Archive for the ‘Indigenous’ Category

Sep15

Winona LaDuke: Protecting Wild Harvests Through the White Earth Land Recovery Project

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By Devon Ericksen

“The recovery of the people is tied to the recovery of food, since food itself is medicine; not only for the body, but for the soul, is the spiritual connection to history, ancestors and the land.”

Winona LaDuke in Recovering the Sacred

Winona LaDuke and the White Earth Land Recovery Project are working to protect wild rice, a sacred part of Anishinaabeg culture (Photo Credit: Star Tribune)

A graduate of both Harvard and Antioch universities, Winona LaDuke is the author of six books, winner of numerous prestigious awards, and two-time Green Party candidate for U.S. vice-president. But what she is most proud of is her Native American heritage.

LaDuke is a member of the Anishinaabeg tribe and Founding Director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project (WELRP), which works to recover the land base of the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota and to restore land stewardship practices, such as the protection of traditional crops and sacred seeds, within the community. This return to healthy, indigenous foods is sorely needed in the U.S. Native American community: 39.6 percent of Native adults are obese, compared to 27 percent of whites, and 25 percent of Native adults in Minnesota have been diagnosed with diabetes, compared to about 7 percent of white adults.

One of the indigenous foods that LaDuke and the WELRP are working to protect is wild rice, a sacred part of Anishinaabeg culture. Wild rice is the only grain native to North America, found mainly in the Great Lakes region. It is higher in protein than other grains and contains numerous vitamins. The Anishinaabeg people have used sustainable harvesting methods for generations, relying on canoes and beater sticks to collect the ripe seeds.

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Mar04

Innovation of the Month: Food Fermentation for Biopreservation

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By Brandon Pierce

Although the word “bacteria” is usually associated with sickness and disease, it is the driving force behind fermentation, a food process on which humans have relied for millennia. Some of the earliest recorded instances of fermentation come from East Asia where, according to William Shurtleff, founder of the SoyInfo Center, the process was used as early as 300 BCE to ferment soybeans.

Fermentation has been used for millennia to preserve and improve the nutritional content of foods. (Photo credit: the DIY Gourmet)

Fermentation historically has had two purposes. Foods undergoing the fermentation process went through remarkable changes in taste, basically allowing for the creation of new foods. Fermentation also served as a way to prevent foods from spoiling. It is referred to as a biopreservation method, or a way to preserve foods using beneficial microorganisms.

In biopreservation, beneficial bacteria are used to prevent food spoilage and get rid of harmful pathogens. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) are probably the most commonly used due to their unique properties and because they are harmless to humans. As LABs compete for nutrients with other bacteria, they release antimicrobials that stop spoilage and inhibit the growth of potentially harmful pathogens.

In functioning as an effective biopreservative, bacteria do not necessarily have to also start the process of fermentation. Generally, bacteria are selected either for their metabolic properties, which cause fermentation, or for their antimicrobial activity, which is important for food preservation. LAB can be used for both.

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Jan30

Sea Buckthorn: A Shrub That’s Good for People and the Environment

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Sea buckthorn, also known as Siberian pineapple, sea berry, sandthorn, or swallowthorn, is a deciduous shrub that grows natively across northern Eurasia. As its name suggests, sea buckthorn’s branches are dense, stiff, and thorny, but its berries can provide nutrition for both people and wildlife.

Sea buckthorn berries offer benefits to both human and environmental health. (Photo credit: www.seabuckthornberries.info)

Sea buckthorn is valued in parts of Europe and Asia for its nutritional and medicinal properties. Its bright orange berries are high in carotenoids, flavonoids, and vitamins A, C, E, and K; in fact, the concentration of vitamin C in sea buckthorn is higher than in strawberries, kiwis, oranges, tomatoes, and carrots. The berries have a fruity yet sour flavor and are often used in juices, jams, sauces, and liqueurs. The silver-gray leaves yield a tea rich in antioxidants, and the plants are even high in essential fatty acids.

While sea buckthorn is currently used medicinally in Russia and China, it has only recently attracted the attention of researchers across the world. Sea buckthorn oil, which can be extracted from seeds, is said to be anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and adaptogenic (helping the body develop resistance to stressors). It is used as a treatment for mucositis, ulcers, radiation damage, burns, and scalds, as well as to relieve pain and promote tissue regeneration. While clinical studies are still needed to fully understand its medicinal benefits, a study by Hamdard University in India shows that sea buckthorn may help protect against diabetes.

