India needs small farmers

Vandana Shiva has a long post at outlining some of the ways in which small but biodiverse farms could make a greater contribution to food security in India. She lambasts the government for its policies and quotes some very favourable figures for harvests and incomes, alas without supporting references.

Perk up people, it’s about your survival

Someone called Bradford Plumer, whom I had not previously come across, has a longish post asking why people don’t seem to care about the ongoing mass extinction and wishing that more writers on the subject “would really hammer home why humans should care about the loss of biodiversity”. Funnily enough, he couches his entire argument in terms of natural processes and ecosystems and what their collapse might mean. And he quotes agriculture, and especially monoculture, exclusively as problem, not solution. But the only example he gives of the sort of example that might might “get people to perk up” is the possibly looming pollination crisis caused by a shortage of bees.

Until there is a wider understanding that agriculture is part of nature, and not separate from it, and that we humans are far more dependent on the food providing services of agriculture than on any other ecological service, I doubt that there’s going to be much perking up anywhere.

There’s not a lot of understanding of that in Brad’s posts or the comments on it, but I live in hope.

Science weighs in on biofuels

Donald Kennedy, Editor-in-Chief of Science magazine, thinks there is a “biofuels conundrum”. He agrees that growing corn for ethanol results in huge distortions and problems elsewhere. Ethanol from sugar cane is better, but blocked by corn-state Senators in the US. Palm oil, as biodiesel, is better yet, but still carries considerable downsides. So, Kennedy says, we need more investment on research into biofuels derived from cellulose. Fair enough. But not a single mention of actually reducing consumption of liquid fuels. Not one word. I guess Kennedy, like so may others, isn’t quite ready to sign the bio-temperance pledge.

Are Kenyans ignoring diversity of diet?

A long press release from Tufts University in Boston, USA, tells us how faculty members have assisted Kenyan policy-makers in a series of workshops

“to build strategies for implementing Kenya’s National Food and Nutrition Policy. … The scope of the plan ranges from agricultural production, strategic grain reserves, and post-harvest protection, to nutritional interventions for high-risk groups, and the interrelationship of nutrition and diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.”

But I see no mention whatsoever of either dietary diversity or the value of local species as a contribution to nutrition. I’m hoping this is just an oversight by whoever wrote the release, but I fear it may not be. Using local food diversity to boost dietary diversity has so many benefits, I can’t imagine how the team overlooked it.

Do intellectual property rights threaten traditional knowledge and livelihoods?

One reason to blog this is that I am intrigued by the headline. The subject is an interim report published by IIED, the International Institute for Environment and Development, an organisation I have long admired. The report is called Protecting Community Rights over Traditional Knowledge: Implications of Customary Laws and Practices, and was issued last November in time for the WIPO meetings in December 2006. I’ve picked it up now because it popped up at Eldis, which, I think, added the title I’ve stolen for the headline above.

What I really want to know, of course, is the answer to that (perhaps rhetorical) question.