Tree domestication a huge success

There’s a heart-warming tale over at the Rural Poverty Portal (nice site, too) of the International Fund for Agricultural Development. A tree domestication project in west Africa has brought higher incomes and improved status for women, which has translated into schooling and better nutrition. Women are running their own tree nurseries, selecting which species to grow and nurturing them for market. So far the number of species is limited, perhaps that will improve. The project was implemented by the World Agroforestry Centre.

GI had no idea there was so much diversity

We know hardly anything about the differences among varieties of the same crop. Oh sure, we know what different varieties look like; that’s easy. But detailed differences in composition are hard to find. There are the classics, of course, like wetet be gunche sorghum in Ethiopia, whose name translates as “milk in my mouth”. It contains almost a third more protein than other sorghum varieties and, even more important, about double the level of lysine, a vital amino acid for human nutrition. And there are the red and black varieties of rice, which are known to be high in iron and other minerals and vitamins and which are traditionally used to treat anaemia, especially in pregnant women. (I have been unable to discover whether this treatment is effective, in a Western sense, but it seems entirely reasonable, and a bit churlish to deny it.) But in general, we know next to nothing about the nutritional qualities of varieties, as opposed to species.

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Youth farmstands in the Garden State

Rutgers University’s New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station has something called a Youth Farmstand Program. Farmstands — market stalls selling local produce, often organically grown — offer “a hands-on entrepreneurial experience to youth in the mechanics of owning and operating a small business, based on the premise that experience really is the best teacher.” They also provide “a unifying framework for youth, farmers & communities to achieve success. Each needs the others’ support to grow and prosper, so everyone wins!” Sounds like a great idea to promote agricultural biodiversity, better nutrition and youth development all at the same time.

Stover quality

A couple of papers today on stover quality, and how to get it. Stover is just the dried stalks and leaves of a crop, left in the field after the grain has been harvested. In many places around the world, it is almost as important as the grain itself, because it is used as animal forage or fodder. Sheep and goats and other animals are often allowed to roam around the harvested fields and eat their fill of the dried remains of the crop as well as any weeds and other volunteer plants they may find.

How to get the best quality stover, in terms of its digestibility and nutrient compositions? Well, as in so many things, genetics and management, according to work by three CG Centres. A paper on pearl millet in India by ICRISAT and ILRI researchers points to the importance of genetics: landraces had better quality stover than hybrids, though it came at the expense of yield. On the other hand, a paper from ICARDA in Syria found that rotations involving growing legumes such as medics or vetch in alternate years improved the protein content of both the grain and stubble of durum wheat. Now, I wonder, is there an interaction between the two? Do some varieties respond better than others to management in terms of their nutritional quality?