananas sold? Nearly nine-tenths of the world’s bananas are eaten in poor countries, where at least 400 million people rely on them for 15-27% of their daily calories. And that’s the really scary part. Since the first Panama disease outbreak, bananas have evolved from snacks into vital sustenance. And this time there’s no back-up banana variety to feed the world with instead. .

 

[  .......  ]

.........

Agriculture and economy's comment, March 8, 2014 5:57 AM
Commentaire très instructif. . Après les problèmes du café, du cacao... Risques pour la sécurité alimentaire de nombreux pays et risques sociaux en vue ?
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Monsanto Develops Hardier Strain Of Corn That Yields 4 Times Normal Litigation

Monsanto Develops Hardier Strain Of Corn That Yields 4 Times Normal Litigation | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it
ST. LOUIS—Agricultural biotech giant Monsanto unveiled its latest strain of genetically modified corn Wednesday, claiming that the new, hardier seed yields 400 percent more litigation against small independent farms than the company’s previous...
PIRatE Lab's insight:

Nice!

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Drought: Feds cut water to Central Valley farmers to zero

Drought: Feds cut water to Central Valley farmers to zero | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it
Central Valley farmers took a crippling blow Friday when U.S. officials made the unprecedented announcement that they would get no irrigation water from the federal government this year because of the drought. California's unusually dry weather is forcing producers of fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains to make tough decisions about which crops to plant, and which ones not to plant due to a lack of water, leaving harvests that are likely to fall short of demand. A recent estimate by an industry group, the California Farm Water Coalition, suggested that as much as 600,000 acres of land, or about 8 percent of the state's total, could be left fallow in the coming year. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials said Friday that meager snow and rain in the Sierra Nevada means they won't be able to provide farmers any of the water they normally receive from the federally run system of reservoirs and canals fed by mountain runoff. Farmers still reelingWhile the announcement wasn't unexpected, it was more bad news for an agricultural industry in California that is the nation's most valuable, and is still reeling from last year's low water allocations. Residents and business in many communities also rely on the state and federal water projects, as do wildlife such as sensitive fish populations. In the San Joaquin Valley, the state's most productive agricultural region, many growers have already ceased planting winter crops such as broccoli, tomatoes and lettuce because of the drought.
PIRatE Lab's insight:

I very much like this photo at the header of this story.  It says so much: "Congress Created Dust Bowl."

 

When the rhetoric is turned to folks who are not directly to blame (well, okay, they partly funded most of the infrastructure that created the modern gland that is the Central Valley of California...but leaving that aside), you know you are in for a wild ride and a "battle" of falsehoods.  

 

Why are we in this situation?  Perhaps because we drained the hell out of one of the most impressive and vast wetland-wet meadow ecosystems on earth.  We got the water out of there to create farming land.  Then we literally re-plumbed the entirety of the western United States to supply abundant water to cities, suburbs, and farms in California and beyond.  The insane irrigation patterns of past decades have created something of a salty mess in much of our topsoils (requiring even more water to rid the soils of these contaminants).  The farmers (and we who ate their bounty) were the prime beneficiaries of this water wind fall. 

 

This unusual weather pattern (see   https://vimeo.com/87351461) is at the core of both the intense winter back east and the lack of moisture here in California.  While the jury will remain out for some time, it appears quite likely to many of us that climate change has at least a partial hand in all of this (if not a tight grip).  So we can all thank ourselves for this situation in which we find ourselves.  It is nice and easy to point a finger at congress, but the reality is that we all had a hand in this.  Just perusing the landscape around that "dust bowl" sign will tell you how deviant the central valley is from what anyone might call "natural."  And how far we are from an easy landing to this crisis.

 

Surviving this whole mess will be difficult.  Not all will make it.  But we must begin by facing reality.  No one here is a demon.  And no one is a saint.

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How to Persuade Anti-GMO Activists These Crops Can Share Their Values

How to Persuade Anti-GMO Activists These Crops Can Share Their Values | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it
Crops that aid humanitarian causes may soften opposition to genetic ­modification, says Mark Lynas.
PIRatE Lab's insight:

A major issue here is the concept of transgenic crops.  It is not so much that people are making GMO organisms.  Rather the issues come into play with folks creating (in essence) new species with traits that are often designed to facilitate pesticide use, reduce short-term costs to the producer, create a legally patentable seed which farmers MUST buy each year, etc., etc.

