Food Solutions


Food for the Future, by Keith C. Campbell, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979, 178 pp., $12.50.

Periodically, pessimists following the Malthusian tradition have prophesied peril to the world's food supply. A recent wave of such theorists was spurred on by widespread crop failures in between 1972 and 1974 to reassert that a food crisis is imminent. Responding to these "Jeremiahs and doomsday" men in Food for the Future, Keith Campbell questions whether a crisis is, indeed, likely.

The book is unabashedly optimistic. If there is a food problem, Campbell contends that it does not derive from any hopeless "niggardliness of nature" nor from the likelihood of perpetual rapid population growth. He reaches his conclusion through a balanced assessment of population and production trends and resource availability.

Campbell does not, however, dismiss the food problem as a chimera. Resource and production constraints do exist, not because of technical shortcomings, but because government policies have engendered them. With a sensitivity to economic incentives rare in analyses of agricultural problems, he attacks subsidies, price ceilings, quotas, mandatory purchase schemes, interest ceilings, and protectionism as culprits in the current constraints on food production.

While Campbell's assessment of the food problem is insightful, his proposals for remedying the situation are not. Like so many academics, he makes a plea for more research and development. And who shall provide the funds? The government, of course. Campbell admits that R&D is not alone sufficient. Government policies must be revised to permit market incentives to operate—but not without some price stabilization schemes, infrastructure development, and provision of credit facilities.

Such proposals seem incongruous given the vigorous attack on government policies outlined earlier. Why is it likely that new "positive" price stabilization or credit schemes should be better designed or less subject to the vagaries of interest-group pressures than previous policies? The book, with all its merits as a device for analyzing the nature of the food problem, fails to provide any imaginative or plausible solutions.

Lynn Scarlett, a doctoral candidate at the University of California at Santa Barbara, is studying political science and economics.