Wednesday, 17 December 2008

2009 Irish Landscape Conference

The 2009 Irish Landscape Conference will be held in Tullamore, Co. Offaly from October 13th-16th. The conference is targeted at policy and decision makers, local authorities, government agencies, NGOS, representative associations and individuals with an interest in landscape matters. If you are interested in attending please register your interest by contacting Anne Barcoe by e-mail:

A flyer regarding the conference can be downloaded here.

Monday, 8 December 2008

The crisis with no name

Interesting article from the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT) about the difficulties of drawing attention to future food crises which have might have poor crop diversity as their cause. But is the Irish famine history´s biggest food crisis?

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Great balls of vegetation

When not intoxicated with chicha another thing very noticeable in Cochabamba are the large numbers of little balls of vegetation that attach themselves to overhead electricity wires. I had never seen anything like it before. I also noticed the same 'balls' on some species of tree and initially thought it might be some type of witches broom but they were easily removed. After some enquiry and speculation it turns out they are some type of epiphyte belonging to the Bromeliaceae family (Tillandsia spp.) and apparently on Annex 3 of CITES!

Saturday, 29 November 2008

The Chicha Boys

It comes close to a pint of the black stuff on a Saturday afternoon down the pub, with the lads and a live game on telly. I've just spent the afternoon in Cochabamba sampling a variety of chicha with a cosmopolitan group. All were made from maize and blended with wine but I have been told that I can get chicha made from amaranth and quinoa around town also. Chicha crawl here I come!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Healthy Food for All

The Healthy Food for All (HFfA) is an all Ireland, multiagency initiative which seeks to combat food poverty by promoting access, availability and affordability of healthy food for low-income groups on the island of Ireland. The Healthy Food for All Initiative was established in 2004, based on the findings of the research report Food Poverty and Policy, which was published by Combat Poverty, Crosscare and Society of St Vincent de Paul.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Coming home to roost

A newly published study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that years of intensive inbreeding in commercial chickens has resulted in 50% or more of the genetic diversity in ancestral chicken breeds being absent in commercial pure lines. Alarming!

Blight on the landscape

While browsing in a bookshop I picked up a copy of 'Twelve Diseases that Changed the World' by Irwin Sherman. As a former plant pathologist and someone who has worked on Phytophthora, I was somewhat surprised to see that a plant disease had made it on to the list and the Irish potato famine at that. I'd been expecting a list of human diseases. After my surprise subsided I started to wonder how anyone actually works out the extent of these horrendous events and can list them in order of impact. Was the potato famine really the plant disease that had the greatest impact globally or is it only thought to be because those affected, or influenced, by it are the ones usually writing the history? I don't really know the answer to that but, deaths aside, I suppose the Irish potato famine would be hard to surpass in terms of how it shaped society, politics and culture.

The shape of things to come

My colleague Luigi over at the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog has brought my attention to a wee bit of common sense in the EU.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Fort Eochla

The photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand specilaises in the most amazing aerial photographs. This one is of Dun Eochla fort on Inishmore Island, County Galway, built centuries ago on this island some 30 miles off the Irish coast. For centuries, the inhabitants of the Aran Islands have helped keep the soil fertile by regularly spreading a mixture of sand and seaweed on the rock to produce the thin layer of humus needed for farming. To protect their plots from wind erosion, the islanders have built a vast network of almost 7,500miles of low walls, which give the land the appearance of a vast mosaic. But how did he get up there? Certainly wasn't Ryanair.
Check out more of his incredible images here.

Urban tsunami coming to a field near you

LOCAL authorities need to stop planning on a piecemeal basis and start protecting "green infrastructure", such as parks, farmland and drinking water supplies close to cities, a leading ecologist has said. Read more.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Wine, Mirzayev and Shreder

Shortly after reading Gary Nabhan's new book, Where our Food Comes From, I had the good fortune to visit Uzbekistan and learn a little bit more about the time that Vavilov spent there, including his laying of the foundation stone for the original building and institute that are now part of the Uzbekistan Research Institute of Plant Industry (UzRIPI), which currently houses the Central Asian Caucus (CAC) genebank home to over 23,000 accessions of which about 50% are cereals (and about 5% of the total are crop wild relatives). To the present day over 200 cultivars have been developed on the basis of materials held in this collection, including contributions from crop wild relatives. But it was the opportunity to learn about other lesser-known pioneers of agrobiodiversity such as R.R. Shreder and M.M. Mirzayev that was of greatest interest. From 1903 to 1944, R.R. Shreder was the first director of the Uzbekistan Research Institute of Horticulture, Viticulture and Wine Making. An institute which spawned many of the present day agricultural-related institutes in Uzbekistan. Having been sent in 1911 as a delegate to the 6th International Congress on Dryland Farming in the U.S. he returned with considerable germplasm to test under Uzbek conditions. M.M. Mirzayev continued on much of the work of Shreder when he took over as director. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to spend an afternoon in the company of Dr Mirmaksud Mirzayev (the now director and son of M.M.) and his staff and enjoy an extended lunch while washed down with some excellent muscat wines produced and bottled at the institute. If anything it was a welcome respite from the vodka and cognac! The institute also has an excellent museum that is well worth a visit. During the most recent winter Tashkent experienced temperatures as low as -20oC and such temperatures are impacting severely on many of the grape varieties. Pictured is a massively overgrown wild grape vine located just outside the door of the museum. No one seems to know where it came from but they do know that it thrives in such low temperatures. They just need to work out how to transfer such a trait to its cultivated relatives!

Laughing all the way to the bank

At last a decent news article on how readily rich countries are to rescue the international banking system in the current financial crisis with contributions in the hundreds of billions of dollars yet continue to renege on their commitments to the much smaller required amounts of GDP for overseas aid or the UN Comprehensive Framework for Action to deal with the global food crisis. And all the while international agribusiness and seed companies are laughing all the way to bank (the ones that were rescued!). You can read John Vidal's article, 'West rescues banks but fails the world's hungry', in the October 24th edition of the Guardian Weekly.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

One banana, two banana, three banana, four...

I think I have missed World Food Day but I wanted to highlight these great banana stamps that have been together with some old friends and colleagues from the Federated States of Micronesia. Certainly something that you won't see too often in an Irish greengrocers. Click here.

Where our Food Comes From

I have just finished reading Gary Nabhan's new book, Where our Food Comes From and what a delightful journey it was too! After all it is a book about a journey where Nabhan travels in the footsteps of Nikolay Vavilov but as a literary journey it is a joy from the opening foreword by Ken Wilson to the sober closing epilogue. It is full of great stories about Vavilov and the many scientists and farmers he met on his many travels. Great stories about how farmers are using crop diversity for selection and adaptation to changing climate and the not so great about how he met his sad end. Well worth reading. More details here.

