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Posted by Ramoo on May 18, 2011

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“FARMER LEADERS CALL FOR A REJECTION OF BT BRINJAL

Posted by Ramoo on October 22, 2009

New Delhi, October 21st 2009: Terming Bt Brinjal as a Trojan Horse of the biotech industry for the take-over of Indian farming, farmers’ unions across the country called for a rejection of this biotech brinjal and put out a call for the boycott of the agencies seeking to bring it in. This Bt Brinjal is the guise to enslave poor farmers of the country yet again, they said, and demanded that the Indian government stand by the side of ordinary people in this onslaught on our resources and livelihoods.

“This is a product that is both unneeded and undesirable. It is meant to increase the markets of the biotech companies and agencies, though pushed in the name of farmers. If the government truly wants to help farmers, there are scores of other sustainable and appropriate solutions that should be taken urgently to the last farmer in this country”, said Mr Yudhvir Singh, Convenor of the Coordination Committee of Indian Farmers’ Movements.

Mr Kodihalli Chandrasekhar, President, Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha( KRRS) pointed out that Monsanto is infamous for its anti-farmer activities the world over. “It is unacceptable that the government, especially Mr Sharad Pawar, the Agriculture Minister, should be putting his faith on this company and its profit-driven technologies even though Monsanto is notorious for jailing farmers and bribing officials elsewhere. The state agriculture universities should be ashamed of partnering with such agencies and for being involved in the ABSP II project, supported by American agencies for their interests. It is high time that these universities, paid by tax payers here, work for the benefit of farmers in India. If the government proceeds with its plans to introduce Bt Brinjal, mass direct actions will be initiated to stop it”.

“The case of Vidarbha and Bt Cotton is an unfortunate illustration about what lies in store for Indian farmers with biotech seeds. Also, look at the fact that with Bt Cotton cultivation, chemical fertilizer use is going up and agencies are recommending higher use too. When on the one hand, we are realizing the negative impacts of chemical fertilizer use, in an age of climate change and with fertilizer shortages abounding, is this the direction that farmers should be pushed towards? Is there a shortage of brinjal in the country and can we solve the food crisis in the country with GM brinjals? It is shocking to see the irrational arguments centred around food crisis for bringing in Bt Brinjal. ”, said Mr Vijay Jawandhia of Shetkari Sanghatan.

These farmer leaders put out a call to all Indian farmers and consumers to reject GM crops/foods and said that the rejection all over Europe and many other countries around the world came through an informed debate and rejection by farmers and consumers.

“There are reports about the Expert Committee’s and GEAC’s unscientific, biased and hasty functioning with regard to clearing this Bt Brinjal for commercial cultivation. It is also becoming clearer that the Expert Committee and GEAC are unreliable and untrustworthy as far as interests of ordinary citizens go. An overwhelming majority of Indians are expressing in numerous ways that they reject GM foods and the government has to heed to democratic voices. Look at Bt Cotton case also – it has been hyped up as a runaway success when the reality is something else on the ground. Many farmers have not been compensated to this day for the losses that they incurred with Bt Cotton”, said Mr Kannaiyan, Organising Secretary of Tamizhaga Vyavasayigal Sangham.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr G V Ramanjaneyulu, Executive Director of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture said, “There are numerous low-cost, safe and sustainable ecological practices available for farmers to control pest damage in a crop like brinjal. It includes intercropping with marigold, coriander etc.; using of pheromone traps for mass trapping of adult moths; mechanical clipping of infested shoots and so on. In such an approach, measures are taken to control egg-laying itself rather than use a poison to control the larva once it appears. In any method that uses a poison to target a population of pests, it is nature’s principle that they will be under selection pressure for building resistance, which they will do so sooner or later. We need farmers to be told about methods that are affordable, sustainable and safe and it is the responsibility of the government to do so than look at false, faulty solutions”.

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PRIVATISATION IS THE ENEMY OF SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE

Posted by Ramoo on September 4, 2009

Sep 3, 2009 — KZeese

By Vandana Shiva | IPS

The privatisation of the earth’s resources is a recipe for famine and desertification, violence against women, hunger, and, as happens in India, the suicide of farmers, writes Vandana Shiva, author and international campaigner for women and the environment.

