Last of the shepherds

THE day is darkening, and Antonio el Negro, as he is known to his friends in the mountains, heads down to the El Yoni venta in El Burgo for a drink and something to eat. Antonio, as his nickname would suggest, is dark-skinned with black hair, and he has been looking after sheep and goats on this mountain terrain around El Burgo for as long as he can remember. His flock currently numbers 500, although he is the first in a long line of goatherds to have become a shepherd instead. “I prefer sheep,” he smiles.

Go on, give yourself a treat; read the whole romantic piece about the shepherds of Andalucia in Spain. There’s some science there, if you need any.

A user’s view of grassland biodiversity

Sniffing around on biofuels turned up this recent post — Polycultures — at a blog called Muck and Mystery. It gives a farmer’s view of how biodiversity helps him to produce more.

My focus for a couple of years has been on winter active species, those that don’t go dormant when it is cold and the days are short. At my latitude and altitude I can grow grasses year round if I have a good mix. It seldom freezes or snows. Right now my pastures still produce though most of my neighbors have brown swards of dormant grasses. They don’t produce as well as when the days are long, but the forage I produce in the dead of winter is valuable. It reduces the amount of stored forage needed to support my herd, or said another way, it raises my stocking rate. I produce more per acre over the year. With the same land area and inputs I get more production.

There’s no information about who Gary Jones is, or where he farms, but I like the tenor and content of this and a few other posts I read there. I’m adding him to my RSS reader.

Biofuel bonanza under the microscope

While I prepare to toss part two of my own humble contribution onto the biofuel bonfire, pop on over to Biopact for a long analysis of Grist magazine’s recent series on biofuels. Biopact does a decent job of expanding Grist’s debate beyond North America. The whole “debate” seems to be doing a better job of generating hot air than biofuels at the moment, but out of this, I hope, only good can eventually emerge. Biofuel from biomass is not a panacea, but if sensibly embraced the idea could bring multiple benefits.

Indigenous Vegetable Conference

A large conference on indigenous vegetables and legumes ended last week in Hyderabad, India. A press report gives little detail, but abstracts are available here and one may expect the proceedings to be published.

The conference was organised jointly by The World Vegetable Center, the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Bioversity International, the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS) and the Global Horticulture Initiative.

Greetings from Nairobi

We arrived in Nairobi a couple of days back and are still jet-lagged and trying to settle in. I’m writing this in a back alley cybercafe as it will take some time to get online in the apartment we are renting, I suspect. Anyway, in the Daily Nation this morning there was an article on the possible establishment of a potato genebank and breeding programme by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. It doesn’t seem to be online yet, but I will link to it as soon as it appears in cyberspace, as there’s a lot of interesting information on the history of potatoes in Kenya.