Sustainable cacao conservation

Here’s a (relatively) new approach to sustainable genebank conservation, from Chocolate in Context: sponsor an accession. The International Cocoa Genebank in Trinidad will accept donations from US$20, which saves one tree for one year, to US$500, which saves a whole plot (no idea how many trees that is) for 10 years. And another web site, called Yachana Gourmet, preserves a tree on a farm, not in a genebank, and gives you access to tasty chocolate and other goodies.

Green Revolution 2.0

We’ve blogged before about reaction to the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. A significant portion of the $150 million earmarked for the Alliance will go into improving crop varieties, using both conventional breeding and biotechnological approaches. Two more takes on the whole thing came out today. Here, the great Ethiopian plant genetic resources conservationist Melaku Worede talks about what went wrong with the first Green Revolution, and what he fears will happen in Africa if the same thing is tried there. While here you can read about how high-placed politicians in Mozambique say the country is “striving toward a green revolution to improve and diversify agriculture and increase food production” and are putting their money where their mouths are.

P.S. Incidentally, the BBC World Service has a new series called “Feeding the World,” and the first programme is about the Green Revolution. You can download a podcast here.

Leafy vegetables get cash

The diversity of leafy vegetables is being explored in a European-funded project that aims to make better use of existing germplasm. The project, worth 1.2 million euros, covers lettuce, spinach, chicory and “minor leafy vegetables” such as rocket and lamb’s lettuce. Almost 40% of the budget will be spent on characterizing and regenerating the roughly 12,000 accessions of the target leafy vegetables in European genebanks. A further 28% will go to evaluating the diversity and how it might be used to improve production. On that score, it is interesting that three of the 14 project participants are what one might call Agricultural biodiversity advocates: Arche Noah, Pro Specie Rara and Henry Doubleday Research Association. So I’m wondering whether any of the diversity that emerges from these investigations of genebank accessions will actually be registered on the EU Catalogue and of interest to those organisations’ members.

Money for Musa

Of course it is rude to poke fun at other people’s names, but who can resist when the European Union’s €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.

More money for tomato genomes

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?