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Agriculture & artifice - May 22

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The Chelsea flower show is nature for the 1%

John Vidal, Guardian
A new breed of pest is swarming over London SW3, trying to grow not plants but wealth. It's time to reclaim the natural world
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Well who would have thought it? We're losing 100,000 species a year, a billion people go hungry every day because we can't grow enough, our public parks and gardens are being scythed down thanks to the cuts, our trees are being devastated by new diseases, and what is billed as the greatest and most lavish plant show on earth carries on as if we all lived in Downton Abbey.

But gawd bless the Chelsea flower show in these straitened times. This glorious jubilee year we can still buy a conservatory for a knock-down £700,000, a sundial for £60,000, a gate for £10,000 and a gothic folly complete with real gold stars for just £60,000. This may be the best place in the world to buy a beehive (without bees) for £10,000 or a sculpture covered in 23.5 carat gold. In the parallel universe of London SW3, bird boxes cost more per square foot than just about any house north of Watford.

The Royal Horticultural Society's (RHS) lame protestations that the show is still about nature and plantsmanship go unheard. What was until quite recently a curious, understated three-day local celebration of west London privilege and an exhibition of extraordinary plantmanship skills has been handed over to a breed of modern garden pest: telly presenters on the make, C-list celebs, corporate hospitality, PR companies, international perfumiers, peddlers of cheap nostalgia, fashionistas and dodgy bankers and finance groups all hoping to pollinate their bank accounts further by letting a little of mother nature's magic rub off on them.

But rampant consumerism, raunchy ornament, celebrity culture and sheer acquistiveness and self-aggrandisment aside, what actually is the point of Chelsea now? The plants are miraculous but what it promotes is a cynical, corporate view of the natural world where gardens and money inevitably blossom together, and human wealth grows naturally.
(22 May 2012)



Randers: “Don’t teach your children to love the wilderness”. Discuss

Rob Hopkins, Transition Culture
I am reading Jorgen Randers’ new book ’2052: a global forecast for the next forty years’, due for publication next month. Imagine a ‘Limits to Growth’ for the next 40 years, a presentation of Randers’ best guess as to how the world will pan out between now and 2052. As you can imagine, it’s not an uplifting read, but it is often illuminating, even though I disagree with some of his findings. Surprisingly, the most challenging bit comes at the end of the book, after all the graphs and charts, and talk about 2 degrees of climate change, of our inevitable mega-urbanisation and so on. It will hopefully prove to be the spark for a fascinating discussion here.

There is a section called “What Should You Do?” which is usually the part in such books that picks you up a bit, and makes you believe that you can do something to alter the projections he has previously set out.

... But there is one [piece of advice] there that is so spectacularly depressing that I really needed to bring it out here and look at it with some other people.

It is “don’t teach your children to love the wilderness”. Randers reasons that over the next 50 years we will see the ongoing erosion of biodiversity and wilderness, due to climate change and humanity’s reach into more and more remote areas. A love for “old, undisturbed nature”, he argues, is something it will become increasingly difficult to satisfy. ”By teaching your child to love the loneliness of the untouched wilderness, you are teaching her to love what will be increasingly hard to find”, he argues, which will lead to unhappiness and despondency. ”Much better then”, he concludes, “to rear a new generation that find peace, calm and satisfaction in the bustling life of the megacity – and with never-ending music piped into their ears”. That must rank as one of the most devastating visions of the future I have read anywhere.
(22 May 2012)



Don’t Put Monsanto in Charge of Ending Hunger in Africa

Yifat Susskind, Common Dreams
This past weekend, President Obama hid out from protesters at Camp David. He was hosting the leaders of the world’s eight wealthiest economies, known as the G8. As they readied to meet, on Friday, Obama put forward his New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.(Image: Tim Robinson / The Nation)

This occasion gave Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the US Agency for International Development, the chance to make an astonishing statement:

“We are never going to end hunger in Africa without private investment. There are things that only companies can do, like building silos for storage and developing seeds and fertilizers.”

That’s news to millions of women farmers in Africa. Their harvests feed their families and generate income that sustains local economies. For generations, they have been doing just those things: storing their harvests, protecting and developing seeds, using natural fertilizers.

Smallholder women farmers save and exchange seeds that help keep local crops viable. They demonstrate how to adapt to climate change by adjusting planting cycles, experimenting with new drought-resistant crops and more. They produce crucial food supplies using the small-scale, organic methods that are increasingly recognized as vital to the health of the planet—and everyone who lives on it.

There are differences, of course. Unlike big companies, small-scale women farmers do not grab millions of acres of land for monoculture plantations that destroy local biodiversity. They do not develop the terminator seeds that hold farmers hostage to the seed patent rights of corporations. They are not the inventors of chemical fertilizers that worsen climate change.

Those honors belong to the very companies that President Obama is inviting to oversee Africa’s food security.
(21 May 2012)



The power of bread: let us eat politics

Jonathan Kent, Guardain
From community bakeries to bread clubs, baking in Britain is becoming an act of self-sufficiency and social regeneration
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Home baking seems to be the thing of the moment, the perfect antidote to the bling years; home, hearth, family, nurture, simplicity. The same people who, only yesterday, were telling us it was all about location, location, location are now selling us labradors, gingham and a warm loaf in the Aga.

It's a very middle-class response to austerity, complete with well-heeled foodies handing over three or four quid for an artisan sourdough, glossy coffee-table books and £100-a-day baking courses.

But bread isn't just a comfort zone for already comfortable people. Bread is political. To see why, just look towards France:

"All of French history in some sense is the story of 90% of the population eating a dark bread made of rye, barley, oats, seeking to imitate the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy by ascending to wheat and white," says Professor Steven Kaplan, author of more than a dozen books about bread and France.
(21 May 2012)



Kenyan TV show ploughs lone furrow in battle to improve rural livelihoods

Clar Ni Chonghaile, Guardian
A reality TV programme is providing Kenya's farmers with vital tips; its creator wonders why rich countries aren't doing the same
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George Mungai is an unlikely TV star. The softly spoken farmer and father of six lives in a tidy compound of houses, all wood and corrugated iron, among the cool, misty hills outside Nairobi. But thanks to Shamba Shape-Up, a reality show that does for Kenyan farms what Extreme Makeover does for homes, Mungai is a minor celebrity here in Limuru.

"[The programme] has taught me to practise better farming," says Mungai, 54, during a break from filming on a damp May day. "I've learned to plant potatoes well … poultry keeping, dairy farming. It has almost doubled my yields."

Perhaps more importantly, Mungai has also become a teacher. His neighbours are always popping over, eager to learn his secrets so they can likewise boost their farming yields.

Shamba – the Swahili word for "small farm" – Shape-Up combines reality show staples, such as celebrity presenters and snappily cut sequences set to mood-lifting music, with expert advice on soil fertility, disease prevention, solar energy and financing.

"Agriculture is the absolute backbone of Kenya and the livelihood for many people," says David Campbell, the show's creator and director of the edu-tainment company Mediae. "We have a potential 5.6 million rural audience for TV … but there is no agricultural information on TV. We want to establish a series that gives farmers information in an educational and entertaining way."
(15 May 2012)

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