A tale of three (illicit) crops

Still not online here in Nairobi, but listening to the BBC World Service on the radio, I was struck by two (sort of linked) stories. One said that marijuana is now the biggest cash crop in the USA. The other was about coca in Bolivia and how the new president of that country, Evo Morales, is suggesting that cultivation of the crop should be expanded and new products developed based on the traditional uses of the plant. Then in the Daily Nation this morning there is an article about how miraa (or qat, Catha edulis) farming is taking a hit in northern Kenya after miraa flights to Somalia were banned by the new authorities there. Now livelihoods are threatened and there is apparently an upsurge in crime in miraa growing areas. Anybody out there want to draw some conclusions?

Greetings from Nairobi

We arrived in Nairobi a couple of days back and are still jet-lagged and trying to settle in. I’m writing this in a back alley cybercafe as it will take some time to get online in the apartment we are renting, I suspect. Anyway, in the Daily Nation this morning there was an article on the possible establishment of a potato genebank and breeding programme by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. It doesn’t seem to be online yet, but I will link to it as soon as it appears in cyberspace, as there’s a lot of interesting information on the history of potatoes in Kenya.

Biodiverse biofuels

Research at the University of Minnesota suggests that growing diverse mixtures of perennials on relatively poor land in a way that mimics natural grasslands is – surprise! – a better way of producing biofuels than intensive monocultures of maize or soybeans. This will run and run. I bet tinkering with the species composition and perhaps breeding some of the component species will be next, and lead to significant improvements in the system. While we wait for that though, here’s what Grist calls a two-week crash course on biofuels.

India protects breeders’ and farmers’ rights

The first registrations are under way in India under the 2001 Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act. The Act is India’s sui generis system for the protection of plant varieties as required under the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPs). As the name implies, however, the law also provides for the granting of Farmers’ Rights, following a vocal campaign by NGOs. There’s a good summary of the provisions here.

The Garden of Eden revisited

The Iraqi wetlands made famous by Wilfred Thesiger as the home of the Marsh Arabs and devastated by Saddam Hussein are apparently making a comeback, thanks to a UNEP “project to restore the network of watercourses which provided inhabitants with water for drinking and farming, and supported the region’s unique ecology.” I’m intrigued by that reference to agriculture. What did (do?) the Marsh Arabs farm? Rice, wheat, barley and millet, as it turns out, although there is apparently another group which specializes in raising the buffalo. But do they still have their traditional crop varieties and livestock breeds? If not, will it be possible to recover at least some of them from genebanks around the world? I hope someone is looking into this.

Coincidentally, from half a world away, comes an example of a genebank helping to restore an indigenous community’s crop genetic resources.