Uncommon Opportunities – Food for All

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The production of more food to meet the needs of a burgeoning population has been one of the outstanding global achievements of the post-war period. It has demonstrated the extraordinary capacity of humankind to meet a collective challenge of monumental proportions. It has harnessed the power of science and technology for the most cherished of purposes preserving human lives. It has released the initiative and pride of long suppressed peoples to achieve self-sufficiency and determine their own destinies. It has finally lifted the suffocating blanket of pessimistic economic determinism that has stifled human hopes and aspirations for nearly 200 years since Thomas Malthus first set forth the thesis that human population will always outrun the growth of food production, thus ensuring the perpetual poverty of humankind. The remarkable achievements of countries such as India, which at a time when famine threatened to claim millions of lives launched a massive national programme that increased foodgrain production by three-quarters, and China, which nearly doubled food grain production over the last two decades, are outstanding testaments to the accomplishments of people in many countries. Worldwide, production increases in major cereal crops are estimated to have provided enough food for more than a billion people.

Food has become a symbol of our collective human endeavour to create a better world for all. But the victory has been partial and neither the challenge nor the opportunity which food presents have been fully addressed. It is of crucial importance not only to the poor, but also to the peace and stability of global society that we complete the task of banishing famine and hunger once and for all. Hunger anywhere threatens peace everywhere. Hunger leads to political instability, social unrest, massive migrations, rebellions, civil war, crime and violence. Prosperity, which eliminates hunger, also tends to eliminate violence. Even in war-ravaged Africa, experience shows that where food is plentiful, war is avoided. The converse is also true. Historically, war and civil strife have been the single greatest cause of famines. In addition to destroying crops and food supplies, it disrupts food distribution through the use of sieges and blockades. In the past decade, war has had a greater impact on food supplies in Africa, particularly the Sahelian region, than have the severe droughts that periodically plague the continent.

Freedom from hunger and political freedom go hand in hand. As subsistence agriculture and periodic famine were the economic foundations of monarchy and feudalism, the generation of agricultural surpluses that stimulated commercialism, and later industrialization, have formed the basis for the rise of democratic institutions. Greater freedom for individual action and ownership both stimulate and are supported by greater productivity in agriculture. Authoritarian government is frequently either the result or the cause of food shortages its use of force justified on the one hand to meet a crisis situation or necessitated on the other to restore order and initiate emergency measures.

Only under democracy is government compelled to pay attention to the needs of people at the lowest levels of society. The dual pressures of a free press and electoral system have helped a free and democratic India to avoid famine for nearly 50 years, despite the recurring incidence of widespread famine in previous centuries, up to as recently as four years before the country gained independence. Even in China, which appears to be a blatant contradiction of this thesis, it was the liberalization of the agricultural sector and greater freedom given to the peasant community that were responsible for the remarkable increase in food production. For countries still at an early stage of political development, where government lacks even the force of authority to govern, the first essential steps may necessarily be toward greater centralized authority and control, a common stage in the political evolution of the nation state. But that central authority cannot release the full initiative of its farmers or tap the full potentials of agriculture without first instituting broader democratic measures. Recent events in Eastern Europe demonstrate that where states attempt to use authority as the lever for agricultural development, the achievements are likely to be limited and short-lived. The inability of the authoritarian system to produce enough food for its people was one of the major factors contributing to its downfall.

Democracy is the most potent fertilizer to ensure food security at the household level.

ICPF was founded at a time when a consensus was emerging worldwide that drastic steps were needed to wipe out the hunger and famine that were ravaging parts of the developing world and afflicting to a lesser extent poorer sections of the industrial nations. Recognizing that the problem of food was inextricably intertwined with the problems of peace, political and social stability, and employment, and that no comprehensive solution to one was possible without substantial progress on the others, it was our hope and intention that this growing consensus on food could be harnessed to accelerate progress on arms control and disarmament. Ironically, events have unfolded in the reverse sequence. Rapid progress has been made during the intervening years to reduce international tensions, but little has yet been done effectively to address the food issue. Now that opportunity is before us and compels us to act, for without significant progress on abolishing hunger from the earth, our efforts at arms control and peace making may come to naught. Increasing the availability of food and jobs form essential components of a comprehensive strategy to eradicate hunger, poverty and violence from the world.

