Six Steps Back to the Land – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Six Steps Back to the Land
by Colin Tudge
Published by Green Books 19th January 2016
224 pages Hardcover
Price £17.99
ISBN: 978 0 85784 300 5 (hardback)

six_steps_back_to_the_land_cover“This book is an eye opener as to the realities lying behind high-level exhortations about 'feeding the world' and reveals how the path we are on is more about the interests of powerful elites, rather than the people eating the food.” – Tony Juniper, former Executive Director of Friends of the Earth, author of What Has Nature Ever Done for Us?

Farming could and should once again be seen as a desirable, enviable pursuit – assuming its rightful place at the center of human affairs, says Colin Tudge. With this change we could:

  • regain control over our food supply, reducing food waste

  • make our farms more resilient to extreme weather, pests, and disease

  • provide employment for huge numbers of skilled workers

  • ensure that our land is managed sustainably and left in good condition for future generations

  • help combat climate change

  • improve animal welfare

The new dogma is that farms cannot make money unless they are huge. The truth, in fact, is the opposite: Fatma Gül Ünal’s study in Turkey in 2005 showed that farms of less than one hectare are 20 times more productive than farms of 10 hectares or more. Despite this, we continue to push our farmers towards mega- farms despite the outcry against the inhumane treatment of animals, concerns about chemical fertilizers and pesticides, or the worry that single-crop arable farms will destroy the diversity of ecosystems.

The time has come for a renaissance in farming, says the author of this book, Colin Tudge, and the way to do that is through Enlightened Agriculture, a term he coined to describe agriculture that is “expressly designed to provide everyone, everywhere, with food of the highest standard, nutritionally and gastronomically, without wrecking the rest of the world”. With a solid grounding in science he explains how we can achieve that, and have truly sustainable, resilient and productive farms, taking us through: why we need to rethink our approach to farming; how we can move to low-input mixed farms; how tightly-integrated farms employ many skilled people; dealing with the practicalities of this form of farming in today's world; and how we can get involved.

The author is not naïve enough to think that it is a simple solution, or that it will be a magic fix. But it is an achievable way to make a difference, securing our food sovereignty and supporting local economies while combating climate change.

Colin Tudge is a biologist, science writer and author. He has been on the staff of Farmers' Weekly, New Scientist, and BBC Radio 3. He has a passion for food and agriculture. He is closely involved in The Campaign for Real Farming and the Funding Enlightened Agriculture network which support SMEs in the sustainable food and farming sector.

When reviewing a book, and as I do not like writing in the margins, many a book ends up having almost as many post-it notes stuck in it as pages (I use such sticky notes for reference purposes). Many sticky notes means either the book is bad I use those to refer back to in order to make comments or the book is very good and the notes are there to underline the extremely important passages which, at some stage, I may use as quotes in articles, and such. This book is once again one of those full of sticky notes and falls into the second category; in fact of extremely good.

This is definitely a book and author that, with the exception as regards to general capitalism, I can totally and wholeheartedly agree with in every point, well almost. The need for a proper land reform, or we might even want to call it agrarian reform, that the author also is advocating is something that I have, personally, been talking about for a log time also. But this reform needs to take a much more radical route than the one that is being advocated.

Everyone who is interested in farming, in food, whether as a private individual or and especially decision makers on a local and central government level, and even further afield should read this book. It will be an eye opener also to them. It should be on every politician's bookshelf but not just sitting there idly doing nothing but it should be read and acted upon.

Rating: Well, I would love to be able to give a ten out of five but as that just does not compute it will just have to be five out of five.

© 2016