To cork or not to cork

Well, I’m officially in a quandary. On the one hand, with the risk of TCA-induced (that’s 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, a by-product of microbial activity) taint so high, there’s no reason except snobbishness for jettisoning natural cork for screw-tops and other ways of stopping wine bottles. On the other hand, as this article points out, producers are addressing quality concerns and cork is biodegradable, recyclable, and sustainably harvested from woodlands whose management over centuries has led to high levels of biodiversity. Pass the bottle.

Privatized trees roll back the desert

An article in the New York Times got a lot of traction among some of the more conservative-minded bloggers because it said that the ownership of things previously assumed to be a common good gave a better incentive to look after them. Fair enough. More interesting still is that the trees preserve soil and water, which enables a greater diversity of crops to go, which improves everyone’s livelihoods. I found the piece here, which has the link to the original article. And that, I think, is a much more illuminating and nuanced read.

Rice stories

The BBC World Service is broadcasting a series of four programmes on the rice cultures of Asia, called Rice Bowl Tales. Starts 28 February, but if you miss it, it seems like the series has already aired on Radio National, and if you follow the link I’ve just given, you should be able to listen online or download audio files.

Amazing maize stories

Apparently, maize recovered from ancient burials in NW Argentina is genetically “almost identical” (whatever that means!) to the landraces still being grown in the area. I wonder if it was prepared in the same way too. This piece in the Washington Post certainly shows that maize culinary traditions are strong, and can go back a long way.

Rapid agrobiodiversity surveys

This SciDevNet piece led me to this Nature article on the theory and practice of the Rapid Biological Inventory, “a quick, intensive taxonomic expedition designed to identify areas of particular biological, geological and cultural significance before development and exploitation take hold.”

Using satellite images, maps and other data, biologists target promising areas and then work with local scientists and students to walk existing and newly cut trails, recording the species they encounter. (…) In parallel with these are social inventories — surveys of the organisational structure of local communities and how they use the forest. The teams work with indigenous groups, government and local conservation organisations to deepen their understanding of the value of the surveyed areas.

I think the concept was pioneered by Conservation International, under the name Rapid Assessment Program, or RAP, but as far as I can see it hasn’t been applied to agricultural biodiversity, at least not explicitly. Seems to me one could come up with a pretty good “rapid agrodiversity assessment” methodology based on standard crop descriptors combined with traditional knowledge, wrapped up in a participatory rural appraisal (PRA) approach. Maybe someone already has?