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.

Cereals databases

Before I disappear for a few days of immersion in the First International Breadfruit Symposium back in Fiji, let me point to two somewhat complementary online resources on cereals genetic resources that I have come across – no doubt Jeremy will say and about time too – in the past couple of days.

The FIGS database brings together passport and evaluation data on bread wheat landraces from a number of the major genebanks and “allows the user to efficiently interrogate the data associated with this collection and provides the capacity to identify custom subsets of accessions with single and multiple trait(s) that may be of importance to breeding programs.” FIGS stands for “Focused Identification of Germplasm Strategy,” and the focus is on identifying material with resistance to abiotic and biotic stresses.

The other database is that of Israel’s Institute of Cereal Crop Improvement, which includes information on accessions of wild cereal relatives collected over the past 30 years. Again, there’s a particular focus on data on disease resistance.

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.

Seeds shared and saved

“When you save your own seeds, you can pick from the best plants and produce varieties that work well on your land,” he says. “You can maintain the background of genetic diversity, while adapting it to what works best for you.”

Own up, you thought that was a quote from an admittedly articulate local farmer sharing indigenous knowledge, didn’t you? Well, it was, except that this farmer has a PhD and farms in North Carolina in the US. Heritage and heirloom seeds are a big and growing deal over there, and this article in The Independent Weekly is a good account of the whys and wherefores of seed saving and sharing in industrialized countries.