Green Revolution did not bypass Africa; it failed

Grain, an international NGO that “promotes the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity” has issued a somewhat jaundiced review of the recent anouncement by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation of a new Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. Grain insists that the first Green Revolution did not bypass Africa: “It failed. It was unpopular and ineffective.”  The NGO goes on to say that on the evidence available, the new effort will fail for the same reasons, because the approach it adopts is unchanged.

What do you think? Do African farmers need new technology, such as improved varieties and fertilisers? Or are there other approaches that will help societies there to develop and feed themselves more effectively?

Pouring money into climate change

The Guardian in the UK reports on a new plan to tackle climate change and agriculture, to be launched today in Washington DC. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research will spend about UD 400 million a year “to help agricultural experts develop crops that can withstand heat and drought, find more efficient farming techniques and make better use of increasingly fragile soil and scarce water supplies,” according to the paper. Robert Ziegler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute, one of the CGIAR centres, did not specifically mention agrobiological diversity, but it is safe to say that the kinds of developments envisaged by the CGIAR will not be possible without making considerable use of existing biodiversity.

Later … there are CGIAR press releases here and here that give an official view.

The perils of rarity

It stands to reason that as the cost of finding and an over-harvested medicinal plant, say, increases beyond the market value of the product, people will stop looking for it, hopefully giving the population a chance to recover. Well, yes, but what if the very increasing rarity of the plant – or animal – actually in turn ratchets up its value? The result is a positive feedback loop which can only end in extinction. Or so says a mathematical model described in Nature, backed up by some telling examples. So publicizing the fact that a species may be rare and threatened (for example, in a Red Data List) may actually make things worse! Taking species into cultivation may be one way around the problem.

Fido not a domesticated wolf?

Domestic dogs are derived from wolves, right? Maybe not. There is apparently a minority view that says that a better interpretation of behavioural, morphological and genetic differences between the domestic dog and the wolf is that the dog was domesticated from a now-extinct, pariah-like precursor, with occasional hybridization with wolves along the way. You can read more about this controversial view on Darren Naish’s zoological blog.