Food Security

Despite great achievements in the post-war period, we live in a world of persistent hunger amidst plenty. Presently, around 800 million people living in 46 countries are malnourished and 40,000 die every day of hunger and hunger-related diseases. Widespread famine currently threatens nine African countries, where the lives of 20 million people are at risk.

Hunger and famine are usually associated with a physical shortage of food. Yet, even where food supplies are adequate, absence of opportunities for gainful employment to generate the purchasing power needed to buy food can result in hunger. Lack of food and employment are the basis for the poverty that still afflicts one-fifth of humankind. When it comes to food there can be no justification or excuse everyone must have enough to eat, and can have enough. A world dedicated to upholding the political rights and property rights of nations and individuals cannot fail to recognize and enforce the most fundamental of all human rights the right to live.

Contrary to the fears raised in earlier centuries and revived in recent decades, today the world does possess the capacity to feed everyone, even at current levels of food production subject as it is to disincentives, quotas, restrictions and trade barriers that food surplus countries impose to curtail food production, while other nations remain in perpetual deficit. In spite of a doubling of population in the developing countries since 1960, their average food supplies have increased from 1950 calories to 2475 calories per capita per day, or from an average of 90 per cent to 107 per cent of the minimum caloric requirement. During the past 12 years alone, per capita food production in developing countries has risen by 15 per cent. Overall, the proportion of people in developing countries suffering from hunger and mal nutrition has dropped dramatically both in relative and absolute terms, from 941 million people constituting 36 per cent of the population of these nations in 1970 to 781 million constituting less than 20 per cent of the population in 1990.

Current projections indicate that the growth rate in world agricultural output will continue to exceed population growth over the next two decades. By 2010, food grain production is expected to reach four times the level in 1960. Increased production of other food crops is expected to raise per capita availability in the developing world to 2700 calories per day. Per capita meat production is expected to grow by 60 per cent and milk production by 20 per cent. During the same period, malnutrition is projected to decline to 640 million persons, constituting 11.6 per cent of the population of developing countries, a little over half the level in 1990.

Yet the achievements have not been uniform throughout the developing world. Per capita food production has actually declined in more than half of all developing countries over the past 15 years. In 18 countries with high rates of population growth, primarily in Africa, it has been deteriorating for the past three decades. While the Near East, North Africa, East Asia and Latin America/Caribbean regions are expected to achieve average food supplies of 3,000 calories per day by 2010, 200 million people will still be malnourished in South Asia and 300 million, or one-third of the population of sub-Saharan Africa, will suffer from severe food deficits. Due to rapidly expanding population, agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa would have to grow at four per cent annually in order significantly to improve per capita availability of food. Thus far, only East Asia has sustained such high growth rates in agriculture, averaging 6.1 per cent from 1970 to 1990. This trend, if not halted and reversed, casts a renewed spell of gloom over the hopes of hundreds of millions of people to escape from hunger, and over all our hopes for peace in the twenty-first century.

The projection of future prospects based on past trends is especially questionable with regard to food. Not even some of the most prominent agricultural economists expected the gains in food production which have occurred in the past several decades. An international team of experts visiting India in 1963 projected a mere 10 per cent growth in foodgrain production by 1970, whereas growth actually achieved during this period was 50 per cent. Neither technological, nor financial nor natural resources pose insurmountable obstacles to achieving dramatically more over the next 15 years than is indicated by past trends or current projections.

The idea that hunger cannot be conquered because we are running out of land to support rapidly burgeoning populations is contradicted by the facts. Globally, there is no correlation between population density and hunger. China, with only half as much arable land per capita as India, produces 13 per cent more foodgrains per capita. Taiwan and South Korea have only half the farmland per capita of Bangladesh, yet they produce 40 per cent more food per capita. Tiny Netherlands, with the highest population density in the world, produces more than sufficient food to feed itself and remain a large net food exporter. Currently 11 per cent of the world’s land surface is used for agricultural crops, just 4 per cent more than in 1960. A comprehensive theoretical study of soils, climate, vegetation and topography conducted in 19753 indicated that both land and water utilized for agriculture could be doubled, if necessary, and that the earth could support 36 times the 1975 level (18 times the 1990 level) of cereal production using the same share of cultivated land. There would be severe practical obstacles to such a vast expansion of croplands, but these findings suggest that physical limitations to food production are not the primary constraints. A more commonly accepted estimate indicates that the world’s land and water used for agriculture could more than double.

