Resources on Seasonality

Robert Chambers states that "As a dimension of poverty, seasonality is as glaringly obvious as it is still grossly neglected. Attempts to embed its recognition in professional mindsets, policy and practices have still a long way to go" (Chambers, 2012: xv; in the Forward of Devereux, Sabates-Wheeler and Longhurst, 2012). This quote comes from an edited volume on seasonality, which brings together a range of interrelated topics revolving around the topic. The book itself draws upon works presented at a conference, and is a sort of follow-on to a similar conference (1978) and book (1981) – highlighting the research gap that has emerged since an interest in seasonality in the 1980s and early 1990s. Drawing upon the 2012 book, below are some of the key resources identified by the authors, as a means to further research on seasonality and support the identification of research taking seasonality as a focal point of study (in chronological order):


Chambers, R., Longhurst, R. and Pacey, A. 1981. Seasonal Dimensions to Rural Poverty. Frances Pinter: London.

Longhurst, R. (Ed) 1986. Seasonality and Poverty. IDS Bulletin 17(3).

Sahn, D. 1989. Seasonal Variability in Third World Agriculture: The Consequences for Food Security. Johns Hopkins University Press: London.

Chen, M. A. 1991. Coping with Seasonality and Drought. Sage: New Delhi.

Gill, G. 1991. Seasonality and Agriculture in the Developing World: A Problem of the Poor and Powerless. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Ulijaszek, S. and Strickland, S. 1993. Seasonality and Human Ecology. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Devereux, S. Vaitla, B. and Hauenstein-Swan, S. 2008. Seasons of Hunger. Pluto Press: London.

Devereux, S., Sabates-Wheeler, R. and Longhurst, R. 2012. Seasonality, Rural Livelihoods and Development. Earthscan: New York.


For those interested in more reading, I suggest the 2012 edited volume Seasonality, Rural Livelihoods and Development as a key resource from which many more references can be obtained.


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People of the Plow

James McCann's People of the Plow (1995) presents the agricultural history of Ethiopia from 1800 to 1990. While historical, it is also in many ways anthropological, particularly in the parts wherein the author draws on years of fieldwork. What I found particularly interesting in the book is the broader discourse within which the book is written, more or less in response to concerns of a failing smallholder agricultural system. For example, McCann opens the book in stating: "The subject of this book is the modern history of Ethiopia's agriculture and the paradox of how the land and farming system which has sustained Africa's historically most productive agricultural system can have fallen into deep fundamental crisis" (p. 4). While Ethiopian agriculture remains framed as being in crisis, it is currently discussed within the context of fertile lands being bought by foreign investors and how farmers can maintain the rights to their land. Arguably the smallholder crisis is greater, due to continued land fragmentation since the writing of the book, but the contemporary discourse is framed quite differently.

The book is not doom and gloom. In many instances, McCann argues that the discourse of the 1990s offered too simplistic a narrative, and that "…the agricultural system and the farmers whose ideas and strategies put it into practice have, over the past millennium, evolved a distinctive technologies, social institutions, and effective solutions to environmental problems" that require far more careful study (p. 4). What this book does remarkably well is to show that while some facets of the agricultural system have remained the same, it demonstrates how dynamic the agricultural system has been and how farmers have engaged with change over time. This feeds nicely into the discourse about farmers being unwilling or resistant to change; history attests to the fact that farmers do change, what this book offers is insight into why those changes take place. For example:

  • "…the kingdom of Kaffa shifted to plow agriculture in the seventeenth century not as a producer-based response to increase overall food production, but as a result of the royal court's preference for the prestige value of teff and cereals over qocho (ensete), yams, and taro, spurring elites to require tributes in cereals. Cereals were better for tax collectors since they could be stored, divided, and moved." (p. 47)
  • "The transformation of the coffee-maize complex to a full-blown maize monoculture resulted partly from an environmental factor (CBD) but more from policies in the political arena – fixed coffee prices, land reform, and villagization – which projected state power and urban priorities onto the rural landscape." (p. 190).

For those interested in Ethiopian agriculture, this book provides an important historical context. Yet, as McCann notes throughout the book, historical references are scarce and in many instances the author extrapolates from what exists, which is sparse. While this has limitations, it is a valuable resource nonetheless. For those less interested in Ethiopian history, the book offers unique into rural development processes, particularly on how agricultural change happens (and does not happen, for example mechanization).


