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Where Our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov's Quest to End Famine [Format Kindle]

Gary Paul Nabhan
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Présentation de l'éditeur

The future of our food depends on tiny seeds in orchards and fields the world over. In 1943, one of the first to recognize this fact, the great botanist Nikolay Vavilov, lay dying of starvation in a Soviet prison. But in the years before Stalin jailed him as a scapegoat for the country’s famines, Vavilov had traveled over five continents, collecting hundreds of thousands of seeds in an effort to outline the ancient centers of agricultural diversity and guard against widespread hunger. Now, another remarkable scientist—and vivid storyteller—has retraced his footsteps.
In Where Our Food Comes From, Gary Paul Nabhan weaves together Vavilov’s extraordinary story with his own expeditions to Earth’s richest agricultural landscapes and the cultures that tend them. Retracing Vavilov’s path from Mexico and the Colombian Amazon to the glaciers of the Pamirs in Tajikistan, he draws a vibrant portrait of changes that have occurred since Vavilov’s time and why they matter.
In his travels, Nabhan shows how climate change, free trade policies, genetic engineering, and loss of traditional knowledge are threatening our food supply. Through discussions with local farmers, visits to local outdoor markets, and comparison of his own observations in eleven countries to those recorded in Vavilov’s journals and photos, Nabhan reveals just how much diversity has
already been lost. But he also shows what resilient farmers and scientists in many regions are doing to save the remaining living riches of our world.
It is a cruel irony that Vavilov, a man who spent his life working to foster nutrition, ultimately died from lack of it. In telling his story, Where Our Food Comes From brings to life the intricate relationships among culture, politics, the land, and the future of the world’s food.

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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Great book, on a scientist that should be better known 28 octobre 2014
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Vavilov should be worldwide known for his work on plant diversity. Unfortunately he is not. Paul Nabhan followed his pace in dozen of countries. He gives us a vivid and comprehensive story of the scientist's work and his life, relevant to our time.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 In the Foodsteps of Giants 25 novembre 2008
Par Rafael Routson - Publié sur
Where our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov's Quest to End Famine. Gary Paul Nabhan. Island Press: Washington, 2008. 214 pp., $24.95 hardcover (ISBN-13: 978-1-59726-399-3, ISBN-10: 1-59726-399-0).

Reviewed by Rafael J. Routson, Department of Geography and Regional Development, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ.

In the Foodsteps of Giants:

In his latest scientific and cultural pursuit, Where Our Food Comes From, Dr. Gary Paul Nabhan tracks the footsteps of Russian seed scientist Nikolay Vavilov across five continents, tracing the centers of diversity of domesticated food crops. These two scientists, whose work reaches into three centuries, embarked upon their quests in the context of a critical race, for Vavilov a pursuit against famine in his own country and then the snarls of the communist government, and for Dr. Nabhan a race against the irreversible loss of the world's genetic food crop diversity. The stories of each scientist, spaced fifty to seventy years apart in their journeys provide a multi-tiered study of past and current tapestries of seeds, fruits, roots, and tubers, as well as the farms, farmers, seed collectors, and seed protectors in Europe, Asia, Africa, and North and South America. This book emerges at a pivotal time in agricultural history, as economic and political factors severely threaten the future of food diversity and food security around the globe. In the times of Nikolay Vavilov, nation-wide famines propelled the young scientist to seek strains of crops from around the world to locate genes resistant to pests, disease, and unpredictable weather conditions. Dr. Nabhan follows the routes of the Russian scientist, tracing the centers of seed diversity, and noting shifts in the agricultural practices and traditions as well as the climatic, social, and political changes that have occurred in the previous half century, to place their combined searches in an international political ecology context, the findings not just for the benefit of one nation, but for the long-term health and survival of humanity and global agrobiodiversity.

As a lifelong goal, the Russian seed scientist Nikolay Vavilov sought to locate the centers of origin and diversity of cultivated plants and to collect the entire range of seed diversity on five continents. Vavilov not only gathered the seeds, but he took extensive field notes regarding cultivation, harvesting, preparation, farm and topographical characteristics, the vernacular names, uses, and lore. He was conversant in fifteen languages and traced the linguistic and cultural histories of the seeds as well as the genetic origins. Nikolay Vavilov founded an extensive seed bank and research center, and was also a proponent of in-situ conservation, of seeds remaining in the hands of the farmers world-wide and continuing to evolve in the myriad environments of the farmers' fields. Vavilov noted diminishing seed diversity, a phenomenon later known as genetic erosion, and he promoted agrobiodiversity as a cornerstone of food security. The Russian scientist is both championed and criticized for his extensive seed collecting efforts, and he himself knew that collecting seeds from one country for use in another is never ethically or politically neutral (147).

K. B. Wilson, in the introduction to Where our Food Comes From, writes that virtually no crops have been domesticated in modern times, and that science has failed to develop any new crops at all (xiv); even with the extensive work in hybridization and genetic engineering, the true breadth of seed diversity stems from millennia of isolated and interrelated farmers, tribes, and villages selecting and reproducing the crops that sustained, and still sustain all of humanity. The web of agrobiodiversity includes interactions among plant, animals, and cultures, a dynamic process of interchange and multi-directional influences. Wild relatives along field edges cross and backcross in reticulate evolution with domesticated plants and animals to increase pest tolerance and exchange the genes of survival necessary for specific ecosystems. These wild and domesticated biota shape and are shaped by cultures, blurring the boundaries between human and wild, revealing a millennial-length collective adaptation as a dynamic, living entity.

Shifting economic and political tendencies and implementation of new agricultural and industrial technologies have triggered a dramatic decrease in seed diversity around the globe. These changes are hard to measure because early documentation of intricate farmer-field-environment interactions is virtually non-existent. The techniques of measuring genetic erosion emerged with the technology of creating genetic fingerprints for plant and animal varieties, but even this knowledge has come late in the process; much of the world's seed diversity has already disappeared. Funding pours in for biotechnology but not the protection and promotion of seed, cultural, and biological diversity. In the current cultural and political climate of starvation, international seed companies merging with pharmaceutical and agricultural chemical companies, seed patenting, and outcries for seed sovereignty, Dr. Nabhan follows a delicate and acute line, seeking the vein and pulse of these issues. Add to this a physical climate changing at a rate that is already forcing extinctions; even domesticated crops once grown at one altitude can no longer survive in the areas in which they evolved. Dr. Nabhan travels, not as a seed collector, but as a witness, using Vavilov's detailed and meticulous field notes to assess the changing nature of the world's agrobiodiversity.

In his early explorations, Nikolay Vavilov developed and pursued the idea of a correlation among cradles of cultural and biological diversity. A greater richness in seed diversity, he hypothesized, could be found in mountainous areas more than in the fertile, agricultural plains. In the mountains, the climatic, elevation, topographic, vegetation, and soil gradients would foster isolated communities associated with greater language and species richness. Vavilov developed the term "nuclear centers of diversity" that later scientists such as Carl Sauer used when mapping the centers of origin for crop plants and Norman Myers and the World Wildlife Fund correlated later with biological "hotspots of biodiversity" (18). The nuclear centers mapped by Vavilov, cover only 1/5 of the world's landmass, but hold a high percentage of wild and domesticated species diversity. These places are also rich in indigenous knowledge and integrated practices of managing both the wild and the cultivated for maximal landscape potential. These centers of biodiversity now drive conservation planning and dictate the funneling of conservation dollars, however, scientists and policy makers have been slow to acknowledge the integrated nature of cultures in these centers of biodiversity. They have excluded many indigenous groups from the "protected" areas, aggravating an already declining state of cultural and biotic erosion.

