New Agriculturist In print 10/3 Heart of dryness

Download 42.13 Kb.
Size42.13 Kb.
New Agriculturist - In print 10/3
Heart of dryness

By James G. Workman

Published by Walker Publishing Company


2009, 323pp, ISBN 978 0 8027 1558 6(Hb), US$26

Water is the essential resource for life. We can survive weeks without food and grow crops without soil but we survive only days without water. It is a finite resource and, as James Workman describes very explicitly, we are rapidly depleting water reserves to the point of exhaustion. Global water consumption is doubling every 20 years, 70 per cent of water use is in agriculture, and there are clear signs of water depletion: "Entire irrigated regions of China, India and Australia withered as the Yellow, Indus and Murray-Darling rivers respectively stopped flowing," writes Workman. While in the US, the huge Ogallala aquifer, on which the country's breadbasket Midwest has come to rely, has bottomed out, even as the reservoirs of the Colorado River hold barely half their capacity of a century ago.

But, this is not just another book quantifying and predicting depletion of a scarce resource. Workman draws on the experience and lore of arguably the most ancient race alive today, the San Bushmen of Southern Africa: if anyone knows how to survive what has been referred to as "the coming age of permanent drought" it is these "oldest of mankind", who have learned how to make the most of the arid Kalahari Desert, surviving on a few litres a day while much of the world has a water use of hundreds and even thousands of litres per person per day. The author was attracted to live with the last surviving Bushmen after a career that had taken him from Yale and Oxford to journalism, speech-writing for the Clinton administration, and seven years in Africa and Asia helping prepare the landmark Report of the World Commission on Dams.

The last 'free' Bushmen, among whom Workman lived, were those resisting the Botswana Government's best efforts to force them to give up their ancient way of life by cutting off all external supplies, including water. The reasons for the Botswana Government's vindictive actions are described in moving detail, as are Workman's interactions with the San with whom he lived. It is that experience and what it taught him that provides the full title of this book: Heart of dryness - How the last Bushmen can help us endure the coming age of permanent drought. Witnessing the self-discipline and sharing of resources, and the skills for finding and accessing moisture in their arid habitat led the author to this contrast: "By managing to cope without government water while drought crippled the surrounding state (of Botswana), the dissident Bushmen revealed the inherent fallacy of centralised water control."

All the lessons offered are not readily applicable to our more complex and urbanised society but many of the principles are, and it is for us to accept the challenge to change lifestyles to cope with more limited water availability or to compete and war for what we need. "We are facing the worst hot dry era in 30,000 years," warns Workman. "Mexico is literally collapsing on top of empty aquifers, while Canada's heartland faces unprecedented stress and China lacks enough water to feed itself." Indeed, since the book was written, China has started filling its fourth dam on the Mekong River, further reducing flow and fisheries to the detriment of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The author also warns that, "To make matters worse, in recent years up to a third of global water withdrawals were converted to irrigate new sources of fuel. It takes 9,000 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of bio-diesel, and 4,000 gallons to produce a gallon of corn ethanol." He adds, "We can envisage a post-oil economy - other sources of alternative energy - but no alternatives to water."

Readers who are policymakers and managers may finally ponder that "we don't govern water, water governs us." And prepare plans against this sombre admission: "The US's most experienced water managers have confessed they lack a solution and looking ahead, say our common future may resemble 'an Armageddon'."
The truth about trade: The real impact of liberalization

By Clive George

Published by Zed Books


2010, 178pp, ISBN 978 0 84813 298 6(Pb), £16.99

Much ink and not a little blood have been spilt in the cause of "free trade"; the World Trade Organization Conference in Seattle in the last days of 1999 generated both, as policy-makers were confronted by protester violence and protesters by police reprisal. But, while trade liberalisation can be presented as a worthy objective, "free trade" begs the question "free for whom" and there are many who believe that numerous aspects of trade liberalisation are largely to the advantage of rich countries and to the disadvantage of the poor and developing nations. The author's aim is to establish whether trade agreements really are vital for eliminating world poverty and making development environmentally sustainable, or are in fact a major cause of continuing disparities.

