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Real food for the people by the people

Good Food for Everyone for Ever: A people's takeover of the world's food supply.

By Colin Tudge and written on behalf of the Campaign for Real Farming. Pari Publishing, 2011.

A review by Andy Goldring, Coordinator at the Permaculture Association

I've had the good fortune to meet Colin on a number of occasions, so I can say for sure, that reading his book is much like listening to him talk. He's passionate, articulate and provocative in a very good humoured way.

The book is an updated version of his previous 'Feeding People is Easy', so many of the arguments were familiar, but the strategy is new. Colin is wide ranging and covers an incredible number of topics and perspectives, from politics and history to nutrition, economics and even metaphysics. He's a clever chap and weaves many strands into a coherent tale of how we got to where we are now, namely, an industrial food system dominated by heavily capitalised corporations, supported by global political and scientific elites, poised ready to take over the rest of the world's food system. Fortunately, while covering the many different aspects of the 'bad news', he also sets out his view on what we need to do:

“The task before us – where “us” means humanity – is to create a world that is good for 6.8 billion people now, and for 9 billion people by 2050, and for the five to eight million estimated other species with whom we share this earth; and to go on catering for everyone and for other creatures forever – at least the next 10,000 years, and preferably the next million and beyond.

Not the easiest task, but not impossible. As Colin points out, 70% of the food eaten on the planet is grown by smallholders and peasants, fisher folk and artisans. Growing food is easy. If we were to support the world's poorest people with appropriate technology, advances in ecological design and farming techniques and give political support to movements like Via Campesina, it looks like we can significantly increase the quality of many lives in the same process. Indeed, getting our own house in order will be a much bigger challenge.

The difficulty comes in when farming is transformed from the stuff of life, into an industrial food system designed to make money. Much of the book deals with these problems. But solutions are given, and although not naming permaculture directly, Colin's description of 'Real' or 'Enlightened' farming is pretty much synonymous with it – small scale, diverse, polycultural, broadly organic, biologically sound and in harmony with the local ecosystem. It’s a blend of locally appropriate agro-ecological techniques like agroforestry, organics, and biodynamics, with economic models to enable land access, community support and involvement.

So what is stopping us making it happen? Colin argues, that economics, power and politics are largely responsible for where we are now, but that we need to sidestep direct confrontation or lobbying for change, and instead create the reality we want. In effect we need to collaborate like crazy, and I couldn't agree more. In 2008 the Permaculture Association put out a 'call for collaboration across the sector' and had a good response. But it’s hard work and needs commitment from many people. We made steps forwards, but more are needed, and the Campaign for Real Farming is one such attempt to bring us together to collaborate, share knowledge and create mutual support for food systems that can work in harmony with people and planet. In short he calls for a renaissance in the way we grow and eat food.

I liked the book. It was enjoyable to read, and even though I am familiar with many of the arguments, they are presented in a unique way. There are few people that have the broad knowledge that Colin does, and it makes for a very interesting read. The passion sometimes leads to general statements that I didn't agree with (we don't have to re-think everything!), but it makes for a lively read. You won't learn in detail what needs to be done, or how to grow food, but your understanding of the background to our current predicament will be greater. Chapter six deals with strategy and covers some useful areas, but I think much more would be useful here. The message is simple, but despite many of our efforts, the collaboration for an 'agrarian renaissance' still seems to elude us, so I wanted to hear more about his view on how we might tackle some of the barriers to collaboration, and develop more of the practical steps to coordinate our work. To Colin's credit the Campaign for Real Farming helps to organise the Oxford Real Farming Conference, which is a practical opportunity to meet and discuss strategy.

A must-read for a whirlwind tour of the history, politics and economics of the food system and a passionate argument in favour of locally controlled food systems or, “a people's takeover of the world's food supply”, as Colin puts it.

Andy Goldring

The Permaculture Association.
See www.permaculture.org.uk/farming for the Association's work on farming, and www.permaculture.org.uk/join to become a member.

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