A Review of Globalization and the Rural Environment

by | Jul 14, 2001

Globalization and the Rural Environment by Otto T Solbrig, Robert Paarlb, and francesco di Castri

Those of us who work as leaders of rural development, training and agricultural research programs in low-income countries find that the daily realities of the field take up a large part of our energies. We dash from the office to the planning group with local communities or with representatives of NGOs; we work hastily to present reports to cooperating agencies; or we stay up late at night to write the next proposal. We face complex dilemmas such as the multiple technological offers from which we must select to orient our programs/courses. In the midst of all these pressures, we can only occasionally escape to find the type of global information that will help us complete the complex map of knowledge that guides our work. Globalization and the Rural Environment provides both academicians and rural development workers with an opportunity to structure their work solidly, based on an overall vision. At the end of the day we have to answer this question: What will the environmental impact of our actions be? This book contributes a great deal to the construction of this response.

The book has a solid introduction prepared by the editors, who recognize the hopeless situation of a large part of the population on this planet: Yet for those that today find themselves trapped in poverty, the promise of a better future is little consolation. This text contains position papers of 40 recognized ecologists, agronomists, economists and sociologists who met at the onset of the year 2000 to discuss how the rural environment is affected by world trends. Although the group focuses primarily on the Southern Cone of South America, the United States and Western Europe, it offers sufficient points of reference, even for observers of Asian and African countries and from other parts of Latin America. Editor Solbrig states that the conclusion of the event was that “industrial agriculture has been very effective in increasing production and helping alleviate hunger, but that questions remain regarding its environmental and social impacts.’ Naturally, the group also recognizes that it is difficult to measure impact and, even more so, design appropriate policies for resolving the issues that have been raised.

The editors have accomplished a very well-structured product: In the first chapter they offer the conclusions of the meeting and suggest some policies. In addition there are two strong papers on socioeconomic aspects that contribute solid foundations for the articles that follow. In Chapter II technology is compared with development without losing the geographic focus and historic context of our times. Then Chapter III, entitled “Political, Trade and Economic Impacts on Rural Environments,” helps us examine the markets as conditioners of development, thanks to six interesting articles that interpret the rationality of those who are now among our principal clients (markets). In Chapters IV, “City-Rural Relations,” and V, “Summary and Policy Implications,” more resources for discussing and stimulating our thinking are synthesized. The bibliography cited by the authors is another important resource that leads us to other texts of great importance.

Rocí­o Fernández and Solbrig state clearly that if humanity is to produce food at a faster rate than the population growth rate, then two restrictions need to be resolved: environmental impact and poverty alleviation. With respect to the environmental aspects, authors such as Emilio Satorre analyze in detail the agricultural and livestock production system for the Argentine Pampas. These are interesting references that can inspire local policymakers to search for this type of interpretative analyses in their particular areas of interest (although the article is quite technical, it is still of interest to a generalist).

Miguel Altieri and Clara Ines Nicholls also participated in this process of documentation, contributing, as always, bases for what might be called “a contemporaneous agricultural conscience,” a vision that is not generally shared (this enriches the document).

Raúl Vera presents the diversity of the agricultural sector in the Americas although he recognizes a generalized trend, defining the “stages” in which the different countries are found. It was a pleasure to see how Crosson recognizes that the effects of the climatic change in agriculture are secondary in relation to the effects that the rural zones are suffering as a result of the globalization of the economy.

The book jumps from such specific aspects as comparisons between no tillage and conventionally tilled soils to the interactions of international markets. Despite these specificities and micro- and macro-focuses, it is easy for the reader to find the sections on which he/she wants to concentrate.

Spring/Summer 2001


Jorge I. Restrepo is Chairman of Agricultural Science and Production at the Panamerican Agricultural College at Zamorano, Honduras. He has an MBA and MPA from the Kennedy School of Government (Mason Fellow 1998).

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