In this remarkable book, Vandana Shiva effectively contrasts corporate command-and-control methods of food production with the small farmer economy that predominates in the third world (especially in her native India). In contast to what many here in the U.S. might perceive as the conventional wisdom, Shiva makes a strong argument that local, small scale agriculture is superior to the agribusiness model for a number of reasons.
First, Shiva points out that many of the productivity gains attributable to the Green Revolution were achieved by dramatically increased inputs of fertilizer, seed and water. When one compares units of input with units of output, however, native practices produce higher yields -- especially when one takes into account the multiple uses derived from a single product.
For example, mustard oil is a vital product used by many of India's poor for cooking, seasoning, medicine and other uses. But it has been banned by the Indian government (under highly suspicious circumstances) in order to allow imports of soybean oil products. While giant corporations benefit from expanded sales, native industries have been destroyed, contibuting to poverty and malnourishment.
Shiva discusses the commercial fishing and aquaculture (shrimp farming) practices that inevitably result in environmental destruction and reduced catches. She compares this short-sighted approach with traditional Indian fishing techniques that have successfully sustained themselves for generations while protecting important ecosystems such as mangrove forests.
Shiva discusses corporate patenting of seeds, which insidiously transforms the cooperative ethic of seed sharing into a criminal offense. The author supports a non-cooperation movement in India that is resisting corporate attempts to claim ownership of seeds that have been cultivated by countless generations of farmers.
Shiva's sacred cow / mad cow metaphor effectively and appropriately contrasts agribusiness with small farming. India's sacred cows live in harmony with the environment, performing multiple services and producing multiple products for the community; whereas mad cows are a grotesque manifestation of an industrial system obsessed with uniformity, technology and profit.
Shiva also touches on the topic of genetic engineering (GE) and discusses the threat it poses to biodiversity, food safety and human health.
The Afterword to the book alludes to the WTO protests in Seattle. Shiva believes this watershed event proves that people are becoming more aware of the dangers of unaccountable corporate power, yet she believes that positive change is possible. This opening of consciousness to new possibilities may be attributable to the extraordinary work of people like Vandana Shiva, whose intelligence and compassion is abundantly evident in this book. Highly recommended!