And speaking of intellectual property, Spicy IP reports that the Indian National Plant Variety Register has finally set up shop, more than five years after the legislation was first proposed. The Register is an essential prelude to protection for modern plant varieties, and although initially limited to 12 species, including three of the four biggies, there are plans to extend it further. The Union for the Protection of Plant Varieties (UPOV) has always staunchly maintained that registration systems in and of themselves do nothing to promote genetic erosion and the loss of agricultural biodiversity. That may be so where the government continues to permit the informal seed sector to flourish and where the companies who register most varieties do not push them aggressively even in unsuitable areas. I don’t know how India will fare, but I have my doubts, and I would certainly expect some losses of traditional and older varieties.
Intellectual Property Watch has a section on genetic resources. You can sign up for e-mail alerts or subscribe to an RSS feed. There seems to be an average of maybe 3-4 postings a month, which is not too bad, though I know that for some that is 3-4 too many.
A visit to Suva’s only Japanese restaurant prompted some googling. First, there was the name of the place: Daikoku. Daiwhat? Turns out this is the name of the Japanese Buddhist god of wealth, farmers, agriculture, rice and the kitchen. Which would have been cool enough. But then I asked myself, what is this wasabi anyway? Sure, the Japanese version of horseradish. But the same as “normal” horseradish, or what? I’m ashamed to have to report that I simply didn’t know.
So, to summarize. The horseradish is Armoracia rusticana, in the Brassicaceae. It probably originated in western Asia. Cultivation for its pungent root goes back to antiquity. But the “Horseradish Capital of the World” is apparently Collinsville, Illinois, from a small region around which comes over one third of the United States’ production and/or 60% of the world’s supply depending on who you read. Which actually brings me to the serious point that I wasn’t able to get hold of global production statistics, and not for want of trying. FAOSTAT doesn’t have anything on horseradish, for example. Anyway, you can go to an International Horseradish Festival in Collinsville every May to find out more. Wasabi, on the other hand, is Wasabia japonica (there’s a couple of other species as well, though). Also in the Brassicaceae, but again I wasn’t able to find out if Wasabia and Armoracia are much related, though I doubt it. The pungent flavour in both cases — as generally in crucifers — is due to glucosinolates. Wasabia is native to Japan, where it has been cultivated for its rhizome since the 10th century. Traditionally, it is prepared using a sharkskin grater. The plant requires flowing water and a small number of districts in Japan specialize in its cultivation (e.g. the Izu peninsula), although it is also grown in other parts of the world. But there is imitation wasabi on the market which is apparently made of Western (let’s call it) horseradish, mustard and green colouring. Pass the sushi. And make mine the shark-grated stuff.
A great story about urban agriculture in – of all places – Los Angeles mentions corn, sunflowers, chayote, onions, tomatoes and alache, which I had to look up. But I would guess the diversity is staggering, at both species and variety levels. Imagine all those Latino families living the American dream asking their relatives back home for seeds…
I think WWF came up with a really powerful idea with their “climate witnesses.” These are ordinary people around the world who WWF has asked to act as spokespeople, a kind of warning system for climate change, and advocates for action. One is an old Kikuyu cattle-keeper, who spoke up at the recent climate change conference in Nairobi about the changes he has been experiencing. Makes me wonder if we in the agrobiodiversity community could link up with WWF and use this existing network to highlight specifically how climate change is affecting crops and crop wild relatives. Or do we perhaps need “genetic erosion witnesses” of our own?