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Posts Tagged ‘Biodiversity’

Embedding Transnational Agribusiness and GMO’s into African Agriculture*

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on October 9, 2017

The African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) has just released the report For your own good!, which outlines the GMO industry’s expansion across Africa. The report focuses on non-commercial traditional crops, such as cassava, sorghum, sweet potato, pigeon pea, cowpea, banana and rice, which corporations are attempting to genetically modify and roll out under the guise of philanthropy.

The report reveals that a great deal of research and development is currently underway into the genetic modification (GM) of these crops. Most of the on-going trials concentrate on drought and salt tolerance, nitrogen use efficiency, resistance to tropical pests and diseases and nutritional enhancement (bio-fortification). The key countries that have been targeted include:

The genesis of GM research into these crops can be found in royalty-free donations of various patented GM traits by several transnational companies to experimental programmes undertaken by African scientists employed by government ministries. These companies include Monsanto, Dupont and Pioneer Hi-bred.

Mariam Mayet, Director of the ACB, says:

This indicates that the GM industry, under the veil of technology donations and public financing, is effectively managing to make further inroads into imposing GM on the African continent. By focusing the research on traits meant to ‘benefit’ farmers and malnourished populations, through inter alia, bio-fortification, the industry is intent on giving a humanitarian face to the real involvement, vested interests and expanding influence of these MNCs in African agriculture”.

The main players involved include the African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF), which is on the receiving end of many of the technological property rights donations, the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program (ABSP) and the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS). The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and USAID fund the latter organisations.

U.S-based research institutions such as the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (DDPSC) (for cassava) and universities (notably Michigan State University and Kansas State University) play a major role in this ‘philanthropic’ research.

The ACB report notes there is a dearth of literature that critically addresses bio-safety issues and socio-economic aspects relating to the bio-fortification of indigenous crops through GM. According to the authors, this is especially important given the need to move away from an over-emphasis on food fortification strategies towards a permanent solution: diet diversification through locally available foods, which was recognised as early as 1992 by the U.N. International Conference on Nutrition.

As is the case with the controversial Golden Rice research and development project, the report argues these GM projects are diverting financial and human resources and policies and practices away from implementing the real solutions that can be found within the diversity of natural foods and farming.

Zakiyya Ismail, Consumer Campaigner with the ACB argues:

The real solutions to address vitamin and mineral deficiencies can be found in ecological farming systems, and traditional kitchen and home gardens, which can better contribute to healthy and diverse diets and empower people to access and produce their own healthy and varied food.”

ACB stresses that smallholder farmers must be given the right to choose their means of production and survival. It adds even if gene sequences and constructs are donated, the accompanying requisite GM inputs will be expensive for farmers. GM crops are highly likely to increase the costs of production for farmers and lead them into indebtedness and dependency.

The report by ACB follows a Global Justice Now report that outlines the role of BMFG in spearheading a drive into Africa on behalf of ‘corporate America’ to facilitate a GMO/green revolution.

With assets of $43.5 billion, BMGF is the largest charitable foundation in the world and distributes more aid for global health than any government. Its strategy is intended to deepen the role of multinational companies, even though these corporations are responsible for much of the poverty and injustice that already plagues the Global South. The foundation’s programmes have a specific ideological strategy that promotes neo-liberal economic policies, corporate globalisation, GMOs and an outdated (colonialist) view of role of aid in ‘helping’ the poor.

Global Justice Now shows that the senior staff of BMGF’s programmes are overwhelmingly drawn from ‘corporate America’. As a result, the question is: whose interests are being promoted – those of corporate America or those of ordinary people who seek social and economic justice rather than charity?

Continue reading…

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Posted in Conspiracies, Ethiopia, Health, Infos | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Church Forests: What If Churches From Around The World Learned From Ethiopia?

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on June 28, 2017

The Church Forests, mainly concentrated around the source of the Blue Nile, were created as a physical reminder of God’s creation, symbolic Gardens of Eden in areas where much land has been cleared for agriculture. Administered by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church, they’re home to much of the country’s biodiversity, and while they’ve always served a spiritual purpose, now the church is working with conservationists to help preserve the country’s flora and fauna. And that has a knock-effect for communities, with plans to engage the children involved with the churches with mini-conservation surveys based around insects, projects that are simple and cheap and therefore sustainable and replicable in the future for more on this, check out the work of Dr. Margaret Lowman, who has been working with local churches to help preserve the forests.

