Brainfood: CGIAR, Wheat adoption, Durum erosion, Napier grass diversity, Asian trees, Cannabis origins, Potato genome, Somaclonal variation, Sugarcane collections, On farm beans, Crowd-sourced diets, Banana mapping, Medicinal enset, Vitis diversity

The humble spuds gets its 15 minutes of fame

I’m just back from a few weeks’ break in Kenya, where the big news was that over the holidays KFC ran out out chips (French fries). It was not a question of inadequate production, though. There are plenty of potatoes in Kenya.

The problem, apparently, was that potential local suppliers had not gone through KFC’s quality assurance process that makes sure “our food is safe for consumption by our customers”, the company’s East Africa chief executive Jacques Theunissen told the Standard newspaper.

So KFC ended up importing potatoes from Egypt, and ran into supply chain snarl-ups.

Makes you think. What’s the point of fancy breeding projects to boost local production, including by the likes of the International Potato Centre, based on decades of research, and using genetic resources painstakingly collected all over the Andes over many years, if in the end local growers get screwed over standards they don’t even know about?

Anyway, let me say a few words about what exactly it is I linked to above about potato collecting, because it really is worth having a look at.

Professor Jack Hawkes was a world-renowned potato and genetic resources expert who spent much of his professional life at the University of Birmingham. He made his first trip to South America in 1939 to collect wild and cultivated species of potato. And on this expedition and others that followed he made several 16 mm films, which have recently been converted to digital format, and become available to view more widely for the first time.

Dr Mike Jackson, no slouch at collecting potatoes himself, put the website together with help from Dr Abigail Amey, who wrote the narrative to accompany the films.

Happy new year.

An exhibition of the life of Nikolai Ivanovich

Jeremy has his latest Eat This Newsletter out. Do subscribe if you’re minded to, there’s always great stuff there. Here’s a taster. To get the reference at the end, you’ll have to read the whole newsletter :)

In 1932, Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov – the man who more or less invented the modern genebank and first understood the importance of crop diversity – visited Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He was there for the Sixth International Congress of Genetics and it was his final trip outside the USSR, because the forces of unreason were already pouring their poison into Stalin’s open ears.

Ninety years on, The Mann Library at Cornell has mounted an exhibit about Vavilov. Cultivating Silence: Nikolai Vavilov and the Suppression of Science in the Modern Era demonstrates the importance of Vavilov’s work and how he and genetics fell foul of Soviet science in the 1930s. I would be there if I possibly could. Instead, I’ll content myself with visiting The Mann’s Library’s online introduction to Vavilov and Cornell, a marvellous jumping-off point for anyone interested in the subject.

Oh, and, about that proletarian food movement…

Brainfood: Racism, Writing, QMS, Andean ag, Root breeding, Apple microbiome, Manihot phylogeny, Mukodamashi millet