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You have to approach with trepidation a book which has a cover blurb from the despicable, antihuman, scare monger Paul Ehrlich and which the author warns you was funded by a private organization (The McKnight Foundation) that funds the projects which he's going to be discussing.  Right off the bat it just seems extraordinarily unlikely that you'll get a calm, balanced and non-dogmatic presentation of the issues.  It's a pleasant surprise then that Richard Manning, despite a sleight over reliance on Ehrlichean "sky-is-falling" rhetoric, is able, at least to my non-expert eyes, to offer a full and fair look at some of the current debates surrounding the future of agriculture generally and, more specifically, the issues that arise out of the need to boost crop yields in developing countries to meet the rising food demands of their constantly increasing populations.

Manning's basic premise is that the original Green Revolution--largely a product of improved fertilizers, pesticides, and breeding techniques--has hit a wall and is no longer providing the types of increases in production which have characterized the past thirty or forty years.  Nor is there any readily apparent successor Revolution to step in and provide the necessary increases.  He proposes that the answer to pending food supply problems then will not come from such a top down revolution but rather will have to rely on myriad local solutions :

    The Green Revolution at its most fundamental level treated all the world the same, but the lessons
    being learned in agriculture now are local.  A practice, a variety, a people, and a crop endure in a
    place because selection has finely tuned them to survival.  They have evolved along with local
    conditions, and the path to a sustainable future requires some respect for the results of that process.

In the ensuing chapters he surveys the results of studies in nine regions--Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, India, several parts of China, Chile, Brazil, Mexico and Peru--on unfamiliar but traditional crops like sorghum, tef, milpa, sweet potatoes, and the like, which suggest that these foodstuffs are uniquely suited to these areas and are more appropriate than Western grains.  The work being done by scientists in these countries therefore focusses on how to maximize the yields of these native plants, but their work tends to be understaffed, underfunded and unappreciated.  The nations after all tend to be poor, their best minds tend to emigrate to the industrialized West and there's not much interest on the part of powerful multinational corporations in these marginal crops.  This is where McKnight and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) come in, providing seed money (quite literally) to keep local scientists working to improve local crops.

The best section of the book is Manning's rational and dispassionate discussion of bioengineering.  Though he maintains a healthy respect for the dangers that genetic manipulation of crops could conceivably pose, he also recognizes that it is already happening on a significant scale and is going to continue regardless of hysteria like that which greets export of genetically modified American goods to Europe, that it is absolutely vital to the daunting task of boosting yields, and that it simply does not much differ from the routine ways in which man has always intervened in plant and animal breeding.
Sadly missing from most of the heated argument that you hear about genetically modified foods is the simple common sense and undeniable truth of the following :

    For at least ten thousand years humans have been engaged in selection, an artificial pressure on
    breeding populations.  All the forms of life we call domestic have a genetic makeup, a code, that is
    artificial as a result of this pressure.

Manning does not issue a blanket approval for all bioengineering, suggesting that more limited manipulations may be more effective anyway, and are certainly less risky, but he comes down squarely in favor of using the techniques, particularly to help improve these native crops.

In the end, Manning suggests that the examples he's looked at are united by a common thread : that local knowledge, conditions, and customs should play a much more central role than they have in guiding agricultural development in Third World nations, and that they have started to, thanks in large part to the efforts of NGOs like McKnight :

    All this suggests the real breakdown of the linear model.  Information and knowledge will no
    longer flow from top to bottom but will originate in and reverberate through every part of the
    system.  Information flows among researchers and farmers that in the end could have them working
    on a common ground, a common ground of knowledge.  It may be difficult to define what will
    replace Green Revolution methods, but this concept lies at its core.

In fact, this too is a revolution, as he says, an "information revolution."  Moreover, it echoes the writings of folks like F. A. Hayek on political economies, and the idea that centralized, bureaucratic, top-down decision making can not possibly be effective, precisely because it can not take into account all of the unique individual and local information bubbling up from the bottom.