Clive George was at the centre of the EU's decade-long research into the impacts of trade liberalisation, so has a better than average grasp of this complex and emotive topic. That trade is 'what makes the world go round' is not in doubt since virtually all are affected by international trade. The author's figures are startling: "In 1950 the annual value of world trade was around US$65 billion. By 2007 it was around $14 trillion. While the world economy was growing by a factor of eight, trade grew by a factor of over two hundred." But trade comprises imports and exports, and the degree of prosperity conferred by trading depends on what and how much a country exports and imports. Thus, to achieve the elusive "level playing field" is more difficult than is acknowledged by some on both sides of the trade agreement divide. "Could it be that countries are poor not because they trade too little but because the trade too much?" asks the author.

The book assesses the likely impacts of the current liberalisation agenda on the world's economies, environments and people, and concludes that the impacts of international trade can be beneficial or detrimental, depending on how it is managed. That may be no surprise, but achieving the right management - and adopting the right negotiating stance at international and regional trade conferences - requires a thorough understanding of the subject. Even so, the challenge is daunting as the author concludes that, "Poor countries have to become nearly as rich as the richest before borders can be thrown open….Removing the constraints that are currently applied in the name of free trade will not be enough. If we succeed…the people of this planet will have shown that, for the first time in history, they have developed the capability to communicate with each other, understand each other and like each other enough to value their common interest above their local tribal interests."

This book should prove a useful guide for all those policymakers and trade negotiators who recognise that mutual benefit rather than self-interest is the surest route to sustainability and peace.
Agriculture, biodiversity and markets

Edited by Stewart Lockie and David Carpenter

Published by Earthscan


2010, 318pp, ISBN 978 1 84407 776 2(Hb), £60

Agricultural biodiversity - or agrobiodiversity - plays a pivotal role in the livelihoods of all farmers, since it "encompasses the variety of plants and animals and micro-organisms at species and ecosystem level which are necessary to sustain key functions in the agroecosystem." But while the need to protect and enhance agrobiodiversity seems obvious, how is this best achieved and what are the systemic consequences? The answers are both wide-ranging and complex, and the editors of Agriculture, biodiversity and markets draw on the knowledge and experience of near thirty authors to demonstrate the linkages that affect producers, consumers and those between.

Farmers who ignore the need to maintain biodiversity prejudice their future, but they do so because, say the editors in their introductory chapter, "Comparatively few studies have been made to articulate in detail the contribution of biodiversity to agricultural community livelihoods and vice versa. It is no surprise that in the absence of this sort of information, many farmers trade biodiversity off in order to pursue other goals." The situation is made worse by focusing on the activities of resource-poor farmers in the so-called developing countries, leading to "a lack of analysis on how measures designed to protect agricultural biodiversity in one part of the world might impact - positively or negatively - on biodiversity elsewhere."

To address these gaps in existing knowledge, the editors have brought together case studies from a number of cropping systems from contrasting locations around the world, demonstrating that "agrobiodiversity continues to be depleted through rapid land-use change as biodiverse farming practices are replaced with less biodiverse practices." The process is encouraged by "incentives that include tax concessions, subsidies and price controls of certain crops."

It is all too clear that government policies and commercial inducements are the key drivers of farm management decisions, all too often ignoring that short term benefits pose long term costs. It is also clear that progress can be made and has been made to rectify the situation. Coffee is one crop where management is now increasingly regulated by codes of management in response to consumer demand: The Rainforest Alliance and the Common Code for the Coffee Community (4C) are two such regulatory bodies. Policymakers and others with influence on farm management in Europe, US and the mainly agricultural countries of the tropics could digest the arguments of this book with benefit.
Forests for people: Community rights and forest tenure reform

Edited by Anne M Larson et al.

Published by Earthscan


2010, 278pp, ISBN 978 1 84407 918 6(Pb), £24.95

Over the last decade, 15 of the 30 most forested countries in the world have increased the area of forest that is used, managed or owned by local communities. This, claim the editors of Forests for people, reflects a growing recognition that conservation of forest ecosystems, sustainable forest management, and improved livelihoods for people who depend on forests are complementary, not competing goals.

Written for the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Forests for people presents the lessons of a three-year study of forest reform in ten African, Asian and Latin American countries. Key questions addressed include: the impetus and nature of reforms; key factors influencing the reform process, such as the role of local organisations, regulators and markets; and outcomes of reform, in terms of livelihoods, the forest condition, and equity.

