FERN’s Friday Feed: Who should profit from Oaxaca’s nitrogen-fixing corn?

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.


The ‘discovery’ of nitrogen-fixing corn in Mexico tests Nagoya Protocol

FERN and Yale Environment 360

Last summer, researchers from Mars Inc. and UC Davis announced the “discovery” of a variety of corn grown in Oaxaca that fixes its own nitrogen through mucus-covered aerial roots. Their study, in the journal PLOS Biology, touched off a debate—in Mexico and beyond—about the effectiveness of global policies designed to safeguard the genetic resources of indigenous communities, explains Martha Pskowski, in FERN’s latest story.

“Over the last century, water agencies have built levees along most of [California’s] rivers to control floods and supply water to communities and farmers alike. But these levees also bar young Chinook from the floodplains that historically provided safe, food-rich places to grow on their journey to the Pacific,” writes Robin Meadows. “Today, more than half a million acres of these former floodplains in California’s immense interior valley are occupied by rice farms. Repurposing them as surrogate floodplains during the months they would otherwise lie fallow could be key to restoring endangered populations of wild-spawning Chinook.” (For more on this issue, check out FERN’s audio report by Lisa Morehouse.)

Whole Foods’ culture deteriorating in the wake of Amazon buy

The Guardian

In the wake of Amazon’s takeover of Whole Foods, workers at the high-end grocer say they have been urged to promote Amazon products and services at the expense of other tasks. “Whole Foods is not an independent company that has an investment or something from Amazon. It is a grocery retail outpost for Amazon, and it’s there to push online sales, Prime memberships and Prime devices,” one worker told Michael Sainato. Additionally, “[f]ull-time workers said their hours have regularly been reduced from 40 a week to 35 to 37 in the wake of Amazon enacting a $15 minimum wage for all its employees — thus rendering any rises in pay almost non-existent.”

Nigerian farmers battle climate-change-fueled heat wave

Al Jazeera

In Nigeria, high temperatures worsened by climate change are killing off valuable chickens at alarming rates. “Climate change … brings to the fore a challenge now facing the Nigerian government: the need to fund more modern technologies that could help heatwave-challenged farmers stay in business — and help Nigeria feed a population that is projected to double by 2050 and become the third-largest in the world,” writes Socrates Mbamalu. Small-scale farmers comprise about 70 percent of the country’s population.

What Arby’s ‘marrot’ says about faux meat

The New York Times

In response to a growing number of restaurants offering plant-based burgers, Arby’s is taking an oppositional stance with the “marrot”—a carrot made from turkey. “The advent of the marrot highlights a broader challenge facing the plant-based meat movement: Even as chains like Burger King and White Castle embrace meatless alternatives, most restaurant brands remain skeptical,” writes David Yaffe-Bellany. While the marrot may be nothing more than a publicity stunt, it remains to be seen whether more mainstream fast food companies will add meat alternatives to their menus.