National Geographic : 2011 Jul
wisdom of the world's farmers, generations of whom crafted the seeds and breeds we now so covet. Perhaps the most precious and endan- gered resource is the knowledge stored in farm- ers' minds. FORTY YEAR OLD Jemal Mohammed owns a ve- acre, hillside farm outside the tiny hamlet of Fon- tanina in the Welo region of Ethiopia's northern highlands. It is in the heart of one of the centers of diversity that Nikolay Vavilov visited on his expedition. Stepping foot on Mohammed's land is like tumbling back in time to an ancient way of farm- ing. His circular, thatched-roof hut with walls of dried mud and straw is the same dwelling that has dotted Ethiopia's countryside for centuries. A pair of oxen lies to the right of the hut in the shade of a jacaranda tree. ree or four chickens strut across a bare front yard. His elds, tilled with an ox-drawn plough and planted by hand, are a jumble of crops: tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro, gourds, sorghum, wheat, barley, chickpeas, and te , a grain used to make injera, a atbread. e image of the traditional, small farmer's life is one of simplicity. And yet compared with the mechanized operations of modern agriculture, Mohammed's work is a dynamic and highly nu- anced juggling act in the face of constant threats like drought, untimely downpours, and disease. He plants legumes and grain together to make the most of limited space. Such intercropping is also a natural way of fertilizing: e legumes growing at the base of the taller sorghum add nitrogen to the soil. Welo was one of the regions hit hardest by the devastating famine in Ethiopia that killed hundreds of thousands. e experience is still seared in Mohammed's memory. He shows me a collection of hollowed-out gourds lled to the brim with what look to be colored pebbles. "I keep these stocks as my security, my backup," he says, looking ANKOLE WATUSI Its horns---spanning six feet and honeycombed with blood vessels---help this African breed stay cool. RANDALL LINEBACK Sturdy, distinctly marked survivors of a herd indig- enous to Vermont, the breed nearly went extinct in the 1980s but is rebounding. TEXAS LONGHORN Prized for their lean beef, the iconic cattle of the American West have horns that can span more than seven feet.