Plant Genetic Resources and Climate Change – in the production phase at last

At the end of March I submitted to CABI all 16 manuscripts and associated figures for our book on Plant Genetic Resources and Climate Change.

These are now being checked and moving through the various production phases. We hope that the book will be published in the last quarter of 2013. I gather that the target price will be around £85 – but that has yet to be confirmed. The book will be around 300+ pages.

Plant Genetic Resources - cover design

Rationale and audience:
The collection and conservation of plant genetic resources have made significant progress over the past half century, and many large and important collections of crop germplasm have been established in many countries. A major threat to continuing crop productivity is climate change, which is expected to bring about disruptions to patterns of agriculture, to the crops and varieties that can be grown, and some of the constraints to productivity – such as diseases and pests, and some abiotic stresses – will be exacerbated. This book will address the current state of climate change predictions and its consequences, how climate change will affect conservation and use of crop germplasm, both ex situ and in situ, as well as highlighting specific examples of germplasm research related to ‘climate change threats’. All of this needs to take place under a regime of access to and use of germplasm through international legal instruments such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. This book will be essential reading for plant breeders and physiologists, as well as those involved with germplasm conservation per se. In particular it will be a companion volume to the recently published CABI volume Climate Change and Crop Production (2010) by MP Reynolds (ed.), but of interest to the same readership as Crop Stress Management and Global Climate Change (2011) by JL Araus and GA Slafer (eds.) and Climate Change Biology (2011) by JA Newman et al.

Chapters, authors and their affiliations:

Michael Jackson, Brian Ford-Lloyd and Martin Parry
The Editors

1. Food security, climate change and genetic resources
Robert S. Zeigler

2. Genetic resources and conservation challenges under the threat of climate change
Brian Ford-Lloyd, Johannes M.M. Engels and Michael Jackson
University of Birmingham, Bioversity International, and formerly IRRI (now retired)

3. Climate projections
Richard A. Betts and Ed Hawkins
UK MetOffice and University of Reading

4. Effects of climate change on potential food production and risk of hunger
Martin Parry
Imperial College

5. Regional impacts of climate change on agriculture and the role of adaptation
Pam Berry, Julian Ramirez-Villegas, Helen Bramley, Samarandu Mohanty and Mary A. Mgonja
University of Oxford, University of Leeds and CIAT, University of Western Australia, IRRI, and ICRISAT

6. International mechanisms for conservation and use of genetic resources
Gerald Moore and Geoffrey Hawtin
Formerly FAO and formerly IPGRI (now retired)

7. Crop wild relatives and climate change
Nigel Maxted, Shelagh Kell and Joana Magos Brehm
University of Birmingham

8. Climate change and on-farm conservation of crop landraces in centres of diversity
Mauricio R. Bellon and Jacob van Etten
Bioversity International

9. Germplasm databases and informatics
Helen Ougham and Ian D. Thomas
University of Aberystwyth

10. Exploring ‘omics’ of genetic resources to mitigate the effects of climate change
Kenneth L. McNally

11. Harnessing meiotic recombination for improved crop varieties
Susan J. Armstrong
University of Birmingham

12. High temperature stress
Maduraimuthu Djanaguiraman and P.V. Vara Prasad
Kansas State University

13. Drought
Salvatore Ceccarelli
Formerly ICARDA (now retired)

14. Salinity
William Erskine, Hari D. Upadhyaya and Al Imran Malik
University of Western Australia, ICRISAT, and UWA

15. Response to flooding: submergence tolerance in rice
Abdelbagi M. Ismail and David J. Mackill
IRRI and University of California – Davis

16. Effects of climate change on plant-insect interactions and prospects for resistance breeding using genetic resources
Jeremy Pritchard, Colette Broekgaarden and Ben Vosman
University of Birmingham and Wageningen UR Plant Breeding

The editors:
Michael Jackson retired from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in 2010. For 10 years he was Head of the Genetic Resources Center, managing the International Rice Genebank, one of the world’s largest and most important genebanks. For nine years he was Director for Program Planning and Communications. He was Adjunct Professor of Agronomy at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños. During the 1980s he was Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Birmingham, focusing on the conservation and use of plant genetic resources. From 1973-81 he worked at the International Potato Center, in Lima, Perú and in Costa Rica. He now works part-time as an independent agricultural research and planning consultant. He was appointed OBE in The Queen’s New Year’s Honours 2012, for services to international food science.

