Water, water everywhere

Emelie Healy of FAO’s Land and Water Development Division has a mailing recently on the PPGIS discussion list saying that FAO has updated their dams database of Africa by overlaying with Google Earth. There is an online interactive map on this page and you can download the data as well from the FAO’s GeoNetwork data downloading service by entering “dams” in the free text line. They have also recently updated their irrigated areas map. You can find maps of the latest data and an interactive map as well as downloads here. And speaking of water, more than half of the world’s lakes are facing serious problems caused by agricultural activities, according to a paper presented at the 11th International Living Lakes Conference. Which probably feeds back on agriculture in complicated ways. Anyway, I would guess that the effect of dams and new irrigation schemes on local wild biodiversity is usually negative, but is that necessarily always the case also for agro-biodiversity? I suspect so, but is there a possibility that at least sometimes existing crop genetic diversity is simply displaced a bit geographically or ecologically within the same general area and augmented by new crop genetic diversity adapted to the new conditions?

Hotspots backlash?

The latest Nature has a paper on mapping endangered animal species in a couple of different groups and relating what might be called “extinction threat hotspots” to “biodiversity hotspots.” The paper is getting a lot of media attention, for example here and here. Perhaps not surprisingly, the two types of hotspots do not match up, so a focus solely on protecting biodiversity in the well-known global hotspots is perhaps not going to be as effective as one might wish. No word on whether someone is doing similar work on plants, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the results were to turn out similar. But what about crops? I can think up theoretical arguments why centres of genetic diversity of crops might also be at particular risk from genetic erosion, but as for empirical data the problem is that information on genetic erosion tends to be anecdotal and patchy.

Crop genetic diversity metas

An interesting Letter to Nature entitled “Effects of biodiversity on the functioning of trophic groups and ecosystem” here. A meta-analysis of studies that have “experimentally manipulated species diversity … shows that the average effect of decreasing species richness is to decrease the abundance or biomass of the focal trophic group, leading to less complete depletion of resources used by that group … (but also that) … the standing stock of, and resource depletion by, the most species-rich polyculture tends to be no different from that of the single most productive species used in an experiment.” Are there enough data out there for a similar meta-analysis of experimental manipulations of genetic diversity in crop fields?

Beerodiversity at risk from globeerization

The world is awash with millennial beer traditions, but this frothy cornucopia is increasingly under threat as the Big 5 Brewers globalize their way to domination, according to Chris O’Brien, author of Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World and of this article, from which I borrowed the title of this post. The disappearance of home-brewing would adversely affect social bonds, community identity, women’s position in society and their income, and rural people’s health and nutrition. What to do? Here’s a taste:

“Domestic policies that favor small-scale, local production, just like the ones that now support the American craft-brewing renaissance, must be applied to foreign policy as well. Policies that burden small brewers with regulations must be reduced or removed, while tax incentives and public giveaways to industrial brewers are halted. Proven strategies can be used for promoting small business, such as low-interest loans and other community investments tools. Small-scale technology and structures must be prioritized in order to benefit the greatest number of domestic brewers, while subsidies favoring large-scale production and distribution should be eliminated.”

Surely promoting the local crops and landraces which form the raw materials of local homebrews also needs to be in the mix?

Slow Food arrives

The Slow Food movement 20 years old this year. It is having its annual showcase in Italy this week. Slow Food “aims to promote traditional farming techniques and products, to counter the spread of factory farming.” Its potential as a means of promoting neglected and underutilized species is clear, but I wish there were some tangible success stories from developing countries.