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In print

The principles of sustainability The principles of sustainability

By Simon Dresner
Published by Earthscan
2002, 200pp, ISBN 1 85383 842 X(Pb), £14.95

When the quote in the blurb on the back cover claims the content to be an 'entertaining, informative and sometimes downright irreverent romp' one cannot but be surprised, (dare one suggest disappointed?), that the book is about principles of sustainability. The front cover is sober in the extreme. No gold embossed titling and no enticing picture such as those usually associated with the word 'romp'. So should one judge a book by its cover and, in this case, which cover?

Most readers of New Agriculturist will probably feel they have seen enough of the words 'sustainable development' to last them a lifetime. This concept, carefully conceived to balance environmental concerns with acceptance of the need for economic growth, has been with us for about two decades. Simon Dresner argues that the present debate about sustainability is part of a wider re-evaluation of many of the modernist values about the relationship between nature and man that have been passed down to us from the explosion in scientific discovery and philosophy, known as the Age of Enlightenment, that took place in 18th century Europe. From a brief setting into its historical context, he then charts the more recent efforts to develop the arguments for sustainability. There are, of course, disagreements about what, if anything, sustainable development actually means. Underlying this is disagreement about what development means. Is it about economic growth and industrialization or is it about non-material improvement in such things as health and education? Indeed are sustainability and sustainable development the same thing?

Simon Dresner draws on the views of a large number of thinkers. He discusses sustainability in terms of economics and ethics and if, as at times, the text becomes a little heavy for those not already well versed in moral philosophy, there are simpler explanations to provide some light relief. For example, that attitudes to sustainability are framed by the fact that although 'people do care about their children, they do not care about anyone else's children'. And that what ultimately destroyed the communist system was that its rate of economic growth could not keep up with that of the capitalist system. It was not political freedom to which eastern Europeans aspired so much as the consumer goods espied through the Iron Curtain. The problem is that 'as far as sustainability is concerned, consumerism is a large part of the problem. As far as capitalism is concerned, consumerism is essential'. The author argues that we have no choice but to pursue the path towards sustainability because the alternative must be, ultimately, disastrous. But, as we move along that path, we have to define what we mean by the terms we use. Words only acquire meaning when there is a consensus about what that meaning is. We cannot be like Humpty Dumpty in Alice through the Looking Glass who says, in a scornful tone, "It means what I want it to mean, neither more nor less." The happy readers who pick up this book, whether tempted to do so by its front or back cover, will find that they achieve - perhaps at last -a better idea of the principles of sustainability.

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Local transport solutions for rural development Local transport solutions for rural development

By Paul Starkey
Published by DFID
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Website: /
2002, 48pp, ISBN 1 86192 247 5(Pb), free

Outstanding colour photographs, that show in vivid detail how people in the developing world use transport, is the strong feature of this book by Paul Starkey. From the simplest and most arduous - carrying on head or back - to donkeys, camels, horse, oxen, bicycles, scooters, and an astonishing variety of carts and carriages, the pictures demonstrate the imagination and ingenuity of rural people faced with the task of moving themselves and their goods from one place to another. Expanded captions provide location and comment but it is the pictures which sell this book which was funded by DFID in order to stimulate interest and debate among policy makers and within rural communities.

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Participation in practiceParticipation in practice: Case studies from The Gambia

By David Brown, Mick Howes, Karim Hussein, Catherine Longley and Ken Swindell
Published by Overseas Development Institute, 111 Westminster Bridge Road, London, SE1 7JD, UK
2002, 269pp, ISBN 0 85003 598 8(Pb), £19.95

Participatory rural appraisal (PRA) has become the mantra of development workers in recent years but its effectiveness has been more often asserted than actually demonstrated. For this reason, the UK Government's Department for International Development (DFID) asked the Overseas Development Institute to undertake an analysis of the use of PRA in The Gambia to assess how effective it was proving to be and what lessons could be learnt. Four case studies were chosen, one of which involved DFID's principal partner in The Gambia, ActionAid. Perhaps a little surprisingly, PRA methods were used despite the obvious risk in using a method as both the subject and the means of research. The decision was justified on the grounds that it would help to assess their effectiveness in the programmes under study and secondly that their use would provide an opportunity for capacity building in the technique.