Vavilov began his international seed-questing travels in the Middle East and Asia in 1916. He was delayed, detained, and interrogated by local and international police suspect of his purpose. He survived political harassment and the inherent difficulties of traveling to the far reaches of the world by vehicle, train, mule, horse, camel, and caravan, crossing mountain ranges, fording rivers, and pursuing paths into the interiors of continents to find his coveted seeds. He first collected seeds in Persia, and continued into Kyrgystan, Mongolia, and Tajikistan, locating one of his nuclear centers in the Pamir Mountain Range in Central Asia. The Pamirs are third highest mountain landscape in the world, rising above five thousand meters, with cold desert valleys between glacier covered peaks. The extreme conditions, rugged landscape, and long history of human habitation have provided a natural laboratory for crop evolution and resilience (46). Vavilov took precise notes that can still be used to assess the climate and crop correlations, pressure readings for elevation, and he described geographic patterns in crop diversity. Dr. Nabhan, on his own journey to the Pamirs in 2003, documented a dynamic cultural and physical landscape. Dr. Nabhan writes that climate change is accelerating glacier melt in the high altitudes, leading to a changing upper limit of wheat, rye, oat, and potato crops and livestock grazing, while the cold rivers of glacier runoff decreased the temperatures in the valleys (56). Farmers struggle to move their crops higher up the mountains slopes, even planting orchards at unprecedented elevations with the foresight that the climate will be suitable by the time the trees are old enough to bear fruit. The traditional farmers have ever-dynamic practices, adapting to the variations presented by topography, climate, and social and political pressures, but the accelerated rate of climate change presents unprecedented challenges to the adaptation of food crops and farming methods.

Changing political regimes, trade agreements, and national boundaries affect seed diversity in localities and the exchange of seeds between localities. Dr. Nabhan traced the Russian scientist's work to his own Nabhan family roots in the Levant in Greater Syria. Gary Paul Nabhan's great-grandfather emigrated from Lebanon following political turmoil in the 1860s when traditional agricultural crops were abandoned for silkworm production, leading to half a century of a food crisis, disease, and massive starvation. Both scientists arrived in the Fertile Crescent in the midst of political and social turmoil to seek wheat varieties in Lebanon, Syria, and Bekaa. They traveled to the Magreb oases to find date palm and desert crops across northern Africa where traditional crops were grown in polycultures near the artesian springs to form multi-tiered oases. The oases, once reached by camels, are now within easy access by virtue of paved roads, and though Dr. Nabhan documents that the perennial cover has not changed, the number of exotic varieties of fruits and nuts has increased while the local varieties of olives, dates, pomegranates, and figs, among many, have greatly decreased. In Ethiopia, the scientists pursued crop diversity in a region that holds the oldest known remnant of human civilization in the Great Rift Valley. Famine has swept the region, triggered by political upheaval, but the endemic races still abound, the diversity fostered by the topographical diversity and broad elevation ranges. Vavilov and Nabhan both found stunning polycultures of mixed grains and a tapestry of legumes, pasture grass, cereals, and vegetable patches. The mixed crops were and continue to be the keys to resilience in the region. A local organization known as the Ethiopian Plant Genetics Resource Center promotes the conservation of local use of crops, livestock, medicinal, and microbial diversity.

Vavilov undertook his expedition to South America while political struggles in Russia plummeted the country again into a massive famine. Unfortunate weather conditions combined with the social collectivization of fields, which failed to increase yields for many reasons, lead to a mass starvation that took the lives of 2.5-4.8 million peasants. Vavilov found in the South American rain forests co-managed ecosystems, now termed Anthropogenic forests, as indigenous tribes shaped the spatial and temporal dynamics of their landscape. The rainforests faced then and continue to experience extensive destruction, and the indigenous people are forced to leave or flee deeper into the forests; the entire system is subject to the needs of a growing population and demands of political structures within and among countries. After his journey to the rainforests, Vavilov faced the end of his own career and life as well: Stalin was growing increasingly discontent with a scientist and scientific pursuit he considered to be frivolous and incapable of pacifying the starving populous. In 1940 he had Vavilov arrested and imprisoned, a scapegoat on which he could place the blame of the millions of people dying of starvation. Who would live and who would die brings to the forefront a story of seeds and their passionate collectors and protectors, but the life of the Russian seed scientist holds a critical place in the larger struggles and story of global food crop, culture, and biological diversity.

