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In print

Keepers of the spring: Reclaiming our water in an age of globalization Keepers of the spring: Reclaiming our water in an age of globalization

By Fred Pearce
Published by Island Press
2004, 270pp, ISBN 1 55963 681 5(Hb), $26

High tech vs. low tech, large scale vs. small, imported technology vs. local solutions - these opposing views on the best way forward have caused heated discussion across the development arena for years. But while advocates of locally appropriate and sustainable solutions seem to be winning the argument in many areas, it seems that management of the world's water is still in the hands of the technocrats. Pearce - and no doubt many readers of New Agriculturist - would like to see this change. His arguments, put forward in this well-researched and engagingly written book, are convincing.

Pearce does not like huge dams, and other 'megawater' projects. "Everywhere large projects - many of them hydrologically inefficient, inequitable, and ill-conceived - are swamping smaller, more efficient, more equitable, and more practical water supply systems." But, "perhaps the most compelling argument against the massive projects now under way is that they probably will not work." Pearce more than adequately justifies these accusations, with evidence gathered from his travels across the planet.

There is, however, no controversy over the fact that something needs to be done. With current practices, and increasing demands from larger populations, a world water crisis seems inevitable. But, according to Pearce, the problem is not one of insufficient water. "We are not running out of water. What we face is a crisis about how we use and manage water. We do not have a supply-side problem so much as a demand-side problem."

The answer lies in a new water ethic, centred on a respect for natural water cycling, and efficient and equitable water use. The 'soft' solutions arising from this ethic would be affordable, often simple, and always locally managed. In some parts of the world they might build on ancient water management practices - the qanats of Persia are described in detail and provide a fascinating example of such a system. In other places twenty-first century technology has a part to play, for example, new methods for trapping air-borne moisture. Pearce describes a type of greenhouse that produces freshwater from seawater and has the potential to produce much-needed irrigation water in the world's many dry coastal regions.

Agriculture, responsible for most of the world's water use - and wastage - not surprisingly features prominently in this book. More efficient irrigation is key, and drip irrigation is lauded as a soft solution with huge potential. Rice also gets a special mention - astonishingly, more than a third of all water used on the planet goes to irrigate rice paddies in Asia. Ways to reduce this already exist - the challenge now is widespread adoption.

According to Pearce, our water is currently managed so badly that "Even modest efforts at using water more efficiently would end the world's water crisis." Those with an interest in ending the water crisis should perhaps begin by reading Keepers of the spring. Highly recommended.

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Rural livelihoods and poverty reduction policiesRural livelihoods and poverty reduction policies

Edited by Frank Ellis and H. Ade Freeman
Routledge Studies in Development Economics series
Published by Taylor & Francis
2005, 432pp, ISBN 0 415 34119 1(Hb), £85

This book gathers together research on the micro-macro connections in developing countries, that is, connections between policies for poverty reduction and the realities of life for poor rural citizens. The findings are clear: the editors are in no doubt about the "critical mismatches that occur between the priorities and constraints confronted by ordinary rural people in their pursuit of diverse livelihoods, and the eventual sectoral and sub-sectoral priorities that emerge from PRSP [poverty reduction strategy papers] or PRSP-type processes at macro policy level."

Much of the work reported here focuses on four countries in sub-Saharan Africa (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi), but findings may well be more widely relevant. The papers, some of which were presented at a conference in Nairobi in 2003, are here presented under the section headings 'Evidence from rural livelihoods research', 'Institutions and policy contexts of rural livelihoods', 'Natural resource management and rural poverty reduction', and 'Macro-micro linkages in rural poverty reduction policies'. A final chapter seeks policy implications from the research reported. This is a well-produced book with a wealth of valuable information for all concerned with effective rural poverty reduction policy.

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New directions for African agriculture: IDS Bulletin Volume 36 number 2 New directions for African agriculture: IDS Bulletin Volume 36 number 2

Edited by Ian Scoones et al.
Published by Institute of Development Studies
2005, 160pp, ISSN 0265 5012 (Pb), £14.95

The Institute of Development Studies' quarterly bulletins present a collection of research papers on a theme, aimed at academics and development professionals. The bulk of the papers in this volume are divided into three sections broadly focussing on technologies, markets and policies. Each represents a sector that has been advocated as offering the key to agricultural growth in Africa. But, warn the writers of the bulletin's introductory article, looking for a single key to unlock African agriculture has often led to an unhelpful obsession with either/or answers: smallholder or large scale, subsidised or free market, food or cash crops etc. Policy solutions, they argue, must be allowed to emerge from the diversity and variety of local contexts, and engage with the specific and complex livelihoods that are the reality for Africa's rural people. Analysing such policies as they arise may then reveal patterns and pathways for widespread agricultural development. The beginnings of such analysis is represented in the bulletin's final section of papers. While normally distributed through annual subscription, this volume is available as a single item from the website address above.

