|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