In This Review

Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept Out of Africa
Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept Out of Africa
By Robert Paarlberg
Harvard University Press, 2008, 256 pp

The persistent failure of African nations to modernize their agricultural sectors remains one of the key constraints on economic growth in the region. With one or two exceptions, productivity in African states has been stagnant for 30 years. In Asia, the "green revolution" helped spur a dramatic increase in farm output and productivity, largely through the development of new plant varieties, combined with significant increases in input use, but this revolution has never been extended to sub-Saharan Africa. In this sharply argued book, Paarlberg suggests that African farmers are the victims of an antiscience bias in both their governments and the international community. Examining the specific case of genetically engineered seeds designed to better resist insects and drought, Paarlberg argues that African governments have been convinced into putting all their efforts into ramping up a regulatory apparatus that is deadening for their food sector rather than investing in much-needed and entirely safe technologies. Such opposition to genetic engineering does not extend to, say, the development of new drugs -- in part, Paarlberg argues, because Western consumers derive no benefits from biotechnological advances in agriculture and so, primarily through nongovernmental organizations, inflict a frivolous "imperialism of rich tastes" on African farmers. Carefully argued and grounded in a rich understanding of African agriculture, this no doubt controversial book deserves to be widely read.