Smorgasbord: take what you need

Like a perfectly assembled buffet, everyone should be able to find something nourishing in Fidel Castro’s latest essay: Where Have All the Bees Gone? And Other Reflections on the Internationalization of Genocide1. Ranging across more topics than you can shake a stick at, he says a couple of things that I happen to agree need saying. Like criticising the modern mania for biofuels: it’s a sick joke in developed countries. As The Economist said two weeks ago, “It is not often that this newspaper finds itself in agreement with Fidel Castro, Cuba’s tottering Communist dictator. But …”2

(Disparities between Cuba’s infant mortality rate and medical services and those of the United States are not the subject of this blog.)

Then there are the bees. Here’s Fidel:

Scientists are entertaining all kinds of hypotheses, including the theory that a pesticide may have caused the bees’ neurological damage and altered their sense of orientation. Others lay the blame on the drought and even mobile phone waves, but, what’s certain is that no one knows exactly what has unleashed this syndrome.

There’s enough trickiness around without going into the mobile phone argument. I’d be happy to be proved wrong on this, but for now I’m not even prepared to link to the many, many outpourings on the subject. Let’s just say that mobile phones are the least of Cuba’s worries, with the lowest penetration of any country in South America.

  1. Actually, I don’t know whether that is the title he gave it himself, but it’ll do []
  2. In fairness, they were commenting on an earlier essay by Castro, but one that contained the same points []

School project on peas

A brief post at Intercambioperu explains how schoolchildren at Corazon de Jesus have teamed up with Het Hof van Eden in the Netherlands to study the biodiversity of pea varieties. There’s not much more detail beyond that, but I’m hoping that they may share their progress and results. As we’ve noted before, school gardens offer a perfect environment to teach children about the importance of agricultural biodiversity and nutrition. I reckon there are also loads of opportunities to use diversity to teach all sorts of other subjects too, from human migrations to plate tectonics, to history to mathematics, and much more besides. Is anyone actually doing this though? And could we help in any way? Let us know.

I’d attempt to link the Peruvians to Bioversity International’s Cyber-Plant Conservation Project, but the server is down right now. When it is up I’ll try again.

Green Revolution 2.0

We’ve blogged before about reaction to the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. A significant portion of the $150 million earmarked for the Alliance will go into improving crop varieties, using both conventional breeding and biotechnological approaches. Two more takes on the whole thing came out today. Here, the great Ethiopian plant genetic resources conservationist Melaku Worede talks about what went wrong with the first Green Revolution, and what he fears will happen in Africa if the same thing is tried there. While here you can read about how high-placed politicians in Mozambique say the country is “striving toward a green revolution to improve and diversify agriculture and increase food production” and are putting their money where their mouths are.

P.S. Incidentally, the BBC World Service has a new series called “Feeding the World,” and the first programme is about the Green Revolution. You can download a podcast here.

School gardens

It seems pretty obvious that school food gardens should be quite useful teaching tools. Kids like nothing better than getting down and dirty. Well, anyway, now there’s proof. A paper in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, whose abstract you can read here, confirms “the efficacy of using garden-based nutrition education to increase adolescents’ consumption of fruits and vegetables.” What an opportunity for also teaching about agricultural biodiversity, highlighting its link to nutrition! Of course, in some parts of the world school gardens actually provide a significant proportion of the students’ diet…

Millennium Villages

There was a long piece in the Sunday Standard yesterday on one (in fact, the first) of the so-called Millennium Villages, Sauri in Siaya District, Western Kenya. An initiative of the Earth Institute at Columbia University launched in 2004, the Millennium Villages project aims “to demonstrate how the eight Millennium Development Goals can be met in rural Africa within five years through community-led development.”

The Millennium Village effort is explicitly linked to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and addresses an integrated and scaled-up set of interventions covering food production, nutrition, education, health services, roads, energy, communications, water, sanitation, enterprise diversification and environmental management. This has never been done before.

Twelve villages were chosen in sub-Saharan Africa: these were all located in hunger hotpots, but different agro-ecological zones. The Sauri experience seems to be very positive, but it is difficult to ascertain exactly what sort of agricultural interventions have been tried. Maize yields have gone up dramatically, but why exactly? Better access to fertilizers (because of subsidized prices) is probably one reasons, though “fertilizer trees” (for more on these, see this separate piece from SciDevNet, which coincidentally came out a couple of days back) and other nitrogen-fixing species seem to also have been tried to improve fallows. A detailed report mentions indigenous vegetables, but little else in the way of agrobiodiversity-related interventions (or indeed baseline information) as far as the crops are concerned. A pity.

The BBC has some pictures of Sauri here.