In this analysis, Shiva writes that until recently water and biodiversity have been commons. Women have been the seed keepers and water keepers in communities. This is the system that privatisation is threatening.

Common access to seed is being destroyed by laws that make it illegal for farmers to manage seeds as a commons and grant the state the power to approve and license varieties and force farmers to seek state approval through “compulsory” registration laws. The result is the destruction of high-quality, reliable, open-pollinated varieties bred and developed by farmers.

Although the links between the growing problem of farmer suicides and their growing dependence on costly purchased external inputs are clear, the Indian government’s only response has been to offer more consumer credit to purchase more external inputs. Women are experts in internal input agriculture, an approach that works with the products of the land to create soil fertility and requires no external.

A permanent agriculture can only be based on the permanence of rights – the rights of the farmers, and the people, not private corporations.

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Non Stop Death Dance in Nizamabad

Posted by Ramoo on August 30, 2009

NIZAMABAD: Despite chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy asserting a few days ago that the government would ensure that no farmer would commit suicide due to crop failure or mounting debts, 15 ryots have committed suicide in Nizamabad district in the last 22 days alone. And in many of these instances, erratic power supply was stated as the reason for them taking the extreme step.
“Unable to come to terms with the drying up of standing crops, the farmers who sowed the crops by borrowing huge loans from private moneylenders are resorting to suicide,” farm expert Ch Krishnamurthy said. Though it rained for a couple of days in Nizamabad town, the prolonged dry spell has hit the district farmers badly. Nearly 30 out of 36 mandals have recorded deficit rainfall in the last two months, officials said.
The heavy rainfall the district has been receiving in the last few days has come as too late for many farmers. Pokala Sailoo, 45, of Mudhelli village in Gandhari mandal and Toorpu Gopal, 48, of Gandhari, were the latest who ended lives on Wednesday.
If clearing the mounting debts was hanging like a sword of Damocles, the farmers were also crippled by withered crops and erratic power supply. “Do I have any other option? It (suicide) is the only alternative for us to run away from the debts,” said Kalali Srihari Goud of Devunipalli village in Machareddy mandal. Holding back the tears, Goud said besides the paddy seedlings, his maize crop sown in one acre had dried up at the budding stage itself due to lack of rainfall.
Taking a dig at the government, Goud, who recently borrowed Rs 2 lakh to perform his daughter’s marriage and dig borewells, said: “Will the real YSR please come to our rescue?” And Goud is no small farmer — he owns five acres of agriculture land!
It was Nenawat Govind, 25, who set the alarm bells ringing by hanging himself on August 6 at Piskalgutta thanda in Gandhari unable to clear the Rs 2 lakh debt. Debt-ridden Poshatti of Nagepur in Navipet mandal and Bhumanna in Donchanda of Morthad followed Govind and soon it became a death dance.
Three more farmers — Anantha Reddy of Borgam, Beerappa of Nyalkal and Krishana of Mudakpalli of Nizamabad mandal — also ended their lives due to distress. In the intervening period, Macha Karrenna of Gadkol in Sirikonda mandal, Chandu of Madnoor, Gaddam Saireddy of Darpalli, Ramulu and Sailu of Pitlam mandal have committed suicide.

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Farmers suicides in Karnataka

Posted by Ramoo on August 30, 2009

BANGALORE, AUGUST 29: Like other states, Karnataka too showing signs of severe agrarian distress in the current financial year. More than 50 farmers committed suicides in less than five months in the current fiscal year.

The BJP government has already declared 86 taluks in 20 districts as drought hit. Standing crops on 16 lakh hectares got damaged on account of deficit rains since June 1. The crop loss in rainfed areas has been estimated at Rs. 720.20 crore and horticultural crops on over 60,000 hectares have been ruined due to scanty rains. In fact, more than 3/4th of lands in the state is rainfed. Only 23 per cent the sowing was depended on irrigation facilities in Karnataka.

Standing food crops and commercial crops got withered in 20 districts following scanty rainfall. The central team visited to the state to said the state’s demand for Rs. 394 crore relief is realistic demand.

