Publisher: Earthscan Date of Publication: 2005
Price: ISBN: 1 84407 185 5
Pages: viii + 240 Format: Hardback

Overall Score:

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1 - Pushing beyond the Earth's limits; 2 - Stopping at seven billion; 3 - Moving up the food chain efficiently; 4 - Raising the Earth's productivity; 5- Protecting cropland; 6 - Stabilising water tables; 7 - Stabilizing climate; 8 - Reversing China's harvest decline; 9 - The Brazilian dilemma; 10 - Redefining security.



The issue of food supply and security has been quiet recently mainly because other topics have taken over press space rather than the issue has gone away. How the situation is changing, why and what we need to do about it is focus of this text.

The basic thesis of the book is that we are failing to appreciate two key areas in food supply: the nature of environmental change and the actual 'cost' of food production. Accordingly, if we fail to heed these warning then we will be placed in a situation where food shortages lead to both political and economic problems. To set the scene we start with an overview - a brief review of the development of food resources largely in the past 50-60 years. There is praise for what has been done but a note of caution is added when it is realised that demand is outstripping supply and that, worse still, key resources such as land are being removed from production. One of the main factors behind this is the rise in human population which is well documented in chapter two. The aim though is not to re-hash familiar population projections but to take those as a start and see what the implications for food supply might be. Chapter three highlights another issue - that not only are we consuming more food but that it comes higher up the food chain. Although this line of reasoning comes from the metabolic conversion ratio it's put in context for readers by using examples of food production statistics from around the world. Chapter four describes the changes agricultural production both over the past 50 years and the changes that will have to be made in the future. Up to this point, the argument has been about the way we got into the present situation and the forces driving the situation. We have made great strides but this is against a background of increasing population and resource pressure. The book now turns towards mitigating the situation. Chapter five looks at the need to protect arable areas especially from the problems of soil loss, erosion and desertification. Chapter six turns to water supply suggesting that it is water, rather than oil, which constitutes the greater resource scarcity threat. Supply is fast outstripping supply and that's before global climate changes take effect. The importance of climate is highlighted in the next brief chapter which also serves to introduce the need for food policy to include more than agriculturalists. Chapter eight and nine are two sides of the same coin. China is losing food production both through lowered fertility and land loss. Brazil is gaining cropland but at the expense of deforestation. From being an exporter China will become an importer: the opposite with Brazil but as we see, both courses of action have their benefits and problems. A final chapter argues that we need to re-define our food needs and production priorities to cope with the new situation.

Overall, this book provides a clear, coherent argument for examining our food situation and questioning some of the aspects we might take for granted. It is easy to read, thanks in part to Brown's outstanding writing skills which have been use so well in the past for other leading texts such as the State of the World series. As such, the book should be bought just to demonstrate how good arguments are put together. Alternatively, the text and additional data can be seen here. Given the topic and its importance to us this book should be seen as a valuable addition to the library.


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