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.

To cork or not to cork

Well, I’m officially in a quandary. On the one hand, with the risk of TCA-induced (that’s 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, a by-product of microbial activity) taint so high, there’s no reason except snobbishness for jettisoning natural cork for screw-tops and other ways of stopping wine bottles. On the other hand, as this article points out, producers are addressing quality concerns and cork is biodegradable, recyclable, and sustainably harvested from woodlands whose management over centuries has led to high levels of biodiversity. Pass the bottle.

Crop wild relatives underused

Are crop wild relatives (CWR) more trouble than they’re worth? There are certainly significant challenges involved in including them in breeding programmes, but you’d have thought that between the new molecular tools that are now out there, the greater numbers of CWR accessions in genebanks, and all the information about how useful CWRs can be, breeders would be falling over themselves to make those kinky inter-specific crosses. Well, according to a major review by our friends at Bioversity International (the outfit formerly known as the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute), the use of CWRs in breeding programmes has been steadily increasing in the past 20 years, but probably not as much as might have been expected. There’s been a number of papers recently on CWRs. This paper, also from Bioversity, looks at in situ conservation of CWR. Check out this for a discussion on the definition of the term, and, from some of the same people, there’s this overview of conservation and use of CWR, using a specific example. Here’s an example of conservation assessment and priority-setting for the wild relatives of the peanut. For a discussion of the possible effects of climate change on these species, see this.