San Francisco leads the way?

Victory Gardens in San Francisco aims to rekindle, kindle, ignite — I don’t know — some kind of wartime spirit by delivering a complete garden starter kit by tricycle. Well of course it’s wacky. But it might just take off, and it does promote agricultural biodiversity in an urban setting. Heck, they’ve even got their own seed bank, just like the big boys.

Uncultivated biodiversity

A few of us have been known to anguish over the term neglected and underutilized species, for a couple of reasons. First off, why use underutilized when underused will do? More importantly, though, it invites a couple of questions. Neglected by whom? Underused by whom? Neglected by science and research, usually, and underused by people who could make more use of them. But still, it’s an unsatisfactory phrase, because as soon as researchers have become interested and people have started making more use of it, the species in question is neither neglected nor underused. “Orphan crops” is lame. Nothing else quite captures it. All of which is somewhat by the by.

Except that I’ve just come across the phrase “uncultivated biodiversity” in a book recently published by the International Research Development Centre in Canada. Food Sovereignty and Uncultivated Biodiversity in South Asia: Essays on the Poverty of Food Policy and the Wealth of the Social Landscape promises to be a fascinating read.

Based on extensive field research in India and Bangladesh, with and by farming communities, the book offers both people-based and evidence-based perspectives on the value of ecological farming, the survival strategies of the very poor, and the ongoing contribution of biodiversity to livelihoods. It also introduces new concepts such as “the social landscape” and “the ethical relations underlying production systems” relevant to key debates concerning the cultural politics of food sovereignty, land tenure, and the economics of food systems. The authors are leading activists and accomplished researchers with a long history of engagement with farming communities and the peasant world in South Asia and elsewhere.

The whole book is available for download, but I might just have to spring for a printed copy because it comes with a DVD of farmer-made films that I’d love to see. Come to think of it, if anyone at IDRC is reading this, why not enter them in our competition?

Of course, “uncultivated biodiversity” doesn’t solve the problem of what to call those pesky species that are cultivated and used by people but remain neglected and underutilized by researchers. Suggestions?

Agra explains

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa has found it necessary to issue a statement clarifying it’s position on Plant Breeding and Genetic Engineering. This is in response to the press that Agra’s Board Chair, Kofi Annan, received when he outlined Agra’s non-GMO position. I’ve read the statement carefully a couple of times now. It does indeed rule out GMOs for the time being. Even for bananas.

Agra says it will reconsider if and when African countries and their people have considered the matter and have put in place rules and regulations for “the safe development and acceptable use of new technologies”.

An open letter to Kofi Annan

Dear Mr Annan

Congratulations on your appointment as Chair of the Board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. In your inaugural lecture in Capetown you said categorically that the Alliance would “work with farmers using traditional seeds known to them”. I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “traditional seeds,” especially in view of Agra’s strong focus on breeding: “we will develop improved varieties for the full range of Africa’s important staple food crops,” it says on the Agra web site.

Maybe you just mean “not genetically engineered”. That might make sense, because the sentence before the one on “traditional seeds” reads: “We in the Alliance will not incorporate GMOs in our programmes.”

Continue reading “An open letter to Kofi Annan”