The answer to the British agricultural crisis? It’s in these books

Her book is full of telling details, like when, while applying for a five-year campaign management program, on a 123-page form and referring to a 312-page manual, she discovers she still has to fill out basic payment. Schema form, which has a completely different set of codes for each option. But Rooted is more than a memoir; Langford manages to contain and convey the full magnitude of the coming agricultural revolution.

Our current food system has evolved from a dangerous assumption that all the wealth in the world is just a sea voyage away. World War II put an end to this sweet idea, and the experience of importing 20 million tons of food a year from US submarine attacks inspired the Farm Bill of 1947. Its framework of government subsidies and guaranteed prices might seem like a bad idea now; at the time, there was an economic recovery to pay for and a food supply to ensure.

The law, and laws with similar intentions elsewhere in the world, have worked wonders. Langford points out that the first newspaper article warning of rising levels of food waste was published in 1980, just 26 years after rationing was abolished. Today, the world produces 1.7 times more food than in 1960, on about a third of the land. The only problem being that it’s more food than we need – enough to feed three billion people who don’t yet exist. Globally, we throw away 2.5 billion tons of food every year, yet we only consume 40% of all the food we produce. In the UK, a third of all fruit and vegetables going to supermarkets are rejected.

Those of us who live in relative abundance tend to prioritize the environmental issues it raises over those of distribution and equity. But, heaven knows, the environmental problems are serious enough: evidenced by the major decline of more than half of the species of our country since 2002. Who would have imagined that we could soon run out of dormice, water voles or hedgehogs?

The predominantly urban lobby that would blame agriculture for these evils finds its champion in Monbiot. For them, his latest book, Regenesis (Allen Lane, £20, available now), brings good news – nothing less than “the beginning of the end of most agriculture”.

Monbiot introduces us to a soil bacterium studied by scientists working for NASA in the 1960s. He explains how, thanks to fermentation, this bacterium can be cultivated. Once dried, it can be made into a cheap, protein-rich flour. This flour could feed the world, in a process that consumes no more energy than any cash-strapped developing country could afford using solar power, and requires 17,000 times less land. than it would take to produce the same amount of, say, soybeans. – bean protein.

For the 98½ percent of us in this country who have no working connection to the land, Monbiot’s Rousseauist future seems too good to be true. All things being equal, who wouldn’t want to see Britain smothered in a wild forest stalked by beavers, bears and pine martens?

About Keneth T. Graves

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