Yes, I’ve been away. No, I’m not going to anguish here about all the dead olive trees still littering the landscape of Salento. And though I will continue the break from producing podcast episodes, I do intend to resume regular production of the newsletter.
If you care about antibiotic resistance, you probably know that a lot of antibiotics are routinely fed to livestock as growth promotors and prophylactics. You may be surprised, however, to learn that crops too are dosed with antibiotics. (I wrote about one example briefly earlier this year.) That’s a problem for all sorts of reasons, as a new report from CABI makes clear. (There’s a press release too.)
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that only 3% of countries have a system in place for monitoring antibiotics on crops, compared to 23% that monitor use in animals and 26% that monitor use in humans.The lack of data, however, does not reflect lack of use. According to the press release:
[A]ntibiotics, some of which are considered critically important for human medicine, are being recommended for use on over 100 crops and in some cases in copious quantities and as prophylactic treatments.
The paper … estimate[s] that annually 63 tonnes of streptomycin and 7 tonnes of tetracycline (both critically important antibiotics in human medicine) are sprayed on the rice crop in South East Asia alone. In some years and in some regions nearly 10% of rice recommendations featured an antibiotic.
Advisors are also often recommending antibiotics for problems where they will do absolutely no good, such as insect pests.
The authors conclude:
Relative to medical and veterinary use the quantities used globally are comparatively small, but this niche does provide some unique avenues by which resistance could develop in human pathogens. Results presented here have implications for those wanting to limit the spread of antibiotic resistance.
Implications for the rest of the world too, I reckon.
Two Tunisian farming systems have been designated as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems by FAO.
Ghar al Milh is a little town on the edge of an almost totally enclosed lagoon on the northern coast of Tunisia. Farmers there grow their crops using a method called ramli, which means on sand. According to FAO, “the roots of the plants are fed throughout each season by rainwater stored and floating on the surface of the sea”. There’s a little more on the GIAHS website, but not much, and not enough to persuade me that the farmers weren’t instructed by an intelligence greater than I can possibly imagine.
Djebba, on the other hand, is a mountain community southwest of Tunis. Here too, water is the key, irrigating natural and built terraces. FAO calls them hanging gardens, but to me they look more like clinging gardens. The main product is figs, which enjoy an AOC protection, although they also grow an impressive range of other fruits and vegetables and raise a local breed of sheep called “Black Thibar”. Thibar is the name of the wider area that includes Djebba.
Both sound like wonderful places to visit. Eventually.
Gastro Obscura reports on one woman’s quest to document the disappearing practices of citrus growers in Italy. Much of this will be familiar to anyone who has read Helena Attlee’s wonderful book The Land Where Lemons Grow (or listened to our conversation). Still, it’s nice to see photos of some of the indigenous technology that growers use to nurture their plants.
I was particularly taken with the little terracotta pots, filled with water, that growers put inside the limonaie, or lemon houses, on the shores of Lago di Garda in northern Italy. “If ice forms on the water,” I learned, the farmers “know it’s too cold and light a controlled bonfire near the limonaia to warm the trees.” No new fangled thermometers or electric heaters for them!
Brigid Ransome Washington reminisces about coco bread, “the taste of freedom” for people from the Caribbean, in a piece for Food and Wine. It’s a good read about the power of a staple food to evoke specific emotions and surmount social divisions. I do have some questions, though. Ransome Washington says that these little buns “are oftentimes served stuffed … with creamy cheddar cheese”. What can that be? The main attraction of cheddar cheese is its sharpness, surely.
Also, while agreeing that the origin of coco bread is a mystery, she writes:
Its humble composition and satiating ability are a reflection of the masterful way enslaved Africans—and later, indentured Indian laborers—who worked on Caribbean sugar plantations used enterprise to create something out of nothing.
Am I missing a deep irony in the use of “masterful”? Or am I just being hypersensitive?
In any case, there’s a recipe too. I won’t be making it any time soon, as for me coconut oil and coconut milk would be exotic ingredients that would not remind me of anything much, but don’t let that stop you.
Harper’s Magazine has a great article focused on “New Communities, a black farming cooperative founded in the Sixties”. It is about land, and the ownership of land, and how that determines so much of life for a wide range of communities.
The New Communities story is one of systemic racism, finally addressed in a landmark legal case against the United States Department of Agriculture, which the black farmers won (I knew about it from John Biewen’s podcast episode Losing Ground in the Five Farms series). The judgement didn’t end racism against black farmers, nor did it restore the New Communities farm. But it did give New Communities another chance, and the unlikely origins and far-reaching consequences of New Communities makes for a great read.
And a parting squib: FAO and some partners recently hosted Collaboration on Promoting Quinoa (Part 1). Why? Because “[w]ith the threats of climate change, it is extremely important to cultivate salt and drought tolerant crops such as quinoa to enhance climate-smart agriculture”. I missed it at the time, but perhaps I’ll catch up on YouTube before Part 2, scheduled for 28 July. Probably not, though.
All the best, and take care,