Europe stomps on biodiversity source

People outside the European Union (and many within it) are often surprised by the draconian regime surrounding seeds. Essentially, only registered varieties can be sold, and it costs the same to register some piffling little variety of interest only to a handful of gardeners as to register a new megavariety that will cloak the majority of farmers’ fields. The Common Catalogue, as it is known, has probably extinguished more local varieties than anything else. Some stalwarts have fought the legislation by simply ignoring it. (Full disclosure: I was once one of them.) But now a French Court has dumped a fine of €17,130 on the Kokopelli Association (also in English), for placing unregistered varieties on the market. That could easily put an end to the Association, and perhaps the more than 2000 varieties that it maintains and makes available to gardeners. Is that really what the EU, with all its lip service to biodiversity, wants? I think it is.

Kokopelli’s press release is here.

Assisted migration

Would you move a species threatened by climate change to an area where it isn’t currently found but where the new climate suits it better? That’s “assisted migration,” and the lively debate around it is described by Carl Zimmer in the New York Times here. He quotes a thorough review of the ecological and evolutionary responses to climate change which may be found online as a pdf here. It seems to me that assisted migration is likely to be feasible for only a small number of wild species, but what about crops? Making threatened crops and landraces available to farmers in more suitable climates sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

Is climate change an opportunity for Africa?

Kennedy Omenda is a freelance journalist who has written a very interesting article over at The African Executive. Africa’s Agriculture Can Adapt to Climate Change suggests that forecast changes to rainfall patterns, temperature and the like could actually offer Africa a chance for development. Omenda refers to farmers changing their crops and methods and people changing their diets, and benefits that will arise from increased trade and other structural improvements.

It is not a “bad” change after all, but a good opportunity for farmers to embrace new technologies and researchers to brainstorm on products that will suit the various climate patterns. Adequate infrastructure, access to markets and credit will enhance agricultural development and food security while building resilience to future climate change.

I am not absolutely persuaded, I have to admit. Maybe necessity will drive the changes needed, but, to take one example, while farmers in currently wet regions will need to grow crops that can grow with less water, what will farmers in currently dry regions, some of which are going to dryer, grow?

Fascinating aside: Africa “has about 1,150 world weather watch stations. That is one per 26,000 square kilometers—or eight times lower than the minimum density recommended by the World Meteorological Organization”. Maybe climate change will boost investment in weather forecasting that will be directed to farmers rather than pilots and soldiers.

On balance, I think the article is a sort of pro-business-as-usual, but I’d love to hear contrary views.

Project Baseline

The work at UV Irvine summarized here on the genetic effects of climate change on different kinds of plants is interesting enough. But what particularly intrigued me was the reference to a Project Baseline, “a national effort to collect and preserve seeds from contemporary plant populations.” Unfortunately I was not able to find anything more about this on the internet. Anyway, sounds like they need something similar in Armenia.

Farming Hoodia

Another example of a wild species being farmed: this article in the San Francisco Chronicle tells the story of Hoodia gordonii cultivation in southern Africa. The species is the source of a hunger suppressant which Unilever has been licensed to commercialize, with a royalty payment going to San tribesmen. Another Hoodia species may have potential as a salad vegetable. Prices are such that there is a thriving smuggling trade in wild-harvested product. Some Namibian farmers are trying to cultivate the plant – organically – but it is not easy.