Book Review

Modern Hybrids: The Effects Could be Shattering
by John Sabella

Ever since the Green Revolution was launched in the late 1950s, the majority of agricultural development projects have operated on the assumption that in developing nations, increased crop yields are best obtained through the introduction of improved hybrid seeds. With Shattering: Food, Politics and the Loss of Genetic Diversity, Fowler and Mooney expose this myth by providing a chilling, yet remarkably well-researched account of the consequences of this failed agrarian policy. The book is a wake-up call to "the devastating time bomb that is ticking away in the fields of farmers all over the world." As Fowler and Mooney point out, "by reducing the diversity of life, we narrow our options for the future and render our own survival more precarious."

Shattering traces the origins of agriculture to illustrate how our ancestors developed enormous genetic diversity within wild plants domesticated over 10,000 years ago. These traditional varieties, referred to as landraces, have been handed down for generations, adapting to the demands of their particular growing conditions. Consequently, landraces contain genetic material that modern plant breeders use to develop resistance to insects and diseases that plague world food crops. According to the authors, this wealth of genetic plant variation, usually in the developing world, is threatened by the introduction of improved hybrids which have replaced traditional crop varieties in much of the world. According to Fowler and Mooney, "in the absence of effective programs to collect and preserve the old varieties when new types are introduced, extinction is the inevitable result." The future of agriculture and crop survival depends not on genetically uniform hybrids, but on the wild species and landraces grown by subsistence farmers throughout the Third World. "without these traditional varieties, there would be no agriculture," predict the authors.

Shattering is an important and enlightening book which provides a powerful voice to those concerned about the uncertainties of biotechnology and the loss of genetic diversity within global food supplies.

C. Fowler and P. Mooney. 1990. Shattering: Food, Politics and the Loss of Genetic Diversity. The University of Arizona Press.