Remembering our roots: new books and resources

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Photo by Danilo Rizzuti

Now going for close to four years, this blog began as a platform to allow us to continually update and review the content of One Billion Hungry: Can we feed the world? Between the publication of The Doubly Green Revolution and One Billion Hungry, the agricultural development and environmental landscape had changed so much that it was important to find a way to remain relevant in order to help to bring about the changes needed for a food secure world. As such we like to periodically bring you a selection of up-to-date, interesting and thought-provoking books and resources, and here are our picks for early 2016. If you know of any interesting or pertinent books or other materials we’d love to hear your suggestions.

Books

Otsuka, K. and Larson, D.F. (Eds.) 2016. In Pursuit of an African Green Revolution. Views from Rice and Maize Farmers’ Fields. Springer.

This book explores recent experiences in trying to bring about a Green Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), focussing on rice and maize. Authors find that an African Rice Revolution has already begun in many irrigated areas, using Asian-type modern varieties, chemical fertilizer, and improved management practices. The same technological package significantly increases the productivity and profitability of rice farming in rainfed areas as well. By strengthening extension capacity and providing management training to smallholders, African governments can boost productivity and accelerate the pace of Africa’s Rice Revolution. The story for maize is quite different, however, where most farmers use local varieties, apply little chemical fertilizer, and obtain very low yields, and thus the success of Africa’s Maize Revolution will require a different approach based on hybrid maize, chemical and organic fertilizers, and stall-fed cross-bred cows.

Moseley, W.G., Schnurr, M.A. and Bezner-Kerr, R. (Eds.) 2016. Africa’s Green Revolution: Critical Perspectives on New Agricultural Technologies and Systems. Routledge.

This book examines the dominant neoliberal agenda for agricultural development and hunger alleviation in Africa. Authors review the history of African agricultural and food security policy in the post-colonial period, across a range of geographical contexts, in order to contextualise the productionist approach embedded in the much heralded New Green Revolution for Africa. This strategy, supported by a range of international agencies, promotes the use of hybrid seeds, fertilisers, and pesticides to boost crop production. This approach is underpinned by a new and unprecedented level of public–private partnerships as donors actively work to promote the private sector and build links between African farmers, input suppliers, agro-dealers, agro-processors, and retailers. The chapters in this volume raise serious questions about its effectiveness as a strategy for increasing food production and alleviating poverty across the continent.

Brautigam, D. 2016. Will Africa Feed China? OUP USA

Over the past decade, China’s meteoric rise on the continent has raised a drumbeat of alarm. China has 9 percent of the world’s arable land, 6 percent of its water, and over 20 percent of its people. Africa’s savannahs and river basins host the planet’s largest expanses of underutilized land and water. Few topics are as controversial and emotionally charged as the belief that the Chinese government is aggressively buying up huge tracts of prime African land to grow food to ship back to China. In Will Africa Feed China?, Deborah Brautigam, one of the world’s leading experts on China and Africa, probes the myths and realities behind the media headlines. Her careful research challenges the conventional wisdom; as she shows, Chinese farming investments are in fact surprisingly limited, and land acquisitions modest. Defying expectations, China actually exports more food to Africa than it imports. But is this picture likely to change?

Lumumba-Kasongo, T. (Ed.) 2015. Land Reforms and Natural Resource Conflicts in Africa: New Development Paradigms in the Era of Global Liberalization. Routledge.

This book is a critical examination of the place and role of land in Africa, the role of land in political formation and national identification, and the land as an economic resource within both national economic development and liberal globalization. Colonial and post-colonial conflicts have been rooted in four related claims: the struggle over scarce resources, especially access to land resources; abundance of natural resources mismanaged or appropriated by both the states, local power systems and multinationals; weak or absent articulated land tenure policies, leading to speculation or hybrid policy framework; and the imperatives of the global liberalization based on the free market principles to regulate the land question and mineral appropriation issue. The actualization of these combined claims have led to conflicts among ethnic groups or between them and governments. This book is not only about conflicts, but also about local policy achievements that have been produced on the land question. It provides a critical understanding of the forces and claims related to land tenure systems, as part of the state policy and its system of governance. [Read more…]

7 key discussions around the NY UN Climate Summit

imagesOn the 23rd of September 2014, heads of state and leaders in finance, business and civil society gathered in New York City for the United Nations Climate Summit 2014. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon organized the high-level meeting, asking leaders to “bring bold announcements and actions to the Summit that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilize political will for a meaningful legal agreement in 2015”.

This summit was a critical step on the path towards a new climate deal at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit and ahead of the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties in Lima, Peru from the 1st to 12th of December 2014. As the world gears up for these events, we look at the key discussions and outcomes from the UN Climate Summit in New York. We also like this post – 7 charts that show why UN climate talks keep breaking down.

  1. Record temperatures

2014 saw Earth’s hottest summer with May, June and August all setting global heat records, as confirmed by scientists at NOAA and NASA. Although cooler in parts of the United States, Europe and Australia, August was a scorcher in the Pacific and Indian oceans and in Africa, and August and June were tied for the seas’ all-time highest temperature record.

  1. Peoples Climate March

As hundreds of thousands of people around the world took to the streets on the 22nd September ahead of the summit it was clear that the international climate change movement is back and growing in force. And the general understanding of how climate change will affect people’s lives has diversified from focusing on fossil fuels alone (although in New York protestors campaigned for the UN to cut fossil fuels) to looking to its impact on food, water, health, agriculture and jobs, to name a few. Oxfam spurred its supporters into action, marching to prevent climate change exacerbating hunger. As Joern Fischer on his blog, Ideas for Sustainability, noted about the London march, “This was a march that felt different to most climate events in the past. This march surpassed all previous events in size and commitment but is clearly only the beginning of a long discussion about how future generations should live in the world.”

