Meta-Brainfood for the weekend

Time to clean up a few things, I think. For a while now, I’ve been hoarding links to edited volumes. My idea was to do a special dedicated Brainfood on each one, but I now fear that just ain’t gonna happen. Too much other stuff on. So here they are. Maybe one of you will help me out? You know what to do. A pithy one or two sentences summarizing each paper, based on the abstract only if you’re into the whole brevity thing. Interested? Let me know in the comments below, and we’ll set something up. Our first guest-curated Brainfood…

Here they are:

  • Do you remember the 2017 book Against The Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott? I think we may have blogged about it. Anyway, it suggested that it was grain (as opposed to tuber) cultivation that led to the development of hierarchical states. Grain is visible and portable, and so easy to tax, you see. There are interviews with the author galore if you like podcasts. Ok, well, the Cambridge Archaeological Journal had a whole Review Symposium deconstructing that particular revisionist narrative.
  • In 2018, something called the 1st International Conference on Genetic Resources and Biotechnology was held in Bogor, Indonesia. A bit of a misnomer, it was really mainly about “[i]nformation system and exchanges of genetic resources for effective crop improvement.” These are the proceedings, and all of the dozens of papers are open access. Maybe someone out there could do their Top 10.
  • This one is not as relevant as the others, but it’s interesting nonetheless: Remote Sensing of Plant Biodiversity. Surely some of the 20 contributions have something to say about agricultural biodiversity? Who’s willing to have a look?
  • Then there’s the Special Issue of Application in Plant Sciences on Machine Learning in Plant Biology: Advances Using Herbarium Specimen Images. Yummy. Automated identification of CWR specimens, anyone?
  • And finally, just out, a Topical Collection in Agriculture and Human Values on Agriculture, Food & Covid-19. Come on, who can resist a hot-take (well, a Rapid Response Opinion) entitled Maybe there is an alternative after all?

Looking forward to hearing from you.

And don’t worry, there’ll be a normal Brainfood on Monday as usual.

Switched on switchgrass

Do you live in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, eastern Indiana, western Ohio, eastern Iowa, western North Dakota, eastern Montana, northern Wisconsin, northern Michigan, or the southern Appalachian mountains? Basically the gappy areas below.

Ok, now, do you have any switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) around where you are? Might look something like this.

By Warren Gretz, DOE/NREL – National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Public Domain.

If so, Dr David Lowry at Michigan State University would like to hear from you.

NOTE: In the interest of full disclosure, I had to change the photo because I uploaded the wrong species having dowloaded a number of different ones from Wikipedia. Thanks to Dave Wood for pointing that out. I originally did it in a hurry and wasn’t paying close enough attention. Sorry.

Questionnaire on seed conservation and security

Do you conserve crop diversity or contribute to seed security at the local or national levels? If so, the DIVERSIFARM project would like to hear from you.

The questionnaire survey is carried out as part of the research project Pathways to food security, poverty alleviation and livelihoods through the implementation of farmers rights to crop genetic diversity (DIVERSIFARM), carried out by the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Norway, in collaboration with University of Cape Town, South Africa; Mekelle University, Ethiopia; The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT; German Institute for Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture; and Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Following this survey, further research and case-studies will be carried out, with the ultimate goal of identifying a roadmap to scale up successful models.

Please complete, and pass on…

Whither AGRA?

AGRA and the Gates Foundation have now reacted to the white paper by Timothy Wise entitled “Failing Africa’s Farmers: An Impact Assessment of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.” We recently Nibbled a report based on the study put out by a group of NGOs.

Wise’s paper suggests that AGRA has been changing its impact targets to make itself look better, and that in any case there has been…

…slow productivity growth, no significant increases in food security or small-farmer incomes in the target countries, and worsening hunger.

It then calls for a change in approach, jettisoning the Green Revolution model and embracing agroecology1. In reply, AGRA calls the research “not professional and ethical,” does some ad hominem, says it is doing its own thoroughgoing evaluation, refers to its annual reports and basket of indicators (some of which it admits have changed over time, but for good reasons) for evidence of impact, and points out that some things it can’t control anyway. The Gates Foundation stands by AGRA in its own response.

The disagreement about what’s needed is powerfully encapsulated by Million Belay, of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa:

We are told that our seeds are old and have little capacity to give us food and they have to be hybridized and genetically modified to be of use; we are told that what we need is more calories and we need to focus on seeds of few crops; we are told that we are not using our land effectively and it should be given to those who can do a better job of it; we are told that our knowledge about farming is backward and we need to modernize with knowledge from the West … we are told, we need business to invest billions of dollars, and without these saviors from the North, we cannot feed ourselves. Our world is defined simply by producing more, not in having healthy, nutritious and culturally appropriate food, produced without harming the environment.

I expect this will run and run. It already has.

  1. Which, despite the title of an article on a recent meta-analysis, is not the same as conservation agriculture. It may, however, be the same as syntropic agriculture. []