Remembering how to live here: Historical and traditional agricultural practices for climate change resilience
10.00 – 10.15 Welcome & Introduction to BrIAS
Prof. Dr. ir. Frits Heinrich, Vrije Universiteit Brussel / BrIAS Program Director
10.15 – 10.45 Traditional cereal mixtures for climate resilience
Dr. Alex McAlvay, New York Botanical Garden
10.45 – 11.15 Traditional cultivation practices, crops varieties and resilience along the middle Nile valley
Dr. Philippa Ryan, Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew
11.15 – 11.45 Taiwan Oil Millet (TOM): a new crop for a sustainable future?
Dr. Marina Chang, University College London
11.45 – 13.15 Lunch Break
13.15 – 13.45 Sustainability of Australian Indigenous Foods and Medicines: a Mithaka Country case study
Dr. Duncan Keenan-Jones, University of Manchester
13.45 – 14.15 Lessons from the past: creating ‘living gene bank’ populations of heritage grains in the UK for baking, brewing and distilling
Mr. John Letts & Dr. Marina Chang, Heritage Harvest Ltd. / University College London
14.15 – 14.45 Traditional rice cultivations by Suriname Maroons: resilience, adaptation, and agrodiversity.
Prof. Dr. Tinde van Andel, Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden / Wageningen University & Research
14.45 – 15.15 Coffee Break
15.15 – 15.45 The impact of wheat and barley mixtures on barley yellow dwarf virus and its aphid vectors.
Dr. Anna DiPaola, Cornell University
15.45 – 16.15 Indigenous forest gardens in western Canada
Dr. Chelsey Armstrong, Simon Fraser University
16.15 – 17.00 Final Discussion
- Traditional cereal mixtures for climate resilience
Dr. Alex McAlvay - New York Botanical Garden
Wheat, barley, and other small grains face substantial yield losses under all climate change scenarios. Polycultures/intercropping presents an important strategy for smallholder farmers to mitigate losses due to variable environmental conditions. While this commonly involves sowing combinations of species from different botanical families in the same field or multiple varieties of the same species (varietal mixtures), mixed plantings of multiple species from the same family are less well known. However, the sowing of maslins, or cereal species mixtures, was formerly widespread in Eurasia and Northern Africa and continues to be employed by smallholder farmers in the Pakistan, Lebanon, Greek Islands, the Horn of Africa and elsewhere, where they may represent a risk management strategy for climate variability. Here, I share work with farmers in Ethiopia and Georgia and insights from our literature review. We argue that maslins may balance trade-offs between interfamilial species plantings and varietal mixtures, and expand the total portfolio of traits available for formulating mixtures from varietal mixtures alone. They may also buffer against the impacts of climate trends through passive shifts in species composition in response to environmental pressures. We demonstrate the potential benefits of maslins as an agroecological intensification and climate adaptation strategy and lay out the next steps and outstanding questions regarding the applicability of these cropping systems.
- Traditional cultivation practices, crops varieties and resilience along the middle Nile valley
Dr. Philippa Ryan - Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.
- Taiwan Oil Millet (TOM): a new crop for a sustainable future?
Dr. Marina Chang - University College London
Taiwan oil millet (TOM), once an endemic crop, has attracted attention from academia, business, indigenous communities, and policy makers not only in Taiwan but internationally. TOM can grow in adverse conditions and poor-quality soils. It is resistant to drought, heat, cold, disease, insect pests, salinity, and flooding. TOM has a better nutritional profile than other modern staple foods and can strengthen the immune system. While traditionally TOM is grown within a polyculture, current breeding programmes are focused on transforming it into a more commercial crop. This talk will present our initial thoughts and some questions about TOM in the context of climate change, food security, human health and nutrition and food heritage. For example, what is the role of research, education, regulation, and enterprise in supporting the future of this new crop and the indigenous communities who have kept TOM alive for centuries. We will also draw some comparative references with our work on heritage grains in the UK.
