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Heading upcountry in Africa to visit small farms is absolutely exhilarating given the dramatic beauty of big skies, red soil, and arid vistas, but eventually the two-lane tarmac narrows to rutted dirt, and the journey must continue on foot. The farmers you eventually meet are mostly women, hardworking but visibly poor. They have no improved seeds, no chemical fertilizers, no irrigation, and with their meager crops they earn less than a dollar a day. Many are malnourished.
Nearly two-thirds of Africans are employed in agriculture, yet on a per-capita basis they produce roughly 20 percent less than they did in 1970. Although modern agricultural science was the key to reducing rural poverty in Asia, modern farm science-including biotechnology-has recently been kept out of Africa.
In Starved for Science, Robert Paarlberg explains why poor African farmers are denied access to productive technologies, particularly genetically engineered seeds with improved resistance to insects and drought. He traces this obstacle to the current opposition to farm science in prosperous countries. Having embraced agricultural science to become well-fed themselves, those in wealthy countries are now instructing Africans-on the most dubious grounds-not to do the same.
In a book sure to generate intense debate, Paarlberg details how this cultural turn against agricultural science among affluent societies is now being exported, inappropriately, to Africa. Those who are opposed to the use of agricultural technologies are telling African farmers that, in effect, it would be just as well for them to remain poor.
"Condoning the cultivation of genetically modified crops for food is not, Robert Paarlberg concedes, likely to win him friends in academic circles [...] But in this timely book, Paarlberg, a political scientist, makes a strong argument: Europeans, who have so much food they do not need the help of science to make more, are pushing their prejudices on Africa, which still relies on foreign aid to feed its people. He calls on global policymakers to renew investment in agricultural science and to stop imposing visions of 'organic food purity' on a continent that has never had a green revolution. As governments look for ways of tackling what is now commonly called a 'global food crisis' with unprecedented price increases in basic foodstuffs, this book offers welcome food for thought."
– Jenny Wiggins, Financial Times
"[This] book ends with an alternative perspective on globalization that will inspire open-minded skeptics to rethink the matter [...] [Paarlberg is] a pragmatic believer in separating babies from bathwater. The fact that current applications of GM technology primarily benefit a handful of corporations does not deter Paarlberg from envisioning a scenario in which nonprofits and private African corporations might employ GM technology to serve the increasingly dire needs of African farmers [...] An insightful book that deftly balances the benefits and drawbacks of globalization, all within parameters conforming to the real world, the one in which we live [...] A clarion call for corporations and NGOs alike to revisit issues that have been ideologically polarized rather than rationally examined."
– James E. McWilliams, The Texas Observer
"[An] illuminating book on the state of science and agriculture in Africa [...] [It] has much of merit."
– Jules Pretty, The Times Higher Education Supplement
"This is an important book [...] Paarlberg has written extensively about smallholder agricultural development and genetically modified (GM) crops in Africa. Here he goes much deeper than just the GM debate to suggest that the anti-GM arguments are part of the currently fashionable trend in many international institutions such as the World Bank and leading NGOs to push organic agriculture and a European-style regulatory system in Africa – instead of promoting increased production [...] The author says that although well-intentioned, and perhaps appropriate in countries which have already experienced major scientific advances in agriculture, including India, China, and Brazil, these policies are leading to food shortages and agricultural disasters in Africa. Well argued and documented, if controversial."
– C. W. Hartwig, Choice
"Except for South Africa, no African state has legalized the planting of GMOs for production and consumption. While citizens of rich countries have the luxury of deciding what kinds of foods – organic, nonorganic, GMO, non-GMO – to eat, droughts and insect infestations continue to wipe out crops, and rural African children die because they have no choices. Bringing another perspective to the GMO debate [is] Paarlberg's provocative argument."
– Joshua Lambert, Library Journal
Foreword by Norman E. Borlaug and Jimmy Carter
Introduction: Why Are Africans Rejecting Biotechnology?
1. Why Rich Countries Dislike Agricultural GMOs
2. Downgrading Agricultural Science in Rich Countries
3. Withdrawing Support for Agricultural Science in Africa
4. Keeping Genetically Engineered Crops Out of Africa
5. Drought-Tolerant Crops—Only for the Rich?
Conclusion: An Imperialism of Rich Tastes
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Robert Paarlberg is the Betty F. Johnson Professor of Political Science at Wellesley College. Norman Borlaug is Distinguished Professor of International Agriculture at Texas A&M University and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. Jimmy Carter is Former President of the United States and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.