Shout it from the rooftops - urban food is good

I just had to steal this heartwarming story from the new look Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog. And just think of the education and awareness that they are most likely doing with local schools and community-based organisations. Inspirational stuff!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Irish Forum on Genetic Resources

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are holding a Genetic Resources Forum on Wednesday 19th November 2008 at the Heritage Hotel Portlaoise. The forum will bring together key stakeholders in plant and animal genetic resources conservation to network and discuss topics of mutual interest and concern, including the creation of a crop wild relative inventory and even possibly the development of a national strategy. Hurray! Contact for further details.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Terra Madre Ireland

Chips with curry sauce nowhere to be seen! But plenty of smoked goat cheese, Waterford blaa, and more: a weekend with the stars of Ireland’s artisanal-food movement. More here.

The international Terra Madre gets underway next week in Italy.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Does the IUCN take agricultural biodiversity seriously?

The IUCN World Congress has been taking place this week in Barcelona and this is a question that has crossed my mind more than once. If one was to answer this question based on the range of events taking place to do with agriculture, food security and sovereignty and agrobiodiversity then one might be tempted to answer in the affirmative. But I have come away with the impression that there is much that needs to be done including a greater need for better joined up analysis and advocacy. There still appears to be a massive disconnect between the global conservation and agrobiodiversity communities. But we need not be in conflict, from the evidence presented here there is much we could and should be doing better. The challenge is how we find better and more effective ways of working together. How do we address this disconnect between those of us working in agricultural biodiversity and conservation?
There are many opportunities and entry points for both communities. The responsibility for the current situation does not lie solely at the door of either community. There is much that the agricultural and agrobiodiversity community could and should be doing to improve an important partnership. Some participants pointed out that the agrobiodiversity community was actively looking for collaboration with the conservation community. I am sure they are but how effectively are they doing this? I am convinced there is room for improvement. This would involve a much more coherent and evidence-based approach, an approach that is much more inclusive and strategic, much more thought through than is currently taking place. Other participants have stressed the need for creating more awareness on the benefits of agrobiodiversity. While important, this is only one element of a much more concerted effort that is required in order to break down a very entrenched mindset.
Some suggestions that have emerged from this meeting include the IUCN having a more active role in promoting that biodiversity in agricultural systems has a function, is useful and can support food security and sovereignty. Enhancing integration of the relevant commissions and member organizations of IUCN to promote a higher profile for agricultural biodiversity, so that the IUCN can better articulate a position on this. Jeff McNeely suggested that maybe there was a need for conservationists to better understand agriculture and to have a better historical perspective on land use. Clearly there is. There was allusion to how this might trickle down to a new level of ‘professionalism’ among conservation workers and practitioners. I certainly hope so. There were many other positive suggestions, too many to go into any detail here.
However, I just wanted to add that we, as the agricultural biodiversity community, might want to look inwards and reflect on what we have been doing recently to change this disconnect. I am sure there is more that agrobiodiversity organizations, programmes, projects and individuals could be doing so they are better organized and positioned to engage the global conservation community and effect change. It will take much more than an awareness campaign to change the current disconnect.

Does the IUCN take agricultural biodiversity seriously?

The IUCN World Congress has been taking place this week in Barcelona and this is a question that has crossed my mind more than once. If one was to answer this question based on the range of events taking place to do with agriculture, food security and sovereignty and agrobiodiversity then one might be tempted to answer in the affirmative. But I have come away with the impression that there is much that needs to be done including a greater need for better joined up analysis and advocacy. There still appears to be a massive disconnect between the global conservation and agrobiodiversity communities. But we need not be in conflict, from the evidence presented here there is much we could and should be doing better. The challenge is how we find better and more effective ways of working together. How do we address this disconnect between those of us working in agricultural biodiversity and conservation?

There are many opportunities and entry points for both communities. The responsibility for the current situation does not lie solely at the door of either community. There is much that the agricultural and agrobiodiversity community could and should be doing to improve an important partnership. Some participants pointed out that the agrobiodiversity community was actively looking for collaboration with the conservation community. I am sure they are but how effectively are they doing this? I am convinced there is room for improvement. This would involve a much more coherent and evidence-based approach, an approach that is much more inclusive and strategic, much more thought through than is currently taking place. Other participants have stressed the need for creating more awareness on the benefits of agrobiodiversity. While important, this is only one element of a much more concerted effort that is required in order to break down a very entrenched mindset.

Some suggestions that have emerged from this meeting include the IUCN having a more active role in promoting that biodiversity in agricultural systems has a function, is useful and can support food security and sovereignty. Enhancing integration of the relevant commissions and member organizations of IUCN to promote a higher profile for agricultural biodiversity, so that the IUCN can better articulate a position on this. Jeff McNeely suggested that maybe there was a need for conservationists to better understand agriculture and to have a better historical perspective on land use. Clearly there is. There was allusion to how this might trickle down to a new level of ‘professionalism’ among conservation workers and practitioners. I certainly hope so There were many other positive suggestions, too many to go into any detail here.

However, I just wanted to add that we, as the agricultural biodiversity community, might want to look inwards and reflect on what we have been doing recently to change this disconnect. I am sure there is more that agrobiodiversity organizations, programmes, projects and individuals could be doing so they are better organized and positioned to engage the global conservation community and effect change. It will take much more than an awareness campaign to change the current disconnect.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Money does grow on trees

Input–output analysis was used to evaluate the total economic impact (i.e. the sum of the direct, indirect and induced impacts) of the forestry and wood products sectors on the Irish economy. The total impact of the forestry sector on a number of regional economies was also examined, as were the short-term economic consequences of an afforestation scenario. Only economic activity associated with timber production was considered, and externalities associated with the sector were not accounted for. The results show that in 2003, forestry produced a direct output of €255.4 million. For every euro of output from forestry, a further €0.85 of economic activity was generated, yielding a total output of €472.4 million and total employment level of 7182. The wood products sector generated a total output of €1.6 billion and a total employment level of 12,246. These estimates of the economic impact of the forestry and wood products sectors cannot be added due to an overlap in indirect and induced impacts. The gross total value of an afforestation programme amounting to 15,000 ha per annum over 5 years was shown to be €475.0 million. Accounting for the fact that almost all land currently afforested is in agriculture, the net total value of this afforestation programme ranged from €157.8 million to €340.4 million, depending on the farming system being replaced and whether stacking of direct payments to farmers under the Single Payment Scheme applies to the land being planted. Full paper details below.

