The Food Wars, by Walden Bello

Food Production and Distribution: A Way Forward

Book Review by Martine Shareck

“The analysis of the food crisis, the spread of capitalist industrialist agriculture, and the plight and resistance fo the peasantry, are the central concerns of this book.”

In this short and very accessible book, Bello argues that peasant and small-farmer based agriculture serving local and regional markets show great potential for the re-organization of food production in an equitable and sustainable manner. The author starts by recounting the history of agriculture as it developed from being a small scale, peasant-based enterprise to one that is led by the capitalist industrial sector. He suggests that this hegemony of corporate industrial agriculture has led to the global food crisis experienced in the past years. This is in opposition to some of the reasons given by academics to explain the food crisis : failure of developing countries to develop their agricultural sectors, dietary changes among China and India’s booming middle classes, speculation, climate change and the diversion of food crops into agrofuel production. Bello then presents four case studies from Mexico, the Philippines, parts of Africa and China to illustrate how the 1980s’ massive agricultural reorientation through structural adjustment programs, free trade and global policies were central to the recent food crisis. He then devotes one chapter to agrofuels. He first explains agrofuels are not an environmentally-sound nor equitable alternative to fossil fuels, then redresses the picture painted by most academics according to whom agrofuel production caused, on their own, rather than aggravated, the current food crisis. In the last chapter “Resistance and the Road to the Future”, Bello expands on the ideas that peasant agriculture and food sovereignty provide a framework, as well as a set of values and principles for alternative means of agriculture production, which are efficient, sustainable and equitable.

The Food Wars elegantly puts food production into perspective and makes comprehensible the very complex relations between politics, economics, food production and distribution, as well as their social and health outcomes in a globalized world. Bello is a convinced scholar and advocate, but by always relying on empirical evidence to support his arguments, he establishes a very convincing and inspiring thesis. This book will be appreciated by individuals with a background in politics and economics as much as by those outside these fields who will find it easy to understand the notions presented, thanks to Bello’s talent in synthesizing and vulgarizing complex concepts, programs and their consequences.

For more information on Walden Bello and his other publications, visit his website :

Review published: October 2010

To read more about this book review’s author, visit her Bio.

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