What are Tree Crops?
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Some reflections about how the world has changed in the last 50 years. We are now all much more aware of how important trees and tree crops really are.
…The change is perhaps so great as to be one of kind rather than degree. It is perhaps a bit of a quantum leap, in modern terms. Exactly when it began, you could argue about, but certain things happened in 1953, which I will explain a bit further on.
In 1953 Arthur C. Clarke published a book called Childhood's End. Arthur C. Clarke is perhaps best known for the screenplay he did called "2001, a Space Odyssey." He is one of the best science fiction writers going. In this book, he has predicated a time when the human race was growing up, when it started to emerge from childhood into maturity as a race. Arthur Clarke is a well-known science fiction author, but he is also a scientist, and one of his major achievements is that he invented the idea of a communications satellite. These satellites which transmit information around the globe every day in enormous quantities were his idea. He didn't build them, of course, because the technology was not yet available. He was the originator of the idea, and in some ways, the things that he put forward then contributed to the changes I am talking about today.
In the same year, an American, J. Russell Smith, Emeritus Professor of Economic Geography at Columbia University, published the book Tree Crops, a Permanent Agriculture.Tree crops is what we are all about, but look at the sub-title: "A Permanent Agriculture." This was, perhaps, the start of looking at tree crops as part of a continuing, sustainable, agriculture. This is a fundamental book for people involved in tree cropping. It has amazing vision and insight into the whole thing. It brings out the idea that trees are permanent; they evolved to grow through the seasons, and so they have inbuilt stability and tolerance of climate changes and weather patterns and everything like that. They bring stability. He pointed out many interesting facets. He mentioned that from an acre of chestnuts, you could get more flour than from an acre of wheat. Again, that is a reflection of the type of system and its stability.
At the same time here in Western Australia, the WA government was working out where we existed in the world. They came up with this (a picture of the globe with Perth at the very centre). In 1953, 'WA' stood for 'Wait Awhile.' In J. Russell Smith's book, there was an illustration of the globe with freight routes drawn on it and a caption which read: "The U.S. Soil Conservation Service reports that the soil washed out and blown out of the fields of the United States would load a modern freight train long enough to reach around the world eighteen times. If it ran twenty miles an hour continuously, it would take it nearly three years to pass your station. We began with the richest of continents, but..."
You can see from that that this book is not just looking at particular products and virtues of particular tree crops, but is a whole-environment sort of approach. Tree crops are so capable and rich they allow you to do things to improve the environment, which, often, field crops and stock-raising just don't have the possibility for.
Changes since 1953
So, maybe 1953 marks the beginning of a fairly new concern with facets of the environment, concern for the planet as a whole, which is really a fairly new thing. Younger people today may not know about many of the social factors which applied in 1953. Changes which have happened since then have slid by gradually, and even older people may have lost sight of what happened, so I am going to bring out a few of those changes. In 1953 I was 18, so essentially these changes have happened since I was an adult. Many changes have contributed positively to coming of age. Other changes can be regarded as negative.
Concern for the environment. We are used to conditions as they are now, but for people who were active back in 1953, those sort of concerns hardly existed, people didn't think about them. There is a word, ecology. Everybody now has a feeling for what it means. At that time, that word was not a part of the popular vocabulary. If you go back to Victorian time, the word was more widely known and was spelled with an 'a' in front, from the original Greek: Aecology. Then it had more of its original meaning of 'housekeeping.' Economy, ecology, economics, are all things to do with 'ecos,' a house, so all things to do with how you manage your personal or broader situation.
Whaling. Now it is greatly restricted, almost eliminated. In 1953, Western Australia was still catching whales, and that went on until about 1969. Now, the idea that we would go out and catch these great creatures is a bit abhorrent. But in the old days, people just didn't think that way. They probably didn't have these things brought to their attention.
Conservation of Flora. We now have a lot more thought about conservation for flora, avoiding extinctions, making less of endangered, vulnerable plants. Again, this is all new, all since 1953.
Ozone layer, CFCs. The idea that there was an ozone layer was not really known to them, and the idea that we could be damaging it with things that we put in the air just didn't exist. I'm not 100% convinced that that is caused by the problems we looked at. But what is interesting is that this is the first instance in the world in which nations have got together and tried to do something with a mechanical basis which could affect the whole planet. So, in a way, it is a process of part of the growing up.
