Fred Magdoff and Brian Tokar (eds.)
Agriculture and Food in Crisis: Conflict, Resistance, and Renewal, Monthly Review Press, New York, NY, 2010; 350 pp: 9781583672266, 14.95 [pounds sterling] (pbk)
As one billion people struggle with chronic hunger amidst plenty, Agriculture and Food in Crisis is a timely and much needed book. Written for a general audience, the book develops a wide range of themes in relation to the 2008 food crisis, presented in relatively short chapters with very little jargon, which makes it a valuable asset for teaching assignments. The book contains 16 chapters divided into two equal parts ('Understanding the Agrifood Crisis' and 'Resistance and Renewal'), plus an editorial introduction. The central argument of the book 'is that 'food for people, not for profit' should be the underlying principle of a new agrifood system' (p. 30).
Part I addresses the social, historical and political-economic roots of the crisis, and offers a critical and refreshing approach that shatters the explanatory sterility of the mainstreams approach to the crisis as a 'perfect storm'. Walden Bello, Mara Baviera and Philip McMichael set the tone, arguing that widespread socially-produced hunger and famine amidst plenty is endemic to capitalist modernity, and the outcome of long-term vulnerabilities in the countryside. Utsa Pamaik, Sophia Murphy and Deborah Fahy Bryceson offer powerful critiques of the neoliberal paradigm of free trade, which maintains that 'food security' is better served through export crops than through self-sufficiency in food grain production. By forcing developing countries to withdraw their support to 'inefficient' producers, tear down tariff walls and dismantle government-controlled food stocks and agricultural commodity reserves, the neoliberal food trade architecture has effectively transformed once self-sufficient countries and regions into net importers of food, while creating the basis for mass urbanisation, poverty and undernourishment.
Brian Tokar documents the extent to which the 2008 spike in oil prices not only made explicit vulnerabilities in the countryside, but also triggered a 'green rush' towards bio fuel production. This further exacerbated the crisis by creating a strong incentive towards human rights abuses and the displacement of indigenous populations in order to convert lands, forests and grasslands for agro-fuel production. Moreover, the growing power, yielded by corporations and finance capital...