The fate of agricultural diversity lies intimately linked to the chaotic politics that refuse to acknowledge the existence or importance of the genetic diversity that still prevails in seed banks and farmers' fields. Even as the necessity of protecting seed diversity has gained recognition, complex politics surround issues of in-situ and ex-situ conservation. The rise of industrial agriculture depends on the seed diversity developed in subsistence agriculture through millennia. The new economic and industrial systems, while promoting a few selected and manipulated varieties around the world, are at the same time destroying the base on which they depend for survival. Transnational corporations now have collections of patented seeds, gathered from subsistence villages, that they manipulate and sell back to the villagers with the requisite fertilizers. "Developed" nations depend on these under developed nations for diversity, but the farmers are not compensated and often marginalized in the process. Seed banks, ex-situ, or off-site repositories of agricultural diversity, are a flawed and insufficient strategy; seeds die in storage, become contaminated during grow-outs, and lose their place in the hands of cultures and the dynamic process of micro-evolution to specific environments. Most seed banks do not have ensured long-term financial support, nor have duplicate specimens of their seeds. Most farmers do not have access to the seeds held within, though many transnational seed companies do have access. In-situ conservation or on-site conservation keeps the seeds in the hands of the farmers to be part of the on-going selection and evolution process, but remains vulnerable to climate changes, shifting politics ad economies, trade agreements, transnational corporations, floods, famines, and war. Seed sovereignty, a grassroots movement to cling to in-situ conservation of local varieties has gained global momentum, and community organizations such as Parque de La Papa in Peru help keep seeds and farmers linked in living agrobiodiversity systems. Dr. Nabhan and Vavilov both pursued the far reaches of crop diversity, working to promote both in-situ and ex-situ conservation, but the call still persists and their voices continue to shout in the hurricane of power and money and global forward movement.

Dr. Nabhan writes a story that both educates and challenges the reader; he brings to light the work of a prominent though largely forgotten crop scientist, while threading the pertinent issues, past and present that transform all regions of the globe. Within this framework, Where our Food Comes From reaches to the past to stimulate, motivate, and inspire its readers to work toward the conservation of cultural and food crop diversity. He leads us into remote regions and gives just enough of a flavor for the reader to realize the extensive knowledge and genetic diversity both present within and disappearing from every ecosystem and landscape. Local and regional movements have the most potential to save, promote, and support the genetic diversity harbored within landscapes and ensure a future for humanity. Dr. Nabhan writes of food democracy, and the rights of all individuals to have choices in access, production, transportation, and availability of their food, but like all democracies, this depends on the education and awareness of the people within and the power of the rural and underprivileged to have a say in politics. Agricultural and wild lands, the terms not mutually exclusive, are succumbing to urban development at a rapid pace globally. The reader feels the urgency of this text, of the haunting voices of those who have died working to promote and save genetic diversity, and the scale of the challenge faced now by those who choose to be conscious of the forces at work and the undertake their own journeys in promoting global food security and food crop, cultural and biological diversity.