It’s funny how, in that last paragraph, I drew an implicit distinction between the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘physical’. That’s a failing of the Western Church, I think, where concern for the environment is seen as something New Agey and has a negative impact on how we approach issues like climate change. When we adopt an attitude of domination rather than genuine stewardship, the church can be embedded as part of the problem rather than contributing to a solution.

But the Church Forests have been doing this for over 1,500 years. And while they’re now having to build protective walls around their forests, there’s still a challenge here – what if churches from around the world learned from Ethiopia? What if this was one of the models by which the church engaged with environmental issues? What if one of the priests who look after the Church Forests was asked to speak at one of our big conferences? That raises a lot of questions and issues, around perceived authority and colonialism, and the environment is a lens through which we need to confront this. The question at the root of it all, though, is simple:

What if we became better at learning from each other?

Source

“Church Forests” of Ethiopia

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Posted in Ethiopia, Faith, Photos & Videos | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ethiopian Shade Coffee Is World’s Most Bird Friendly

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on February 10, 2015

88324_990x742-cb1423067953 Birds such as the blue-breasted bee-eater can be found on Ethiopia’s shade coffee farms

A new study found high biodiversity on traditional coffee farms

Shady coffee plantations in Ethiopia, where coffee has been grown for at least a thousand years, hold relatively more forest bird species than any other coffee farms in the world, new research shows.

The research suggests that traditional cultivation practices there support local forest bird biodiversity better than any other coffee farms in the world.

In Ethiopia, coffee is traditionally grown on plantations shaded by native trees. These farms boasted more than 2.5 times as many bird species as adjacent mountain forest, according to a study slated for publication February 11 in the journal Biological Conservation.

“That was a surprise,” says study co-author Cagan H. Sekercioglu, a biologist at the University of Utah and a National Geographic Society grant recipient. Further, “all 19 understory bird species we sampled in the forest were present in the coffee farms too, and that just doesn’t happen elsewhere.”

Other studies have shown that shade coffee farms provide better bird habitat than full-sun plantations, but the effect may be more prominent in Ethiopia because farmers there tend to use native trees instead of the exotic species popular elsewhere. 88323_990x742-cb1423067995 Coffee cherries, the fruit that contains the coffee beans, are seen up close on the plant in Ethiopia.

Source

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Posted in Curiosity, Ethiopia | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

How/Why The Luciferians Caused The Ethiopian Famine

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on June 2, 2013

famine-in-Ethiopia

My Note: This article, which describes how genetically modified seeds granted as “food aid” was instrumental in triggering famine. It was first published in The Ecologist in September 2000.My previous post on the subject Here

Ethiopia’s Famine courtesy of GM seed Laundering

The “economic therapy” imposed under IMF-World Bank jurisdiction is in large part responsible for triggering famine and social devastation in Ethiopia and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, wreaking the peasant economy and impoverishing millions of people.

With the complicity of branches of the US government, it has also opened the door for the appropriation of traditional seeds and landraces by US biotech corporations, which behind the scenes have been peddling the adoption of their own genetically modified seeds under the disguise of emergency aid and famine relief.

Moreover, under WTO rules, the agri-biotech conglomerates can manipulate market forces to their advantage as well as exact royalties from farmers. The WTO provides legitimacy to the food giants to dismantle State programmes including emergency grain stocks, seed banks, extension services and agricultural credit, etc.), plunder peasant economies and trigger the outbreak of periodic famines.

Crisis in the Horn

More than 8 million people in Ethiopia – representing 15% of the country’s population – had been locked into “famine zones”. Urban wages have collapsed and unemployed seasonal farm workers and landless peasants have been driven into abysmal poverty. The international relief agencies concur without further examination that climatic factors are the sole and inevitable cause of crop failure and the ensuing humanitarian disaster. What the media tabloids fails to disclose is that – despite the drought and the border war with Eritrea – several million people in the most prosperous agricultural regions have also been driven into starvation. Their predicament is not the consequence of grain shortages but of “free markets” and “bitter economic medicine” imposed under the IMF-World Bank sponsored Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP).

