Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The latest news on climate change (website)

Responding to Climate Change

A great site that carries all the latest news on climate change politics, policy and science from around the world. Dozens of articles, with a good mixture of factual reporting and opinion stating, plus headlines and research reports.

Developing sustainable food courses for undergrads (#journal)

Development and Evaluation of an Introductory Course in Sustainable Food and Bioenergy Systems

 The purpose of this paper is to describe the development, instruction, and evaluation of the undergraduate pilot course, Introduction to Sustainable Food and Bioenergy Systems (SFBS), at Montana State University. Introduction to SFBS is an interdisciplinary, team-taught, experiential education course designed to introduce students to broad array of SFBS-related topics, expose students to career opportunities in these fields, and enable them to establish relationships with food, agriculture, and energy stakeholders. Introduction to SFBS can serve as a model for such curricula. Courses like this can prepare students to become informed, innovative, critical thinkers capable of excelling in a multitude of food, agriculture, and energy-related careers.

Successful organic market gardening (book)

The Market Gardener: A successful grower's handbook for small-scale organic farming

Jean-Martin Fortier is the founder of a micro-farm in Eastern Quebec. Growing on just 1.5 acres, they feed more than 200 families through their thriving CSA and seasonal market stands. In this book he shares the secret of their success: low-tech, high-yield production methods that focus on growing better rather than growing bigger, making their operation more lucrative and viable in the process. Instead of a tractor they opted to stay small-scale, relying on hand and light power tools. The book is a compendium of proven horticultural techniques and innovative growing methods, packed with practical information.

Anaerobic effluent fertliser in maize (#journal)

The effect of irrigation with anaerobic baffled reactor effluent on nutrient availability, soil properties and maize growth

A glasshouse study was carried out to assess the availability to maize of nutrients from anaerobic baffled reactor (ABR) effluent. Maize was grown for 6 weeks in pots with three contrasting soils namely a sandy soil, an organic acidic soil  and a clayey soil. Fertilizer (N, P and K) was applied at the recommended rate, half the recommended rate and zero fertilizer for each of the soils used. Plants were irrigated with either effluent or tap water. Dry matter yields and nutrient concentrations for effluent-irrigated maize were significantly higher than for all water-irrigated plants. The unfertilized, effluent-irrigated plants were not significantly different in above-ground nutrient concentrations from the water-irrigated plants at half fertilization. Plants grown on the clay soil irrigated with effluent and fully fertilized had the highest above-ground dry matter yield and accumulated more N, P, K, Ca and Mg than all other treatments.

Transition's potential to challenge neo-liberalism (online)


In this chapter, the authors investigate the potential of the transition movement to resist dominant discourses that support neoliberal conceptions of economic growth which deny the environmental consequences of late capitalism, and to transform communities through bottom-up democratic organizing. Although critiques of the transition movement focus on the limitations of eco-localism as a form of resistance to capitalism, the approach in this chapter is deliberately affirmative and is aimed at understanding the potential of the movement as well as identifying issues and challenges it may face. Consideration is given to the transition movement's attempts to be simultaneously responsive to current global environmental and economic crises, while also engaging deeply with issues and dilemmas of democracy.

Green tenants in the private rented sector (#journal)

Green tenants: practicing a sustainability ethics for the rental housing sector

The shift towards social, government and corporate ethics which value environmental sustainability has clearly embraced householders. However, the private rental sector has yet to participate in this shift to an ethics of sustainability. Yet even on such otherwise arid ground, a sustainability ethic is being practiced by green tenants. These activities offer both glimpses of a greening rental housing sector, and a clearer picture of the areas where work remains to be done. It is suggested that these activities are a form of care for the world, similar to Maria Puig de la Bellacasa's practice-based ethics exemplified in the permaculture movement. The stories of the tenants interviewe also point the way to other changes needed to enable a practice-based sustainability ethic to flourish across the rental housing sector.

SWOT analysis of rice-duck farming (#journal)

Theory and reality of integrated rice–duck farming in Asian developing countries: A systematic review and SWOT analysis

Integrated rice–duck farming, in which ducks feed on insects and weeds in paddies and fertilise rice plants, has been a flagship of Asian sustainable-agriculture movements. Nevertheless, IRDF is not spreading rapidly enough to become a successful alternative agriculture. This paper undertakes a systematic review of experimental IRDF studies to identify the strengths and weaknesses of, opportunities for and threats to IRDF. The most recognisable empirical strength of IRDF is the synergy of rice and ducks. It was found that the establishment of organic food certification systems provides an opportunity for IRDF to grow. On the other hand, labour-intensiveness was found the greatest weakness of IRDF. In order to make IRDF economically more feasible, the non-market ecological benefits of IRDF should be internalised through appropriate policy instruments.


