West meets East for diverse recipes

Someone called Mythili, in the US, has been inspired by a conversation with her1 grandmothers to concoct a series on traditional small grains of India. Mostly recipes, although she may be gathering other kinds of traditional knowledge too from her grannies. Be interesting to see where Mythili’s blog goes with this, but I think interviewing grandparents is a good way for children to get a feel for agricultural biodiversity.

Of course, if you don’t have the sort of relationship in which you can simply talk to older people (or, indeed, anyone) fear not. Help is at hand, in the form of something called an Earth Dinner. I kid you not. The helpful folks at Organic Valley have produced a set of cards you can buy that ask questions like “Describe a family recipe …” Could be valuable if someone were to collate all the results.

  1. I know, stereotyping, but … []

More on gorilla medicine

It’s wonderful what happens when a real expert gets stuck into a question. Back in November, Luigi briefly blogged a story about pharmaceutical researchers who derived some inspiration from gorillas and their liking for a particular plant. In the comments, Kathryn Garforth Mitchell wondered about the access and benefit sharing aspects of the story. Luigi, characteristically, had no idea, feared for the worst, and hoped he was wrong. Well, maybe his hopes were not in vain, because Kathryn has spent the past four months ferreting out the details and piecing most of the story together. The result is an illuminating series of posts that shows just how complex arrangements can be. I’m not going to link to all four of them; you should start at number one — Gorilla medicine: a complex web — and work your way through them.

One interesting point of direct relevance. Scientists in the US say that they may source the active compounds from plants grown locally in Nigeria or Ghana. This is very atypical of pharmaceutical arrangements, which usually involve discovering the active ingredient in a plant and then synthesizing it chemically. It is also, perhaps, the biggest source of confusion for those interested in access and benefit sharing of specifically agricultural products. While genes may be discovered in farmer varieties and wild relatives, the value of those genes never derives from the manufacture of the gene’s products.

Gardens of Agricultural Biodiversity

From the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre, news of the ethnobotany garden. Dr Francis Ng reports that the half-hectare garden, which he designed, is flourishing, and that eventually he hopes to have more than 500 species — including Musa lokok, a previously unknown banana species — used by the local people on hand to study. The garden is close to the Orang Utan Centre at Semengok and has already been visited by schoolchildren. Eventually, Dr Ng says, tourists will be able to visit. Gardens of useful plants strike me as an excellent way to promote the virtues of agricultural biodiversity in a local context. I know of a couple, at Nabk in Syria and the Potato Park near Cusco, Peru, but there must be others.

Good ethnobotanists have healthier children

A study of the Tsimane, an indigenous group of foragers and farmers inhabiting a remote area of the Amazon lowlands of Bolivia, has determined that mothers who are more knowledgeable about plants and their uses tend to have healthier children. According to this summary of the results, Dr Victoria Reyes-García, one of the co-authors of the study, pointed out that “globalization threatens this knowledge to the extent that formal schooling and jobs in emerging markets devalue folk knowledge and provide access to products not made from local resources, but without providing adequate medical treatment substitutes.” I’ll have to find the original paper, because what the summary doesn’t say, and which it would be great to know, is whether better ethnobotanical knowledge translated into more diverse family gardens and more diverse diets.