Sunday, 29 March 2009

Go on, grow your own

A Public Meeting on How to Grow Your Own Food will be held on Tuesday 31st March 2009, 8pm at Cultivate, 15-19 Essex St West, Temple Bar in Dublin. Speakers will include: Trevor Sargent TD, Minister for Food, Seamus Sheridan - Sheridans Cheese Mongers, Suzie Cahn - Community Gardens, Malcom Noonan - Local Allotments. For more information check out the Culivate Centre website. There will also be a screening of the film Deconstructing Dinner. Get along!

Monday, 23 March 2009

Lasagna and chips

Restaurant owners in the south have reacted angrily to the news that Bord Bia is to scrap its long-standing Guaranteed Irish Feile Bia initiative in favour of a 'Just Ask!' campaign. Feile Bia was a quality assurance initiative whereby customers were guaranteed that participating restaurants used Irish produce. It is to be replaced with a €200,000 'Just Ask!' campaign which aims to encourage diners to enquire about the origin of the food they are served. I am not that familiar with the Feile Bia initiative but it appears similar to the Taste of Ulster initiative up north, which I know a little about. While the Taste of Ulster initiative no doubt promotes local ingredients I am not exactly sure what it does to promote local and innovative cuisine. The couple of Taste of Ulster endorsed restaurants that I have eaten in while probably serving up locally sourced food have not impressed me at all in terms of local or tradition meals with menus that pander to overseas dishes especially the ubiquitous chicken goujons. Having said that, I have just had the most brilliant night of food and wine in the cellar at Fallon and Byrne in Dublin, and not a bloody goujon in sight. Quite possibly the best eating experience I have had in the city.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The Irish Moiled

The Irish Moiled is a breed of cattle that comes from Nortnern Ireland and in the 1980s the population had fallen dramatically to about 20 cows. Thankfully the breed has been revived through the efforts of the the Irish Moiled Cattle Society formed in 1926 to develop and improve the breed. In 1982 the Society itself was revived with the encouragement of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Since then the breed has enjoyed valuable research and guidance from both the Trust and the Genetics Department of Liverpool University and the Society now has a well established DNA testing programme to ensure validity of pedigrees and the integrity of this important gene pool. In 2008 a breed conservation strategy was launched and it is hoped that this strategy will help maintain the genetic base of the breed.

A taste of Dublin

While the rest of Europe was developing a food culture, we in Ireland were coming to terms with famine and the impact of that has clung to us for hundred's of years. But slowly things are changing and a recent opportunity to particpate on the Dublin Tasting Trail was a an eye-opener to the growing diversity and quality of local food available in this city, much of it off the beaten track. The time spent in Sheridan's Cheesemongers was especially memorable as were the Coolea and Ardrahan cheeses. Most interesting of all though was an opportunity to learn about Myrtle Allen who was a tireless campaigner for Irish food, years before it was fashionable to talk about local food nevermind in Irleand but anywhere.

Monday, 16 March 2009

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men?

Nine easily available management planning guides, all aimed at UK protected sites (SSSI, Natura 2000, Ramsar, etc.), have been compared in a recent study in the Journal for Nature Conservation . Basic formats recommended by these guides were similar, so that plans based on them should look superficially alike. In contrast, definitions of key terms (vision, objective, and constraint or factor) often varied significantly between guides, even though there is a great deal of collaboration between publishing organisations. Additional guidance and rules for objectives only increased differences between guides, and created differences even where definitions were similar. The bottom line? The variable nature of management planning guidance raises concerns about the consistency of plan preparation.

Hare today, gone tomorrow - part 2

The strange case of the Ulster Wildlife Trust ignoring the available data and the plight of the Irish hare. I wonder who their stakeholders are?

Supermarkets, food and the poor

A new Center for Global Development working paper, by non-resident fellow Peter Timmer places the supermarket debate in the broader evolution of food policy analysis, which is a framework for integrating household, market, macro, and trade issues as they affect hunger and poverty. Increasingly, supermarkets provide the institutional linkages across these issues. Timmer draws from many perspectives to assess the effect the supermarket revolution may have on poverty alleviation. Read more here.