Beyond its human health benefits, sea buckthorn also boosts the health of the environment in which it grows. Because its extensive root system can bind together even sandy soils, sea buckthorn prevents water and wind erosion on slopes and in open areas. It is fairly drought and frost resistant, tolerates soil salinity and low temperatures, and can withstand a range of soil pH levels. Sea buckthorn also adds nitrogen to the soil through nitrogen fixation, so it can grow in marginal soils and help restore them.

Sea buckthorn provides food and shelter for a variety of animals. In the Loess Plateau of northern China, 51 species of birds are entirely dependent on the shrub for food.

Despite the relative ease of cultivation, sea buckthorn is difficult to harvest, and machines to efficiently collect the fresh berries are still being developed. Harvesting berries by hand is time consuming (some estimate 600 person-hours per acre, compared to the 120 person-hours per acre required for tomatoes). Until harvesting machines become readily available, large-scale cultivation of sea buckthorn may not be viable.

Given the many potential benefits offered by sea buckthorn, groups such as the European Commission’s EAN-Seabuck network have prioritized the development of economical and sustainable production methods for this plant. In the meantime, sea buckthorn retains its ability to improve environmental and human health on a smaller scale.

Have you ever tried sea buckthorn berries or a product made with them? Let us know in the comments section below.

Carol Dreibelbis is a former research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Food and Agriculture Program.

Dec04

Supporting Climate-Friendly Food Production

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By Laura Reynolds

This summer, record temperatures and limited rainfall parched vast areas of U.S. cropland, and with Earth’s surface air temperature projected to rise 0.69 degrees Celsius by 2030, global food production will be even more unpredictable. Although agriculture is a major driver of human-caused climate change, contributing an estimated 25 to 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, when done sustainably it can be an important key to mitigating climate change.

Agroforestry is one practice that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while adapting to the effects of climate change. (Photo credit: Christensen Fund)

Because of its reliance on healthy soil, adequate water, and a delicate balance of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, farming is the human endeavor most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. But agriculture’s strong interrelationships with both climatic and environmental variables also make it a significant player in reducing climate-altering emissions as well as helping the world adapt to the realities of a warming planet.

The good news is that agriculture can hold an important key to mitigating climate change. Practices such as using animal manure rather than artificial fertilizer, planting trees on farms to reduce soil erosion and sequester carbon, and growing food in cities all hold huge potential for reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the global agricultural sector could potentially reduce and remove 80 to 88 percent of the carbon dioxide that it currently emits. By adopting more-sustainable approaches, small-scale agriculture in developing countries has the potential to contribute 70 percent of agriculture’s global mitigation of climate change. And many of these innovations have the potential to be replicated, adapted, and scaled up for application on larger farms, helping to improve water availability, increase diversity, and improve soil quality, as well as mitigate climate change. (more…)

Nov22

This Thanksgiving, Celebrate Traditional Food Production

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Nourishing the Planet wishes you a happy Thanksgiving!

Check out this op-ed published in Arizona’s Sierra Vista Herald by Nourishing the Planet Director Danielle Nierenberg and research intern Hong Gao. The article discusses the importance of supporting traditional Indigenous food production and culture, on Thanksgiving and throughout the year.

Click here to read the full article.

Oct08

Yaks: The Bison of the Mountains

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By Hitesh Pant

Originating in the “roof of the world,” the yak is an important animal, providing a host of nutritional and practical benefits to the people of the Tibetan plateau. It can withstand freezing temperatures and sparse vegetation, and is a major source of meat, milk, fiber, and hide. Although the population of Bos mustus sharply declined due to the arrival of new farmers who poached their meat for commercial gains, the domesticated yak (Bos grunniens) gradually migrated into Nepal, Bhutan, and Mongolia, becoming an essential driver of economic development in these regions.

Wild yaks are now regionally extinct in Nepal and India, and the demand for domestic pastures has sharply reduced their food source, and with it their population (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Similar in appearance to the North American bison, the yak is characterized by its thick black coat and large dewclaws, both of which are adaptations to the harsh climate of the Himalayas. Perhaps the most striking feature is its round and thick horns, whose open arch gives this bovine an intimidating appearance. The yak reaches sexual maturity by age six, and has an average life span of 23 years.