Ethiopia produces more than 90% of its consumption needs. Yet at the height of the crisis, the nationwide food deficit for 2000 was estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at 764,000 metric tons of grain representing a shortfall of 13 kilos per person per annum.1 In Amhara, grain production (1999-2000) was twenty percent in excess of consumption needs. Yet 2.8 million people in Amhara (representing 17% of the region’s population) became locked into famine zones and are “at risk” according to the FAO. 2 Whereas Amhara’s grain surpluses were in excess of 500,000 tons (1999-2000), its “relief food needs” had been tagged by the international community at close to 300,000 tons.3 A similar pattern prevailed in Oromiya, the country’s most populated state where 1.6 million people were classified “at risk”, despite the availability of more than 600,000 metric tons of surplus grain.4 In both these regions, which include more than 25% of the country’s population, scarcity of food was clearly not the cause of hunger, poverty and social destitution. Yet no explanations are given by the panoply of international relief agencies and agricultural research institutes.

The Promise of the “Free Market”

In Ethiopia, a transitional government came into power in 1991 in the wake of a protracted and destructive civil war. After the pro-Soviet Dergue regime of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam was unseated, a multi-donor financed Emergency Recovery and Reconstruction Project (ERRP) was hastily put in place to deal with an external debt of close to 9 billion dollars that had accumulated during the Mengistu government. Ethiopia’s outstanding debts with the Paris Club of official creditors were rescheduled in exchange for far-reaching macro-economic reforms. Upheld by US foreign policy, the usual doses of bitter IMF economic medicine were prescribed. Caught in the straightjacket of debt and structural adjustment, the new Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE), led by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) – largely formed from the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (PLF) – had committed itself to far-reaching “free market reforms”, despite its leaders’ Marxist leanings. Washington soon tagged Ethiopia alongside Uganda as Africa’s post Cold War free market showpiece.

While social budgets were slashed under the structural adjustment programme (SAP), military expenditure – in part financed by the gush of fresh development loans – quadrupled since 1989.5 With Washington supporting both sides in the Eritrea-Ethiopia border war, US arms sales spiralled. The bounty was being shared between the arms manufacturers and the agribusiness conglomerates. In the post-Cold War era, the latter positioned themselves in the lucrative procurement of emergency aid to war-torn countries. With mounting military spending financed on borrowed money, almost half of Ethiopia’s export revenues was earmarked to meet debt-servicing obligations.

A Policy Framework Paper (PFP) stipulating the precise changes to be carried out in Ethiopia had been carefully drafted in Washington by IMF and World Bank officials on behalf of the transitional government, and was forwarded to Addis Ababa for the signature of the Minister of Finance. The enforcement of severe austerity measures virtually foreclosed the possibility of a meaningful post-war reconstruction and the rebuilding of the country’s shattered infrastructure. The creditors demanded trade liberalization and the full-scale privatization of public utilities, financial institutions, State farms and factories. Civil servants including teachers and health workers were fired, wages were frozen and the labor laws were rescinded to enable State enterprises “to shed their surplus workers”. Meanwhile, corruption became rampant. State assets were auctioned off to foreign capital at bargain prices and Price Waterhouse Cooper was entrusted with the task of coordinating the sale of State property.

In turn, the reforms had led to the fracture of the federal fiscal system. Budget transfers to the State governments were slashed leaving the regions to their own devices. Supported by several donors, “regionalization” was heralded as a “devolution of powers from the federal to the regional governments”. The Bretton Woods institutions knew exactly what they were doing. In the words of the IMF, “[the regions] capacity to deliver effective and efficient development interventions varies widely, as does their capacity for revenue collection”.

