Sunday, October 14, 2007

Did farming originate with the need for fibre NOT food?

The development of farming in prehistory is commonly believed to be driven by the domestication of plants for food, thought to have taken place in the fertile triangle of the Middle East. Plant domestication has also occurred in other areas, especially if one looks outside the traditional cereal crops. Some argue that facts do not always fit the theory, and that other causes may have driven plant domestication.

A recent article argues very cogently that the need for fibre NOT food, brought the development of cropping / farming and plant domestication.

See and make your own conclusions.

People turned to farming to grow fibre for clothing, and not to provide food, says the author who challenges conventional ideas about the origins of agriculture.

Ian Gilligan, a postgraduate researcher from the Australian National University, says his theory also explains why Aboriginal Australians were not generally farmers. Gilligan says they did not need fibre for clothing, so had no reason to grow fibre crops like cotton. He argues his case in the current issue of the Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association.

"Conventional thinking assumes that the transition to farming was related to people's need to find new ways of getting food," says Gilligan. "That doesn't really make sense for a number of reasons."

Gilligan says it doesn't explain why cultivating plants and domesticating animals only started 10,000 years ago in some areas of the world. He says a better explanation is climate. Cold winds, in the northern hemisphere during the last ice age when was 12-15ÂșC cooler than today, led hunters and gatherers to develop sophisticated forms of clothing.

This included tailored and multilayered clothes, including underclothes, to keep out the cold winds, says Gilligan. Animal hides and furs from hunted animals provided the most suitable warm clothing, he says. But once the climate warmed, humans wanted lighter and more breathable clothing. Textiles based on fibre crops such as cotton, linen and hemp and woolly animals like sheep and goats did the job. At the same time, says Gilligan, clothing became important as a form of display and decoration.

This issue has long been a consideration for those involved with agricultural science, especially in the areas of plant domestication, plant genetic conservation and related areas. The paper is a well argued thesis and does definitely pose some issues to consider. Even a few eminent agricultural scientists including Dr Lindsay Falvey [ ex Melbourne Uni Professor of Agriculture] tend to agree with the concept.

We will probably never know, but this paper certainly creates some new thinking, and opens up a range of options to reconsider.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Drought is slowly but surely killing temperate Australia. What is probably the worst drought in white settlement history has been strangling the rural sector in this country for 5- 7 years. In the north, it is not that noticeable........but as food prices now inexorably rise, we will all notice the effects. However, in the north of Australia we have our scourge investigation into developing northern Australia chaired by Senator Bill Heffernan.....but that is another story, still unfolding.

Aid from government to drought affected areas has been provided but the article here questions the effectiveness of the policy. But prudent farmers once again, seem to be discriminated against. Would not it be better giving the money to the farmers?

Provocative, interesting and maybe a bit off the mark in some areas, but essentially offers an alternate the $$ where it will most useful.
Prayers, cloud seeding, mystical chants.....................even visits by politicians ....all are welcome if it will bring rain!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Biofuels -will they impact on water?

Green energy, blue impacts:Biofuels aggravate water scarcity

In the biofuel discussion, water has not received the attention it deserves. It is high time it does.
Pursuing biofuels in water short countries turns green energy into a blue threat.

A recent scenario analysis by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) indicates that biofuels will add to the strain on already stressed water resources.

Biofuel production will increase demand for land at the expense of nature.

It will also require large quantities of water, already a major constraint to agriculture in many parts of the world.

An estimated 40% of the world’s population lives in areas where water scarcity must be reckoned with. IWMI’s research under the Comprehensive Assessment of Water Mangement in Agriculture shows that at a global average, the biomass needed to produce one litre of biofuel evaporates between 1000 and 3,500 liters of water, under prevailing conversion techniques.

IWMI uses the WATERSIM model consisting of two integrated hydrological and economic modules to support its analysis. Using this model, IWMI has explored the water and land implications of increased biofuel production globally with a special focus on two countries : India and China. In India more than 60% of the cereals are irrigated. In China, more than 70%.

