Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Availability of the book Tropical Horticulture and Gardening

The hardcover edition of Tropical Horticulture and Gardening, published by the Academy of Sciences Malaysia and listed at RM260, is no longer available. I understand that the stocks were stored in a room that was too hot and humid for book storage. The pages got stuck together, making the books unusable.

I was provided with a number of hardcover copies of the book instead of royalties. Of these, 30 copies are still available. In response to requests, I have arranged to place autographed copies at the Hort Park Nursery in 1 Utama (next to Mamak Corner) to sell at RM 100 each. Hort Park Nursery does not have a place to display books so one may have to ask the shopkeeper, Nizam, where he keeps them.

The manuscript was originally offered to Times Publications to publish but it was politely rejected. I also made approaches to Oxford University Press and Timber Press but they declined.

I then worked with a designer to obtain the tightest possible integration of pictures with text. My aim was to provide maximum useful information in the minimum number of pages, while making every page a visual treat. Normally a designer works to a fixed template and leaves the text alone. By working side by side, the designer and I were able to arrive at a nice design solution for every page, sometimes by adjusting the pictures and sometimes by adjusting the text, making full use of the flexibility and power of modern publishing software to resize and move things around instantly. When everything was ready, I had a complete full colour sample hand-printed and bound, which I took to the Academy of Sciences Malaysia.

The Academy had received a grant from Government for publishing scholarly books. It published the book, but it had no marketing experience. The books stayed in its store room during the two years when it had the marketing rights. When that period was over, I searched for a new publisher. A friend took it to the boss of MPH and that is how the book finally made it to the MPH bookshops as an inexpensive soft-cover edition. All set up costs had already been absorbed by me and the Academy.

Thank you, John and Jacq www.jaycjayc.com and Autumnbelle http://www.mynicegarden.com/ for reviews of the book in your gardening blogs.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Avocados for Kuala Lumpur

After my blog about avocados in 2007, I have been getting requests for avocado plants that I have found difficult to respond to on a case-by-case basis. Yesterday I made a deal with a retail outlet at the 1 Utama Shopping Mall. This is a small place called Hortpark Nursery on the Lower Ground Floor, next to the Mamak Corner. I have placed two plants there, which are all that I have to spare at present. Hortpark Nursery will take care of them and sell at RM25 per plant to cover their expenses. Hortpark also sells horticarbon in 5 and 10 kg bags. Shoppers should bring bring their own strong bag for big items. Hortpark is open from 10am to about 6pm.

The avocado plants being made available are seedlings from the best plant of about 20 selected clones that I have tested. The clones were acquired by MARDI (Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Centre) through international collaboration many years ago. The Research Assistant in charge of the collection offered me a duplicate set of this collection. I was at that time establishing the Fruit Tree Arboretum at FRIM (Forest Research Institute Malaysia). He brought me a set of bud-grafted plants all the way from MARDI to FRIM, a considerable distance to cover on his motorcycle, at his own expense. This person was about to retire and felt that his many years of effort would disappear without a trace unless he could pass it on. He was right! Avocados have disappeared from MARDI’s agenda.

I planted most of the clones at FRIM, and a few around my house. Over the next 20 years, some of the trees failed to flower and fruit under our conditions. One flowered but never fruited. One remained stunted at about 3 ft tall. One fruited only after 10 years. One produced oversized fruits, but only in small numbers. The collection in FRIM gradually died out after I retired, but I had already identified and propagated the best tree.

This tree fruited at 6 years old and has been fruiting every year. The fruits are smooth-skinned, green in colour, and medium sized (supermarket size), with smooth pulp. It is self-fertile, which means a single tree is enough to produce fruits. This is the tree that I have been propagating and giving away, but I can only produce a small number at a time.

At about the same time as the avocados were offered to me, another scientist, working at an oil palm research centre, Bakasawit, was about to retire to England. He offered me an international collection of coconut varieties that he feared would be lost upon his retirement. Sadly, I had no place for coconuts in FRIM.

Those were times when scientists collaborated across institutions and did what they thought was best in the public interest. That spirit no longer exists.

There are extensive ‘germplasm’ collections of rubber, oil palm, bananas, sweet potatoes, etc in our research institutes, many acquired through exploration and exchange at great cost and effort. All are in danger of being lost upon the retirement of the scientists who built them up, but it is almost impossible for outsiders to get anything out. They are treated like official secrets.

I am working with UTAR at its university campus in Kampar to set up an agricultural resource centre where we hope to establish our own collections for research, teaching, propagation, distribution and exchange. Avocados will be on the agenda, with other fruits and plants of agri-horticultural interest. We hope to establish an ethical model of trust and collaboration between scientists and the public, without which Malaysian agriculture will stagnate.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fakery versus reality in Malaysia

The Malaysian Press has been busy during the past few days covering the forthcoming Sarawak State Elections and the news of fake eggs being sold in a market in Penang.

The fake egg issue is the more immediate. A non-government expert on fake eggs, interviewed by the press, has warned that fake eggs are made with chemicals, which are dangerous to health. The Consumers Association of Penang has raised the issue with the government, which responded immediately by sending officers to raid the market and seize hundreds of eggs. After cracking open the eggs, the government experts declared the eggs to be real, but to be doubly sure, they decided to send some of the eggs to the Chemistry Department for DNA tests. The results have not yet been announced. Meanwhile the sale of eggs in Penang has plummeted. To ensure the safety of consumers, the government has declared that it will devise a system to ensure that only certified eggs will reach the market. The Consumers Association alleges that the Government officers confiscated and tested the wrong eggs.

The finger of suspicion has been pointed at the usual suspects--unscrupulous entrepreuners in China, who have already been implicated in faking milk powder, buns, music CDs, Omega watches, Gucci handbags, etc, etc. They seem to have now targeted Malaysia, capitalizing on the inability of Malaysians to distinguish real eggs from clever fakes. If they can fool people in Penang, they can fool people anywhere. The shop keeper from whom I buy eggs is a very worried man because he does not know how to tell a real egg from a clever fake although he has been selling eggs for 50 years. He is thinking of giving up the egg business because DNA sequencing is too high tech for him. It may be easier to sell cameras, but another friend, who sells cameras, says that one has only six months to sell a new model before it is obsoleted by the next model from the same manufacturer. The shelf life of cameras is approaching the shelf life of eggs.

Fake flowers have never been an issue with anybody. But real flowers have posed problems. There was a big scare last year with flowers that allegedly have the power to trigger cancer in people who come near them. Nobody was willing to test the allegation, and the furore seems to have died down.

On the back-burner is the issue of whether the video of an alleged political celebrity filmed in the act with an alleged prostitute is real or fake. The police have checked the video and found it to be real, but nobody is sure whether the celebrity is real. The celebrity in question refuses to cooperate with the police and hand over his DNA. The police are now looking for the alleged prostitute to confirm whether she is real.

To be continued...