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Article

Water as a Merit Good  

Michael Hanemann and Dale Whittington

In economics, a merit good is a good which it is judged that an individual or group of individuals should have (at least up to a certain quantity) on the basis of some concept of need, rather than on the basis of ability or willingness to pay. Examples include public elementary education and free hospitals for the poor alongside access to safe, affordable, and reliable water and sanitation. Exactly how a merit good is provided can be subjected to an economic test, but not whether the merit good should be provided. While there are some overlaps in application, the concept of a merit good is distinct from other economic concepts: A merit good may or may not be a public good, and it may or may not involve an externality. However, water and sanitation infrastructure may indeed be viewed as a form of social overhead capital. A merit good is an economic concept; the human right is an ethical concept—and, sometimes, a legal concept. That said, the concept of a merit good and the judgment that a particular item is a merit good clearly have an ethical component. If one accepts the existence of a human right to water and sanitation, that could certainly motivate a government decision to make the provision of water and sanitation a merit good. Even if a commodity is deemed to be a merit good, that still leaves open questions: To which group of people should it be provided as a merit good? In what quantity should it be provided? At what price, if any? By whom should it be provided? And how should the cost be funded?

Article

Infiltration of Water Into Soil  

John Nimmo and Rose Shillito

The infiltration of water into soil has profound importance as a central component of the hydrologic cycle and as the means of replenishing soil water that sustains terrestrial life. Systematic quantitative study of infiltration began in the 19th century and has continued through to the present as a central topic of soils, soil physics, and hydrology. Two forces drive infiltration: gravity, and capillarity, which results from the interaction of air-water surface tension with the solid components of soil. There are also two primary ways water moves into and within the soil. One is diffuse flow, through the pores between individual soil grains, moving from one to the next and so on. The other is preferential flow, through elongated channels such as those left by worms and roots. Diffuse flow is slow and continues as long as there is a net driving force. Preferential flow is fast and occurs only when water is supplied at high intensity, as during irrigation, major rainstorms, or floods. Both types are important in infiltration. Especially considering that preferential flow does not yet have a fully accepted theory, this means that infiltration entails multiple processes, some of them poorly understood. The soil at a given location has a limit to how much water it can absorb—the infiltration capacity. The interplay between the mode and rate of water supply, infiltration capacity, and characteristics of the soil and surrounding terrain determines infiltration into the soil. Much effort has gone into developing means of measuring and predicting both infiltration capacity and the actual infiltration rate. Various methods are available, and research is needed to improve their accuracy and ease of use.

Article

Food Sovereignty  

Mieke van Hemert

Food sovereignty is a paradigm on food system transformation advanced by peasant organizations worldwide in response to the commoditization of food through free trade agreements, deteriorating environmental and livelihood conditions in rural areas, and marginalization of the peasantry. Food sovereignty is an alternative to the current global, industrial corporate food regime and involves changes at all levels of the food system with relocalization, regaining control over territories, and agroecological production as key strivings. Food is viewed as a basic human right, as opposed to a commodity. Domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency have priority over long-distance trade. Food is regarded as a part of culture, heritage, and cosmovision. Agroecological practices that restore agrobiodiversity and lessen dependence and indebtedness of farmers are to replace monocultures, which are highly dependent on external inputs and harmful to the environment. There is a central role for smallholders and rural peoples in food production, who should (re)gain control over land and territories, individually and collectively, especially women. This is to be realized through forms of agrarian reform that go beyond land redistribution. Societal change toward peaceful coexistence, equality, and care for the earth is an ultimate goal. Food sovereignty is a research topic in a wide range of disciplines, including sociology, anthropology, geography, law, philosophy, history, agronomy, and ecology, alongside transdisciplinary research on food systems. While first advanced as a mobilizing concept by the transnational agrarian movement La Vía Campesina in 1996, food sovereignty has become a policy framework adopted by various governments and international organizations. The movement has successfully lobbied the United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organization to adopt new rights and guidelines that bring obligations for governments to protect rural peoples against transnational corporations undermining their access to land, water, forests, and seeds. The movement itself has diversified, and its definition of food sovereignty has evolved and become more inclusive. The food sovereignty paradigm has been criticized for being too expansive, complex, and unclear. Analyses of the competing discourses of food sovereignty and food security reveal contrasts and complementarities. Scholarly debate has also focused on the position of both peasants and farm workers in the capitalist economy and on processes of de- and repeasantization. Societal and scholarly debate on the various dimensions of food sovereignty is ongoing. Academic research foregrounds fundamental questions, including what role the state is expected to play, what forms of trade are envisaged, how the rights approach functions, the interplay of different transformative processes, changing economic and ecological contexts, tensions between different social groups, and power-related challenges. The number of case studies on the struggle for food sovereignty is growing and exhibits wide geographical diversity.

