Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Do you know who the grand-father of the green revolution is?

Currently Dutch TV is showing a series that investigates where our food comes from, called Fresco's paradisLouise Fresco, professor at Amsterdam University and former director of reserach at FAO (and what a surprise a Phd from Wageningen), takes us into her paradis : "Food is our most intime way to interact with nature, because we in fact eat Nature. Handeling it in a carless way, wasting it or not knowing where it comes from, goes against any principle of a responsible life"

With this moto Louise takes us around the world, showing us how agriculture has emerged. In the first part of the series she visits the gene bank in Spitsbergen, and explains why agriculture could only develop thanks to dompting water in Turkey. (Watch it here)

In the second part, Louise takes us on the trip of the apple. I have been fascinated by the story on how the apple could reach Europe from the Middle East thanks to silk road. The horses on the silk roads where not only carries goods but also apple seeds, from the apples they were eating in the natural apple forests of Kazachstan. Apples very fast became a very good food items for Europe because it does not need any processing for being eaten and can be stored for a pretty long time. Intersting that today, apples are brough to the Ethiopian highlands to increase food security : the Silk road has been replaced research and extension service.
Also Louise introduces us to Nikolaj Vavilov (1887 –  1943), the Russian botanist who studied these apple forests and is considered as the first scientist who introduced the concept of genetical selection to improve crop productivity. This concept has been used to improve the crops in Asia, and therefore Nikolaj can be considered as the grand-father of the green revolution.

Watch this fascinating story here! 

And if you don't speak Dutch, then you need to be patient, it seems that the whole series will be available on DVD with English subtitles.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

About local farmers feeding the world and other stories from the air

Some months ago, i took a flight from Geneva to Nairobi via Amsterdam with KLM for a job interview. On my first flight, from Geneva to Amsterdam i got a traditional Dutch egg sandwich served. It is one of these very Dutch sandwich, soft dark bread with some strange egg mixture in it. You really need to be Dutch to love this stuff.

The sandwich box on the KLM flight from Geneva to Amsterdam

What impressed me most was the box in which the sandwich came in. It was full of information that triggered my thoughts. Next to a pretty classical recipe for bread baking (inside the box), it said, that the wheat was ground in a wind mill. Cool, it means this product contributes to the conservation of the traditional and authentic Dutch landscapes with windmills. I just noticed, that never the word traditional or authentic was mentioned and i wonder if there are modern wind mills and how they look like... I don't know (just probably like all the other passenger on this flight), but great that KLM is trying to support the Dutch landscape, which in the end will attract the tourists and help them to fill the planes.

But i was more astonished by the other side of the box, it says "local farmers feed the world"and "we produce our bread with respect for our planet". Up until today, i am wondering what that means. The Netherlands is the second biggest agricultural product exporter of the world, so de facto feeding the world. Also the Dutch agriculture is one of the most intensive ones, and sometimes pretty unsustainable and polluting. Nota bene, the sandwich was not labeled as organic, which would guarantee that this Dutch product has not been produced above the capacity of the land. And by the way the box talked only about the bread, what about the eggs? how many antibotics did the chicken get, and did they ever see the sky?

how do local Dutch farmers feed the world and produce in respect our planet?
I ended up with some really funny thoughts : did you ever meet a global farmer? what would that be? or is every farmer bound to his land and therefore local? And is not every farmer somehow feeding the world? And if feeding the world should suggest that food has been traded on a world market, then is KLM against the principle of food sovereignty? Can't be... it is just a sentence that does not make any sense to me... and i really wonder what all the other passengers were thinking while reading this. 

Anyway, it was this terribly early morning flight, I was on my way since 4 am. And even if my bread had been produced by global farmers to feed people on Mars, I just ate that sandwich : I was hungry and it has this incredible and unique taste of the Netherlands that recalled many very nice memories.

Finally, I landed in Amsterdam, happy as my stomach was full of sandwich and coffee and my mind full of nice memories. I stepped out of the plane and wished the flight attendant a "fijne dag verder en tot ziens" (have a good day and good bye). Upon which the flight attendant wished me "wel thuis" (have a save trip home).

I moved to the gate to board my flight to Nairobi, wondering what the flight attendant meant with "wel thuis".  I recently was offered to go back to ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute) as a GIS specialist to be based in Nairobi. I finally understood that the flight attendant meant : Nairobi will become my home soon. Going back to the "wild South", where everything is yet to happen, was too tempting, i could not refuse. Making sense of modern technologies and approaches and combining them with traditional local knowledge with the aim to support farmers to feed themselves and maybe the rest of world remains a fascinating challenge. Somehow I feel that i want to be part of this challenge and to its solutions, trying to make Nairobi my new home : a place where you can  enjoy the taste of samosas, definitely produced by local farmers for the local local market and a place where you will be welcome in a near future. 

eating a samosa at Java house in Nairobi