Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
The End of Plenty
The Race to Feed a Crowded World
by Joel K. Bourne, Jr
Published by Scribe UK September 2015
400 pages Paperback
When the demographer Robert Malthus (1766-1834) famously outlined the brutal relationship between food and population, he never imagined the success of modern scientific agriculture. In the mid-twentieth century, an unprecedented agricultural advancement known as the Green Revolution brought hybrid seeds, chemical fertilizers, and improved irrigation that drove the greatest population boom in history – but left ecological devastation in its wake.
In The End of Plenty, award-winning environmental journalist Joel K. Bourne Jr. puts our race to feed the world in dramatic perspective. With a skyrocketing world population and tightening global grain supplies spurring riots and revolutions, humanity must produce as much food in the next four decades as it has since the beginning of civilization to avoid a Malthusian catastrophe. Yet climate change could render half our farmland useless by century's end.
Writing with an agronomist's eye for practical solutions and a journalist's keen sense of character, detail, and the natural world, Bourne takes readers from his family farm to international agricultural hotspots to introduce the new generation of farmers and scientists engaged in the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. He discovers young, corporate cowboys trying to revive Ukraine as Europe's breadbasket, a Canadian aquaculturist channeling ancient Chinese traditions, the visionary behind the world's largest organic sugar-cane plantation, and many other extraordinary individuals struggling to increase food supplies – quickly and sustainably – as droughts, floods, and heat waves hammer crops around the globe.
Part history, part reportage and advocacy, The End of Plenty is a panoramic account of the future of food, and a clarion call for anyone concerned about our planet and its people.
Right, so much for the press release from the publishers now to my take of this book.
I do not really care how many positive endorsements a book receives I always will give my own take on a book the way I see it.
The first comment I will have to make, as regards to the Paperback version of this book for the British market and that is that the binding of the cover is very poor and came almost undone within a few times opening it. But that is a physical one and not necessarily brings the book into disrepute.
Now to the books itself, other than the physical attributes. While it all started out in an interesting way it became soon evident (which was this was headed) that, aside from the fact that the author appears to believe that the world's population must be reduced and also seems to see the forces of the capitalist market to be the be all and end all.
When the author arrived, after initially giving the so-called “Green Revolution” a thumbs down, where I agreed with him entirely, at advocating genetically-modified and genetically-engineered seeds with the claim that that genetic engineering of seeds has been done by farmers and seed breeders for thousands of years I was about too hit him. He either on purpose or through lack of knowledge confuses genetic-modification and -engineering with selective breeding. The latter is not genetic modification or -engineering, as no genes from other organisms are being “injected”, as is the case with genetic-modification and -engineering. At this point an otherwise relatively good book turned into trash.
This was then followed by his almost promotion of glyphosate (Roundup), now regarded by many agencies as carcinogenic, and even toxic, the author's credibility hit rock bottom on page 231 in the UK paperback version of this book and it was at that page that I closed the review of this book and added it to my collection of trash books. It must be obvious even to the most blind that a product that is, basically, a diluted form of the nefarious warfare agent “Agent Orange” cannot be considered safe in any way, shape or form. Not that Monsanto would admit that that is what their product Roundup, aka glyphosate, is.
Various agencies around the globe, including in the US, have marked Roundup and thus glyphosate, as a dangerous to people and the environment and we best took note of that, especially in light of the fact that many of the same agencies, for years, refused to do so.
On the other hand, when it comes to feeding the growing population of this Planet the UN and others have stated very clearly that we must get away from industrial agriculture and large farms that damage soil and environment and return too small farms and organic farming. The Russian dachas – the, what some call weekend homes, which most of them actually are not – with their small acreages, often less than a hectare, are what is supplying 80% of all fruit and vegetables to the Russian market and population. Imagine what could be done if more of those small farms and market gardens would be in existence.
It is for that reason that the Russian President and parliament are drafting a law that will give every Russian the right to between one and six hectare of land to work, with financial help or even outright grants to build a home there on that land also, to grow food for themselves and their families and for sale on the markets.
We can feed the world, especially if we all would change to a more plant based diet than consuming meat at the rate that most countries are doing, and those fruit and vegetables could be grown on smallholdings rather than large scale industrial farms that pollute the Planet in an organic way. But it would mean a complete change of system, including political system, and as long as capitalism is permitted to rule the market in foods it is hardly going to happen, for it would also require a real land reform.