African Vegetables — “not without merit”

Many people interested in crop diversity have on their bookshelves the “Lost crops …” series published by America’s National Academies of Science. They detail neglected species of South America and Africa, gathering the kind of summary data that is so hard to find in one place. A new volume on African Vegetables has just been published, and it looks really interesting. From the blurb:

The report examines the promise of 18 African vegetables to help feed the continent’s growing population and spur sustainable development. These native vegetables – including amaranth, cowpea, and egusi – are still cherished in many parts of Africa, and even attract some research interest, but they are typically overlooked by scientists and policymakers in the world at large. In the past, these local plants may have been judged less valuable than the well-known vegetables introduced to Africa from other parts of the world. But because few indigenous vegetables have been studied extensively, information about them is often outdated, difficult to find, or largely anecdotal. Despite this neglect, they are not without merit, the report emphasizes.

The printed copy is expensive. But for anyone with a good internet connection, the entire thing is available for reading — and searching — online from the NAS web site.

Volume 1, covering grains, came out in 1996. Volume 3 will cover African Fruits. Let’s hope it arrives before 2016.

Let there be biofuels

There’s a lot of talk about biofuels these days, but perhaps not much on how growing biofuel crops might actually benefit poor people. So here’s an interesting story from India about how private firms are paying villagers to plant jatropha – traditionally the fruits were collected from the wild, placed on bamboo spikes and burned for light.

Trad jazz

A number of stories in the past few days have highlighted some novel initiatives to “mainstream” traditional medicine in Africa and China. First there was an article in The Economist on the effort by the Association for African Medicinal Plants Standards to develop a pharmacopoeia, or database of plants used in traditional medicine. By early next year this will include information on about 50 plants and how they are used across Africa. Then today there’s a report from a WHO meeting in Lusaka saying that institutionalizing traditional medicine would improve the care provided by African health systems. And there’s also news that the Chinese government has launched a programme to test the safety of traditional medicines, the latest in a series of projects on traditional medicine in China (see links at bottom of the page).

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.