Sustainability of Agricultural Systems in Transition

Article excerpt

Sustainability of Agricultural Systems in Transition by W.A. Payne, D.R. Keeney, and S.C. Rao, editors. American Society of Agronomy Special Publication 64, ASA, Madison, Wisconsin, 2001, 272 pages, paperback, $48.00, ISBN 0-89118-149-0.

Sustainable agriculture research and its practical application in the real world are central themes in this useful collection of papers from two symposia held in 1998. A number of the world's top researchers in sustainable technologies and systems who have sincere concerns about the impacts of their research are represented here. The emphasis throughout is on system and context complexity, and the authors are clear that one size does not fit all. Since all agricultural systems are in some degree of continual transition, it is useful to explore how the goals of sustainable agriculture economic, environmental, and social contribute to the transition process.

Perhaps the most valuable chapter in this collection is the introductory overview by Richard Harwood who lists our most pressing problems in five categories: food security, alleviating poverty, solving competition for land and water, placing priorities on agriculture as our most critical industry, and creating a receptive climate for social and policy change. His analysis of the driving forces, supplemental forces, corrective forces, and sustaining forces that describe the dynamics leading to a transformed world in the new century is especially useful. The combination of these forces must be directed to sustaining our soil and water resources, as well as preserving land in agriculture, to have any hope of creating an acceptable level of food for tomorrow's global population. Harwood goes beyond outlining the challenges and providing insight on useful steps to solve them. His chapter provides a comprehensive and compelling overview that dwarfs the remaining case studies and project descriptions.

There is useful historical perspective on watershed management in Europe in the chapter by Parvaz Koohafkin, who interprets those early political decisions on land use in today's mantra of economic, environmental, and social factors. The descriptions of different types of development research and intervention by public and private sector organizations in the field provide an interesting window into the goals of different types of groups that have unique sources of monetary and political support. …