Wrecking the Peasant Economy

Patterned on the reforms adopted in Kenya in 1991 (see Box 9.1 ), agricultural markets were willfully manipulated on behalf of the agribusiness conglomerates. The World Bank demanded the rapid removal of price controls and all subsidies to farmers. Transportation and freight prices were deregulated serving to boost food prices in remote areas affected by drought. In turn, the markets for farm inputs including fertilizer and seeds were handed over to private traders including Pioneer Hi-Bred International which entered into a lucrative partnership with Ethiopia Seed Enterprise (ESE), the government’s seed monopoly.7

At the outset of the reforms in 1992, USAID under its Title III program “donated” large quantities of US fertilizer “in exchange for free market reforms”:

[V]arious agricultural commodities [will be provided] in exchange for reforms of grain marketing… and [the] elimination of food subsidies…The reform agenda focuses on liberalization and privatization in the fertilizer and transport sectors in return for financing fertilizer and truck imports…. These program initiatives have given us [an] “entrée” …in defining major [policy] issues…

While the stocks of donated US fertiliser were rapidly exhausted; the imported chemicals contributed to displacing local fertiliser producers. The same companies involved in the fertilizer import business were also in control of the domestic wholesale distribution of fertilizer using local level merchants as intermediaries.

Increased output was recorded in commercial farms and in irrigated areas (where fertilizer and high yielding seeds had been applied). The overall tendency, however, was towards greater economic and social polarisation in the countryside, marked by significantly lower yields in less productive marginal lands occupied by the poor peasantry. Even in areas where output had increased, farmers were caught in the clutch of the seed and fertilizer merchants.

In 1997, the Atlanta based Carter Center – which was actively promoting the use of biotechnology tools in maize breeding – proudly announced that “Ethiopia [had] become a food exporter for the first time”.9 Yet in a cruel irony, the donors ordered the dismantling of the emergency grain reserves (set up in the wake of the 1984-85 famine) and the authorities acquiesced.

Instead of replenishing the country’s emergency food stocks, grain was exported to meet Ethiopia’s debt servicing obligations. Close to one million tons of the 1996 harvest was exported, an amount which would have been amply sufficient (according to FAO figures) to meet the 1999-2000 emergency. In fact the same food staple which had been exported (namely maize) was re-imported barely a few months later. The world market had confiscated Ethiopia’s grain reserves.

In return, US surpluses of genetically engineered maize (banned by the European Union) were being dumped on the horn of Africa in the form of emergency aid. The US had found a convenient mechanism for “laundering its stocks of dirty grain”. The agribusiness conglomerates not only cornered Ethiopia’s commodity exports, they were also involved in the procurement of emergency shipments of grain back into Ethiopia. During the 1998-2000 famine, lucrative maize contracts were awarded to giant grain merchants such as Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Cargill Inc.

Laundering America’s GM Grain Surpluses

US grain surpluses peddled in war-torn countries also served to weaken the agricultural system. Some 500,000 tons of maize and maize products were “donated” in 1999-2000 by USAID to relief agencies including the World Food Programme (WFP) which in turn collaborates closely with the US Department of Agriculture. At least 30% of these shipments (procured under contract with US agribusiness firms) were surplus genetically modified grain stocks.

Boosted by the border war with Eritrea and the plight of thousands of refugees, the influx of contaminated food aid had contributed to the pollution of Ethiopia’s genetic pool of indigenous seeds and landraces. In a cruel irony, the food giants were at the same time gaining control – through the procurement of contaminated food aid – over Ethiopia’s seed banks. According to South Africa’s Biowatch: “Africa is treated as the dustbin of the world…To donate untested food and seed to Africa is not an act of kindness but an attempt to lure Africa into further dependence on foreign aid.”

Moreover, part of the “food aid” had been channelled under the “food for work” program which served to further discourage domestic production in favour of grain imports. Under this scheme, impoverished and landless farmers were contracted to work on rural infrastructural programmes in exchange for “donated” US corn.

Meanwhile, the cash earnings of coffee smallholders plummeted. Whereas Pioneer Hi-Bred positioned itself in seed distribution and marketing, Cargill Inc established itself in the markets for grain and coffee through its subsidiary Ethiopian Commodities.12 For the more than 700,000 smallholders with less than 2 hectares that produce between 90 and 95% of the country’s coffee output, the deregulation of agricultural credit combined with low farmgate prices of coffee had triggered increased indebtedness and landlessness, particularly in East Gojam (Ethiopia’s breadbasket).