Assessing the value of forestry to the Irish economy — An input–output approach
Forest Policy and Economics, In Press, Available online, 5 October 2008,
Áine Ní Dhubháin, Marie-Christine Fléchard, Richard Moloney and Deirdre O'Connor

Friday, 3 October 2008

Protected areas 'not properly cared for'

Fewer than half of the north's protected natural habitats are being properly maintained, a report from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency has found. Read more here.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Ireland plans to take leading role in alleviating world hunger

There's no getting away from Bono and Mr Blueprint himself. I'll believe it when I see it. More.

Ireland goes back to the land

Stock markets are crashing. Builders are going to the wall. So why are our farmers brimful of optimism? Read more.

Monday, 22 September 2008

The bee's knees

Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew has pledged to draw up a strategy to rescue Northern Ireland’s vanishing bee populations. Read more here.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

As dull as ditch water?

Nobody really cares about them? I spent my youth rummaging in ditches like these. Fascinating places. Read what Jane Kavanagh of UCC has to say about them here.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Adventures of a slow traveller

Have you ever tried a Pióg Pie?

Benefits and costs of biodiversity in Ireland 2008

This report presents an assessment of social and economic benefits of selected ecosystem services in Ireland. The analysis covers a broad range of sectors, including agriculture, marine, health, and forestry. It finds that there are many net benefits to be derived from biodiversity conservation when compared to the policy costs. Report can be downloaded here.

Food marketing and rural development

University College Cork is now seeking applications for the MBS in Co-operative and Social Enterprise and the Postgraduate Diploma/MSc in Co-operative Organisation, Food Marketing and Rural Development, which recommences in October, 2008. Click here for more information

Community Food Initiatives funding

‘Healthy Food for All' and ‘SafeFood' are establishing a Demonstration Programme on Community Food Initiatives and are looking for funding applications from eligible groups and organisations. The purpose of this funding is to establish a Demonstration Programme of Community Food Initiatives (CFIs) on the island of Ireland. CFIs are projects that improve the availability and accessibility of healthy food for low-income groups at a local level, using a community development approach. Closing date for applications is 30th September 2008. This funding is open to community groups or groups which have an anti-poverty focus in their work. We would especially welcome applications from partnerships/collaborations of different groups. As the programme has an all-island focus, a minimum of two projects will be selected from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Tribute to Erna Bennett

Read Professor Swaminathan's tribute to his long-time colleague Erna Bennett (and her response). Erna, from Derry, is thought to be the first person to coin the phrase 'genetic conservation'.

Slow Food comes to Waterford

A special lunch was held in Belfast today to promote Terra Madre Ireland, a four-day event being held in Waterford from 4-7 September to bring together producers and others involved in sustainable food production from across the island. Among those at the lunch were Darina Allen, Chairperson of Slow Food Ireland and Michelle Gildernew, Minister for Department of Agricultural and Rural Development. Read more here.

More information on Terra Madre Ireland can be found here.

The World Meeting of Terra Madre will be held in Turin, Italy from the 23-27 October.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Food sovereignty and agrobiodiversity

Produced by the Community Media Trust, a group of peasant women filmmakers, this DVD and publication highlights the different ways the community has worked towards sustaining their own food systems, dynamically conserved their biodiversity and regenerated livelihoods in a semi arid region.

Monday, 9 June 2008


All eyes will be on us come this Thursday. Here is the trend in voting so far according to an Irish Times poll.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Apples no longer all in one basket!

Almost a year ago I did a posting on apples which arose as a result of a posting on the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog (who as usual are ahead of me and have posted on this in detail and well worth reading) about the precarious nature of the national apple collection at Brogdale. Here is an update from the Telegraph about the 'privatisation' of the collection. I assume that amateur gardeners and others will still have access to the many varieties.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Co-operation on health and biodiversity

Here is a very interesting and worthwhile initiative and it is housed in our own backyard, Galway to be exact. The COHAB Initiative is an international programme established to respond to the gaps in awareness and existing policies on issues linking biodiversity with human health and well-being. The Initiative aims to establish an international, inter-disciplinary collaborative framework to support existing activities on international development, biodiversity conservation and population health, and to contribute to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.

The Second International COHAB Conference on Health & Biodiversity took place from Monday 25th to Thursday 28th February 2008 in Galway City, Ireland and brought 170 delegates from over 70 countries together, from all disciplines and backgrounds, to collaborate on new approaches for protecting human health and well-being through the conservation and sustainable use of the world's biological diversity.

Those of you with a particular interest in human health and how it depends on biodiversity might be interested in the new publication 'Sustaining Life'.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

New Opportunity or new threat?

Will a new initiative aimed at promoting local produce have it's desired effect or will it have a negative effect on small independent shops? Read here.

Forgotten Fruits

Forgotten Fruits is a natural and social history guide to Britain´s heritage of traditional fruit and vegetable varieties. Read more here.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

International Day of Biodiversity

Today is International Day for Biodiversity and the special theme this year is Biodiversity and Agriculture. The Conference of Parties to the CBD is in full swing, debating many burning issues related to this theme.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Nuala O'Faolain

The sad passing of Nuala O'Faolain.

Ireland second in terms of effective aid to Africa

The Centre for Global Development in its Commitment to Development Index (CDI) has ranked Ireland second in its commitment to development in Africa. The report ranked Ireland together with Sweden and Britain as the three European nations doing more to assist the continent in seven development categories. Read more here.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Before and after!

Clear evidence of neglect before the event and dereliction of duty and care afterwards. Number of deaths fast approaching 100,000. Who is preparing the indictment?

Sunday, 11 May 2008

What have the Romans ever done for us?

Well I have only been here three weeks and I am still trying to figure out where to start.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

The Mulino at Maccarese

There is a lovely collection of photographs depicting rural life in the Maccarese area outside of Rome in the Bioversity International publication, 'The Mulino at Maccarese' which is written by my friend Jeremy Cherfas over at the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog. The photographs are from the Migrazione e lavoro exhibition and have been provided by Ernesto Benelli. The book containing the photogaphs can be downloaded from the Bioversity website which also contains some useful information on the the history of Bioveristy, the Maccarese area and Italian plant genetic resources. A nice read!

Doing porridge!

I forgot to mention earlier how in the last few months I have got seriously back into porridge, experimenting with a diverse range of nuts, dried fruits and anything else that will sit nicely in the sticky mix. I highlight this because I had a rather disturbing experience with porridge when as a young child my mother put butter milk in the mix instead of normal milk. I don't think there was anything sinister intended but it certainly left a bad taste (Frank McCourt, you know nothing about the miserable Irish childhood!). Anyway, the bad experience is now in the past and I am back enjoying a two bowls of porridge each weekend. Why only two? 'Well, I'd eat it all the time if it wasn't for the cleaning of the pot', I actually overheard a group of slightly inebriated pensioners in a pub in Belfast recently discussing porridge and this was what one of them remarked about the delicacy. I tend to agree, especially when one is living on their own. It's easier to live on pints of porter! But the hard work is worth it and I foresee porridge being a major part of my diet for years to come. And to think I might not be eating porridge at all if a few oat seeds had not been unintentionally carried along with other cultivated cereals into the more moist cental and northern parts of Europe a few thousand years ago.

