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INSAM homepage until June 2007

Last modified June 21, 2007 19:51

INSAM homepage until June 2007

In his famous bestseller of the early fifties “The worldly philosophers”, on the “economics of our daily bread”, Robert Heilbronner distinguished mainstream economic sciences and the undercurrent of economics. He explained that the complacency of the mainstream scientific world of economics at the beginning of the 20th century was in fact a main intellectual tragedy.

The undercurrent had at that time a much less optimistic and much more realistic view of the developments of the world economy as well as much more attention for the absence of social justice. Had the academicians of that time paid more attention to this undercurrent, perhaps the great calamities of the first half of the 20th century could have been prevented. In the mainstream there was no preparedness for the radical social changes thought to be necessary. It teaches us that conservatives can not ignore such ideas, says Heilbronner, without serious consequences.

This sounds very familiar. One may wonder whether a hundred years later we should not try to learn from this in the present situation of our agricultural and wider environment. It is true that we have just witnessed the undercurrent of applied science regarding warnings for global warming and climate change becoming almost mainstream, but as to the preparedness for radical social changes there is hardly a beginning.

In agricultural meteorology, mainstream applied science is a balloon that now at least feeds through its outlet general agrometeorological action support systems for mitigating impacts of disasters. These support systems presently consist mainly of monitoring, mapping and zoning, early warnings, forecastings and predictions, focused quantitative analyses, general weather advisories, methodologies in use, including software developments and simulations, and analytic methodologies for which a problem is sought that they can help solve. These actions are the bulk of our good intentions to assist in mitigating impacts of disasters and to develop better defined support systems in other applications in the real world.

However, what the mainstream misses is in the undercurrent of applied agrometeorology: data, research, education/training/extension and policies, used/carried out in action. With an increasing rate of application in the developing world, with its more abundant weather and climate disasters and endangered environments, the definition of agrometeorology was widened. Society and economics are no agricultural meteorology but consequences and use (that is management!) of water, radiation/heat and air in society and economics, as far as the agricultural production environment is concerned, slowly became an undercurrent in agricultural meteorology.

Translated to poorer countries, socio-economic aspects of for example irrigation, storage, agroforestry, floods, drought, erosion and desertification, frost, wind protection, simple artificial growth conditions, agrometeorological extension, sustainable farming and related farmers’ income became after all additional priorities in the undercurrent of applied agricultural meteorology.

The research undertakings in Africa, China and India that just won the prizes and honorary mentions in last year’s INSAM contest on best examples of agrometeorological services to farmers or government institutions, are examples of this (see under “Agromet Market Place”). Agrometeorological services must relief constraints under the livelihood conditions of the various categories of farmers. They must prepare these farmers for climate use as well as for climate change and its consequences of more and more severe extreme events.

And this is where over time the highest problems have occurred. In the western world agriculture, presently almost only relatively well educated farmers are left. They are able to absorb new information that even more and more becomes available commercially. The situation in developing countries is very different. Only a minority of rich farmers may be compared to those in the western world, the majority of farmers are poor and have relatively little formal education. They also have least power. Needs assessments in a participatory approach under such conditions is only just a beginning part of the undercurrent of applied agrometeorology.

In the new Guide to Agricultural Meteorological Practices, a last Chapter by Roger Pulwarty and collaborators is now available (again see under “Agromet Market Place”). It is on “Communicating agroclimatological information, including forecasts, for agricultural decisions” and identifies the necessities of how to handle such problems. On-farm action research will be the foundation of this approach.

Mainstream science of the environment would do much better than in economics in the previous century if it went beyond further development of the action support systems, by really helping solve the problems in action. The developments in Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA) research of the last twenty years show what is possible if norms and values in science show a paradigm shift towards valuing the basic issues in the undercurrent: realistic assessments of the environment and considerations of the plights of poor people. Radical social and economic changes are needed in developed and developing countries in dealing with both.

If you feel that the undercurrent of applied agrometeorology should be influencing mainstream agrometeorology more, become a member of INSAM free of charge and let your voice be heard. You can also still become a founding member and we could also use additional corporate founding members (see the “Society Information” page)”.

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