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Edited by Guy M. Robinson and Doris A. Carson

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Guy M. Robinson and Doris A. Carson

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Ros Taylor and Jane Entwistle

The complexities of agricultural systems are central to the discussions in this chapter. The underpinning environmental constraints of agriculture are explored together with how farming practice has striven to overcome these limitations and extend agricultural opportunities. At the same time, worldwide, agriculture has triggered major changes to ecosystems and Earth environments, driving forest clearance and extension of ‘grasslands’ and generating changes in hydrological regimes, edaphic properties, local climates and biodiversity loss. Getting it right in terms of future agricultural processes able to feed the world’s people, while maintaining, and benignly enhancing, the natural resource base is a major challenge. As history shows, getting it wrong can lead to catastrophic environmental failure, pollution and resource loss and, it is asserted, even to societal collapse. A key consideration is to understand the challenging underpinning interdisciplinary science. The process of photosynthesis is examined and options to improve crop productivity, including through its genetic modification, are discussed. At the same time the implications of rising carbon dioxide levels are investigated. The challenges for achieving reliable and good-quality water supplies are explored and the importance of maintaining optimal growing environments, including consideration of livestock ‘comfort’, is reviewed. The essential need for suitable soils and the characteristics that ensure, and detract from, good soil resources are discussed. By integrating work from disparate specialist studies of plant and animal behaviour, genetics, soils and water management, climatic modification and ecosystem processes we can deepen our understanding of agricultural systems and see where solutions to current challenges may be found.

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Tiziano Gomiero

In this chapter, I review the effects of farming practices on biodiversity, focusing in particular on the potential role of organic agriculture in preserving biodiversity. From the literature review, it emerges that organic farming, when properly managed, can provide greater potential for biodiversity than its conventional counterpart, as a result of greater habitat variability and more wildlife-friendly management practices, along with the exclusion of agri-chemical pesticides. Organic agriculture also has positive effects on soil biophysical and ecological characteristics – long-term soil fertility. Indeed, an increasing body of evidence indicates that landscape heterogeneity is a key factor in promoting biodiversity in the agricultural landscape. Benefits may be also achieved by conventional agriculture when reducing the inputs of agri-chemicals and better integrating crop production with soil protection and landscape ecological structures. I highlight that farming and environmental conservation have to be understood within the whole structure of the food system, and that analysis should be made and actions towards agricultural sustainability and biodiversity conservation should be taken accordingly. That means working in parallel on the social, economic and political dimensions of our society. Individual farmers cannot take that challenge alone, or bear the whole cost of the effort. Long-term experiments and multicriteria analysis of the range of feasibility and viability of organic and low-input agriculture should also be carried out in a number of different scenarios.

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Stefan Bringezu, Helmut Schütz and Meghan O’Brien

Globalisation increases the share of foreign resource supply, also for agricultural goods. Locations of production and consumption are drifting apart, leaving conditions and consequences of production hidden to consumers. Certification schemes try to bridge that gap. However, the major part of agricultural markets remains unaffected. As long as the global demand for food and non-food crops is growing, standards for selected products will be insufficient to control the global expansion of cropland, which will continue in particular in the tropics at the expense of grasslands, savannahs and forests, leading to biodiversity loss and increased GHG emissions in the coming decades. Without drastically increasing the efficiency of biomass use a sustainable supply of food and non-food biomass will not be possible, both globally and in particular regions. An essential condition for a globally safe operating space of biomass use is that the expansion of cropland will come to a halt. Measuring the global use of cropland for the domestic consumption of all agricultural goods allows countries to monitor whether their real footprint is within or beyond the safe operating space. Using data for the European Union, this chapter shows how such monitoring could provide the basis for governments to adapt the incentive framework for industry and households to increase efficiency in the use of biomass (e.g., reducing food waste). Policies could include removal of misleading incentives and subsidies, such as biofuel quotas in those countries where the real footprint is already globally oversized.

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Noel Russell and Amani Omer

One emerging challenge facing global agriculture is to provide a secure supply of food to increasing numbers of affluent people. Yet the response remains constrained by limited arable land and a technology that supports unsustainable agricultural practices. In this context the notion of sustainable agricultural intensification has been suggested as a strategy for increasing crop yields and sustainably delivering a secure supply of food. The chapter reviews the concept of sustainable intensification by considering both alternative views of sustainability and alternative measures of intensification. Two distinct strategies are possible: a strategy based on increasing yields using novel varieties and production processes, and a strategy based on increasing yields by increasing non-biological inputs accompanied by conservation investments that compensate for ensuing ecological damage. This latter is illustrated using a stylised model of farmer decisions in which increasing input use and ecological services jointly contribute to food production, and ecological degradation is balanced by induced conservation. In this setting we suggest that sustainable intensification can be promoted through voluntary implementation motivated by ecosystem service benefits for agriculture. We also consider policies that directly encourage ecosystem conservation, and how government interventions can avoid ‘crowding out’ voluntary implementation.

