Monday, April 20, 2009

Creative Agriculture

From the trip I took to Argentina and Uruguay, I remember being shocked at how unbelievably inefficient the agricultural systems were - modern farming techniques could increase the yield on the same land by an absurd amount, helping to mitigate poverty.

Countries farther north are much, much worse - they are poorer, suffer from diseases, have even greater political instability and destroy the land they have - usually stripmined rainforests.

I remember thinking at the time that the introduction of wheat- and corn-based diets was a stark negative, because these crops are difficult to grow and strip the soil. I remember thinking potatoes would be better because they can be grow in tougher soil, have double the caloric yield, and require less processing.

Even better, it seems, is the Maya nut.

"With one tree able to produce as much as 400 pounds of food a year, using the Maya nut prevents rain forest clear-cutting to harvest other foods and increases populations' food supplies. Dried, the Maya nut can be stored for up to five years -- a lifeline for regions with frequent drought.

The Maya nut has high levels of nutrients including protein, calcium, fiber, iron and vitamins A, E, C and B.

"For some reason, people have stopped eating this food, which is one of the most nutritious foods you can get," Vohman said.

It is also less susceptible to climate changes than the crops that had been brought in to replace it."

...a staple food that can be grown without cutting the rainforest would bring about tremendous environmental and economic benefits to the countries that use it. Of course, potato farming and Maya nut growing happens on totally different terrain, so they're not mutually exclusive.

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