People power

Here’s another potpourri, this one centred on local people’s perceptions of agricultural biodiversity. From the journal Livestock Science comes a paper looking at how traditional livestock keepers in Uganda select breeding bulls and cows among Ankole longhorn cattle. Another paper, this one from Crop Protection, discusses how Ethiopian farmers rank sorghum varieties with regard to their resistance to storage pests, and indeed what they do about such pests. And finally, from The Hindu newspaper, news of an initiative, to be launched on the International Day for Biological Diversity by the Kerala State Biodiversity Board, for a “people’s movement” to “prepare a database of all living organisms and traditional knowledge systems” in Kerala. The initiative is part of the state’s draft biodiversity strategy and action plan, which apparently includes consideration of agricultural biodiversity.

Happy International Day for Biodiversity

Yup, it’s the day we wait for each year. The day that the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has set aside to celebrate. And this year, it’s all about Biodiversity and Climate Change. Yay! We learn that an increase of only 2.5 degrees C will mean “50 million more people facing hunger” and that “conserving certain species such as mangroves and drought resistant crops can reduce the disastrous impacts of climate change effects such as flooding and famine”.

If you were looking for more on biodiversity and agriculture, look no further. Our friend Andy Jarvis, along with colleagues Annie Lane and Robert Hijmans, has published a paper looking at how climate change will affect the survival of crop wild relatives in three species: peanut, cowpea and potato. There’s a press release here (and coverage in Reuters). Bottom line: things don’t look good.

Climate change affects agriculture from at least two directions. It will require diversity as a sources of traits to cope with the effects, by breeding new varieties. And yet it threatens that very diversity with extinction, especially when, like the peanut, you can move your seeds less than a metre each year in search of more suitable growing conditions.

Two solutions present themselves, which is a nice symmetry. Try to ensure that natural conservation efforts in parks and the like are designed with wild relatives in mind, giving slow-coaches like the peanut a helping hand if necessary. And collect more samples of agricultural biodiversity from the wild and from farmers’ fields to store in genebanks. Alas, this latter option has become more and more difficult as countries increasingly fear the rip-off tactics of bio-pirates. And who’s to blame for that? Step forward the CBD.

It’s an ironic world, eh?

Bunfight to feed Africa

The African Green Revolution conference will be held in Oslo from 29 August to 1 September. The Can Africa Feed Itself? conference will be held Oslo from 6 June to 8 June. What a shame there is no overlap; so neither side is likely to hear directly what the other is saying. Which would I rather be at?

At one:

As a conference participant, you can expect an environment of cross-disciplinary dialogue with abundant opportunity for personal interaction with colleagues and participants.

At the other:

There are different views among the speakers and the organizers of the conference on many of the issues approached. Exciting discussions will take place.

Tough call. Really. If you’re going to either — and especially if you’re going to both — we’d love to hear your impressions.

Stop the mudness

Stop the mudness is the slogan of the Great Lakes Commission sediment-reduction campaign aimed squarely at farmers in North America. It’s the centre of an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun pointing out the many pitfalls associated with farms that grow monocultures of annuals and leave the soil bare most of the year. What’s pleasing is that efforts to reduce soil run-off will always also increase agricultural biodiversity.

Alphabet soup — with no sustenance

IMoSEB is the International Mechanism of Scientific Expertise on Biodiversity. It was dreamed up at a conference in Paris in January 2005, with the blessing of French President Jacques Chirac. It has been meeting, in various forms, ever since, to try and define itself and its role. The latest meeting, a European Consultation, took place in Geneva from 26-28 April 2007. As far as I can tell from a very lengthy report, participants did not discuss agriculture.