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Agriculture and food in crisis - Conflict, resistance and renewal

Agriculture and food in crisis

By Fred Magdoff and Brian Tokar
Published by Monthly Review Press
Website: www.monthlyreview.org
2010, 348pp, ISBN 978 1 58367 226 6 (Pb), $18.95

The title says it all - there is no denying that world population, growing in number and aspiring to diets rich in calorie-demanding meat and livestock products, is fast outstripping food production. Simultaneously, there is clear evidence that declining soil fertility, urbanisation of prime agricultural land, competition for water for domestic use and industry, and the reduction in cereal yields due to raised temperatures are all limiting capacity to raise crop yields. Some still look to science and technology to provide the doubling in food production required by 2050 but the contributors to Agriculture and food in crisis believe that there are social, political and economic answers, including returning power to the smaller farmer, removing the domination of agriculture by a handful of global agribusinesses, and recasting agricultural trade to remove the inequities that they see penalising farmers.

Current 'capitalist' agriculture is critiqued in chapters that examine 'Sub-Sahara's vanishing peasantries', 'Origins of the food crisis in India', 'Free Trade in agriculture - an idea whose time is done', and 'Biofuels and the global food crisis'. Part two of this book offers working alternatives to 'capitalist' agriculture, including: 'Redistributive land reform', 'Reducing energy inputs in the agricultural production system', and 'Do increased energy costs offer opportunities for a new agriculture?' Country-specific experiences include 'The battle for sustainable agriculture in Paraguay' and 'The Venezuelan effort to build a new food and agriculture system'.

The final chapter by Jules Pretty responds to the question 'Can ecological agriculture feed nine billion people? He concludes: "Time is short and the challenge is enormous...At this time we are neither feeding all the 6.7 billion people in the world nor conducting agriculture in an environmentally sound way. It may be possible to feed the estimated 9 billion people living on earth by mid-century. However, this will take a massive and multifaceted effort that may include changing the way animals are raised, and limiting the ill-conceived use of cereals for conversion to transport fuels. In addition, support is needed for the development of social capital in the form of farmers' groups that can innovate and adapt. We need to begin this project today." This book is worth reading for Pretty's insight alone.

Date published: June 2011

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