Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Robert Paarlberg's "Starved for Science"

Robert Paarlberg is the Betty Freyhof Johnson Professor of Political Science at Wellesley College.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept Out of Africa, and reported the following:
Page 99 is halfway through my new book, and helps build the central argument, which is that poor farmers in Africa are getting bad advice today from prosperous countries in Europe and North America. Africans are being told by activist organizations from Europe such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth that they should not trust modern agricultural science, and should rely instead on their own traditional crop varieties and techniques. Too bad, since without modern agricultural science farmers in Africa today have crop yields only one tenth as high as in Europe, earn on average only one dollar a day, and one third are malnourished.

Food production in Africa has fallen ominously behind population growth. Total farm production per capita is nearly 20 percent lower today than it was 35 years ago. As a consequence Africa must depend more and more on imported food aid. Yet, as page 99 of my book argues, rich countries have mostly stopped providing assistance for agricultural modernization in Africa. As late as 1980 the U.S. Agency for International Development was still devoting 25 percent of its development assistance to agriculture, but last year it was just 1 percent. It is understandable if overfed Americans and overfed Europeans come to the conclusion that they don’t need any more agricultural science for themselves at home, but this is an attitude they should not be exporting to underfed Africa.

At other places in the book I address directly the controversial matter of genetically engineered agricultural crops, known as GMOs, but page 99 is part of a larger argument, that even non-GMO agricultural science has recently been kept out of Africa.
Read an excerpt from Starved for Science, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

Visit Robert Paarlberg's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue