Thursday, 21 November 2013

The local grain growing revolution (book)

Uprisings: A Hands-On Guide to the Community Grain Revolution

If we want to reduce our environmental impact, build resiliency in our community and improve food security, it's up to us to make it happen. In many North American communities, the instrument of change is ... grain. Grain is the perfect metaphor for how we've lost control of our food supply, and with it the skills and tools to feed ourselves. Uprisings shows how communities can take back their power by reviving local grain production to improve food security, local economies, and the environment.


Heritage chickens and ducks (book)

Pure Poultry: Living Well with Heritage Chickens, Turkeys and Ducks

Pure Poultry is the first book in nearly a hundred years to focus specifically on heritage breeds of chickens, turkeys and ducks and their role in a self-reliant lifestyle. Providing an alternative to commercial breeds and hybrids, heritage breeds each boast their own unique characteristics and personality traits, and are a valuable (and entertaining) addition to a sustainable food system.

Academic research on essential oils (#journal)

The Journal of Essential Oil Bearing Plants 

Not a journal that The Digest will be featuring regularly, but I wanted to bring it to people's attention if they have an interest in essential oils, their properties and their production.

To celebrate IPC 2013, a Cuban agroecology article (#journal)

Agroecology and the Development of Indicators of Food Sovereignty in Cuban Food Systems

The recent volatility of food crop prices and the rising cost of inputs—fossil fuels, fertilizers, and pesticides—have made it nearly impossible for many of the world's smallholder farmers to continue managing their agroecosystems, leaving their countries dependent on ever more costly food imports. Thanks to its mass organizations and popular participation in national policy, Cuba is one of the few countries with the capacity to implement food sovereignty, which could help it minimize the threats posed by food price fluctuation, extreme climatic events and the persistent U.S. hostility towards its national project. Guided by the principles of agroecology, Cuban researchers are developing indicators of food sovereignty for practical use at the smallholder farm level.

Indonesia's integrated pest management programme (#journal)

Empire Strikes Back: The Making and Unmaking of Indonesia's National Integrated Pest Management Program

Indonesia's 11-year national integrated pest management program (IPM) (1989–1999) is considered to be one of the most successful examples of IPM in a developing country. The program is best known for introducing the innovative farmer field school model of agroecosystem-based experiential learning, subsequentl disseminated and adapted  throughout the world. In the 12 years since the termination of the program in 1999, government support for the national IPM program has wavered, contributing to a resurgence of the pesticide-induced resurgent pest problems that had led to its establishment. This article examines the socio-political basis and drivers of Indonesia's retreat from IPM.

Nitrogen fixing trees crucial in tropical forests (journal)

Key role of symbiotic dinitrogen fixation in tropical forest secondary succession

This study identifies a powerful feedback mechanism in which N2 fixation can overcome ecosystem-scale deficiencies in nitrogen that emerge during periods of rapid biomass accumulation in young tropical forests. Over a 300-year chronosequence in Panama, N2-fixing tree species accumulated carbon up to nine times faster per individual than their non-fixing neighbours, and showed species-specific differences in the amount and timing of fixation. As a result of fast growth and high fixation, fixers provided a large fraction of the nitrogen needed to support net forest growth (50,000kg carbon per hectare) in young forests. These findings show that symbiotic N2 fixation can have a central role in nitrogen cycling during tropical forest development.

Potential of multi-functional agriculture (journal)

Multifunctional Agriculture in the United States

The authors evaluated possible changes to current farming practices in Minnesota to provide insight into how farm policy might affect environmental, social, and economic outcomes. They found that environmental and economic benefits can be attained through changes in agricultural land management without increasing public costs. The magnitude of these benefits depends on the magnitude of changes to agricultural practices. Environmental benefits include improved water quality, healthier fish, increased carbon sequestration, and decreased greenhouse gas emissions, while economic benefits include social capital formation, greater farm profitability, and avoided costs. We suggest that redirecting farm payments by using alternative incentives could lead to substantial environmental changes at little or no extra cost to the taxpayer

Getting the best from your woodburner (book)

The Log Book: getting the best from your woodburning stove. 

Using a wood burning stove effectively is both an art and a science. In this friendly, comprehensive guide, chartered forester and woodfuel expert Will Rolls talks the reader through the theory and practice of getting the best results from their stove. From finding the fuel and seasoning it, to lighting the stove and operating it cleanly, this book describes the best techniques for looking after your log stove. The Log Book covers log suppliers, avoiding too much smoke and ash, checking fuel quality and picking the best wood for your fire.

A cultural history of sustainability (book)

Sustainability: A Cultural History

From diets to economic growth, everything these days has to be ‘sustainable’. But the word’s currency should not obscure its origins: sustainability is an age-old aspiration; a concept deeply rooted in human culture. Though in danger of abuse and overuse today, it can still be recovered from its present inflationary coinage. In clear and thought-provoking terms, Ulrich Grober reassesses the concept of sustainability using a range of fascinating historical instances of its application. This book offers a historically rich and nuanced introduction to a concept that could not be of more pressing importance for the twenty-first century.

Household waste and what happens to it (film)


The first feature-length film to feature on The Digest!

“Trashed” is a provocative investigation of one of the fastest growing industries in North America. The garbage business. The film examines a fundamental element of modern American culture…the disposal of what our society defines as “waste.” It is an issue influenced by every American, most of whom never consider the consequences. Nor, it seems, the implications to our biosphere. At times humorous, but deeply poignant, “Trashed” examines the American waste stream fast approaching a half billion tons annually. What are the effects all this waste will have on already strained natural resources? Why is so much of it produced? While every American creates almost 5 pounds of it every day, who is affected most? And who wants America to make more?

Keeping a famliy cow (book)

Keeping a Family Cow: The Complete Guide for Home-Scale, Holistic Dairy Producers

The cow is the most productive, efficient creature on earth. She gives you fresh milk, cream, butter, and cheese, and promotes human health and happiness. Originally published in the 1970s as The Cow Economy this is the book that launched thousands of holistic small-scale dairy farmers and families raising healthy cows in accordance with their true natures.
The cow is the most productive, efficient creature on earth. She gives you fresh milk, cream, butter, and cheese, and promotes human health and happiness. She helps the homesteaders and small farmers who offer her bounty up to the community with a chance at turning a profit. She provides rich manure for your garden or land, and enriches the quality of your life as you benefit from the resources of the natural world.
Originally published in the early 1970s as The Cow Economy and reprinted many times since, Keeping a Family Cow is the book that launched thousands of holistic small-scale dairy farmers and families raising healthy cows in accordance with their true nature.
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Biggest permaculture literature review ever published (journal)

Permaculture for agroecology: design, movement, practice, and worldview. A review

Permaculture is an agroecological movement with a broad international distribution and a unique approach to system design. Despite a high public profile, permaculture has remained relatively isolated from scientific research. Though the potential contribution of permaculture to agroecological transition is great, it is limited by this isolation from science, as well as from oversimplifying claims, and the lack of a clear definition. Here, we review scientific and popular permaculture literature. A systematic review discusses quantitative bibliometric data, including keyword analysis. A qualitative review identifies and assesses major themes, proposals, and claims. The manuscript follows a stratified definition of permaculture as design system, best practice framework, worldview, and movement. 

Silvopasture is the future for livestock (journal)

Sustainable, efficient livestock production with high biodiversity and good welfare for animals

What is the future for livestock agriculture in the world? Consumers have concerns about sustainability but many widely used livestock production methods do not satisfy consumers' requirements for a sustainable system. However, production can be sustainable, occurring in environments that: supply the needs of the animals resulting in good welfare, allow coexistence with a wide diversity of organisms native to the area, minimize carbon footprint and provide a fair lifestyle for the people working there. Silvopastoral systems, pastures with shrubs and trees as well as herbage, are described which are normally more productive than pasture alone. When compared with widely used livestock production systems, silvopastoral systems can provide efficient feed conversion, higher biodiversity, enhanced connectivity between habitat patches and better animal welfare, so they can replace existing systems in many parts of the world and should be further developed.

Agrobiodiversity to feed 9 billion (#jounral)

Agrobiodiversity for food security, health and income

By the year 2050, agriculture will have to provide the food and nutrition requirements of some 9 billion people. To maintain that level of productivity indefinitely it must do so using environmentally sustainable production systems. This task will be complicated by the effects of climate change. This article reviews science-based evidence arguing that diversification with greater use of highly valuable but presently under-valorised crops and species should be an essential element of any model for sustainable smallholder agriculture. It concludes that a change in policy is needed to influence behaviours and practices but also strong leadership able to implement an action plan.