Almost all Indian sugarcane - the crop that India uses to produce ethanol - and about 45% of Chinese maize – China’s main biofuel crop - is irrigated. Both countries, responding to severe water shortages, initiated large projects to transfer water from water abundant to water short areas. These projects are controversial because of their costs, environmental impacts, and number of displaced people by big dams.

Charlotte de Fraiture, an IWMI scientist and lead author of the biofuels study says, “Biofuel production in China and India raises special concerns, because the crops to be used for biofuels—maize in China and sugarcane in India—would rely mainly on irrigation. “Even without increased biofuel production, water scarcity in these countries will worsen, as rising incomes and growing populations boost food demand.”

India and China have set ambitious goals for biofuel production to curb their rapidly growing appetites for fossil fuel imports.

Together, they account for almost 70pc of projected worldwide growth in oil demand between now and 2030.

Yet, the two countries are already struggling to find enough water to grow the food they need.

The survey also found, however, that at the global level, the rush to boost production of ethanol from crops like maize and sugarcane will most likely have only a modest impact on water use and food systems.

The report focuses on the many areas where water is already scarce, with special focus on China and India.

Unless other less water intensive alternatives are considered, the conclusion is that biofuels are not environmentally sustainable in India and China. Discussions on biofuel energy should put green energy into a blue context and take water issues into account.

While this may not be the same in other countries, particularly if crops are not irrigated, it is the outcome for these two countries where biofuel is being increased. India also has potential to develop other crops including Jatropha [ see this blog] that are labour intensive, but do not use valuable cropland or water.

The real issue is that energy use is likely to affect food production.

For more information

Also see :Linkages between Energy and Water Management for Agriculture in Developing Countries - Conference Papers (January 2007)

[partially sourced from IWMI]

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Reclaimed Water Grows Vines for Great Wines in South Australia

Reclaimed water produces the right bouquet in SA vines Australia
Monday, 1 October 2007

People may turn up their noses at the thought of using reclaimed water, but a study by the South Australian Research and Development Institute has found that it is not just an alternative source of water for crops, but may be more beneficial than mains water.

Dr Belinda Rawnsley, who led the three-year $350,000 study funded by the Grape and Wine Research Development Corporation, says the results are good news for vignerons and horticulturists looking for sustainable irrigation. "I think this is the way of the future, particularly for the viticulture industry, which is desperate for alternative water supplies," Dr Rawnsley said. Her work has focussed on a vineyard at McLaren Vale, which was established when reclaimed water first became available in the Willunga Basin region through the Willunga Basin Water Company in 1999. "This vineyard has used reclaimed water, from day one, in a trial specifically set up to compare mains and reclaimed water for irrigation of vines," she said.

Earlier and on-going studies by SARDI's Mike McCarthy have shown there is no difference in yield between vines irrigated with reclaimed or mains water. "My study was the first to look at the effect of using reclaimed water, if any, on soil biology," Dr Rawnsley said. "I fully expected to find that there would be more soil borne pathogens or diseases and higher levels of microbial activity. "However, there were actually less pathogens in the soil which is good, and there were indeed higher levels of microbial activity. "This is also a great finding because the higher levels of microbes improve nutrient transfer to the vine."

The Willunga Basin Water Company takes treated water from SA Water's Christies Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant, 10 kilometres north of the Willunga Basin, and pumps it via 70km of pipeline to more than 90 users whose properties cover more than 1500 hectares. The Christies Beach plant treats about 10,000 megalitres of wastewater a year and about a third of that is being used by the WBWC for irrigators. The remaining treated wastewater is pumped out to sea.

The WBWC will eventually have the capacity to take most of the wastewater from the plant.

This study adds to the pressure for improved use of reclaimed water for agricultural and horticultural use in many additional areas of Austraia, rather than wasting it!

In the Northern Territory it points to a definite potential for inceased reuse from a very low base.