A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘agriculture

[LINK] “How Syrians Saved an Ancient Seedbank From Civil War”

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Lizzie Wade of Wired shared this encouraging story from Syria.

When civil war erupted in Syria, Ahmed Amri immediately thought about seeds.

Specifically, 141,000 packets of them sitting in cold storage 19 miles south of Aleppo. They included ancient varieties of wheat and durum dating back nearly to the dawn of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent, and one of the world’s largest collections of lentil, barley, and faba bean varieties—crops that feed millions of people worldwide every day. If these seeds were decimated, humanity could lose precious genetic resources developed over hundreds, or in some cases thousands, of years. And suddenly, with the outbreak of violence, their destruction seemed imminent.

[Ahmed] Amri is the director of genetic resources at the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), one of 11 international genebanks charged with conserving the world’s most vital crops and their wild relatives. Each center has a speciality—you’ll find the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, for example, while the International Potato Center is based in Peru—and this one focuses on preserving and protecting crops from arid regions, mostly in developing countries. The Center’s crown jewel is its genebank, where its samples are identified and stored for future use, either by the center’s scientific staff or plant breeders around the world.

[. . .]

At the beginning of Syria’s civil war, the fighting was concentrated in the south, far from the Center’s headquarters in the north. But Amri knew it wouldn’t take guns or bombs to destroy the genebank. All it would take was a power outrage that knocked out the facility’s air conditioning. The seeds, preserved in cold rooms for decades, would warm quickly and become unusable. The bank had backup generators, but how long would they last? What if it became impossible to buy fuel? What if the generators were stolen, or commandeered by soldiers?

Luckily, the Center had been preparing for its own destruction since day one. It already had sent emergency backups of about 87 percent of its collection to genebanks in other countries. Even under the best political conditions, “you worry about fire, you worry about earthquakes,” the Center’s director general Mahmoud Solh says in this video interview. Creating emergency backups is standard practice for international genebanks, from Mexico to Nigeria.

But that left 13 percent of the Syrian collection—more than 20,000 samples—that hadn’t been backed up. As soon as the fighting started in the spring of 2011, the genebank’s staff switched gears from collecting and distributing seed samples to devising a rescue plan. People there became very familiar with northern Syria’s back roads as they drove the seeds out of the country.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 20, 2015 at 10:57 pm

[LINK] “Study undermines narrative of B.C. First Nations as simple hunter-gatherers”

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Last week, the Vancouver Sun shared Geordon Omand’s Canadian Press article examining the intensive nature of food production among the indigenous peoples of the Pacific coast of North America.

The discovery of an expansive system of historic clam gardens along the Pacific Northwest coast is contributing to a growing body of work that’s busting long-held beliefs about First Nations as heedless hunter-gatherers.

A team of researchers at Simon Fraser University has revealed that First Nations from Alaska to Washington state were marine farmers using sophisticated cultivation techniques to intensify clam production.

In an article published recently in the journal American Antiquity, lead author Dana Lepofsky argued that the findings counter the perception of First Nations living passively as foragers in wild, untended environments.

“Once you start calling someone a hunter-gatherer there’s something implied … about not really being connected to the land or sea and not needing much from it,” she said.

“Even if they aren’t formal agricultural plots in the way that Europeans recognized, they were still cultivating the landscape.”

Written by Randy McDonald

May 19, 2015 at 9:44 pm

[LINK] “The Drought Isn’t California’s Only Water Problem”

Wired‘s Nick Stockton reports on yet another aspect of California’s worsening and apparently structural drought.

[A]llow me to divert your attention to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, a massive estuary to the east of the San Francisco Bay that is the heart of a story that will at least explain why you’ll never get a satisfying explanation.

Actually, it’s not about the Delta, exactly; the real story is 200 feet below it, where the governor of the Golden State wants to dig huge tunnels that will make it easier for southern California to get northern California’s water.

Officially known as Conservation Measure 1 of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan—but commonly known as the Delta Tunnels—the idea is to dig two 35-mile tunnels, each 40 feet in diameter and capable of pumping 67,000 gallons of water per second from the Sacramento River to the California Aqueduct. The tunnels are supposed to fix the plumbing that delivers water to two-thirds of the state: every coastal city from San Francisco to San Diego, and millions of farms along the way. The plan is controversial, and has been in talks for a decade. If approved, the tunnels would take about ten years and an estimated $25 billion dollars to build.

[. . . C]onsider that this massive public works project—which will be paid for by all who drink from it—is not a response to the four-years-and-running drought. It’s just the latest attempt to solve a problem that has vexed the state for well over a century: how to move water so it satisfies all of California’s demands and desires.

Here’s where things get interesting. In an effort to push forward, last week Governor Jerry Brown announced that he was scuttling key environmental provisions that would have guaranteed that the tunnels and works associated with them would improve the Delta for 50 years into the future. “We can’t accurately model what things are going to look like in 50 years,” says Richard Stapler, a spokesman for the California Natural Resources Agency.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 20, 2015 at 9:51 pm

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • At Acts of Minor Treason, Andrew Barton is very unhappy with the misuse of the Hugo Award.
  • Anthropology.net notes that DNA has been retrieved from an ancient and mostly fossilized Neanderthal fossil.
  • Centauri Dreams examines the early history of the Milky Way Galaxy.
  • Crooked Timber looks at the controversies over religious liberty.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze considers how extraterrestrial life can be detected through disequilibria in exoplanet atmosphere and notes the recent Alpha Centauri B study.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that by 2018 a laser will be deployed on a drone.
  • Geocurrents shares slides from a recent lecture on Yemen.
  • Language Hat examines the Yiddish word “khnyok”.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money considers the Republican race.
  • Marginal Revolution notes the unpopularity of political jobs among young Americans.
  • The Planetary Society Blog notes SpaceX’s problem with retrieving the first stages of its rockets.
  • Torontoist looks at beekeeping in Toronto.
  • Towleroad notes a Kickstarter fundraiser for Emil Cohen’s photos of queer life in Providence.
  • Transit Toronto notes the expansion of free WiFi throughout the subway system.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes that divorce papers can be served via Facebook if it is the most practical alternative.
  • Window on Eurasia fears a summertime Russian attack on Ukraine, notes Russian fears of rebellion at home, and looks at Russian Internet censorship.
  • The World’s Gideon Rachman wonders if the Greek demand for Second World War reparations will bring the Eurozone crisis to a head.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell notes the essential lack of difference on government spending between Labour and the Tories and looks at flawed computer databases.

[LINK] “Irish town builds memorial to thank Native Americans who helped during Famine”

Irish Central’s Frances Mulraney reports about the contemporary recognition in Ireland of unexpected help lent to the Irish by the Choctaw during the potato famine.

A sculpture of nine eagle feathers will be installed in Bailic Park, in Midleton, Co Cork to thank the Choctaw Indians for their kindness and support during the Great Irish Famine.

Despite the oppression faced by the Choctaws in the years preceding the famine, on hearing of the plight and hunger of the Irish people in 1847, they raised $170 to send to the Irish people and ease their suffering. This figure is equivalent to tens of thousands of dollars in today’s currency.

The sculpture, consisting of nine giant, stainless steel eagle feathers, is currently being completed by Cork sculptor Alex Pentek. Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Pentek says, “I wanted to show the courage, fragility and humanity that they displayed in my work.”

[. . .]

In what is one of the most surprising and generous contributions to Irish famine relief, a group of Choctaw people gathered in Scullyville, Oklahoma, on March 23, 1847 to collect funds for the starving Irish people. They passed money collected onto a U.S. famine relief organization, in an extraordinary act of kindness from those who already had so little.

Just 16 years prior to this collection, the Choctaws were among one of the so-called “civilized tribes”, who were forced off their land by President Andrew Jackson (the son of Irish immigrants) and forced to complete a 500-mile trek to Oklahoma that would become known as the Trail of Tears.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 12, 2015 at 10:39 pm

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • io9 notes that kale, cauliflower, and collards all are product of the same species.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze speculates on the detection of Earth analogues late in their lifespan and notes the failure to discover a predicted circumbinary brown dwarf at V471 Tauri.
  • The Dragon’s Tales shares Lockheed’s suggestion that it is on the verge of developing a 300-kilowatt laser weapon.
  • Far Outliers considers the question of who is to blame for the Khmer Rouge.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that One Million Moms is hostile to the free WiFi of McDonald’s.
  • Spacing Toronto notes an 1855 circus riot sparked by a visit of clowns to the wrong brothel.
  • Torontoist notes how demographic changes in different Toronto neighbourhoods means some schools are closing while others are straining.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes a California court ruling not recognizing the competence of the Iranian judicial system in a civil case on the grounds of its discrimination against religious minorities and women.
  • Window on Eurasia considers the implications of peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine, notes the steady integration of Abkhazia and South Ossetia into Russia, and notes Russian fascism.

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • blogTO notes that crowd-funded transit might be coming to Toronto’s Beaches.
  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly describes her favourite shopping experiences in Paris.
  • Centauri Dreams considers the question of how to name planets.
  • Crooked Timber discusses predictions for the coming year which descend into Bitcoin debates.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper suggesting that giant stars tend not to have giant close-in planets.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a paper noting the complicated entry of maize from Mexico into the United States.
  • Livejournaler jsburbidge notes the serious costs associated with a public housing problem for the homeless of Toronto.
  • Marginal Revolution notes that many Poles hold mortgages denominated in Swiss francs, and have thus been hit by the recent currency fluctuations.
  • Otto Pohl describes his writing project on the 1966 coup in Ghana.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer notes the problems with inexpensive manned spaceflight.
  • Torontoist and (again) blogTO and their commenters react to the end of Target Canada.
  • Towleroad notes that anti-gay American Roman Catholic cardinal Raymond Burke is also a misogynist.
  • Window on Eurasia argues that a Belarusian revolution would lead to a Russian invasion of that country, and wonders about European Union policy towards Crimea.

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