Boomtown

Beijing, a Boon for Africa - NYTimes.com

Beijing, a Boon for Africa – NYTimes.com.

In 2009, China became Africa’s single largest trading partner, surpassing the United States. And China’s foreign direct investment in Africa has skyrocketed from under $100 million in 2003 to more than $12 billion in 2011.

To meet the demands of its rising middle class, and to keep economic growth high enough to provide plentiful jobs, China needs resources, land, and oil.  And Africa is willing to supply them.  Is this the next colonization of Africa?  Not necessarily:

China’s role is broadly welcomed across the continent. A 2007 Pew Research Center survey of 10 sub-Saharan African countries found that Africans overwhelmingly viewed Chinese economic growth as beneficial.

There are new jobs in many African nations as a result of this foreign investment, but there are also labor and human rights abuses.  According to the editorial, written by a Zambian,

the onus of policing social policy and protecting the environment is on local governments, and it is local policy makers who should ultimately be held accountable and responsible if and when egregious failures occur.

But if local politicians are getting paid to look the other way, they won’t report violations.  The writer does point out the need for investment in Africa –

With approximately 60 percent of Africa’s population under age 24, foreign investment and job creation are the only forces that can reduce poverty and stave off the sort of political upheaval that has swept the Arab world.

How will China’s investment, monetarily and politically, pay off for both China and African nations?  How will the movement of Chinese workers to Africa affect the demographics of the African workforce?  Will the Chinese be willing to teach native Africans the skills needed for many of the new jobs?  Will they invest in infrastructure other than that needed to remove the raw materials?  How is their investment different than that of the Europeans in earlier times?

Garden, Simplified

National Geographic Magazine – NGM.com.

As US agriculture has become more and more commercialized, hundreds of heirloom varieties of vegetables have become extinct.  What genetic stock has been lost forever?  How is this impacting the nutritional value of our food?

[The] study conducted in 1983 by the Rural Advancement Foundation International gave a clue to the scope of the problem. It compared USDA listings of seed varieties sold by commercial U.S. seed houses in 1903 with those in the U.S. National Seed Storage Laboratory in 1983. The survey, which included 66 crops, found that about 93 percent of the varieties had gone extinct. More up-to-date studies are needed.

Geography of Microbiomes

 

Studies of Human Microbiome Yield New Insights - NYTimes.com

Studies of Human Microbiome Yield New Insights – NYTimes.com.

The biologist in me had to post this:

For a century, doctors have waged war against bacteria, using antibiotics as their weapons. But that relationship is changing as scientists become more familiar with the 100 trillion microbes that call us home — collectively known as the microbiome.

Doctors and researchers are finally examining the plethora of microbial life that exists in and on the human body, including bacteria, virus, and fungi.  In fact, they are beginning to use the body’s own organisms to fight invaders, restore health, and aid in weight loss, to name a few things these microorganisms can do.

…by nurturing the invisible ecosystem in and on our bodies, doctors may be able to find other ways to fight infectious diseases, and with less harmful side effects. Tending the microbiome may also help in the treatment of disorders that may not seem to have anything to do with bacteria, including obesity and diabetes.

Although not mentioned in the article, a recent study pointed to the increased incidence of obesity in babies born by Caesarean.  Doctors speculated it might be due to the lack of exposure to microbes during birth.  This NYT article  details the inoculation of babies born naturally

During delivery, a baby will be coated by Lactobacillus johnsonii and ingest some of it. Dr. Aagaard-Tillery suggests that this inoculation prepares the infant to digest breast milk.

Reducing the ‘good’ bacteria in the microbiome can have potentially devastating effects:

Children who take high levels of antibiotics may be at greater risk of developing allergies and asthma later on, many researchers have suggested.

Antibacterial soap can end up being a bad thing:

Skin bacteria are also essential, Dr. Segre said. “One of the most important functions of the skin is to serve as a barrier,” she said. Bacteria feed on the waxy secretions of skin cells, and then produce a moisturizing film that keeps our skin supple and prevents cracks — thus keeping out invading pathogens.

The science of microbiomes is in its infancy, but researchers are finally starting to pay attention, although

it may take a while to figure out how to manipulate the microbiome to make people healthy.

 

Our Most Precious Resource, Explained

Which Nations Consume the Most Water?: Scientific American.

…meat consumption accounts for 30 percent of the U.S. water footprint.

With rising demand for meat in China and India, how will their water consumption change?

Certain countries, such as India and the U.S., also export significant quantities of water in the form of food and products, despite their own robust consumption. Populous nations that have little land or little water are huge net importers.

Will countries with water shortages, such as the western US, raise prices, or reduce consumption?  How will that change the food supply for the remainder of the US?  What industries consume huge amounts of water?  Will water shortages force the development of ‘green’ energy sources not so dependent on water as coal and oil?

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