End of last year IIED and IUCN published a book in which the authors explain that our current way of providing food and other basic needs involves industrialised systems that are linear, centralised and globalised. In the linear approach, it is assumed that at one end of a system there is an unlimited supply of energy and raw materials (which there isn’t), while at the other the environment has an infinite capacity to absorb pollution and waste (which it hasn’t). The inevitable result is resource shortages on the one hand and solid waste, climate change, biodiversity loss, and air pollution problems on the other.

An alternative to the current linear paradigm is to develop productive systems that minimise external inputs, pollution and waste (as well as risk, dependency and costs) by adopting a circular metabolism. There are two principles here, both reflecting the natural world. The first is that natural systems are based on cycles, for example water, nitrogen and carbon. Secondly, there is very little waste in natural systems. The ‘waste’ from one species is food for another, or is converted into a useful form by natural processes and cycles.

This book shows how these principles can be used to create systems and settlements that provide food, energy and water without consuming large quantities of fossil fuels and other finite resources. In the process, greenhouse gas emissions and environmental pollution are minimised whilst human well being, food and livelihood security, and democratic control are enhanced.

This book/report is available from the IIED website


Drylands cover 41 percent of the earth’s terrestrial surface. The urgency of and international response to climate change have given a new place to drylands in terms both of their vulnerability to predicted climate change impacts and their potential contribution to climate change mitigation. This book aims to apply the new scientific insights on complex dryland systems to practical options for development. A new dryland paradigm is built on the resources and capacities of dryland peoples, on new and emergent economic opportunities, on inward investment, and on the best support that dryland science can offer.

The complete document is available from the IUCN website

Published: Jun 2010 – IIED and FAO

Recent years have witnessed a renewed interest in agricultural investment. In many cases, this has translated into large-scale acquisitions of farmland in lower- and middle-income countries. Partly as a result of sustained media attention, these acquisitions have triggered lively if polarised debates about “land grabbing”. Less attention has been paid, however, to alternative ways of structuring agricultural investments that do not involve large-scale land acquisitions. These include a wide range of more collaborative arrangements between investors and local smallholders and communities, such as diverse types of contract farming schemes, joint ventures, management contracts and new supply chain relationships. Drawing on a literature review, this report explores the range of business models that can be used to structure agricultural investments in lower- and middle-income countries, and that provide an alternative to large-scale land acquisitions.