The People vs Starbucks rumbles on. Fair Trade weighs in to the debate with an almost entirely decaffeinated post. A shame, really, as there are important issues to discuss in the realms of protecting farmer varieties in a fair and equitable manner. A new blog — Coffee Politics — devoted entirely to the subject, may be worth keeping an eye on.
From Tamil Nadu, news of a farmer who has developed a very promising, high-yielding hybrid coconut. Has anyone pulled together similar examples of farmer breeding?
Researchers in Texas have planted a trial of so-called perennial wheat, which lasts about five years. Normal wheat flowers and dies in less than a year. The wheat, they say, is being evaluated particularly in the context of dual purpose grain and grazing use. Many farmers in the US west sow wheat and allow cattle to graze the young growth. After a while the cattle are removed and the wheat allowed to mature and flower. The perennial wheats, which have emerged from crosses of wheat with wild wheat grass (Agropyron spp) made in search of insect resistance and drought tolerance, would reduce the costs of seed and annual sowing.
Fine and dandy, but sad to see no mention whatsoever of the pioneering work by Wes Jackson and the Land Institute on the whole subject of perennial polyculture. Sad, but not entirely surprising; the Land Institute’s web site is by no means the easiest to find one’s way around. I visited a few years ago, and have kept up with their slow but steady progress towards “growing our own granola” but the truth is that despite Jackson’s wonderful oratory, not enough people know what they are doing there to promote edible biodiversity for the prairies. Try here for their latest publication on perennial polyculture.
This article in African News Dimension sings the praises of Bambara groundnut (Vigna subterranea), saying it could be grown and consumed a lot more in Malawi. Interestingly, one of the reasons why it is underutilized may be customs such as the one which says that only grandparents and widows are allowed to grow it.
Coincidentally, here’s a very detailedÂ article which perhaps sheds some light on how some medicinal plants may come to be used by people. Aframomum melegueta is a herb in the ginger family which grows along the coast of West Africa. The seeds are sometimes called “Grains of Paradise,” and were traded as a spice in the 15th century, giving its area of origin the name of Grain Coast. The plant is used in traditional medicine, and biochemists at Rutger’s Biotechnology Centre have now isolated a powerful anti-inflammatory from the grains. But here’s the fun part: apparently, Western lowland gorillas really like Aframomum. Did local people learn to use the plant by watching the gorillas?