Jerry Konanui

Some bad news from Penny:

It is with great sadness that I convey the news that Jerry Konanui, of the giant kalo, cultural practitioner, traditional Hawaiian kalo and ‘awa cultivar expert, friend and colleague has passed. Jerry was a shining example of an indigenous scientist who bridged both research and traditional practice effortlessly and was highly respected in Hawaii and elsewhere for his work. He was instrumental in reviving interest in Hawaiian crop biodiversity in the Islands and I was honored to have spent almost two decades working on cultivar recovery and identification with he and his wife. His verification work led to the re-establishment of improved collections among botanical gardens and agriculture stations in Hawaii. Jerry shared his knowledge with great aloha and humor over the years, captivating and inspiring hundreds of students and farmers to plant and rediscover the unique and fragrant flavors of Hawaiian taro and ‘awa. Aloha ‘oe Jerry! You will be sorely missed.

huge taro

Aloha ‘oe Jerry!

Photographing dietary quality

People in other cultures are often portrayed as scary or exotic. This has to change. We want to show how people really live. It seemed natural to use photos as data so people can see for themselves what life looks like on different income levels.

That’s Anna Rosling Rönnlund of Gapminder on Dollar Street.

Dollar Street lets you visit many, many homes all over the world. Without travelling.

There are photos of everything from toilets to pets. The food items included are “grains”


and “spices.”

We know from recent work from our friends at Bioversity and their partners that number of species consumed is a good proxy for the nutritional quality of diets across countries and seasons. I wonder if such photographic documentation can be used to estimate dietary richness, and thus quality?

I say TME 419, you say TMe-419

We have received an email from Prof. Z.R. Tesfasion, University of Jos, Nigeria:

This is to inform you that the TME-419 cassava being grown by farmers in the South Western and South Eastern Nigeria was bred by me from TMS-30572. There could also be other genotypes (at least 4) being cultivated by farmers within Nigeria.

This was in response to an old post of ours, dating back to 2012, in which we delved into cassava genebank database hell and asked: Is there more than one TME 419 cassava?1 In particular, we compared cassava accession TMe-419 from the IITA genebank with cassava super-cultivar TME 419, making was and is making waves in West Africa, as described in IITA’s Improved Cassava Variety Handbook.

Is the shape of the leaf’s central lobe lanceolate or elliptic? Is there or is there not pigmentation on the petiole? Is the colour of the root pulp white/cream or yellow? And does it have a purple cortex or not? A discrepancy in one of these descriptors I might have understood, but it is clear to me that we’re talking here about quite different cassavas.

So I ask IITA: which one is the real TME 419? I mean the one making news in DR Congo and Nigeria.

The answer, thanks to Prof. Tesfasion, is that the cultivar being widely adopted in Nigeria and elsewhere is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the TME 419 described in the Improved Cassava Variety Handbook. The TMe-419 accession is a different thing, the similarity in handles notwithstanding. The name of the former came from a breeding programme, that of the latter from the genebank, and the two of them did not compare notes quite as much as they perhaps should have done. A problem that DOIs will no doubt alleviate in the future.

What’s TMS-30572? Ah, that’s another story.

  1. This wander down memory lane, for which we heartily thank Prof. Tesfasion, has given us the opportunity to update some of the links, which had deteriorated somewhat. []

Marijuana goes mainstream

Legalized marijuana is going the way of all agricultural commodities in the United States, and that shouldn’t be a surprise. A really interesting analysis by 538 reveals that the price of pot has dropped for grower and dope fiend alike, and with big money at stake — $6.7 billion this past year and $20 billion the dream for 2021 — big money is very interested. The market, according to 538:

increasingly favors big businesses with deep pockets. As legal weed keeps expanding, pot prices are likely to continue to decline, making the odds of running a profitable small pot farm even longer.

There’s a lot more detail in 538’s piece, all of which I found fascinating. In so many respects, marijuana is a mirror of food. Capital makes it possible to produce the stuff for less (not counting externalities), so that even within limits on the size of pot farms, bigger operations dominate.

From January through September of this year [i.e. 2017], the 10 largest farms in Washington [state] harvested 16.79 percent of all the dry weight weed grown in the state, which is more than the share produced by the 500 smallest farms combined (13.12 percent).

Then there’s the diversification of the product itself. Not so long ago there was basically dried marijuana flowers, which when Washington state legalized the market in mid-2014 made up almost 95% of sales. Now buyers face a paralysing choice of different products, from the stuff you put in e-cigarettes to a wide range of sweets and snacks — with bud currently less than 55% of the market.

The manufacturers of marijuana goodies need expensive equipment to extract the good stuff and then make things from it, adding to the expense of the operation. It’s an inevitable echo of overstuffed supermarket aisles that feature more food-like products than you can possibly imagine utterly dominating a small area dedicated to ingredients from which one can make food.

Pot manufacturers are both adding value and trying to create products that can be distinguished from one another and thus, perhaps, command a price premium. There’s concentration in this sector too. More than 1000 companies are licensed to produce cannabis edibles, but the top five accounted for just over half of the Washington state market and the top 20 for more than 90%.

All this could easily have been foreseen, and was, by people who have studied the development of the food industry. One concomitant that they have not noted, yet, is the loss of biodiversity. Underground plant breeding, sometimes literally, fuelled the modern marijuana industry with a rainbow cornucopia of exotically named varieties, each touting specific traits of interest to consumers in addition to the enhanced productivity that growers want. And as long as the market was supplied by small growers, that diversity was readily available and often regionally distinct. With the concentration now happening in the industry, how long before there are only a handful of different strains, offering just a few different highs?

And once that has happened, how long before the small growers show up at farmers markets, touting their heritage, organic, sustainable varieties of pot? Except, of course, that most modern pot varieties are F1 hybrids designed to produce only female plants, often grown hydroponically. Is that acceptable?

Happy New Year

Cross posted from the mothership.