Archive for December, 2012

Putting poo safely into the right place–the fields!

In a contribution to the Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog, Fred Pearce describes our current practices of dealing with human excrements – mainly the discharge of waste water from urban centers to water bodies – as “one of the modern world’s worst, but least discussed, resource failures”. Given the high contents of nutrients in sewage and the negative impacts their discharge unfolds on ecosystems he may be absolutely right.

And he rightly emphasizes that there is a big potential in the better use of waste waters, but not without mentioning the potential risks to public health involved. And while recognizing that the informal collection and subsequent use of sewage in agricultural production is a reality in many places of the developing world, he criticizes that policy makers and researchers alike either prefer not to deal with the issue or tend to contain the practice. Instead they should recognize the potential, but without losing the need for proper regulation and for the use of adequate technologies out of sight.

The question is, of course, whether this will happen. It seems that a necessary condition is that obtaining the resources embodied in waste water from alternative sources of supply becomes more expensive than water treatment and associated activities (e.g. setting up an adequate institutional framework and the like). Pearce mentions the examples of countries located in arid regions like Israel, Mexico and Tunisia where waste water is getting recycled. Rising energy prices may also contribute, directly and indirectly through higher costs for synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. Or increasing scarcity of phosphate rock (see, for example, a paper by Cordell et al.) may lead to higher prices for phosphorus fertilizer and contribute to new thinking in that area.

Modernization of Staple Food Value Chains Ensuring a Food-Secure Asia | Food Security Portal

12/12/2012 1 comment

Modernization of Staple Food Value Chains Ensuring a Food-Secure Asia:

The Quiet Revolution in Staple Food Value Chains: Enter the Dragon, the Elephant, and the Tiger, a new book by ADB and IFPRI, examines domestic rice and potato value chains in Bangladesh, China, and India since the 2007-2008 food price crisis.


New Journal: “Bio-based and Applied Economics”

Just got aware of the new journal Bio-based and Applied Economics. According to the journal homepage,

Bio-based and Applied Economics is a free-access on-line journal promoted by the Italian Association of Agricultural and Applied Economics (AIEAA). Although mainly devoted to scholars and well established researchers BAE also encourages submissions by young researchers, teams involved in ongoing research projects and also relevant actors in the field of bio-economy and related public policies.
BAE publishes contributions on the economics of bio-based industries, such as agriculture, forestry, fishery and food, dealing with any related disciplines, such as resource and environmental economics, consumer studies, regional economics, innovation and development economics.

It is really nice to see that it is open access, thus adding a nice new option to the still relatively closed agricultural economics landscape.

An article of high interest for the work in the Global Futures project may be Tools for Integrated Assessment in Agriculture. State of the Art and Challenges by Wolfgang Britz, Martin van Ittersum, Alfons Oude Lansink and Thomas Heckelei.

Addressing gender in priority setting for agricultural research

06/12/2012 4 comments

An interesting contribution to the first Global Conference on Agriculture and Rural Development discusses when and how to address gender in agriculture. While it is worthwhile to read the whole paper, in particular the demands towards priority setting for agricultural R&D that are formulated attracted my attention:

  • Where and how are the differential needs, interests, and priorities of women and men reflected? For example, are women farmers’ associations consulted at any point? Do female farmers have a voice in male-dominated farmer associations?
  • Who makes the decisions regarding the kinds of agricultural R&D that will receive investment? This leads to consideration of the representation of women in management at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and national agricultural research centers.
  • Are there mechanisms to take the needs of women and men as both producers and consumers into account? We will address this question in detail in the following section of the paper; however, it is important to note that it relates even to the way “agricultural research” is defined. Conventional definitions have been gender biased, focusing on activities most likely to be dominated by men, such as the production of field crops. Activities of greater salience to women—such as homestead gardens, postharvest processes, supply chains, and nutrition outcomes—have, in comparison, been neglected. Thus, thinking of “agriculture” in terms of “food” is likely to lead to a more gender balanced picture. In addition, research priorities on postharvest processing and the broader food sector—which includes fish, livestock, garden production, water, trees, soils, and natural resources—needs to be conducted not only with the aim of reaching high-value markets, but also to ensure food safety and reduce drudgery (which tends to be borne most often by women).

The first point highlights the importance of getting the voices of women heard. The second point concerns the influence of women in the decision making at the level of the research institutions (good question: how well are women represented at the research management levels of the CGIAR?). The third point asks about the potential impact of the products of agricultural R&D, i.e. how women are affected by a particular output of agricultural research. It also calls for orienting agricultural research towards areas where women can benefit.

With his analysis, the authors certainly hits the mark. At the operational level of priority setting, however, the last point is probably the most challenging. How can we adequately assess the gender impacts of a particular research activity? Taking into account that priority setting often takes place at a relatively aggregate level, how can we deal with the complexity of gender, which very often depends on micro-level factors, such as power relationships within a household?

Comments are highly welcome!

Gapminder for a fact based world view

Gapminder is a really great data visualization tool which allows you to explore loads of global statistics, including economic, development or economic data, in a highly effective and, perhaps more importantly, entertaining way.

A very impressive (and also entertaining) presentation of the tool is given by Hans Rosling, who is the main developer. It may change your view of the world: