Marginality and animal genetic resources

The conventional wisdom is that landraces and local breeds are better adapted to marginal conditions than modern crop varieties and livestock breeds. A paper has just been published in Agricultural Systems that tries to quantify this. The researchers defined marginal areas “as those areas where possible land uses are relatively limited because of higher altitude, shorter growing season, steeper slopes, less fertile soils or broadly speaking because of generally lower soil productivity.” They calculated a synthetic index of marginality using all kinds of environmental and socio-economic data and mapped its value throughout Europe. They also mapped the distribution of goat and sheep breeds using data from the Econogene project. Then they calculated how good the marginality index was at predicting the presence of local breeds. The result: “Increasing marginality, as measured by these indices, is positively and significantly correlated to the fact that local, traditional breeds are present.”

African medicinal plants

Two stories appeared today on medicinal plants in South Africa. AllAfrica has an article on the launch of the Medicinal Plant Incubator Project (MPIP) at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) in Roodeplaat, although actually I found the keynote address delivered at the opening ceremony much more interesting. What will MPIP do? According to another article:

Gauteng’s traditional healers are to be taught new methods to cultivate plants and harvest them from the wild, in an attempt to ensure that the local medicine chest remains full for future generations.

Meanwhile, EurekAlert describes how “a team of researchers has now examined the effectiveness of 16 plants growing in the country’s Kwa-Zulu Natal region and concluded that eight plant extracts may hold value for treating high blood pressure (hypertension).”

Traditional Knowledge Newsletter

The first issue of Pachamama, the Convention on Biological Diversity’s newsletter on traditional knowledge issues, is out. I found the article on sacred sites particularly interesting. Though agricultural biodiversity is unfortunately not mentioned explicitly, the author, Erjen Khamaganova, does say that:

Preservation of sacred sites is a key way to restore traditions of a healthy way of life, healthy diet and healthy habits in forms that are unique and suitable for each region and each indigenous nation.

Putting a forest together again

How would you rebuild a forest? There’s an enormous effort underway to do just that for the Atlantic rainforest of Brazil, now down to only 7% of its original extent. This really short but intriguing SciDevNet piece led me to a fascinating Science article here. About 15,000 trees of 800 different species have been identified as mother trees, “the starting stock for the forest’s regeneration.” There’s a big awareness campaign aimed at local farmers explaining the long-term benefits of devoting some of their land to forest. And lots of different approaches to the actual reforestation are being tried. Sounds like this project is going to be a testing ground and model for years to come. How is it that there’s been so little news about it? Or do I just move in the wrong circles? Perhaps I just subscribe to the wrong RSS feeds.