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Agropolis: the social, political and environmental dimensions of urban agricultureAgropolis: the social, political and environmental dimensions of urban agriculture

Edited by Luc JA Mougeot
Published by Earthscan
2005, 303pp, ISBN 1 84407 232 0(Pb), £22.95

From the market gardens of Togo to the allotments of Britain, urban farming fulfils a diverse range of needs: therapy, recreation, source of food, nutrition and income. For many of the urban poor its sustainable future is critical, but achieving this depends on urban planners and municipal authorities recognising its place, and finding ways to better integrate city farming into the urban landscape. The ten research papers collected in this volume come from a five year graduate research awards programme specifically designed to encourage research on urban agriculture. As a result they do not offer a systematic assessment of the subject, rather reflecting the individual interests of the awardees. These include the practicalities of pest control in Togo, gender dimensions of urban farming in Zimbabwe and Botswana, urban livestock keeping in Cote D'Ivoire, and broader analyses of the relationship between land use planning and agriculture in the urban context. Each study is divided into a number of sections covering, for example, methodology, research findings, and recommendations for further research. As a whole, the book will be of primary interest to an academic audience, but the editors are hopeful that policy makers may also value the lessons as to why people need to engage in urban agriculture and the role it has in their livelihood strategies.

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Agricultural growth for the poor: An agenda for developmentAgricultural growth for the poor: An agenda for development

By The World Bank
2005, 200pp, ISBN 0 8213 6067 1(Pb), $20

Agriculture in the twenty first century faces many new challenges. The continuing fall in prices for the main cereal and export commodity crops contrasts with the growing demand for high value horticultural products. These present an opportunity for diversification, and could allow poorer countries to exploit lower labour costs, but also raise the challenge of meeting standards and implementing efficient production systems. Climate change and rising environmental degradation increase the pressure on farmers to access new technologies, but could also increase their level of dependence on private sector providers. Thus while agriculture in the past has proved extremely effective at reducing poverty and stimulating growth that extends well beyond rural areas, there is, according to the editors of this World Bank publication, no guarantee that in today's rapidly changing context the same success will persist.

This report has been written to support the World Bank's rural development strategy announced in 2003 - Reaching the Rural Poor. It argues that agriculture must be prominent in the development agenda, but that outmoded systems of support must give way to new approaches reflecting the changes in the global environment for agricultural and economic growth. Having reviewed the case for increased international support to agriculture and given an overview of the changing context, the book describes the key policy and institutional issues at stake, especially creation of an enabling environment for the private sector, and the priorities for public investment. Despite the weighty matter under discussion the writing is accessible, and helpfully illustrated by numerous short case studies.

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In the lap of Pacha Mama, Bhootalli, Mother Earth In the lap of Pacha Mama, Bhootalli, Mother Earth

Produced by Deccan Development Society Community Media Trust
Available from IIED
2005, 23 min, £15 (free to non-OECD member countries)

This short but encouraging film documents a journey made in 2002 by a group of smallholder farmers from India's Deccan plateau to the Peruvian Andes. In Peru they were welcomed by a Quechua community, people with whom they had much in common. In particular they learned about the biodiversity found in the Andean hill farms, and the central role this plays in the lives of the Quechua people, a role equally valued in their home communities in India. The 'serious work' of the trip was for the Indian farmers to pass on a method for cataloguing crop diversity, a method that allows all community members to participate without needing any literacy skills. The Peruvian farmers are instructed to make a huge grid - which they do using strands of wool - and are then guided in characterising their potato and maize plants according to a wide range of criteria. The results are recorded on paper and the community biodiversity register is signed or thumb printed by all. The film is full of positive images and messages about farmer-to-farmer communication, which in this case is achieved despite language barriers.

Bt cotton in Andhra Pradesh: a three year fraud... (a second film recently made available by IIED publications), documents the experience of farmers growing Bt cotton in Warangal district in south India. A team of women film makers spent three years visiting farmers who had planted the Bt seeds, and who subsequently found their pest problems unchanged and their yields considerably less than they had been led to expect. Monsanto, the company behind the Bt variety sold, comes in for heavy criticism from the farmers, whose anger is all too apparent and understandable.