Seasonal variation of environmental conditions is the biggest limiting factor in yak growth and the main determinant of individual productivity; approximately 25 percent of the body weight gained during the summer is lost over winter and spring, an amount that is difficult to regenerate given the limited availability of year-round grasses. Despite the limitations on growth that they face—low annual rainfall, mean temperatures below 5°C, and seasonal shifts in vegetation—yaks have continued to supplement subsistence farming in the Himalayas and have become an important ecosystem service for the area.

Yak milk is very dense and thick, and its high fat (5.5-7 percent) and protein (4-5.5 percent) content makes it a valuable source of amino acids. Meat, which is primarily derived from castrated or ‘surplus’ males, is an important source of income to the herding families. The thick fur that coats the yak has been extensively used for insulating tin roofs and the growing demand for their fur has resulted in an increase in crossbreeding to bear individuals with the thickest fiber. Although the quality of their hide is lower in comparison to cattle, yak hide is a major source of rawhide in China and is used to pack raw butter, wrap boxes for storage, and felt boots and soles. Farmers use yak feces to make pens and enclosures for winter stocks, and they also paint it on fences to fill cracks.

Known locally as the ‘boat of the plateau,’ the yak serves as an important draft animal and is used for plowing and threshing grain. Likewise, its high endurance makes it ideal to carry loads across large distances without having the need to continually replenish it with water.

Unfortunately, the introduction of motor vehicles in rural Tibet coincided with an increase in commercial poaching, and coupled with the interbreeding of domestic and wild animals, looks to have gradually resigned yaks to the same fate as the bison. Wild yaks are now regionally extinct in Nepal and India, and the demand for domestic pastures has sharply reduced their food source, and with it their population.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Aug27

The Case for Cassava: A Potential Nutritional and Economic Powerhouse

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By Caitlin Aylward

After rice and corn, cassava is the third most important calorie source for people living in tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Although the cassava plant is a lesser-known crop, its rich nutritional content and powerful economic potential has many development specialists interested in the plant.

Cassava is the third most important calorie source for people living in tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Nutritionally, the cassava plant is comparable to a potato, but has a higher fiber and protein content. The cassava plant is primarily harvested for its tuberous root, which is a major source of carbohydrates for many people in the developing world, and contains vital nutrients, including calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin C. Additionally, the leaves of the cassava plant are excellent sources of vitamins, protein, and lysine, an essential amino acid.

The cassava plant grows well in tropical climates with high humidity, and is also a uniquely drought resistant crop that thrives in nutrient-poor soils. Consequently, the cassava plant does not require extra fertilizer or additional inputs, making it an ideal crop for poor farmers.

Although cassava is tolerant to drought and poor soil conditions, it is not well suited to modern farming techniques. Unlike most plants that naturally reproduce on their own, famers can only breed the cassava plant by replanting stem cuttings from parent plants (also known as vegetative reproduction), which is labor-intensive and costly. In addition, the cassava root is bulky and highly perishable, making it difficult to manage. Because of these challenges, researchers have spent less time developing the cassava plant as compared to rice, corn, and wheat.

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Aug21

First Peoples Worldwide Awards Over US$1 Million in Grants to Indigenous Communities

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By Sophie Wenzlau

This past July, First Peoples Worldwide (FPW) reached a milestone of US$1.2 million in grants awarded “directly to Indigenous projects, programs, and communities” around the world. First Peoples, an international, Indigenous-led advocacy organization, seeks to promote economic determination and strengthen Indigenous communities by awarding grants directly to Indigenous Peoples. To fulfill these objectives, the organization provides “Indigenous Peoples with the tools, information and relationships they need to build community capacity to leverage assets for sustainable economic development.”

First Peoples Worldwide has surpassed $1 million in grants to Indigenous organizations. (Image credit: FPW)

According to the United Nations’ State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, “Indigenous Peoples all over the world continue to suffer from disproportionally high rates of poverty, health problems, crime, and human rights abuses.” In the United States, for example, Indigenous Peoples are 600 times more likely to contract tuberculosis and 62 percent more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Worldwide, Indigenous Peoples’ life expectancy is 20 years lower than the non-Indigenous average.

Despite these sobering statistics, Indigenous Peoples are responsible for some of the most vibrant and diverse cultures on earth. Of the world’s 7,000 languages, the UN estimates that over 4,000 are spoken by Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous communities are also strongholds of traditional knowledge, preserving ancient technologies, skills, and beliefs.

The grants awarded by FPW have funded innovative projects in countries like Botswana, Bolivia, Ghana, and Sri Lanka, and have focused on topics as diverse as land reclamation, water development, and traditional medicine.

In Ghana, FPW funded a project designed to prevent wild elephants from destroying farms located along the boundaries of Kakum National Park. The Association of Beekeepers in Ghana, the organization that received the grant, developed the novel idea of constructing a beehive barrier along the community’s perimeter. According to FPW, “the presence of the hives has naturally prevented elephants from crossing the grounds, and the honey production has increased income for farmers through sales, which has improved local commerce.”

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Aug13

Nopal: Prickly and slimy with a medicinal kick

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By Eun Jae Park

The nopal cactus is a staple food that has existed in the native Meso-American diet for more than 12,000 years, and it offers a nutritious supplement to many traditional Mexican dishes. Although there are over 200 edible varieties of the nopal cactus, the broad-leafed vegetable pads of the Opuntia ficus-indica species are most utilized in Mexican cuisine. Nopal cactus pads can be served raw, stir-fried, dried, or pickled and are commonly prepared as side dishes, salads, taco fillings, or omelets. Slimy, citrusy, and slightly sweet, nopal is a unique vegetable that can be an acquired taste.

Farmers can grow nopal in harsh arid climates and at high-altitudes (Photo Credit: Stock.xchng)

In addition, nopal has been extensively studied for its potential health benefits. According to studies conducted by University of California, Los Angeles, nopal is effective in reducing LDL cholesterol—the “bad” cholesterol—and regulating blood sugar for diabetic patients. In addition, 15 percent of nopal’s weight is fiber, making it a great food to manage gastrointestinal tract movement.

Often referred to as “prickly pears” in the United States, nopal pads are being cultivated in Mexico and border-states such as California and Arizona for commercial export. Farmers, chefs, medical researchers, and consumers are recognizing the benefits of nopal and demand has tremendously increased in recent years. The cactus industry in Mexico alone is worth $150 million and employs 10,000 workers.

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Aug06

Durian: King of Fruits or Smelly Feet?

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By Eun Jae Park

Native to tropical Southeast Asia, the durian fruit has been described by some as having an odor and taste ranging from fresh custard to a week-old corpse. Known commonly as the “King of Fruits,” this spiky, egg-shaped fruit has been a vital part of the Southeast Asian diet for centuries. Most commonly consumed raw, durian can also be boiled, fried, fermented, or roasted. Of the 300 native species, only several fruit-bearing varieties of the Durio genus are in common production in Thailand, Malaysia, India, Philippines, Burma, and Vietnam.

The durian fruit is infamous for its odor. (Photo credit: The Houston Museum of Natural Science)

Those who have encountered the durian have described their experience with the fruit as a lifelong love or hate relationship due to its unique smell and flavor. In many Southeast Asian countries, the fruit has been banned from subways and public buildings for its disagreeable odor. Early 20th-century plant explorer Otis W. Barrett described the fruit’s overpowering aroma as having strong notes of “garlic, Limburger cheese, and some spicy sort of resin.”

But Alfred Russel Wallace, a renowned anthropologist from the mid- 19th century, fell in love with the durian and characterized it as “a rich custard highly flavored with almonds… but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream cheese, onion-sauce, sherry wine, and other incongruous dishes.”

The durian industry has expanded beyond Southeast Asia, and durian can now be found throughout the world. From small street vendor stalls in Chinatown, New York to supermarkets in Tokyo, Japan, frozen or fresh durian is now available internationally. According the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, Thailand accounts for approximately half of the world’s annual durian production at 781,000 tons. China alone imported over 138,000 tons of durian from Thailand in 2010, and international demand has only grown since.

Durian lovers worldwide can now enjoy the controversial fruit without having to travel to Southeast Asia. Although durian may not be for everyone, it has certainly earned a special place in the hearts of those who appreciate its unparalleled smell and taste.

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