New Agriculturist
This monthPoints of view . . .PerspectiveFocus on . . .In printNews briefPicture featureIn conferenceDevelopmentsCountry profileDownload sectionsSearch the New AgriculturistBack issues
In Association with
Many of the books reviewed here can now be purchased over the internet from

There is a search facility at the end of the page.

In print

A History of World Agriculture: From the Neolithic age to the current crisis A History of World Agriculture: From the Neolithic age to the current crisis

By Marcel Mazoyer and Laurence Roudart
Translated by James H. Membrez
Published by Monthly Review Press
Available in the UK and Europe from Earthscan
2006, 480pp, ISSN 1-58367-121-8 (Pb), US$35.00

At the start of the 21st Century, roughly half of the human population live in poverty. In a world where most of the world's hungry people are peasant farmers, the gap between those with the best and those with the most rudimentary agricultural technology is becoming wider. In a proposition that the authors recognise runs "counter to dominant economic and political thinking", they argue that current models of agricultural development, following the Green Revolution and mechanisation, do not work - and in fact in some cases exacerbate poverty.

A History of World Agriculture is both a stimulating challenge to the conventional global food system, and an interesting history of agriculture and agrarian culture. Eight chapters are dedicated to agrarian systems and heritage, from early Slash-and-Burn agriculture through the Inca Agrarian system, to the mechanisation and monocropping of the twentieth century. Each system is considered in its wider social and political context. The authors argue that the world continues to be made up of agrarian systems with different inherited characteristics, which cannot be regulated by the current homogenous and competitive global system.

In explaining the origins, transformation and role of agriculture in the evolution of humanity, the authors arrive at a key message, that the 'international agricultural price war' must stop. They propose a new organisation of international agricultural trade, with objectives such as agrarian reform, and international agreements on the average price of agricultural produce. Trade distortions created by low international market prices for agricultural produce are, they argue, the root cause of income inequality, pushing peasants further into poverty.

The concluding chapter places the current crisis of developing countries within a more general agrarian crisis; protecting peasant agriculture is seen as key to solving the current poverty crisis. According to the authors, "Agricultural and food products are not commodities like others. Their price is that of life, and, below a certain threshold, death." The book offers a challenging and stimulating analysis that will be of primary interest to an academic audience.

Back to top

Global development of organic agriculture: challenges and prospectsGlobal development of organic agriculture: challenges and prospects

Edited by N Halberg et al.
Published by CABI
2006, 384pp, ISBN 1 84593 078 9(Hb), £55 / US$100

In the North, conversion from conventional to organic farming is increasingly being undertaken for economic as much as ethical or ecological reasons. Premium prices for organic produce, the rising cost of fuel and other inputs, and ongoing changes in subsidy regimes are just some of the factors that are making many conventional farmers take a careful look at organic alternatives. In the South however, premium prices and environmental subsidies are seldom part of the economic picture. And in this context, an initial fall in yields, often attributed to organic conversion, is commonly cited as a critical objection to the spread of organic farming.

So what is the global potential of organic agriculture? Focussing primarily on the developing world, and covering both certified and non-certified organic production, this recent publication from CABI offers a wide ranging and in depth study. Opening chapters take on some of the big, background issues, including the place of organic farming in the context of ecological economics and ecological justice - a concept developed in opposition to globalisation and sustainable development. There follows a reappraisal of what organic farming offers to developing country farmers, which makes the point that for the majority, who generally convert from a low-yielding conventional approach, adopting organic practices brings an increase in productivity. Other chapters focus on the role of organic farming in the context of soil fertility depletion in sub-Saharan Africa, the impact of organic farming on food security from a regional and global perspective, and possibilities for closing urban-rural nutrient cycles.

Back to top

Ethical Sourcing in the Global Food System Ethical Sourcing in the Global Food System

Edited by Stephanie Barrientos and Catherine Dolan
Published by Earthscan
2006, 192pp, ISBN: 1844071995 1814 1137(Pb), £22.95

Where big corporations seem to loom over, and in many cases squeeze out, smaller businesses this book focuses on the good, the bad and the ugly of the global food system. The collection of eleven papers points out that while consumer dependency on supermarkets has increased, consumers are becoming more concerned about how food is produced and where it is sourced. As their unrivalled position is being increasingly challenged, supermarkets are adopting new market strategies. They are paying more attention to corporate social responsibility, and introducing a seemingly endless range of codes, promises and fair trade ranges. But how much commitment do such promises hold?