Article

Water User Associations and Collective Action in Irrigation and Drainage  

Bryan Bruns

If there is too little or too much water, farmers may be able to work together to control water and grow more food. Even before the rise of cities and states, people living in ancient settlements cooperated to create better growing conditions for useful plants and animals by diverting, retaining, or draining water. Local collective action by farmers continued to play a major role in managing water for agriculture, including in later times and places when rulers sometimes also organized construction of dams, dikes, and canals. Comparative research on long-lasting irrigation communities and local governance of natural resources has found immense diversity in management rules tailored to the variety of local conditions. Within this diversity, Elinor Ostrom identified shared principles of institutional design: clear social and physical boundaries; fit between rules and local conditions, including proportionality in sharing costs and benefits; user participation in modifying rules; monitoring by users or those accountable to them; graduated sanctions to enforce rules; low-cost conflict resolution; government tolerance or support for self-governance; and nested organizations. During the 19th and 20th centuries, centralized bureaucracies constructed many large irrigation schemes. Farmers were typically expected to handle local operation and maintenance and comply with centralized management. Postcolonial international development finance for irrigation and drainage systems usually flowed through national bureaucracies, strengthening top-down control of infrastructure and water management. Pilot projects in the 1970s in the Philippines and Sri Lanka inspired internationally funded efforts to promote participatory irrigation management in many countries. More ambitious reforms for transfer of irrigation management to water user associations (WUAs) drew on examples in Colombia, Mexico, Turkey, and elsewhere. These reforms have shown the feasibility in some cases of changing policies and practices to involve irrigators more closely in decisions about design, construction, and some aspects of operation and maintenance, including cooperation in scheme-level co-management. However, WUAs and associated institutional reforms are clearly not panaceas and have diverse results depending on context and on contingencies of implementation. Areas of mixed or limited impact and for potential improvement include performance in delivering water; maintaining infrastructure; mobilizing local resources; sustaining organizations after project interventions; and enhancing social inclusion and equity in terms of multiple uses of water, gender, age, ethnicity, poverty, land tenure, and other social differences. Cooperation in managing water for agriculture can contribute to coping with present and future challenges, including growing more food to meet rising demand; competition for water between agriculture, industry, cities, and the environment; increasing drought, flood, and temperatures due to climate change; social and economic shifts in rural areas, including outmigration and diversification of livelihoods; and the pursuit of environmental sustainability.

Article

Crop Rotation and Climate Change Adaptation in Argentina’s Agriculture Sector  

Ariel R. Angeli, Federico E. Bert, Sandro Díez-Amigo, Yuri Soares, Jaquelina M. Chaij, Gustavo D. Martini, F. Martín Montané, Alejandro Pardo Vegezzi, and Federico Schmidt

During the past two decades, extensive agriculture, particularly soybean production, has progressively replaced other crops in Argentina. This transformation was driven by economic, technological, environmental, and organizational factors, such as the increasing demand for agricultural commodities, technological advances, organizational innovations, and climate fluctuations. The expansion of soybean production has brought a substantial increase in agricultural revenue for Argentina. However, the predominance of soybean cultivation poses significant challenges, such as diminished soil fertility, reduction and increased variability in crop yields, ecological imbalance, increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and vulnerability to climate change. Crop rotation, particularly balanced crop rotation, may result in very large positive impacts on soybean yields, especially in unfavorable climatic conditions such as those experienced during the La Niña ENSO phase in Argentina. In addition to this positive impact on agricultural productivity and climate adaptation, in some contexts crop rotation may also contribute to the reduction of GHG emissions, increased input energy efficiency, and improved environmental outcomes. The 2018 Argentinian Association of Regional Consortia for Agricultural Experimentation and Inter-American Development Bank (AACREA-IADB) Integrated Crop Rotation Database compiled and harmonized the information from agricultural diaries kept by Regional Consortia for Agricultural Experimentation (CREA) members in Argentina from 1998 to 2016. This new consolidated data set has replaced previous regional templates, and it is expected to continue to be expanded with new information periodically, offering opportunities for further research on the impact of crop rotation on climate adaptation and on other topics in agricultural and environmental economics.

Article

Bioeconomic Models  

Ihtiyor Bobojonov

Bioeconomic models are analytical tools that integrate biophysical and economic models. These models allow for analysis of the biological and economic changes caused by human activities. The biophysical and economic components of these models are developed based on historical observations or theoretical relations. Technically these models may have various levels of complexity in terms of equation systems considered in the model, modeling activities, and programming languages. Often, biophysical components of the models include crop or hydrological models. The core economic components of these models are optimization or simulation models established according to neoclassical economic theories. The models are often developed at farm, country, and global scales, and are used in various fields, including agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and environmental sectors. Bioeconomic models are commonly used in research on environmental externalities associated with policy reforms and technological modernization, including climate change impact analysis, and also explore the negative consequences of global warming. A large number of studies and reports on bioeconomic models exist, yet there is a lack of studies describing the multiple uses of these models across different disciplines.

