Making Nature, Shaping Culture: Plant Biodiversity in Global Context

Making Nature, Shaping Culture: Plant Biodiversity in Global Context

Making Nature, Shaping Culture: Plant Biodiversity in Global Context

Making Nature, Shaping Culture: Plant Biodiversity in Global Context

Synopsis

For ages, farmers have domesticated plant varieties, while scientists have "made" nature through hybridization and other processes. This give and take - mediated through negotiations, persuasion, the marketplace, and even coercion - has resulted in what we call "nature" and has led to a homogenization of plant crops. Yet homogenization has led to new problems: genetic vulnerability, and the lack of systems to maintain plant germplasm of varieties no longer grown in the fields. This book addresses issues previously viewed as primarily technical concerning the germplasm debate: that is, how, what, and where to store the range of genetic materials necessary to reproduce plants. By examining Brazil, Chile, France, and the United States, the authors show how different cultures respond to the decline in genetic diversity. The findings show that the quest for uniformity in foods, agriculture, and environment eventually threatens everyone. The politicization of this debate is inevitable because the destruction of human cultural diversity goes hand in hand with the destruction of plant varietal diversity. The authors agree that responses to the controversies must involve food security, relinking of food with agriculture and the environment, revaluing traditional knowledge, and rethinking development. They stress that answers will be found not by experts acting unilaterally but through the democratization of scientific and technical exchange.

Excerpt

The moral is that every tree needs labour. Virgil, Georgics

Nature is not natural. the idea that there is something "out there"--wilderness, the cosmos, physical or biological "reality"--that sciences discover, analyze, map, and manipulate is as mistaken as the idea that sculptors have occasionally espoused that the statue is already in the piece of stone, only to be revealed by the carving. in truth, the statue exists only through the carving. Similarly, nature exists only through its description, analysis, mapping, and manipulation. This is not to say that things lack existence independent from humans. But the idea that the nature we know--the collection, array, or system of those things-- is independent of human intention, evaluation, and action rests on two fundamental errors, one historical and anthropological, the other epistemological. a central argument of this book is that these errors need to be recognized and corrected, conceptually and politically.

We have populated this planet for millennia. We have cultivated the earth, even in the very process of not cultivating it. Hunters and gatherers, for example, selected their food plants and animal prey. They appropriated things from their environments in a variety of ways. They consumed and used those plant and animal products. But they also learned to identify, classify, and remember the vine, weed, paw-print, and the like, appropriate to their needs and wants. Even before the dawn of agriculture and civilization, science and art, nature was already the sum of the useful and useless, edible and inedible, fearless and fearful, desired and despised, loved and hated. Nature was what human beings made it, for their ends.

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