GMOs vs. agricultural biodiversity (#journal)

Feeding the world: genetically modified crops versus agricultural biodiversity

The growing demand for food poses major challenges to humankind. Agricultural sustainability is no longer optional but mandatory. There is still an on-going debate among researchers and in the media on the best strategy. One strategy favors the use of genetically modified (GM) crops, while another strategy focuses on agricultural biodiversity.  The claim that genetically modified crops are necessary if we are to secure food production within the next decades has no scientific support, but is rather a reflection of corporate interests. However, there is a shortage of research funds for agrobiodiversity solutions in comparison with funding for research in genetic modification of crops. Favoring biodiversity does not exclude any future biotechnological contributions, but favoring biotechnology threatens future biodiversity resources. An objective review of current knowledge places GM crops far down the list of potential solutions in the coming decades.

Assessment of compost benefits for farming (#journal)

Compost benefits for agriculture evaluated by life cycle assessment. A review

As compost use in agriculture increases, there is an urgent need to evaluate the specific environmental benefits and impacts as compared with other types of fertilizers and soil amendments. This study reviews the recent progresses made in the quantification of the positive effects associated to biowaste compost use on land by using life cycle assessment (LCA). A total of nine environmental benefits were identified in an extensive literature review and quantitative figures for each benefit were drawn and classified into short-, mid-, and long-term.

Why wheat farmers choose chemical inputs (#journal)

Why wheat farmers could reduce chemical inputs: evidence from social, economic, and agronomic analysis

Though European policies recommend pesticide reduction, most farmers still manage their crops with a high level of chemical inputs, notably in arable crop-based systems. Factors influencing farmers’ practices are not well-known. The authors interviewed 71 French farmers to understand the factors influencing their choice of crop management plans. Results revealed three main types of practices: (1) 29 % of farmers use low levels of inputs and get low yield, (2) 38 % of farmers use medium levels of inputs and get high yield, (3) 33 % of farmers use high levels of inputs and get medium yield. We showed that farm profile, individual motives, and social commitments explain the level of input use. High-input practices are often implemented by farmers who have less family labor availability and who rarely join extension groups, whereas low-input practices are conducted by farmers bearing civic responsibilities and showing environmental awareness. 

Composting biochar improves its effects (#journal)

Positive effects of composted biochar on plant growth and soil fertility

It is claimed that biochar addition to soil improves C sequestration to prevent CO2 from atmospheric cycling. Biochar addition should also increase soil fertility in a similar way as anthropogenic dark earths of Central Amazonia. Previous studies have shown that biochar stimulates plant growth, especially when biochar is combined with organic fertilizers such as compost. However, little is known about optimum addition amounts and mixture ratios of biochar and compost.This study considered optimum biochar and compost amounts and mixture ratios with respect to plant response and soil fertility. Results show that biomass production was increased with rising biochar and compost amounts. The positive influence of composted biochar on plant growth and soil properties suggests that composting is a good way to overcome biochar’s inherent nutrient deficiency, making it a suitable technique helping to refine farm-scale nutrient cycles.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Social sciences and humanities in environmental research (#journal)

Reconceptualizing the ‘Anthropos’ in the Anthropocene: Integrating the social sciences and humanities in global environmental change research

There is growing recognition that humans are faced with a critical window of opportunity to halt some of the key indicators involved in the environmental crisis. Given human activities’ scale and impact, as well as the overly narrow perspectives of environmental research’s dominant natural sciences, a major effort is necessary to place the perspectives and insights of the humanities’ and social sciences’ perspectives and insights at the forefront. Such effort will require developing integrated approaches, projects, and institutions that truly do so. This article’s goal is to help mobilize the social sciences and the humanities on the topic of sustainability transitions, but also call for a meaningful research agenda to acknowledge the profound implications of the advent of the Anthropocene epoch.

UN calls for small-scale, sustainable farming (report)

Wake up before it is too late: make agriculture truly sustainable now for food security in a changing climate

A new UNCTAD report has been published which states that farming in rich and poor nations alike should shift from monoculture towards greater varieties of crops, reduced use of fertilizers and other inputs, greater support for small-scale farmers, and more locally focused production and consumption of food. More than 60 international experts contributed to the report, launched last week.
The report states that monoculture and industrial farming methods are not providing sufficient affordable food where it is needed, while causing mounting and unsustainable environmental damage.