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   Rebels for the Soil
Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma
30 Oct 2010

Is organic farming anti-science?

Bereft of credible arguments against organic farming, the proponents of chemical farming quite often characterize it as being anti-science and anti-reason. That any return to the native practices will jeopardize food security is tossed across to stir the debate further. The resultant political discourse conveniently subsumes critical aspects like soil poisoning, human health and ecosystem decline. That ‘organic’ is essentially embedded in science is missed in the milieu.

Tracing the trajectory of organic food movement from the British Empire in the 1920’s, where the first trans-national roots of organic farming took hold, Matthew Reed investigates many twists in the organic food and farming movement. Guided by academic rigor, the book examines the four distinct stages of the global organic movement. The first stage from the 1920s to 1930s only had a network of people investigating the idea that became the underpinning of a wider movement.

While the second stage, till the 1960s, saw independent research being conducted on a select group of farms, the third stage saw the organic movement place itself at the forefront of a mass public mobilization against genetic engineering and the like. Lasting till the late 1970’s, this stage built alliances with the environmental movement as well as radical peasant and farmers’ group. Interestingly, neither organic nor environment ever got mainstreamed because environmentalism as politics has largely failed.

Though it makes heavy reading in parts, getting a sense of the distinct stages of the movement is crucial in building an understanding on its current status. Pitched against the perils of climate change and the growing food insecurity, the lack of politics of organic food is what the movement is currently experiencing. Reed argues that the challenge for the organic movement is to put in place a political discussion about how to feed every person on the planet whilst safeguarding its future.

Another formidable challenge the organic movement faces is from the supermarket, which renders the choice between organic and non-organic as the choice between ‘Coke and Pepsi’. By interchangeably using the term ‘natural’ for ‘organic’ and vice versa, the market finds advantage in creating confusion. Unless the consumers are seen as partners in the values of the brand ‘organic’, it will continue to remain the plaything of the marketers. The next phase of the organic movement, argues the author, will be formed by the play of social needs and the politics that it generates.

Though the initiated readers may find the book revealingly readable, its prohibitive price may distance itself from discerning readership.

Rebels for the Soil
by Matthew Reed ; Earthscan, UK; 168 pages, $ 84.95

 Other books reviewed by Dr Sudhirendar Sharma
Features > Book Shelf
Spoiling Tibet
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

A Journey in the Future of Water
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Yamuna Manifesto
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

Lead View
People, Partition and the Pain
By Rina Mukherji
15 Aug 2013

Dr Jayanti Basu's book analyzes the complex feelings of hatred and longing for the homeland that have contributed to shaping the personalities of a generation of people who were forced to ..
Book Shelf

Yamuna Manifesto

A Journey in the Future of Water

Spoiling Tibet

On Western Terrorism
Devinder Sharma
Carmen Miranda
Pandurang Hegde
Sudhirendar Sharma
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