Review: Agroecology in Action: Extending Alternative Agriculture through Social Networks

Article excerpt

Review: Agroecology in Action: Extending Alternative Agriculture through Social Networks By Keith Douglass Warner Reviewed by David Jenkins Roundhouse Institute of Field Studies, USA Warner, Keith Douglass. Agroecology in Action: Extending Alternative Agriculture through Social Networks. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007. 273pp. ISBN 0-262-73180-0. US$25.00, paper. Acid-free.

The formation, evolution, and dissolution of social networks remain understudied phenomena. In Agroecology in Action, Keith Douglass Warner describes a set of particularly important social networks involved in rethinking industrial agriculture and in bringing to the fore new techniques of environmentally sensitive agricultural practices. These networks-comprised of growers, scientists, federal and state agencies, and various agricultural organizations-emerged in response to significant problems associated with the widespread use of agricultural pesticides, fertilizers, and other agrochemicals.

Public information about practical alternatives to agrochemicals has remained partially hidden, in part because of the structure of institutionalized agricultural science. Agricultural science, Warner argues, has mostly focused on developing and promoting economically valuable technologies to improve farm productivity, such as pesticides and fertilizers. By contrast, alternative farming techniques-which require greater investment in labor, more sophisticated ecological knowledge, and may present heightened economic risk-have been generally ignored.

Warner describes a variety of farming practices that have transcended the conventional, chemicalintensive norm. These include grape, pear, and almond farming in California; rotational grazing in the Midwest; and winter wheat farming in Washington, among others. Farmers became increasingly concerned with the environmental consequences of high chemical use, and sought alternatives. Their quest to develop new agricultural practices required them to forge new social links with other farmers, scientists, and government agencies. Understanding the formation of these new social networks is central to Warner's main thesis: adequate protection of common resources necessitates novel forms of "social learning," defined as the "participation by diverse stakeholders as a group in experiential research and knowledge exchange..." (p. 3).

Knowledge exchange, in Warner's examples, requires social networks whose formation was motivated mostly by farmers unwilling to accept the chemical-intensive status quo. …