Monday, March 11, 2013

Malaria vs. Mankind: Chemicals, Conservation And An Ancient Arms Race

Malaria vs. Mankind: Chemicals, Conservation And An Ancient Arms Race: When Boston University's McCann arrived in Burie, Ethiopia, in 2005, it was very different from what he remembered from his two-year stay in the 1970s. Back then, the area was malaria-free. "There were no mosquitoes," McCann recalls. "There was no reason to be awake at night from buggers buzzing around."

But sometime in the subsequent decades, mosquitoes moved in and brought malaria with them. McCann's former landlord and other townspeople shared horror stories of entire schools abandoned and of houses simply locked up because no one inside had survived.

McCann, an agricultural expert, noticed something else that had changed: widespread planting of a new variety of corn.

Lacking food security, Africans have embraced just about any opportunity to squeeze more sustenance from the earth. The new maize, which grows faster and more abundantly than traditional varieties, had "spread like wildfire," McCann says.
The locals call it "Silsa Sidist," or 66, short for BH660. While the varietal is a powerful example of agricultural technology's potential, McCann feared that the product may have a serious drawback: The plant sheds pollen at the same time that mosquitoes lay their eggs. And this particular pollen is perfect food for the larvae. As McCann puts it, the right temperature and right humidity come together to create the "perfect storm."
Curious to see if this explained the local surge in malaria, McCann worked with an Ethiopian malaria expert to study where farmers were growing the super corn and where people were getting malaria. They found 10 times the rate of malaria associated with the new corn as compared to other crops.
McCann shared their results with a local agriculture manager. "I just got this look of, 'Yes, you've convinced me,'" recalls McCann.
"And then he said, 'Don't tell anyone.'" Farmers weren't about to give up their prize crop.

 This creates an exponential increase in malaria as more V food is given to it, it is like R locusts multiplying from eating commercial V crops.

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