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Photo: BBC
BBC
Africa’s Sophie Ikenye visits a fish farm in Kenya.

The BBC recently called my attention to a surprising new trend in Africa: Young people, who used to flock to urban office jobs and spurn farming, are beginning to see the attractive side of a return to the land.

Sophie Ikenye writes, “Six years ago Emmanuel Koranteng, 33, gave up his job as an accountant in the US and bought a one-way ticket to Ghana. He now has a successful business growing pineapples in a village one-and-a-half hours away from the capital, Accra. He says that even when he was far away from the farm, it was always in his thoughts.

“Across the continent, Dimakatso Nono, 34, also left her job in finance … and moved from Johannesburg to manage her father’s 2,000 acre farm three hours away in Free State Province. She says she wanted to make an impact. …

” ‘At the beginning, we were not sure about what the animals were doing and where they were in the fields, so for me it was important to ensure that every single day, every activity that we do is recorded.’

“Life on the farm has not been easy. … Both young farmers have found it difficult to get funding for equipment. For this reason, Mr Koranteng has decided to stay small.

” ‘If you are small and you don’t have funding, don’t try to do anything big. It’s all about being able to manage and produce quality because if you produce quality, it sells itself,’ he says.

“But there is to be made money in farming. A World Bank report from 2013 estimates that Africa’s farmers and agribusinesses could create a trillion-dollar food market by 2030 if they were able to access to more capital, electricity and better technology.

” ‘Agriculture has a bright future in Africa,’ says Harvard University technology expert Calestous Juma. And it also means making the finished product, rather than just growing crops and selling them. ‘The focus should be … from farm to fork, not just production,’ he says.”

Check out one farming entrepreneur’s approach here.

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The BBC, having fun at our expense, has been measuring our snow depth in height of dogs. More recently, having passed what it calls “six dogs,” it is adding athletes as a unit of measure. See several illustrations here.

The unconventional measurement should work for Bostonians, who have  been accustomed since 1958 to measuring the length of a bridge over the Charles River in Smoots. (Oliver Smoot was an MIT student pledging to a fraternity.)

For a more realistic picture, see below. The first shot, from Sandra Kelly, is of New Shoreham, RI. It’s windy on the island, and snow usually blows right off. But it seems to be sticking this time. A poet out there tells me it’s “wild, white, and windy.” I can hear the wind whistling in that. I hope she writes a poem.

The icicles and front walk are from Massachusetts.

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New research in the UK is providing confirmation of my belief that boredom is not always a destructive thing but often a path to creativity. Other people have had the same impression. After all, the site with some of the most creative links on the web calls itself Bored Panda.

Recently, my husband sent along a relevant article by the BBC’s David Robson, who caught my interest at once with his claim that boredom was first mentioned in Bleak House, by Charles Dickens. (I’ve read that novel enough times to know that Robson spelled Lady Dedlock’s name wrong, though.)

For his report, Robson interviewed Sandi Mann, coauthor with Rebekah Cadman of a University of Central Lancashire study on boredom.

He begins, “I’ve met lots of people with a talent to bore in my time, but Sandi Mann is one of the few to have honed it as a craft. Eager volunteers visiting her lab may be asked to carry out less-than-thrilling chores like copying out lengthy lists of telephone numbers. They mostly tolerate the task politely, she says, but their shuffling bottoms and regular yawns prove they are hardly relishing the experience. …

“Mann has found that their ennui boosted their performance on standard tests of creativity – such as finding innovative uses for everyday objects. She suspects the tedium encouraged their minds to wander, which leads to more associative and creative ways of thinking. ‘If we don’t find stimulation externally, we look internally – going to different places in our minds,’ she says. ‘It allows us to make leaps of imagination. We can get out of the box and think in different ways.’ Without the capacity for boredom, then, we humans may have never achieved our artistic and technological heights. …

“Given this benefit, Mann thinks we should try not to fear boredom when it hits us. ‘We should embrace it,’ she says – a philosophy that she has now taken into her own life. ‘Instead of saying I’m bored when I’m stuck in traffic, I’ll put music on and allow my mind to wander – knowing that it’s good for me. And I let my kids be bored too – because it’s good for their creativity.’ ”

My own approach to being stuck at the end of a long line is to recite the poems I know. I also carry in my bag a few other poems in case I run out.

More here, at the BBC, which also covers the darker side of boredom.

Photo: Socialphy
Yawning.

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Erik’s running buddy passed along a BBC story suggesting that cutting back on meat could have value for the planet.

Interestingly, that was the premise of Frances Moore Lappé‘s 1971 bestseller, Diet for a Small Planet, which my sister got me interested in when she was a vegetarian.

At the BBC, environment analyst Roger Harrabin notes research that confirms some of Lappé’s predictions.

“Research from Cambridge and Aberdeen universities estimates greenhouse gases from food production will go up 80% if meat and dairy consumption continues to rise at its current rate. That will make it harder to meet global targets on limiting emissions.

“The study urges eating two portions of red meat and seven of poultry per week. However that call comes as the world’s cities are seeing a boom in burger restaurants. …

“If [the trend] continues, more and more forest land or fields currently used for arable crops will be converted for use by livestock as the world’s farmers battle to keep up with demand.

