The State of the World: Innovations that Nourish the Planet – review

Author: | Date: 28 October, 2011 | Category: Book Reviews | Comments: 0

The State of the World: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, by The Worldwatch Institute, Earthscan, Jan 2011, 272 pages, ISBN: 978-1849713528, RRP £14.99.

This is an important book, especially given the growing crisis in the world’s food supply.
Food security is threatened by climate change, fossil fuel scarcity and growing water shortages. Here is an authoritative challenge to much of the current thinking on the nature of the problem and the ways it can be tackled. It demonstrates conclusively that there is a genuine and far more sustainable alternative to the ‘business as usual’ large-scale mono-culture production of crops.
For two years the highly respected Worldwatch Institute has been gathering data on hugely encouraging stories of initiatives in local communities in 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Communities have increased their food security without the attendant damage to the environment.
Eighty per cent of the scientific studies of the ‘green revolution’, which relies on high fossil fuel inputs, massive water demands (eg 1500 tonnes of water per 1 tonne of grain) and ever-increasing requirements for artificial fertilisers, conclude that it is not sustainable.
So what about the latest ‘silver bullet’ advanced by much of the corporate sector – GM? It is striking that resorting to GM crops is considered to be at best irrelevant to the vast majority of those growing food – the small farmers. Story after story show that employing the best available knowledge with the use of simple technology, for example treadle pumps to draw water from shallow bore holes and using green manure techniques to prevent soil erosion, can increase yields by a factor of two or three without the downside of high-tech, high-investment solutions.
This is all very encouraging but there are, of course, many worrying aspects of the problem – the massive power of the large fertiliser and seed groups who have no wish to see local low-tech solutions and their influence over governments and international agencies. The problem is complex and the solutions are many – this brilliant book is a source of inspiration and encouragement to all who care about it; a true guide for the perplexed.

Mike Monaghan


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