The new ‘golden age’ of agronomy

Originally posted on CGIAR’s Thrive blog on February 25, 2016
By Fred Pearce

Not since the Green Revolution half a century ago has there been such a golden age for agronomy. But unlike the hey-day of new high-yield varieties of rice, wheat and corn, there is no consensus today about where the science of farming should be headed and what it should be trying to deliver.

Is the aim to maximise yield, to feed the world’s growing urban masses, to improve the lot of rural households, to rescue the world’s soils from rampant over exploitation, or to drive economic growth in developing economies?

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Rice production in Eastern Uruguay from the air. Photo Credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT

Can all be delivered at the same time? Or is agronomy being taken over by fads – many with a green patina, such as conservation agriculture, agro-ecology, climate-smart agriculture and sustainable intensification – that promise all but too often deliver little. Do they too often turn into a new imposition on the rural poor? [Read more…]

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…]

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.

WHO to basically everybody: Stop eating so much sugar, The Washington Post

Five Lessons from the Frontlines of Africa’s Green Revolution, Ventures

Grow Markets, Fight Hunger: A Food Security Framework for US-Africa Trade Relations, Chicago Council on Global Affairs

EU State of the Environment Report, European Environment Agency

Ugandan farmers take on palm oil giants over land grab claims, The Guardian

Better genes for better (more adaptable) beans, EurekAlert

How to reduce losses on the way to the market, Daily Monitor

Climate change and compassion: the missing link?, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Can Public-Private Partnerships Actually Benefit the Poor?, PAEPARD [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.

Agricultural science is the backbone of sustainable development, Thomson Reuters Foundation

New Generation of GM Crops Puts Agriculture in a ‘Crisis Situation’, Wired

Amped-up plants, Nature

Moral Hazard? ‘Mega’ public-private partnerships in African agriculture, Oxfam

The African Landscapes Action Plan, Landscapes for People, Food and Nature

Closing the Gap for Post-2015: New Ambition for Acute Malnutrition, Huffington Post

UN: only small farmers and agroecology can feed the world, The Ecologist

The Time Has Come for Agroecology, IPS

Is FAO opening a window for ecological farming?, Greenpeace

How to equip farmers for climate change, CNN

Climate-smart agriculture: balancing trade-offs in food systems and ecosystems, CCAFS

Commodities: Cereal excess, Financial Times [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.

The sustainable intensification of European agriculture, Rise

The Role of Trees in Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture in the Tropics, PAEPARD

World Bank and UN carbon offset scheme ‘complicit’ in genocidal land grabs – NGOs, The Guardian

Food waste reduction could help feed world’s starving, BBC

The Next Green Revolution May Rely on Microbes, PBS

Which governments are doing best/worst in the fight against hunger and undernutrition?, Duncan Green, Oxfam

Food security report – MPs call for ‘Plan B’ for animal feed, Farmers Guardian

Fertilizers: quality over quantity, Global Food Security

Picking up the pieces from a failed land grab project in Tanzania, Global Post

Agronomic and environmental aspects of the cultivation of genetically modified herbicide-resistant plants, Tappeser et al (eds)

Malnutrition a threat with use of climate-resilient crops, scientists say, Thomson Reuters Foundation

‘Land grabbing’ could help feed at least 300 million people, study suggests, EurekAlert [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.

A meta-analysis of crop yield under climate change and adaptation, Nature

A Green Revolution, This Time for Africa, The New York Times

Philippine experts divided over climate change action, The Guardian

New Innovations to Reduce Harvest Loss in Africa, The Rockefeller Foundation

Is more hunger and malnutrition inevitable? Not necessarily, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Unity is strength in the marketing of smallholder farm produce, EurekAlert

Don’t sacrifice EU environmental standards to get trade deal with US, warns Greenpeace policy director, Vieuws

Farming for Improved Ecosystem Services Seen as Economically Feasible, American Institute of Biological Sciences

US pork prices rise 10% after virus kills millions of piglets, The Guardian

Northern Europe hit by most bee deaths – EU study, BBC

Looking to Wheat’s Wild Ancestors to Combat an Evolving Threat, USDA

Who’s leading on climate action pledges? A calculator reveals all, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Field study shows why food quality will suffer with rising CO2, UC Davis

 

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…]