“Deforestation will increase carbon emissions, and increased livestock production will raise methane levels and wider fertiliser use will further accelerate climate change. The lead researcher, Bojana Bajzelj from the University of Cambridge, said: ‘There are basic laws of biophysics that we cannot evade.’

“The average efficiency of livestock converting plant feed to meat is less than 3%, and as we eat more meat, more arable cultivation is turned over to producing feedstock for animals that provide meat for humans.” Read more here. And consider going in for mushroom burgers.

I only ever made the eggplant casserole Diet for a Small Planet, but it sure was yummy.

Photo: CiteLighter-Cards
In 1971, Frances Moore Lappé wrote that raising animals for food takes resources better used elsewhere. It can also put too much methane into the atmosphere.

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As the New Yorker magazine was wont to label quirky British news items, “There’ll always be an England.”

Today’s tidbit is from the BBC, courtesy of my web-surfing spouse. Will Gompertz writes about the fierce competition to be crowned Cultural City of 2017.

Hull won. There seems to be a bit of bad blood among the losers.

“Hull has been named the UK’s next City of Culture, beating Leicester, Dundee and Swansea Bay to the right to hold the title in 2017. Hull, known for being the home of poet Philip Larkin, the Ferens gallery and the Truck theatre, will follow the 2013 City of Culture, Londonderry.

“The UK government chooses a new destination every four years, with the aim of helping tourism and the economy. Hull council leader Stephen Brady said winning was ‘a real game-changer.’ …

“TV producer Phil Redmond, who chaired the City of Culture panel, said Hull was the unanimous choice because it put forward ‘the most compelling case based on its theme as “a city coming out of the shadows.” ‘ …

“Swansea’s city council said losing to Hull was a ‘bitter disappointment.’ In an apparent swipe at the winners, council leader David Phillips said the residents of Hull ‘had to have something to look forward to.’ He added his team wouldn’t give up, as ‘there were too many good ideas in the bid, we’re not going to let them slip through our fingers.’

“Leicester’s Mayor Peter Soulsby expressed similar sentiments, saying: ‘We don’t need to wait until 2017 to show ourselves off. We are going to do it now.’

“In Dundee, bid director Stuart Murdoch simply said the city was ‘broken-hearted.’

More.

Almost makes you want to visit the losers to make them feel better.

Photo: http://www.bbc.co.uk
The Hull Truck theatre company’s £14.5m new home, 2009.

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I know it’s hard to believe, but in South Korea, Spam is considered a holiday treat, one that inspires happy memories.

The BBC’s Lucy Williamson had a story about it in September.

“South Korea,” she wrote, “is preparing for the annual lunar thanksgiving holiday, which is known as Chuseok.

“Locals celebrate the holiday by visiting relatives, paying respects to family ancestors as well as the giving and receiving of packaged cans of Spam.

“While that might sound odd, the tins of pre-cooked pork have become a staple of South Korean life.”

Brand manager Shin Hyo Eun explains, ” ‘Spam has a premium image in Korea. It’s probably the most desirable gift one could receive, and to help create the high-class image, we use famous actors in our commercials.’ …

“Spam was introduced to Korea by the US army during the Korean War, when food was scarce – and meat even scarcer. Back then, people used whatever they could find to make a meal.

“But the appeal of Spam lasted through the years of plenty and it’s now so much a part of South Korean food culture, that it’s the staple ingredient in one of the country’s favourite dishes: budae jigae or army stew.”

Ho Gi-suk runs a restaurant near a U.S. base.

” ‘Back then,’ she tells me, ‘there wasn’t a lot to eat. But I acquired some ham and sausages… the only way to get meat in those days was to smuggle it from the army base.’ …

“Army Stew is now well-established as part of South Korea’s culinary landscape — as traditional here as Spam gift-sets for thanksgiving.

” ‘It’s salty, and greasy, and goes very well with the spices,’ one customer told me. ‘Korean soup and American ham – it’s the perfect fusion food.’ ”

More.

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In the UK, retirees are taking up ballet.

Emma Ailes writes for BBC Scotland, “In a locker room at Scottish Ballet, a group of dancers are lacing up their ballet shoes. Only one thing marks them out from the other dancers here. These dancers are all in their 60s and 70s.

“Today, they are rehearsing ‘Swan Lake.’

“Among them is Alicia Steele. She danced when she was young. Now, nearly 80, she’s back.

” ‘I went to keep-fit classes, but I found them a bit boring,’ she says. ‘And I love the music with the piano. I just love it and it makes you feel a bit young again. It doesn’t make you look young, but it makes you feel young inside.’

“There’s been a 70% jump in the number of adult dancers signing up for classes in recent years, according to the Royal Academy of Dance. Some, like Alicia, danced when they were young. Others are complete beginners.

“Their oldest ballerina is 102.” More.

I took ballet both as a child and as an adult. But for now, I am sticking with tai chi chuan. Today the teacher had me learning complicated new moves with the advanced students. “You deserve it,” he said to me.

I’m not sure how to take that.

Photo: BBC Scotland

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