Of course it is rude to poke fun at other people’s names, but who can resist when the European Union’s â‚¬2.11 million aid package for bananas in Belize is received by Said Musa, that country’s aptly named Prime Minister? The aid will help banana growers in Belize to develop integrated pest management strategies against nematode worms and will deliver tissue-culture plants and the capacity to grow them, making plantations healthier and less in need of sprays. Half the budget is earmarked for projects designed to boost rural incomes and improve community services. All in all, despite the focus on Musa, a package that should be good for biodiversity.
Here’s one that squeaked under the radar a while back. The US is investing US$1.8 million to continue sequencing the tomato and other related plants of the Solanacae family. According to a press release, the work will form part of the “comprehensive International Solanaceae Genomics Project (SOL) Genomics Network database. This will tie together maps and genomes of all plants in the Solanaceae family, also called nightshades, which includes the potato, eggplant, pepper and petunia and is closely related to coffee from the Rubiaceae family.” The data will be fully public.
Just to bring the tomato back down to earth, genius writer Harold McGee points to a scientific paper that could help growers produce tastier tomatoes with absolutely no genomic knowledge. Water them with a dilute salt solution. A solution of 0.1% sodium chloride results in tomatoes with “significantly higher levels of flavorful organic acids and sugars, and as much as a third more vitamin C and beta-carotene (the precursor to vitamin A) and the antioxidant red pigment lycopene,” McGee says. The tomatoes are smaller, but who cares?
According to this article in the Harare Herald, the Kellogg Foundation will be supporting research by University of Zimbabwe scientists into “wild and famine plant foods, their preparation and preservation (and) nutrient analysis … to enhance livelihood security.”
On the one hand, you’ve got your Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pumping money into two international agricultural research centres to improve the yield of drought-stressed maize. On the other, you’ve got your ungrateful African civil society organisations declaring that these efforts and others like them “under-represent the real achievements in productivity through traditional methods, and will fail to address the real causes of hunger in Africa”. The truth, obviously, lies somewhere in-between. Is it too sappy to expect the Gates money to flow at least partly into researching traditional methods and agricultural biodiversity? Is it too sappy to expect the civil society organisations to curb their knee-jerk reaction against all modern science and economics?
Still, at least the Gates Foundations isn’t DuPont, telling the World Economic forum of the importance of private-public partnerships (code, I think, for government-subsidized research) to promote hybrid seeds.
We get used to reading about massive great projects involving loads of stakeholders with mountains of milestones. And we get jaded. But sometimes solutions are much smaller and with them comes a sense of uplift and possibilities. I got that when I found a post from a woman called Juliana, who is a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali. Her big push is for a millet grinding machine. Here’s why:
This machine grounds the millet the women spend so long to pound everyday. It can also ground peanuts into peanut butter and shea nuts to extract their oil. Mali is one of the leading producers of Shea butter so I’d like to help contribute to it’s production in my village.
If I get this machine it will allow the women much needed free time to do other things during the day. Plus one part of getting the machine is the ‘alphabetisation’ of the women. They need to learn how to read and write so that they can keep proper records for the machine. An NGO will take part in helping to provide the education for the women and the training for record keeping. It’s a good way of introducing literacy into a small village.
And she writes about trialling different kinds of millet in the village.
Bioversity International (my day job) has helped to introduce millet mini-mills in India, and the positive repercussions have been phenomenal. Not to blow my own horn too loudly, but you can hear about the mini-mill here, and there’s an accompanying article in New Agriculturalist.
So, Juliana, if you’re reading this, go for it, and let us know how you get on.