Thursday, May 10, 2012
I've been reading The Death of Grass by John Christopher, which a friend lent/gave me recently. But this is not a book review: just some thoughts about the book.
The Death of Grass, a short, apocalyptic novel from the 1950s, posits a dystopian future in which nation states have pressed their farmers to change to an almost worldwide growth crop of 'grass'. The 'grass' in the UK is mainly wheat. The 'grass' in China is, of course, rice. Other countries grow their own national 'grass'.
Monoculture is always a risky undertaking, and so it proves in this novel. When a deadly virus attacks the rice crops in China, and the scientists who had been expected to be able to overcome the problem, gradually find it beyond them, widespread famine/starvation/death results, and once-fertile ground becomes barren. Nearby countries find, courtesy of the wind and other dispersal agents, that their grassy crops become infected too. Eventually the wheat in Britain, where the story is set, becomes contaminated. There is too little other food to feed a nation and everyone has to try to survive as best they can, and by whatever means, abandoning as they must, moralities they previously followed.
This book was remarkably prescient. The threat of agrarian monoculture in this century is here already in parts of the world. I read only today in The Ecologist, of the threat to Paraguay's small farmers, "suffering social and environmental ills from the country's meteoric rise in soya farming." I urge you too to read the article and learn how today, in reality and not in fiction, the ruthless agrochemical GM/biotech industry is wreaking havoc on real farmers and on the environment. And I hope that if you do not already oppose the genetic engineering of crops, that you will consider doing so. Everyone's fate may depend on curbing the malign power of Monsanto and the rest of the biotech industry.