According to sources in the Government, as on July end, the highest number of suicide cases has been reported from Shimoga (7), followed by Tumkur – six cases, Belgaum and Hassan – five each, Chikmagalur, Bidar, Davangere, and Bijapur – three each, Chitradurga, Dakshina Kannada – two each and Mysore district – one.

Out of the last nine years, the State has experienced droughts for seve

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n years and this is one of the major reasons for farmers taking extreme step. A large number of farmers committed suicide during the drought period from 2000-01 to 2003-04. As many as 337 suicide cases have been reported in 2008-09.

Despite several steps taken by the State government, farmers suicides continued over the years. Cooperatives have been disbursed loans at three per cent rate of interest. To learn new farming methods, the Government sent 633 farmers to China at a cost of Rs. 423.79 lakhs. The government had given Rs. 1,000 each to small and marginal farmers who are dependent on dry lands farming, officials said.

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Hunger pangs

Posted by Ramoo on July 20, 2009

Vandana Shiva

Monday, July 20, 2009 21:23 IST

 The proposed introduction of a Food Security Act by the UPA government is a welcome step. The Right to Food is the basis of the Right to life and Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees the right to life of all Indian citizens.

Given that India has emerged as the capital of hunger, given that per capita consumption was 178 kg in 1991, the beginning of the period of economic reforms, to 155 kg in 200-2003, and daily calorie consumption of the bottom 25 per cent of the population has decreased from 1683 kcal in 1987-88 to 1624 kcal in 2004-05, against a national norm of 2400 and 2011 kcal/day for rural and urban areas respectively, a response on the food in security front is a response to a national emergency.

However, the approach to food security has a number of blindspots and biases. The biggest one is neglecting food production and food producers as a core element of food security, from the household to the national level.

You cannot provide food to people if you do not first ensure that food is produced in adequate quantities. And to ensure that, the livelihood of food producers must be ensured. The right of food producers to produce food is the foundation of food security. This right has internationally evolved through the concept of “food sovereignty”.

Food sovereignty is derived from socio-economic human rights, which include the right to food and the right to produce food for rural communities. Two aspects of food security have disappeared in the current approach — firstly, the right to produce food, and secondly national food security. Our small farmers produce food for the country and have provided a nation of 1.2 billion with food security, and today they themselves are in distress.

The most tragic face of the agrarian crisis the country is facing is the suicides of over 200,000 farmers over the past decade. If our food producers do not survive, where is the nation’s food security? The second reason why India cannot afford to ignore the crisis of our food producers is because our rural communities face a deep crisis of hunger. Globally too, half of the hungry people of the world today are food producers.

This is directly related to the capital intensive, chemical intensive, high external input systems of food production introduced as the Green Revolution, and the second Green Revolution. Farmers must get into debt to buy costly inputs, and indebted farmers must sell what they produce to pay back the debt. Farmers’ suicides too are linked to the same process of indebtedness due to high costs of inputs. The solution to the hunger of producer communities is to shift to low cost sustainable agriculture production based on principles of agro ecology.

This food sovereignty of rural producers addresses hunger of rural communities as well as the hunger of those they feed. And for the same reasons, corporate farming and contract farming are false solutions in the context of the hunger and malnutrition crisis facing the country. As is the corporate takeover of food processing and attempted hijack of food security programmes such as Midday Meal schemes.

Government policies are biased in favour of the corporate sector. The proposal to shift from the PDS system to the food stamp or food voucher systems arises from this corporate bias. The assumption is that corporations will control the food supply, and the government will enable the poor to buy from corporations on the basis of food stamps and vouchers. However, the poor will then be condemned to unhealthy food as has happened in countries like the US.

The present paradigm has the bias that the poor can eat bad food. Good food is only for the rich. However, food security includes the right to safe, healthy, culturally appropriate and economically affordable food. Food stamps cannot guarantee this.

Further, the PDS system is not a one-sided system. It is both a food procurement and food distribution system. The dismantling and substitution by food vouchers will erode the food sovereignty of producers, abandon them to the vagaries of the market and finally destroy their livelihoods.

Adding 650 million rural people to the displaced and hungry will create a hunger problem no government and market can solve. That is why we must strengthen food sovereignty and the PDS system to strengthen food security. The proposal that the Centre will identify the poor goes against the federal structure of India’s Constitution.

As chief minister of Punjab Prakash Singh Badal has said, “States have to go like beggars to the Centre for everything. We have been reduced to glorified municipalities”.
A national food security systems needs to be based on the Constitution.Decentralisation is key to ensuring good and abundant food is produced on every farm and reaches every kitchen. Centralisation and corporate hijack of food go hand in hand. Decentralisation and food sovereignty go hand in hand.

The writer is an environmental activist

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A hidden truth of farmer’s suicide

Posted by Ramoo on May 1, 2009

BY CHENNAIVISION AT 27 APRIL, 2009, 2:29 PM

Ludhiana, A glaring and sad aspect of suicides in the agriculture sector in Punjab is that the families of the victims not only had to sell land, but also other assets such as farm machinery, gold to repay their debts.

A government-sponsored study conducted by Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) in Bathinda and Sangrur districts came across 2,990 suicides in the farm sector from 2000 to 2008. Of these, 1757 were farmers and the remaining farm labourers. Of these, 1288 farmers and 671 labourers ended their lives because of debts.

As many as 227 families in Bathinda district sold land worth Rs 7.36 crore to repay their debts. The average value of land sold was Rs 3.24 lakh.

In all 550 farmers committed suicide in Bathinda district due to debt. A majority of them (87 per cent) were small and marginal farmers owning land upto five acres while 13 per cent cases were reported among the medium and large farmers owning more than 10 acres.

The debt ranged from Rs two lakh to Rs 8.20 lakh in case of farmers who committed suicide.

In the case of Sangrur district, 738 farmers committed suicide owing to indebtedness. Of these, the families of 353 farmers sold land worth Rs 19.05 crore to pay off their debt.

The average debt burden in Sangrur was Rs 5.39 lakh. Besides, 58 families of these farmers sold even machinery and other assets.

In Sangrur, 57 per cent farmers were in the marginal category and 29 per cent were small scale farmers. The remaining 14 per cent were medium and large farmers.

The debt against them ranged from Rs 2.8 lakh to Rs 7.87 lakh in Sangrur district.

Average debt against labourers who committed suicide was Rs 70,036 in Sangrur district, and their average income was Rs 19,419.

The average debt against labourers who committed suicide in Bathinda was Rs 47,347 and their average income was Rs 21,710.

In Bathinda district, the most affected villages include Vhauke where 18 farmers ended their lives while in Mandi Kalan 17 farmers and in Pitho 13 farmers committed suicide.

In Sangrur district the most affected village were Andana where 18 suicides were reported followed by Bhutal Kalan (20), Seron (14), Bhattiwala Kalan (11) and Nagara (10).

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Farmer & Agricultural Labourers Suicides due to Indebtedness in the Punjab State — a pilot project of Sangrur and Bathinda districts

Posted by Ramoo on April 20, 2009

A Punjab Agricultural Univeristy report Farmer & Agricultural Labourers Suicides due to Indebtedness in the Punjab State — a pilot project of Sangrur and Bathinda districts, submitted to the Punjab government a few days back has sirred a political storm.
The survey report says that 2,990 farmers had committed suicide in two districts — 1256 in Bathinda and 1634 in Sangrur district — between 2000 and 2008. This report, more or less like a household census, is considered to be the first authentic survey of the spate of suicides among farmers and agricultural workers.
This report comes within a month of the Punjab government’s decision to fix a price for farmer suicides — Rs 2 lakh to the families of those farmers who have committed suicide in the past one year.
In Sangrur district, 738 farmers who took the fatal path to escape growing indebtedness, had an average outstanding debt of Rs 3.36 lakh per farmer. For another lot of 246 farmers who committed suicide for other reasons, the average outstanding amount standing against their name was Rs 79,935. As far as farm labourers are concerned, the average debt was Rs 70,036.
In Bathinda, the average outstanding due against farmers who could not sustain the growing indebtedness, was Rs 2.94 lakh. As many as 550 farmers belonged to this category. For another lot of 223 farmers who too committed suicide but for other reasons, the average outstanding debt was Rs 85,825. For the workers, the outstanding amount against their name was Rs 47,347 on an average. The report also provides a list of such households.
Meanwhile, another report in The Independent, London, says 1,500 farmers in Chattisgarh State have committed suicide. It blames crop failure and the falling water table to be responsible for the serial death dance. If this is true, I don’t see why the Punjab farmers, who are endowed with assured irrigation, have to commit suicide. That means lack of irrigation alone cannot be the reason. The PAU report blames growing indebtedness for the spate of suicides. Indebtedness comes from various reasons, and somehow I find we shirk from pointing to the real causes.
Reports about suicides in Vidharba belt in Maharashtra also ascribe it to lack of irrigation and distress sale of produce. While all this may be true, but I sometimes wonder why are we all reluctant to dig it deeper and find out the real causes that triggers indebtedness.

Devinder Sharma Groundreality

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Farmers’ demand for conditional cash transfer scheme is justified

Posted by Ramoo on April 8, 2009

http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?newsid=1246132

By – P S M Rao

As politicians lend their ears only on the poll eve, those who are working for the cause of people too seek to bring in pressure during that time and try to articulate their demands. A similar exercise is seen in AP from the farmers’ associations and groups working for the betterment of the lives of the farming community.

Almost all the farmers’ unions in the state and some 100 NGOs working in the areas of sustainable agriculture have endorsed a manifesto for the farmers. The Centre for Sustainable Agriculture has articulated their demands in the manifesto, particularly for income support, a cash transfer scheme, to the farmers. The demands are interesting to examine closely not only in the context of the Telugu Desham taking up the proposal of Cash Transfer Scheme but also because they are relevant for the farming community all over India.

To ensure sustainable income and livelihood security, the farmers’ groups are asking for ensuring a minimum income to them through agricultural operations. Towards this end, they want the appointment, by the government, of an Income Commission as a statutory body that would examine the real incomes of the farmers every year and would come out with recommendation to ensure minimum income to support their life.
Income Commission to farmers

MS Swaminathan too is advocating for an arrangement like this. He wants the government to focus its attention in the regular budget for 2009-10 on appointing an Income Commission for farmers. Justifying his claim, Swaminathan argues that the recommendations of the 6th Central Pay Commission, which provide benefit to 4.5 million central government employees and 3.8 million pensioners, were not only accepted but were improved upon by the government. So, he suggests that the major political parties should commit themselves to establishing a Farm Income Commission which can go into the totality of the income of farmers from crop and animal husbandry, fisheries, agro-forestry and agro-processing, and suggest ways of ensuring a minimum take home income to farmers.

Reverting to the AP farmers’ demand, they want the proposed Commission should adopt a multi component approach. The components include: i) Remunerative prices should be fixed for agricultural produce. The pricing for agricultural commodities should be based on the real cost of production, that is through neutralising the effect of inflation. The minimum support price should be 50% more than the actual cost as recommended by the National Farmers’ Commission. The determination of support should be transparent and be announced before the beginning of the crop season. They also want a state-level agricultural costs and prices commission and a price stabilisation fund.
ii) Labour wage support should be provided for agricultural operations. It is ironic that the agricultural workers are unable get employment while the farmers are not able to afford agriculture workers due to increasing costs of living. The government should therefore provide input subsidy in the form of labour wages (up to 100 days in a calendar year) to the farmer to monetise the use of family labour or to pay external labour engaged on the farm in order to support both the farmers and farm labourers. The activities to be supported should include all agricultural operations, from sowing to harvesting. This can be operationalised on similar lines as NREGS, or by suitably increasing the number of days covered under NREGS and extending it to agricultural work.

iii) Steps should be taken to increase rural employment opportunities. This should be done through systematically promoting post-harvest operations and value addition enterprises at the village level; the net income of farmers can thus be directly increased. By promoting agriculture-centred small scale rural industry, the rural economy can be given a big boost, correcting the rural-urban imbalance and migration.
iv) There should be an arrangement for the social security measures like pension and insurance to the farmers and farm labourers.

Cash support to farmers
Finally, and more importantly, arrangement should be made for direct income support to farmers. Even after implementation of measures listed above, farmers are not expected to get living income. The direct cash support is, therefore, necessary. They want this support in the form of a fixed amount per family, given to all cultivators including tenant farmers. This direct cash support, together with other measures, should ensure that every agricultural family can maintain a fair living standard. This could be set at Rs 15,000 per family and revised every year by the Commission.