- Sustainability of Australian Indigenous Foods and Medicines: a Mithaka Country case study
Dr. Duncan Keenan-Jones - University of Manchester
This project aims to develop a method of farming Indigenous foods and medicines that is inspired by past Mithaka-managed ecologies and that could be applied in many parts of Australia’s arid interior. Ethnohistory accounts and pollen cores reveal that the Mithaka people and their neighbours in the Channel Country of far west Queensland were employing sophisticated adaptations to the region’s boom-and-bust intermittent water flow prior to and during colonization. Populations far larger than expected for this very arid region were encountered by early European colonists, who left accounts of village sites. Mithaka-managed farming of Indigenous foods and medicines has the potential to store more carbon in and under the landscape – leading to the production and sale of carbon credits – and to create employment for traditional owners on country and in regional areas. By documenting its carbon storage and environmental and cultural significance, the project will help to protect the land, water and culturally significant sites of Mithaka country.
- Lessons from the past: creating ‘living gene bank’ populations of heritage grains in the UK for baking, brewing, and distilling
Mr. John Letts & Dr. Marina Chang - Heritage Harvest Ltd. / University College London
For 10,000 years farmers preserved and enhanced crop diversity by replanting seed from year to year. The ‘landrace’ crops that evolved over generations were resilient and well adapted to low input growing conditions, but were abandoned in most of Europe in the 19th century in favour of monocultures better suited to industrial farming. Crop diversity decreased further after c. 1900 with the introduction of hybrid varieties that were higher yielding – but only when grown with artificial fertiliser and toxic agrichemicals. This production system is now unsustainable and cannot provide food security in a period of rapid climate change. Landraces and crop mixtures offer an alternative production model that emphasises resilience and nutrition rather than yield maximisation. Most UK cereal landraces have been lost except for a few that are being grown on a very small scale in Scotland. Only archaeological evidence survives in England, primarily within the base coats of late Medieval thatched buildings (c. 1300-1600 AD). Guided by this evidence, experimental ‘living gene bank’ populations and mixtures of wheat, rye and barley were created in the early 2000s primarily from gene bank accessions. These are evolving into locally-adapted ‘heritage landraces’ and are now being grown on over 1,000 acres for artisanal baking, brewing and distilling and for thatching.
- Traditional rice cultivations by Suriname Maroons: resilience, adaptation, and agrodiversity.
Prof. Dr. Tinde van Andel - Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden / Wageningen University & Research
Maroons, descendants of enslaved Africans who escaped from plantations in 17th century Suriname, grow rice as their staple crop. They practice traditional slash & burn agriculture, without agrochemicals. By safeguarding ancient African landraces and adapting new varieties to their own benefit, they have sustained themselves independently for centuries. Recent research, combining ethnobotany with oral history, archival and genomic studies, shows that Maroon rice fields contain an extensive agrodiversity. Their rice varieties reflect ancient African rice germplasm, exchanges with other migrant groups and the incorporation of some modern cultivars. In this way, Maroon farmers optimize their rice yield with limited input and spread the risk of adverse or uncertain climate effects. For centuries, Maroon rice was looked down upon by agronomists and colonial authorities. Our research shows that by honoring their ancestors and being open for outside innovation, Maroons have successfully escaped slavery and survived for centuries in the Amazon forest.
- The impact of wheat and barley mixtures on barley yellow dwarf virus and its aphid vectors.
Dr. Anna DiPaola - Cornell University
Species and varietal diversity in agricultural fields can decrease the prevalence of insect-vectored plant viruses. We created mixtures of wheat and barley to evaluate the effect of species diversity, varietal diversity, and a combination of both species and varietal diversity on barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) and its aphid vectors. Aphids colonized species mixtures and barley monocultures in similar numbers. Only the wheat varietal mixture supported lower percent infection than expected based on the average of its components grown in monoculture. This advantage was likely driven by how aphids responded to one of the wheat varieties. Our results demonstrate that understanding the impact of mixture components on vector behavior is essential to creating virus-resistant mixtures.
- Indigenous forest gardens in western Canada
Dr. Chelsey Armstrong - Simon Fraser University