Brian Ford-Lloyd is Emeritus Professor of Conservation Genetics at the University of Birmingham, former Director of the University Graduate School, and former Deputy Head of the School of Biosciences. As Director of the University Graduate School he aimed to ensure that doctoral researchers throughout the University were provided with the opportunity, training and facilities to undertake internationally valued research that would lead into excellent careers in the UK and overseas. He drew from his experience of having successfully supervised over 40 doctoral researchers from the UK and many other parts of the world in his chosen research area which included the study of the natural genetic variation in plant populations, and agricultural plant genetic resources and their conservation.

Martin Parry is Visiting Professor at The Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London, and also Visiting Research Fellow at The Grantham Institute at the same university. Until September 2008 he was Co-Chair of Working Group II (Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability), of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) based at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, UK Meteorological Office. Previously he was Director of the Jackson Environment Institute (JEI), and Professor of Environmental Science at the University of East Anglia (1999-2002); Director of the JEI and Professor of Environmental Management at University College London (1994-99), foundation Director of the Environmental Change Institute and Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford (1991-94), and Professor of Geography at the University of Birmingham (1989-91). He was appointed OBE in The Queen’s New Year’s Honours 1998, for services to the environment and climate change.

Thank you, Margaret Thatcher – a perspective

It was very stormy last night, and the noise of the strong winds gusting around the house kept me awake for hours. As I lay there, desperately trying to get to sleep, I found myself reflecting on the events of the past week or so, particularly the death and yesterday’s ceremonial funeral in London of Margaret Thatcher. No wonder I couldn’t sleep.

Let me put on record straight away: I was no fan of Mrs Thatcher! Yet, I have to thank her and some of her policies for a very significant change in my family’s circumstances more than two decades ago. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I am child of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) that came into existence in July 1948, a few months before I was born in November that year. The NHS is one of our country’s iconic institutions – warts and all; its foundation was due to the foresight and vision of the post-war Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee. However, for most of my formative years, politics in the UK was dominated by the Conservatives: Winston Churchill from 1951, Anthony Eden from 1955, and Harold Macmillan from 1957, followed by caretaker Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home for just one year. It wasn’t until Harold Wilson’s General Election victory of 1964 that Labour became the government once again.

I voted for the first time in the May 1970 General Election (when the voting age was still 21) that brought Edward Heath and the Conservatives to power. I voted for a Conservative candidate in Southampton where I was studying at the university. If I remember correctly – and I’m afraid time has dimmed my memories – one of the issues that drew me towards Heath and the Conservatives was their strong support for membership of the European Community (how times have changed).

During the 1970s, Heath (and after 1974 Labour Prime Ministers Wilson and Jim Callaghan until Margaret Thatcher came into power in 1979) came up against the full force of the Trades Union movement, and essentially came off second best. From January 1973 I was working abroad in Peru and Central America and never experienced the consequences of industrial action – strikes – that affected the country and made lives miserable for millions of citizens. The Winter of Discontent of 1978-79 eventually led to the downfall of the Callaghan government, and Margaret Thatcher’s first election victory in 1979. And she would remain in Downing Street for more than 11 years until turfed out of office by ‘her friends’ in a palace coup in November 1990. By then she had transformed the UK. The power of the unions had been decimated, communities ripped apart, and the country put on a new trajectory, the consequences – both positive and negative – we are living with today.

Over the past week since her death there has been an abundance of commentary in the media about what sort of politician Margaret Thatcher was. On the other hand there are the many vibrant communities – especially mining communities – that were affected significantly and have never recovered from the changes that the Thatcher governments brought about. For them, Margaret Thatcher was and remains the ultimate bugaboo, a divisive but conviction politician whose legacy can never be rehabilitated. On the other, perhaps a majority of the electorate it has been suggested, Mrs Thatcher was the economic and military saviour of the UK, turning the country from being the poor man of Europe and also a military force to be reckoned with in the wake of the Falklands War of 1982.

However, conviction politicians often see everything in black and white. That’s not my style. I’ve always enjoyed the beauty of the myriad of shades of grey that is the real world. My politics are not right or left – so I guess that means they must be in the center some where. But where precisely? This presents a real dilemma come the next General Election scheduled for 2015. A plague on both (or all three) your houses. Do I vote Tory, Lib Dem or Labour? There is no party that brings together a consensus of views taking the best from the right and the left of politics. Forget the Lib Dems – almost a spent force. And don’t even think of UKIP. I feel like vomiting every time I see its leader Nigel Farage on any news broadcast.

