The Guardian in the UK reports on a new plan to tackle climate change and agriculture, to be launched today in Washington DC. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research will spend about UD 400 million a year “to help agricultural experts develop crops that can withstand heat and drought, find more efficient farming techniques and make better use of increasingly fragile soil and scarce water supplies,” according to the paper. Robert Ziegler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute, one of the CGIAR centres, did not specifically mention agrobiological diversity, but it is safe to say that the kinds of developments envisaged by the CGIAR will not be possible without making considerable use of existing biodiversity.
Well that’s a bit strong perhaps. What this article, based on an FAO report, does point out, however, is that the burgeoning global livestock sector produces 18% of global carbon dioxide emissions – which is more than transport. It is also having other serious environmental impacts. What to do? The report makes suggestions in the focus areas of reversing land degradation, increasing the efficiency of livestock production, and better water use. Genetic resources could of course contribute to all these.
It isn’t just agricultural biodiversity that needs looking after; sometimes it is the agriculture itself. In my in-basket today two stories of farms saved for the future. Coincidence, I’m sure, but it is not hard to glean a single message of nostalgia combined with urban alienation from the rescue of College Farm in north London and Gellatly Nut Farm in British Columbia. I’ve often thought that we should make more of the commonalities between developed and developing countries than we do. Maybe these stories will help.
Diversity is of course wonderful, but I sometimes wonder whether the urge to manipulate it can be taken too far.
A study just published in Nature and reported in The Times here identified the particular class of the polyphenols found in red wine which confers the greatest health advantage, by suppressing production of a protein which narrows blood vessels. There’s been lots recently in the press about the supposed health benefits of moderate consumption of wine, in particular red wine, as part of the “Mediterranean diet.” Known as polymeric procyanidins, these polyphenols turn out to be present in particularly high concentrations in some wines from Sardinia and the Pyrenees. This is due to both the wine-making technique (the compounds are released from the seeds after a long period of fermentation) and variety (the Tannat grape from SW France is rich in these chemicals). The Cannonau wine from Nuoro (Sardinia) and the Madiran from Gers (France) haveÂ the highest levels of procyanidins,Â and it turns out that people from those areas are also of above-average longevity, especially the men.