World crop capitals?

The post a couple of days back about horseradish got me thinking about the whole “Capital of the World” thing. And of course it turns out Wikipedia has a long list of cities that call themselves the world capital of something or other. Here are the ones for crops (and one domesticated animal):

You’ll notice something of a disagreement over horseradish! Anyway, unsurprisingly perhaps, most of these places are in the US, and indeed California. So I was thinking: what would be the real Avocado Capital of the World, for example? I would vote for Antigua in Guatemala, where a couple of important varieties originated. The California Avocado Society (I think) put a plaque in the central plaza some years back commemorating the contribution of the area to the California avocado industry. The famous plant explorer Wilson Popenoe had a house there. Here’s a history of the avocado. And here’s an interesting account of avocado collecting in Guatemala. Any other ideas? What would naming a city a world capital for a crop do for the conservation of that crop?

Housing genebanks

Related to the question of how genebanks are funded is that of where they are located, physically and institutionally. I would imagine the overwhelming preponderance of genebanks around the world will come under a ministry of agriculture, university, botanic garden or seed company. But some are found in private homes, such as the French castle with its national tomato collection mentioned a few posts ago. A few NGOs around the world have genebanks, of course. There is a Yam Conservatory in New Caledonia which comes directly under the jurisdiction of the Traditional Senate of the island’s indigenous Kanak people. And then there are genebanks on farms.

Yes, what of community-based genebanks? These always give me trouble. They don’t seem to fit comfortably into our typology of conservation. Are they ex situ or in situ? Time to jettison that over-worked dichotomy, I think. But that discussion is for a future post.

Lupins against hunger

Bread enriched with lupin flour left people feeling fuller than ordinary wheat bread, according to a recent report. This could be good news for people who would otherwise be taking anti-obesity pills, and even better news for Australia’s lupin farmers. That’s where the research was carried out. I didn’t know that lupin is already widely used in baked goods because it can replace (more expensive?) eggs and butter. Edible lupins are a common snack in Italy. They also periodically crop up as “neglected” species that could solve world hunger given half a chance. Whether this latest news will reinvigorate that effort is anybody’s guess.

Welsh wood promoted

From Wales, no less, that hotbed of biodiversity, comes a report on the use of wood to fuel power stations. Not exactly novel, the arguments are nevertheless entertaining.

“With a guaranteed outlet for the wood it makes sense to manage woodlands. If we take care when working the woodland it can also benefit biodiversity. By using a local product instead of imported oil we can support local businesses and use local labour.”

Get real, IK academics told

A meeting of Nigerian academics interested in traditional knowledge was told to be a bit more humble in the face of the “uneducated” people in whom such knowledge resides. Many of the papers at the meeting seem to have been concerned with putting traditional knowledge to work, for example to reduce imports of pharmaceuticals by replacing them with traditional medicinal plants. One wonders, though, about the knowledge levels — traditional or otherwise — of the speaker who apparently said:

“conventional drugs are chemicals and therefore toxic. They are costly, but natural products are environmentally friendly. Unlike chemicals, natural products promote biodiversity and conservation.”

Seems to me that a little more depth of understanding is needed on all sides. Sure, traditional knowledge can be useful. But it needs to be tempered with a bit of rational investigation.