Social practice theory and urban permaculture (#journal)

‘One city block at a time’: Researching and cultivating green transformations

A growing interest in environmental issues within the community has seen suburban backyards, streets, houses and curbsides become sites of experimentation around sustainable lifestyle practices. Drawing upon research on various grassroots green initiatives around inner urban and suburban Melbourne, this article discusses what the rise of these kinds of lifestyle politics might mean for conceptualizing scale, citizenship, and social change in the contemporary moment. Drawing on social practice theory and its focus on the embodied, habitual and more-than-human elements of everyday practices, the article argues that green suburban lifestyle initiatives such as ‘permablitzes’ are transformational in a number of ways and that they embody, materialize and perform broader sets of changes in people’s lives as they seek to switch from practices of consumption to a focus on self-sufficiency and making do.

Learning and innovation networks for sustainable agriculture (online)

Final Report of the SOLINSA Project

This report outlines results of the project “Agricultural Knowledge Systems in Transition: Towards a more effective and efficient support of Learning and Innovation Networks for Sustainable Agriculture” (acronym: SOLINSA). The project considered new ways of transition from “productivist” practices to more sustainable agriculture, where traditional institutions in charge of fostering innovation are not always relevant. The project proposes a new organisational pattern aimed at fostering innovation for transition. It illuminates the role of learning and innovation in transition processes, explores networks as drivers of innovation and proposes the concept of Learning and Innovation Networks for Sustainable Agriculture (LINSA) to help farmers and rural actors generate innovations for transition. The consortium was comprised by 11 research institutions from 8 European countries.

Education through production (#journal)

Teaching the Youth and Adults through Education with Production: The Case Study of Tiger Kloof Educational Institution

Education plays a pivotal role in teaching people in society so that they can bring about changes in their own lives and that of their communities. The founders of Tiger Kloof Educational Institution over 100 years ago applied the principle of education with production in teaching their learners. When the school was re-opened in 1995 after its closure for over 25 years, academic and a few vocational subjects have been introduced as well as practical productive activities such as plumbing, carpentry, brick laying as well as the raising of vegetable gardens and rearing of cattle. The school is involved in a lot of practical and productive activities in generating funds and producing some of the food that is used to feed the students in the boarding house. The study found the practice viable and recommends if for adoption in other educational institutions across Africa.

Permaculture and labour market policy (online)

The Integrative Analysis of Economic Ecosystems: Reviewing labour market policies with new insights from permaculture and systems theory

This paper explores new ways of applying ecological knowledge to solve economic problems. The integrative analysis method uses systems ecology in order to characterize economic systems with their energetic properties and model them as ecosystems. This makes it possible to assess them with the design principles of permaculture. Through a process that adopts the main characteristics of the "Soft Systems Methodology" incremental changes can be found to make economies increasingly resemble the natural functioning of healthy and stable ecosystems. To show the capabilities of the integrative analysis, it is applied to three different perceptions of the labour market and its surrounding actors, starting with the viewpoint of the European Commission. Many EU proposals to meet labour-related challenges can be refined and complemented with existing alternative proposals.

Sustainability discourse in Cuba (#journal)

Peasant, Patriot, Environmentalist: Sustainable Development Discourse in Havana

Private urban agricultural ventures, initially a spontaneous response to food shortages during the Special Period, soon became a state-sponsored project, related to global notions of sustainability. This article explores the role sustainability in the reformulation of the Revolution. Urban gardeners engage with international discourses of sustainability and interact with the Cuban state's articulation of these discourses. While this process forces urban gardeners to adapt to the changing meanings of growing food, it also provides a different language through which gardeners define themselves, especially in the context of a changing relationship with the state.

Developing a small permaculture farm (#journal)

Into milk wood

One couple's vision, to develop a working small-scale farm based on permaculture principles, involved a pretty big leap of faith and some major upskilling. Just goes to show that multimedia artists can do anything.

