The first part of the book examines the Green Revolution in Asia. It begins with a dissection of the anticommunist project behind the Rockefeller Foundation's support of Norman Borlaug's research at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico and the subsequent work of the International Rice Research Institute of Los Banos in the Philippines. Subsequent chapters summarize the findings of the Asia volumes of the monumental Green Revolution project of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development as well as the research of specialists such as Richard Franke in Java and Rodolphe de Koninck in Malaysia and Sumatra.
The second part of the book contains two chapters, one on the (very limited) program of land reform in the Philippines and the second on agricultural credit "against the peasants." This chapter is my own favorite in the book, both because critical analysis of small-farmer credit programs is still relatively rare in the literature and because Feder makes several striking observations here. He brilliantly dissects the different reception accorded to rich farmers and to poor peasants when they approach a bank for operating credit as well as the different significance of institutional credit for large farmers (diversion to other investments and speculation) and small ones (consumption to keep the family alive until the next harvest). One example of his insight:
The lenders argue that lending to peasants is both more costly and more risky, implying that peasants are likely to default on their loans. Hence The various oor schemes "require" q large supervisory staff which increases the administrative cost of lending. Worldwide experience shows that small borrowers repay their loans as punctually as large borrowers, if not more so. It is not aht small cultivators' loan schemes are more costly. Higher administrative costs are incurred and created by the modern capitalist system worldwide to insure the peasants' dependency. They are costs manufactured by the system for political reasons to keep peasants subservient. (p. 141, emphasis in original)
Other sparkling observations follow. If official institutional credit is cheaper than that supplied by the official moneylender, this is not due to philanthropy: "Lowering rates was an absolute necessity in the wake of the capitalist (Green Revolution)-induced rise in cash costs of farming. Producers cannot afford both usurious interest rates and costly inputs, and survive." (p. 142) And Feder suggests that schemes to prevent peasant default by binding them into groups mutually responsible for the loans of each member have backfired on the lenders:
From the peasants' point of view, the group system, whose unique advantage lies with the lenders, it is a devilish invention as it increases their risks in direct proportion to the number of members. If another member defaults, the present borrower becomes ineligible for another loan.... Rather than cause solidarity for repayment, group credit generates solidarity for defaulting. (p. 147)
Remaining sections of the book deal with agribusiness, its strategies and its deleterious social effects on workers and contracting smallholders, and with the support given to agribusiness by international and national credit agencies. The final chapter, "On Rural Poverty and Unemployment," proposes that "poverty and hunger are functionally and uniquely related to employment, i.e., unemployment. They are ne single problem.... But the establishment treats poverty, hunger and related phenomena on one side, and employment on the other as practically distinct issues," distinction which is evidence of "a much more deep-seated unwillingness or inability of the agencies representing and fostering the expansion of monopoly capital worldwide to analyze adequately the functioning and performance of the capitalist system."