Not nibbles: on women, sweetness, reinventing the CGIAR, tomatoes and seed swaps

Notes from all over: In Vietnam, a woman working on the conservation of indigenous livestock breeds — Professor Le Thi Thuy — has won the 2009 Kovalepskaia Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany. ILRI’s blog post on the award tells us more about Kovalepskaya (a pioneering Russian mathematician) than about Professor Thuy or the project she directs. But we’re here to tell you that pigs may be involved.

In Australia, a casual mention of sugarbag flies took me to a post about the Weipa mission in “North Queensland on the west side of Cape York, the pointy bit at the top”. There’s a lot more to this post than the heritage of honey and how to make good use of it; not as sustainably as you might imagine, in many cases. In any case, it is a great read.

In France, right now, and elsewhere at other times, the burning question on everyone’s lips: Are Gates and CGIAR a good mix for Africa? We’re not going to rehearse all the old arguments here — does that for us. But we might be even bolder and ask whether the new CGIAR will be a good idea not just for Africa but for the hungry everywhere. Maybe not

In academe, an odd paper in Nature Genetics focuses on a single gene that can boost tomato yields by 60% or some. Sure, that’s not going to feed the world, but it might make ketchup supplies more secure. The press release casts the discovery as an explanation of heterosis, which seems like overegging the pudding, but perhaps that’s just me.

In the informal seed sector, two posts that illuminate a different way of spreading agricultural biodiversity. The Guardian (no, not that one, the one that “covers Prince Edward Island like the dew”) reports on a local meeting of Seeds of Diversity Canada. I wonder how many potato varieties there are on PEI. And over at Our Earth/Ourselves, Madronna Holden ruminates on How to feed the world. A big part of her answer: A Propagation Fair.

2 Replies to “Not nibbles: on women, sweetness, reinventing the CGIAR, tomatoes and seed swaps”

  1. the blog keeps getting better. the writing brings to mind the NYT op-ed columnist Frank Rich, my personal hero.

    the Gates-CGIAR connection deserves some scrutiny given the smooth transition of many people from agbiotech corporations to the b&mgf. when the journal Science published its global grand challenges for health and nutrition in 2003 and the gates foundation staked its money on global challenge 9 “Create a full range of optimal bioavailable nutrients in a single staple plant species” !!! i thought wowee, know i can know what mealtimes must have been like for cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin.

    in fairness, i am certain that the gates foundation’s thinking is sure to have evolved since then, but i have never seen or read any criticism or ackowledgement of what may have been wrong with their view back in 2003. at several stages people have tried to call the foundation’s attention to analyses calling for a broader perspective on crop improvement that includes crop and varietal diversity for food and nutrition. yet the foundation still puts all its stakes on high gains through breeding of global staples. even economists might question expectations for big payoffs to the poor and hungry from major increases in funding for crop breeding of staples. hasn’t the yield curve begun to level off in terms of gains? whether simplifiaction of ecosystems and food systems to deliver more cheap food is the key to solving global hunger and malnutrition deserves some serious thought. but one gets the sense that the search for quick technological fixes attracts people with technological skills that do what they do, and that is molecular assisted breeding of global staples.
    b&mgf boasts that they are impatient to see concrete solutions to global poverty. i too am impatient to see and end to the hunger and poverty that is well within our capacity to stop. but it may require more patience in the thinking and analysis and a broader vision than the biotech corporations and gates foundation have been willing to undertake.

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