Biodiverse biofuels

Research at the University of Minnesota suggests that growing diverse mixtures of perennials on relatively poor land in a way that mimics natural grasslands is – surprise! – a better way of producing biofuels than intensive monocultures of maize or soybeans. This will run and run. I bet tinkering with the species composition and perhaps breeding some of the component species will be next, and lead to significant improvements in the system. While we wait for that though, here’s what Grist calls a two-week crash course on biofuels.

India protects breeders’ and farmers’ rights

The first registrations are under way in India under the 2001 Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act. The Act is India’s sui generis system for the protection of plant varieties as required under the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPs). As the name implies, however, the law also provides for the granting of Farmers’ Rights, following a vocal campaign by NGOs. There’s a good summary of the provisions here.

The Garden of Eden revisited

The Iraqi wetlands made famous by Wilfred Thesiger as the home of the Marsh Arabs and devastated by Saddam Hussein are apparently making a comeback, thanks to a UNEP “project to restore the network of watercourses which provided inhabitants with water for drinking and farming, and supported the region’s unique ecology.” I’m intrigued by that reference to agriculture. What did (do?) the Marsh Arabs farm? Rice, wheat, barley and millet, as it turns out, although there is apparently another group which specializes in raising the buffalo. But do they still have their traditional crop varieties and livestock breeds? If not, will it be possible to recover at least some of them from genebanks around the world? I hope someone is looking into this.

Coincidentally, from half a world away, comes an example of a genebank helping to restore an indigenous community’s crop genetic resources.

Unnecessary biodiversity?

315623761_ab637a8f53_m.jpg I realise this is a somewhat heretical point of view, but I truly believe that some sorts of biological diversity just aren’t needed. So my heart fell when I read a press release from the University of Illinois that “one day soon a uniquely marbled pink poinsettia will be available to consumers who like decorating for the holidays with a flare for the unusual”. This is not just a gripe against breeding ornamentals. That would be silly. Ornamentals are important and provide lots of people with a living. It is more a gripe against breeding utterly pointless ornamentals. I mean, poinsettias are red. They don’t need to be white, or pink, or marbled. Harrumph.

Flickr photograph by tsuntsun3, used under a Creative Commons License. And kudos for labelling it flowers; the big red things are the bracts.

An insider’s view of sorghum in India

Prashant Mishra gives an Indian NGO’s perspective on sorghum and why many Indian farmers refer to it as Jowar Mata — Mother Sorghum. Even after the advances of the Green Revolution, sorghum thrives and sustains the very poorest people in marginal lands.