I guess if I was American I’d be an Obama Democrat, but for many Americans I would be considered a hard-line socialist (proto-communist even), when most of them don’t understand what it really means to be socialist. And that’s why I find it paradoxical that New Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair became such a pal of and politically cosy with Dubya.

But I’m getting ahead of myself again. I returned from the Americas in 1981, about two years after Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. And remained in the UK throughout the 80s and witnessed some of the best and worst of Thatcherism. Was she right to throw the Argentinians out of the Falklands? Undoubtedly. But unfortunately nothing has been done to achieve a lasting solution to the Falklands/Malvinas issue. Was she right to take on the likes of Arthur Scargill who was the president of the National Union of Mineworkers? Yes, for if she hadn’t we would have been in hock to such demagogues for a long time. But although we might admire some of her achievements, we should surely condemn others and their negative effects on society. The safety net was pulled away from under so many vulnerable people.

So why am I grateful to Margaret Thatcher? Here I run the risk of being accused of being a ‘reform NIMBY’.

I was teaching in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Birmingham from April 1981 to June 1991. Towards the end of the 80s the Thatcher government attitude and policies towards higher education was having an unprecedented effect on morale within the university system, and affecting the role of universities in society – something from which the system is still recovering in my opinion. In the late 80s I even participated in industrial action for the one and only time in my professional career, joining a demonstration or picket organized by the Association of University Teachers (AUT). I was there for only a couple of hours, then went home and spent the rest of the day preparing materials for classes later that same week. I lost a day’s pay since I had to own up to the fact that I had joined the AUT- sponsored action.

As the weeks went by into 1990 I was becoming much less comfortable within the university system, and couldn’t see that things were going to improve in the short term, let alone the medium or long term. And that’s when I thought about looking for another position elsewhere.

In September 1990 I received in the mail (from whom I have never discovered) a brief announcement of the position of the ‘Head, Rice Genetic Resources Center’ at IRRI in the Philippines. I applied, was interviewed in January 1991 along with two other graduates in genetic resources from Birmingham, offered the position, and the rest is history as the saying goes. I joined IRRI on 1 July later that same year.

So, indirectly, Margaret Thatcher was responsible for me giving up a tenured position at Birmingham, where I was about to be promoted, and move overseas once again to resume a career in international agricultural research. My family joined my just after Christmas 1991, and we went on to enjoy almost 19 years of happy work and life in the Philippines. Our two daughters, Hannah and Philippa, went through their high school education in Manila before moving on to university and graduate school in the US and UK respectively.

So indeed, thank you, Margaret Thatcher. As first woman Prime Minister your political legacy was always going to be secure. Some of your achievements made the UK a better place to live; others did not, I’m afraid.

Should she have been accorded what was, in most respects, a state funeral, and should the tax payer be saddled with the estimated £10 million cost? Given that her funeral was attended by dignitaries from around the world, it was always going to be a high profile affair; and there was always going to be a security cost irrespective of the funeral’s status.

She was one of the towering political figures of the 20th century, and I believe – despite not being one of her fans – that it was churlish of her opponents to react in the way that some did, while recognizing their inviolable right to speak out or protest.

Hanbury Hall – a disputed date

We enjoy our National Trust visits, but the weather over the past months has really prevented us from getting out and about. Just over a month ago it really did look as though Spring had arrived and we visited Charlecote Park. But that was just one day, and we even had more snow and bitterly cold winds from the Arctic since then.

But over the weekend, the ‘blocking high’ did move away allowing Atlantic weather to encroach and bring in milder air from the south. And when that happens you have to grab every opportunity of enjoying the glorious outdoors. Well, the weather wasn’t too brilliant – at least it wasn’t so cold nor wet to prevent our second visit yesterday to Hanbury Hall, an elegant William and Mary mansion just over six miles from where we live in the rolling north Worcestershire countryside. After we joined the National Trust in 2011, Hanbury Hall was the first property we visited simply because it was right on our doorstep, so-to-speak.

