Mind! New in print
New books from Greenpeace International, Agribusiness Action Initiatives, ACF International Network and others
Economic analysis of diversity in modern wheat
Erika C.H. Meng and John P. Brennan (eds.), 2009. CIMMYT / ACIAR, 192 pages.
What is diversity worth? This is a valid question if we think that the majority of the world’s food comes from only a few crops, and from a limited number of varieties. Wheat is one of these crops. Our reliance on “improved varieties” has narrowed plant genetic diversity, in a process that seems to become ever more serious. Looking in detail at the production of wheat in China and Australia, the different chapters of this book consider aspects such as the geographical context or local preferences, and the apparent conflict between diversity and productivity.
This broad analysis also takes into account the existing policies, presenting the implications this conflict has for policy development.
Agricultural programmes: From initial assessment to programme implementation
ACF International Network / Action Contre la Faim, 2009, 144 pages.
The fact that the number of hungry people in the world exceeds one billion shows the daunting challenges we face in terms of food production and distribution. For ACF, one of the ways to tackle this deficit is through “agricultural rehabilitation programmes” – programmes which aim to allow people to produce their own food or obtain it via exchange. This book looks at how to implement such programmes, starting with a set of logical principles to be followed (such as, first, do no harm). The authors complement the theoretical descriptions with examples from many countries, focusing on small-scale farming. Although aimed at the humanitarian community, the information provided is interesting in all sorts of transition contexts.
Agriculture at a crossroads: Food for survival
Greenpeace International, 2009, 64 pages.
The fact that the main conclusion of the IAASTD team has been repeated often doesn’t make it any less important: in terms of agriculture, “business as usual is not an option”. Building on the IAASTD report itself, this document shows the main problems which the world faces as a result of industrial agriculture, focusing on its contribution to climate change and the fact that it does not solve the problems of hunger and malnutrition. With sharp arguments, it shows the advantages of agroecology and organic agriculture, ending with a list of simple – but effective – steps to take. Clearly written, this is essential reading for all involved in sustainable agriculture, and is available for free.
From agrochemistry to agroecology
Jean Philippe Deguine, Pierre Ferron and Derek Russell, 2009. Science Publishers, 190 pages.
During the last 50 years, the need to avoid crop losses has become a billion dollar industry, and at the same time has resulted in increasing problems of toxicity and pollution, or of resistance to the same products that were expected to help.
Describing the evolution seen in the methods to control pests in cotton (for long the “most sprayed crop”), the authors show the benefits of planning and preventative actions – mostly when compared to curative interventions. Especially interesting is what they call “habitat management”, as an approach that combines crop protection, the protection of nature and sustainable development.
Climate, agriculture and food security: A strategy for change
Anne Moorehead (ed.), 2009. Alliance of the CGIAR Centers, 56 pages.
Prepared for the Copenhagen conference which took place in December 2009, this document shows the relationship between agriculture and climate change in a very clear way. Agriculture is behind much of the world’s emission of greenhouse gases, while millions of farmers are already suffering the effects of climate change.
Recognising that yields are going down, the CGIAR centres present ways to adapt to change, both now and in the future (focusing on water use, crop breeding, and soil management, among others). Attention is also given to the synergy needed between adaptation and mitigation. Even if this section could be expanded further, the recommendations given show the important role that small-scale agriculture plays in mitigating the negative effects of climate change.
A question of governance: To protect agribusiness profits or the right to food?
Molly D. Anderson, 2009. Agribusiness Action Initiatives, 22 pages.
Presented at the time of the World Food Summit held in Rome in November, this short briefing paper argues against the common recipes given to solve the world’s food crisis. Raising production levels is not enough if this food does not reach those who need it most. Linking small-scale farmers to value chains can be very risky if issues related to power and control are not considered. With interesting figures, the author shows how, while the number of hungry people increased significantly during the previous twelve months, the profits of many agribusinesses were also the highest in history. Considering the IAASTD conclusions, she recommends looking at the entire food system and not just at production, while implementing programmes on the basis of rights-based principles.
Reading up on livestock
One of the most interesting publications available on the internet is “Livestock’s long shadow” (Henning Steinfeld et al., 2006). This is a very detailed analysis of the relationship between livestock rearing and the environment. Another excellent publication is IFAD’s “Livestock services for the poor” (2006). Considering that livestock keepers can benefit from the world’s demand for animal products, the authors focus on the need of having “pro-poor services” which will not only support production, but also help empower producers. These are complemented by some very recent publications: “Modern and mobile” (IIED and SOS Sahel, 2010) highlights the very important role that pastoralism plays in African economies, but also the need for new ideas and policies so that the benefits of pastoralism help reduce poverty. Also published this year, FAO’s “State of food and agriculture 2009” looks at the recent growth of the world’s livestock sector, and at the urgent need for stronger policies and regulations. With a special section focusing on small-scale producers, “Minding the stock” (World Bank, 2009) looks at the importance of policies when aiming at development. Equally interesting is the chapter written by Czech Conroy in “Agricultural systems” (edited by S. Snapp and B. Pound, 2008). From an agroecological perspective, it shows the importance of animal production as part of a farming system, and of innovations at the local level. Finally, Readers of the old LEISA Magazine may remember vol. 18.1, entitled “Livestock: which way?”, and also vol. 21.3, where we looked at the importance of small animals. Both issues are available online.