The New Naturalist

There will be few people interested in rural development who have not at one time or another delved into one of the New Naturalist series of books. I was pleased to learn that they are still going strong with plans to get old titles back in print.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

If you go down to the wood today

Interesting story on the vulnerability of our trees to the arrival of new diseases. The reasons why they are turning up on our doorstep are complex but one single factor stands out: climate change which is demolishing the barriers that once protected us from such diseases.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Save the Lonk

A campaign, highlighted in the weekend Times has begun an attempt to bring rare heritage breeds of sheep to a restaurant near you. Farming chiefs have started talks with leading supermarkets to widen the market for native sheep such the Rough Fell, the Herdwick, the Romney, the Exmoor Horn and of course the Lonk. Most of these heritage breeds are geographically isolated and highly vulnerable. A recent 'special edition' of the New Agriculturalist focuses on the benefits and challenges involved in the sustainable use of livestock genetic diversity.

Later...I don't think I emphasise above enough that the efforts to encourage utilisation of these rare breeds through food production systems and marketing is part of a longer, more sustainable strategy for their conservation.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Women play a key role in feeding the world

As I will be away from computers over the weekend, I wanted to post this in time for International Womens' Day, 8th March. The posting is on behalf of the International Alliance Against Hunger.

Please pause for a moment on International Womens’ Day – Sunday 8th March – to think whether you can do something simple that can have a positive impact on your life and on the lives of others, and is environmentally sound. Read this, and, if you agree, please forward it to your friends, women and men. Together, you can make life better for many women around the world!

1. Women farmers produce 60-80% of the food in poor countries but only own 1% of the land, and are often excluded from farmers’ associations, services and technical know-how.2
2. Rural women alone produce half of the world’s food but receive less than 10 percent of credit provided to farmers.
3. More women farmers must be give the right to own and use farm land so as to have more secure sources of food and livelihood.
4. Women’s rights must be respected: for example, enabling girls to get education has been identified as the single most powerful contribution to reducing malnutrition over a 35-year period.
5. Women are much more likely than men to spend additional income from the sale of crops on their children, who are better nourished because their mothers provide a diverse diet.
6. In Kenya for instance, women do most of the work of growing nutritious vegetables, but play a smaller role than men in decision-making in the home.

Act Now!
Share this message with your family, colleagues, and friends to make them think, and act to change this situation.

Consider the fact that, in spite of government commitments to reduce hunger, over 950 million of our fellow humans suffer from hunger on a daily basis in a world in which enough food is produced to allow everyone to eat well.

3. Learn more about how to end hunger and malnutrition and improve your nutrition habits (click on for links).

4. Share our sense of OUTRAGE: Raise your voice to encourage your government to do everything that is humanly possible to eradicate hunger and malnutrition: it can be done, and everyone wins.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Join the food train

Fabulous Food Trails are all experiencing fabulous local Irish food: handmade cheeses, delicious fruits and vegetables, exquisite chocolate, fragrant honey, tender grass-fed beef, succulent mountain lamb, freshly baked traditional breads and wonderful seafood such as oak smoked wild Irish salmon as well as mussels and oysters plucked from the sea that very morning.

To bee or not to bee

Native British bees are dying out — and with them will go flora, fauna and one-third of our diet. We may have less than a decade to save them and avert catastrophe according to this article. So why is nothing being done?

Monday, 2 March 2009

The burden of proof

Attended a seminar yesterday by Professor Tim Johns, Professor in Human Nutrition at McGill University and former Director of the Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment at McGill. Tim is currently spending a sabbatical period at Bioversity to further develop the Biodiversity and Nutrition initiative and also represents Bioversity on the CGIAR’s Agriculture and Health Research Platform. Tim discussed the evolving Biodiversity and Nutrition strategy in light of work on neglected and underutilized species/leafy vegetables, dietary diversity, public health benefits, market chains, food systems and ecohealth and the unique space that agrobiodiversity occupies between agriculture, health and nutrition and environment. This clearly presents many opportunities which need to be actively pursued, such as the role of agrobiodiversity and HIV/Aids.

