So Shall We Reap - by Colin Tudge

"That's it in a nutshell. The problems and the hand-wringing begin when people in power decide the principal role of farming is not to feed people but to supply wealth, and to try and treat farming simply as a business like any other." The subtitle of Colin Tudge's book is 'What's gone wrong with the world's food — and how to fix it.' That first quote summarises the problem, and the solution is what he terms enlightened agriculture: "These, then, are the physical and logistical requirements: good, plentiful food for everyone for ever; a fair deal for producers; labour intensiveness - a maximal number of good jobs, giving rise to working rural communities; benign husbandry; and wildlife friendliness. These desired end-points will not arise by default. They must be expressly written into the strategy ..." Colin, an award winning science writer believes that agriculture is indeed the saviour of humankind, but not as it currently practiced. Us grown-ups often ruminate on the awkward notion that kids today have no idea where milk comes from. Yet reading this volume will be very confronting for many adults who've held an idyllic view of farming. His discussion on modern industrial agriculture ranges from birds in English hedgerows, to Sudanese farmers in the globalised food market, and mostly everything else in between. And it's often not a pretty picture that he paints. He has particular concern with what he sees as science kidnapped for commerce, not common good.

For example, Colin abhors, say, the actions of vast agri-companies, such as the American one that tried to patent 'basmati' rice undermining the age old rights of traditional Indian famers, He also thinks that GMOs are by-and-large a con, in so far as needing them to solve the world's hunger and nutritional woes. The sections on Mad Cow's Disease and foot-and-mouth are particularly harrowing. In reading this book one gets a sense that Colin has grown angrier and angrier, as his knowledge increased of present day agricultural methods and politics. And he even has some issues with organic farming and vegetarianism being seen as the panacea for our ills, (though he does feel they are more on target, than many other directions the food industry has gone in.) But he doesn't just apportion blame, he spends the closing chapters outlining how we might begin to put it right.

I did get lost in a section discussing the history of crop breeding, but elsewhere his words held my attention like a summer thriller. Although, in this case, the plot revolves not around fictional characters, but the very real future of humankind, and those other living things we affect in the course of our journey. Yet for all the frightening stories told within, the book is effused with optimism. The answers, are right in front of noses, Colin believes, we just need the willpower to reach out and seize them. The Times Literary Supplement wrote of this very important work, "everyone concerned for the longer-term future of humanity should read this." I enthusiastically second that motion.

Buy So Shall We Reap by Colin Tudge