Dr B K Mukhopadhyay
Where is the journey towards feeding the world population at a reasoble price? The overall situation on the food front has been - in the recent past especially – remain far from being satisfactory with food prices ruling high all over the globe. Food prices are going up on a continuous basis – demonstrations as well as social unrests have badly affected a number of capital cities. Time is ripe for dealing firmly with the agricultural disarray.
Clearly, if the current trends are of any indication, the food and agricultural policy system itself is in disarray. The symptoms of such a disarray are not difficult to locate – incoherent / idequate response to exploding food prices; slowdown in agricultural productivity growth; water problems; a disorderly response to continuously disturbing energy prices; rapid concentration in multitiol agri-business corporations without adequate institutiol innovation aiming at properly guiding them; lack of progress in addressing scarcity; widespread nutritiol problems [ hunger / obesity / chronic diseases ] plus agriculture related health hazards [ avian influenza, etc ] and adverse impacts on climatic fluctuations.
Underinvestment in areas related to food, nutrition / agriculture [research / infrastructure / rural institutions] invite spill over effect / global impacts, among others. It is high time that sincere collaborative programmes are resumed among the countries in order to adequately address opportunities and challenges.
Clear questioning - are we not the victim of our own negligence? We are still counted to be largest reservoir of poverty in the world,! Neglecting agriculture results in heavy immediate and future loss. The huge upcoming population in the workable category, in turn, is one of the rare assets that could give rich dividends exactly by the same route as Chi gained in the previous years.
The ongoing situation calls for giving a big push to farm investment especially keeping in view the plight of the entire developing tions. Though 60 percent of South Asian countries are still dependent on this sector, yet the growth rate of this sector in particular leaves much to be desired. In the entire developing block this is the reality emating mainly from idequate investment, rural infrastructure, research and development and idequate diversification to high value crops. Side by side : non-availability of quality and cost effective inputs, low efficiency of inputs use and fast deteriorating soil health and water resources remain as the critical concerns. Agriculture requires a big push and so as to realise the much coveted high growth rate vis-à-vis food security.
We are really entering into a difficult stage globally and tiolly in agriculture. In Sri Lanka 32 percent of country’s food requirements is met simply by imports for which the annual expenditure is around 100 billion Sri Lankan rupees. Dwindling food stocks and rising prices reflect the reality – the very concern, which, in turn, must be given top priority. Tackling the threat of climate change and reducing yield gap are the crying needs, among others.
Side by side, in many of the current alyses it is being pointed out that Thailand, for example, becomes one of the gainers out of these upward trends in food prices as this country produces surplus food grains. But what is the gain emerging from this trend so far as the farmers are concerned - their plight remain more or less same and it is the middlemen chain who are gaining most of the prices that is obtained.
No denial obvious enough - so far fast emerging economies like India are concerned the fact remains that the ongoing trend is steadily moving in terms of registering quicker growth in agricultural productivity. Good going - growth and modern farm practices and inclusive technologies are being implemented in order to foster the rural growth process. It is also a fact that cellular technologies, wireless communication networks as well as GIS based agro-software technologies are reaching rural India to dissemite vital information and updates on weather, farming technologies, fertilisers, livestock, commodity prices as well as stock markets.
Still, can we deny the stern realities? A huge number of villages do not still have access to advanced farming technologies and interactive communication networks, not to speak of the pace of rural electrification and clean drinking water availability Is it not the appropriate time to broaden the sight and look at vital aspects – re-identifying policy dimensions and initiatives; capacity building through PPP, individual initiatives and joint ventures; boosting agri-business and agri-marketing; GIS mapping and harvesting trends; mitigating climatic change hazards; precision farming – optimum utilization of resources; leaning heavily on most modern agri-practises; micro-fince and micro credit and attaching top importance to food security?
The real challenge that come in the way of making agriculture an instrument of development stay outside agriculture – maging the political risks (political economy of agricultural policies and simultaneously strengthening governce for implementation of these policies). The crucial need is there to share the ideas, experience and expertise, setting up of a common seed bank, joint research centre, surveillance and early warning system between the tions. Investment and regiol cooperation in research and development must be at the top of regiol meets be it north or south. Building up partnership with the scientists and research bodies have now become more essential than ever before. Rapid technological innovention [innovation plus invention] calling!!
Needless to say here that the responsibilities are to be shouldered not only by banks, but also Government Departments; NGOs, Commodity Exchanges; agri-marketing and State Marketing Boards and of course the Extension Departments of various States. Time is ripe for a more well-knitted coordited actions so as to : initiate inter-sectoral-linkages; progressive decision making, information sharing and performance improvement; capacity building; creating more opportunities for partnership building, development reorganization and capacity enhancement for the rural stakeholders.
More delay means more damage – no planning is better than wrong planning. Time is here when this myopic tendency is done away with. A non-traditiol approach will also be experienced if the ongoing process is supplemented steadily. Fast creation of self-help-groups does mean a little if not corrective / supportive measures are not taken to resist the same from breaking down. What is the failure rate is seldom looked into so far as the root causes are concerned! It is better to remember that under a comprehensive environment two and two not always make four. Expected loss call for making provision along with keeping the wolf at bay (read unexpected loss). Potato cultivation is better finced when food-processing activities extend friendly hands!
FAO clearly opined – ‘The rate of growth in world demand for agricultural products has slowed, because population growth has declined and fairly high levels of food consumption have been reached in many countries. Growth in demand will slow still further in the future. The world as a whole has the production potential to cope with demand. However, developing countries will become more dependent on agricultural imports, and food security in many poor areas will not improve without substantial increases in local production.’
It is better not forgotten that the under-privileged section is bearing the brunt of climate impact as they are neither equipped enough to prefigure meteorological changes nor do they have the capacity to mitigate the impact caused by climatic hazards and no specific early warning system to forecast tural disasters [ earthquake in Chi, floods in Rajasthan, etc ].
As the estimates stand now : farmers would in fact require 25 percent more water by 2025 as compared to today’s level for producing food grains to feed domestic population! The water availability for agricultural purposes would go down by 10 to 12 percent of what is available now if remedial measures are not taken at the earliest. Rightly, the Bangkok Conference referred to boosting renewable energy, combating wide-scale deforestation and improving the drives for energy efficiency so that the very issue of climate change could be tackled to the extent practicable.
Whatever is: the entire position offers big challenges and the escape route is global cooperation in the agri-field – biggies or minnows have to join hands together for brighter days!!
(The Writer, a noted Magement Economist, an Intertiol Commentator on Business and Economic Affairs and Principal, Eminent College of Magement and Technology, Kolkata, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)