Brainfood: Diversification, Nepal agrobiodiversity, Agroecology double, Agroforestry, Seeds of deforestation, Millets models

Nibbles: Iron beans, Tree projects, Lablab genome, Tree collection management, Italian cooking, Replacing ugali, Gene-edited teff, Communicating plant breeding, Plant diseases, Sustainable intensification, Transforming African ag, Ag research investment, Saving seeds, Ukraine genebank

  1. Jeremy continues to dig deep into biofortification, and is not happy with what he finds out about iron-rich beans.
  2. Maybe he’ll donate to one of CIFOR-ICRAF’s nutrition-flavoured tree projects instead.
  3. Don’t worry, maybe lablab can be biofortified now that we have its genome.
  4. Speaking of trees, if you want to plant one in a particular botanic garden or arboretum, is it likely to thrive, now and in the future? Find out using the BGCI Climate Assessment Tool.
  5. Speaking of botanic gardens and arboreta, here are some resources on how they manage their tree collections.
  6. Prof. Alberto Grandi debunks the many myths of Italian cuisine.
  7. Christine Gatwiri doesn’t think maize can be replaced in Kenyan cuisine. I just hope it can be replaced in Italian cuisine.
  8. Will gene-edited teff finds its way into Ethiopian cuisine? And would it be a bad thing if it did? It depends on being open about it I guess…
  9. … so let’s remind ourselves of some ways plant breeding can usefully engage with the public, shall we?
  10. And let’s also remind ourselves that plant breeding is necessary, for example to protect our food supply against diseases. The Guardian has receipts.
  11. Prof. Glenn Denning doubles down on the whole better-maize-seeds-plus-fertilizer thing in Africa, but adds some greenery. In more senses than one. So yes, trees are allowed. And maybe even lablab and teff for all I know. Incidentally, the above gene-edited teff is shorter than “normal”, which could mean it might respond to more fertilizer in the same way as those Green Revolution wheats and rices once did.
  12. Ah yes, the “transformation” and “revolution” tropes are definitely all over the discourse on African agriculture these days. According to this article, what transformation and revolution will require are consistent planning, political backing, a fit-for-purpose lead organization and that perennial favourite, result-oriented implementation. No word here on greenery specifically, but at least it’s not ruled out.
  13. And to back all that up, CGIAR gets The Economist Impact to say that more funding is needed for agricultural research and innovation. Results-oriented, naturally.
  14. Meanwhile, in Suriname, Bangladesh and Guinea-Bissau, local people are saving their traditional seeds and agricultural practices. The revolution will eat its own (seeds).
  15. Phew, the Ukrainian seed collection is squared away. Now for Suriname, Bangladesh, Guinea-Bissau…

Brainfood: Domestication syndrome, Plasticity & domestication, Founder package, Rice domestication, Aussie wild rice, European beans, Old wine, Bronze Age drugs

The case against biofortification

Wait, what? Against biofortification? What can possibly be the case against breeding staple crops to have higher concentrations of micronutrients? How can you argue against making wheat or beans more nutritious?

Well, in his latest Eat This Podcast episode, Jeremy interviews one of the authors of a paper which argues just that. And that author is…Jeremy:

…we focus on four things, really. One is about the yield. There seems to be a yield penalty. That is, you don’t get as much total crop from a biofortified food as you do get from a non biofortified variety. Another worry is genetic uniformity. A third is about their suitability for the very poor subsistence farmers who are probably the ones who most need more micronutrients in their diet. And finally, there’s almost no evidence that it actually works, that it actually improves the health and well being of the people who eat biofortified foods. In fact, it’s really strange to … It’s really difficult to find evidence that it works.

Maarten van Ginkel and Jeremy go on to say that a much better way to tackle micronutrient deficiencies — hidden hunger — is more diverse diets.

In fact, I think even uber-biofortificators such as HarvestPlus would probably concede that point, judging by an article they have just released marking their twentieth anniversary. Though I suspect that was not always the case.

Be that as it may, I think each of Maarten and Jeremy’s drawbacks of biofortification can be disputed, or indeed rectified, as they in fact concede, to be fair. For example, does a yield penalty actually matter everywhere? And has the release of a biofortified variety in an area actually led to a decrease in genetic diversity there? And if it has, could that not be addressed simply by more, and more diverse, biofortified varieties? And yes, the evidence that release of a biofortified variety translates into positive nutritional outcomes is limited and patchy — but not non-existent.

Anyway, the central fact remains that we still don’t know whether a more holistic approach to hidden hunger through diet diversification would have been more cost-effective and sustainable than the at least $500 million or so that Maarten and Jeremy say have gone into biofortification over the years.

LATER: Oh and BTW, there’s a Biofortification Hub.

Nibbles: Transformation, MAHARISHI, Pastoralists and climate change, Utopian okra, Landrace breeding, Ghana genebank, Indian community seedbank, Rice pan-genome, Perennial rice

  1. Towards resilient and sustainable agri-food systems. Summary report from the FORSEE Series of Töpfer Müller Gaßner GmbH (TMG). Take home message: We need an internationally agreed framework for agri-food systems transformation that reduces the externalities of the current systems. But how?
  2. Chair Summary and Meeting Outcome of the G20 Meeting of Agricultural Chief Scientists 2023. “We highlight the importance of locally adapted crops for the transition towards resilient agriculture and food systems, enhancing agricultural diversity, and improving food security and nutrition.” And that includes the wonderfully named Millets And OtHer Ancient GRains International ReSearcH Initiative (MAHARISHI). Ah, so that’s how.
  3. Are pastoralists and their livestock to blame for climate change? Spoiler alert: It’s complicated, but no. And here’s a digest of resources from the Land Portal explaining they can be part of sustainable and resilient agri-food systems.
  4. The Utopian Seed Project is developing more climate-resilient okra in the southern USA.
  5. Joseph Lofthouse, Julia Dakin, Shane Simonsen and Simon Gooder — interviewed here about landrace-based breeding — would approve of utopian okra.
  6. Plenty of landraces in the Ghana national genebank, according to this mainstream media article.
  7. Also plenty of landraces in India’s community seedbanks.
  8. Professor Zhang Jianwei at the National Key Laboratory of Crop Genetic Improvement, Huazhong Agricultural University has built an rice pan-genome database based on 16 (landraces presumably) accessions representing all the major sub-populations. The technical details are here. Rice sustainability and resilience no doubt beckons. Okra next?
  9. No, perennial rice next, apparently.