Crisis, what crisis? The food crisis, a case of deja vu?

Over at the Global Crop Diversity Trust there is a nice analysis of the current food crisis and repeating events. Check it out here.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Propitious Esculent, The Potato in World History

There is ordinary food, and then there is the potato: the superfood. It grows at the altitude of Mont Blanc, or at sea level. It survives in the arid lands, it flourishes in the glacial north, it runs wild in the rainforest. Each tuber contains all the vitamins, minerals, proteins, calories and cellulose necessary for life: a healthy adult could survive indefinitely, though perhaps unenthusiastically, on potatoes alone. Read more about John Reader's latest book, Propitious Esculent.

Monday, 5 May 2008

The Future Control of Food

THE FUTURE CONTROL OF FOOD: A Guide to International Negotiations and Rules on Intellectual Property, Biodiversity and Food Security is the first wide-ranging guide to the key issues of intellectual property and ownership, genetics, biodiversity, and food security. Proceeding from an introduction and overview of the issues, comprehensive chapters cover negotiations and instruments in the World Trade Organization, Convention on Biological Diversity, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, and various other international bodies. The final part discusses civil society responses to relevant changes and developments in these issues, how they affect the direction of research and development, the nature of global negotiation processes and various alternative futures.

Published by Earthscan and IDRC the book is available for download here.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

International Day for Biological Diversity

This year’s theme for the International Day for Biological Diversity (IBD), is “Biodiversity and Agriculture.” The IBD aims to highlight the importance of biodiversity for a sustainable agriculture capable of ensure of feeding the world and maintaining agricultural livelihoods.

Farmer awarded Honorary Doctorate

You don't come across it all that often, or often enough, so it is worth highlighting. Farmer Terry Enright has become the first farmer to be awarded an Honorary Doctorate in agriculture by the University of Western Australia (UWA). I wonder if any universities in Ireland have bestowed such awards on innovative farmers.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Meet the Spuds

Agri Aware, the Agricultural Awareness Trust for food and farming in Ireland, has almost 2,000 schools have registered for it's Meet the Spuds potato-growing challenge to celebrate the United Nations designated International Year of the Potato. More than 100,000 pupils are busy digging, sowing and watering as they compete for over €10,000 in educational funds. Since the initiative’s launch in February, hundreds of schools have submitted pictures and letters testifying the educational benefits of the challenge and showcasing their hard work.

Can youth dig agriculture?

I just returned from New Caledonia where I participated in the Pacific Regional Youth Stakeholders meeting at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Noumea. While the purpose of the meeting was to examine approaches to improved regional coordination of youth development issues there was an interesting discussion on things that might be done to improve participation and inclusion of youth in agriculture. In fact SPC are in the process of developing a strategy to achieve just that. Just how do you encourage youth involvement in agriculture when there are so many problems besetting agricultural and rural development in many countries to begin with?

We identified ten areas that could be examined, as have many other groups tackling the same challenge. These might include:

1. Youth is mainstreamed by relevant organisations into agricultural projects and programmes which ensure youth have equal access to the benefits;

2. Relevant agricultural and youth organisations and agencies work together in equal partnership with effective planning and coordination among relevant stakeholders who can contribute substantially to improving youth livelihoods in the agriculture sector;

3. Youth are provided with opportunities for active effective and on-going participation in agricultural activities

4. Youth receive appropriate and relevant education and training to ensure they can build and support a livelihood based on agriculture;

5. A supportive enabling environment is created that can promote youth enterprise and entrepreneurship (e.g. access to credit, mentoring, leadership training) and which improves job and income-generating activities through agriculture;

6. Developing community-based organisations, young farmer clubs and groups and other youth peer organisations that can assist in mobilising and supporting Pacific youth in developing a livelihood through agriculture

7. Agricultural Research and Extension systems are more responsive and supportive to the needs and issues facing Pacific youth;

8. Pacific youth are trained in ICT technologies to support agricultural livelihoods and employability;

9. Opportunities are created to showcase the contributions of young people to economic development through participation in regional youth trade shows and other large gatherings;

10. Funding support is secured from relevant donors, agencies and other bodies.

If you have any suggestions for activities that might support or contribute to these areas we would be very glad to hear from you. Alternatively, if you have any thoughts on the broader picture and have been involved in programmes to promote youth in agriculture please do share your thoughts and experiences.

The World Food Situation

The world food situation is being rapidly redefined, as income growth, climate change, high energy prices, globalisation, and urbanisation transform food consumption, production, and markets. A recent paper from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) provides an overview of the the key forces driving these changes, and considers what policy responses are required to address the challenges and avoid increased misery for the world's poorest.

Read more here.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Why some rural communities prosper while others do not

Andrew M. Isserman, Edward Feser and Drake Warren penned a paper in May 2007 that examines rural prosperity in the US, something oft overlooked and unknown. In fact, more than 300 rural counties and 200 mixed rural counties are more prosperous than the country as a whole. Each has lower unemployment rates, lower poverty rates, lower school dropout rates, and better housing conditions than the nation. This research seeks to understand why. The diverse theories considered focus on location, the economy, urban-rural linkages, highways and airports, human and social capital, diversity and homogeneity, knowledge and creativity, and climate and topography. Read the paper here.

Mind the Gap - Aid

Despite Irish Aid's announcement that Ireland’s development aid has reached its highest ever level (it still lags somewhat behind other countries and is some distance from the UN target of 0.7%) it was another poor year for overseas aid.

Ireland’s official development assistance reached €869m in 2007 - its highest level ever and an increase of 6.7% on 2006 figures. The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD confirmed today that Ireland’s aid was 0.54% of our Gross National Product last year, exceeding the Government’s interim target of 0.5%. This puts us on track to reach spending of 0.7% of our GNP on overseas aid by 2012 ; three years ahead of the UN target and in line with the commitment in the Programme for Government. Our aid volume has increased five-fold over the last ten years. Ireland is now the sixth largest donor of development assistance in the world in per capita terms.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Mind the Gap - Gender

Ireland has a long way to go compared to its Scandinavian neighbours in terms of closing the gender gap as highlighted by the Gender Equity Index. I wonder how the gender gap would appear if it was possible to disaggregate the data based on rural or urban location?

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

The State of Civil Society

The newly released CIVICUS Global Survey of the State of Civil Society: Volume 1 Country Profiles and Volume 2: Comparative Perspectives draws on information collected by the CIVICUS Civil Society Index (CSI) project in more than 45 countries. Northern Ireland is included as one of the sampled countries. The books explore civil society’s accountability, its relationship to the state and business, and its role in governance and development, among other issues. Development of the Northern Ireland 'country paper' was led by the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) and the CSI project represents the first-ever attempt to put the civil society concept into practice in Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland report can be downloaded here or a brief Executive Summary here.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

I have just returned from another trip to Orange, Australia. This time it was brief and unexpected but as usual interesting and fun. Orange, in rural NSW, never ceases to amaze me in terms of it's facilities and amenities. It has a substantial and vital agricultural hinterland reliant on apples, cherries and winemaking. Despite the name there is not an orange in sight. The town's name actually has more to do with William of Orange and sectarian rivalries through the ages. Released Irish convicts moved west from Sydney in search of opportunity. After the monumental climb over the Blue Mountains the Irish Catholics decided enough was enough and settled in Bathurst but not before kicking the Irish Protestants out of town. Those evicted travelled further west in search of a suitable place to settle and found the town of Orange and to spite the Bathurst folk named it after the old enemy, William of Orange. Well that is the version I like. Can't recall where I heard that story but I have not been able to find much written or oral evidence. Maybe it is a rural myth. Whatever, I like the story.

Back to present day Orange. During my short stay I managed a stroll through the Botanical Gardens which are quite impressive for a small rural town. What really attracted my attention though was the nice collection of apple varieties they had. By my count there were 54 varieties of apple plus a nice collection of crab apples from Japan an China. The apple collection even had an old Irish variety, Irish Peach, which dates back to the reign of Elizabeth 1. Unfortunately there was no one around to talk to about it, it was 6am after all, but I am sure that the collection is important in the development and history of the apple industry around Orange. I was able to find out that the gardens use the collection to educate the public and schools about the history of growing apples, pruning and grafting and so forth. There is also a children's garden where kids can muck around and a plants and health section planned which will have examples of aboriginal plants important for nutrition. Great examples of what can be done with such gardens in a small rural area.

Before leaving Orange, I took Callum and Imogen to the annual meeting of the Orange Horticultural Society at St Barnabas Hall. There were fine exhibits of cut flowers but hidden away in a corner there was a rather measly collection of back garden vegetables that no one seemed too keen to be associated with. I was left wondering if this is a strong indicator of the decline in growing food in one's back yard.

I think there are many rural towns and councils in Ireland who could learn much from Orange in terms of promoting and enjoying the 'great outdoors'.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

More barmy laws

Unfortunately the article does not appear to be available online but the Guardian Weekly (21.03.08) reports how the severe 2007 cereal season has meant a critical shortage of wheat straw suitable for thatching and how this will be worsened by less seed in coming years. Thatch craftsmen get tangled up in red tape describes how frustrated thatchers have tried to persuade local planners to let them use triticale, a wheat-rye hybrid, as an alternative. Even though triticale is approved by the conservation agency English Heritage local council officials are having none of it. They insist that only traditional straw can be used on listed buildings. Putting the wrong type of straw on roofs could land you with a fine of up to £20,000 and six months in prison.

Friday, 7 March 2008

International Women's Day

Tomorrow is International Women's Day

Fact Sheets and Training Guides for the implementation of Gender Equality in Agriculture and Rural Development are available for download from the Gender Equality Unit of the Irish National Development Plan.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

A working class vegetarian is something to be...

Had the radio (RTE 1) on in the background and my attention was drawn to a debate about vegetable consumption in Ireland. One person on a panel discussion felt that the consumption of vegetables was a class issue and I would certainly agree. Obviously costs and education are big factors. One of my favourite past times is taking the taking the escalator from the top floor of the Jervis centre in Dublin. This gives me a birds-eye view of the little cafe at the bottom of the stairs. You can be certain that about 90% of the finished plates will have the serving of side salad left untouched.

Migration: Forcing Movement, Closing Doors

I finally managed to get along to one of Comhlamh's First Wednesday Debates. The sensitive and emotional issue of migration. Generally it was an interesting night covering the usual push and pull factors involved, the global and historical context of migration. I learned much about recent immigration trends in Ireland and the demographic changes this has contributed. I also learned more about the new migration bill that is being discussed at the moment.

A couple of specific issues predictably arose, issues that continue to unsettle me.

In regards to Irish attitudes to migration and immigrants, someone from the floor made the comment that Irish rural communities are less welcoming and accommodating than urban centres. In my limited time back in Ireland, and having lived in both contexts, I am not convinced that this is the case. Certainly in cities like Dublin there are more spaces for migrants (and Irish) to meet and interact. However, cities by their very nature are more cosmopolitan and this does not necessarily reflect a more welcoming and accommodating attitude on behalf of the local population. I would certainly like to hear more about rural /urban experiences before forming any opinions on such an issue.

Secondly, brain drain. One floor speaker felt that we as a country should be more socially responsible when it comes to 'taking' all the qualified talent from many of the countries supplying migrants to Ireland. Obviously he has a bit of a point but I think the issue is much more complex than this, as one of the panel replied in his response about the benefit of remittances. There are other benefits too. A large number of migrants involved in the 'brain drain' do eventually return to their countries bringing a wealth of new skills, ideas and knowledge. They also bring a breadth of new networks and contacts and more. But what annoys me most about the 'brain drain' debate is that it is usually 'ex-pats' and people in receiving countries that do all the complaining about it. You rarely hear countries supplying the 'brain drain' complain. I suspect because they can clearly see the potential benefit of their qualified people working overseas. I also have a problem with the issue of 'who decides?' or 'who has the right to decide?' about who can go where. Is it okay for those of us in the wealthy world to have professional mobility, while those in the poorer south should stay put? Ireland, and it's citizens, with their historical experience of the 'brain drain' should be in a position to make a more informed analysis of this complex and tender topic. One could equally make the argument that it is our social responsibility to accept migrants as part of the 'brain drain'.

Finally, and it always gets my back up, another floor speaker felt that the onus should be on migrants to 'assimilate'. What has happened to the collective Irish memory? Try telling that to the hundred's of thousands of Irish migrants who travelled across the water from the 1950's up to the 1980's. I can remember many stories of the 'no blacks, no dogs, no Irish' signs in windows of B&B and other guest houses in London. Personally, I recall turning up on the doorstep of a house in Kent, where I had arranged to stay for 6 months on the phone, only to be told by the landlady that she wouldn't have let me have the room if she had known I was Irish. Apparently she thought I was American on the phone! The point being that for many reasons this whole issue is much more complex and requires a more detailed analysis than simply saying that the onus or responsibility lies with one particular group of people. It lies with all of us.

