Singular stories

We get used to reading about massive great projects involving loads of stakeholders with mountains of milestones. And we get jaded. But sometimes solutions are much smaller and with them comes a sense of uplift and possibilities. I got that when I found a post from a woman called Juliana, who is a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali. Her big push is for a millet grinding machine. Here’s why:

This machine grounds the millet the women spend so long to pound everyday. It can also ground peanuts into peanut butter and shea nuts to extract their oil. Mali is one of the leading producers of Shea butter so I’d like to help contribute to it’s production in my village.

If I get this machine it will allow the women much needed free time to do other things during the day. Plus one part of getting the machine is the ‘alphabetisation’ of the women. They need to learn how to read and write so that they can keep proper records for the machine. An NGO will take part in helping to provide the education for the women and the training for record keeping. It’s a good way of introducing literacy into a small village.

And she writes about trialling different kinds of millet in the village.

Bioversity International (my day job) has helped to introduce millet mini-mills in India, and the positive repercussions have been phenomenal. Not to blow my own horn too loudly, but you can hear about the mini-mill here, and there’s an accompanying article in New Agriculturalist.

So, Juliana, if you’re reading this, go for it, and let us know how you get on.


I just heard a programme on the BBC World Service in the One Planet series called “Nuts.” It looked at the problems encountered in developing the Brazil nut as a source of income for poor Amazonian farmers. Unfortunately, it appears that some very tight – some would say unreasonably tight – EU regulations about levels of aflavotoxins are preventing exports. There’s part two next week. The website for the One Planet series is here, but this particular programme does not seem to be online yet. I’ll keep looking out for it. Coincidentally, WWF also has a long piece on the Brazil nut out today, which you can find here. International Trade Forum had a piece on Brazil nuts here in 2004.

How breeders use genome information

Everything you’ve always wanted to know about the use of genomic information in plant breeding but were afraid to ask is covered in a feature article from the US Department of Agriculture. Well, not quite everything, but Improving Crop Plants Through Genomics does offer a quick run down on some of the techniques and some of the projects, including one on nutritional quality and others on marginal environments and pests and diseases.

Strange take on Svalbard

There’s an odd piece on the proposed genebank on the Norwegian island of Svalbard at a web site called Science and Spirit. The authors outline the background and purpose of the “Doomsday” genebank, which is being promoted by the Global Crop Diversity Trust and have a little fun with the notion that post-catastrophe survivors will know how to get to Svalbard and what to do with the seeds they find there, always presuming they can penetrate the concrete vault without a key. Then they segue into a lament for the loss of Biblical varieties, which might have contained cures for diseases. It’s all very odd, but like the lady said, all publicity is good publicity. Come to think of it, how will survivors of a calamity make use of the Noah’s Ark genebank on Svalbard?

Mapping agriculture in Bhutan

Great to hear about a national atlas of natural resources, including agriculture, for Bhutan. Such publications are not as common as one might think, alas, but I can’t think of anything more useful in planning agricultural biodiversity conservation activities in a country.