CABI blogs seed storage

“Hand picked…and carefully sorted” is where CABI’s content specialists go to blog. I came across it only when they linked to our water hyacinth story of a couple of weeks back, but it looks like it’s been going since November last year at least. Exploring the plant sciences stuff, I came across two pieces on seed conservation which make an interesting juxtaposition: this entry on indigenous methods of seed conservation in Bangladesh, which includes a CABI video, and this on the Svalbard International Seed Vault. Entries often have links to CABI publications and there is an RSS feed. Really great stuff.

Rice diversity, basically a recipes site, has a really nice feature on rice, the different types, the different processing methods, and of course the different ways of cooking it.

Pharaonic laxatives

I blogged some time ago about a new project at the University of Manchester to document Pharaoh’s herbal medicines, but there was not much detail in the press release I quoted at the time. Now there’s a much fuller article on Discovery. It seems that the ancient Egyptians were martyrs to constipation.

What farmers need to learn

Tomato farmers in Ghana have committed suicide after they failed to sell their crop, according to Apparently a new factory promised to buy all the tomatoes they could grow, and then failed to start on time. I’m sorry for those farmers, but I’m horrified that anyone could put their faith in one buyer — not yet functional — and one crop. I thought it was only modern, high-tech farmers who failed to appreciate the buffering benefits of agricultural biodiversity.

Before Columbus

There’s quite a debate going on about what the Americas – and in particular the Amazon – looked like before Columbus arrived. This has been the subject of a bestseller entitled 1491, whose main arguments are summarized by the author, Charles Mann, here. It is always dangerous to simplify academic controversies as being between two diametrically opposing camps, but I’ll do it anyway. One side thinks that population levels were high in the Americas in pre-Columbian times, and that even the Amazon was essentially a gigantic, closely managed orchard, hence talk of the “pristine myth.” The other side thinks that the real myth is that of a large, widespread human population in the Amazon. This has important practical implications because, inevitably, some have seized on the debate to argue that the Amazon could be more heavily exploited today, because it was in the past.

Coincidentally, there are stories today which summarize papers coming down on opposing sides of this argument.

According to this piece, Dolores R. Piperno of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, “found evidence of widespread fire use for land-clearing by pre-Colombian populations in Latin America” when she reconstructed vegetation patterns and fire histories from pollen, phytolyth and charcoal records.

Noting the vast body of research indicates the existence of large, dense, sedentary populations in the Amazon, Piperno implies that conservationists should come to terms with the fact that tropical forests have been cleared in the past as they are being cleared today, and then move forward with effective strategies for preserving what remains.

A different view emerges in this discussion of the work of Mark Bush of the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. He looked at charcoal and pollen records at two Amazonian lakes and found that

…rather than being widely dispersed, people living in the Amazon most likely clustered near the good places, and that overall population numbers were likely not as high as the top estimates of pre-Columbian people.

This will run and run.