Nibbles: Tree conservation, Seed fairs, Baobab powder, Simran’s book, Cheesy prince, Companies & CC, Organic breeding

One Reply to “Nibbles: Tree conservation, Seed fairs, Baobab powder, Simran’s book, Cheesy prince, Companies & CC, Organic breeding”

  1. Sethi’s book ‘Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love’ gets excellent reviews. However, one alarmed me. The Wall Street Journal reports that Sethi: “… looks at ways in which monoculture and an increasingly standardized global diet put food systems in peril and leave crops vulnerable to blight and climate change.” If this is the case Sethi has missed the point very badly.
    Sethi look in detail at wine, chocolate, beer, bread and coffee (and for some reason, octopus). The production figures for Vitis, Theobroma, Humulus (hops, but she also looks at beer yeast), Triticum and Coffea show that these crops are grown very predominantly away from their Centres of Domestication. This reduces their exposure (and therefore vulnerability) to co-evolved pests and diseases. This production advantage has nothing to do with monoculture and a `standardized global diet’ as reasons for crop vulnerability to pests, disease, and climate change.
    For beer – about which I know a lot – I can only say with respect to `loss of foods we love’: “Surely, you’re joking Ms. Sethi!”. The explosion of microbreweries world-wide has given us the best and most varied beer for a century. Yeast varieties are available in brewery and national collection all over the place. Hop varieties ditto, not least in the Pacific North West of the USA, with new varieties coming along all the time. My lunchtime beer yesterday was flavoured with Citra, Centennial and Vic Secret hops – the first two from the USA the last from Australia – all relatively new varieties.
    For coffee Ethiopia – the Centre of Domestication – exports only 3.5 million 60kg bags. Latin America exports 64.4 million 60kg bags. There is a vast collection of global coffee germplasm in CATIE, Costa Rica, with far more taste variation than could last any person’s lifetime.
    CATIE also has a vast Theobroma and other wild relatives of cacao. The Centre of Domestication of cacao in the tropical Americas produces 721,527 tonnes. West Africa produces 3.0 million tonnes.
    For climate change crop introduction is an excellent way of seeing just how crops are adapted or can further adapt to a greatly expanded range.
    None of this removes the need for adequate germplasm collections to backstop production. But rather than visiting Ecuador for cacao and Ethiopia for coffee Sethi should have spent a few days at CATIE in Costa Rice, which has huge coffee and cacao field collections ready to go.
    I cannot see any problems with the loss of wine grapes and bread of any kind – the crops are grown all over the place. But for goodness sake let us not have another Phylloxera epidemic, caused by importing to Europe diseased wild relatives of grape from the USA 150 years ago, when there was no adequate plant quarantine.

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