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Essential Reference on Food Security

For those interested in, doing research on, or teaching about food security, Mark Gibson's "The Feeding of Nations: Redefining Food Security for the 21st Century" (2012) is an essential reference to have. The book is a hardcover 640-page academic work, and unfortunately not cheap. There are a couple of ways to access the ideas if the cost is a barrier, one is via Google Books, which offers some parts, and the other is on the archive of a discussion Mark lead on the FAO's Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition on the topic of food security. I was fortunate to find a used one.

In many parts, the book is a high level review, such as its overview of nutrition and malnutrition, and is not ground breaking. But, as a reference book for important considerations related to food security, this is one of the few places that attempts to bring it all together. However, in other parts, it is quite detailed, such as the history of food security related concepts. Unique to the book, I believe, is the inclusion of a wide range of topics, often covered in topic-specific books, including linkages to: agriculture, forestry and fisheries, science and technology, socio-cultural aspects, natural resources, health and nutrition, governance and politics, etc. The author also offers thoughts on redefining food security for the future.

There is a downside to an author who has been thinking and writing about a topic over such a long period of time – the references and content can be recycled and get dated. For example, some sections are largely cited from works published in the early 2000s (2000-2004 period), and it is clear that some parts were first written some time ago, even if published in 2012 (e.g.: "it was once again recently reaffirmed at the International Scientific Symposium on Measurement and Assessment of Food Deprivation in 2002", page 16). I suppose "recently" could be a relative term. Nonetheless, a recommended reference work on food security – particularly for those seeking a key resource on the topic, or those looking for relatively condensed and readable content for undergraduate students.


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Research Fellow: Cacao and Climate Change

This position is only open to candidates who have completed their PhD studies within the past 24 months and who are US Citizens / permanent residents or cocoa producer country nationals including: Africa (Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, & Nigeria); Latin America (Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Trinidad & Tobago); and Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam).

Challenges to cocoa production include a range of pests and diseases, shocks caused by climate change and an acute lack of research investment. Central to the problem of low productivity is cocoa farmers' limited access to improved planting material. Compared with many globally significant crops, cocoa has a very narrow genetic base, with current production relying on just a few varieties, thereby increasing vulnerability and decreasing capacity to adapt to climate change and other environmental shocks. Yet thousands of different varieties of cacao are held in gene banks and in farmers' fields around the world. The key lies in tapping the largely unused cacao diversity that is currently held in global collections and in farmers' fields around the world. A trait of particular importance will be drought tolerance to allow cocoa to withstand longer dry seasons, especially where irrigation is not possible. Initial research efforts on genetic resources and diversity for breeding for drought tolerance and the related issue of heat tolerance are underway, but they are fragmented. In order to identity promising traits in existing collections of cacao and facilitate international access and benefit sharing, Bioversity International is launching a global public-private consortium as part of a research-for-development Collaborative Framework for Cacao Evaluation (CFCE). The consortium brings together research partners, breeding networks, plant suppliers, private sector players and action networks that deliver planting materials to farmers. The work will also be carried out in collaboration with the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) currently implementing the Feed the Future Partnership for Climate Smart Cocoa program. Bioversity is therefore seeking a highly motivated Research Fellow to provide scientific and communication support to the Cacao Genetic Diversity and Climate Change activities of the Bioversity Initiative on Effective Genetic Resources Conservation and Use.

Terms and conditions: Bioversity offers an attractive stipend and contribution to the costs of living, inclusion in Bioversity insurance schemes, and leave provisions. Additional benefits apply Research Fellows recruited from outside Costa Rica. This is a 1-year full time Research Fellowship opportunity, renewable for an additional year subject to funding availability.

Bioversity International is a global research-for-development organization. We have a vision – that agricultural biodiversity nourishes people and sustains the planet. We deliver scientific evidence, management practices and policy options to use and safeguard agricultural biodiversity to attain sustainable global food and nutrition security. We work with partners in low-income countries in different regions where agricultural biodiversity can contribute to improved nutrition, resilience, productivity and climate change adaptation. Bioversity International is a member of the CGIAR Consortium – a global research partnership for a food secure future.

More details.

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Logan Cochrane

logan.cochrane@gmail.com

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