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Bolstering the farm sector: How not to waste resources

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  3 Nov 2015 12:00 AM GMT

Dr B K Mukhopadhyay


A griculture continues to play a domint role globally and the importance has been jacking up over time owing to a number of reasons. Agriculture rules the economies of most developing economies, providing jobs, income and exports. For example: in Africa some 60 per cent of employment and 20 per cent of the continent’s export earnings are emating from agricultural activities. Agricultural inputs account for two-thirds of value added manufacturing in most African countries.

Dr. Norman Borlaugh, a Noble Peace laureate, called the father of the “green revolution,” opined that the world would have to increase food production by 50 percent 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”. Simultaneously he also opined: “That (doubling) will never happen. That will be impossible”. The world scientist noted that 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 (100,000,000) people each year, a billion per decade.” “That is the population monster….That’s the problem you young people are going to be wrestling with throughout your careers.”

Especially, in today’s world a stronger performing agricultural sector is fundamental for such economies’ overall economic growth and as such constantly growing agricultural sector is crucial for addressing hunger, poverty and inequality.

Clearly, a healthy agriculture sector means more jobs, more income and more food for the poor in as much as improving agricultural performance generates income in rural, semi-urban, urban and metropolitan regions. Rising income ebles households save / spend more, stimulating growth and investment in other sectors and at the same time addressing hunger and poverty.

Has it not been a fact that this sector generates tax revenues and supplies a wide range of raw materials to agriculturally-based manufacturers? Obvious enough, the contribution has been tremendous. But is it the time for becoming complacent? Though significant changes are being witnessed in India, Chi, Bangladesh or Israel, among others, yet so far as the developing world as a whole is concerned the situation as of now cannot be termed as satisfactory.

Let us review the latest goings – good or bad - taking the examples from some of developing economies.

In Myanmar, for example, falling farm yields is a concern for other industries. Rice production had declined. 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. Falls in paddy farming and available stocks of oilseed was sure to place additiol pressure on the livestock and fisheries industries, while on the other hand, consumer spending power was low and people could not afford to pay high commodity prices as a result of which producers were uble to raise their prices.

This 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 agricultural production impacts the sector. Waste products made during oil milling are also important ingredients in animal feed.

Apart from this, their worries come from exterl sector as well - local mills cannot get enough raw groundnut (or peanut) because traders were exporting the product to Chi. Large amount of beans and pulses are exported to Chi, which in turn, reduce the amount of edible oil produced domestically. Though the price of fertilizer had declined, yet farmers were not motivated de facto to farm because of uncertain profit, adverse weather conditions coupled with idequate inputs availability.

Not only in Myanmar, but in Vietm also fishermen’s incomes have fallen due to higher production costs in spite of existence of advantages like: favourable weather and new and repaired fishing boats and fishermen netting more fish offshore of central provinces. Incomes fell due to higher production costs, mostly due to fuel costs.

Side by side, it is heartening to note that in developing economies like Vietm, Bangladesh, India allied agri activities are being pepped up. In Vietm a good number of farmers in Da Lat [city of flowers], 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 province now has a total of 3,800ha dedicated to hi-tech cultivation of flowers, according to the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Indeed - the application of hi-tech farming had been a breakthrough in agricultural production, bringing about far-reaching changes in rural areas as well as the lives of farmers in Lam Dong. The application of advanced technology resulted in higher productivity and value than traditiol cultivation. With hi-tech floriculture, farmers grow flowers in greenhouses with automatic irrigation systems. Hi-tech farming brought in recent years, an average annual revenues of between VND800 million (US$38,000) and VND 1billion ($47,600) per ha, 1.6 times the earnings from traditiol cultivation. Previously, a few companies and households were the only ones applying hi-tech floriculture in Lam Dong, but this number has increased exponentially in the last seven to eight years. It is pertinent to note that Lam Dong flowers are exported not only to neighbouring countries and territories but also to the EU and North America.

The African situation as a whole requires immediate pep up. Current trends in food security and poverty indicators clearly emphasize the urgency for African countries. The number of people living on less than $1 per day is expected to go up by 45 million in Africa between 1999 and 2015.

In the other developing regions, hopefully the poverty numbers are expected to decrease by 330 million. Expectations are similar for the numbers of undernourished - with 6 million more in sub-Saharan Africa and a substantial decrease in undernourished Asia and Latin American region. The regiol average food consumption level in Africa is expected to increase only by 7 percent in the next 15 years to 2360 kcal/person/day compared with 2700 for South Asia, 2980 for Latin America and 3060 for East Asia.

So, the condition cannot be said to be smooth going, rather challenges are getting heavier over the passage of time if we take an aggregate view on this score. Improved agricultural growth is essential if Africa is to adequately address poverty and hunger.

This agricultural growth in Africa requires an increase in agricultural productivity, coupled with a much more dymic trade sector and adequate incentives to switch to higher value crops, to raise profitability and to improve incomes of those involved — both directly as land owners and agricultural workers and indirectly as input suppliers, marketers, processors, retailers and exporters. There is no easy way to counter the challenges looming large!

Hopefully, the organic farming sector has been gaining ground. In Sri Lanka much of the agricultural 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 - accumulated knowledge on the benefits of organic farming, as well as increasing demand for export of organically-grown products playing the role. However, these units, scattered in the wet zone, are considered negligible in the agricultural sector, in as much as productivity is somewhat less than the traditiol farming units which use agricultural chemicals.

(To be continued)

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