The farmers want support for sustainable ecological farming to ensure food security and livelihood support on a sustainable basis. Small and marginal farmers in many parts of India have achieved success through low-input sustainable methods which not only helped them but also boosted soil fertility.

Farmers want the government to promote sustainable agriculture to maximise the use of local resources. Farmers adopting organic/ecological farming should also receive financial support from the government for their own input use. They also want restrictions on agrochemicals that are banned the world over and a ban on GM crops till their bio-safety is proven beyond doubt. Also, they want support for research in organic farming, demonstrations by agricultural department on the success of organic farming and strengthening the farmers’ training centres in which the experienced farmers should be used as resource persons.

These demands of the farmers are not at all unreasonable, particularly for the direct cash transfer. This is because they are not asking for the support without working. They want to engage in farming activity and want support only to allow them to be in the profession; in other words they want a conditional cash transfer scheme.

In fact there have been repeated claims in the discourse on agriculture that farming on a small scale is not viable and as much as 50% of the farmers can be withdrawn from the occupation without affecting the total production. That means about 30 crore people are additionally depending on agriculture. Considering this to be true and, as many farmers are willing to come out of agriculture, where are the avenues of employment to them in the non-agricultural activity? If such employment is guaranteed, there is no problem, but it is impossible for the government to do so. It therefore should support the farmers and meet their reasonable demand including the cash support.

Besides this need, the bad state of agriculture in AP also calls for an urgent action to protect the farmers and farming. As many as 16 of the 32 districts identified by the central government as worst affected are in AP. As many as 1797 farmers have committed suicide in 2007 (2607 in 2006) – AP occupies the second place after Maharashtra in farmers’ suicides. Similarly, 82% of the farmers in the state are indebted and 66% to non-institutional sources, as per NSSO data. The input costs of farming have risen by 300% in the past five years and the prices of produce have not kept pace, leading the farmers into a crisis situation.

So, the cash support to 1.2 crore farmers of the state, which is estimated to cost Rs 25,000 crore or 25% of the state’s budget, is quite reasonable and warrants a serious consideration from political parties. In reality, the actual cost may be much less than this estimate because the government is going to save on the schemes of indirect support which are not found beneficial to the farmers. Even otherwise, this cost which should be treated as an essential social cost for the enormous social benefit of supporting the farmers will not be too much. Neglecting agriculture and avoiding timely measures will only lead to a catastrophic situation. After all, it was agriculture, as admitted by the UPA government, that saved India from falling into a deeper economic crisis.

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A smarter way to combat hunger

Posted by Ramoo on March 18, 2009

Pedro A. Sanchez1

  1. Pedro A. Sanchez is senior research scholar and director of tropical agriculture at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, 61 Route 9W, Palisades, New York 10964, USA.
    Email: psanchez@ei.columbia.edu
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v458/n7235/full/458148a.html
Abstract

Traditional approaches to supplying food are an inefficient ‘band aid’, says Pedro A. Sanchez. New evidence shows that helping farmers to help themselves is more effective and would be six times cheaper.

After decades of progress in the fight to vanquish world hunger, the number of undernourished people is growing again. Estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations suggest that 963 million people1 in poor countries are chronically or acutely hungry — up 109 million from 2004 estimates2. The underlying causes — changes in food and energy prices3 — have been exacerbated by the financial crisis and obsolete development policies.

Policies should shift from prioritizing food aid to providing poor farmers with access to training, markets and to farm inputs such as fertilizer and improved seed. In addition to being cheaper, such investments allow farmers to grow food to feed themselves, to sell the surplus and to diversify into high-value crops, livestock and tree products. This creates a sustainable exit from the poverty trap, thereby decreasing the requirement for aid. Although marginal populations, or those affected by disasters, will still require assistance, procuring this food from within developing countries provides a cheaper alternative than shipping it from abroad.

A smarter way to combat hunger

P. SANCHEZ

The predominant policies to tackle hunger epitomize a ‘band-aid’ approach — quick fixes that fail to address the causes of hunger. In 2006, the United States spent US$1.2 billion in food aid for Africa, but only $60 million on agricultural development there4. The international response has generally been similar. But according to estimates from 2004, only 10% of those who are hungry in poor countries are acutely hungry — those facing famine caused by wars, natural disasters or sheer destitution. The other 90% are chronically hungry, leading to malnutrition that compromises immune systems and contributes to the prevalence of diarrhoea, malaria and other diseases that result in high child mortality2. Most of those who are chronically hungry live in rural farm households in Africa and South Asia.

Food aid fails to provide a sustainable solution to hunger and poverty and it is comparatively expensive. It costs $812 to deliver one tonne of maize as US food aid to a distribution point in Africa5. As part of the Millennium Villages project, which I co-direct, smallholder farmers (those who farm 0.1–5 hectares) in hunger hot spots across Africa were provided with access to fertilizers, improved seed, technical support and markets. As a result, maize yields more than doubled — from 1.7 to 4.1 tonnes per hectare6. And following a national ‘smart’ subsidy programme for fertilizer and hybrid seed in Malawi, average maize yields increased from 0.8 to 2.0 tonnes per hectare in two years7.

The fertilizer and improved seed required to produce an additional tonne of maize grain by Millennium Village farmers cost an average of $135 at April 2008 prices6, six times less than through food aid. Purchasing that same tonne of maize locally — in an African country or a neighbouring one — costs approximately $320 (ref.5). If farmers in Africa raise their average cereal yields to 3 tonnes per hectare, the additional 200 million tonnes grown in the 100 million hectares of smallholder crop land will more than compensate for the 3.2 million tonnes of food aid8.

Although estimates of efficiency vary, they indicate a major leap for development assistance. Shifting 50% of the current US food-aid budget to ‘smart’ subsidies or credit could help millions supply their own food and meet much of the aid demand. Such a move would be budget neutral.

Even buying food locally represents an important step away from the inefficient food-aid approach. Some institutions have already begun to change their methods. In 2007, CARE International, a leading relief organization headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, announced that it would stop monetizing food aid (selling some of the food to fund their operations), essentially losing $46 million a year. Also in 2007, the World Food Programme procured 43% of the 2 million tonnes of food required for its Africa relief operations from farmers in Africa at an average cost of $280 per tonne — compared with the average cost of $436 for purchases elsewhere9. The new Purchase for Progress programme, launched in September 2008 and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation further empowers the World Food Programme to purchase food from African farmers.

Most importantly, the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon is leading the development of a coordination mechanism for large-scale financial support for poor countries seeking to provide farm investment. The Spanish government has pledged euro dollar1 billion (US$1.3 billion) over five years for this effort, which should begin this year, and the European parliament has promised a similar amount. With more programmes aimed at merging food aid with reliable farming investment, the numbers of those who are chronically hungry should begin to fall.

Join the debate at http://tinyurl.com/cy3xc6.

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References
  1. Diouf, J. Speech at High-Level Meeting on Food Security for All Madrid, 26–27 January 2009. Available athttp://www.ransa2009.org/docs/docs/speech_DG_FAO_ransa2009.doc.pdf
  2. Sanchez, P. A. & Swaminathan, M. S. Science 307, 357–359 (2005). | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |
  3. von Braun, J. Nature 456, 701 (2008). | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |
  4. The Chicago Initiative on Global Agricultural Development Renewing American Leadership in the Fight Against Global Hunger and Poverty(Chicago Council on Global Affairs, 2009). Available athttp://www.thechicagocouncil.org/globalagdevelopment/pdf/gadp_final_report.pdf
  5. Garrett, L. A. Food Failures and Futures Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies Working Paper (Council on Foreign Relations, 2008).
  6. Sanchez, P. A., Denning, G. L. & Nziguheba, G. Food Security 1, 37–44 (2009). | Article |
  7. Denning, G. et al. PLoS Biol. 7, e1000023 (2009). | Article |
  8. http://one.wfp.org/interfais/2008/tables/Table10.pdf
  9. Jury, A. New Roles for Food Assistance: How Can Food Aid Support Agricultural Growth and Productive Safety Nets in Africa? Presentation at the World Food Prize Symp., 22 October 2008 (World Food Programme,2008).

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