National Geographic July 2013, Part 3

Hay. Beautiful. by Adam Nicolson, photographs by Rena Effendi

Hay. Beautiful. is about the hay farming communities of Transylvania. The farmers have a low-technology lifestyle that eschews things like weed killer.  As a result, their fields are full of what most of us would classify as weeds, but which the farmers, and Nicolson, apparently, view as wildflowers.  What do I call them?  When I was five, I fell in love with Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) flowers. I learned that the difference between a weed and a wildflower is in your attitude towards it, so I say that they’re whatever the farmers say they are.

Nicolson details the steps to harvesting hay and then shows us how the hay then goes on to help them produce most of their other food, particularly milk.

Times have changed, as they always do, and this way of life is dying out. One village in the region, Gyimes, is attempting to save itself by adopting one piece of advanced equipment — a refrigerated milk dispensing machine. Farmers bring their milk to the machine and, if it meets the government’s standard for hygiene and quality — is put in the machine.  A truck comes in twice a day to take the milk into the city for sale. Every farmer whose milk meets the standard and is put in the machine shares in the revenue generated by the sale.

I don’t know if this tactic worked over the long haul or not.  So far all I haven’t been able to find any information on what has happened over the intervening three years.

The Comeback Croc, photographs by Luciano Candisani, text by Roff Smith

This article is mostly text accompanying Candisani’s photographs of yacare caimans in Brazil. Yacare caimans have traditionally been used to make crocodile-skin leather (for handbags and belts and such). In 1992, harvesting of crocodile skin became illegal and the government of Brazil is attempting to stop the poachers.  As a result, the population has rebounded amazingly in that region.

Smith says that their future seems assured in Brazil, but he leaves us with a question about how the yacare caiman will fare in the rest of its range. As of the day I’m writing this (June 14, 2016) Wikipedia lists their status as “least concern” and the St. Louis Zoo says that their status is “common.” So it looks like whatever the other countries did worked.

National Geographic January 2016, Part 3

I still can’t get to the text version of the articles on the website despite, again, being logged in.

Riding the Rubber Boom, by Charles C. Mann, photographs by Richard Barnes

So, earlier today, I was reading an Atlas Obscura article on the American Geographical Society library at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  One of the maps that they have is of Fordlândia, a town that was set up by Henry Ford to grow rubber for his automobile manufacturing operations. The article describes it as a “lost jungle utopian city,” so I had to check it out.  The Wikipedia article on Fordlândia said that the town failed in part because of the development of synthetic rubber.  So, armed with that little bit of knowledge, I began reading Riding the Rubber Boom, which is about farming natural latex rubber in Southern Asia.  If synthetic rubber caused the failure of Fordlândia in the early 20th century, then wouldn’t there be even more difficulty making a living from farming rubber today?

Well, as the saying goes, it’s more complicated than that.  Latex is as big as it ever was.  We still need it for things like car tires and, even more crucially, for airplane tires.  We also need it for latex gloves and condoms.

As for Fordlândia, the site chosen was too far north and too dry for growing rubber trees, for one.  They also had a nice monoculture going, where all there was was rubber trees.  And, as I’ve mentioned before, monocultures of trees are vulnerable to pests and diseases because they can easily move from tree to tree.  If there are other species of tree in between, though, it becomes more difficult for the pest or disease to travel across the space between the trees.  The pest or disease in question here is a fungus called Microcyclus ulei, which damages the leaves of the tree, killing it.  Fordlândia got infected by M. ulei, so it was just a matter of time.

The rubber farms in this article have a relatively new variety of rubber tree that are more cold-tolerant, so at least they will avoid that failure on the part of the developers of Fordlândia.  However, the farms are also monocultures, but since M. ulei is native to South America, the trees are, so far, safe from it.  However, it will only take one spore being introduced at the wrong time to doom entire farms. The UN has recommended that anyone who has been in the area where M. ulei is present for the previous three weeks and who has arrived in Southeast Asia be inspected, but, at least as of press time, none of the countries in question have followed through on the suggestion.

Kingdom of Girls, by Jeremy Berlin, photographs by Karolin Klüppel

Kingdom of Girls focuses on Klüppel’s photographs of the girls of Mawlynnong, India.  For some reason (no one is apparently sure what), Mawylnnong has a female-dominated culture.  Property passes from mother to daughter, rather than from father to son.