I thought I was going to be a farmer, but some serious practical experience after I finished school put paid to that idea. I then focused my attention on conservation, before turning to travel writing. All of which led, eventually, to a growing interest in development and how people can make a living from the land. The result is over a dozen books, some of which are narrative-driven travelogues; some of which focus on the nitty-gritty of agriculture, agroforestry and related issues.
Besides the books, I have written scores of feature articles for the Financial Times, the Daily Telegraph, New Scientist and other newspapers and magazines on a wide range of subjects. I have also worked as a radio presenter for BBC World Service and written and researched television documentaries for Channel 4 and the Discovery Channel.
The travelogues, all of which have been published by Penguin, include The Other Nile, Travels in Nepal and Rebels and Outcasts. Books about conservation and environmental issues include In Search of Wild India, Working the Land (co-authored with Richard D North), The Subsidy Scandal and The Wealth of Communities (with Grazia Borrini and Richard Sandbrook).
During recent years, I have worked as a freelance writer for several international research organisations, including the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). This has led to the production of over a dozen illustrated booklets on topics ranging from combating hunger in Malawi to tackling illegal logging in Cameroon; from developing new tree crops in Central Africa to improving cocoa production in Indonesia.
I have taken a particular interest in foreign aid (or development assistance, as it is more politely known). This dates back to my experience in the Himalaya during the 1980s, when I researched the impact – and sometimes uselessness – of different nations’ aid programmes. This was one of the main themes of Travels in Nepal. Since then, I have written about various Arab-funded aid projects in the Middle East and carried out a number of assignments for the UK Department for International Development (DFID). My publications for DFID include: Crime and Persuasion, about illegal logging; Aid that Works, a portrait of a forestry programme in Indonesia; and Emerging from the Shadows, an account of a livelihoods programme in Cambodia.
Although I abandoned a degree course in agriculture – switching to zoology and botany – I have retained close ties with rural Yorkshire, where I worked as a farm student and still have farming friends. Several of my books and many articles explore issues related to farming and conservation and I have taken a keen interest in debates about hunting and animal welfare. Rural Rites: Hunting and the Politics of Prejudice explores, among other things, the way in which science was abused by the animal rights lobby in their (successful) quest to get a hunting ban in UK. In 2013, I was commissioned to write The Story of the Northern Rangelands Trust. This describes a remarkable venture in community-managed conservation in the arid lands of northern Kenya. You can find both these publications on the website. My most recent book, Land of Plenty (Elliott & Thompson), provided a state of the nation account of British farming during the tumultuous year (for farmers, at least) when the UK voted to leave the EU. “We need to take where our food comes from seriously. Pye-Smith’s investigation is thorough and at times remarkable,” wrote Clive Aslet in his review for The Times.