Frequent obstacles to reform include the complexity of establishing new frameworks to regulate forest management and the weakness of community structures charged with implementing new systems. Thus, the importance for communities to be well-organised and linked by organisations and networks, in order to take advantage of the new opportunities, is paramount. Forests for people is essential reading for those involved in forest policy reform, who wish to learn from recent experiences around the world. Rather than dividing the book into country case studies, the editors have skilfully synthesised the findings from over thirty research locations according to various themes, thereby presenting a powerful, well-informed case in favour of community forest management.
Adding value to livestock diversity: Marketing to promote local breeds and improve livelihoods

Edited by Paul Mundy

Published by LPP, LIFE network, IUCN, and FAO

Available from:

2010, 149pp, ISBN 978 9 25106 4 535(Pb), US$34 or free to download

Over centuries, local livestock breeds kept by smallscale livestock keepers and pastoralists have been adapted to specific habitats. "Many have unique traits, such as disease resistance and drought tolerance, and represent an important source of genetic diversity that animal breeders can use in responding to pest and disease outbreaks and climate change," the authors write. "They are also integral parts of their environments that help sustain biodiversity. Many play a central role in the cultures of the people who keep them." But an estimated 430 breeds of cattle, sheep and chickens have already become extinct. In order to tackle this erosion, Adding value to livestock diversity focuses on the promotion of niche markets for the products of local livestock breeds.

From cashmere in Kyrgyzstan, to milk in Mauritania, and camel wool in Mongolia, Adding value to livestock diversity succinctly describes eight case studies that have found ways to create markets for their products through innovative marketing and branding, and by improving organisation, production, processing and distribution. In Argentina, a group of local institutions in Patagonia has applied for a Protected Domain of Origin designation for the meat of the local Criollo goat, while a network of women have formed a community sales outlet to sell traditional items made from the local Linca sheep's wool. And in Mauritania, a private dairy that buys milk from pastoralist herders is currently trying to acquire regulatory approval to export camel cheese to the European Union.

According to the authors, "finding niche markets for their products is one possible way of ensuring the survival of these breeds, and enabling the people who keep them to earn more from their existing lifestyle."
Trading stories: Experiences with gender and trade

Edited by Marilyn Carr and Mariama Williams

Published by the Commonwealth Secretariat


2010, 282pp, ISBN 978 0 85092 873 0(Pb), £20

Trade liberalisation in developing countries has created job opportunities for some women, but has resulted in the destruction of jobs and income for others. Trading stories uses 20 case studies to assess the key links between trade, gender and economic development. "Women's empowerment must be a key pillar of any trade and development strategy," Mariama Williams writes. "Trade expansion on its own does not generate sustained improvement in women's overall situation. Proactive policies and programmes are needed at national and local levels that seek to address issues of structural inequality between women and men."

From the effects of tariff reductions on sugar in Kenya, and changing trade regimes on the St Lucia banana industry, to the consequences of the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures on the fish industry in Uganda, the first ten case studies focus on the impacts of trade policies on gender. The second section of the book provides ten examples of how governments, NGOs, international agencies and the private sector have been working to link poor women with export markets. Successes include Jamaican farmers who are exporting organic coffee to niche markets, and cocoa farmers in Ghana who have been linked with the fair trade market in the UK and are shareholders in their own chocolate companies.

Aimed specifically at policymakers and development practitioners, Trading stories provides guidance on the sorts of mitigating and compensatory actions that are necessary to lessen the negative impacts of changes in trade policies on women, and highlights ways to enhance the positive benefits on women's overall economic and social empowerment. "Rural women are more likely to benefit at all levels from export enterprises if they are the owners of the enterprise or linked to it through a very short supply chain. They are also more likely to benefit if they are independent producers rather than workers," Marilyn Carr explains. A win-win situation, where export earnings are expanded, rural livelihoods are improved and the environment conserved, "is entirely possible if the political will is there and the entrepreneurial spirit and rural skills exist to make it happen," she concludes.
Seed trade in rural markets: Implications for crop diversity and agricultural development

Edited by Lipper, Anderson and Dalton

Published by FAO and Earthscan

Website: and

2010, 232pp, ISBN 978 1 84407 785 4(Pb), £29.95

Feeding a growing population and improving the management of natural resources are two of the most urgent challenges facing the world today, the authors write, and agricultural markets, seed systems and crop genetic resources (CGR) lie at the heart of both. To support sustainable development and use of plant genetic resources, Seed trade in rural markets proposes "increasing farmers' access to crop genetic diversity by strengthening the capacity of seed supply systems to provide the range of crops and varieties farmers need, together with information needed to make appropriate selections, delivered at an affordable cost."