Hanbury Hall main entrance

Hanbury Hall was the family home of Thomas Vernon, and may have been built on the site of an earlier residence. Above the main door is the date 1701, but other – and better evidence – suggests that the hall was not completed until 1706. The date above the door may have been added during Victorian times.

Among the glories of Hanbury are its extensive parkland – occupied by many ewes and their lambs during our walk yesterday, and its gardens, in particular the parterre on the southwest of the main building. There are extensive outhouses – a stable-yard, a dairy (in the process of renovation) a walled garden, an orangery, and an ice house.

As you might expect, the Hall’s interior is sumptuously decorated, and the main staircase is a magnificent feature with paintings on the ceiling blending into those on the walls.

The Hall was occupied until 1940 when the last Baron Vernon, in very poor health at the time, took his own life, and the baronetcy became extinct.

Hanbury Hall is easy to find in the Worcestershire countryside, has plenty of parking, and is certainly worth a few hours of anyone’s time.

Around the world in 40 years . . . Part 4. Elections and bombs in Jo’burg

Nelson Mandela has been much in the news of late. His failing health is of concern not only to South Africans; ‘Madiba’ is highly respected worldwide. Seeing these images on TV and hearing the latest news reminded me of my visits to South Africa and other countries over the years. But there’s one visit – I was in transit actually – that I’ll never forget.

In April 1994, I had been asked by the Directors General of IRRI in the Philippines and WARDA (now the Africa Rice Center) in the Ivory Coast to undertake a review of a very important rice breeding network called INGER – the International Network for the Genetic Evaluation of Rice. As I was also developing a major rice biodiversity project to be funded by the Swiss, I decided to take the opportunity of this trip to Africa, and visit possible collaborators in Zambia and Kenya. Looking at the various flight options – none very easy at that time, but considerably better today – I chose a flight with Singapore Airlines into Johannesburg, and on to Lusaka with South African Airways (SAA).

On board my SQ 747-400 at Changi, I was slightly perplexed that there were so few passengers on board. I was seated on the upper deck in Business Class – and the only passenger. I asked the purser who confirmed that there were only about 20 passengers in total on board. And he went on to explain that the following day when we landed in Johannesburg – 27 April – was the first post-apartheid election, which Nelson Mandela and the Africa National Council (ANC) were expected to win. Because of several bombing incidents around South Africa leading up to the election there had been a drop in passenger traffic on SQ. Election on the day of my arrival? Well that one had gone completely over my head when I was planning the trip.

35754-april-27-1994-e237fWe landed in Jo’burg in the early morning, and I made my way to the SAA lounge. I prepared myself a little breakfast – some juice, a Danish, perhaps, nothing heavy – and settled down to watch news of the election on the TV. My flight to Lusaka was scheduled around 11 am if I remember correctly, and this was around 0730 or so. Of course the highlight was watching Nelson Mandela cast his vote, and afterwards he appeared on the steps of the polling station to make a statement.

BOOM! An enormous explosion, and the whole airport terminal shook. I realized at once that a bomb had gone off – and right above my head. It took several minutes for anyone to advise us what had happened and what to do. We were told to stay in the safety of the Business Lounge until further notice. At which point, I got a ‘call of nature’ and had to find a rest-room, and quick. I’d been there for only a couple of minutes, when I heard someone shouting in the lounge ‘Everyone outside, now!’ Well, I was in a pretty pickle, I can tell you. Someone came into the rest-room to check if anyone was there, and I was told to get out as quick as possible. We were led through the departure hall – which was pretty much destroyed – and on to the grass outside. Fortunately it was an early autumn morning, bright and sunny, but a little chilly at the beginning. It seems that there had been an Afrikaner backlash, and a car bomb had been placed outside the departure hall.

Here’s what was written in a US Department of State dispatch: There were a number of serious incidents of domestic political violence in the run-up to South Africa’s first multiracial election in April 1994. There was also one act of international terrorism on 27 April when members of the right-wing Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) detonated a car bomb at the Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg. The bomb injured 16, including two Russian diplomats and a pilot for Swiss Air.

The airport didn’t close, and the domestic terminal kept operating more or less normally; international arrivals were diverted there. After a couple of hours we were taken back inside, and my SAA flight to Lusaka was delayed by only about 30 minutes.

But that is my memory of the election that Nelson Mandela won in 1994. It’s hard to believe that he’s been out of the political limelight already for more than a decade.