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Posts Tagged ‘Nikolai I. Vavilov’

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

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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