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close this bookCERES No. 122 (FAO Ceres, 1988, 50 p.)
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View the documentAgroforestry a textbook at last
View the documentAnatomy of a sector

Agroforestry a textbook at last

Sistemas agroforestales. Principios y Aplicaciones en los Tros, by Florencia Montagni, Laurel Prevetti, and Lori Ann Thrupp. Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) and Center for Tropical Agronomy Research and Education (CATIE), San JosCosta Rica, 1986, 818 pp., $20.00

Ancient peoples learned to exploit patterns established by plants and animals as they occurred across the natural landscape and over time. Many traditional human societies developed sophisticated cultivation systems which mimic the horizontal, vertical, and temporal distribution of their local plant and animal communities. These systems yielded food, fibre, and fuel from within the framework of a stable ecosystem, and often shaped societal patterns in return.

It is now clear that monocultural farm, forest, and livestock production methods are sustainable only under certain climatic, topographic, and edaphic conditions. Agroforestry is the rediscovery of ancient concepts of resource management. It is a landuse system in space or time which combines trees with the stable production of crops or livestock, and it is emerging as one powerful and promising technical solution to the problem of human needs versus ecosystem degradation.

Within the last decade agroforestry systems have been advanced primarily by researchers in developing nations, in response to Third World needs. The serious long-term problems of soil erosion and loss of biodiversity are, however, as insidious in temperate climates as in tropical ones, and the principles advanced in the book under review are eminently applicable to temperate regions.

Until now there has been no generally available textbook on the subject. This book is the first basic text and a solid cornerstone of information. It is about long-term solutions, and it will endure. The first six chapters form a pragmatic guide to design and implementation of agroforestry systems. They include an overview, planning, site characterization, systems design, management, evaluation, and strategies for diffusing agroforestry concepts. The seventh and last, chapter is a research-oriented "Perspectivas de los sistemas agroforestales". But these seven chapters make up less than a third of the book. The appendixes are an overwhelming collection of invaluable information. Five detailed case studies are followed by sections of exercises, an instructor's guide, and 15 articles by the world's leading experts on the subject. The last three appendixes form an extensive annotated bibliography, 123 sources of information worldwide, a country-by-country review of institutions involved in agroforestry work, a world guide to sources of seed and genetic material, and sources of audiovisual and periodical media. The last appendix includes a 27-page index of plant species used in inventoried agroforestry systems in Latin America, and a 48-page catalogue of existing agroforestry systems in Latin America. Needless to say, this appendix is a compilation of an enormous amount of information, and completes the list of what this book is: text, teaching manual, and reference.

A massive work. This is not to say that the book is perfect. It is a first work, and a massive one at that. The senior author solicits suggestions for improvements to future editions. The weakest part of the book is undoubtedly chapter 3, "Planeamiento de sistemas agroforestales", and I suspect that this deficit reflects the state of the applied art. Part of the problem may also be inherent in a technical manual which must cover potential applications of unspecified scale. Although differing scales are indicated (regional, farm, field, species component) in a table with items to be considered in planning, the treatment lacks depth. The need for information to be used in assessment of environmental factors for project planning is given lip service in the name of potential fiscal constraints. While finances may constitute realistic limits for projects, the lack of an adequate planning strategy, based upon ecological principles, is a serious limitation to the comprehensive nature of this book. A reader might ask if this lack does not mimic the age-old problem which agroforestry concepts have the potential to solve: immediate need (money) versus environmental degradation. This deficiency points out that there is still work to be done. The authors have taken a gigantic first step, and their book is an unquestionable must for anyone interested in agroforestry.

Michael Jennings

Anatomy of a sector

The Economics of Oil Palm, by H.A.J. Moll. Economics of Crops in Developing Countries No. 2, Pudoc, Wageningen, 1987, 288 pp.

This book results from a research project aimed at a better understanding of the economics of tropical crop production mounted by the Department of Economics, Agricultural University, Wageningen, the Netherlands. A monograph on the subject of coffee appeared in 1986; this on oil palm is the second, and studies on maize and cotton are planned.