The book traces the development of fair and ethical trade from charity shops to the supermarket shelves, also providing an analysis of gender relations in the global food system, and the rise of the 'gangmaster' in the UK. The central message is that although organic, ethical and fair trade remain niche markets and are not a panacea for deep-seated inequalities, they are gaining significant momentum. And, the recent boom in North - South organic and fair trade networks has moved beyond a focus on unequal production to challenge unequal trade relations. According to Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University in London, "our right to the term civilized hangs on issues such as these." This book provides a well balanced overview of how effective ethical sourcing really is. It is useful to anyone with an interest in where food comes from, and how it is produced.

Increasing climate variability and change: Reducing the vulnerability of agriculture and forestryIncreasing climate variability and change: Reducing the vulnerability of agriculture and forestry

Edited by James Salinger, MVK Sivakumar and Raymond P Motha
Published by Springer
2005, 362pp, ISBN 1 4020 3354 0(Hb), £77 / US$139

While climate change in the form of global warming has captured public attention, increased climate variability is a more immediate cause of concern for many of the world's farming and forest communities. The frequency of El Niño events, and other extreme climate events, such as heat waves, floods and droughts is rising, leading to significant loss of life and economic costs. Finding ways to reduce the vulnerability of farming and forestry systems to this increased variability can be seen as a 'dress rehearsal' for the adaptations that will be needed in the face of longer term climate change. Technological advances have increased the range of adaptation options, but some regions of the world, particularly developing countries, have limited access to these technologies.

This collection of 16 papers from the journal Climatic Change offers an excellent update on the science of climate change and variability, and the impacts and implications for agriculture and forestry. Four papers study these issues in the context of the arid and semi arid tropics, humid and sub-humid tropics, and the temperate regions of Europe and North America. Other papers include: 'Achieving adequate adaptation in agriculture', the development of seasonal and inter-annual climate forecasting, traditional methods and indigenous technologies for coping with climate variability, and the priorities for agrometeorological research.

Back to top

Livestock Report 2006Livestock Report 2006

Published by FAO
2006, 83pp, ISBN 92 5 105421 5 (Pb), US$17

The 2006 issue of the livestock report focuses on critical issues that have arisen with the globalisation of the livestock sector. It contains five brief reviews that take a global perspective and one that has a regional perspective.The first describes the shift in the 'centre of gravity of meat and milk production' from developed to developing countries. The next suggests that the livestock revolution - characterised by prominence of large retailers, and industrialisation of production - may not be compatible with sustaining small scale livestock production.

In 'managing transboundary disease', whilst recognising that disease control is easier in stable countries experiencing economic growth with good governance, it is possible for example in Latin America and Eastern or Southern Africa, to improve leadership and management. 'The future of small scale dairying' cautions that to succeed, small-scale operators must become more cost-effective, and learn to deal with increasingly stringent quality standards and supermarkets. The final review draws attention to the danger of increasing dependence on just a small number of livestock breeds.

The livestock report provides the stories and explains the issues behind the bare statistics contained in the FAO's Animal Production and Health Year Book. It should become essential reading not only for 'policy makers, researchers, producers or facilitators' but anyone who needs a quick update on the global livestock sector.

Back to top

Beyond participatory tools: Field guideBeyond participatory tools: Field guide

Edited by Tafadzwa Marange, Mutizwa Mukute and John Woodend
Published by SoundAge Management Consultancy Services/Crop Post-Harvest Programme
A pdf version of the field guide can be obtained from Tafadzwa Marange
2006, 76pp, ISBN 0 7974 3119 5(Pb), free (for pdf)

The tools of participatory development can be applied too rigidly, so that the effectiveness - and indeed the essence - of the approach may be lost. Beyond participatory tools addresses this potential problem, by examining and explaining the principles behind participatory techniques. The hope is that practitioners, armed with this understanding, can adopt a more flexible approach, developing and adapting the tools to their situation and needs. Rather than a detailed 'how to' guide, it offers a framework within which participatory research can be developed and implemented.

Mainly based on experiences in Africa, the book is loosely structured around 'participation as a journey' and each step, and the links between them, are explored. 'Getting ready for the journey' involves understanding and committing to participation; 'where are you now?' assessment; and 'where do you want to be?' visioning, for example. Community organisation receives additional focus as a neglected area, and gender is also given high priority. This will be a useful book for anyone working directly with communities, to use alongside more traditional guides to participatory techniques.

