Wild sorghum burned out

Indeed. Here’s the map of the distribution of Sorghum leiocladum according to GBIF.


Compare with where those terrible fires are happening.

The species is in the tertiary genepool, so not particularly closely related to the crop, but there’s an indication of some potential for use in breeding for protein content.

There are 35 accessions in the genebanks that Genesys knows about, mainly in the Australian Grains Genebank. Unfortunately, I can’t find locality data. But they do seem to be in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, although Genesys seems to think otherwise. Must look into that…

Food system research roundup from IFPRI

According to IFPRI, “2019 saw increasing attention to the intersections of food systems and environmental sustainability throughout the year,” and I thing they’re probably right. That makes it increasingly difficult to keep track of what’s going on. Fortunately, they took the trouble of providing a useful summary in their last newsletter of the year. Do read the whole newsletter, and subscribe, but here’s their list of 2019 research highlights.

Healthy diets from sustainable food systems
The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health published a study in January outlining how to sustainably feed a future population of 10 billion people a healthy diet. IFPRI Director General Shenggen Fan served as a Commissioner for the report and provided his key takeaways in a video message and blog post.

Seizing the momentum for agriculture and nutrition
In February, IFPRI and CABI published Agriculture for Improved Nutrition: Seizing the Momentum reviewing the latest findings, results from on-the-ground programs and interventions, and recent policy experiences from countries around the world that are forging the agriculture and nutrition sectors closer together. The book launch was hosted by IFPRI and accompanied by a three-part blog series, beginning with a post by the book’s editors.

Over 100 million people faced acute hunger in 2018
According to the Global Report on Food Crises 2019 released in April, more than 113 million people across 53 countries experienced acute hunger in 2018 driven primarily by conflict and insecurity, climate shocks, and economic turbulence. A mid-year update to the report published in September provided revised numbers on current global food crises.

Increasing CO2 levels and projected climate change reduce nutrient content
A study published in The Lancet Planetary Health in July estimated that the combined effects of projected increases in atmospheric CO2 will reduce the global availability of nutrients by 19.5 percent for protein, 14.4 percent for iron, and 14.6 percent for zinc relative to expected technology and market gains by 2050.

Global hunger still on the rise for third year in a row
More than 820 million people did not have enough to eat in 2018, over 9 million more than in 2017. This was the third year of increase in a row according to the annual State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019 report launched in July. IFPRI and FAO hosted a discussion on the key findings of the report.

UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children report explores the changing face of malnutrition
For the first time in 20 years, UNICEF’s flagship report released in October examined the issue of children, food, and nutrition, providing a fresh perspective on a rapidly evolving challenge. It found that despite progress in the past two decades, one third of children under age 5 are malnourished and two thirds are at risk of malnutrition and hidden hunger because of the poor quality of their diets.

The global food system delivers the wrong prices of healthy and unhealthy foods
An article published in The Journal of Nutrition in November assessed the relative caloric prices for different food categories across 176 countries and found that prices vary systematically across countries and partially explain international differences in the prevalences of undernutrition and overweight adults. In an IFPRI blog post, the paper’s authors noted that as countries develop, their food systems get better at providing healthier foods cheaply, but they also get better at providing unhealthier foods cheaply.

Assessing the affordability of the EAT–Lancet reference diet
A study published in November in The Lancet Global Health used food price and household income data of 159 countries to estimate affordability of the benchmark diets recommended in the EAT-Lancet Commission report. The conclusion is that the reference diet costs a small fraction of average incomes in high-income countries but is not affordable for the world’s poor: to improve diets for them, some combination of higher income, nutritional assistance, and lower prices would be needed.

Tomato diversity did what?

I hope Jeremy won’t mind me copying here his take on tomato diversity from the last Eat This Newsletter of 2019. There’s interesting stuff there on coffee and wheat too, so wander over, and subscribe.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the modern crop is genetically less diverse than its predecessors. Universally acknowledged perhaps, but in at least one case, not a truth.

Dutch greenhouse tomatoes have been a poster-child for the loss of genetic diversity, the result of breeding for bumper production and good looks, rather than flavour or resilience. In the late 1980s, especially, German newspapers described them as Wasserbomben. Exports of these water bombs to Germany, previously their main destination, collapsed, and Dutch breeders began to pay attention. Their efforts are recognised in a new analysis of seven decades worth of tomato varieties, with a large jump in genetic diversity from the 1990s to the 2000s. An earlier jump, from the 1960s to the 1970s, reflects an effort to breed better disease resistance into existing varieties.

These genetic changes have been accompanied by changes much easier to recognise in the supermarket and on the plate. In the 1950s and 1960s, you would be hard pressed to buy a tomato that weighed less than 50 gm or more than 100 gm. Modern cherry tomatoes and big beefsteak types are newcomers to industrial greenhouses. Flavour profiles too, have changed, with tomatoes becoming both more flavourful and more diverse in their flavour profiles.

Of course, it is still possible to buy a water bomb if you try, but the key conclusion of this study is that tomato genetic diversity has seen “a nine-fold increase since the 1960s”. That’s not to say that things couldn’t be better. Other studies have shown that people generally consider heirloom tomatoes – pre-1950 and not subjected to focussed industrial-style breeding – tastier than modern varieties. Good though recent Dutch breeders have been, they could yet do better.

Brainfood: Food access, Rare species, Italian landraces, Forest status, CC & production, Myanmar nutrition, Super-pangenome, Plant pest priorities, Peanut resistance, Maize coring, EAT-Lancet costs, Sorghum tannins double, Dutch cattle core

Brainfood: Food system, Fish cryo, Bromeliad maps, Ag risk, Grass pollination, Gendered cassava, Sorghum salinity, Soybean subsetting, Reverse speciation, Legume data, Livestock diseases, Buckwheat diversity, Wild barley genome, Wild sorghums, Wheat gap