Key Words: Agrobiodiversity, Vavilov, Centers of diversity.
16 internautes sur 17 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 An Excellent Story About An Amazing Man 1 avril 2009
Par J. Canestrino - Publié sur
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
For those who picked up this book thinking it was another timely tome taking advantage of the "locivore" movement, you will be disappointed. This book is much more than that and I would have gladly given it 4.5 stars if I could have, having only a couple of reservations about it. The core of the story is about the life and travels of the great Russian plant pathologist and geneticist Nikolay Vavilov. Vavilov is known for developing the theory that certain areas of the globe represent the centers of biological diversity for many of our agricultural crops and domesticated animals. These areas remain important as sources of great biological diversity not only for the wild species that still grow in the area, but also the many domesticated varieties, landraces, grown by the indigenous farmers. Vavilov also proposed that many areas of great biological diversity would occur concurrently with areas that had many ecological niches (due to changes in elevation, soil quality, moisture availability)in close association.
The author, Gary Paul Nabhan an ethnobotanist and nutritional ecologist, retraces some of the collection trips made by Vavilov to assess the current conditions of those areas to see if they are still practicing their local forms of agriculture, utilizing their native crops and if the natural ecosystems that harbor the wild ancestors of the crop species are still intact. Over and over, the author stresses the need to preserve these areas as sources for genetic diversity which might be needed to develop new cultivated varieties. He also stresses how the indigenous people need to be encouraged to continue their traditional forms of agriculture as means of preserving their culture, so they can continue to be stewards of the local biodiversity and as a means to protect their food supply. These recurring themes will be familiar to those who might have read "Why Some Like It Hot: Foods, Genes and Cultural Diversity" by the same author, a book which focuses on how many cultures and their foods have evolved and adapted together.
My only reservation in recommending the book is it seems at times to be a bit preachy and to rely on rhetoric to persuade the reader to the point of view that modern, industrial agriculture is far inferior to the methods used by indigenous peoples for thousands of years to domesticate their crops and feed themselves. Should you happen to be employed in the seed industry, or even be one of the architects of modern agriculture (a plant breeder), you might want to brace yourself for a bit of abuse from the authors. In the foreword to the book Ken Wilson, the Executive Director of the Christensen Fund, writes, "That greater effectiveness in plant breeding comes from allowing all knowledge to be applied to the problem we know from masses of experience(both positive and negative). The fact that other approaches still get the majority of funding is because of private interests, and sometimes because of the vanities and narrowness of training and perspective of the actors." Nabhan writes in his section on the native farmers of the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico, "...the notion that there might be one superior maize cultivar that will meet all community needs is considered to be a folly among indigenous folk of the sierras; nevertheless it remains the pipe dream of some plant breeders." And in the epilogue Nabhan makes his strongest statement in favor of traditional farming methods, "Moreover, the corporate and academic plant breeders who are the most common recipients of seeds from those repositories typically do work that is a poor substitute for that done on-farm by "vernacular plant breeders"--traditional farmers." So, if you are a professional plant breeder be prepared to be referred to as vain, narrow-minded and poorly trained by the authors of this book.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 a hill of beans 24 août 2009
Par Ryan Costa - Publié sur
Excellent summary of the origins and work of Dr.Vavilov, A man of unique genius, energy, and drive. He survived several famines of Tsarist Russia during his childhood and made it his life's work to improve production taking the approach of a long broad arc.

Dr.Nabhan does an excellent job describing the importance of genetic diversity, and Vavilov's journeys to verify it. As an American, the most important chapters were of Vavilov's research in North America. America is home to nigh-unlimited varieties of potatoes, corn, sunflowers, beans, tomatoes, squash.

Also contains an interesting narrative about Guayule, a desert shrub that is a source of latex for rubber. The facts defy anything an Austrian School economist could conceive of.

In the end Vavilov was made a scapegoat for the failings of Soviet Policies he had nothing to do with. The Kulaks had been eliminated as a class, and Vavilov was eliminated as a source of continued progress for the scientific world.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 An Experience! 18 février 2009
Par Asta V. Schuette - Publié sur
I opened this book thinking it would be a bit textbookish with a tad of that foodie condescension. I am happy to report that I was quite wrong! It is an amazing story that flows and draws you in. I highly recommend it to anyone concerned about food security, biological diversity, or just interested in history and food anthropology!
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 know where our food comes from. 8 avril 2012
Par Nicola - Publié sur
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
This is a fascinating read and is for anyone moved to educate themselves on the preservation of the diversity of our food sources. What is compelling is the tribute and tracking of the intrepid Nickolay Vavilov who in Russia in the 1920s served his country and humankind by ethnobotanical field studies of the preservation of seed on 5 continents. His ironic death at the hands of Stalin for not staving off the starvation of the Russian masses is a travesty and tragedy and a harsh lesson not only politics, but ecology and botany. Gary Nabhan traces the history and work of this great Russian way-shower and points out the superb quest for preserving diversity from the hands of mono-cropping capitalist giants. It is not a political rant, as much as a sober tour of the greatest hotspots of remaining diversity, and a marvelous examination of seeds and culture as they pertain to landraces. If ever there is a precursor to taste of place and preservation of culture, it lies in the secrets revealed in this book.Terroir is not just seed and climate but the peoples and their linguistics and rituals around growing their plants, naming them and the rituals of preparing them. I personally feel this is a foundational book for the burgeoning seed library movement. It is also one of many greats by Nabhan who writes beautifully and understands the material so well. He is doing much for the revivification of our good sense and ecological wellbeing. After all we are the first generation ever that has been well and truly dislocated from their food sources.
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