Bringing ancient farming to life

by Luigi Guarino on July 30, 2014

There are pigs, sheep and goats here. Some are ancient varieties, more popular 1,400 years ago than they are today. Like a shaggy-haired pig described my guide, John Sadler, as “half a ton of very grumpy animal … only interested if you feed it, or if you fall in — in which case you are food.”

That’s from a podcast I follow, The World in Words, which is about languages, not agricultural biodiversity. This particular episode was part of a series about places which have been important in the evolution of the English language, and focuses on Jarrow in northern England, haunt of the Venerable Bede.

“He’s the first person to actually write down who it was that actually came to the British Isles,” says linguist David Crystal, co-author with Hilary Crystal of Wordsmiths and Warriors. “He talks about the Angles and the Saxons and the Jutes, and discusses the range of languages that were spoken around the country.”

The grumpy pig and other animals “are part of a re-creation of an Anglo-Saxon village, with timber-framed buildings and turf-covered sheds. The farm is called Gyrwe, Old English for Jarrow. It’s part of a museum called Bedesworld.”

Its website has a little bit on the livestock you can see there, but I couldn’t find anything on any crops that might be part of the experience, which is a pity. I hadn’t thought much about this before, but such open-air museums focusing on the history of farming could be useful ways of communicating the importance of conserving agricultural biodiversity, and indeed even doing some conservation. There are many of them, in the US, in Europe (see also) and elsewhere. And there are some journals that cater to them.

Does anyone out there know of examples of farming museums such as Bede’s World doing serious conservation of crop diversity?


Surviving Glenda

by Luigi Guarino on July 29, 2014

We have finally received news of the Philippines national genebank. Teresita Borromeo, who has worked there for some years, sent us the following email:

Yes, after 8 years, we were again devastated by the typhoon. The storage room is fortunately safe but our regeneration areas were completely damaged as well as our field gene bank. There was not much flood water as in 2006 but the winds were strong which lasted around ten hours. We had electricity just last Friday afternoon, so our freezers were first powered by generator. This again highlights the need for safety duplication within and outside the country. UPLB is greatly damaged, many trees fell down.



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Bambara groundnut goes online

by Luigi Guarino on July 26, 2014

A workshop on Bambara groundnut (Vigna subterranea L) was co-hosted by the Crop Research Institute of Ghana and the Crops for the Future Research Centre (CFFRC) last September in Accra. One of the recommendations was to re-establish an on-line forum for the crop. We’ve now heard from Sean Mayes of CFFRC that “(t)he first phase of this is now complete.”

The current material on the site is really illustrative and we would welcome contributions from far and wide. Please make sure that you own the copyright on anything you would like posted, but we would welcome anything from papers to Bambara groundnut researcher profiles, news, current research etc.

The aim of the site is to link together people working in similar areas so that the individual efforts on Bambara research can begin to add up to something greater. This will benefit everyone involved and help to provide hard scientific evidence of how Bambara can realistically contribute to food security and income generation. Integrating research from genomics through to socio-economic policy is a key aim for underutilised species which often suffer from a range of problems across the entire value chain, so we would welcome input and contribution from all disciplines.

The list of contacts we have is currently limited to those who have contacted us, so please feel free to forward the site address to colleagues and other you feel would be interested. If you would prefer to be removed from the list, please let Razlin know (Razlin (dot) Azman (at) If you could also send any contributions/questions/concerns to Razlin as she will be the main person responsible for updating and maintaining the site on a day-to-day basis.

Simply as a starting point, a number of international researchers have offered to act as a steering committee for the site to get things off the ground. However, we are hosting the site on behalf of the Bambara groundnut community, so would also welcome suggestions and offers to help develop the site as a focal point for Bambara groundnut research.

Feel free to use the comments here also to leave suggestions. We’ll make sure they reach their destination.

Incidentally, speaking of neglected crops, can’t resist posting this photo I took yesterday in a Nairobi supermarket.


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Global rice genebank just fine

25 July 2014

Just a quick note to say that Typhoon Rammasun caused some damage at IRRI, but apparently nothing major. The genebank is ok, but the screenhouse used to keep some wild rice plants will clearly have to be repaired. I’m assured that’s going to be a high priority.

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Correction to our post on BCS

21 July 2014

Lastus Kuniata, Head of Research and Development at Ramu Agri Industries Ltd in Papua New Guinea, quite rightly corrected our piece on Bogia Coconut Syndrome, both here and on Pestnet: “The same phytoplasma is suspected to affect other palm crops, such as oil palm and betel nut” this statement by Luigi to suspect BCS in […]

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Brainfood: Agricultural anthropology special edition, Breeding gourami, FGR indicators, Solanum phenomics, Organic aphids, Restoration genetics, Wild Vigna, Genebanks & genomics

21 July 2014

Tending the Field: Special Issue on Agricultural Anthropology and Robert E. Rhoades. Agrobiodiversity conservation, participatory and collaborative research, and the politics of agricultural development. Genetic Diversity of Siamese Gourami from Sumatra, Java and Kalimantan for Selective Breeding of Fish Culture. Yeah, but does it taste nice? Time for some fishicultural anthropology, methinks. Global to local […]

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The latest on the Bogia Coconut Syndrome

18 July 2014

The main reason for my quick trip to Papua New Guinea last week was to get up to date on Bogia Coconut Syndrome (BCS). Readers with a long(ish) memory may remember that we blogged about this some time back. Quick recap. BCS is a phytoplasma disease first reported about 20 years ago in Yaro Plantation, […]

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If life gives you potatoes…

17 July 2014

This from the Facebook page of the Consorcio Papas Andinas del Peru. The caption says: Pronto, en los mejores Supermercados de Lima, en una edición limitada, de las mejores papas de los Festivales 2012, 2013 y 2014. That means that these little boxes, featuring the best varieties from recent National Native Potato Festivals,1 will soon […]

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Yam secrets revealed

16 July 2014

I ran across an interesting article in The National newspaper last week in PNG, but I can’t find it online, so I’m posting a scan of it below. You should be able to read it ok if you click on it. It’s worth it. How can anything with the title “Secret Abelam yam initiation exposed” […]

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