I just heard a programme on the BBC World Service in the One Planet series called “Nuts.” It looked at the problems encountered in developing the Brazil nut as a source of income for poor Amazonian farmers. Unfortunately, it appears that some very tight – some would say unreasonably tight – EU regulations about levels of aflavotoxins are preventing exports. There’s part two next week. The website for the One Planet series is here, but this particular programme does not seem to be online yet. I’ll keep looking out for it. Coincidentally, WWF also has a long piece on the Brazil nut out today, which you can find here. International Trade Forum had a piece on Brazil nuts here in 2004.
The Sunday Nation has a feature article in its Lifestyle section on silk making in the semi-arid district of Mwingi in Kenya. Apparently, the silk worm used is a hybrid of the wild species found in the area and the domestic strain. People collect eggs in the bush and rear them in mosquito net cages. When it comes time to harvest the cocoons, some of the pupae are allowed to mature and fly back to the acacia bushes. The Commercial Insect Programme of the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) has helped a local womens’ group establish the first silk processing factory in the region. According to the article, a different race of the wild silk moth is being evaluated in Pokot and other highland areas for the production of tussar or kosa silk. This is a much prized form of naturally coloured silk produced from cocoons from which the moth has emerged naturally in the wild. Fascinating business.
Another example of a wild species being farmed: this article in the San Francisco Chronicle tells the story of Hoodia gordonii cultivation in southern Africa. The species is the source of a hunger suppressant which Unilever has been licensed to commercialize, with a royalty payment going to San tribesmen. Another Hoodia species may have potential as a salad vegetable. Prices are such that there is a thriving smuggling trade in wild-harvested product. Some Namibian farmers are trying to cultivate the plant – organically – but it is not easy.
The juice and pulp of the fruits of the Amazonian palm Euterpe oleracea (açaí) have long been consumed locally but are increasingly used in juices and nutraceutical beverages aimed at the North American market. They are harvested from the wild, but some people are now thinking plantations too. But speaking of wild harvesting of fruits/nuts, this article suggests that this can be sustainable only where it is not accompanied by hunting of key seed dispersers.
Domestic dogs are derived from wolves, right? Maybe not. There is apparently a minority view that says that a better interpretation of behavioural, morphological and genetic differences between the domestic dog and the wolf is that the dog was domesticated from a now-extinct, pariah-like precursor, with occasional hybridization with wolves along the way. You can read more about this controversial view on Darren Naish’s zoological blog.