A generation and more ago, when futurists warned that an ever-expanding population would unleash famine and suffering upon the world, scientists set in motion the so-called Green Revolution. Mixing high-yield seed stock and intensive cultivation with an increased use of chemical pesticides, the Green Revolution proved remarkably successful in feeding the developing nations of the world--but only for a time.
Now, writes journalist Richard Manning, when Earth's population is again exploding--adding a new Mexico City every 12 weeks, as one of the profiled scientists notes--the need to revolutionize agriculture anew is ever more pressing. Traveling to research laboratories and farmers' fields in places such as Uganda, Zimbabwe, India, and China, Manning looks at ways in which researchers are working to improve crop yields, reduce natural pests and diseases, and increase biodiversity, with greater or lesser success. Among their approaches, Manning observes, is the use of genetically modified plants, a matter of intense debate throughout the First World. Urging that readers not dismiss this solution out of hand, Manning points out that genetic engineering is not merely a subject for theoretical discussion, but a fact of life in the agriculture of the developing world.
At the close of his well-paced travelogue, he takes a considered look at the arguments pro and con, acknowledging that there are reasons to be both fearful and optimistic when tinkering with genomes. But, Manning slyly adds, "no one ever said feeding a planet of 6 billion people would be without consequences." --Gregory McNamee
From Library Journal
Beginning with the assumption that monocultures and high-input agriculture are unsustainable and that the "Green Revolution" has failed, environmental writer Manning (One Round River) attempts to lay a course for a new way to practice agricultural research and production. Research needs to be cast in a social matrix that integrates research using (and preserving) local farmers and culture, tested methods, diversification, smaller scales, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) friendly to local ecosystems and committed to improving the life of the poor. Agriculture extension programs have missed this approach, says Manning. He uses examples from projects funded by the McKnight Foundation in nine countries, including India, China, Uganda, Brazil, and Mexico. He does not rule out genetic engineering as part of the equation, arguing that this technology may be no more dangerous than our current methods of growing foods with high chemical inputs. Manning's book is not easily digested and often raises more questions than it answers. Suitable for academic libraries, it should be read (last chapter first) by agricultural researchers and policy makers as well as sociologists.DTim McKimmie, New Mexico State Univ. Lib., Las Cruces
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