Future direction for the permaculture concept (#journal)

Towards Sustainable Agricultural Stewardship: Evolution and Future Directions of the Permaculture Concept

This paper traces the origins of the concept of permaculture and discusses the sustainability of permaculture itself as a form of alternative agriculture. It is argued that future permaculture movements should focus on revitalising the communitarian spirit of traditional farming villages instead of building intentional communal communities. The paper also calls for more aggressive environmental-policy measures that support permaculture and internalise the non-market value of reduced fossil-fuel energy consumption and waste recycling.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

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Agro-ecology in two minutes (video)

The need for agro-ecology brilliantly explained in a two minute video (yes, really...)

The animation was created by Marija Jacimovic and Benoit Detalle and uses an excerpt from a speech given by Michael Pollan at the RSA in 2010 -- Food Rules: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c31cAd...

Thursday, 13 February 2014

We have enough to feed 10 billion (journal)

We Already Grow Enough Food for 10 Billion People … and Still Can't End Hunger

A stimulating and provocative  opinion piece from some of the leading figures in the agro-ecological movement, arguing that food production isn't an issue, instead we need to focus on inequality and food access. If we resolved those issues, and stopped pouring food crops into cars and livestock, we could feed everyone in the world using organic methods tomorrow.

Environmental impact of conventional vs. organic (#journal)

Environmental Impact of Different Agricultural Management Practices: Conventional vs. Organic Agriculture

This paper carries out a comparative review of the environmental performances of organic agriculture versus conventional farming. Under organic management soil loss is greatly reduced and soil organic matter content increases, soil biochemical and ecological characteristics appear improved, soils have a much higher water holding capacity and higher ability to store carbon in the soil, and organic farming systems  harbor a larger floral and faunal biodiversity than conventional systems. Organic agriculture has a higher energy efficiency (input/output) but, on average, exhibits lower yields and hence reduced productivity compared to conventional systems.

The need for agro-ecology - a lit review (#journal)

Is There a Need for a More Sustainable Agriculture?

In this paper the environmental impact of current agriculture is reviewed. Soil loss, increasing water demand, environmental pollution caused by agrochemicals, biodiversity loss and greenhouse gases are among the most pressing issues concerning agriculture sustainability. A number of alternative agricultural practices are also presented that can make agriculture less environmentally damaging. Research should be implemented in order to better assess the potential and constraints of the different options. Addressing key socioeconomic issues, such as inequality in access to resources, population growth, and access to education are also a priority.


Organic yields average 80% of conventional (#journal)

The crop yield gap between organic and conventional agriculture

A key issue in the debate on the contribution of organic agriculture to the future of world agriculture is whether it can produce sufficient food to feed the world. This article analyzes 362 published organic–conventional comparative crop yields. Organic yields of individual crops averaged 80% of conventional yields, but variation was substantial (standard deviation 21%), with significant difference between crop groups and regions. The authors  suggest reasons for the gap and its high level of variation.


Transition thinking and food systems change (#journal)

Transitions to sustainability: a change in thinking about food systems change?

'Transition' has recently gained prominence as a way to discuss and address sustainability challenges and changes. The author explores connections to food systems change, by highlighting two broad approaches in the sustainability transitions research field. First is a multi-level perspective that examines sustainability innovation pathways and second is a social practices approach that illuminates the possibilities for shifts in normal everyday routines. Taken together, these offer useful ways to think about the dynamics and significance of innovations in food and agriculture, and the part they play in transitions to sustainability.

Linking community initiatives and local government (#journal)

(Dis)connected communities and sustainable place-making

Despite a recent surge in the UK in 'sustainable communities' policy discourse, many community-led sustainability initiatives remain fragmented and disconnected from local government strategies. How can community- and government-led sustainability initiatives be better integrated? With particular reference to Stroud, England and Cardiff, Wales, this paper explores the twin processes of disconnection and connection between community activists and local state actors. It concludes that for community activists and policy-makers alike, there are many mutual benefits to co-production.

Can 'resilience' mean radical change? (#journal)

‘Bouncing back’ to capitalism? Grass-roots autonomous activism in shaping discourses of resilience and transformation following disaster

Resilience has been criticised for focusing on attempts to maintain the status quo following a disturbance, upholding the hegemony of stability and being unhelpful to groups seeking radical change. Despite this, the concept is fast subsuming sustainability for community organisations wishing to address social and environmental injustices. This paper examines the potential for a radical notion of resilience that can challenge hegemonic understandings of everyday capitalist life, and thus contributing to a more nuanced understanding of the radical potential for what is often expressed as an inherently non-radical concept.