Article

Economics of Climate Change Adaptation  

Babatunde O. Abidoye

To view climate change adaptation from an economic perspective requires a definition of adaptation, an economic framework in which to view adaptation, and a review of the literature on specific adaptations (especially in agriculture). A focus on tools for applying adaptation to developing countries highlights the difference between mitigation and the adaptation decision-making process. Mitigation decisions take a long-term perspective because carbon dioxide lasts for a very long time in the atmosphere. Adaptation decisions typically last the lifespan of the investments, so the time frame depends on the specific adaptation investment, but it is invariably short compared to mitigation choices, which have implications for centuries. The short time frame means that adaptation decisions are not plagued by the same uncertainty that plagues mitigation choices. Finally, most adaptation decisions are local and private, whereas mitigation is a global public decision. Private adaptation will occur even without large government programs. Public adaptations that require government assistance can mainly be made by existing government agencies. Adaptation does not require a global agreement.

Article

Prehistoric Agriculture in China: Food Globalization in Prehistory  

Giedrė Motuzaitė Matuzevičiūtė and Xinyi Liu

It is commonly recognised that farming activities initiated independently in different parts of the world between approximately 12,000 and 8,000 years ago. Two of such agricultural centres is situated in modern-day China, where systems based on the cultivation of plants and animal husbandry has developed. Recent investigations have shown that between 5000 and 1500 cal. bce, the Eurasian and African landmass underpinned a continental-scale process of food “globalisation of staple crops. In the narrative of food domestication and global food dispersal processes, China has played a particularly important role, contributing key staple food domesticates such as rice, broomcorn, and foxtail millet. The millets dispersed from China across Eurasia during the Bronze Age, becoming an essential food for many ancient communities. In counterpoise, southwest Asian crops, such as wheat or barley, found new habitats among the ancient populations of China, dramatically changing the course of its development. The processes of plant domestication and prehistoric agriculture in China have been a topic of extensive research, review, and discussion by many scholars around the world, and there is a great deal of literature on these topics. One of the consequences of these discoveries concerning the origins of agriculture in China has been to undermine the notion of a single centre of origin for civilisation, agriculture, and urbanism, which was a popular and widespread narrative in the past. It has become clear that agricultural centres of development in China were concurrent with, rather than after, the Fertile Crescent.

Article

Biochar: An Emerging Carbon Abatement and Soil Management Strategy  

Holly Morgan, Saran Sohi, and Simon Shackley

Biochar is a charcoal that is used to improve land rather than as a fuel. Biochar is produced from biomass, usually through the process of pyrolysis. Due to the molecular structure and strength of the chemical bonds, the carbon in biochar is in a stable form and not readily mineralized to CO2 (as is the fate of most of the carbon in biomass). Because the carbon in biochar derives (via photosynthesis) from atmospheric CO2, biochar has the potential to be a net negative carbon technology/carbon dioxide removal option. Biochar is not a single homogeneous material. Its composition and properties (including longevity) differ according to feedstock (source biomass), pyrolysis (production) conditions, and its intended application. This variety and heterogeneity have so far eluded an agreed methodology for calculating biochar’s carbon abatement. Meta-analyses increasingly summarize the effects of biochar in pot and field trials. These results illuminate that biochar may have important agronomic benefits in poorer acidic tropical and subtropical soils, with one study indicating an average 25% yield increase across all trials. In temperate soils the impact is modest to trivial and the same study found no significant impact on crop yield arising from biochar amendment. There is much complexity in matching biochar to suitable soil-crop applications and this challenge has defied development of simple heuristics to enable implementation. Biochar has great potential as a carbon management technology and as a soil amendment. The lack of technically rigorous methodologies for measuring recalcitrant carbon limits development of the technology according to this specific purpose.

Article

Water Security  

Claudia Sadoff, David Grey, and Edoardo Borgomeo

Water security has emerged in the 21st century as a powerful construct to frame the water objectives and goals of human society and to support and guide local to global water policy and management. Water security can be described as the fundamental societal goal of water policy and management. This article reviews the concept of water security, explaining the differences between water security and other approaches used to conceptualize the water-related challenges facing society and ecosystems and describing some of the actions needed to achieve water security. Achieving water security requires addressing two fundamental challenges at all scales: enhancing water’s productive contributions to human and ecosystems’ well-being, livelihoods and development, and minimizing water’s destructive impacts on societies, economies, and ecosystems resulting, for example, from too much (flood), too little (drought) or poor quality (polluted) water.