Agricultures Dual Role

Achieving food security necessitates increasing food production and employment opportunities. Agriculture plays a dual role in the abolition of hunger it produces the food and it can also produce a great many of the jobs needed by households to buy food in developing countries. Since agriculture is the world’s single largest employer, raising production and productivity in this sector can immediately place additional purchasing power in the hands of the rural poor, who will in turn utilize the additional income for purchasing more food, clothing and other basic consumer goods that will create more jobs and higher incomes for countless others. The increased agricultural produce becomes raw material for a wide range of agro-based industries and services that stimulate formation of new enterprises, and create downstream jobs as well as products for further processing, domestic sale or export. This is the rationale behind the Prosperity 2000 strategy for India, which forms a viable model for many other countries to emulate.

Promoting job creation in agriculture appears at first glance to contradict the global trend of the past hundred years, in which employment in this sector has declined steadily from historic highs of more than 70 per cent in the industrial nations to the point where, today, only 2 per cent of the workforce in the UK, 3 per cent in the USA and 4 per cent in Germany are directly engaged in farm operations, although a much larger percentage of the workforce in these countries work in businesses and industries linked to agriculture. Nevertheless, this strategy follows a natural course of development that has occurred in many countries which now have a relatively small portion of their workforce in agriculture. Agricultural surpluses and rising farm incomes are preconditions and stimuli to economic growth and industrialization. For most developing countries with the vast majority of people still residing in rural areas, the most cost-effective and practical strategy to generate more jobs and raise personal incomes is through agriculture. Today, more than 1.1 billion people in developing countries, constituting 58 per cent of the economically active population, work in agriculture. The decline in proportion of the workforce in this sector must necessarily be gradual. An employment strategy which generates a large number of new jobs in the non-farm rural sector could contribute substantially to diversification of rural employment opportunities.

A similar strategy has proved highly effective as an engine for growth in a number of East Asian countries, which employed crop-intensive and labour-intensive technologies to achieve increasing levels of employment and productivity in agriculture. Empirical evidence from these countries confirms that wherever agriculture becomes prosperous, labour becomes scarce. Between 1952 and 1968, land reform in Taiwan increased the number of cultivators five-fold, leading to dramatic increases in output and productivity, a shift from foodgrains to higher value-added fruit and vegetable crops, and the creation of more than 100,000 jobs in post-harvest and processing activities. These changes in employment led to enhanced rural incomes and purchasing power, growing domes tic demand for goods and services, including manufactured goods, and further job growth. Land reform in South Korea during the early 1950s increased the number of owner cultivators from 50 per cent to 90 per cent and led to a 4.7 per cent annual growth in labour productivity per hectare over a 15-year period. Then, as agricultural technology improved and industrialization gained momentum, the proportion of South Korea’s workforce engaged in agriculture fell from 55 per cent to under 16 per cent over the following three decades. Thailand, which has had the fastest growth of the East Asian economies in recent years and still employs 70 per cent of its workforce in agriculture, has also attained high rates of production and employment in the rural sector through diversification in agriculture from traditional cultivation of rice and rubber to high-value crops and agro-based industries.

Economic Potential of Increasing Demand for Food and Agricultural Products

There are powerful social forces active in the world today that can stimulate significantly greater growth in both food demand and food production. Liberalization of world trade, especially trade in agricultural products; emphasis on aggressive strategies to expand employment opportunities in developing and developed countries; advances in technology for agricultural production, food processing and dissemination of information; rising levels of education, which spur rising expectations; and the energizing impact of democratization all these factors can substantially raise growth rates in supply and demand for food above those currently projected for the next two decades. Current projections, made at a time when Eastern Europe was in the depth of its transition crisis, would also prove too conservative if demand were to recover more rapidly in some of these countries. Already Russia’s cocoa imports have risen to four times the level in 1991.

The gap between the availability of food in industrial nations and in developing countries remains large. Food supplies per capita for all developing countries, measured in terms of total calories available, are only 72 per cent of the levels in the industrial countries. The availability of protein for consumption is 40 per cent lower in developing countries than in industrial nations. Viewed from another perspective, this gap represents a huge potential for the growth of agriculture, and through it for more rapid industrialization and job creation in developing countries, with rising exports from industrial nations. Rising incomes are accompanied by a diversification in diet which generates greater demand for wheat, meat and dairy products, fish, vegetables, fruits and processed foods. Projections for the year 2010 anticipate a 60 per cent increase in cereal consumption in developing countries, a 52 per cent increase in meat consumption, and a 69 per cent increase in milk consumption. Meat consumption in China has tripled since 1978 and is expected to more than double again over the next two decades. Sugar consumption in developing countries is currently less than half the average of industrial nations. In India, sugar consumption is projected to rise from 13 kg to more than 25 kg, generating a demand for a 100 per cent increase in sugar cane production, the establishment of 300 to 400 new sugar mills in the country and the creation of 3 to 4 million new jobs in this industry alone. Worldwide, raising the average level of sugar consumption in developing countries could generate tens of millions of additional jobs in agriculture, industry and services.