Greenhouse gases. Greenhouse is very much in the news at the moment. Obviously a lot of the things we do have implications for that.
Old growth forests. One of the latest ones, and a very politically topical one, is old growth forests. Again, this is a complete change in attitude. It is one that the whole community has not accepted fully, and is the site of a good deal of current argument. What I am trying to get over is not the virtues or otherwise of retaining these, but the fact that we are now thinking about it. It's really quite hard, and that maybe this is one of the factors that can lead to a change of government.
Now, just briefly, a few of the things that have occurred to help these changes along.
Agents of ChangeInternational Credit Cards.
You are used to using them now, they are so convenient...you can go anywhere overseas, get money out of a machine with a credit card, that you don't even have to think about it. In '53 nothing like that was possible. The closest thing was traveller's cheques: they were just a different form of a cheque, where you had to go into a bank to change into local money. This has revolutionised the way the whole world is coming together.
Routine jet aircraft flights. If I suddenly found that I wanted to go to Buenos Aires or some place like that today, I stand a pretty good chance of getting there within a couple of days without any sort of preparation. That is totally new compared to 1953, when you would be booking and planning for months for a journey like that. And it is so cheap in comparative terms. The cost of a flight to somewhere like South America, in terms of how many man-hours of wages you would have to put into it has reduced enormously compared to what a similar journey in man-hours would have cost you back in 1953.
E-mail and the web. They are going to revolutionise communication. One of the things Arthur Clarke said would be mature when every call was a local call. It would cost you the same to call your mate in the office across the road as it would to phone somebody in London. This is already the case with e-mail. It costs you the same where ever they go. The web is an enormous library of knowledge, sitting there at the end of your communications line.
Cheap and mobile phones. Phone costs have come down enormously. It is routine now to phone anywhere in the world, it is so cheap. Mobile phones have extended communications. They are the start of a whole new mobile technology. The capital costs of mobile technology is such that they may end up being a cheaper way to phone than fixed telephones, because you don't have men and machinery digging up the road for them.
Webcams, viewphones. My neighbour can now view his brother in London at the same time they talk on the internet just by means of a little camera fixed to his PC. All those things have contributed greatly to positive change.
Some of the changes have perhaps not been so positive.
More changes--(negative?...)Fall in immigration and population.
We have seen a great rise in the number of visitors we get because of the ease of travel. But immigration and population movement between countries have become a lot harder. If you were living in Canada or South Africa or Britain in 1953, and you decided you would rather live in Australia, you could just come. People have just forgotten about that. The world was much more open. In the days of the British empire it was a cohesive whole, and people were not only permitted, but encouraged to move around from one part of the empire to another, and there wasn't any part of government which could stop you. In some ways it was a better situation than we have now. The opposite situation you now have in Europe. If you live in England and you decide you would like to buy a nice forest in France, you can just go and do it. Perhaps the restriction on movement of population into Australia is a reflection that Australia as a nation that looks after its own affairs is still much younger. More mature countries encourage migration and have fewer restrictions. If you live in Mexico and you want to buy a farm in the United States, you can do it. If you live in the United States and you want to buy a farm in Mexico, it is much harder. In some ways, more mature countries do allow this more readily than younger countries.
Plant Introductions. Again, in the old days it was open slather. People brought in what they wanted. Now, quarantine is a necessity: there is no doubt about it. There is a different mindset to introductions now in Australia. If you go back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, there were plant aclimatisation societies which brought these things in. In the United States, around 1890, the federal government set up a special government department, called the Bureau of Plant Introductions. They worked and worked and an enormous amount of useful plant materials were brought into the United States. By about 1920 they had about 250,000 plant introductions. That policy has continued to today. When you hear Professor Maxine Thompson speak, she will tell you about the plants they are still searching for. They are up to about half a million.
You can see some of the background to the changes we are trying to achieve. We are not just looking at improving particular plants, but trying to improve the world at the same time, so that was the theme of our Conference: Tree Crops, Essential to the Earth.