Nibbles: Orphan crops, False banana, Kava, Old corn, Food museum, Yoghurt, Neolithic, Wheat breeding, Trees, Old clove, Monoculture history

  1. IFAD paean to neglected crops.
  2. BBC tribute to enset.
  3. Threnody to unsustainable kava.
  4. Hymn to a pot of ancient maize.
  5. Toast to a new museum of food in the UK.
  6. Jeremy’s duet with June Hersh on yoghurt.
  7. Scientific American epic on the European Neolithic.
  8. Rhapsody on saving wheat from climate change.
  9. Collection of important tree species from ICRAF.
  10. Panegyric to a clove tree.
  11. A eulogy for monoculture?

One Reply to “Nibbles: Orphan crops, False banana, Kava, Old corn, Food museum, Yoghurt, Neolithic, Wheat breeding, Trees, Old clove, Monoculture history”

  1. A eulogy for monoculture?

    This is a report of a successful application for a £2 million grant by Professor Frank Uekötter, University of Birmingham.

    The project is a search to understand “the seemingly inexplicable global phenomenon of monoculture.” The end result will be:

    …creating a global research network that will use the tools of history to answer the most pertinent of questions about monoculture – why?

    It is pitiful stuff.

    Its first example is coffee rust: “…a fungus which originated in Sri Lanka 150 years ago…” Wrong. The most basic search (Wiki) shows that it was first recorded by an English explorer in 1861 near Lake Victoria (East Africa) on wild Coffea species – which is exactly what we would expect. It may have been around a million years or so.

    The scientific illiteracy continues: “Yet there is no biological theory of monoculture” and “Monoculture represents a huge gamble for modern society, and we work without a paradigm.” This is not true.

    The problem for Prof. Uekötter is that his monocultures are explicable by two existing, but distinct, paradigms.

    The first paradigm explains the effect of stress. A sound ecological paradigm for monodominance had been provided by an ecologist, Grime (1979, Plant Strategies and Vegetation Processes), who located plant strategies within a triangle determined by species abilities as ruderals, stress tolerants, or competitives. Importantly, Grime noted that at the respective corners of the triangle members of each of the three classes become the “exclusive constituents of the vegetation.” That is, members of each class become monodominant, in effect, tougher than any other available species under the local conditions of stress. We built on this to show that the first cereals were domesticated from wild relatives under stress. This applies to annual crops under conditions of fire or flood. Apart from agriculture there are very many natural examples.

    A second paradigm applies to perennials, including the many perennial plantation crops mentioned by Prof. Uekötter. This depends of the idea that biotic introductions, especially transoceanic, escape from their co-evolved pests and diseases. This is well-known in conservation biology from the many examples of introduced invasive species (rabbits in Australia and thousands more examples). The value of crop introduction is amply backed by production statistics and by practice going back centuries – not least the ‘article of faith’ by the British colonial Departments of Agriculture. In Anderson’s words: “In the region where a crop was domesticated there are the maximum number of pests and diseases which have been evolved to prey upon that particular kind of plant.” And for each crop “the farther you get from its centre of origin the more of its pests you can hope to leave behind.” This was written in 1954 (E. Anderson, Plants, Man and Life, Melrose, London, 1954, p 160).

    All this is well known and does not need a project to solve what is not now “seemingly inexplicable”: we have explained it. Our latest paper on the remarkable similarities of natural monodominance and crop monocultures will be available next week from the Outlook on Agriculture website with the title “Monodominant natural vegetation provides models for nature-based cereal production” (DOI:10.1177/00307270221078022/ ID:OAG-21-0452.R2).

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