"Politics is the art of drawing lines and defending them. Science crosses lines, which helps explain the basic incompatibility of the two endeavors." (p. 191)In a style somewhat similar to that of Song for the Blue Ocean (although not nearly as well written or interesting) Manning explores what is being done to help create a second Green Revolution. The first Green Revolution (between roughly 1950 and 1990) led to an annual average increase in harvests of 2.1 percent a year. Those increases in food production thwarted many of the dire predictions made by those who saw disaster on the horizon due to the human population explosion.
But the amount of farmable land isn't endless, and improved technology and breeding possibilities have their limitations (and potential side effects--i.e., pesticides, etc.). Fertilizer, for instance, was the key technology of the first revolution in increasing yields. But more fertilizer now doesn't increase yields beyond current capacities. Since the first revolution, the 2.1 percent annual average increase has dropped to only .5 percent--less than the annual increase in the world's population.
After the first chapter Manning provides the reader with a travelogue of his observations of what the McKnight Foundation is accomplishing around the world. He provides no simple solutions or conclusions and his point is frequently lacking. While being mildly interesting at times I found myself wondering most of the time what Manning was trying to get at or communicate to us readers. Not until the last few chapters did it seem like an editor stepped in to provide a focus of sorts.
His take on genetically engineered food is one that I can, more or less, agree with. Unlike the alarmists Manning thinks there is potential merit in the technology. He doesn't find it much different from the selective breeding that farmers have been doing for millennia. Regarding the labeling of genfood he writes
The solution some propose is reducing genetic engineering to a personal choice by clearly labeling genetically modified organisms. What, after all, is more personal than one's choice of food? Ought we not begin, though, by labeling those potatoes that have seen a dozen or more applications of the mixture of pesticides the Chilean farmers call la bomba? Labeling soybeans that are grown by plowing up valuable wildlife habitat? Labeling tomatoes grown through exploitation of cheap immigrant labor? The focus on one set of distinctions loses others. (p. 198)Which would you rather buy and eat--a piece of unlabeled fruit that has been sprayed with various pesticides for $2 or one marked "genfood" that has a gene added to it that allows it to grow to maturity without pesticides for $1? Manning finishes his response to genfood critics with
People worry a lot about the environmental effects of genetically modified organisms. That's probably a good thing to worry about, just as it would be a good idea to worry about the environmental effects of the rest [irrigation, pesticides, fertilizers, ruined soil, etc.]. It takes some stretch of the imagination to agree with the critics' charge that genetic modification could create an environmental catastrophe, but we know for sure that farming is already an environmental catastrophe. Basically, we need to see the forest, instead of focusing on the single prominent tree of genetic engineering. (p. 202)Likewise, we need to see that farming, food production, the lack of another green revolution, world hunger, and the like are not the real problem. They are symptoms of the problem of an enormous, and growing, human population (and the proliferation of domestic animals that goes hand-and-hand with it). Until the world deals with the population crisis, through a reduction in birth rate, symptoms such as hunger, environmental damage, species extinction, crime, overcrowding, depression, etc. can only have band-aids put on them. The bleeding won't stop.
from the publisher:
By now it is clear that the techniques of the first "Green Revolution," which averted mass starvation a generation ago -- pesticides, chemical fertilizers, focusing on a few key crops -- are threatening the food supply for future generations. This time, however, solutions to the dilemma seem most likely to come from the still-developing world, where the path to alternative methods and philosophies, based on indigenous knowledge and native crops as well as cutting-edge technology, is still open.
Richard Manning reports on this new Green Revolution, assembling a mosaic portrait of the emerging face of agriculture and culture from pioneering research under way in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, India, China, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru. By bringing in the voices of scientists, farmers, and ordinary citizens and placing their stories in social and political context, Manning gives us an eye-opening look at how the world will feed itself in the decades to come. With particular attention to the perils and promise of bioengineering, he presents some surprising and controversial solutions to our most pressing environmental problem.
Richard Manning is the author of Grassland and One Round River. He lives in Montana.
"Food's Frontier sets a new intellectual standard for placing genomics, biotechnology, and food security into the lives of ordinary people. Richard Manning takes the reader on a worldwide tour of agriculture, displaying both its science-rich and resource-poor systems. His volume combines complex scientific principles with remarkably accessible style. Above all, Manning demonstrates the shortage of human capital in poor countries and the need for much greater support for Third World scientists." --Paul R. Ehrlich, Author of Human Natures and The Population Bomb
"Do you think advances in food production can only come from the likes of Monsanto, and other corporate giants with the might to develop whole new technologies? Do you think that the developing world must depend on the developed world for solutions to world hunger? The genius of Food's Frontier is that it shows us the many new answers emerging throughout the world, answers that are based on indigenous knowledge and native crops, answers that give us hope for a better world." --John Robbins, Author of Diet for a New America, founder of Earthsave
"Here is a book that complicates the subject at hand by describing both the cultural and the biological fabric of the challenge to meet future food demands." --Wes Jackson, Author of Becoming Native to this Place, founder and director of The Land Institute.
"An excellent investigation of how agricultural research and technology can improve the lives of rural people. The strength of the book is that it combines Manning's outstanding analytic abilities with field observations and his own interactions with the people most affected by the future direction of that research and technology." --Per Pinstrip-Anderson, Director General, International Food Policy Research Institute