In many respects it seems that our collective memory on migration is hazy which is sad because we have so much in common with current migrants. Much that could inform the current debate on migration and help Ireland innovate in how it deals with migrants.

Would love to hear more views on this.

Irish Genetic Resources Conservation Trust

Agency with useful information and links on Irish agrobiodiversity. I have linked to them on earlier postings.

Eat your blues!

Efforts by Irish growers to grow lesser known varieties as a way of reviving interest in a declining market would appear to be paying off. A blue potato is proving a hit since being introduced to the market by a Dublin family which has been growing vegetables for over 200 years. Also demonstrates the importance of agrobiodiversity in adding-value and the potential for opening up niches markets and much more.

An important collection of indigenous potato varieties dating from famine times is maintained at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development Potato Centre in County Donegal.

Thanks to Luigi over at the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog for flagging this.


Interesting new developments about the Bluetongue virus (BTV) an it's etiology. Accrding to this article the next few weeks will be crucial in determining if this island remains Bluetongue free.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Care farms

The National Care Farm Initiative is a way of offering on-farm health, education and welfare services for people in need. Participants in care farm schemes have experienced improvements to their physical, mental and spiritual health and well-being. Participants connect with a healthy daily structure and meaningful work in a natural environment - gaining social, educational and training benefits. The farming environment can be used to provide significant benefits for a wide range of people including:
-those with learning difficulties
-people with a drug/alcohol history
-disaffected and excluded youth
-people with work-related stress
-those with mental health issues and depression
Care farming is good for rural communities and economies as it enhances the viability of farms, broadens farm business and increases the services derived from the countryside. Farmers receive a deep sense of satisfaction through helping people improve their lives through farming - and having guests of the farm also addresses issues of rural isolation. Care farming places a high value on the knowledge and skills of farmers and seeks to help rural communities become more socially , economically and environmentally sustainable.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

The Change Agency

The Change Agency have a tremendous website, full of useful, state-of-the-art tools for community and social activists. The training resources are among the best I have seen.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

The Thiagi Group

The Thiagi Group website is a useful source of ideas and resources for those interested in using games and similar activities for enhanced learning and participation.

Power to the People

The Commission for Rural Communities new report 'Participation Inquiry: Strengthening the role of local councillors' highlights that nearly half of rural residents feel unable to influence local decisions directly affecting their lives. The Commission hopes the report's recommendations will help citizens to more fully engage in local decision-making, enhance the democratic role for rural communities and create a stronger, more effective voice for local councillors. The report's recommendations include:local government should be supported and encouraged to create neighbourhood budgets and involve local people in spending decisions; central government should meet the costs of local elections in all tiers; strong push toward more elections in parish councils rather than co-options; the creation of powerful new unitary authorities; Local Strategic Partnerships and Local Area Agreements, supported by central and local government, should clearly commit to supporting parish and market town plans.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Potato roots

Given it is the year of the spud and it's significant economic history here, the following posting over at the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog regarding the origin of the vast majority of today's potato germplasm might be of interest, especially how the research team tackled the problem of finding out. More here.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Wanted! Your views on biodiversity?

A public consultation process to inform the development of Ireland's second National Biodiversity Plan is underway. The production of a national biodiversity plan is an obligation for all parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which Ireland ratified in 1996. This Convention has the widest scope of the international environmental agreements concerning nature and biodiversity, with 189 countries and the European Union, having ratified the agreement. All parties to the Convention have committed to working towards the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and achieving a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. Ireland produced its first plan in 2002, and the new plan will set out a programme of work for the five-year period 2008-2012.

Any organisation or member of the public wishing to make a submission can contact or visit the website of the National Parks and Wildlife Service for more details.

To view the current National Biodiversity Plan 2002-2006 click here.

To view an interim review of the implementation of the National Biodiversity Plan 2002-2006 click here.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Are You Tubing Yet?

I suppose it was only a matter of time before political parties and candidates started using free video sharing tools like You Tube to get their message across in search of votes. However, a growing number of organisations and groups are also increasingly using You Tube as a potentially more useful way of communicating their message and information. One such example is the Davos Question. Here is an example of how the UK-based think tank, Overseas Development Institute (ODI), used You Tube and the Davos Question to get messages across to coincide with the recent Davos Economic Forum. Definitely a 'cheap' communication tool to consider for campaigning and awareness.

All five ODI messages can be found here.

Partnership! - huh - what is it good for?

Anyone who has been involved in planning for effective partnership will know what a difficult job it is. While there are many benefits, there are an equal number of challenges and pitfalls. And it is managing these challenges and pitfalls that ultimately contribute to a successful partnership, one that is built on trust, honesty and openness. Further, anyone who has tried to assess and evaluate the impact or success of a partnership will equally know what a difficult task this is too. And all too often, those involved in partnership brokering don't even bother to find out. So while the language and rhetoric of partnership abounds and several such partnerships have been set up in Ireland to address issues of inequality, the effort put into assessing and evaluating the impact and success of such partnerships does not match this.

What is the evidence that such collaborations and partnerships contribute to improved implementation of programmes, to fairer and more equitable outcomes? There is not much I am afraid but that is hardly surprising. Measuring and assessing the impact and success of partnership working is difficult to evaluate. The outcomes are not necessarily tangible or easily measured in terms of number of outputs of physical entities. More often than not, the success or impact of a partnership can be gauged in terms of social capital that is built. And such intangibles may only have physical impact much further down the track.

Recently, the Institute of Public Health in Ireland has come up with a series of useful publications in relation to partnerships. Anyone involved in brokering a partnership or assessing a partnership will surely find the contents of these publications useful. How often have I heard local umbrella community organisations highlight the need for more skills and capacity in these areas of partnership working. Well, there are some useful tools and guidance here.

There are 3 publications:

I want to focus particularly on assessment of partnerships because the publication Partnerships: The Benefits describes an elegant and useful evaluation tool. This is called the Partnership Evaluation Tool (PET). Although developed in a health context it is practical in any partnership setting. PET involves participatory working with partnership members to identify particular benefits important in the partnership such as connections, learning, actions and impacts. Partnership members then identify a range of indicators that might contribute to realising these particular benefits. Indicators are scored on a scale of 0-5, the data can then be analysed and presented on a typical spidergram (as shown top right) or polygon.

