Many people interested in crop diversity have on their bookshelves the “Lost crops …” series published by America’s National Academies of Science. They detail neglected species of South America and Africa, gathering the kind of summary data that is so hard to find in one place. A new volume on African Vegetables has just been published, and it looks really interesting. From the blurb:
The report examines the promise of 18 African vegetables to help feed the continent’s growing population and spur sustainable development. These native vegetables â€“ including amaranth, cowpea, and egusi â€“ are still cherished in many parts of Africa, and even attract some research interest, but they are typically overlooked by scientists and policymakers in the world at large. In the past, these local plants may have been judged less valuable than the well-known vegetables introduced to Africa from other parts of the world. But because few indigenous vegetables have been studied extensively, information about them is often outdated, difficult to find, or largely anecdotal. Despite this neglect, they are not without merit, the report emphasizes.
The printed copy is expensive. But for anyone with a good internet connection, the entire thing is available for reading — and searching — online from the NAS web site.
Volume 1, covering grains, came out in 1996. Volume 3 will cover African Fruits. Let’s hope it arrives before 2016.
An interesting juxtaposition of articles: from India, one of the cradles of the Green Revolution, the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) says that the government should now focus on â€œfaces before figures” (net income of the farm families rather than tonnes of farm commodities produced), while from Africa, which was largely bypassed by said revolution, a call for a new, uniquely African Green Revolution with a focus on nutrition andÂ the environment as well as markets and policies.
Emelie Healy of FAO’s Land and Water Development Division has a mailing recently on the PPGIS discussion list saying that FAO has updated their dams database of Africa by overlaying with Google Earth. There is an online interactive map on this page and you can download the data as well from the FAO’s GeoNetwork data downloading service by entering “dams” in the free text line. They have also recently updated their irrigated areas map. You can find maps of the latest data and an interactive map as well as downloads here. And speaking of water, more than half of the world’s lakes are facing serious problems caused by agricultural activities, according to a paper presented at the 11th International Living Lakes Conference. Which probably feeds back on agriculture in complicated ways. Anyway, I would guess that the effect of dams and new irrigation schemes on local wild biodiversity is usually negative, but is that necessarily always the case also for agro-biodiversity? I suspect so, but is there a possibility that at least sometimes existing crop genetic diversity is simply displaced a bit geographically or ecologically within the same general area and augmented by new crop genetic diversity adapted to the new conditions?
The latest Nature has a paper on mapping endangered animal species in a couple of different groups and relating what might be called “extinction threat hotspots” to “biodiversity hotspots.” The paper is getting a lot of media attention, for example here and here. Perhaps not surprisingly, the two types of hotspots do not match up, so a focus solely on protecting biodiversity in the well-known global hotspots is perhaps not going to be as effective as one might wish. No word on whether someone is doing similar work on plants, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the results were to turn out similar. But what about crops? I can think up theoretical arguments why centres of genetic diversity of crops might also be at particular risk from genetic erosion, but as for empirical data the problem is that information on genetic erosion tends to be anecdotal and patchy.
There’s a lot of talk about biofuels these days, but perhaps not much on how growing biofuel crops might actually benefit poor people. So here’s an interesting story from India about how private firms are paying villagers to plant jatropha – traditionally the fruits were collected from the wild, placed on bamboo spikes and burned for light.