With case studies from Bolivia, India, Kenya, Mali and Mexico, this book examines the range of seed varieties on offer in local markets, the information about them and the relative prices. In India, most seed is obtained locally from social networks, but local rural markets are becoming an increasingly important source of traditional and improved millet varieties, particularly when traditional seed systems break down due to drought or conflict. Overall, the five case studies demonstrate that the more developed the markets, the lower the cost of seed and greater the availability of CGR, but that availability of accurate information on seed varieties decreases. "Without this information, farmers are often force into high-priced transactions, with more limited CGR in less developed markets in order to ensure the suitability of the seed," the book states.

The importance of local markets as a source of seed in the informal sector is one of the key observations to emerge. The results also suggest that "efforts to improve informal seed sector supply channels in local markets represent an important way to promote the sustainable use of crop genetic resources and improve farmers' welfare," writes Kostas Stamoulis, director of the agricultural development economics division at FAO. Aimed primarily at policymakers, researchers and development practitioners, Seed trade in rural markets concludes that addressing information failures in local markets will significantly improve the capacity of the informal seed sector to meet farmers' needs.
UNEP year book 2010: New science and developments in our changing environment
------ BOX START ------


------- BOX END -------
------ BOX START ------

Published by UNEP

------- BOX END -------
------ BOX START ------


------- BOX END -------
------ BOX START ------

2010, 66pp, ISBN 978 9 28073 044 9(Pb), US$20 or free to download

------- BOX END -------
Almost half of the world's population will live under conditions of water stress by 2030 if effective policies are not introduced and implemented; and by 2050, East Asia will require 70 per cent more water for irrigation than today to feed its growing population. Water-related environmental changes, challenges and opportunities are just some of the important issues examined in this annual report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Others include the effects of degradation on the world's ecosystems, the impacts of climate change, environmentally related conflicts and disasters, and the unsustainable use of resources.

In the chapter on ecosystem management, the book investigates concerns about how healthy ecosystems can be maintained in the face of population pressure and climate change. "It will be impossible to meet the planet's nutritional demands without seriously reforming agricultural, land, and ecosystem management practices," the authors write. "Food production relies on the capacity of ecosystems to provide water, soils, climate regulation, and other benefits. The loss of these benefits, coinciding with increasing biofuel production in several parts of the world, could reduce the amount of land available for food crops."

Presenting recent science and environmental developments, this concise and colourful book will be of interest to anyone interested in the environment.
Trade, climate change and sustainable development: Key issues for small states, least developed countries and vulnerable economies

Edited by Moustapha Kamal Gueye et al.

Published by Commonwealth Secretariat


2009, 180pp, ISBN 978 0 85092 881 5(Pb), £20

The debate on how trade policy can be used to mitigate the effects of climate change has, until now, largely focussed on the developed world and the large emerging economies of Brazil, India and China. But for many of the world's smaller developing countries, including small island states, the threats from climate change and their dependence on agricultural trade make this an issue of the greatest urgency.

This timely publication from the Commonwealth Secretariat and the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), looks at the worrying impact of climate change on key trade sectors, including agriculture, fisheries and tourism. It further explores the needs of small developing countries in respect to transport, access to clean, efficient energy and to technologies that can enable more sustainable production.

Many of these small countries are land-locked or remote from their markets, and are faced with increasing challenges in adapting to climate change, while suffering continual erosion of their natural resources. To enhance their trade capacity and their competitiveness in the global market will demand radical changes, not least diversification towards new types of production that are less vulnerable to the impacts of the changing climate.
Out of the scientist's garden: A story of water and food

By Richard Stirzaker

Published by CSIRO


2010, 208pp, ISBN 978 0 64309 658 5(Pb), AU$29.95

Accessible fresh water is a limited resource. Less than three per cent of the water on earth is fresh enough for watering plants, and frozen icecaps make up two-thirds of this. Free of jargon and easy to read, Out of the scientist's garden is a collection of short stories that explore how a world with shrinking water resources will feed a growing population.

Richard Stirzaker begins in his own fruit and vegetable garden to explain why and how food grows, before looking at soils, rivers, aquifers, ways to make irrigation more accurate and sustainable, and biodiversity. Stirzaker also explores tillage, permaculture, agroforestry and closes with a brief history of agriculture.

Written for those who want to understand food and water a little better, Out of the scientist's garden will appeal to anyone interested in how water is turned into food.
Download 42.13 Kb.

Share with your friends:

The database is protected by copyright © 2022
send message

    Main page