Biodiversity up for Sale

The country’s extensive reserves of traditional seed varieties (barley, teff, chick peas, sorghum, etc) were being appropriated, genetically manipulated and patented by the agribusiness conglomerates: “Instead of compensation and respect, Ethiopians today are …getting bills from foreign companies that have “patented” native species and now demand payment for their use.”13 The foundations of a “competitive seed industry” were laid under IMF and World Bank auspices.14 The Ethiopian Seed Enterprise (ESE), the government’s seed monopoly joined hands with Pioneer Hi-Bred in the distribution of hi-bred and genetically modified (GM) seeds (together with hybrid resistant herbicide) to smallholders. In turn, the marketing of seeds had been transferred to a network of private contractors and “seed enterprises” with financial support and technical assistance from the World Bank. The “informal” farmer-to-farmer seed exchange was slated to be converted under the World Bank programme into a “formal” market oriented system of “private seed producer-sellers.” 15

In turn, the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute (EARI) was collaborating with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in the development of new hybrids between Mexican and Ethiopian maize varieties.16 Initially established in the 1940s by Pioneer Hi-Bred International with support from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, CIMMYT developed a cosy relationship with US agribusiness. Together with the UK based Norman Borlaug Institute, CIMMYT constitutes a research arm as well as a mouthpiece of the seed conglomerates. According to the Rural Advancement Foundation (RAFI) “US farmers already earn $150 million annually by growing varieties of barley developed from Ethiopian strains. Yet nobody in Ethiopia is sending them a bill.”

Impacts of Famine

The 1984-85 famine had seriously threatened Ethiopia’s reserves of landraces of traditional seeds. In response to the famine, the Dergue government through its Plant Genetic Resource Centre –in collaboration with Seeds of Survival (SoS)– had implemented a programme to preserve Ethiopia’s biodiversity.18 This programme – which was continued under the transitional government – skilfully “linked on-farm conservation and crop improvement by rural communities with government support services”. 19 An extensive network of in-farm sites and conservation plots was established involving some 30,000 farmers. In 1998, coinciding chronologically with the onslaught of the 1998-2000 famine, the government clamped down on seeds of Survival (SoS) and ordered the programme to be closed down.

The hidden agenda was to eventually displace the traditional varieties and landraces reproduced in village-level nurseries. The latter were supplying more than 90 percent of the peasantry through a system of farmer-to-farmer exchange. Without fail, the 1998-2000 famine led to a further depletion of local level seed banks: “The reserves of grains [the farmer] normally stores to see him through difficult times are empty. Like 30,000 other households in the [Galga] area, his family have also eaten their stocks of seeds for the next harvest.”21 And a similar process was unfolding in the production of coffee where the genetic base of the arabica beans was threatened as a result of the collapse of farmgate prices and the impoverishment of small-holders.

In other words, the famine – itself in large part a product of the economic reforms imposed to the advantage of large corporations by the IMF, World Bank and the US Government – served to undermine Ethiopia’s genetic diversity to the benefit of the biotech companies. With the weakening of the system of traditional exchange, village level seed banks were being replenished with commercial hi-bred and genetically modified seeds. In turn, the distribution of seeds to impoverished farmers had been integrated with the “food aid” programmes. WPF and USAID relief packages often include “donations” of seeds and fertiliser, thereby favouring the inroad of the agribusiness-biotech companies into Ethiopia’s agricultural heartland. The emergency programs are not the “solution” but the “cause” of famine. By deliberately creating a dependency on GM seeds, they had set the stage for the outbreak of future famines.

This destructive pattern – invariably resulting in famine – is replicated throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. From the onslaught of the debt crisis of the early 1980s, the IMF-World Bank had set the stage for the demise of the peasant economy across the region with devastating results. Now, in Ethiopia, fifteen years after the last famine left nearly one million dead, hunger is once again stalking the land. This time, as eight million people face the risk of starvation, we know that it isn’t just the weather that is to blame.

Source

Biodiversity22May2

Million Belay: Ethiopia doesn’t need or want Bill Gates

Ecological campaigner Million Belay talks about why protecting Ethiopia’s biodiversity is so important and why he opposes the intervention of philanthropists like Bill Gates

Ethiopia’s culture and forests are gradually being eroded. The younger generation is taught to admire western consumer-driven culture and to ignore the traditional heritage of their birthplace.

