Glenn, in a comment on Luigi’s wheat heat post, has this to say:
The question about whether to change crops or change varieties needs more attention. There is an institutional inertia, such that CIMMYT would never suggest changing crops. Nor would any other commodity center since they have a vested interest in R+D oriented towards changing varieties. Agricultural biodiversity proponents would also seem to have a conflict of interest. If you could just change crops, the diversity within a crop may not be so important. I donâ€™t believe that, but it would seem that some research on changing varieties or changing crops would be useful.
I think this is a very interesting and important point. (I disagree with the notion that proponents of agrobiodiversity aren’t interested, because diversity will remain important, but that’s a separate issue.) We are forever hearing that X people don’t eat Y, and to a certain extent that is true. The Bengal Famine of 1943 is often trotted out as the canonical example, when rice-eaters starved rather than eat wheat (though the story is definitely a lot more complicated than that). But world history is also absolutely full of counterexamples. Italians, for example, don’t like to be told that their pomodori, peperoncini, fagioli are Johnny-come-latelies to these shores, but they are. And then there’s the way maize and the potato swept all before them. We need to know more about the anthropology of diet and how people do indeed make the choice to adopt new staples and new condiments.
I do not write as an authority in agriculture or as a geneticist but nothing beats experience!
Of course, if I were into the whole brevity thing I’d just say that Adyeri Kanyaihe is pro locally adapted varieties. In an article on “Uganda’s leading website” Kanyaihe extolls the virtues, as he or she perceives them, of “indigenous seeds”. And to be honest, there’s not a lot wrong with the reasoning Kanyaihe exhibits. But don’t take my word for it. Pop on over to The New Vision and read about the tiny tasty tomato that thrives on hardship.
It’s a scandal! The Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council have stopped funding research at the University of Minnesota because “the university hurt the farmers’ feelings,” according to the director of the two groups.
How? By discovering that growing biofuel crops on existing farmland may be more damaging to the atmosphere than using fossil fuels. That story has been all over, and we didn’t link to it because it isn’t quite up our main street. But interfering with research in this way affects all of us.
PZ, from whom we picked up this latest twist on the story, sums it up best:
Some people, even prominent, wealthy people, simply don’t understand the fundamental concept of basic research. The goal isn’t to get answers that make you feel good; it isn’t to find ways to rationalize continuing damaging practices; it isn’t even to pat you on the should and salve your delicate feelings. It is to find out the actual answer to a problem, no matter what it may be. Don’t fund research if you’re afraid of the truth.