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Controlling crop pests and diseasesControlling crop pests and diseases

By Rosalyn Rappaport
Published by ITDG Publishing
2004, 112pp, ISBN 1 85339 600 1(Pb), £12.95

Aimed at agricultural extension workers in the tropics, this practical booklet covers most common threats to crops in the field, and appropriate, low-tech ways to deal with them. The aim is integrated pest and disease management, and among the control options there is an interesting section on insecticidal plants. The text is divided into units to facilitate training, and cheerful strip cartoons help communicate the message.

This text was first published in 1992. While the content is still relevant, it would have benefited from some structural revision before republishing. Nonetheless this is a useful booklet, although the price may exclude some of its target readers.

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Sugar-cane and sugar industry in Nigeria: The bitter-sweet lessons Sugar-cane and sugar industry in Nigeria: The bitter-sweet lessons

By Abdul-Latif D. Busari
Published by Spectrum Books
Distributed by African Books Collective
2004, 302pp, ISBN 978 029 534 8(Pb), £12.95

This study of Nigeria's sugar industry offers an interesting illustration of a stagnant agricultural sector, that could, with appropriate support, make a significant contribution to rural livelihoods. Much of Nigeria is suited to growing sugar cane, but for the last forty years the country has only had two medium sized sugar mills in operation, and currently imports more than 90% of its domestic sugar requirement. While suggesting that Nigeria could learn from Sudan, in encouraging private investment in new mills, Busari also believes that India's sugar sector offers a valuable model. Over 40% of India's sugar is produced by cottage-level mills which, he writes, have the advantage of employing more than ten times the labour, and producing more than double the output of a large mill per unit of investment. The establishment of cane growing co-operatives to ensure consistent supply, the development of locally-adapted cane varieties, and a government support programme for 'mini-mills' could, Busari argues, allow Nigeria within a decade to be producing enough sugar to fulfil its domestic needs and create significant quantities of by-products for other industries.

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Genetically modified crops: Their development, uses, and risks Genetically modified crops: Their development, uses, and risks

Edited by G.H. Liang and D.Z. Skinner
Published by Food Products Press
2004, 412pp, ISBN 1 56022 281 6(Pb), $49.95

The application of biotechnology to genetically modify crop species is not a simple science. Hence the claim that this book is aimed not only at scientists and graduate students but also the general public is perhaps an optimistic one - the chapter heading 'Gene stacking through site-specific integration', for example, and indeed the contents of that chapter, would not enlighten most members of the public about genetically modified crops.

For the scientific reader, the book contains a lot of potentially useful information, written by mainly US-based molecular biologists. Most chapters adequately review their subject before presenting the latest methods and some discussion. Indeed, 'development' is the emphasis of this book, rather than 'uses and risks'. Chapters are mostly crop-based: wheat, alfalfa, sorghum, rice, cotton, soybean, vegetable crops, and turfgrass each provide a chapter focus. Others describe mechanisms of transgene locus formation, the aforementioned gene stacking, transgenics of plant hormones, and the insecticidal protein avidin, with the final chapter dedicated to risks associated with genetically modified crops. This latter chapter is the only one that might truly engage a non-specialist reader.

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Drainage basin management - Regional approaches for food and urban security Drainage basin management - Regional approaches for food and urban security

Proceedings of the 14th Stockholm Water Symposium, August 16-20, 2004
Published by IWA Publishing
Papers can be downloaded from
2005, 210pp, ISBN 1 84339 4944(Pb), available as part of annual subscription
£20 per paper for downloads

This year's World Water Week symposium in Stockholm, held from 21 -27 August, addressed the role of water and sanitation as key entry points for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (see Water and sanitation are undoubtedly a crucial starting point for poverty alleviation, yet in many urban areas growing demand for water has led to river basin supplies becoming over-committed, and new sources of water need to be found, whether from reuse, rainwater or desalinisation. Focus on Water and food (, featured some of the key issues from the 2004 symposium, and this edition of the journal Water science and technology contains the complete proceedings from that event. Topics include restoration of wetlands, sustainable groundwater management, green/blue water management options for crop production (see Deluge, disputes and drought mitigation), and managing rivers for fisheries and livelihoods. However, it is unfortunate that for non-subscribers, the cost of downloadable papers should be so high.

1st September 2005

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