Saturday, March 1, 2008

Brief News & Links, 3/1/08


The Global Seed Vault was opened on February 26 in Svalbard, Norway.
Bored into the middle of a snow-topped Arctic mountain, the seed vault has as its goal the storing of every kind of seed from every collection on the planet. While the original seeds will remain in ordinary seed banks, the seed vault's stacked gray boxes will form a backup in case natural disaster or human error erase the seeds from the outside world.
Spain-based nonprofit GRAIN warns against overreliance on seed banks for conserving diversity while the world's farmers plant an increasingly uniform set of crops.
...relying solely on burying seeds in freezers is no answer. The world currently has 1,500 ex situ genebanks that are failing to save and preserve crop diversity. Thousands of accessions have died in storage, as many have been rendered useless for lack of basic information about the seeds, and countless others have lost their unique characteristics or have been genetically contaminated during periodic grow-outs. [...]

The deeper problem with the single focus on ex situ seed storage, that the Svalbard Vault reinforces, is that it is fundamentally unjust. It takes seeds of unique plant varieties away from the farmers and communities who originally created, selected, protected and shared those seeds and makes them inaccessible to them. [...] the system operates under the assumption that once the farmers' seeds enter a storage facility, they belong to someone else and negotiating intellectual property and other rights over them is the business of governments and the seed industry itself.

Action item:

The EPA has proposed a rule change eliminating required reporting of airborne ammonia and hydrogen sulfide emissions by factory farms. While manure pit emissions can cause respiratory and nervous system effects, the EPA has apparently come to the conclusion that reporting is "not useful."

See EPA page here.

The public comment period for this rule change ends March 28 (leave a comment here). Mine:
It is appropriate for airborne toxic emissions of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, which have been shown to potentially cause respiratory and nervous system health effects, to be reported regardless of which industry is the source. Reporting of emissions is not an undue "burden on farmers," where farms are of the size likely to endanger air quality. The reporting requirements in this matter should not be eased, and doing so would be both a threat to public health and an unnecessary giveaway to factory farms, which must be held responsible for their environmental and community impacts.


The Cornell Small Farms Program is offering a $200 online course for beginning farmers.

If we are ever to reclaim our country's tradition of small-scale farming, we will have to find innovative ways to educate a new generation of farmers in their work. Currently, the average age of U.S. farmers is 55, and only 6% are under 35.


Debt relief for (very) small farmers:

India's latest national budget will completely cancel the farm loan debt of all farmers with less than 2 hectares of land, at a cost of $15 billion. While some farm groups feel the land-size cut-off is too small, 80 percent of Indian farmers work less than 1 hectare of land, and the farm sector employs more than 60 percent of the labor force.

On the other hand, farmers have to have had access to credit in the first place for debt forgiveness to be helpful.

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