Book review: The Coming Famine

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 14th September 2010

Author, journalist and science writer Julian Cribb has created a sobering text in The Coming Famine: The global food crisis and what we can do to avoid it, from CSIRO Publishing.

The Coming FamineCribb’s view of the global food crisis paints a frightening picture: demand for food slowly outstripping supply, food production and urbanisation draining the world’s fresh water resources, food products siphoned for biofuel, developing markets with a taste for more exotic, protein-rich and plentiful dinner fare, rising populations worldwide, climate instability and the role of food in economic markets all coming together. The result: water shortages, overfishing, land shortages, soil nutrient losses, unreliable harvests and, almost certainly, a worldwide food crisis.

“Despite the global food crisis of 2007-08, the coming famine hasn’t happened yet. It is a looming planetary emergency whose interlocked causes and deeper ramifications the world has barely begun to absorb, let alone come to grips with. Experts predict the crisis will peak by the middle of the twenty-first century; it is arriving even faster than climate change. Yet there is still time to forestall catastrophe,” says Cribb in his introduction.

Not just peak oil, but peak land, and even peak people, have and will continue create vast pressures on the food chain, with humanity running through every available resource – nutrients, fish stocks, arable land, usable water, fertilisers – without regard for the future.

Despite the bleak picture he paints, Cribb believes that human resourcefulness is more than a match for this particular problem, and sets out in each chapter his suggestions for beginning to fix each problem on a global scale, a farming scale and on a personal level.

Increased R&D for food security and efficient growing techniques, as well as good farming techniques, water management, reduced waste and sensible government could all make a difference, according to Cribb.

This book is a smooth and engaging read, equally of interest to the food manufacturing industry, agriculture, politicians and the concerned citizen.

Julian Cribb is an Adjunct Professor in Science Communication at the University of Technology Sydney, principal of science communication firm Julian Cribb & Associates, and a fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.

The Coming Famine is available from CSIRO Publishing and good bookstores at a RRP of $29.95.