 

Yes we have all heard how nice "golden" rice is.  But to be honest here, we must discuss the entire geography of the crops being created and how they are being utilized in the real world.  Lets not get hung up on "what could be" or "wouldn't it be nice if" arguments.

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What's Driving Deforestation?

What's Driving Deforestation? | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it
Just four commodities—beef, soy, palm oil, and wood products—drive the majority of global deforestation. And consumers can help stop it.
PIRatE Lab's insight:
As I was getting a ride home from the car repair shop today, the shuttle had an interesting radio show on.  It was a discussion with a person of a particular political persuasion saying how "doom and gloom" and "naysayers" get too much press and are a part of the problem with the world these days.

While we can of course swerve too far down the "world is ending" path, simply saying that key drivers of degradation are not happening is a childish or cynical ploy.  But one example of the challenges we face is this brief overview of drivers of forest conversion to human-dominated landscapes.

While I generally do not like these "info graphics," in cases such as the dork on the radio, these might be the right level of tone and complexity.
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Central Valley's growing concern: Crops raised with oil field water

Central Valley's growing concern: Crops raised with oil field water | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it
Here in California's thirsty farm belt, where pumpjacks nod amid neat rows of crops, it's a proposition that seems to make sense: using treated oil field wastewater to irrigate crops.
PIRatE Lab's insight:

Indeed.  This is the old mantra of folks: if you don't look for a problem, you won't see a problem/can't prove a problem exists.

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40 Percent Of The World's Cropland Is In Or Near Cities

40 Percent Of The World's Cropland Is In Or Near Cities | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it
Just how much of the world's cropland can we really call urban? That's been a big mystery until now.

 

Now, a study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters has an answer: Somewhere around 1.1 billion acres is being cultivated for food in or within about 12 miles (20 kilometers) of cities. Most of that land is on the periphery of cities, but 16.6 percent of these urban farms are in open spaces within the municipal core.


Via Seth Dixon
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Evan Margiotta's curator insight, March 20, 2015 2:42 PM

This is a perfect application of how Von Thunen model still applies today. Von Thunen mapped how crops were distributed around cites. The crops near the city were labor intensive while the crops farther away from the city were labor extensive. Von Thunen's model is often disputed today in a world with such fast transportation, but this study shows that it still applies today. Unit 5 Agriculture

Ellen Van Daele's curator insight, March 22, 2015 3:34 PM

This research explores the concept of urban agriculture and the water supply needed and used. It came up with surprising results that state that 80% of urban agriculture is in the developing world and 40% of urban agriculture is in or near cities.  

 

The research also covered water supply, stating that most of urban agriculture relies on irrigation. This is especially true in South Asia, and since the water resources are already scarce, the farmers have to compete for water with the government.

Raychel Johnson's curator insight, March 22, 2015 7:55 PM

Summary: This article is mostly about how much of our agriculture is grown within 20 miles of a city. It turns out 40% of agriculture is grown in this proximity of a city, and this mostly occurs with irrigated agriculture in South Asia. Most of these urban farms are in the developing world as well. 

 

Insight: This article relates to the von Thunen model because it directly talks about the rings that occur around a city, although it is a skewed version of it. I think this is also a good example of how cities have changed since the developing of the von Thunen model, showing that developed countries are supporting the idea of urban agriculture. 

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The Awful Reign of the Red Delicious

The Awful Reign of the Red Delicious | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it

"For at least 70 years, the Red Delicious has dominated apple production in the United States. But since the turn of the 21st century, as the market has filled with competitors—the Gala, the Fuji, the Honeycrisp—its lead has been narrowing. Annual output has plunged."


