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.

Cacao and conservation

A whole issue of the journal Biodiversity and Conservation looks at how cocoa production landscapes can contribute to biodiversity conservation. There are several papers on specific case studies and also an overview. Most of the discussion is — predictably — about what cacao cultivation can do for biodiversity, but, what about the other way around? The overview does suggest that

it is important to understand trade-offs between productivity and conservation and the economic costs of conservation friendly practices to land users so that more effective policies can be designed… Quantifying the benefits (both short and long-term) of biodiversity within agroforestry landscapes to farm productivity, for example via pest and disease control … requires attention.

What are these biodiversity-friendly practices? Here’s a few ideas, again from the overview:

  • eco-friendly certification
  • research and extension to increase productivity while maintaining diverse tree canopies
  • development of markets for non-cocoa products
  • payment for environmental services

As far as certification is concerned, the Fair Tracing Project may suggest solutions:

The Fair Tracing project believes that attaching tracing technology to Fair Trade products sourced in developing countries will enhance the value of such goods to consumers in the developed world seeking to make ethical purchasing choices.

I’ve just come across this project, and I don’t know much about it. A piece on its web site — basically a blog — about the ICT being used to trace fair trade coffee in Haiti did point me to a rather interesting example of a corporation trying to bridge the digital divide.

Earthworms, nematodes, bananas

There’s an interesting paper in the latest Pedologia. Researchers grew Cavendish bananas in all combinations of with and without an endoparasitic nematode, and with and without  an earthworm. They found that the banana plants did better when there were earthworms around, which slightly alleviated the root damage done by the nematodes and made more nutrients bioavailable. This is a great illustration of the importance of having an understanding of agricultural biodiversity as a whole, in the sense of all the different organisms — including crops, pests, symbionts, whatever — that interact in a farming landscape, affecting each other’s performance. These kinds of interactions are what organic agriculture aims to maintain, and why silver bullets rarely work.

Basmati rice on the rise

India’s Financial Express has a piece describing some of the recent history of Basmati rice. I guess it’s a fairly familiar story, but a couple of things stood out for me as I read it. One was that India and Pakistan “are planning to jointly claim rights for geographical indications (GIs) for this aromatic long grain rice.” Another was that the “European Union … is in favour of duty derogation for import of Basmati having pure parental lines.” So not landraces, just newly bred Basmati varieties? Finally, I found the link between Basmati and organic agriculture intriguing.