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Hungry for Change: Farmers, Food Justice and the Agrarian Question

by A. Haroon Akram-Lodhi

In his new book, Trent University professor A. Haroon Akram-Lodhi looks at systemic failings in the area of food production that have created a worldwide food crisis. The problems include small-scale farmers unable to earn a livelihood; chronic obesity in some parts of the world and starvation in others; rising food prices; and growing urban slums composed of displaced farm workers.

In addition to elucidating the problems, Akram-Lodhi promises to provide practical solutions. If he were able to deliver on this promise, his book would be indispensible. Unfortunately, he offers little more than muddled logic and Marxian post-colonial dogma. His bold proclamations are lost in a wash of lengthy histories of agrarian policy and moderately interesting stories of people affected by the food industry.

The author’s histories of land reform and agricultural innovation do not, as he at first suggests, provide evidence of capitalistic greed run amok, but rather highlight political and technological initiatives implemented to address existing challenges. The links between food-production systems and individuals are arbitrary and unconvincing. In one case, the owner of a large family farm in the U.S. is presented as victim, and the culprits are the agricultural reforms that resulted in the very high-yield farming that made food affordable and plentiful, and that included subsidies and tariffs specifically designed to help farmers.

Despite an extensive overview of government intervention in the area of agriculture, the author somehow concludes that capitalism is the problem. The way to overcome the food crisis, the author argues, is for government to expropriate land without compensation and give it to those who cannot manage it as efficiently. In what must have struck him as the height of lucidity, Akram-Lodhi writes, “It is not the unsuccessful that should be encouraged to leave farming; it is the successful.”