Tagged with “agriculture” (12)

  1. Jane Langdale: Radical Ag: C4 Rice and Beyond - The Long Now

    Revolutionary rice

    Feeding the world (and saving nature) in this populous century, Jane Langdale began, depends entirely on agricultural efficiency—the ability to turn a given amount of land and sunlight into ever more food.

    And that depends on three forms of efficiency in each crop plant: 1) interception efficiency (collecting sunlight); 2) conversion efficiency (turning sunlight into sugars and starch); and 3) partitioning efficiency (maximizing the edible part).

    Of these, after centuries of plant breeding, only conversion efficiency is far short of the theoretical maximum.

    Most photosynthesis (called “C3“) is low-grade, poisoning its own process by reacting with oxygen instead of carbon dioxide when environmental conditions are hot and dry.

    But some plants, such as corn and sugar cane, have a brilliant workaround.

    They separate the photosynthetic process into two adjoining cells.

    The outer cell creates a special four-carbon compound (hence “C4“) that is delivered to the oxygen-protected inner cell. In the inner cell, carbon dioxide is released from the C4 compound, enabling drastically more efficient photosynthesis to take place because carbon dioxide is at a much higher concentration than oxygen.

    Rice is a C3 plant—which happens to be the staple food for half the world.

    If it can be converted to C4 photosynthesis, its yield would increase by 50% while using half the water.

    It would also be drought-resistant and need far less fertilizer.

    Langdale noted that C4 plants have evolved naturally 60 times in a variety of plant families, all of which provide models of the transition.

    “How difficult could it be?” she deadpanned. The engineering begins with reverse-engineering.

    For instance, the main leaves in corn are C4, but the husk leaves are C3-like, so the genes that affect the two forms of development can be studied.

    Langdale’s research suggests that the needed structural change in rice can be managed with about 12 engineered genes, and previous research by others indicates that the biochemical changes can be achieved with perhaps 10 genes.

    How much is needed for the eventual fine tuning will emerge later.

    When is later?

    The C4 Rice project began in 2006 at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

    The research is on schedule, and engineering should begin in 2019, with the expectation that breeding of delicious, fiercely efficient C4 rice could be complete by 2039.

    It is the kind of thing that highly focussed multi-generation science can accomplish.

    —Stewart Brand

    http://longnow.org/seminars/02016/mar/14/radical-ag-c4-rice-and-beyond/

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  2. Skeptical take on the Green Revolution - Boing Boing

    CBC’s long-form/big think radio program Ideas recently featured a lecture called "Feeding Ten Billion" from Raj Patel, an Africa development scholar formerly with the World Bank, and author of The Value of Nothing. Patel’s perspective on global agriculture and social justice is incisive and contrarian.

    http://boingboing.net/2012/01/20/skeptical-take-on-the-green-re.html

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  3. Jim Richardson: Heirlooms: Saving Humanity’s 10,000-year Legacy of Food - The Long Now

    Humanity’s agricultural legacy is on a par with any of our great cultural legacies, Richardson said, but preserving it is not just a matter of honoring the history and richness of our most fundamental civilization-enabling technology. For the health of future crops and livestock we need the deep genetic reservoir of all those millennia of sophisticated breeding. A million people died in the Irish Potato Famine because the whole nation depended on just two varieties of potato. In Peru, where potatoes originally came from, Richardson visited a field at 14,000 feet where 400 varieties of potato (with names like “Ashes of the Soul” and “Puma Paw”) are grown in just two acres. The local 1,300 varieties of potato are managed by a “Guardian of the Potatoes,” whose job it is in the community to know the story and uses of all the potatoes.

    The accumulated wisdom in the crops and livestock is profound. We’ve been breeding cattle for 10,000 years, goats for 9,000 years, dogs for 12,000 years, chickens for 8,000 years, llamas for 6,500 years, horses for 6,000 years, camels for 4,000 years. All those millennia we have been in deep partnership with the animals. All of our staple foods are ancient. Wheat has been bred for 11,000 years, corn for 8,000 years, rice for 8,000 years, potatoes for 7,000 years, soybeans for 5,000 years

    “For 9,900 years,” Richardson said, “we’ve been building up variety in domesticated crops and livestock—-this whole wealth of specific solutions to specific problems. For the last 100 years we’ve been throwing it away.” 95% is gone. In the US in 1903 there were 497 varieties of lettuce; by 1983 there were only 36 varieties. (Also changed from 1903 to 1983: sweet corn from 307 varieties to 13; peas from 408 to 25; tomatoes from 408 to 79; cabbage from 544 to 28.) Seed banks have been one way to slow the rate of loss. The famous seed vault at Svalbard serves as backup for the some 1,300 seed banks around the world. The great limitation is that seeds don’t remain viable for long. They have to be grown out every 7 to 20 years, and the new seeds returned to storage.

    Even with living heirlooms, the rule is Use It Or Lose It. Devotees of exotic cattle say “You have to eat them to save them.” With dramatic photos Richardson compared the livestock shows in Wales with the livestock markets in Ethiopia. You see children adoring the young animals and breeders obsessing on details of excellence and uniqueness. “One guy says, ‘You see that sheep with the heart-shaped spot on his left shoulder? I’ll bet you I can move it to his rump in four generations.’” There’s a sheep called the North Ronaldsay that is bred to live solely on seaweed on the coast. Ethiopia has some specialists, like the Sheko cattle that are resistant to tsetse flies, but unlike in Europe, most of their breeds have to be generalists capable of providing meat, milk, labor (such pulling plows), and warmth in the winter.

    Helping preserve agricultural biodiversity is open to anyone. The Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, has 13,000 members. Their catalog is a cornucopia of heirloom garden delights, and members learn how to produce and store their own seeds and then share them. “It’s a wonderful example of citizens participating in the process.” And we can always acquire a new taste for old foods. Teff! Quinoa! Amaranth! Randall Lineback cows! You have to eat them to save them.

    http://longnow.org/seminars/02012/feb/22/heirlooms-saving-humanitys-10000-year-legacy-food/

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  4. The Troubled History Of The Supermarket Tomato : NPR

    Ever wonder why supermarket tomatoes taste like nothing? Food writer Barry Estabrook’s new book traces the troubled history of the modern commercial tomato.

    http://www.npr.org/2011/07/09/137623954/the-troubled-history-of-the-supermarket-tomato

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  5. The Past, Present, and Future of Food

    Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, continue their year-long public conversation about the future of organic food and agricultural sustainability. In front of a sold-out crowd at UC Berkeley on February 27, 2007, they cover some of the inconvenient truths about the world’s food systems. Mackey begins with a 45-minute presentation about unsustainable agricultural and food distribution practices, as well as Whole Foods’ efforts to improve them. (A note of caution: The audio lecture includes brief descriptions of animal cruelty and harsh human working conditions, and so may not be work- or family-safe.) He and Pollan then continue the discussion they started shortly after the publication of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and which continues on their respective Web logs.

    http://sic.conversationsnetwork.org/shows/detail3234.html

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  6. Food Rules for Healthy People and Planet

    For the past 20 years, Michael Pollan has been writing about the places where the human and natural worlds intersect: food, agriculture, gardens, drugs, and architecture.

    "The Omnivore’s Dilemma", about the ethics and ecology of eating, was named one of the ten best books of 2006 by the New York Times and the Washington Post.

    Join Michael Pollan at the RSA as he introduces his new book, "Food Rules" - and explores its key central message:

    "Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much."

    Using those seven words as his guide, Michael Pollan provides a set of memorable everyday rules for eating wisely, gathered from a wide variety of sources: among them, mothers, grandmothers, nutritionists, anthropologists and ancient cultures.

    Speaker: Michael Pollan, the award-winning author of "In Defense of Food" and "The Omnivore’s Dilemma", contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and the Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley.

    http://www.thersa.org/events/audio-and-past-events/2010/food-rules-for-healthy-people-and-planet

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  7. Conversations With History: The Politics of Food

    Host Harry Kreisler welcomes writer Michael Pollan for a discussion of the agricultural industrial complex that dominates consumer choices about what to eat. He explores the origins, evolution and consequences of this system for the nation’s health and environment. He highlights the role of science, journalism, and politics in the development of a diet that emphasizes nutrition over food. Pollan also sketches a reform agenda and speculates on how a movement might change America’s eating habits. He also talks about science writing, the rewards of gardening, and how students might prepare for the future.

    http://www.uctv.tv/search-details.aspx?showID=15882

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  8. Organically Grown and Genetically Engineered: The Food of the Future

    Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak speaking at the Long Now Foundation’s seminars about long-term thinking.

    The cost of gene sequencing and engineering is dropping rapidly (toward $70 a genome), and our knowledge about how food crops function genetically is growing just as rapidly. That accelerating capability offers a path toward truly sustainable agriculture on a global scale.

    http://longnow.org/seminars/02009/jul/28/organically-grown-genetically-engineered-food-future/

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  9. Focus the Nation: Let It Grow: Community, Gardens, Farm-to-School, and Farmers Markets

    Launched in Italy in 1986 to resist an opening of a McDonald’s restaurant near the Spanish Steps, the Slow Food Movement is quickly gaining momentum both in America and worldwide. Discover what this movement is about and what it could mean for the health of our society with Iris Peppard, community garden coordinator at the Service Learning Institute at California State University, Monterey Bay, and Kathryn Spencer, program coordinator of the Division of Science and Environmental Policy at CSU Monterey Bay. Learn how communities, farmers markets and shared gardens play a role in this movement, and how these initiatives are teaching school-aged children about food and nutrition. Explore what all of this could mean for the fast food industry.

    http://www.researchchannel.org/prog/displayevent.aspx?rID=29682&fID=345

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  10. Sizing Up Sustainable Food

    These days some shoppers are looking at more than the price of their groceries; they’re also considering "food miles" — how far the grapes or pork chops traveled to get to the store. But some experts say eating food grown locally isn’t necessarily the best way to go green at the grocery store.

    —Huffduffed by adactio

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