Dr B K Mukhopadhyay
Little doubt that the world as a whole has been making progress towards improved food security and nutrition. This is clear from the substantial increases in per capita food supplies achieved globally and for a large proportion of the population of the developing world. But, the FAO 1995 study still stands - warned progress has been slow and uneven. Indeed, many countries and population groups failed to make significant progress and some of them even suffered setbacks
The stern realty - humanity is still faced with the stark reality of chronic undernourishment affecting over 800 million people: 17 percent of the population of the developing countries, as many as 34 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and still more in some individual countries. 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.
We are not yet out of the woods 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.
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.
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.
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.
But, 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.
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.’
FAO’s observations are very pertinent: agricultural trade will play a larger role in securing the food needs of developing countries as well as being a source of foreign exchange. Net cereal imports by developing countries will almost triple over the next 30 years while net meat imports might even increase by a factor of almost five. For other products such as sugar, coffee, fruit and vegetables the study foresees further export potential. How much of this export potential will materialize depends on many factors, not least on how much progress will be made during the ongoing round of multilateral trade negotiations. Developing countries’ farmers could gain a lot from lower trade barriers in all areas, not only in agriculture. In many resource-rich but otherwise poor countries, a more export-oriented agriculture could provide an effective means to fight rural poverty and thus become a catalyst for overall growth. But the study also points at potentially large hardships for resource-poor countries, which may face higher prices for large import volumes without much capacity to step up production.
Yes, development of local food production in the low-income countries with high dependence on agriculture for employment and income is the one factor that domites all others in determining progress or failure in improving the food security of these countries.
(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)