The Pre-Columbian Amazon – A Pristine Rainforest Or Intensive Settlement?

For our last agricultural history lecture, we were fortunate to receive a guest speaker from the department who is involved in a mammoth project of mapping the world’s food systems across time. What an interesting pastime, but what a challenge! This is what I referred to in my last post – one of the off-hand … Continue reading The Pre-Columbian Amazon – A Pristine Rainforest Or Intensive Settlement?

Review: Kate Raworth’s ‘Doughnut Economics’

Man, sometimes you just have to catch yourself in moments of pure luck. Like today, after a morning spent in glorious summer weather hammering out the last formatting issues of my thesis, when I was able to attend a lunch seminar (who said there was no free lunch in economics?) with the inspiring Kate Raworth and have a 2-hour chat afterward with her as well as some senior researchers in ecology, animal genetics, food systems and the like from SLU. What did we talk about? Basically, how to change the world. And economics education. But most of all, Raworth’s suggestion for a new framing of the global challenges and goals as we move from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals as of next year: the so-called “doughnut” of the safe and just operating space for humanity.



As Raworth explained, she was inspired by and built on the concept of Planetary Boundaries developed by Rockström et al., which we already talked about in a previous blogpost (more than a year ago! How time flies!). Basically, this is a theory by earth scientists on how human action affects different realms of our ecosystem – the outer 9 wedges of the circle – which all have ‘tipping points’ over which we should not venture because they could lead to unforeseeable damage to our entire habitable planet.

Well, great, Raworth thought – but clearly we can’t live in the very inside of the circle either where we don’t have any human impact on the planet? Because that would mean deprivation, human suffering, and a clear disregard for human rights – and from an anthropocentric perspective, we are trying to keep within the boundaries to enable human life to continue in a way worth living for generations to come. So what we need to aim for is to live within the band – or, if you will, the doughnut – that enables us to fulfill the needs of all without overloading the planet with impacts it cannot absorb.

But enough with fluffy concepts – we need to operationalize them too. We already know how the outer limits were defined – by Rockström and his team of scientists -, but how did Raworth come up with the inner minimum standards? She read through all government submissions for the Rio+20 conference on their development foci in the coming decades and found a common denominator in those categories that at least 50% of all governments mentioned. They are the wedges on the inside of the circle – health, resilience, and food for instance.

life-ring-graph-3-backgrd_0When, in turn, you try to quantify these goals – using indicators assembled by the UN, such as the amount of food insecure households for the food category or the wage gap for gender equality – you realize that on a global scale, we are still falling short on all these goals. On the other hand, if you consider that we would only need 3% of the current agricultural production would be needed to end global hunger (around 1/10 of the estimated food wasted between farm and fork!), that only 1% of current greenhouse gas emissions would be spent to achieve global electrification, and that 50% of the world’s carbon emissions are produced by the 11% richest people – then you understand that the two goals of sustainability and development are not necessarily mutually exclusive (which is the purported reason why the climate negotiations keep stalling).

Rather, what is needed according to Raworth is for the least developed countries to keep developing, but to avoid resource lock-ins; for the emerging countries, to pursue the relative de-coupling of GDP growth and resource throughput; and for the richest countries to pursue absolute de-coupling – to reduce our per-capita footprint on an absolute scale.

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Review: “A changing climate – How does it affect Swedish possibilities of green growth?”


On Friday, I was a participant in a seminar hosted by the Royal Swedish Academy of Forestry and Agriculture. The topic was the interlinkages between the newest scientific insights related to climate change and the future of agricultural and ‘green’ growth in general. My take-away thinking back with a bit of distance? We are great at analysing what is happening. Worse at predicting what the consequences will be. And worst at coming up with innovative options for mitigation and adaptation.

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What Did Malthus Really Say?

For my new class, I was assigned the reading “The Limits to Growth: Malthus and the Classical Economists” by E. A. Wrigley. It’s a great primer into the worries classical economists had about the state of the economy, growth and population dynamics, and was interesting enough that I decided to look further into the issue. … Continue reading What Did Malthus Really Say?

“Land That Is In Human Use Requires Human Care” – An Interview with Wendell Berry

It’s no secret that Wendell Berry is another one of my inspirations when thinking about sustainable food systems – my post about his work “The Pleasures of Eating” has been one of the most-viewed posts on this blog, and his name repeatedly comes up in things I read and am influenced by. A friend of mine found this recent interview with him online and shared it with me, and I would like to continue the chain and share it with you – it’s another great example of his poignant style of thinking and speaking, his multifaceted engagement and his ability to succinctly get to the heart of the matter while still expressing it poetically.

A couple of my favorite quotes drawn from the interview:

On sustainability in America:

Well, we are a young country. […] And what we have done there in that time has not been sustainable. In fact, it has been the opposite. There’s less now of everything in the way of natural gifts, less of everything than what was there when we came. Sometimes we have radically reduced the original gift. And so for Americans to talk about sustainability is a bit of a joke, because we haven’t sustained anything very long — and a lot of things we haven’t sustained at all.

The quote “land that is in human use requires human care” reminded me of this house I found on a recent walk that seemed to exist in harmony with the surrounding forest and meadow.

On the importance of local connections and the preservation of local memories:

[The importance of connections to the land] starts with the obvious perception that land that is in human use requires human care. And this calls for keeping in mind the history of such land, of what has worked well on it and the mistakes that have been made on it. To lose this living memory of what has happened to the place is really to lose an economic asset.

I’m more and more concerned with the economic values of such intangibles as affection, knowledge, and memory. A deep familiarity between a local community and the local landscape is a dear thing, just in human terms. It’s also, down the line, money in the bank because it helps you to preserve the working capital of the place.

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2014 Declared the International Year of Family Farming

It seems in December there is always a surge of announcements that the next year will be dedicated to one cause or another. For 2014, it’s now supposedly the Year of the Brain, the Year of Crystallography, the EU-Russia Year of Science, but also…

The International Year of Family Farming!

The FAO launched a big new campaign in the end of November to draw attention to the importance of family farming – as opposed to agribusiness – with the following key messages (taken from their website):

“Family Farming is the predominant form of agriculture both in developed and developing countries

There are over 500 million family farms in the world.

Their rural activities are managed and operated by a family and rely predominantly on family labour.

They range from smallholders and medium scale farmers, to peasants, indigenous peoples, traditional communities, fisherfolk, pastoralists and many other groups in any region and biome of the world.

Family farmers are an important part of the solution for a world free from poverty and hunger

In many regions, they are the main producers of the foodstuff consumed every day in our meals.

Over 70 percent of the food insecure population lives in rural areas of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Near East. They too are family farmers, especially smallholders, with poor access to natural resources, policies and technologies.

All kind of evidence shows that poor family farmers can quickly deploy their productivity potential when the appropriate policy environment is effectively put in place.

Facilitating access to land, water and other natural resources and implementing specific public policies for family farmers (credit, technical assistance, insurance, market access, public purchases, appropriate technologies) are key components for increasing agricultural productivity, eradicating poverty and achieving world food security.

Continue reading “2014 Declared the International Year of Family Farming”