Barcoding the Kruger Park

Botanists are collecting all the plants in the Kruger Park, according to this article. Fine, admirable: it’s good to have a full inventory of the flora of such an important protected area. We’ll know what crop wild relatives and medicinal plants grow there, for example, and thus perhaps be in a better position to tailor management interventions to suit them (at least in some parts of the park), and monitor changes. But actually that’s not why the specimens are being collected. Rather:

“We hope to be the team to identify the genetic bar-code for plants,” said team leader Dr Michelle van der Bank of the department of Botany and (Plant) Biotechnology.

That’s at the University of Johannesburg. I’m not sure I understand the logic, though. I doubt the Kruger is the most botanically diverse place in South Africa, or the most convenient (not to say safe) to collect in. What am I missing here? Anyway, it should make for some fun fieldwork.

Thanking the cranberry

Cultivating cranberries (Vaccinium spp) is pretty weird, involving as it does constructing beds by scraping off the topsoil and replacing it with sand, building dykes around them, and then flooding them at harvest time to collect the floating berries after threshing the vines. The crop is always in the news around this time of year because it is an important item on the menu of the Thanksgiving meal in the US, as a tangy accompaniment to roast turkey. Which is why the National Geographic website has posted this great video about the harvesting process.

The price of pineapples

A long story in the Guardian describes how pineapple growing is turning sour in Costa Rica. There’s an introduction about how Del Monte’s more tasty and nutritious “Gold” variety, bred by Hawaii’s Pineapple Research Institute in the 1970s, replaced Smooth Cayenne in the 1990s, but the real point of the article is to expose the dreadful conditions endured by workers on a Costa Rican plantation servicing a number of major British importers, mainly supermarkets. There are also serious environmental concerns over the recent expansion of the crop in the country.

Let them eat sorghum

The Prime Minister, no less, has told Tanzanian farmers to grow sorghum rather than maize, where appropriate, because maize “does not enhance their economic status”, according to a report in The Daily News. Mr Lowassa pushed millet and cowpeas too. He also expressed indignation at the way farmers were recklessly cutting down trees and allowing cattle to graze close to water sources.

Indian varieties

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.