sunday_times

By Ian Critchley

Book review of Feeding Frenzy: The New Politics of Food by Paul McMahon (Profile)

If the human population grows, as predicted, from 7bn to 9bn by 2050, the global food system will be put under unprecedented strain. The agriculturist Paul McMahon, however, doesn’t agree with the “doom-mongers” who think we are destined for mass starvation. In this passionately argued book, he states that we already produce enough food to feed 9bn people and that there are vast, untapped areas of fertile arable land that should be sufficient to feed that many over the coming decades.

This might suggest that McMahon is advocating business as usual, but far from it. He writes that although the capacity to increase food production exists, that does not mean the requisite political and economic infrastructures are in place to realise the increase, let alone distribute the results equitably to rich and poor. He presents a compelling argument for radical, agricultural reforms. Some of these, such as empowering local farmers to produce more food, are already being practised in small-scale projects. The challenge, he says, will be to implement them on a global basis.

McMahon’s book will aggrieve environmentalists on some issues – he is broadly in favour of GM crops and biofuels – but central to his thinking is the fact that agriculture will need to adapt to the difficulties climate change will cause. Above all, he is optimistic about the future, putting faith in our ability to overcome obstacles. “If the problems are made by humans, not nature, they are amenable to human solution.”