Map it or lose it?

Funny how stories which originate from opposite ends of the world but that are closely related sometimes appear — through sheer coincidence — on the same day. Here’s a case in point. Exhibit number one: an article on how Ndorobo tribesmen “over-ran a protected forest reserve in eastern Uganda last April and hacked down thousands of trees (which had been) planted by a Netherlands-based firm” called FACE (Forests Absorbing Carbon dioxide Emissions) as part of a carbon credits scheme. There’s no doubt the people were forced from their ancestral lands back in the 90s, but FACE says that these communities retained rights over some forest resources. Big of them. The article doesn’t say what kinds of trees were planted, nor what other resources the displaced people retained rights to, apart from firewood. Now here’s exhibit two: indigenous communities in Amazonia are using GPS and Google Earth to map their ancestral lands and the resources they manage within them. You have to wonder whether this technology would have helped the Ndorobo.

Building on the Indigenous

A friend alerted me to this great quote by Claude Ake from his 1988 paper “Building on the Indigenous” (in Recovery in Africa: a challenge for development cooperation in the 90s: Swedish International Development Authority):

…My thesis is that we cannot significantly advance the development of Africa unless we take African societies seriously as they are, not as they ought to be or even as they might be; that sustainable development is never going to occur unless we build on the indigenous […]

The indigenous is not the traditional, there is no fossilized existence of the African past available for us to fall back on, only new totalities, however hybrid, which change with each passing day[…]

The indigenous refers to whatever the people consider important in their lives, whatever they regard as an authentic expression of themselves. We build on the indigenous by making it determine the form and content of development strategy, by ensuring that developmental change accommodates itself to these things, be they values, interests, aspirations and or social institutions which are important in the life of the people. It is only when developmental change comes to terms with them that it can become sustainable.

I don’t suppose Ake had plant genetic resources in mind, but this could be applied verbatim to development in agriculture, couldn’t it?

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.