Book Review: Connect With Nature

International Review for Environmental Strategies (IRES) Volume 2 Number 1 (Summer 2001)所収

Connect With Nature
Editor: Koji Tanaka, Professor, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, Japan
Publisher Information: Syowado Co. 2000 (in Japanese)
ISBN: 4-8122-9913-6

In this book, the authors examine the environment from the viewpoint of local "agriculture", which, as used in the book, includes small-scale forestry activities such as the collection of firewood and non-wood forest products (NWFP) in connection with the lives of local peoples. The book argues that agriculture is an important factor in the harmonization of human activities with the environment. This book features traditional agricultural methods which have been adopted in different areas of the world. The significance and effects of modern methods are examined through comparisons with traditional agricultural methods. The adoption of traditional agricultural methods raises the issue: how do people who manage agriculture include nature within their different techniques, cultures and lifestyles?

This book consists of ten chapters and a final discussion, and includes proposals for carrying out discussions on natural and cultural ecosystems. Each chapter examines a different area, with different ecosystems, cultures and environmental conditions, and includes a description of the agricultural knowledge and techniques used in the area. The material for each chapter is based on fieldwork in different areas of the world. The authors and researchers come from Asia, Africa, South America and Japan, and have backgrounds in a range of disciplines, such as agriculture, forestry, anthropology and area studies.

Chapter One covers traditional agriculture in the Andes Mountains in South America. Chapter Two examines traditional agriculture in yellow-soil zones in China. Chapter Three analyzes a Bangladeshi village located in a flood area. Chapter Four examines traditional agriculture in the African savanna, while Chapter Five surveys rain-fed rice paddy fields in Northeast Thailand. Chapter Six examines home gardens in Java, Indonesia.

In the latter half of the book, three authors deal with Japanese agriculture. Based on their various experiences and observations, they discuss the future of agriculture in Japan. Each of the authors agrees that traditional agricultural methods must be reconsidered, and that feelings of awe and esteem for nature should be included in agricultural concepts and techniques.

In the afterward, the editor mentions that looking back on the history of agriculture, "there are no periods when agriculture has been made light of, unlike now". This implies that it is very important to once again carefully consider the significance and effects of agriculture.

Most people involved in agriculture do not consider global environmental issues when they conduct agricultural activities. There are people who want to continue to live in certain areas, which is why agricultural activities can be continued. There are many gaps between the ideas exchanged in discussions on the global environmental issue and the idea stated above.

It is very difficult to discuss environmental issues focusing on "the Land, which is rich in history", as stated by a local farmer. But the common understanding of such a history is indispensable to discussions of environmental issues. When we discuss environmental issues, many different viewpoints must be taken into consideration. However, the viewpoint of local farmers is often absent in discussions at the global level. We must consider the viewpoint of people at the local level, if we wish discussions of environmental issues to succeed.

Since the 1990s, environmental issues have made progress on a global scale. In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) was held, giving participating countries the opportunity to discuss global environmental issues affecting each country. At this conference, international agreements such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) were enacted. Discussions on the UNFCC are actively proceeding among member countries. In addition, many Southeast Asian countries have established Bio-Diversity Conservation Areas, and discussions on forestry issues have also been very active at the United Nations Forum on Forestry (UNFF). However, for environmental policymakers, agriculture at the local level is only a small issue for discussion. In reaching these wide-ranging international agreements, policymakers have paid insufficient attention to the viewpoint of agriculture, small-scale forestry activities and local farmers.

Currently, discussions take into consideration the opinions of various stakeholders on global environmental issues. However, there are trends that are connected with global environmental issues which first appear in our immediate environment. Although there are many types of stakeholders who can join in the discussion on the global environmental issue, there is still little participation from local people, such as those who live in tropical forests. Thus, the search for a common understanding on environmental issues has created the necessity for discussions which take local viewpoints into account not only at the national level, but also at the global level. In addition, the input of stakeholders from developing countries and environmental NGOs, who so far have had little influence in the international community, should now be recognized.

According to the authors, the environment consists of the relationship between "humans" and "the other", which can best be described as the reciprocal relationship between nature and culture. Our lifestyles have a great influence on the global environment. When examining environmental issues at a global level, we must recognize that the state of the environment reflects the interaction between our lifestyles and natural phenomenon at a global level. The problem is that for a long time, the culture of mankind has been estranged from the natural world. This is an environmental issue that is examined in this book, and is worthy of further discussion.

Full text is available on EBSCOhost database: