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The food wars

The food wars

By Walden Bello
Published by Verso
Website: www.versobooks.com
2009, 176pp, ISBN 978 1 84467 331 5(Pb), £7.99

In 2007/8, violent popular demonstrations were experienced across 30 countries as food prices spiralled. By the end of 2008, the annual food import basket in the least developed countries cost more than three times that of 2000. The era of cheap food was over. And, with the taxation and restriction of rice and wheat exports in some regions and the banning of food grains exports in others, a further 75 million were added to the ranks of the hungry and an estimated 125 million were driven into extreme poverty.

What caused this calamitous crisis is the subject of The food wars, the author examining the most commonly proposed causes and rejecting most as partially or wholly inadequate explanations. He identifies the inter-related effects of industrial agriculture, the policies of the World Bank, IMF and WTO, and the rise in agrofuel production as the main culprits.

Walden Bello believes that the essential question facing world food production is whether small-scale farmers or industrial agriculture are best placed to supply future food needs. He condemns the latter stating, "the Brazilian model of industrial agriculture should not elicit much enthusiasm for anyone." He sees it as part of a larger system of global agribusiness combining monopolistic trading companies, long distance transport of food, and supermarkets catering largely to the global elite.

Instead, Bello believes that peasant agriculture is key and he points to the overlooked potential highlighted in a World Bank report on agriculture in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador, which demonstrated that small-scale farms were 3 to 14 times more productive per acre than their larger counterparts. He also details the very considerable proportion of national food demand still met by peasant farmers in Africa and Asia on small plots with little or no fertilizers.

The food wars is unashamedly a polemic but it asks important questions and demands courageous answers if the still burgeoning demand for food is to be met. Chapters ranging from Creating a rice crisis in the Philippines and Destroying African agriculture to Capital versus the Peasant and Peasants, the party and agrarian crisis in China provide a provocative book for planners, advisers and politicians, as well as the more general reader.

Date published: November 2009


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