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Food politics: What everyone needs to know

Food politics

By Robert Paarlberg
Published by Oxford University Press
Website: www.oup.com
2010, 218pp, ISBN 978 0 19538 959 3(Pb), £9.99

What causes famines? Was the green revolution bad for the environment? Does food aid create dependence or hurt farmers in recipient countries? Is the world facing an obesity crisis? How do farm subsidies shape international agricultural trade? Can genetically engineered foods help solve global hunger? These are just some of the questions tackled by Robert Paarlberg in his bid to examine and explain today's beliefs about farming and food in an effort to rebalance some of the debates surrounding the politics of food.

With regard to the green revolution, Paarlberg is clearly an advocate and puts much of its criticism down to "a wide-spread social suspicion, mostly among nonfarmers, of any new technology that employs science to alter or dominate the biology of traditional farming." He adds that despite hostility towards the green revolution, especially among environmentalists in rich countries, the green revolution "remains firmly established as the approach of choice among most farmers and agricultural policy leaders."

At the same time, while he acknowledges some of the serious environmental damage that has occurred as a result of increased use of fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation, Paarlberg argues that not introducing high-yielding seeds would have been much worse: "If India had relied on its traditional low-yield farming techniques to achieve the production increase it needed during these decades of rapid population growth, it would have had no choice but to cut more trees, destroy more wildlife habitat, and plow up more fragile slowing and dryland soils."

By covering such hotly debated and complex subjects, some readers are likely to disagree with his views or feel that the analysis is oversimplified. However, Food politics is succinct, methodical in its approach and clearly written with little technical jargon. As a result, this book will be of interest to those within the development community and also the general public.

Date published: September 2010


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