Each case study is examined in some detail and these are followed by a clearly written synthesis of findings. In essence, the conclusion is that PRA is most unlikely to contribute to a change in development practice in The Gambia such that village communities will, unprompted by funding agencies, choose PRA for development planning or resource mobilisation. Written for development practitioners, this is not an easy book to read. Some may find it helpful to keep a marker in the page which spells out acronyms.

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Negotiating access to land in West AfricaNegotiating access to land in West Africa

By Philippe Lavigne Delville, Camilla Toulmin, Jean-Philippe Colin & Jean-Pierre Chauveau
Published by IIED
2002, 128pp, ISBN 1 899825 95 9(Pb), $28

The debate about land tenure reform is usually focused upon questions of title and ownership confirmed by land registry and certification. In contrast, 'customary' rights have, until comparatively recently, been merely tolerated by the legislature where there is no conflict with formal legislation. Locally accepted arrangements for land use in exchange for cash, labour, sharecropping etc., whether written down or not, are now receiving greater legal recognition. Since they allow land to be farmed by someone other than the landowner, and indeed, in some areas this represents a considerable proportion of all cultivated land, such 'derived' rights have a significant impact. They also allow agricultural production systems to adapt to economic changes and are the principal means of access to land in areas that receive many migrants. Policy makers therefore need a good understanding of the strength and weaknesses of such systems and how best to accommodate 'derived' rights to land within more formal arrangements.

Based on the findings of research in six W. African countries; Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal, the book provides some fascinating insights into what are, frequently, very complicated and location specific agreements in which ambiguity appears to be the defining characteristic. Despite this, the authors are able to draw out lessons that may help to make derived rights more secure and conflict resolution more manageable.

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Innovation in natural resource management Innovation in natural resource management

Edited by Ruth Meinzen-Dick, Anna Knox, Frank Place and Brent Swallow
Published for IFPRI by The John Hopkins University Press
2002, 317pp, ISBN 0 8018 7143 3(Pb), £22

This book, published in November 2002, originated from a workshop held five years earlier at ICARDA in Syria to discuss property rights, collective action and natural resource management. (See Points of View). The principal area of interest has been to better understand what influences people to organize themselves and work together to achieve common objectives and make decisions, individually or collectively, on whether or not to adopt new agricultural and natural resource management technologies. Without such understanding, many millions of dollars can be spent on agricultural research and development to little purpose. Although many factors may constrain a farmer's choice of technology, lack of secure property rights is a common and important one. For activities, such as natural resource management, which require farmers to make joint decisions and cooperate in implementing them, inadequate institutions for managing collective activity can also be a constraint.

In contrast to the book above, which concentrates upon land tenure in W. Africa, the property rights discussed here are taken from case studies in E. Africa, Latin America and Asia. They are of interest principally because of the effect they have in terms of the incentives they offer for individual or collective action. Of interest principally to researchers, some chapters of the book, for example the account from CIAT of attempts to encourage collective control of leaf cutting ants in a rural area of Colombia, make interesting reading for a non-specialist. Other chapters are more difficult. For example, that on the spatial differences in people's use of pour-on chemicals to control tsetse in the Ghibe Valley of Ethiopia, carries equations that require a good number of Greek letters and several sets of brackets. Something to excite the specialist, no doubt.

