Coffee and a movie

I haven’t seen it yet, but the movie Black Gold promises to be a fascinating look at how coffee gets from tree to cup. Tadesse Meskala, head of the 74,000-strong Ethiopian Oromia coffee co-operative, is apparently the star of the piece. There are a couple of books out at the moment which also look at agricultural commodity chains under globalization, for example Journey to the Lands of Cotton by Erik Orsenna. There’s an extract here. The “commodity chain approach” is of course all the rage in PGR circles these days (or it was until recently, do I sense a backlash?), and not only with things like banana and coconut, but for underutilized and neglected species too. But I remain to be convinced that such a focus on “product” at the end of the chain is necessarily good for genetic diversity at its beginning unless you’re very careful.

Genebank agreements signed

Jacques Diouf, Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), today signed agreements with the centres supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), putting the centres’ genebank holdings under the control of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The agreements ensure that some of the world’s largest collections of plant genetic resources, which are especially rich in farmers’ varieties and wild relatives, are available to all, and at the same time guarantee that commercial users will share the benefits with the global community. Signatories hope that this will ease access and improve plant breeding.

The International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), which represented the CGIAR in the Treaty negotiations, posted a summary of the outcome of the first meeting of the Governing Body of the Treaty, which links to a series of background features about the Treaty.

Typhoon destroyed Philippine genebank

Typhoon Xangsane (known locally as Milenyo) damaged almost all of the material stored at the National Plant Genetic Resources Laboratory in the Philippines, according to a report in the Philippine Daily Enquirer. All of the root crops were buried in mud. The International Rice Research Institute has temporarily allowed the Phillipine national system to use its facilities while it assesses the damage. IRRI genebank head Ruaraidh Sackville Hamilton said:

We are committed to doing everything we can to help our local colleagues get through this difficult period.

IRRI’s facilities were also extensively damaged by the typhoon, although the genebank emerged unscathed. Jose E. Hernandez, of the Institute of Plant Breeding at the University of the Philippines, Los BaƱos, said that he expected the Philippine facilities to be back to normal within about six weeks.