If you only read one thing this week…


People and the Planet – How to lift people out of poverty without destroying the world. by Nick
May 4, 2012, 4:36 pm
Filed under: Development theory, Environment, If you have 30 mins

The world now has a very clear choice. We can choose to address the twin issues of population and consumption… Or we can choose to do nothing and to drift into a downward vortex of economic, socio-political and environmental ills, leading to a more unequal and inhospitable future.” Sir John Sulston, Royal Society Fellow on the Society’s recent report.

Overconsumption in rich countries and grinding poverty in much of the world are a threat to social stability and environmental sustainability. Britain’s Royal Society spent the past two years studying this, and their report (download the report here) is well worth a look.

Key recommendations include:

  1. The international community must bring the 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day out of absolute poverty, and reduce the inequality that persists in the world today.
  2. The most developed and the emerging economies must stabilise and then reduce material consumption levels.
  3. Reproductive health and voluntary family planning programmes urgently require political leadership and financial commitment, both nationally and internationally.
  4. Population and the environment should not be considered as two separate issues.

If you can’t face the full report, the BBC summary is nice!

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Results of 30 year organic vs non-organic farming trial by Nick

Started in 1981, the Farming Systems Trial (FST) at Rodale Institute is America’s longest running, side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. The results of their 30 year trial were published this week (get the full pdf here).

The short story is that they claim that, on real farm size trials, over 30 years:

  • Organic yields match conventional yields.
  • Organic outperforms conventional in years of drought.
  • Organic farming systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter, making it a more sustainable system.
  • Organic farming uses 45% less energy and is more efficient.
  • Conventional systems produce 40% more greenhouse gases.
  • Organic farming systems are more profitable than conventional.


Political Anthropology vs Developmental Economics by Nick
July 13, 2011, 4:28 pm
Filed under: Book reviews, Development theory, If you have 30 mins

This is a genuinely interesting critique of Paul Collier (The Bottom Billion and others) by Yale political anthropologist Mike McGovern. On one level, it is an attack on what McGovern sees as sloppy methodology and misleading storytelling by Collier, but on another level it is an examination of the different ways that economics and anthropology see the world, and the implications of adopting one school or another as your primary analytical tool.

Take a read here (pdf).



The Earth Summit in Rio – hopes and fears by Nick
April 27, 2011, 9:47 am
Filed under: Development theory, Environment, If you have 30 mins, News

Jim Thomas writes a fascinating article giving a short history of the last twenty years of climate and environmental negotiation, and their relationship to sustainable development efforts. What’s at stake, argues Thomas, is whether the future of the planet will be governed by financial markets and climate engineers, or whether we will see a genuine attempt to solve environmental problems in the context of larger social and economic goals such as reducing poverty and creating a just and sustainable society.

Read the Guardian Article here.

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Remittances Triple Aid Amounts by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
February 3, 2011, 11:38 am
Filed under: Development theory

Many of the countries where we all work have large groups of people who reside outside of their home country and send money home through Western Union. Recently, the World Bank produced a new factbook about migration and remittances.  One of the most interesting findings is that migrants are sending home more than three times the amount of aid countries are receiving. Also, remittances were hardly affected by the recent economic downturn. Read more about how this information could affect international development work here.



The hazards of working in Afghanistan by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
January 27, 2011, 2:59 pm
Filed under: conflict, Development theory, If you only have 15 mins

Over the past year, over 100 aid workers have been killed in Afghanistan. This NY Times article cracks open the debate about the impact that the US military and government contractors may have on the safety and security of humanitarian workers. Humanitarian aid agencies, such as Mercy Corps, mostly operate without the use of armed guards, whereas many government contractors work behind fortified compounds with armed guards. Despite the high number of deaths from aid workers, the number of injuries and deaths from contractors is almost four times as high, and the number of military casualties almost doubles that. Read the article to learn more about the intertwining of these ongoing initiatives in Afghanistan.

For Nick’s most recent literature review on incidents of violence against humanitarian workers see this post.



USAID’s New Roadmap by Nick
January 7, 2011, 10:55 am
Filed under: Articles, Development theory, If you only have 15 mins

Interaction has one of the best summaries of the new Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR). Seventeen months in the making, it is the new blueprint for US ‘civilian power’ in the world. Interaction calls it ‘the most comprehensive and thoughtful look at U.S. diplomacy and development efforts in half a century’, while the Heritage Foundation expresses concern at the apparent elevation of USAID as co-equal with State, and mourns what it sees as the marginalization of the MCC.

Read the Summary, or the whole document if you’re keen here.

Read Interaction’s take, and their summary of other responses here.

Read the Heritage Foundation’s critique here.