The main take home message was the lack of a solid evidence-base for the role of agrobiodiversity in health and nutrition. As Tim highlighted ‘ the case is just not there’ and it needs to be if those of us who work with agrobiodiversity are to change the attitudes of donors and relevant organisations. What is the role of agrobiodiversity in child malnutrition, diabetes, eye health? According to Tim we just don’t really know. There was much talk about building a solid and cohesive body of proof involving convincing cases for the role of agrobiodiversity in nutrition and health. Yes, certainly. But I couldn't help but think that the challenge is even greater than this and one could stress the need to argue the case, or construct a convincing body of proof, for the role of agrobiodiversity in sustainable livelihoods, ecosystem services, agricultural production and stability and resilience of agroecosystems. Data and information certainly exists but wouldn’t it be nice to have it packaged in one form or another that really makes a convincing case so the agrobiodiversity community can counteract the pessimists who argue that such links are tenuous.

By the way, I couldn't help but notice that COHAB was absent from the list of partners, current and potential, in the presentation. I am sure they are in there somewhere, given that Bioversity is a partner in that initiative. Interestingly COHAB currently have a 'request for information' to build a body of evidence for the relationship between biodiversty change and the incidence of certain non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Mapping agricultural research

For those of you interested in agricultural research within the 15 CGIAR centres or want an overview of the research that they are doing in eastern and southern Africa check out the first 'CGIAR research map'. Simply clicking on the country will give you a dialogue box with relevant projects and further information on each. No doubt more countries and information will be added.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Cattle bank

A new DNA bank offers huge opportunities for improvement of cattle breeding. Researchers from the Animal Bioscience Centre (Grange and Athenry) and Moorepark Research Centre have been collaborating on its establishment. The sequencing of the bovine genome has been completed and presents new opportunities to discover the influence of genes on a range of performance traits in cattle. Read more..

News from the Vault

further information on Ireland's contribution to Svalbard.

Hidden gardens - investigating urban agriculture in Dublin

Michael Cullen at Dublin Institute of Technology has recently completed a MSc investigation of Urban Agriculture (UA) in Dublin. This concept encompasses those who are engaged in growing their own in an urban environment. The study investigates why there has been a rise in UA over the past 15 years with the focus of the study being on allotments, a historical form of UA. The objectives of the study include investigating the concept of urban agriculture, to examine the history of allotments in Dublin, to aid an understanding of modern UA in Dublin. The study focuses on the motivations of the allotment holders as well as uncovering the types and varieties of food being produced on their allotments. The methodology of the study was qualitative, which provided rich data sources to inform the discussion. The methods employed were semi-structured interviews and direct observations. Allotment holders at two allotment sites were the population sample interviewed chosen based on the total population of allotments in Dublin, with the majority of the population being located in south Dublin. Along with interviews on allotment sites, the researcher undertook interviews a representative of Dublin City Council and a Minister of the current Government. The findings of the researcher indicated a revival in the interest of allotment holding in south Dublin. Allotments were formerly located on sites due for development; presently they have a fixed tenure in regional parks. There is also an association to represent them at local and national level. Motivations for holders included a desire for fresh food and socialisation around a common interest of food growing. The conclusions of the study illustrate a growth in different forms of UA in Dublin including a revival in allotments, an interest in community gardens and people growing their own in a domestic setting.

Looking for an allotment?

You need go no further than here, Irish Allotments.

Dublin Food Growing

Dublin Food Growing is a non-profit network of people and groups dedicated to increasing the quantity, quality, diversity and positive effect of food grown in Dublin. They connect people growing at all scales from the smallest window boxes, back gardens, community and school gardens, allotments, all the way up to market gardens and commercial farms. They are involved with developing food growing projects, advocacy, research, policy, networking, education, and of course growing food.