Members of the Blackfoot people in the state of Idaho have pioneered the use of oriental mustard as a green manure, growing it on potato fields to combat weeds, erosion and pests and diseases. Now a trial with the University of Idaho is extending the opportunity to mainstream farmers in the potato state. John Taberna, a Blackfoot seed distributor, says that oriental mustard (possibly Brassica juncea, but the article doesn’t say and I’m just guessing) has a fungicidal effect, in addition to other benefits of green manures. The tribe’s business council agreed to reduce pesticide use by 15% over the next 20 years, and the green manure is part of that effort.
A report on African News Dimension discusses Eritrea’s efforts to preserve its biodiversity. While the article briefly mentions that “the ministries of Agriculture and Fisheries were given authority to establish protected areas in their capacity” it does not delve any deeper into agricultural biodiversity. And yet, for a country that ranks 124th in global GNP (yes, I know … all such measures are suspect) with an economy based on subsistence farming and 80% of the population involved in farming and herding, I would have thought agricultural biodiversity might be a higher priority.
The latest issue of CTA’s wonderful ICT Update is all about urban agriculture, and has a couple of examples of the application of GIS. I’ve always wondered whether urban areas act as “magnets” for PGR, people bringing their crops and varieties along when they migrate to the city and growing them in micro-environments, and/or as “winnowers” of the varieties available in the immediate vicinity, urban dwellers mostly focusing on the convenient and commercial. We even did an inconclusive studyÂ on sweet potato in Nairobi trying to look at this. Is genetic diversity much considered in urban agriculture circles?
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.