In today’s world, a stronger and performing agriculture sector is fundamental for a developing economy’s overall economic growth, and, as such, a constantly growing agricultural sector is crucial for addressing hunger, poverty and inequality
Dr Norman Borlaugh, a Noble Peace laureate, called the father of the “green revolution”, has opined that the world will have to increase food production by 50 per cent in 30 years just to feed the world at today’s substandard level and double it to provide everyone with the quality and abundance of food enjoyed in America. But, simultaneously, he has also opined: “That (doubling) will never happen. That will be impossible”. He has noted that the world population stood at 1.6 billion people when he was born in 1914. In 1995 it stood at 5.7 billion. Borlaugh says, “We are adding 100 million people each year, a billion per decade... That is the population monster….That is the problem you young people are going to be wrestling with throughout your careers.”
Agriculture continues to play a dominant role globally, and the importance has been growing over time owing to a number of reasons. Agriculture rules the economies of most developing economies, providing jobs, income and exports.
In today’s world, a stronger and performing agriculture sector is fundamental for a developing economy’s overall economic growth, and, as such, a constantly growing agricultural sector is crucial for addressing hunger, poverty and inequality. A healthy agriculture sector means more jobs, more income and more food for the poor; improving agricultural performance generates income in rural, semi-urban, urban and metropolitan regions.
Though significant changes are being witnessed in countries like India, China and Bangladesh, yet so far as the developing world as a whole is concerned, the situation cannot be termed as satisfactory.
In Myanmar, falling farm yields are a concern for other industries. Rice production has declined by about 160 million tonnes from last year, including 127 million tonnes of monsoon paddy and 31 million tonnes of summer paddy. This year’s reduced production was partly the result of a delayed monsoon. As a result, 390,000 acres of paddy have been planted this year, compared to 580,000 acres last year. The fact is that agricultural production rates have been falling for the past four years; a key reason for the decline is that farmers have not generated sufficient profits from previous harvests to invest in the following year.
The declining agricultural production trend has key players in the fisheries industry worried. Lowered production of bran is a great difficulty for the livestock and fisheries industries because at least half of bran emerges from paddy. The fisheries industry relies on such commodities (being a key ingredient in fish feed), and, as such, any slowdown in the agricultural production affects the sector.
Not only in Myanmar, but in Vietnam also, fishermen’s incomes have fallen due to higher production costs in spite of the existence of advantages like favourable weather, new and repaired fishing boats, and fishermen netting more fish offshore of central provinces.
At the same time, it is heartening to note that in developing economies like Vietnam, Bangladesh and India, allied agricultural activities are being pepped up. In Vietnam, a good number of farmers in Da Lat have switched to hi-tech floriculture in recent years, heralding a transformation of the agriculture sector in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong. The application of hi-tech farming has been a breakthrough in agricultural production, bringing about far-reaching changes in rural areas as well as in the lives of farmers in Lam Dong.
Mercifully, the organic farming sector has been gaining ground. In Sri Lanka, much of the agriculture sector has become dependent on agricultural chemicals. It has been a fact that fertilizers, pesticides and growth regulators are widely used because of the increasing demand for food quantity, rather than quality, from a limited land area. The silver lining is that in the recent past, interested individuals have developed organic farming units, accumulating knowledge on the benefits of organic farming, as well as increasing demand for export of organically grown products. Therefore, fundamental changes in priorities and strategies are needed over the next two decades if current trends are to be reversed, especially with a view to alleviating poverty in the developing world.
Time is ripe for adopting practical and realistic strategies that could ensure food, water and energy security. This involves (i) empowering key actors and enhancing positive action by assigning top priority to the public sector and enabling it to play a leading role in creating conditions for all stakeholders to function effectively; (ii) supporting the development of an effective and transparent market mechanism; and (iii) improving the efficiency of the informal sector by providing legal, institutional and other support mechanisms.
Countries should share information, experiences and effective policies to help each other. It is good that Philippines is now coming to terms with Vietnam regarding the massive construction of hydro-power plants and cocoa farms on former forest land.
It has rightly been opined that ‘‘today’s agricultural situation is plainly one of squandered resources’’. Even America, often called the “land of plenty” and “breadbasket of the world,” is now a major food importer besieged with soil erosion, unpredictable weather patterns, inflated prices and farm bankruptcies in a world of food shortages and international tensions competing for resources. The “green revolution” of Dr Norman Borlaugh’s day only served to delay the growing crisis.
Again, Borlaugh had warned: ‘‘US citizens cannot isolate themselves from the world and maintain their standard of living while people elsewhere are malnourished. We will not be immune to the social chaos caused by hunger and poverty… For those of us on the food production front, let us all remember that world peace will not — and cannot — be built on empty stomachs… Without food in the stomach, there is instability and chaos.’’
Let us keep our fingers crossed, waiting for rosy days!
Dr BK Mukhopadhyay
(The writer is a noted economist and can be reached at email@example.com)