Food Production 
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Book Reviews  > Food Production
Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.    
Kenneth E. Boulding 
The One Straw Revolution. Masanobu Fukuoka - Masanobu Fukuoka practices a form of agriculture in which he does not till the soil, does not break the ground to plant seed, does not pull weeds and does not use herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizer, or prepared compost. He calls his method natural farming or do nothing farming. He claims to get as good or better yields per hectare than his neighbors using chemicalized methods of food growing. Some people may regard his rejection of modern technology as Luddite in nature, but his success in agriculture challenges those who claim that without chemicalized agriculture, billions of people are destined to starve to death. 
The New Organic Grower. Eliot Coleman - This book is directed at people who wish to commercially grow organic vegetables on small farms. The book is to some degree imbued with competitive hustling spirit of the profit maximizing world. Of course anyone who wishes to support a middleclass American lifestyle must in some degree possess this spirit. Nevertheless this book is beautifully written and filled with lots practical information about farming without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. Coleman's passion for farming and for producing high quality nutritious food is enjoyable and contagious.  
World Hunger: Twelve Myths. Frances Moore Lappe, Joseph Collins, Peter Rosset - The authors of this book attempt to debunk the traditional explanation of continuing third world hunger as the result of a competition between increasing population and improved agricultural technology in which population growth is still in the lead. They contend that at current population levels there are adequate land resources to feed everyone even without so called 'green revolution' crops which require high fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide use. Instead the authors contend that hunger is a result of who controls the land and for what purposes they choose to use if.  They see land redistribution and sustainable agricultural methods which require relatively low energy inputs as the route to ending hunger. They criticize the unlimited right of wealth accumulation which characterizes the current capitalist system and which has lead to huge concentrations of land in the possession of a very small percentage of the population. However, in spite of this criticism, they explicitly affirm that The Market (meaning private finance capitalism) must be  the engine which drives economic activity even though we need to regulate and control its operation to bring about a more just society. In making this assertion they invoke the specter of the Soviet Union's planned economy just as any right wing ideologue would do. The spell cast by the propagandists of private finance capitalism is profound and soporific and few are the individuals who have escaped from its toils. 
Permaculture: A Designer's Manual. Bill Mollison - Bill Mollison and David Holmgren introduced the term permaculture in their book 'Permaculture One'. Since I have read interviews with Mollison in which he claims that permaculture cannot be defined, far be it from me to attempt a definition. A primary focus of permaculture is food production that requires a low level of external inputs (energy, fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides) and which maximizes the use naturally occurring energy flows (water, sunlight, wildlife, worms, insects, microbial life, etc.).  In addition to food production, permaculture concerns itself with the integration of human dwellings into the food producing environment. In this endeavor as well, the emphasis is on minimizing the use of expensive imported energy and maximizing the use of local naturally occurring energies for heating, cooling, storing food, etc. This particular book is probably not the best introduction to permaculture. It is an enormous catalogue of information and techniques for food production and housing design in a wide variety of climates. The amount of information presented can be overwhelming, and Malisonís presentation is sometimes less than crystal clear. Nevertheless, this book contains lots of good information if you have the energy to seek for it.    
Outgrowing the Earth. Lester R. Brown - Lester R. Brown is the founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute, a non-profit interdisciplinary research organization based in Washington, D.C. This book is about population growth and the degradation of the earth's agricultural resources (land and fresh water). Unlike the book 'World Hunger: Twelve Myths' reviewed above, this book promotes the traditional view of food production and hunger in which increasing population has been matched by increasingly productive agricultural technology. Brown contends that the agricultural technology revolution is running out of gas while human pressure on the ecosystem is reducing the amount of productive land and the amount of water available for irrigation. Brown backs up his assertions by an impressive array of graphs and tables of data. Brown accepts without question that private finance capitalism is the only rational form of economic organization, so that any solution to food production problems must take place within this context. Obviously population control is at the center of Brown's suggest solutions (Actually no rational person can doubt that the earth's population must eventually stop growing and the sooner the better). This is an extremely sobering book. Brown refuses to give in to despair and holds out hope that rational programs to address the many serious issues facing food production can brought about within the context of private finance capitalism.  I think that he is mistaken and than only a major economic disaster can create the political space for seriously addressing these issues. 
Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture. J. Russel Smith - First published in 1929, this book is a pioneering work in the field of sustainable agriculture, and it is still very much worth reading. Smith's view that sustainable production from the biosphere is the only true source of long term wealth needs to be more widely adopted. The book's energy and enthousiasm are infectious, and Smith's sardonic commentary on humanity's stupidity and self-involved short-sightedness are wonderful reading (For example commenting on the desirability of developing the honey locust as a source of sugar Smith writes: 'But this requires constructive intellect and time. Time appears to be more common than intellect, and neither is used very much.') 
The real science of political economy, which has yet to be distinguished from the bastard science, as medicine from witchcraft, and astronomy from astrology, is that which teaches nations to desire and labor for the things that lead to life; and which teaches them to scorn and destroy the things which lead to destruction. 
John Ruskin
Roger Brown