Brainfood: Desho grass, Wheat breeding, Restoration seed policies, Drought rice, Dietary quality, Passport data, Bombyx breeding, Tea domestication, Carp diversity, Abyssinian pea, Chickpea subsetting, Oat breeding, Phenointegration, Food trade

Celebrating Africa

Well, while we can all agree that living conditions in many places in Africa may not be up to the standard of the current President of the USA, that hasn’t stopped the continent producing some very remarkable women and men. I’ll just mention two from our field who have been in the news lately, one for a happy reason and one for a sad.

On the happy side, Dr Segent Kelemu, director general of ICIPE, was just featured by Bill Gates in the recent issue of Time magazine which he guest-edited:

Kelemu, 60, grew up in a small Ethiopian village with only one dress and no shoes to wear. She rebelled against the constraints placed on her as a girl. (They cracked.) Along the way, she has fostered a faith that each problem possesses a solution. Among her discoveries: “Life is always a lesson,” she says. “Every day, I learn from everybody.”

On a much sadder note, Harvard’s Prof. Calestous Juma passed away just before Christmas:

Africa, he wrote, contained 60% of the world’s available arable land. It also contained, in sharp contrast to monocultures elsewhere, a vast range of indigenous crops. Many of these, long adapted to arid conditions, could help feed the world despite climate change. Africa was a reservoir of biodiversity, and the next step was to ensure that the storing of seeds, and research into them, became the business of African governments, universities and farmers. Perhaps his most satisfying stint was as the first executive secretary of the UN convention on biodiversity of 1992—in effect an African safeguarder of that vast and endangered genetic library, still hardly catalogued and still largely unread.

Let’s celebrate them, and all the others too.

Jerry Konanui

Some bad news from Penny:

It is with great sadness that I convey the news that Jerry Konanui, of the giant kalo, cultural practitioner, traditional Hawaiian kalo and ‘awa cultivar expert, friend and colleague has passed. Jerry was a shining example of an indigenous scientist who bridged both research and traditional practice effortlessly and was highly respected in Hawaii and elsewhere for his work. He was instrumental in reviving interest in Hawaiian crop biodiversity in the Islands and I was honored to have spent almost two decades working on cultivar recovery and identification with he and his wife. His verification work led to the re-establishment of improved collections among botanical gardens and agriculture stations in Hawaii. Jerry shared his knowledge with great aloha and humor over the years, captivating and inspiring hundreds of students and farmers to plant and rediscover the unique and fragrant flavors of Hawaiian taro and ‘awa. Aloha ‘oe Jerry! You will be sorely missed.

huge taro

Aloha ‘oe Jerry!

Photographing dietary quality

People in other cultures are often portrayed as scary or exotic. This has to change. We want to show how people really live. It seemed natural to use photos as data so people can see for themselves what life looks like on different income levels.

That’s Anna Rosling Rönnlund of Gapminder on Dollar Street.

Dollar Street lets you visit many, many homes all over the world. Without travelling.

There are photos of everything from toilets to pets. The food items included are “grains”


and “spices.”

We know from recent work from our friends at Bioversity and their partners that number of species consumed is a good proxy for the nutritional quality of diets across countries and seasons. I wonder if such photographic documentation can be used to estimate dietary richness, and thus quality?