World population just surpassed the big round number of 7,000,000,000. Mankind reached its first billion just as the 19th century got underway. That feat of fecundity required eons. It took us just 12 years, however, to tack on the last billion. We’re definitely on a roll.
You might say we were risk averse. When I was growing up, the 5-generation family farm had cows (milk and beef), pigs, chickens and guinea fowl, fruit trees and berries. The main crops were cotton, maize, sorghum and soybean, rotated, but there were also vegetables and flowers. And there was a tractor and there were mules – each providing insurance in case the other broke down.
Every year, in a tradition dating to the 1940s, thousands gather in the Spanish town of Buñol for La Tomatina, a giant “food fight”, in which participants gleefully pelt each other with tomatoes and get very, very messy. There’s blood in the streets, but it belongs to the tomatoes...
A decade ago, internet mania coursed through the world’s equity markets. For a brief time, Cisco, a maker of internet routers and switchers (does anyone really know what they do?) had the highest market value of any company in the world.
Late in the summer of 1941, Abraham Kameraz and Olga Voskresenskaia were harvesting potatoes. Frantically. Scientists specializing in the tubers, they oversaw the Soviet Union’s vast breeding-stock collection of 6000 varieties conserved in the fields of the Pavlovsk Experiment Station 45 km southeast of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).
Recently I was being interviewed over the phone by a journalist and was trying to explain why crop diversity is important. “It’s the raw material for plant breeding,” I intoned. Silence on the other end of the line.
It was an inauspicious beginning. Days after the international community failed to establish legally binding measures to halt climate change, the UN launched the International Year of Biodiversity. Scientists predict climate change will directly imperil one-fourth of the Earth’s species.
Bumping along in a Land Rover an hour's drive outside Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Regassa Feyissa, former director of Ethiopia's national genebank, waved his arm towards the fields. "Everything you'll see today that's green is lathyrus". It was literally true.