Via Seth Dixon
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Seth Dixon's curator insight, September 23, 2014 2:05 PM

The story of the Red Delicious is almost a perfect analogy for the food industry.  It was genetically selected for its marketable skin, an aesthetically sumptuous red.  The skin of the Red Delicious better covers bruises than other varieties and tastes more bitter.  Consumers were buying what the industry promoted and “eating with their eyes and not their mouths.”  But recently there has been a backlash in the United States and more American consumer are seeking out other varieties; meanwhile the apple producers are working on exporting this variety to around the world, but especially into Chinese markets.  


Tags: agriculture, food production, food distribution, agribusiness, USA

Shane C Cook's curator insight, May 27, 2015 4:55 AM

Oh how do I hate these waxy beauties. I remember in elementary school they offered these apples and I took a bite and had never tasted something so evil and wrong. Apples are supposed to be fresh, not tasteless and with no nutrients.

Dawn Haas Tache's curator insight, March 11, 9:34 PM
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Inside Monsanto, America's Third-Most-Hated Company

Inside Monsanto, America's Third-Most-Hated Company | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it
What's the genetically modified seed factory up to? Making high-tech plans to feed a growing world
PIRatE Lab's insight:

An interesting, well reported article about our massive agri/food science megacorporation.  Check out the interesting radio discussion prompted by the article:

 

http://onpoint.wbur.org/2014/07/08/gmo-labeling-vermont-oregon-monsanto

 

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They razed paradise and put up a soybean lot

They razed paradise and put up a soybean lot | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it
Brazil's agro powers are excited to be edging closer to soy giant the United States. But environmentalists say there's another reason to be very afraid for the rain forest.
PIRatE Lab's insight:

What a disappointing joke: the wholesale conversion of tropical forest to agriculture is continuing unabated.  The recent declines in deforestation rate are occurring as so much has already been lost.  To allow the relatively successful moratorium to wane will only foster greater destruction with all the familiar victims and impacts.

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Colin Jonaon's curator insight, April 7, 2014 3:29 PM

rescooped from Sean

 

-Colin

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California Drought News: Thirsty almonds and higher prices

California Drought News: Thirsty almonds and higher prices | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it
Today's journey through the drought reveals the growing impacts on California's all-important agricultural sector. But renewable energy offers a bright spot.
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Flat pack urban chicken coop lets you raise chickens on your balcony

Flat pack urban chicken coop lets you raise chickens on your balcony | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it
This flat pack, do-it-yourself version of a chicken has a lot of features, but can it help raise happy chickens on a city balcony?
PIRatE Lab's insight:

For the upscale urban egg layer...that doesn't have any space to raise an egg layer.

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Biotech ethical and legal challenges topic of CSUCI series

A monthly series that begins Thursday at CSU Channel Islands will explore the ethical dilemmas and legal considerations in the biotechnology industry.
PIRatE Lab's insight:

I'm a panelist on the May 1 discussion of genetically engineered salmon.

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UN Report Says Small-Scale Organic Farming Only Way to Feed the World | Over Grow The System

UN Report Says Small-Scale Organic Farming Only Way to Feed the World | Over Grow The System | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it
UN Report Says Small-Scale Organic Farming Only Way to Feed the World Via www.iatp.org Transformative changes are needed in our food, agriculture and trade systems in order to increase diversity on farms, reduce our use of fertilizer and other...
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Daniel LaLiberte's curator insight, March 9, 2014 2:24 PM

Feeding the world, even as we grow to a peak of about 9-10 billion, and even as we shut down the entire fossil fuel industry, should be easy enough, IF we change our ways so agriculture is a net positive for the environment rather than a net negative.  Growing crops can actually sequester more carbon from the atmosphere if we stop adding petrochemical based fertilizer and other chemicals.

Steven McGreevy's curator insight, March 10, 2014 10:01 PM

Great, tell us something we don't already know.  

Véronique Calvet's curator insight, April 26, 2015 11:03 AM
The UN really did subtitle this report "Wake Up Before It’s Too Late".
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Despite Majority Opposition, GMO Corn Gets Green Light in Europe

Despite Majority Opposition, GMO Corn Gets Green Light in Europe | Sustainability Science | Scoop.it

Corporations, backed by influential lobbyists and western governments, dealt major blows this month against activists who are fighting to limit the cultivation of genetically modified organisms(GMOs).

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