We live in an age where, all too often, technocracy rules. Massive existential dilemmas and moral challenges are reduced to cost-benefit analyses, and science works within the boundaries of what is considered "realistic" - meaning its hypotheses and assumptions are set by what is deemed acceptable to the corporate pay-masters. Any "solution" is considered "unworkable" unless it fits within big business's current working model for exploiting its workforce and customers, and pillaging the planet.
There is no grand conspiracy, and the vast majority of individuals involved are competent, well-meaning and hard working. What is lacking is proper consideration of what we should actually be trying to achieve (a thorough moral analysis), and genuine innovation to fundamentally change what we do and how we do it (system re-design from first principles).
Nowhere is this lack of true Morality and Innovation more evident than in the plight of our food and farming systems. Global multinationals grab land, exploit subsidies, distort markets, ransom governments and decimate indigenous farming systems that have supported their populations for thousands of years, in order to replace them with oppressive monocultures that use untenable amounts of water and expensive foreign inputs to grow crops that don't even feed people. Then those same multinationals claim victory if they can reduce the use of the poisonous chemicals they have introduced by a few measly percentage points.
So thank goodness for Colin Tudge.
This book sets out a very wise, and quietly profound reappraisal of how we should think about farming, if we take as our starting point that the first aim of our food and farming system should be to provide good food for everyone, forever. It then goes on to suggest how we might go about changing things, based on real projects that are already happening.
In terms of biology, this is not problem - some simple maths show that even at the lowest yields, there is plenty of agricultural land to provide enough food for any eventual global population, whether it's 9 billion or 12 billion.
Instead we face a massive economic, social and cultural challenge, evidenced by the fact that we currently have one billion people in the world who are undernourished, while another billion are overfed.
This book is the kind of polemic that is too rare these days - thoughtful, considered, well-argued and full of humanity. It states the case in simple terms that anyone can understand, rather than resorting to statistics to justify countless travesties that noone understands. The line of argument stating how we should farm and feed ourselves if we start with biological reality is so well-honed, and so hard to improve on, that it warrants its very own title - "The Tudge Doctrine".