Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Exploring Agrodiversity

Exploring Agrodiversity

Harold Brookfield
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Exploring Agrodiversity
    Book Description:

    Small farmers are often viewed as engaging in wasteful practices that wreak ecological havoc. Exploring Agrodiversity sets the record straight: Small farmers are in fact ingenious and inventive and engage in a diverse range of land-management strategies, many of them resourcefully geared toward conserving resources, especially soil. They have shown considerable resilience in the face of major onslaughts against their way of life by outsiders and government.

    Using case studies from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific, this book provides in-depth analysis of agricultural diversity and explores its history. The book also considers the effect of the "gene revolution" on small farmers and reviews the effects of the "green revolution" in Asian countries. In conclusion, it questions whether the diverse agricultural practices employed by small farmers can survive modern pressures and the global ambitions of the biotechnology industry.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50112-5
    Subjects: Technology, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. [Map]
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxii)
    Harold Brookfield

    This book was started in 1993, but in its present form most of it has been written only since mid-1997. During the same period of time, I have been involved as principal scientific coordinator in a United Nations University (UNU) international project on People, Land Management and Environmental Change (PLEC). This began in a small way as a cooperative research project on small farmers’ practices. PLEC has grown since 1993. After a long struggle, it gained approval as part of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) portfolio in 1997, beginning its 4-year period of more ample funding in February 1998. It...

  5. Part I. Presenting Agrodiversity

    • Chapter 1 Presenting Diversity by Example: Mintima and Bayninan
      (pp. 3-22)

      I begin the book where I began this sort of work myself, and I will set out what I did there in more detail than I will provide for other areas. The view from the old government rest house at Mintima was spectacular. In the heart of New Guinea lies a range of mountains larger than any other between the Himalaya and the Andes. Rising to more than 4500 m in the east and more than 5000 m in the west, the range contains a series of large intermontane valleys that were not penetrated by westerners until the 1930s but...

    • Chapter 2 Diversity, Stress, and Opportunity
      (pp. 23-39)

      This chapter continues the presentation of agrodiversity by example, with an emphasis on externally generated change and the stresses and opportunities that result. The two communities described in chapter 1 had a good deal in common, both being in remote mountainous areas of the southeast Asia–New Guinea region. Most of the developing world’s small farmers have experienced stronger external forces than either of these two groups, making it more difficult to maintain their diversity. These other farmers must be introduced by example before the main argument begins. The three cases presented in this chapter are strongly contrasted in their...

    • Chapter 3 Defining, Describing, and Writing About Agrodiversity
      (pp. 40-58)

      Agrodiversity is a seamless whole in which all aspects are interrelated. It has become a central concept for the People, Land Management and Environmental Change (PLEC) project. As that project advanced, a need evolved to define and debate agrodiversity in greater detail than in the early statements (Brookfield 1993, 1996a; Brookfield and Padoch 1994). In 1998, Michael Stocking and I built on material that had been drafted for this book to develop a guideline paper for our colleagues and wrote a shorter statement for wider publication (Brookfield and Stocking 1998, 1999). After a guidance document on biodiversity method was prepared...

    • Chapter 4 Learning About the History of Agrodiversity
      (pp. 59-79)

      Most of this book is about the practices of small farmers in the twentieth century. Few of the cases reviewed have any firm information on what happened in earlier times. Little is documented in any form before the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Yet the book is not only about the diverse ways in which modern small farmers manage their resources. It is also about the resilience of agrodiversity, and it becomes important to know how deeply embedded this might be in agricultural history. This chapter looks at that question as a whole. Some initial thinking about the categories of agrodiversity...

    • Chapter 5 Understanding Soils and Soil–Plant Dynamics
      (pp. 80-100)

      Soil diversity is central to the definition of agrodiversity proposed by Almekinders, Fresco, and Struik (1995), and its importance and that of plant nutrients have already been mentioned at several points in this book. It is a major element in biophysical diversity, and soil–plant dynamics are the most important of the sets of processes contained within that fundamental element. Farmers have considerable knowledge about the physical and biological foundation they manage. For an understanding of agrodiversity, some basic scientific knowledge of that foundation is as important as knowledge of the crops, agronomic practices, social, political, and land tenure conditions...

  6. Part II. Diversity Within Land Rotational Systems

    • Chapter 6 Analyzing Shifting Cultivation
      (pp. 103-122)

      From this point forward, the use of case study material in this book becomes systematic and no longer purely illustrative. The purpose is to analyze agrodiversity in light of the themes outlined in chapter 3, initially without the stress on change through time, which becomes a central theme in part III. I focus in part II on a particular but large class of small farmers who use land rotation methods. In much of the world, they are the most derided of all farmers because of the alleged unsustainability of their practices. My purpose is not specifically to defend them but...