If you are serious about your partnership and wish to avoid perpetuating arm's length partnerships or unequal power relations you might want to consider what is said in these publications and avail yourself of the useful PET tool.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Ireland's first all island ecotourism conference

The Greenbox, Ireland's first integrated ecotourism destination is delighted to announce that it is holding its second conference in Fermanagh from the 30-31 January. It will cover ecotourism product development, marketing, eco label certification and training on the island of Ireland. The conference content will consist of key themes, issues and recommendations for product development and marketing of ecotourism.This conference will give private businesses, public sector policymakers and communities an opportunity to develop a new future for tourism on the island of Ireland that will be sustainable and will attract a new type of tourist.

Irish links, an online directory

Irish Links is the first and only online directory exclusively listing Irish non-profit organisations that use the Internet and which share the common goal of bringing about positive change in society. There are many categories including Community Development/Renewal and Rural Development. Very useful.

Want to upgrade your skills?

The Ulster People’s College (UPC) is offering you the chance improve your knowledge and develop new skills. UPC run a variety of Free courses which are accredited by the Open College Network. They have a range of courses beginning in the next few weeks including, Developing Facilitation Skills, Getting to Grips with the Media, Fundraising and Living with Diversity.

Conference on rural isolated men

'A conference looking at the poverty and social exclusion issues affecting rural men in the Border Region will be held in the Slieve Russell Hotel, Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan on Thursday 14th February 2008. A new policy position paper that identifies the services needed to respond to the social exclusion of isolated men in the central border region will be presented by the Social Inclusion Working Group of the Irish Central Border Area Network [ICBAN].'

Monday, 21 January 2008

An t-Ionad Glas, the Organic College

An t-Ionad Glas, the Organic College, was founded in 1991 and runs the only nationally certified, full-time and part-time courses in Organic production in Ireland. The College is located in the small country town of Dromcollogher, Co. Limerick, home of the Rural Co-operative movement in Ireland and Britain. Students learn in the classroom and outdoors at the Community Gardens and the Enterprise Acre. The gardens are fully Certified Organic, and are maintained by the students of the Organic Horticulture and Farming Courses on a co-operative basis. The College also runs courses through distance and flexible learning as well as a range of short courses, including weekend seminars, tours, workshops and night classes. For more information about the College and it's courses click here.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

What a good year for the potatoes

Given the cultural, economic and historical importance of the spud to Ireland, I can't let the year pass by without mentioning that 2008 has been declared the International Year of the Potato by the UN. This year has also been nominated as the Year of Food and Farming in the UK. The British Potato Council is celebrating the year with linking potatoes into the school curriculum to encourage awareness of the importance of potatoes. Wonder what events are planned for here, anyone know?

The tyranny of biofuels

Further to the growing debate 'debunking' biofuels, the Royal Society has just published its report saying 'they do more harm than good'.

Some other prominent scientists have weighed into the debate.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Young scientists innovate for Africa

The winner of the Irish Aid/Self-Help ‘Science for Development’ Award at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition 2008 was Tara McGrath, Presentation Secondary School, Kilkenny for her development of a hybrid pressure stove. Chinedu Onyejelem, Editor of Metro Éireann presented the award on behalf of Irish Aid at the award ceremony on Friday evening in the RDS. The Award, sponsored by Irish Aid and Self Help Development, is designed to encourage Young Scientists to consider the benefits that scientific innovation can bring to developing countries.

Congratulating the winner, the Minister of State for Irish Aid, Michael Kitt TD, said:
“I am delighted that this excellent project which highlights the link between environment issues, in particular energy efficiency, and development was successful in the Irish Aid Science for Development’ award”.

Minister Kitt also added that by:

“By sponsoring this award, Irish Aid hopes to encourage Young Scientists to examine the issues and challenges facing communities in the developing world. All branches of the sciences can play a vital role in creating innovative science and technology that can be used to improve the lives of people in the poorest countries in the world. We need to harness this innovation and combine it with a growing interest among young Irish people in development issues to deliver real change in our partner countries”.

Farming in a changing climate

A conference, hosted by the HGCA in late January, will explore the potential impacts climate change will have on UK agriculture, how farmers can adapt and the potential opportunities that may be presented. Read more here.

To learn more about how climate change is threatening food crops across the world and how scientists are re-focusing their efforts on crop resilience, rather than yields read this concise article from SciDevNet.

Facilitating learning for social change

The 'Facilitatiing learning for social change (FLASC)' initiative was established with the aim of facilitating more effective learning for social change through a better understanding and integration of theory, experience and practice of reflection and learning. Activitites included a dialogue which took place through e-fora and an international workshop in the Spring of 2006. The workshop report aims to show how we need to share learning and build knowledge collectively, in order to enrich society everywhere, for the benefit of all. It covers the workshop background and process and goes on to look at key outcomes of the event as well as how to move forward from such an initiative.

You can download a copy of the workshop report here.

Monday, 14 January 2008

INFASA seeks dialogue on sustainable agriculture

INFASA, a collaboration between the IISD and Swiss College of Agriculture (SHL), seeks to improve our understanding of sustainability and what sustainability means in agriculture, how it is measured, and how the knowledge generated can promote sustainable agriculture.

Everybodyonline for equality

'A Northern Ireland community initiative has been praised for highlighting what the UK is doing to create a fairer and more equal society in the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All (EYEOA). The EverybodyOnline project is designed to close the digital divide - helping excluded communities engage with digital technology and the internet. Launched earlier this year by the then Northern Ireland Finance Minister David Hanson MP, the project is a joint initiative from BT and the Delivery and Innovation Division within the Department of Finance & Personnel and is delivered by the charity Citizens Online. It aims to help excluded groups including those with a physical disability, a learning disability and older people, both in their own and residential homes, to overcome any barriers they may have to technology so that everyone can take advantage of the wealth of opportunities digital technology and the internet has to offer.'

EU rethinks policy on biofuels

From the BBC today,
'Europe's environment chief has admitted that the EU did not foresee the
problems raised by its policy to get 10% of Europe's road fuels from plants.
Recent reports have warned of rising food prices and rainforest destruction
from increased biofuel production.'

Read more here and here.

Why this might be good news for countries in the global south.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

What is a Community of Practice?

'Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques, a gathering of first-time managers helping each other cope.'

Communities of Practice: The Organisational Frontier by Etienne Wenger is a good introduction

This blog posting also highlights some important aspects of communities of practice.

For other interesting views about communities of practice, click here.

The importance of the Third Place

Ray Oldenburg in his book The Great Good Place demonstrates why informal public gathering places are essential to community and public life. He argues that bars, coffee shops, general stores, and other "third places" (in contrast to the first and second places of home and work), are central to local democracy and community vitality. By exploring how these places work and what roles they serve, Oldenburg offers placemaking tools and insight for individuals and communities everywhere.