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Wyn Grant

Lack of progress in the Doha Round of trade negotiations has not been entirely due to difficulties over agricultural issues. Nevertheless, as in the Uruguay Round, they have remained a substantial obstacle to agreement. One part of the story is weaker impetus both from the US administration and agribusiness interests for agricultural trade liberalisation. However, the European Union (EU) has also proved resistant to change, particularly over market access and the maintenance of high tariff barriers. There is an underlying political dynamic to this resistance. The EU has relatively large numbers of marginal farmers who would find it difficult to compete on world markets without protection – often located in peripheral regions with broader economic problems that are also either politically marginal or are strongly represented within a ruling party. It is hence difficult to suggest policies that might harm their interests. Interests of consumers and taxpayers are more diffuse compared with these concentrated interests, while input industries lend support to subsidies. Indeed, the latest EU reform proposals for agriculture envisage reducing the subsidy for more competitive farmers, confirming that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is conceived of primarily as a social policy, albeit a very inefficient one in meeting its objectives. France has remained a resolute defender of the CAP, although in the longer run budgetary pressures could shift its position. However, it has sought with some success to revitalise its defence of the CAP through a discourse of food security, which has some credibility given structural shifts in the global balance of supply and demand and long-term threats posed by climate change. Nevertheless, a policy of protection and subsidisation is not an effective answer to these challenges.

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Bill Winders

This chapter examines the relationship between the world economy and the shape of US agricultural policy since the creation of supply management policy in the 1930s. The policy of supply management had three primary programs: price supports, production controls, and export subsidies. During the twentieth century, the contours of this policy changed as it expanded and contracted at different times. The US government remains deeply involved in agriculture today, including by providing subsidies to farmers, but the goal of US agricultural policy is no longer to manage the supply of agricultural commodities. This chapter explains the long-term trajectory of US agricultural policy by focusing on the relations between class structure, national policy and the world economy. These periodic shifts in US agricultural policy were connected to changes in the world economy. On the one hand, the world economy helped to shape US agricultural policy as world prices rose and fell, competition in international markets ebbed and flowed, and rules of trade changed. On the other hand, US agricultural policy shaped the world economy as the dominant position of the USA after World War II allowed it to set the rules organizing food and agriculture in the world economy. One consequence of the US food regime was the spread of supply management policy across the globe. This food regime broke down in the last quarter of the twentieth century. This chapter, then, will close by briefly examining the international consequences of the shift away from supply management in the USA as well as in the international food regime – most notably, unstable commodity prices and the threat of food crises.

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Kym Anderson

For decades, earnings from farming in many developing countries have been depressed by a pro-urban bias in own-country policies, as well as by governments of richer countries favouring their farmers with import barriers and subsidies. Both sets of policies reduced national and global economic welfare and inhibited agricultural trade and global economic growth. They almost certainly added to inequality and poverty in developing countries, since three-quarters of the world’s billion poorest people depend directly or indirectly on farming for their livelihood. During the past three decades, however, numerous developing country governments have reduced their sectoral and trade policy distortions, while some high-income countries also have begun reducing market-distorting aspects of their farm policies. This chapter surveys the changing extent of policy distortions to prices faced by farmers over the past half-century in high-income, developing and transition economies. It also provides a summary of new empirical estimates from a global economy-wide model that show how much could be gained by removing remaining interventions. It concludes with words of caution as to what could occur if a failure to conclude the WTO’s Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations led to protection growth in emerging economies.

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Andrew Dorward and Jamie Morrison

Subsidies have been a pervasive feature of agricultural policy throughout history. This chapter describes different kinds of subsidies and their changing roles in different societies. It reviews evidence on the economic, food security and poverty impacts of different agricultural subsidies in developed and developing countries. The evidence suggests that different subsidy programmes have had in some contexts profoundly positive and in other contexts profoundly negative impacts on food security and on the livelihoods of poor people and poor societies. Discussions of the historical and potential roles of subsidies and their more recent use have, however, often been the victim of a narrow overemphasis by some on their negative effects and, paradoxically, of their misuse as a result of others’ exaggerated expectations of their benefits. The chapter concludes with recognition that more judicious, differentiated and new uses of subsidies for food production may (with complementary investments in technology, infrastructure and socioeconomic change) be crucial in both high- and low-income countries in promoting sustainable food security and poverty reduction in the face of growing national and global challenges in food production and access.