Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bumper durian crop expected July 2008

There are usually two durian crops a year in Peninsular Malayia, in about December and about July. However, last December the crop was very poor. Last night I came across a few durians for sale. I stopped to talk to the stall keeper. He told me his fruits are the last of a miserable crop that he had obtained from Johore. However, he said there will be a bumper harvest in July, because durians all over Peninsular Malaysia are now heavy with little fruits.

Durians take 3-4 months from flowering to fruiting, so the flowering must have occured in end March to early April 2008. A big flowering event in durians usually coincides with a 'gregarious flowering' event in the forests affecting all kinds of trees. Hence I expect a bumper crop of all kinds of forest fruits, and a feast for the animals of the forest in July to August. It has been many years since the last such event.

A bumper crop is not good news for durian farmers, because it means the price will be too low for them to make a profit, or even to pay for the fertilizers and for the labour to pick up the fruits.

Cooked cabbage as snail bait in a water lily pond

The water lily pond in which I grow Victoria lilies (Victoria amazonica)was suddenly invaded by water snails two weeks ago. Although the undersides of the lily leaves are thorny, the thorns give no protection against snails. A friend who was with me recommended using boiled cabbage leaves to trap the snails. We did this, placing lightly cooked leaves on the water every evening. It works. Every morning, there are dozens of snails on each leaf, which our workers remove and destroy. I do not know if we can completely eliminate the snails by repeated trapping, but the Victoria lilies have recovered.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The golden chain, Lophanthera lactescens

One of the most attractive trees introduced to Malaysia in recent years is the golden chain tree, Lophanthera lactescens. This caught the attention of Dr Mahathir, then Prime Minister of Malaysia, during his official visit to Brazil. Shortly after Dr Mahathir's return, I was asked to identify a sample of the plant at the Forest Research Institute Malaysia in Kepong. Within a couple of years, the first plants were being offered for sale, but they were few and expensive and apparently propagated by cuttings or marcots. The trees were able to flower prolifically, but the fruits were all devoid of seeds.

Last month I was greatly surprised to find trees producing apparently viable seeds. I collected and planted the seeds and after one month, they began to germinate.

Plants raised from seeds are genetically variable, while plants propagated by cuttings are genetically uniform. Genetic variation allows for selection of plants best suited for particular needs, in this case, horticultural needs under Malaysian conditions. The original plants would have been adapted to Brazilian conditions and may be suboptimal for Malaysia. We do not know what could be better because we have no basis for comparison and selection. The successful production of seeds opens up the horticultural possibilities.

I can provide seeds to those in Malaysia or Singapore who would like to try them out.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Alternanthera sessilis to treat high blood pressure

On Aug 1, 2007, I posted a blog on Alternanthera sessilis as a treatment for high blood pressure. A few weeks ago a friend asked me for it and I went to the wet market in Kepong to see if it was available. Not only was it available, but several vegetable stalls were selling it, and very cheaply too, at M$ 1.50 per bundle. Each bundle is enough to make three cups of herbal tea. It is quite pleasant to drink. I have tested it on myself, but as I do not have high blood pressure, I cannot vouch personally for its efficacy. However, I hear that this plant (a weed in wet places, easily propagated by cuttings)is now being sold in wet markets all over the country.

Friday, April 04, 2008

GM food and NGO pressure groups

It has been a long time since the last famine in Asia. Now food prices are rising and people are wondering whether there will be a shortage. Where will the next technological advance in crop productivity come from? Has the time come for GM (genetically modified) food?

If there is a choice between hunger and GM, there is no doubt GM will win the popular vote.

The anti-GM lobbies, which have run a successful campaign for two decades will soon be facing a crisis. As a scientist, I think the anti GM lobbies have been running an unreasonable campaign based on fear. A reasonable approach would have been to insist on strict regulation, safety tests and compulsory labelling.

When I was working in the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) and CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research) I was dismayed at how NGO pressure groups in Europe had hijacked the agendas of the development agencies in their countries and had indirectly taken control of the FAO, CIFOR, and other international agencies that depend on funding from those countries. Asians like myself in these organizations had very little influence on the direction of programmes, because our own countries were not footing the bills.

I had been an NGO leader myself in the Malaysian Nature Society in the 1970s and 1980s, but we were a home-grown NGO that did not receive any funding from overseas. The language of European-funded NGOs baffled us. They were, from the start, against big business, against the companies that were producing and marketing improved agricultural seeds, against GM crops, against oil palm, against logging. They were for the right of the poor to remain poor. They preached that shifting cultivation was good and sustainable. Subsistence agriculture was, to them, the way of the future (of course not for themselves, but for Asians and Africans). Developmental aid should only be only for the benefit of the 'poorest of the poor', not to help strengthen weak countries. As an Asian I felt insulted, so I quit my well-paid positions.

The NGOs are not entirely wrong, but they are irresponsible in forcing their social theories on societies to which they do not belong. Instead of promoting good governance, consultation, proper enquiry and research, they indulge in publicity-generating pressure tactics and short-cut dead end solutions. They have had relatively little influence in Malaysia and China and none at all in Singapore, but they are everywhere in Nepal, Philippines, Indonesia, and Africa. When I was in FAO, one consultant back from Ruanda was lyrical about how happy and sustainable Ruanda was, with every family cultivating its own plot of land and making do without cash--the root of all evil. This was Ruanda just before it erupted in ethnic strife and blood-letting. Are there more Ruandas on the way?