The National Research Council in the US has published a report on the importance of pollinators for crop production funded by the Department of Agriculture, U.S. Geological Survey, National Academies and the Research Council’s Division on Earth and Life Studies and requested by The North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, representing agencies and organizations in the United States, Canada and Mexico. According to this story, “the report pointed out that in order to bear fruit, three-quarters of all flowering plants — including most food crops and some that provide fiber, drugs, and fuel — rely on pollinators for fertilization” and “a decline in pollinators may spell trouble for crops.” Well alrighty then. Among the recommendations:
- the Agriculture Department should increase research into pest management and bee breeding practices
- long-term studies must be done on the populations of wild bee species and some butterflies, bats and hummingbirds, and the United States should collaborate with Canada and Mexico to form a network of long-term monitoring projects
- landowners should take simple steps to make habitats more “pollinator friendly,” for instance by growing native plants
The International Centre for Underutilized Crops (ICUC) has a position paper on the use of biotechnology to promote and develop neglected and underutilized species. You can download it here. The study concludes that some biotechnologies, eg tissue culture and microproagation, have proved effective in enhancing the use of neglected species, but that others, eg DNA fingerprinting for genetic diversity studies, have resulted in only limited practical benefits. The risks associated with applying biotechnologies include centralization, intellectual property protection and the formation of genetic bottlenecks.
National Geographic reports on a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that concludes that goats “accompanied the earliest farmers into Europe some 7,500 years ago, helping to revolutionize Stone Age society”. Goats are genetically much more diverse than other domesticated animals. This suggests they spread more quickly, and moved more rapidly, than other livestock.
There’s a conflict between helping farmers to get more value from niche varieties or neglected species and ensuring that the market does not become oversupplied as a result of others emulating that success. BBC News reports on the plight of vanilla growers in the Comoros Islands as the rest of the world cashes in on high vanilla prices.
Did you know October was Fair Trade Month? There’s a nice discussion of fair trade in chocolate here. Again, has anyone done a study of how fair trade certification empirically affects genetic diversity in farmers’ fields?