Is history any use in helping us understand what to do to help poor and peasant farmers? The answer is a resounding yes according to Jonathan Harwood. He’s just published a fascinating book called Europe’s Green Revolution and Others Since – the rise and fall of peasant-friendly plant breeding,*
He reviews the experience in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, contrasting the larger, commercial farmer-focused breeding in N Germany with the peasant-friendly breeding in S Germany that led to Europe’s Green Revolution, decades before the more familiar one which is the subject of the second part of the book.
He looks at the lessons from that, sees if any were learnt subsequently and compares and contrasts post Second World War Green Revolution with the historical. Learning some lessons is especially important given talk of a second Green Revolution today. Yet the evidence of history suggests lessons will not learned. Too often it is a case of re-inventing wheels and repeating past mistakes.
For him, now emeritus professor of the history of science and technology at the University of Manchester, “What the past offers is not a recipe but a list of issues to watch out for, a wider range of options from which to choose, a set of tools for thinking.”
One of the main conclusions he draws, “is that state funded research and development not only can be successful but is probably essential”. It is a great shame the publishers have priced it so high and not produced it in paperback at a price that would mean it would be much more widely read.
* Routledge, Abingdon, 2012, £90, hardback
ISBN: 978-0-415-59868-7; e-book ISBN: 978-0-203-11804-7