It's become sort of commonplace these days to depict the ascent of Free Markets and Global Trade as a threat to the developing world, to the environment, and to local customs.  But the push for free market capitalism is based on the hard won consensus that such a system offers the most efficient means of structuring an economy, that only such an open system allows for the free flow of ideas and information which is a predicate for intelligent decision making.  It is really exciting to see that a similar recognition may be emerging in the field of agriculture and in those developing countries, that not only are free markets not necessarily a threat to native ways of life but that such a decentralized, fluid, information dependent, ruthlessly efficient system may be the best means of preserving local knowledge and traditions.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B+)

  

Websites:

See also:

Science
Book-related and General Links:
    -Richard Manning's Author Page
    -Food's Frontier Site (McKnight Foundation)
    -The McKnight Foundation
    -BOOK SITE : Food's Frontier (FSB Associates)
    -REVIEW : of Food's Frontier: The Next Green Revolution By Richard Manning (Karen Cook, Voice Literary Supplement)
    -REVIEW : of Richard Manning, Food's Frontier : The Next Green Revolution   (Mike Lepore for crimsonbird.com)
    -REVIEW : of ONE ROUND RIVER The Curse of Gold and the Fight for the Big Blackfoot. By Richard Manning (Thomas McNamee, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of LAST STAND Logging, Journalism, and the Case for Humility. By Richard Manning (Timothy Egan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of GRASSLAND The History, Biology, Politics, and Promise of the American Prairie. By Richard Manning (FRANCESCA LYMAN, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Richard Manning, Grassland: The History, Biology, Politics, and Promise of the American Prairie (Missouri Audubon Society)

GENERAL :
    -PROFILE : Norman Bourlag : Forgotten Benefactor of Humanity (Gregg Easterbrook, The Atlantic Monthly)
    -LECTURE : The Green Revolution: Peace and Humanity by Norman E. Borlaug (A speech on the occasion of the awarding of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, on December 11, 1970)
    -INTERVIEW : with Norman Bourlag : Billions Served (Ronald Bailey, Reason Magazine. April 2000)
    -Global Development Gateway
    -World Hunger Program (Brown.edu)
    -Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy
    -ESSAY : The Nine Lives of Population Control (Midge Decter, First Things, December 1993)
    -ESSAY : Ending Hunger: Current Status and Future Prospects by Robert Kates
    -ESSAY : Hello, I Must Be Going : Dire forecasts predict the end of the all-u-can-eat seafood buffet, as the world's fisheries fall victim to big fleets and a fragile nature. But if the waters are really emptying, why is your local market swimming in fish? A story of the daily catch. (Bill McKibben, Outside magazine, December 1997)
    -ESSAY : Dr. Strangelunch  Or: Why we should learn to stop worrying and love genetically modified food (Ronald Bailey, Reason)
    -ESSAY : Science Fiction (Gregg Easterbrook, New Republic)
    -ESSAY : Money Hungry : Preparing for the next population explosion. (CHARLES C. MANN, New Republic)
    -ESSAY : WHO IS MAURICE STRONG? (The New Republic, September 1, 1997 RONALD BAILEY)
    -REVIEW : of THE LAST HARVEST The Genetic Gamble That Threatens to Destroy American Agriculture. By Paul Raeburn (John Tallmadge, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE STAFFS OF LIFE By E. J. Kahn Jr (John Fleming, NY Times Book Review)
    -LINKS : The HungerWeb Index

Comments:

I noticed you'd included 'WHO IS MAURICE STRONG?', from the New Republic, in the reference footnotes for this excellent and informative book review.

There's a very interesting page on 'Maurice Strong And The New World Order' at http://www.survivalistskills.com/strong.htm

The 'New World Order Intelligence Update' site - at http://www.nwointelligence.com also used to carry a number of related article like "THE GREENING", which is now archived at http://www.survivalistskills.com/greening.htm

One article from that 'NWOIU' site, 'BACK TO THE USSR - WITH A VENGEANCE', has a direct bearing on this topic. It includes a lengthy and astonishingly accurate quote from the end of the 19th century on 'The Plan For Three World Wars.' It's archived at http://www.survivalistskills.com/russ.htm

Good books, hard to find and often out of print, on elite figures like Maurice Strong are also often briefly available on RareHistoryBooks.Com, at http://www.rarehistorybooks.com

- John Whitley

- Jul-09-2003, 18:47

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