Lost rice found, again

First there was Carolina Gold. Now there is “upland red bearded” or “Moruga Hill” rice.

Mr. Dennis had heard about hill rice…through the culinary organization Slow Food USA and the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation, the group that brought back Carolina Gold in the early 2000s. He’d also heard stories about it from elderly cooks in his community. Like everyone else, he thought the hill rice of the African diaspora was lost forever.

But then, on a rainy morning in the Trinidad hills in December 2016, he walked past coconut trees and towering okra plants to the edge of a field with ripe stalks of rice, each grain covered in a reddish husk and sprouting spiky tufts.

“Here I am looking at this rice and I said: ‘Wow. Wait a minute. This is that rice that’s missing,’” he said.

It is hard to overstate how shocked the people who study rice were to learn that the long-lost American hill rice was alive and growing in the Caribbean. Horticulturists at the Smithsonian Institution want to grow it, rice geneticists at New York University are testing it and the United States Department of Agriculture is reviewing it. If all goes well, it may become a commercial crop in America, and a menu staple as diners develop a deeper appreciation for African-American food.

And no, they couldn’t have found it in genebanks.1 This is what Genesys knows from the region. Trinidad is shown by the yellow marker, rice accessions in red. No rice accessions in Genesys from anywhere near Trinidad, alas.

Someone should really have a systematic look at all those red dots, though.

  1. Like Pawnee corn. []

Pawnee corn latest

Attentive readers who remember our series of posts on the resurrection of Pawnee corn from almost 10 years ago may be interested in this recent Twitter thread from Prof. C.S Prakash.

For those who would prefer to stay away from Twitter, and I know there are some, I’ll take the liberty to reproduce Prof. Prakash’s text below, embedding the links for clarity, but minus the photos, alas.

  • Amazing story of the revival of Pawnee Eagle Corn. Grown by native Americans, thought to be extinct. One family had saved last 50 kernels taken with them when they were exiled from Nebraska to Oklahoma in the 1870s. “It tastes like almonds with cream”.
  • A farmer who grew the Pawnee Eagle and other heirloom corn 🌽. Much beauty in the biodiversity, once extinct it is lost forever. Gene banks and such farmers heroes! Vavilov is smiling!
  • Deb Echo-Hawk, Pawnee tribe’s official ‘Keeper of the seeds’. When tribes were forced from state to state by the US govt — Trail of Tears — seed keepers brought their own strains of corn seeds with them, so when they settled again, they could grow food on their new land.
  • Eagle corn revived from near-extinction by an unlikely friendship and determination of Native American seed saver from Oklahoma Deb-Echo Hawk along with Ronnie O’Brien, a culinary art instructor at a community college in Nebraska.
  • Pawnee tribe lived along tributaries of the Missouri River in Nebraska. In 1870, ~ 12,000 people were removed from their land, forcibly exiled to Oklahoma, only about 600 survived. Eagle corn is a tragic testimony to the brutal racism Pawnee endured.
  • Roger Echo-Hawk mentioned to me that as Native Americans could not get into US universities in the 19th century, black universities such as Hampton Institute educated them. Booker T. Washington who founded @TuskegeeUniv where I work, also studied there!
  • Those who wish to reach Deb Echo-Hawk to learn more about the Pawnee Eagle Corn heirloom seed and check with her when the seeds would be public available may contact her through Facebook page.
  • Learn more about this amazing Pawnee Eagle Corn — Workshop on ‘NATIVE CORN’ Honoring Nebraska’s First Farmers — The First Meeting on Indigenous Crops in Nebraska, April 28, 2018 at the Central Community College-Hastings, Hastings.

Crowdsourcing genebank training needs

USDA-ARS and Colorado State University are organizing a workshop:

  • To identify the pedagogical options, logistics, and curriculum topics for a U.S. plant genetic resource management training effort, with major emphasis on a distance-learning course.
  • To design a strategy to develop, deliver, and sustain a plant genetic resource management training program.

They’re asking me for an “international perspective” on what genebank managers should be knowledgeable about, so I’m asking you. But don’t send me a laundry list (there are plenty of curriculums out there), or your favourite topic. What I’d like to know is what ONE topic you think has been neglected in teaching crop diversity conservation in the past, and is unlikely to be revived without a major effort.

All contributions will be gratefully acknowledged in my presentation, needless to say (and I’ll post evidence to that effect in due course).


Brainfood: Core collections, Food system sustainability, Sunflower breeding, Modern/traditional mosaic, Nepal earthquake response, Modelling erosion, Folate in potato, Argentinian andigena, Millet evaluation, Pigeonpea evaluation, Sugarcane evaluation, Bean drought genes, Threatened trees