As director of the Movement for Ecological Learning and Community Action (MELCA) Million Belay works with local communities to protect their local biodiversity and lifestyles

Continue reading…

Two Million March Against Monsanto in Worldwide Protest of GM Foods

On Saturday, May 25, an estimated two million protesters turned out in 436 cities in 52 countries to protest genetically-modified (GM) foods and their primary developer, Monsanto Company, Inc. This far exceeded anything Tami Canal could have imagined when she created a Facebook page entitled “The March against Monsanto” back in February.

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Posted in Ethiopia, Infos | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

The Origin Of Civilization: Afghanistan & Ethiopia?

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on August 20, 2011

One of the most remarkable human beings is Nikolai I. Vavilov, the Russian biologist, botanist and geneticist who was the foremost plant geographer of his time.

Vavilov took part in over 100 collecting missions to 64 countries, including Ethiopia.

His genetic study of wheat variations led to an attempt to trace the locales of origin of various crops by determining the areas in which the greatest number and diversity of their species are to be found.

In 1936, – the very same year fascist Italy completed its barbaric occupation of Ethiopia — Vavilov reported that his studies indicated Ethiopia and Afghanistan as the birthplaces of agriculture and hence of civilization

He combed the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia for primitive wheat varieties. He journeyed to North and South America and to the Far East. But more importantly than traveling and collecting widely, he began to notice a pattern.

Genetic variation–the diversity created by thousands of years of agriculture–was not equally distributed around the globe. In a small, isolated pocket on the Ethiopian plateau, Vavilov found hundreds of endemic varieties of ancient wheat.

Vavilov mapped out the distribution of this diversity for each of the crops he studied. He reasoned that the degree of diversity was indicative of how long the crop had been grown in that area. The longer the crop had been grown, the more diversity it would display… ‘By locating a center of genetic diversity for a crop, one pinpointed its origin, Vavilov reasoned. This was where the crop had originated and had had time and opportunity to develop wide diversity. A plant’s ‘center of diversity’ was thus its ‘center of origin,’ he said

As Vavilov discovered what he thought to be the centers of origin for more and more crops, he noticed that they overlapped. The center for wheat is not the center of origin for wheat alone, for here a great diversity of barley, rye, lentils, figs, peas, flax, and other crops is also found. These crops share a common center of origin.

Thus, Vavilov theorized that the world’s crops had originated in eight definable centers of origin. It was in these centers–all located in Third World countries–that agriculture had originated, he suggested, and that the greatest genetic diversity was to be found. The eight centers were listed as follows:

  • China

  • India, with a related center in Indo-Malaya

  • Central Asia

  • the Near East

  • The Mediterranean

  • Ethiopia (Abyssinia)

  • Southern Mexico and Central America

  • South America (Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia), with two lesser centers–the island of Chiloe off the coast of southern Chile, and an eastern secondary center in Brazil and Paraguay

Here are the origins of the four Primary staple foods around the world:

  • Philippines — Rice

  • Ethiopia — Wheat

  • Mexico — Maize

  • Peru — Potatoes

Related Web Site

Vavilov’s Centers of Origin

http://www.ibc-et.org/

Where Our Food Comes From

In this fascinating book, Gary Paul Nabhan retraces the wide ranging travels of Vavilov in order to measure the status of local agriculture and genetic diversity remaining in the areas Vavilov studied nearly a hundred years ago. What he found was that in most places, genetic diversity has diminished as agriculture has become more top-down: governments and organizations trying to increase crop yields neglected traditional farming practices and acclimatized seeds, and bought in to a Westernized, “scientific” method of using genetically modified and/or heavily pesticide-reliant new crops. He makes a strong case for the necessity of returning to old folkways in growing and marketing local food sources.

Each chapter of the book takes him to a different locale, from North and South America, to Ethiopia, to Kazakhstan, among many others. It reads like an intriguing combination of biography and travel writing, alongside the fascinating science behind biodiversity and its ties to cultural diversity. Not only does he make a strong case for the necessity of crop diversity from the perspective of a secure world food supply, he also makes an emotional appeal: the beauty and the individuality of the many regions of the world he visits need agricultural security to remain distinct civilizations. Consider this locale — would we want to lose this forever?

