Tag Archives: Agricultural Biodiversity

Agriculture – breeding, biodiversity and biomass

1) Lack of research to improve yields in non-industrial agriculture. The Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog comments on What are breeders selecting for?:

A new paper by H.E. Jones and colleagues compares cultivars of different ages under organic and non-organic systems, and concludes that modern varieties simply aren’t suited to organic systems.

2) The environmentalism of the poor. The poor want biomass not biodiversity is the unsurprising result on a new literature review from the Nature Conservancy reports SciDev.net.

“People just don’t care about biodiversity,” said Craig Leisher of the US-based Nature Conservancy, at the meeting, ‘Linking biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction: what, why and how?’ held at the UK’s Zoological Society of London.Leisher, who conducted the research with Neil Larsen, also from the Nature Conservancy, gave the example of a poor fisherman, for whom the route out of poverty is to catch more fish — not more kinds of fish. …

But Matt Walpole, head of the UN Environment Programme’s Ecosystem Assessment Programme, and an author of the Science study, warned that the finding that biomass was more important than biodiversity was context-specific.

“If one thinks in terms of consumptive use then amount is important,” he said. But in agriculture, for example, biodiversity is important.

“Variability allows adaptability to variations in the ecosystem … if you’ve got variation then you are more resistant to shocks.”

3) Agriculture vs. Fish. On Nature’s Climate Feedback blog Olive Heffernan reports on PISCES Conference:

Jake Rice and … economist Serge Garcia, are concerned that measures to conserve marine biodiversity are in contradiction with policies to protect food security, with the likely upshot that both will fail to address their respective goals.

The conundrum is straightforward: by mid-century, there’ll be an additional 2 billion people on earth, each of whom will need to eat. In total, they’ll require an extra 3.65*108 of dietary protein. Forecasts suggest that we’ll need an 11% increase in irrigation for grain production just to keep pace with human population growth, not withstanding the impacts of climate change on crops and water availability. Right now, one-third of the world’s population relies on fish and fisheries products for at least one-fifth of their annual protein intake; if that continues to be the case, we’ll need around 70 million metric tonnes more fish protein by 2050, says Rice.

That’s something like 75-100% of current fish protein production. So how can we generate this and manage our fisheries? Rice outlines several possible options, each of which involves a conflict with environmental management. …

The problem, says Rice, is that these clearly conflicting policy goals aren’t being looked at by the same people at a high enough level. Now that the old problem of fisheries governance is being met with the newer problems of climate change and rapid population growth, we need a merger of these discussions, he says. He’d like to see the Convention on Biological Diversity pay more attention to the sustainable food dimension of their mandate and the Food and Agricultural Organization speaking with the CBD at a higher level. Eventually, says Rice, the UN General Assembly should be the forum to look at merging and prioritizing these policies.

Three links: green revolution, scientific commons, and transition towns

1) Jeremy Cherfas writes on the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog about the history of the green revolution:

The standard litany against the Green Revolution is that it failed to banish hunger because the technologies it ushered in were no use to small peasant farmers. Farmers with access to cash and good land did well, but poorer farmers on marginal land got nothing out of the revolution, and if they did somehow buy into it (subsidies, handouts) they were worse off afterwards. That’s not to deny that the Green Revolution increased yields, especially of wheat and rice. Just to say that it did nothing for most smallholders.A wonderful paper by Jonathan Harwood, in Agricultural History, demonstrates that this wasn’t always so. In the early days of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Mexican Agricultural Program, starting in the 1940s, the target was “resource-poor farmers who could not afford to purchase new seed annually”. The MAP’s advisors put improving cultivation practices at the top of their list, with better varieties second. And the improved varieties were to come from “introduction, selection or breeding”.

2) Ethan Zuckerman writes about John Wilbanks on Science Commons, and generativity in science:

One way to think of the mission of Science Commons, Wilbanks tells us, is to spark generative effects in the scientific world much as we’ve seen them in the online world. He quotes Jonathan Zittrain’s definition of generativity, from “The Future of the Internet… and How to Stop It“: “Generativity is a system’s capacity to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences”. This raises some provocative questions, when applied to the world of science: “What does spam look like in a patent system? What does griefing look like in the world of biological data?”

The truth is that the scientific world is far less generative than the digital space. He proposes three major obstacles to generativity: accessibility, ease of mastery, and tranferability. He points out that, as science has gotten more high tech, it’s far harder to master. The result is hyperspecialization: neuroanatomists don’t talk to neuroinformaticists… “and god help you if you cross species lines.” And so universities are making huge investments to try to encourage collaboration: MIT’s just build a $400 million building – the Cook Center – to force collaboration between cancer researchers… and predictably, researchers are fighting the mandate to move in and work together.

3) Judith D. Schwartz writes about the Transition Town movement in Learning About Transition Via Its Vocabulary in Miller-McCune Online Magazine.

Transition: In Hopkins’ words, “Transition” represents “the process of moving from a state of high fossil-fuel dependency and high vulnerability to a state of low fossil-fuel dependency and resilience.” Transition “is not the goal itself — it’s the journey,” he says. Specifically, it’s seeing this journey as an opportunity to embrace rather than a calamity to approach with dread.

“Transition” is predicated on the assumption that society cannot keep consuming energy and other resources at our current pace and that we’re better off accepting this reality and choosing how to adapt rather than letting ourselves get backed into a crisis. The idea is that the adaptation process can harness creative and even joyful possibilities that until now have laid dormant in our towns and cities. As Hopkins has been known to say, “It’s more like a party than a protest march.”

Resilience: A community’s ability to adapt and respond to changes, as well as to withstand shocks to the system, such as disruptions in food or energy supply chains. Resilience differs from “sustainability” in that the emphasis is on community survival as opposed to maintaining the structures and behavioral patterns that currently exist.

“Resilience is the new sustainability,” says Michael Brownlee, a member of the Transition U.S. board and co-founder of Transition Boulder County, the first Transition Initiative in North America. “It’s been co-opted by almost everybody. Everybody is sustainable these days.”

Marketing aside, Hopkins says the two are intertwined: “Sustainability only works if it has resilience embedded in it.”