Back to top

A short history of the future: Surviving the 2030 spike A short history of the future: Surviving the 2030 spike

By Colin Mason
Published by Earthscan
2006, 256pp, ISBN: 1844073467 (Pb), £14.99

This 'countdown to global catastrophe' is not such a catalogue of doomsday revelations as it may sound. The title refers to "a spike on the graph of the paper of life that will influence humanity for good or ill as never before". Which way humanity will plunge depends upon how we immediately deal with a number of 'drivers', from rapid population growth and diminishing fuel supplies, to climate change and international lawlessness. Mason analyses each problem in its wider context, covering everything from nanotechnology to nuclear energy, and notes that the possible collision of events in 2030 is difficult to address without considering the wider and deeper problem of poverty.

However, the most striking suggestion in the book is that the answer to many of these issues lies in the establishment of a world government to replace nations and individual states. Such a system or 'Oneworld' will consist of an international humane world order, with a 'simple, easy learned world language, available in all schools'. Whatever happens next, whether big powers "become self sufficient, heavily armed fortresses", or "undertake serious engagement with the problems of the world", Mason stresses that a massive development of alternative energy sources must be a top priority. Brave and radical, the book provides a stimulating review of the challenges ahead, and outlines some well-informed suggestions for how possible catastrophe on our planet can be averted.

Back to top

Beef Beef

By David Richardson and Anthony J Smith
Published by Macmillan/CTA
2006, 127pp, ISBN 0 333 59833 4(Pb), £8.25

Despite decades of disease control measures and study of grasslands, animal nutrition and genetics, cattle productivity in the tropics largely remains at a low level. One reason for this, suggest the authors, is a failure to recognise the multi-purpose nature of cattle, valued for their milk, hides and draught power, and their value as a store of wealth, as much as for their meat. In this context, survival of the largest number of animals may be a higher priority than rapid growth or weight gain.

This guide to beef production in the tropics suggests that small changes in production systems are likely to be the best route for improved productivity. For example, for small-scale multipurpose herds, improving the output and quality of beef might best be achieved by improving calving rates and reducing mortality rates, fattening cows and draught animals at the end of their working lives and selling surplus animals as soon as they have reached the desired weight. Understanding the mechanisms of cattle growth is a key area, so that slaughter timing and feeding practices can be optimised. Other topics covered in this practical guide include nutrition, breed types, reproduction, calf rearing and coping with drought. The text, supplemented by photos, diagrams, graphs and tables, is aimed at a wide audience, including farmers, extension officers, teachers and senior secondary students.

Back to top

Pigs (Revised edition)Pigs (Revised edition)

By David H Holness
Published by Macmillan/CTA
2005, 160pp, ISBN 0 333 79148 7(Pb), £8.25

Also recently published in the Tropical Agriculturalist series, this revised edition of Pigs (first published in 1991), reflects the rapid developments which have occurred in the science of tropical pig keeping over the last twenty years. It aims to guide readers in judging which recent developments in temperate pig rearing could be of value in the tropical context, and which should be avoided. New information includes the effects of the immune system on pig productivity, changes in approaches to disease control, and recent findings concerning trace minerals and feed additives. Specialist housing, animal welfare implications and new marketing opportunities are also addressed.

Back to top

Contribution of farm power to smallholder livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa Contribution of farm power to smallholder livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa

(Agricultural and Food Engineering Technical Report 2)
By Clare Bishop-Sambrook
Published by FAO
2005, 104pp, ISSN 1814 1137(Pb), US$26

Farm power - from people, animals and machines - is a crucial part of agricultural production. In sub-Saharan Africa the issue is shortage of farm power, and the significant contribution this makes to poverty in the region. This publication, from the Farm Power and Mechanization Group of FAO, takes an in-depth look at the factors that reduce the availability of farm power at farm level. Most of these, and their interrelationships, are complex, but some are more obvious: HIV/AIDS, for example, is having a very direct and devastating impact.

This detailed technical report describes studies across 14 communities in seven countries, judged to be broadly representative of the situation in sub-Saharan Africa. Sections are devoted to livelihoods analysis at the community level, analysis of the asset base of farm-power groups, and analysis of strategies and outcomes for the same groups. The concluding recommendations section describes four priority areas for intervention: support - in the form of immediate solutions - for the most vulnerable households; protecting the existing asset base, so that it can survive times of crisis; maximising the potential of the existing power sources; and supporting households and communities as they adopt new sources of farm power. Mechanisation, it is argued, is key and could have huge impact on livelihoods: "The process of farm power mechanisation could act as a catalyst if it reduces costs and improves returns to investment in agriculture."

1st September 2006

Back to top

To search the archive for any of these, or any other title, just enter your keywords into the box below. logo Enter keywords...