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Agriculture, biodiversity and markets

Agriculture, biodiversity and markets

Edited by Stewart Lockie and David Carpenter
Published by Earthscan
Website: www.earthscan.co.uk
2010, 318pp, ISBN 978 1 84407 776 2(Hb), £60

Agricultural biodiversity - or agrobiodiversity - plays a pivotal role in the livelihoods of all farmers, since it "encompasses the variety of plants and animals and micro-organisms at species and ecosystem level which are necessary to sustain key functions in the agroecosystem." But while the need to protect and enhance agrobiodiversity seems obvious, how is this best achieved and what are the systemic consequences? The answers are both wide-ranging and complex, and the editors of Agriculture, biodiversity and markets draw on the knowledge and experience of near thirty authors to demonstrate the linkages that affect producers, consumers and those between.

Farmers who ignore the need to maintain biodiversity prejudice their future, but they do so because, say the editors in their introductory chapter, "Comparatively few studies have been made to articulate in detail the contribution of biodiversity to agricultural community livelihoods and vice versa. It is no surprise that in the absence of this sort of information, many farmers trade biodiversity off in order to pursue other goals." The situation is made worse by focusing on the activities of resource-poor farmers in the so-called developing countries, leading to "a lack of analysis on how measures designed to protect agricultural biodiversity in one part of the world might impact - positively or negatively - on biodiversity elsewhere."

To address these gaps in existing knowledge, the editors have brought together case studies from a number of cropping systems from contrasting locations around the world, demonstrating that "agrobiodiversity continues to be depleted through rapid land-use change as biodiverse farming practices are replaced with less biodiverse practices." The process is encouraged by "incentives that include tax concessions, subsidies and price controls of certain crops."

It is all too clear that government policies and commercial inducements are the key drivers of farm management decisions, all too often ignoring that short term benefits pose long term costs. It is also clear that progress can be made and has been made to rectify the situation. Coffee is one crop where management is now increasingly regulated by codes of management in response to consumer demand: The Rainforest Alliance and the Common Code for the Coffee Community (4C) are two such regulatory bodies. Policymakers and others with influence on farm management in Europe, US and the mainly agricultural countries of the tropics could digest the arguments of this book with benefit.

Date published: May 2010


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