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Land tenure and rural development in Burkina FasoLand tenure and rural development in Burkina Faso

By Moussa Ouédraogo
Published by IIED Drylands Programme as Issue paper no. 112
Website: Issues papers can be downloaded for free from
Hard copies can be bought for US$5 plus P&P from
2002, 24pp, ISSN 1357 9312(Pb), $5

This is an analysis of the challenges facing Burkina Faso as it attempts to improve natural resources management. The country has experienced endemic drought since the '70s, serious loss of cultivable land due to desertification, increasing population pressure and a breakdown in the old patterns of community ownership of land. The government has introduced a decentralized sustainable development policy and this short booklet examines its strengths and weaknesses.

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Women, men and work Women, men and work: Rural livelihoods in south-eastern Zimbabwe

Edited by Paul Hebinck and Michael Bourdillon
Published by Weaver Press Ltd.
Distributed by African Books Collective, The Jam Factory, 27 Park End Street Oxford, OX1 1HU, UK
2001, 168pp, ISBN 0779220030 (Pb), £14.95

This collection of seven research projects from south-eastern Zimbabwe will be helpful, particularly to students of rural development, in putting some flesh on the bones of what a 'livelihood strategy' really is. The projects succeed in getting down to the nitty-gritty of survival among different groups of people whose livelihoods depend on, among other things, bark-fibre craft, millet processing, sugar and prostitution. One of the studies looks at the importance of children's labour contribution within a family, a useful snapshot for those working in child-based development in southern Africa. Each study includes a straightforward description of the research methodology and sensible presentation and analysis of the main findings.

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By Nicola Frost
Published by Oxfam - Country Profiles series
2002, 96pp, ISBN 0 85598 481 3(Pb), £6.95

The 10-page chapter on agriculture in this profile of Indonesia is heavily critical of the policies of the Green Revolution era, accepting the threefold increase in production but lamenting the environmental and social cost. Since the mid '90s, national rice production has been in decline, faced with high costs of imported fertilizer and increased competition from cheap imported rice. Many small scale farmers, forced into debt, have lost their land. On Java, where 60% of the national rice crop is produced, between 40,000 and 50,000 hectares of rice fields are converted for non-agricultural purposes every year.

This chapter champions the small, organic farmer and the farming groups that have come into being to provide mutual support. The greater part of the book concentrates on the political, social, environmental and economic history of the islands to the present day. It is written, as one would expect, from the perspective of the publisher which focuses on poor and marginalised communities, human rights (especially of indigenous peoples), democracy, governance and gender equality.

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Tapping the green marketTapping the green market: Certification and management of non-timber forest products

Edited by Patricia Shanley, Alan Robert Pierce, Sarah A. Laird, S.Abraham Guillén
Published by Earthscan
2002, 456pp, ISBN 1 85383 810 1(Pb), £24.95

Non timber forest products have long been undervalued by all but those who depend upon them. But the liberalization of international trade has created both opportunities for greater exploitation, and challenges to their sustainable use. Certification is increasingly used to foster responsible stewardship of all types of resources including wood, through labelling, marketing and premium prices. Can the same tool be used to protect non timber forest products and their traditional harvesters?

This book examines the options, bearing in mind that only where consumers are sufficiently wealthy and environmentally concerned (e.g. consumers in Europe) will certification have any real impact. In effect this rules out most non timber forest products consumed around the world. Furthermore, the level of organization required by certification programmes, and their cost, will prevent most harvesters from participating. Despite these cautions, the book covers the current state and future prospects of certification, the development of general guidelines, profiles of a number of individual non timber forest products and the prospects for their certification. Further chapters deal with ecological, social, technical and marketing issues. This book is easy and enjoyable to read with much fascinating historical background to the rise and fall in popularity of the featured plants.

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Water - local level managementWater - local level management

By David B Brooks
Published by International Development Research Centre (IDRC)
2002, 70pp, ISBN 0 88936 996 8(Pb), $15

This booklet is neither a treatise in hydrology nor an essay in resource economics. It is a summary of relevant findings from lessons learned in 30 years of applied research supported by Canada's International Development Research Centre. It highlights lessons learned that should be immediately useful for making better management and policy decisions in future.

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