  1. The role of uncertainty

Despite enormous public pressure and support for mitigating climate change, there are still questions remaining regarding the science behind climate change predictions and the impacts of drastic changes. One article notes the risk that significant cuts in fossil fuel use would pose to billions of peoples’ lives. In another article the uncertainty of climate science is believed to need to be better communicated, as widespread acceptance of what is presented in say the IPCC reports can prevent meaningful academic and policy discussions. While, in the future, agreeing a new climate deal is critical, agreeing the wrong climate deal would be harmful, and so the uncertainty in our climate future and the trade-offs presented by various courses of mitigating action need further discussion. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Why nutrition-smart agriculture matters, Devex

The next steps for Africa to meet its potential, The Washington Post

Limited potential of no-till agriculture for climate change mitigation, Powlson et al, Nature Climate Change

Getting caught with our plants down: the risks of a global crop yield slowdown from climate trends in the next two decades, Lobell and Tebaldi, Environmental Research Letters.

Smart Aid for the World’s Poor, The Wall Street Journal

Crops v conservation: how farmers can solve the dilemma, Financial Times

Food, farming and antibiotics: a health challenge for business, The Guardian

Farm manager plays leading role in postharvest loss, EurekAlert [Read more…]

Efficiency the key to feeding more people without environmental damage

ID-10028951A new report by researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, published in Science, shows that an extra 3 billion people in the world need not lead to higher levels of hunger if existing cropland is used more efficiently, additionally reducing agriculture’s environmental impact. The report focused on 17 crops that account for 86% of the world’s crop calories as well as the majority of irrigation and fertilizer use. The hope is that the report can help guide and prioritise donors’ and policy makers’ activities for the greatest benefit.

The report identifies three areas of priority that, with the suggested actions, hold the most potential for meeting global food needs and reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint, a key pillar of sustainable intensification. Geographically the majority of these opportunities occur in China, India, U.S., Brazil, Indonesia, Pakistan and Europe. To summarise we need:

1. To produce more food on existing land, in particular closing yield gaps. An estimated 850 million people could be fed by closing the most dramatic yield gaps, in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, by 50%.

Closing yield gaps may seem a simple task through technology and access to productive resources but the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) believe that we need to rethink how we approach yield gaps, taking a whole systems approach.

2. To grow crops more efficiently, in particular using water and nutrients more precisely and reducing climate impacts. The largest potential gains in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as pinpointed by the study, could come from deforestation in Brazil and India, rice production in China and India and crop fertilization in the U.S.

The U.S., China and India, and particularly their maize, rice and wheat production, were also found to be the largest sources of the overuse of nutrients in the world. Across the globe 60% of nitrogen and around 50% of phosphorus applications are in excess of amounts needed by crops. A 2012 article on China Dialogue highlights the dangers of overusing fertilizer. Improving the efficiency of fertilizer use would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Together with Pakistan these countries are also responsible for the majority of irrigation water use, water that could be reduced by 8 to 15% without yield penalties by improving crop water use efficiency.

3. To use crops more efficiently, in particular reducing food waste and reducing the proportion of crop calories going into livestock feed as opposed to directly for human consumption. Current crop animal feed, predominantly maize, could feed approximately 4 billion people. Such a shift would require widespread behavioural change, reducing the overreliance on meat in developed countries, although the report’s authors highlight the potential to shift crops from livestock to humans in times of crisis. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Food security: Ag’s big challenge, Farm Weekly

Ending extreme poverty with a new model of development, Rajiv Shah, Devex

Q&A: Agriculture Needs a ‘New Revolution’, Kanayo Nwanze, IRIN

The Africa Fertilizer Gap, Global Food Security

How can Governments and Donors support Africa’s Women Farmers?, Duncan Green, Oxfam

British firm gets go-ahead for planting genetically modified omega-3 seeds, The Irish Times

Complex land rights feed ‘grabbing’ complaints in Tanzania, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Study casts doubt on climate benefit of biofuels from corn residue, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Six Innovative Initiatives That Are Working to Strengthen Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture, Huffington Post [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

New infographics portal : Everything you wanted to know about Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, CCAFS

The seeds of a new generation, New York Times

Growth soars in sustainable commodities, but poorest producers miss out, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Small is Beautiful – four aims for positive land management, Thinking Country

The danger of trusting corporations to lead the fight against world hunger, Triple Crisis

First African study on biodiversity in genetically modified maize finds insects abundant, EurekAlert

Africa’s Green Revolution Is Ready to Go – Just Add Investments, AllAfrica.com

Should African farmers be able to choose GM crops?, B4FA [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

China’s role in African agriculture, International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development

Farming as rocket science, The Economist

Report links 2012 extreme weather with human-induced climate change, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Missing the story on Golden Rice, The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

The truth about GMOs, Boston Review

Contrary to popular belief, Nature Biotechnology

Plant microbes have potential to unlock advances in agriculture, according to microbiologist, Phys.org

Do crop intensification techniques hold the key to food security?, The Guardian

Resilience, flexibility key to African climate adaptation – researchers, Thomson Reuters Foundation

GM crops: African opposition is a farce, says group led by Kofi Annan, EurActiv

The Story of Phosphorus, Tropical Agriculture Association