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The Global Food Economy: The Battle for the Future of Farming

The Global Food Economy Book Cover

The global food economy is characterized by immense contradictions. Surplus ‘food mountains’, bountiful supermarkets, and rising levels of obesity stand in stark contrast to persistently high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition. Aggressive export competition is dominated by transnational corporations and a small number of very large-scale, industrialized farmers, who are the chief beneficiaries of the developed world’s agro-subsidies, while many of the poorest developing countries have been compelled to open their markets and have become increasingly dependent upon food imports amidst sizable trade deficits. Though agriculture still constitutes the primary livelihood for two-fifths of humanity, global market integration is making small farming less viable across much of the world. The social implications of this trajectory are especially acute in developing countries, where the vast majority of the world’s farming population resides. The uneven bounty of the global food economy also rests upon destructive environmental foundations, such as large food miles, mounting toxicity, and the expansive ‘ecological hoofprint’ associated with cycling ever more grain production through livestock.

The context for understanding contemporary agrarian change everywhere has inescapably widening dimensions, as agriculture is being systematically disarticulated from ecosystems, communities and even the authority of nation states. The Global Food Economy sets out to examine the human and ecological costs behind what we eat, how the system came to be, and how it is being locked in by the WTO which compels liberalization, largely sanctions the polarizing agro-subsidies of the developed world and principally secures the rights of transnational corporations. It concludes by considering ways of building more socially just, ecologically rational and humane food economies.


‘I hadn’t imagined that a small book could do justice to so large a topic before I read Tony Weis on the global food economy – it’s necessary and terrific: intellectually rigorous and informative, full of insight and provocation.’
–Henry Bernstein, SOAS
‘This is the book I have been waiting for. Tony Weis gives an ecological foundation to analysis of food regimes, something that many of us having been attempting in less capable ways for some time…The Global Food Economy, far from compromising the political economy of food and agriculture, provides a strong foundation in the material relations between social and natural systems. The book is an essential contribution to understanding the origins and implications of industrial agriculture in both North and South…Weis gives a comprehensive account of world agriculture, showing its links to social relations of production, landholding and consumption as they have emerged from distinct periods of colonialism, break-up of empires and the rise of capitalist agrofood corporations.’
–Harriet Friedmann, in the Journal of Agrarian Change, 2008, 8(4), pp. 613-23
‘A sweeping overview of the contradictions and crises in the global food economy.’
–Geoff Tansey, in Food Ethics
‘At last, here is a book that draws together the differing historical-geographical trajectories that today invite discussion of a specifically global agricultural dilemma, and what might be done about it…this is an uncommonly synthetic and focused book.’
–Daniel Niles, in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 2009, 99(3), pp. 639-40
‘Tony Weis…presents a highly informative narrative…[and] provides abundant fact-based arguments to confidently engage in political dialogue on the driving forces of a food system seemingly in perpetual crisis…Debate on tomorrow’s food system that is organized as a fundamental departure from the uncertainties inherent in the food economy of today, is best to be based on a firm critical analysis and factual footing. With his important book on this vital topic, Tony Weis has provided nothing less than a solid departure point for such debate.’
–Glenn Brigaldino, in the Review of African Political Economy, 2008, pp. 689-90
‘Finally, a book summarizing the current state of agricultural policies that my mother could read, and that can stand up to a critical eye…In this effort, Weis succeeds with flying colours, synthesizing classics and leading the reader through a complex history with solid data and diverse on-the-ground references…Weis has provided a necessary introduction and much needed inspiration to get involved with such a complex topic, whether at the dinner table or the international level.’
–K.R. Avilés-Vásquez, in Development and Change, 2009, pp. 403-4
‘Students new to the political economy/ecology of food and agriculture…sometimes struggle to place the various components of the global agrifood system into a coherent conceptual framework. This book will be a useful tool for such students, as it outlines both the causes and impacts of accelerating structural changes around the globe in one accessible narrative.’
–P.H. Howard, in Agriculture and Human Values, 2008, 25: pp. 617-8
‘This is a powerful book…[and]  for its ability to incorporate so many components into its contained and up-to-date narrative, it is well worth reading by both scholars advanced along the road of global food and agricultural studies, and by those who reside in Weis’s state of original unconsciousness…
…Weis has made an impressive and valuable contribution to a burgeoning scholar-activist literature that seeks not just to show us the dangerous flaws and injustices of our contemporary models of food production, but also to indicate where we might go for practical and meaningful alternatives.’
–Josh Brem-Wilson, in Organization and Environment, 2009, pp. 260-2
‘The Global Food Economy…is a searing indictment of big agri-businesses destroying small farmers and the delicate ecosystems devastated by modern capital-intensive modes of production…The book is a sane and compassionate plea to re-order the global food economy to serve human needs and not the dictates of corporate agriculture…[and] should find a place in our bookshelf.’
–C.R. Sridhar, in Economic and Political Weekly (India), August 2, 2008, pp. 25-26
 ‘The Global Food Economy offers a patient and enthusiastic insight into a key aspect of international development and environmentalism.’
The Red Pepper, Oct/Nov, 2007, p. 63
‘Compact and readable, Tony Weis confronts head-on the forces that have brought about the paradoxes in the production and distribution of food around the world.’
The New Agriculturist, February, 2008
‘The Global Food Economy is a lively, detailed, very readable survey…Ranging from the rich world to the majority world, [this] book is a scathing indictment of the ‘problems and inequities of the world food system…Weis takes special care to argue that, while he’s depicting a complex and weighty system of powerful interests, there are no iron historical laws’
–Daniel Aldana Cohen, Canadian Dimension, November 2008


Preface – Different Worlds of Food and Farming – Aim and Outline of This Book

1. The Global Food Economy: Contradictions and Crises

2. The Temperate Grain-Livestock Complex

3. From Colonialism to Global Market Integration in the South

4. Entrenching an Uneven Playing Field: The Multilateral Regulation of Agriculture

5. The Battle for the Future of Farming