Health and agriculture

To follow the last post, here’s a photo-essay from the BBC on another useful insect, the “desert shrimp,” better known as the locust. Useful? Well, that may be overstating the case, but they are widely eaten in the Sahara, deep fried in vegetable oil. I have tried them. Not as bad as one might think.

Anyway, what I really wanted to alert you all to is that the latest Spore and New Agriculturalist are out. There are lots of interesting pieces, both brief and longer, but is it a coincidence that both issues focus on aspects of agriculture and health? Spore has a feature on “functional foods” here, things that provide disease prevention as well as nutrition. New Agriculturalist has number of articles on various different aspects of the topic here, plus other sources of information.

Açaí plantations?

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.

An apple a day

Anthocyanins make apples red, and make people healthy, through their antioxidant action. Now we know where the gene which controls anthocyanin production in apples is located, because scientists at CSIRO in Australia measured how much different genes were expressed as differently coloured fruits ripened. This opens the way for marker-assisted selection, as colour can now be predicted even in seedlings. It seems that apple sales have been pretty flat lately, but that launching a new variety can sometimes give them a boost. That could now be easier. Now if only the same sort of intensity of effort could be directed at the marula, say.

Bananas at school

The Rainforest Alliance is tooting its own horn about the value of bananas as a teaching tool, in an item about its ideas for using the banana as a basis for several school activities. Intended for young children in non-tropical countries, the ideas struck me as pretty entertaining, and infinitely expandable. Bananas as the basis of surveys and measurement, geography, history, even a bit of botany. There are other possibilities too, only hinted at or completely ignored. But wouldn’t it be cool if other crops were used this way, not as object lessons in themselves, but as the basis for studying all sorts of things?

That, by the way, is Gros Michel, which I had the pleasure of tasting for the first time earlier this year. Just the shift from Gros Michel to Cavendish opens up all sorts of pedagocic possibilities.