Balancing Global Agricultural Markets with Local Stewardship


Introduction to Wildlife Conservation in Farming . Burchett, S., and S. Burchett . 2011 . Wiley-Blackwell , Hoboken , NJ . 326 pp. $59.95. ISBN 978-0-4706-9934-8 .

Globalisation and Agricultural Landscapes. Change Patterns and Policy Trends in Developed Countries . Primdahl, J., and S. Swaffield , editors . 2010 . Cambridge University Press , Cambridge , U.K. $59 (paperback). ISBN 978-0-521-73666-4 .

Is the idea of conserving wildlife (i.e., biological diversity) while farming an oxymoron? After all, agriculture has historically been a primary reason for habitat loss, and the globalization of agricultural markets for food and increasingly for energy is likely to increase conversion of land to intensive agricultural production. The United Nations projects a global population of 10 billion people by 2050. Can the Earth sustain both humans and wildlife? The answer is probably yes, but ecosystems will be less diverse and less stable. And the answer is only likely to be yes if national, regional, and global policies are sympathetic to agriculture that combines production and conservation objectives.

Farmers who have successfully achieved these combined objectives are the highlight of Introduction to Wildlife Conservation in Farming. Written primarily for undergraduate students, but bearing conservation professionals and farmers in mind, Burchett and Burchett aim to inspire conservation in farming. Fifteen case studies of farmers who cherish their land and their stewardship responsibility form the core of the volume. They illustrate conservation practices, primarily retention of specific habitats of vulnerable species. The book is very United Kingdom centric, although there are case studies from the United States and New Zealand and even one on forestry in Malaysia. The case studies provide nice examples, but, unfortunately, they are far from the norm (even for those farming within protected areas).

The book is divided into a series of chapters that cover both farming type (e.g., a chapter on mixed livestock and arable farming) and ecosystem type (e.g., chapters on farming and the aquatic environment and forestry and conservation). The book is intended as an introduction to a wide-ranging subject. It is perhaps this broad-brush approach that leads to some inconsistencies in what is generally a well-written volume. Referencing in places is a little uneven. I wanted, for example, to investigate a rather sweeping statement on soil erosion being a problem in organic agriculture, but one reference quoted was not in the reference list and the other was from a personal communication from one organic farming group in southwestern United Kingdom.

The challenge of achieving both production and consumption objectives can be seen in the Burchett's summary of the ecological effect of lowland agriculture in the United Kingdom, which is described as “low, the exception being the persecution of large dangerous mammals and raptors, which were hunted to extinction” (p. 19, emphasis added). This is quite a large exception. Research has repeatedly shown that loss of top predators has effects throughout an ecosystem. This means there remains virtually nothing natural or truly wild in the United Kingdom, as in much of the developed world, and that biological diversity is influenced by the cultural landscape that has developed over thousands of years.

If a substantial proportion of wildlife is to survive within agricultural landscapes, it is as likely to be the result of effective conservation policies as it is to be the outcome of the practices of a few conservation-minded farmers. The policy trends that have formed the agricultural landscapes of developed countries is the subject of the Primdahl and Swaffield edited volume, Globalisation and Agricultural Landscapes. Trying to grasp the complexity of ever-changing agricultural policy and the effects of policy on landscapes is a challenge in this densely written series of chapters by multiple authors. The book is aimed at a more experienced audience than the Burchett volume, primarily graduate students and researchers in, for example, landscape ecology, agriculture, and rural planning.

The editors bring together two strands of work: “landscape ecological research on change in agricultural landscape systems, and landscape planning and agri-environmental policy analysis” (p. 31). It is structured around seven full-length chapters from a range of developed countries, including New Zealand, Portugal, Japan, and several detailed case studies in the remaining six chapters. The introduction and conclusion combine the different policy environments covered and the implications of an increasingly globalized agricultural market to propose conceptual framework that may improve understanding of how these drivers have influenced the structure and function of agricultural landscapes.

The authors demand that readers recognize the extent to which the drivers of change are increasingly global and warn, at least for those who have conservation of biological diversity at the top of their agenda, that “globalized technologies and markets are transforming certain types of landscapes into more or less standardized platforms for intensive production, distancing or entirely disembedding production from its pre-industrial rural context”[p. 249]. The language is not very elegant, but neither is the picture it portrays. One effect of this globalization is “de-territorialisation” (be warned, the volume is full of this kind of language), that is, situations in which corporate purchasing power moves indiscriminately from place to place in search of cheap products and increased productivity. The locally distinct landscape supporting varied social, economic, environmental, and even political structures has no place in this market-driven world.

As a result some countries, such as Portugal, are subject to “de-agrarianisation,” where the rural landscape is moving toward a “post-productivist dynamic.” In other countries, in particular where there is no public funding for more traditional forms of agriculture, there is very little support for the concept of multifunctional landscapes. Consequently, for example, in New Zealand landscapes are easily distinguishable as managed either for conservation, production, or consumption, with virtually no overlap and few examples of the type of “wildlife conservation in farming” described in the Burchett's volume. Indeed, the case study on New Zealand in Primdahl and Swaffield's book discusses how extensive lowland sheep pasture and shelterbelts are being rapidly replaced by “industrial” landscapes linked directly to supplying global agricultural markets for dairy and grain products. Such industrial-farm landscapes have mixed results economically and socially. However, two clear lessons drawn by the editors of the volume and exemplified in the New Zealand case study are that (1) the effects of globalization can rapidly transform agricultural landscapes and overwhelm the capacity of local governance and (2) weak strategic public policy is a recipe for conflict and environmental degradation.

The editors conclude by highlighting the challenge in achieving synergies between market-led development and policies of sustainability. For such linkages to be achieved, effective governance, policy, planning, and legislation need a clarity and purpose that is all too often lacking. Without this, the effects of globalization on what is after all the dominant land use worldwide will continue to be the major cause of losses of species and their habitats. Moreover, books like the one by Stephen and Sarah Burchett will remain a collection of well-meaning case studies highlighting a few exceptions rather than the one rule: conservation and agriculture can and should be complementary landscape objectives.