Here is an extract from: ‘Where Our Food Comes From’

Nikolay Vavilov arrived in what was then known as Abyssinia just before Orthodox Christmas in December of 1926, less than a year after his strange benefactor, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, had died. Before Stalin’s bureaucracy began to exert new pressures upon him, Vavilov worked with relative freedom, although his first request to undertake a major expedition was initially rejected. Once he argued that undertaking another major expedition would „continue to the prestige of the USSR,“ his request was granted, so Nikolay spent several months preparing to direct a rather large entourage through the Ethiopian highlands and on to Eritrea. In addition to scientists and translators, twelve other men – mostly bilingual Abyssinians – would accompany him.

Perhaps Ethiopia was Vavilov’s most excellent adventure. Nikolay was certainly not the first European explorer to set foot in the country, but he was the first Russian biologist to travel there, and he did so by train and mule-back. While his expedition may not have been as outright dangerous as several others occurring around the time, he still had to travel with rifles, revolvers, and spears to protect his group from crocodiles and thieves; to overcome the panic of market vendors who feared that he had the „evil eye“; to escape from late-night encounters with leopards; and to recover from both malaria and typhus, the latter of which nearly put him in his coffin.

Though neither the first nor the most perilous, the trip was easily the most productive of scientific expeditions to Ethiopia up until its time, in terms of its success in gathering seeds for future selection and use, in generating ideas that might help his country r others achieve food security, and in awakening recognition of Ethiopia’s unique biocultural heritage. Earlier explorers such as Pedro Paéz, Richard Burton, and John Speke had sought fame by being the first to describe the headwaters of the Blue or the White Nile, while others sought to rescue the legendary Ark of the Covenant from Ethiopia’s Emperor Menelik and his lineage. However, the European, Russian, and American public found Vavilov’s quest for unusual seeds in Abyssinia just as exciting, such that his remarkable „discoveries“ there gave the Ethiopian highland region its reputation as one of the more distinctive centers of crop origin and diversification on the planet. Vavilov’s expeditions were regularly covered by the Russian, European and American press, as well as being widely celebrated among the diplomatic and scientific corps stationed in Ethiopia. Perhaps most important, the attention gave Ethiopians the pride and the inspiration to undertake a far more lasting effort toward conserving crops in-situ than anyone of Vavilov’s generation could have imagined possible in any country.

Continue reading… Where Our Food Comes From

The World’s Most Valuable Asset

Catalogue of Life: 26th July 2011

The world’s most valuable asset, on which we all depend, is silently slipping through our fingers — it is the world’s astounding biodiversity, in some cases lost before it is even discovered.

A catalogue detailing 1.25 million species of organisms across the world is releasing a special edition to mark the International Year of Biodiversity.

Surprisingly, scientists understand better the number of stars there are in the galaxy than species on Earth. Estimates of the total vary (2-100 million), but it is thought just 1.9 million species have been discovered so far.

The Catalogue of Life Special 2010 Edition is the most complete and integrated species list known to man. It has 77 databases feeding into an inventory of 1,257,735 species of plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms associated with 2,369,683 names.

The Catalogue of Life’s DVD-Rom will be launched at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting in Nairobi, Kenya on Wednesday, 19 May. The Catalogue is recognised by the CBD and its latest developments are funded by the EC e-Infrastructures Programme (4D4Life project). The programme involves 82 partner organisations across the globe and is led by Professor Frank Bisby of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Reading, UK.

This new edition encompasses more groups of organisms and has enhanced user functions and display features, allowing for easier access and searching of species names, relationships and additional information.

Professor Bisby said: “The Catalogue of Life programme is vital to building the world’s biodiversity knowledge systems of the future and the Special 2010 Edition is a celebration of the diversity of life on Earth. Expert validation of recorded species will not only boost our understanding of the living world today but also allow governments, agencies and businesses to improve their future modelling to benefit our natural resources, and to document biotic resources world-wide.

“Through the Convention, 193 countries attempt to manage the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources. This work is facilitated by a taxonomic framework cataloguing all known species.”

Source: ScienceDaily

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