Climate change and world agriculture

Climate change and world agriculture

494 Book reviews relative unimportance compared with the catastrophic shocks to production, prices and real incomes associated with drought or war. ...

125KB Sizes 1 Downloads 98 Views

494

Book reviews

relative unimportance compared with the catastrophic shocks to production, prices and real incomes associated with drought or war. Nevertheless, as the volume reminds us, seasonality produces a convergence of food shortage, high food prices, high work loads and high nutritional stress: in the hungry season before harvest, prices can rise by 25 per cent, calorie expenditure can rise by up to 60 per cent, and body weight can fall by 5 per cent or more. Poor families in general, and women in particular, are most likely to suffer. Of the eighteen papers in the book, ten are based on original field work; together with literature reviews in half a dozen more, they add to our understanding of seasonality and make a good case for its importance in many countries. Comparing this collection with that edited by Chambers et al., there is much less on the underlying agro-ecology of seasonality and on health. The latter omission is especially surprising, given the well-known links between rainy season illness, loss of work time at peak periods and the diversion of cash from agriculture to health. Nevertheless, there is a good deal of agreement on policy: Sahn and his colleagues emphasise the importance of growth to raise average incomes to a point where seasonal undulations no longer matter and recommend measures to improve private marketing, facilitate savings, and support indigenous coping strategies. They also, and less credibly, recommend more government intervention to stabilise prices between seasons and more public works to support incomes in the slack season: there are serious questions about the feasibility and cost effectiveness of the former, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, and the latter takes too little account of the fact that seasonal stress coincides with peak labour requirements in agriculture.

Simon Maxwell

Climate Change and World Agriculture. Martin Parry. Earthscan, London, 172 pp. Price: £9.95 (paperback). ISBN 1 85383 065 8. This book is an extension of the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publication, edited by the same author, on the potential impacts of climate change on agriculture. It presents the evidence and reasoning on which the final I P C C assessment was made. As such it is therefore an authoritative review of international understanding of the impact of climate change on agriculture. The book highlights how little is really known about climate change, or even whether it will occur. Climatologists have developed a number of General Circulation Models (GCMs) that represent mathematically the

Book reviews

495

atmospheric, oceanic and terrestrial processes that are known to occur. There appears to be some consensus (although not complete) on the level of temperature rise predicted by these models, but little or no agreement about changes in precipitation. Given that the initial scenarios for climate change still have not been challenged sufficiently by the scientific community, studies that predict the regional and local impacts of climate change on agriculture should be treated with considerable caution. Many of the case studies reported are very superficial, and in a number of cases rely only on expert opinion. The author reinforces the need for care in interpretation and extrapolation of the results from such studies throughout the book. Perhaps the uncertainty surrounding the whole area of climate change explains why many of the figures are so hard to read. Maps in particular are often very small and crammed with data that in the majority of cases are unintelligible. However, the book is thought-provoking and easy to read. The reader is provided with a comprehensive review of existing work relating to methods of assessing impacts of climate change; effects on plants, soils, pests and diseases; effects on agricultural potential, production and land-use; implications for global food security; and adapting to climate change. The extensive reference list for each chapter means the book is the ideal starting point for anyone coming into the climate change area for the first time.

M. J. McGregor

Village and Household Economies in India's Semi-arid Tropics. Thomas S. Walker and James G. Ryan. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. 394 pp. Price: $34.00. ISBN 0-8018-3886-X. This work is a landmark in many respects and it is a delight to review. As the authors explain, the work embodies that of many others, such as Hans Binswanger, Narpat Jodha and R. P. Singh, who variously instigated and sustained the analytical and empirical efforts spanning a decade of longitudinal village studies in the semi-arid tropics of India. The work was institutionally based at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and surely stands as one of the most important such studies in the history of the agricultural social sciences. How many other studies can claim to have supported the intellectual energy of something more than 40 doctoral theses, not to mention the many pioneering analytical articles dealing with diverse aspects of life in these villages? The book constitutes a valuable synthesis of the methods used and