According to the Carnegie Trust Oldenburg identifies eight characteristics of ‘third’ spaces that are particularly relevant to the needs of activists from dispersed rural communities:

1. Neutral Ground: In conurbations, there is a critical mass of humanity who share interests and therefore who can choose to meet up. If rural areas are to benefit from the rich and varied association of inventive and entrepreneurial people, there needs to be neutral ground where they can meet up: somewhere where individuals can come and meet up with like minded participants.
2. Leveller: Acceptance and participation is not dependant on an individual’s status at work (such as professional community development worker) or in society (parish or community council chair or landowner). There are no formal criteria for membership.
3. Conversation is the Main Activity: and humour is valued. Where the past experience of many participants will be of lectures or seminars where they are talked at, in third spaces conversation is spirited, engrossing and there is a sense of genuine inquiry.
4. Accessibility & Accommodation: Third places are easy to access and are accommodating to those who come along. They keep long hours and conversation may continue into the early hours. Activity is not rigidly structured.
5. The Regulars: A cadre of regulars who attract newcomers and who give the space ‘mood’ and set the tone of conviviality. Eden Foundation is particularly good at this – mixing and matching individuals who they imagine will get on and have interests in common.
6. A Low Profile: Third places are without pretence and are comfortable and homely. Much conversation happens around a large table, accompanied by good food.
7. The Mood is Playful: Word-play, wit, frivolity are normally present. Food and music seem to be an important ingredient as is a sense of place.
8. A Home Away from Home: Home like, easy, warm, a feeling of ‘rootedness’

The cutting Edge

The Eden Project in Cornwall, a Rural Action Research Partner of the Carnegie Trust, is in the process of creating a new informal learning space, the Edge, for some of the great voices of the age – artists, writers, scientists and musicians - to work with communities and families and share the best ideas they have for improving their lives and environments, now and in the future.
The Edge woud seem to meet the criteria that Oldenburg highlights for informal 'third place' learning spaces

Rural Community Carbon Network

The Rural Community Carbon Network is organised by RuralnetUK and raises the awareness of the actions that rural communities can take in response to the climate change challenge. It builds on existing, isolated community action and supports other rural groups who wish to take collective action by providing access to an online panel of community experts, good practice toolkits and a mentoring service linked to a small grants programme. The Rural Community Carbon Network will link up existing groups with nascent ones for peer-to-peer support and knowledge transfer.

Want to know more? Download this pdf.

The Rural Media Company

The Rural Media Company is an innovative media education and production organisation with a national reputation for its socially aware media and communications work. It aims to enable rural communities to learn about and use media by participating in practical media activities and the creation and dissemination of high quality media communications and educational resources.

Travellers Remembered is is a collection of 25 beautiful digital stories which record the personal memories of Traveller families in the West Midlands. Media workers helped children and young people to record their parents and grandparents, adding family photographs to bring the memories to life.

A similar project entitled Fieldwork - the Bygone Days of Farming is underway.

Certainly an interesting and useful approach for community involvement in documenting social history. Check out the other projects and activities on the site.

Debunking biofuels

Interesting commentary in a letter from Tim Joslin in the most recent edition of the New Scientist (12 Jan).
'You go some way towards debunking the fallacious reasoning used to justify
biofuels as a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (15 December 2007, p 6 and p 3) - but there is more. The net greenhouse gas saving for current biofuel
crops in temperate regions is not more than a tonne of carbon per hectare per
year - and is sometimes negative. But we need to take account of the opportunity
cost of the land on which biofuel crops are grown. Reforestation, for example,
could remove at least tens of tonnes of carbon per hectare from the atmosphere:
so the payback period is decades at best. Even in the tropics, annual greenhouse
gas savings are a few tonnes per hectare, at most. Growing biofuels may
require land to be cleared, perhaps indirectly: for example, because food
production has been displaced by the biofuel crop. Land clearance results in
immediate greenhouse gas emissions, whereas the biofuel savings occur over
time. Then there are the issues of displacement pointed out in the letter
from Elliott Spiker (15 December 2007, p 18). Using biofuels may merely free up fossil fuels for someone else to use, perhaps in another country. National governments and the European Union should abandon all subsidies and quotas for biofuels forthwith.'

8th CIVICUS World Assembly in Glasgow

The 8th World Assembly in 2008 will be the last of the Glasgow series, which has seen a growth each year in the number of delegates and the number of countries represented. The overall theme will be ‘Acting Together for a Just World’, with a focus theme of ‘People, Participation and Power’. Deadline for early bird registration is 1 February 2008. For more information

International Women's Health Conference in Derry

This conference aims open up debate on the need to improve health status and reduce health inequalities by focusing on the themes of Women and exclusion, maintaining women's roles in determining health and well-being when societies move from conflict to post conflict, and Meeting health needs on a cross border basis. The conference takes place on the 29-30 May 2008 and is hosted by Derry Well Woman.

Our commitment to international development, where is it?

While the Northern Ireland Executive has taken the important step of setting up an All Party Working Group on International Development we would appear to be miles behind our neighbours in Scotland in this regard. NIDOS which is the main Network of International Development Organisations in Scotland has just been set up. Recently the Scottish Government announced its international development budget. I look forward to similar commitments here.

People's Learning and Action

The Institute for People's Education and Action seeks to identify, support, and facilitate community-based, learner-led education as a strategic tool for community organizing and democratic social change. It has some useful links to Grundtvig Folk Schools, Latin American Popular Education, Study Circle learning and much more. They also have a useful set of resources including links to other People's and Communal based learning networks, an extensive bibliography and educational resources and toolkits. Very useful indeed.

Training for transformation

The Partners Training for Transformation, who have been hiding out in Ireland, are an independent agency dedicated to personal, group, organisational and societal transformation through community development work. Partners have been largely involved in cross-border and cross-cultural contexts and have developed considerable international networks. They have recently brought out the publication Partners Intercultural Companion to Training for Transformation: Exercises, Processes, Resources, and Reflections for Intercultural Work. This new resource written by Maureen Sheehy, Frank Naughton, and Collette O'Reagan is a compilation of exercises, processes, resources and reflections used by facilitators over several years. It draws mainly from the experience of PARTNERS’ work in Ireland, Wales, England, Scotland and in a European Grundtvig Learning experience.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Eight hot topics for international development in 2008

From Laurence Haddad, Director of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. Read more here.

DARD announce publication of Farm Planning Handbook

'The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) have announced the publication of the ‘Farm Business Data 2008’ farm planning handbook. "Farm Business Data 2008" will be a valuable source of information for farmers, their professional advisors, those undertaking formal training in agriculture or anyone who requires planning and budgetary data relating to farming in Northern Ireland. The role of ‘Farm Business Data’ is to provide a comprehensive and authoritative source of physical and financial information that is tailored to farm planning needs in Northern Ireland.'

Download handbook here.