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A forest poem to the Amazon

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A new book from FAO (the UN Food and Agriculture Organization) with CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research) and People and Plants International, features the uncommon quality of bringing together original scientific knowledge on fruits and useful plants of the Amazon forest and the sensibility to detect the deep interaction between life, traditional knowledge of our forests and folk culture. With its simple language making its contents accessible and practical, this book discusses aspects fundamental to the future of the Amazon and presents a development model that is economically and socially fair, and which respects the environment.

The first aspect is related to collective health, by strengthening the use of plants capable of substantially improving the nutritional value of our diet and, consequently, preventing the so called “illnesses of the poor”. The studies developed by the authors correlated the seasonal availability of fruits in the forest with the incidence of diseases, showing that during periods of scarcity the number of cases of some diseases is highest.

The second aspect is related to a powerful characteristic of the Amazon, still underexplored and poorly documented: the role of women in the knowledge and use of the non-timber forest patrimony. The advancement of sustainable experiences in the Amazon has witnessed a strong contribution of women – especially in the reinforcement of community actions and creativity to guarantee the social and material survival of the family. Women may be the strategic leverage to provide both the cement and scale needed to create a new paradigm in the region.

The third aspect is the ability to associate forests and development – which instead of “throwing us into the vortex of limitless competitiveness and selfishness, leads us to community, to solidarity, and to human and spiritual values as mediators of each one’s goals”, said Marina Silva, former Minister of the Environment of Brazil, who wrote the preface.

The reader will also find studies on the Articulated Movement of the Amazon Women (MAMA) from Acre, community management (Center of Amazonian Workers, CTA, project, Acre), environmental education (Health and Happiness Project, Santarém – Pará State; and SOS Amazon, Acre) and other tracks that lead to integral sustainability, in which it makes sense to take care of the environment since this is the way to take care of life itself, of children and our future. Marina Silva has called the book “An extraordinary poem to Amazonia”.

Written in easy-to-grasp, accessible language, the book seeks to take science out of the ivory tower and put it to work on the ground, in the hands of people. The release of ‘Fruit Trees and Useful Plants in Amazonian Life’ marked the close of the International Year of Forests.

Some 80% of people living in the developing world rely on non-wood forest products such as fruits and medicinal plants for their nutritional and health needs. This book provides information on Amazon fruits and plants, and is an example of how to make our knowledge accessible for poor people to help them maximize the benefits from forest products and services and improve their livelihoods. The layout of the book aims at allowing readers lacking in formal education to extract knowledge using pictures and numbers. Twenty five percent of people in developing countries are functionally illiterate — in rural areas this figure can reach close to 40%.

“Some 90 Brazilian and international researchers who were willing to present their research to rural villagers in alternative formats — including jokes, recipes and pictures — collaborated in the production of this book,” said Tina Etherington, who managed the publication project for FAO’s Forestry Department. “And a number of farmers, midwives, hunters and musicians contributed valuable insights and experience as well. The book is of interest to a worldwide audience because of its truly innovative way of presenting science and how those techniques can be transferred to other areas in the world.”

Patricia Shanley, Senior Research Associate at CIFOR and lead editor of the publication, said: “This is an unusual book. Written by and for semi-literate rural villagers, it weaves together a tapestry of voices about the myriad values forests contain. The book enables nutritional data and ecology to coexist alongside music and folklore making the forest and its inhabitants come alive.”

The Amazon is the largest contiguous tropical forest remaining in the world, with 25 million people living in the Brazilian Amazon alone. However, deforestation, fire and climate change could destabilize the region and result in the forest shrinking to one third of its size in 65 years, according to today’s publication. In addition to the environmental services they provide, forests like the Amazon are also a rich nutritional storehouse.

Fruits provide essential nutrients, minerals and anti-oxidants that keep the body strong and resistant to disease. Buriti palm fruit, for example, contains the highest known levels of vitamin A of any plant in the world. And açaí fruit is being hailed as a “superfood” for its high antioxidant and omega fatty acid content. Brazil nuts are rich in a complete protein similar to the protein content of cow’s milk, which is why they are known as the “meat” of the plant kingdom, said the publication.

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The legacies of Pusa

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Agricultural Journal of India 1906“In 1904, the Government of India began to recognise its responsibilities in the field of agricultural research. There was a large Government owned estate lylng unused in Pusa (Bihar) to which it was proposed to transfer the research station at Pemberandah. It had already become clear that the Indigo Industry could not be saved, and under these circumstances. However, before this scheme could mature it was superceded by a far more grandiose project under the initiative of the Viceroy Lord Curzon, for an All India Agricultural Service with Pusa as its Research Station under the Central Government and an Agricultural Department in each Province, with its research station and college at which district staff was to be trained.” This memory of more than a century ago comes via ‘Hugh Martin Leake: A Historical Memoir’, an article by N C Shah, in the Indian Journal of History of Science (2002).

Agricultural Journal of India 1906Even more interesting is the role of A O Hume in the establishment of the agricultural sciences centre that Pusa became. “What did Hume hope to do? He began by stressing how much Indian farmers already knew about their soils and climate, about plowing, about crop requirements, and about weeding. (‘Their wheat-fields would, in this respect,’ he said, ‘shame ninety-nine hundredths of those in Europe.’) Still, Hume argued, Indian agriculture had not changed for thousands of years; yields were not two-thirds of what they might be.” This comes from the very absorbing chapter, ‘Agricultural Development in British India’, by Bret Wallach, in ‘Modernisation and the Culture of Development’, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Agricultural Journal of India 1906Wallach continues: ” ‘First and foremost unquestionably stands the increased provision of manure … the crying want of Indian agriculture’. That was Hume’s starting point, and he proposed to develop fuelwood plantations “in every village in the drier portions of the country” and thereby provide a substitute heating and cooking fuel so that manure could be returned to the land. Such plantations, he continues, were ‘a thing that is entirely in accord with the traditions of the country–a thing that the people would understand, appreciate, and, with a little judicious pressure, cooperate in’.”

“Second on his list came an attack on rural indebtedness, chiefly by forbidding the use of land as security, a practice the British themselves had introduced. Hume denounced it as another of ‘the cruel blunders into which our narrowminded, though wholly benevolent, desire to reproduce England in India has led us.’ Third, Hume wanted government-run banks, at least until cooperative banks could be established.”

Agricultural Journal of India 1906“Beyond these things, he noted, there were ‘innumerable other minor matters’ waiting for the department. They included the provision of seeds, the reclamation of salty soils, and plant breeding, a point on which he was astute enough to warn against selection merely for grain size: it was essential, he understood, to choose varieties suited to local physical and cultural conditions. He finished his list with a call for agricultural machinery, especially wind pumps, which he thought promising in a country where ‘gigantic wind-power (second only to the equally unutilised sun-ray power) is running to waste, utterly uncared for over the whole empire’.”

Written by makanaka

December 6, 2009 at 22:15