Business opportunities in biodiversity

A blog called Conservation Finance draws attention to a report on building biodiversity businesses. The report was prepared by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and is a draft for discussion, but I cannot do that as I have not yet read it. However, I noted with pleasure that there is a section on agriculture, which is encouraging, and not all that common among mainstream conservationists. By the way, Conservation Finance’s link to the report is pretty much broken; use this one instead.

Season’s greetings from the Kenya highlands

Ok, it looks like I’m online again. Took a bit of doing, but a Kenyan internet provider called Wananchi has an interesting wireless solution based on one of the local mobile networks. I’m writing this from our apartment in Nairobi, but I hope to post next week from my mother-in-law’s tea farm, and include some photographs of the local agriculture.

A tale of three (illicit) crops

Still not online here in Nairobi, but listening to the BBC World Service on the radio, I was struck by two (sort of linked) stories. One said that marijuana is now the biggest cash crop in the USA. The other was about coca in Bolivia and how the new president of that country, Evo Morales, is suggesting that cultivation of the crop should be expanded and new products developed based on the traditional uses of the plant. Then in the Daily Nation this morning there is an article about how miraa (or qat, Catha edulis) farming is taking a hit in northern Kenya after miraa flights to Somalia were banned by the new authorities there. Now livelihoods are threatened and there is apparently an upsurge in crime in miraa growing areas. Anybody out there want to draw some conclusions?

Fermenting the biofuel revolution

Part 2 of my musings on bioenergy is now available. This ramble looks at a novel form of breeding yeast, persuading it to make many more errors as it copies its DNA, and thus throw up lots of mutants for engineers to select among. The result is a yeast of unparalleled potency that would have been all but impossible to produce by tinkering with one gene at a time. And that leads into a consideration of some of the policy aspects of biofuels, such as what poor people will eat when the bioenergy industry is paying more than double today’s price for food in order to turn that food into fuel.

DNA database of fungal biodiversity

Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley are working with samples from the Venice Museum of Natural History to create a DNA database of some 6000 different species. A press release from UC Berkeley gives more details of the project, which will zero in on a small portion of non-coding ribosomal DNA that is known to be unique to each species. The database will allow researchers to identify fungi conclusively without having to wait for them to fruit, an erratic process that can be subject to delays. This could help scientists to respond more rapidly to the global spread of some fungal pathogens. It will also be useful for taxonomic studies.