    • Chapter 7 Alternative Ways to Farm Parsimonious Soils
      (pp. 123-139)

      This chapter continues with shifting cultivators but in a different context and with a different theme. I focus on one specific region in south central Africa in which alternative agricultural strategies have been available, and both have been applied, to manage some very poor soils. Very high-temperature fire is generated in one, and in the other only ash from grass burning is incorporated into tilled soil. The region is largely mantled in miombo savanna forest, one of the largest continuous vegetation systems in the tropical world, occupying most of the plateau from Tanzania to Angola, almost from coast to coast....

    • Chapter 8 Managing Plants in the Fallow and the Forest
      (pp. 140-156)

      Up to this point, most of the discussion has been about managing the soil, and plant management has taken second place. How farmers manage the system after field crops have been harvested has been briefly introduced in chapter 6, principally in relation to some Kenyah farmers in Borneo and to the Hanunóo of the Philippines. Management of plants beyond the field, in the forest and the fallow, is an important part of agrodiversity, one of the four themes introduced in chapter 3 as resource management as a whole.

      This chapter draws on a wide range of material. Unlike chapters 6...

    • Chapter 9 Coping with Problems: Degraded Land, Slope Dynamics, and Flood
      (pp. 157-176)

      Chapter 8 ended on a very upbeat note, and it would be good to close the discussion of land rotation cultivation systems with the ingenuity and high quality of farmers’ management improving the state of their resources. Unfortunately, to do so would be to disregard an enormous modern literature describing the severity of land degradation, especially soil erosion. Much of that literature identifies shifting cultivation practices and related traditional methods as major underlying causes. Population and livestock pressures are seen as the principal modern triggers. How can this literature be reconciled with the evidence presented in this book, and by...

  7. Part III. Paths of Transformation

    • Chapter 10 Who Has Driven Agricultural Change?
      (pp. 179-197)

      At this point in the book, there is an abrupt shift of emphasis. Three of the themes set out in chapter 3—adaptability, innovation, and management beyond the farm—have been developed in part II, and sustainability, in the context of adaptability, will be a main topic of part IV. The three chapters in part III are devoted to the underlying theme of long-term change. They are concerned with paths of transformation in the ever-changing patterns of agriculture and agrarian society. The evidence already presented confirms that the notion of long-term equilibrium in small-farming systems is invalid. Wherever we explore...

    • Chapter 11 Farmer-Driven Transformation in Modern Times
      (pp. 198-217)

      Twentieth-century farmers have been shown at many points in this book as adapting to new conditions, in some cases changing their farming systems in the process. In only a few instances has it been wholly possible to separate farmers’ own agrotechnical innovations from those that have drawn on ideas and methods imported from elsewhere. Before coming to farmers’ adaptations in the context of dominant external forces, in the Green Revolution and in very recent years, I want to spend some time on cases in which there has been major change but where external intervention has been minimal or where local...

    • Chapter 12 The Green Revolution
      (pp. 218-238)

      This chapter reviews the Green Revolution in wheat and rice in two Asian countries. The experience of farmers with new higher-yielding varieties of other crops in other regions has been touched on elsewhere in the book, but it is best here to concentrate on areas where a great deal happened in a short time. The story must be viewed in the context not only of agrotechnical change but also of state policies and the remarkable link between plant science and policies that evolved in this period. Such a link continues in new ways, as we shall see in part IV....

  8. Part IV. The Future of Agrodiversity

    • Chapter 13 Recent Trends in Agriculture
      (pp. 241-261)

      In this final part of the book, the story of modern change is carried forward from the Green Revolution into recent and current trends in agriculture and its sciences. The purpose is to prepare the way for a concluding evaluation of agrodiversity as a continuing strategy. Four main areas are discussed. One is a set of developments sparked by fears of genetic erosion, and the second is a group of revolutionary changes in plant breeding technology. Alongside these are the emerging science of agrodiversity itself, and especially agrobiodiversity, and the influence of modern biological management developments in the North on...

    • Chapter 14 Science, Farmers, and Politics
      (pp. 262-280)

      Chapter 13 did not complete the story of modern scientific advances in crop breeding, nor did it analyze the claims for sustainability of alternative agriculture. There is a good deal more to be said before we can address the future of agrodiversity. It is also necessary to evaluate the political strengths and weaknesses of both the modernist thrust and small farmers’ agrodiversity in the present-day context. In the process, it will be possible to bring together a good deal of what we know and do not know about the science of agrodiversity. Everything written in this chapter concerns small farmers...

  9. Epilogue: Looking at the Future
    (pp. 281-286)

    Much of the information presented about a fast-changing situation in chapters 13 and 14 is ephemeral, and interpretation will become outdated quickly. This concluding attempt at crystal-ball gazing is even less likely to endure. Yet it is necessary to try. Many observers are very pessimistic about the future of diversity in agriculture, but there is now powerful scientific support for diversity, coming both from ecological scientists and from the biotechnologists who are more abundantly endowed than others with wide vision of genetic diversity and a social conscience. There is powerful new support of a political nature from some nongovernment organizations...

  10. References
    (pp. 287-324)
  11. Index
    (pp. 325-348)