By Dr B K Mukhopadhyay
In today’s world a stronger performing agricultural sector is fundamental for developing economies’ overall economic growth and as such constantly growing agricultural sector is crucial for addressing hunger, poverty and inequality.
Agriculture 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 manufacturing value-added in most African countries.
He was Dr. Norman Borlaugh, a Noble Peace laureate, called the father of the “green revolution,” who opined that the world would have to increase food production 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.”
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.
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.
Especially, the African situation as a whole requires immediate pep up. Current trends in food security and poverty indicators by region clearly emphasize the urgency for African countries. The numbers 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.
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.
The emerging fact is, 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, by emphasizing the production of basic goods and services and by generating income to meet basic needs; protecting the environment, by conserving and rehabilitating watersheds, arresting land degradation and desertification and conserving biological diversity.
Time is ripe for adopting practical 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 ebling 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; (iii) improving the efficiency of the informal sector by providing legal, institutiol and other support mechanisms.
Specific attention must be paid to improving strategic planning capacities at the tiol and sub-regiol level, as rightly pointed out by the FAO. The aim is to promote and encourage actions to improve agriculture’s contributions to economic growth and hunger reduction. Countries should share information, experiences and effective policies to help each other. Yes, the destruction of forest land for other economic purposes occurred in many ASEAN countries. The forest coverage in ASEAN tions is around 48 per cent, which is 19 per cent higher than in the rest of Asia. Laos has the highest coverage with 67 per cent - and Singapore the lowest with three per cent. Viet m ranked seventh with 42 per cent. Viet m signed a co-operation agreement with Cambodia and Laos on trans-border forestry protection and illegal logging prevention.
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 intertiol tensions competing for resources. The “Green Revolution” of Norman Borlaugh’s day only served to delay the growing crisis.’
Dr Mukhopadhyay, a noted Magement Economist and an Intertiol Commentator on Business and Economic Affairs, can be located at email@example.com