News Update on Agriculture Research: May – 2019

Transforming traditional agriculture.

The author concentrates on the economic problem confronting agriculture, presents a theoretical approach to explain the economic stagnation of traditional agriculture, and tests his hypotheses empirically. He identifies the sources of profitable economic growth in transforming traditional agriculture, and discusses investment, including both new material inputs and investments in farm people. [1]

Participatory learning for sustainable agriculture

Emerging evidence for the success on farms of resource-conserving technologies and practices must not tempt agricultural professionals into making prescriptions about what constitutes sustainable agriculture. Sustainability is a complex and contested concept, and so precise definitions are impossible. The dominant scientific paradigm of positivism has served us well over three to four centuries, but it is not well suited to contexts where uncertainties are high, and problems are open to interpretation. Many methodological and philosophical alternatives to positivism have arisen from both the “hard” and “soft” sciences. These indicate that new understanding and solutions can only arise with wide public and scientific participation. But the term “participation” has become fashionable with many different interpretations, some hindering rather than supporting sustainability. New systems of learning are needed, using participatory methods and criteria for trustworthiness. These have profound implications for agricultural professionals, who must now actively create a whole new professionalism. [2]

Greenhouse gas mitigation in agriculture

Agricultural lands occupy 37% of the earth’s land surface. Agriculture accounts for 52 and 84% of global anthropogenic methane and nitrous oxide emissions. Agricultural soils may also act as a sink or source for CO2, but the net flux is small. Many agricultural practices can potentially mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the most prominent of which are improved cropland and grazing land management and restoration of degraded lands and cultivated organic soils. Lower, but still significant mitigation potential is provided by water and rice management, set-aside, land use change and agroforestry, livestock management and manure management. The global technical mitigation potential from agriculture (excluding fossil fuel offsets from biomass) by 2030, considering all gases, is estimated to be approximately 5500–6000 Mt CO2-eq. yr−1, with economic potentials of approximately 1500–1600, 2500–2700 and 4000–4300 Mt CO2-eq. yr−1 at carbon prices of up to 20, up to 50 and up to 100 US$ t CO2-eq.−1, respectively. In addition, GHG emissions could be reduced by substitution of fossil fuels for energy production by agricultural feedstocks (e.g. crop residues, dung and dedicated energy crops). The economic mitigation potential of biomass energy from agriculture is estimated to be 640, 2240 and 16 000 Mt CO2-eq. yr−1 at 0–20, 0–50 and 0–100 US$ t CO2-eq.−1, respectively. [3]

Engagement in agricultural work is associated with reduced leisure time among Agta hunter-gatherers

A long-standing hypothesis suggests that the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture results in people working harder, spending more time engaged in subsistence activities and having less leisure time1,2. However, tests of this hypothesis are obscured by comparing between populations that vary in ecology and social organization, as well as subsistence3,4,5,6. Here we test this hypothesis by examining adult time allocation among the Agta—a population of small-scale hunter-gatherers from the northern Philippines who are increasingly engaged in agriculture and other non-foraging work. We find that individuals in camps engaging more in non-foraging work spend more time involved in out-of-camp work and have substantially less leisure time. This difference is largely driven by changes in the time allocation of women, who spend substantially more time engaged in out-of-camp work in more agricultural camps. Our results support the hypothesis that hunting and gathering allows a significant amount of leisure time, and that this is lost as communities adopt small-scale agriculture. [4]

Soil Quality Attributes and Their Role in Sustainable Agriculture: A Review

Soil quality is the capacity of a specific kind of soil to function, within natural or managed ecosystem boundaries, to sustain plant and animal productivity, maintain or enhance water and air quality, and support human health and habitation. This definition of soil quality encompasses physical, chemical and biological characteristics, and it is related to fertility and soil health.  Soil quality, which can be viewed in two ways [1] as inherent properties of a soil and [2] as the dynamic nature of soils as influenced by climate, and human use and management, often is related to soil degradation, which can be defined as the time rate of change in soil quality. Soil quality should not be limited to soil productivity but should encompass environmental quality, human and animal health, and food safety and quality. In characterizing soil quality, biological properties have received less emphasis than chemical and physical properties, because their effects are difficult to measure, predict, or quantify particularly in developing countries like Ethiopia is totally ignored science of the soil department but is very important than the physical and chemical indicators. Improved soil quality often is indicated by increased infiltration, aeration, macropores, aggregate size, aggregate stability, and soil organic matter, and by decreased bulk density, soil resistance, erosion, and nutrient runoff. [5]


[1] Schultz, T.W., 1964. Transforming traditional agriculture. Transforming traditional agriculture. (Web Link)

[2] Pretty, J.N., 1995. Participatory learning for sustainable agriculture. World development, 23(8), pp.1247-1263. (Web Link)

[3] Smith, P., Martino, D., Cai, Z., Gwary, D., Janzen, H., Kumar, P., McCarl, B., Ogle, S., O’Mara, F., Rice, C. and Scholes, B., 2007. Greenhouse gas mitigation in agriculture. Philosophical transactions of the royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 363(1492), pp.789-813. (Web Link)

[4] Engagement in agricultural work is associated with reduced leisure time among Agta hunter-gatherers

Mark Dyble, Jack Thorley, Abigail E. Page, Daniel Smith & Andrea Bamberg Migliano

Nature Human Behaviour (2019) (Web Link)

[5] Seifu, W. and Elias, E. (2019) “Soil Quality Attributes and Their Role in Sustainable Agriculture: A Review”, International Journal of Plant & Soil Science, 26(3), pp. 1-26. doi: 10.9734/IJPSS/2018/41589. (Web Link)

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