Moll's stated objective is to describe and analyze the oil-palm sector in a representative group of countries and the role of the commodity within each nation's economy. The microeconomics of production, processing, and marketing, as well as the macroeconomics of the respective oil-palm sectors, are given emphasis.

The book is organized in two parts, the first composed of two chapters, the second devoted to eight case studies. The introductory chapter reviews the current status of cultivation of the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) and of its products on a general world scale. Succinctly touched upon are the ecological requirements of the palm, fruit bunch production, processing of palm oil and kernel oil, and the international production and trade of oil-palm products as related to the global economy of fats and oils. Nineteen tables complement the text.

Chapter two, "Comparative Analysis", the core of the book, provides an explanation of the economic analysis employed to compare case studies from Indonesia, Malaysia, Cameroon, Cd'Ivoire, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Colombia, and Honduras, representative countries of the three major production regions, Southeast Asia, West Africa, and Latin America. Ecological conditions of oil palm and alternative crops are examined. Production is discussed in terms of three major systems, subdivided into five types of producers: estates (state and private); smallholders cultivating pure stands of improved palms (integrated and independent); smallholders deriving fruits from semi-wild stands. Data clearly show that the first two production systems have become dominant over the past 25 years. In the discussion of processing and marketing, most notable is the increasing export of processed over crude palm oil, as the producing countries upgrade facilities and expand capacity. As a result, the direction of trade is undergoing significant changes. Attention is given to the fact that in order to be domestically successful and internationally competitive the oil palm industry requires a variety of supporting services provided by governments and/or private organizations. Malaysia's world dominance as a producer and exporter is directly attributable to such services. The chapter ends by comparing production costs, domestic and international market prices, and foreign exchange in the eight countries. Because data were unavailable, Nigeria and Sierra Leone are omitted from the analysis of production costs and returns.

The detailed case studies of the second part are comprehensive and furnish an excellent summary of the individual oil-palm sectors. Each follows a prescribed outline detailing the background, ecology, oil-palm sector, production of oil and kernels, processing, marketing, supporting services, and, finally, economic parameters. A map of production areas, a diagram showing the organization of the oil-palm sector, and numerous tables are provided.

Long needed. The organization of the book is not entirely satisfactory. It is unusual to find the comparative analysis before the case studies on which it is based. As it stands, the final case study on Honduras ends the book rather abruptly. The organization would have benefited from a shorter chapter to introduce the case studies and the addition of a final chapter to present the general analysis and conclusions. Second, placing the references in a combined bibliography at the end of the book would have avoided repetition of standard FAO and World Bank sources used in nearly every chapter.

Minor shortcomings of an editorial nature are also to be found. Chapter references include some works not cited in the text. The case study chapters contain tables of economic parameters, currency equivalents, and price indices which are neither numbered nor referred to in the text, as is the case with all other tables. Also, sources are missing from several tables. The book has no index.

The text is clearly written, but there are a few misleading sentences or minor factual errors. For example, it is stated (p. 22) that "The American oil palm, Elaeis oleifera, is another species in the genus Elaeis," and that it "could become useful for breeding purposes." In fact, it is the only other species, and currently is being used to breed for disease resistance. On p. 215, the statement is made that the West African Institute for Oil Palm Research was established in 1938. However, WAIFOR only came into existence in 1952, having been developed out of the former Oil Palm Research Station, an experiment station of the Agricultural Department of Nigeria which was started in 1939. To be sure, these are minor matters and do not detract from the economic analysis.

Although the book claims to refer to the oil palm situation in 1982, this is not quite accurate. The author must have been aware of the important body of new information generated by two international conferences held in Malaysia in June 1981.

The oil palm has become one of the most successful tropical tree crops of the twentieth century. A comprehensive economic study of this crop has long been needed. Despite the misgivings expressed above, The Economics of Oil Palm fills this need and I do recommend it.

Dennis V. Johnson