Viewing the future demand for food from this perspective reveals a tremendous opportunity. Vast sections of humanity now aspire to the higher quantity, wider variety and greater nutritional content of food once consumed only by the wealthy. An effort to raise nutritional standards in the developing countries nearer to the levels prevalent among industrial countries will not only eradicate hunger, but also dramatically spur economic growth, employment, and purchasing power among the rural poor, stimulating growth of production and jobs in industry and services, as well as increasing exports and imports. Raising the entire world population to the level of the prosperous nations would require a 72 per cent increase in total world food production, measured in terms of calories. In order to meet the peoples nutritional requirements for fruit and vegetables, India’s production of these crops needs to double within the next decade. Achieving that high level will generate more than six million new jobs in the country.

Broadening the scope to include other agricultural products, particularly textiles, the potential for accelerating global economic growth by an agriculture-led strategy is even greater. Cotton is a crop with a very high income and employment multiplier effect. Per capita cotton consumption in poorer developing countries such as India is less than half the level in China and less than a third the level in industrial nations.

Measures of the gap between the prevailing levels of nutrition in developing countries and the levels achieved in the West reveal a huge potential for increasing demand for agricultural production, which can serve as an engine to drive the growth of the world economy. Extrapolation from ICPF studies of the employment potential of expanding agricultural production in India suggests that more than one billion jobs can be created worldwide through a strategy that focuses on raising agricultural productivity as an engine for improving diets, employment and industrialization.

Challenges in Agriculture

The ratio of growth of foodgrain production to population growth has entered into a period of decline over the past decade increasing at just one per cent per year compared to three per cent during the previous two decades. There is a similar trend for other staple crops and meat. For fish, there has actually been a net decline of seven per cent in per capita world production. To a large extent, this slowdown is the result of slower growth in demand, especially in industrial countries, under lining the fact that food security is predominantly an economic problem rather than a technological one. But the decline in the growth of global agricultural productivity over the past decade is also attributable to a variety of political, economic and environmental factors.

Political priority

After the Second World War, developing countries that had suffered from recurring famine in early periods struggled to increase food production as an urgent national priority to keep up with surging population growth and spiralling demand for food. Indias Green Revolution was spurred by the imminent threat of severe famine in the mid-1960s. China was compelled to produce more food by the loss of perhaps as many as 30 or 40 million lives to famine in the late 1950s. But the very motive which stimulated these achievements moderated them as well. For while these governments took concerted steps to meet the minimum needs of the population for food, they tended to overlook the equally great potential to utilize agriculture as an engine for economic growth and job creation. Once minimum food needs were met, attention was diverted to other sectors of the economy. Politically, the elimination of the famine threat arising from food shortages is one of the reasons for slower growth in agricultural productivity in recent years. This has resulted in a marked decline in investment by developing countries in government-sponsored agricultural research and rural techno-infrastructure. This tendency has been compounded by the false notion that in order to achieve economic growth, new jobs must be created in industry and services.

Economic policy

The resurgence of faith in the free market and liberalized trade has placed developing countries under increasing pressure from donors and international financial institutions to abandon special types of economic assistance to the agricultural sector in the form of subsidies for supply of critical inputs such as fertilizer and seeds and price supports for marketable crops. This pressure has recently been aggravated by the impact of structural adjustment programmes that usually involve drastic reduction in government subsidies. In Ghana, for instance, the cost of fertilizer as a percentage of total cultivation cost has risen ten-fold in recent years. The impact of macro-economic reforms on agriculture has been most severe in the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, where production in this sector has fallen drastically over the past few years.


Slower growth in productivity can be attributed to a slowdown in the development of improved hybrid varieties, shortages of quality seeds and fertilizers, and the absence of techno-infrastructure facilities needed for storage and processing, expansion of markets, transport and distribution.


A number of factors are posing serious obstacles to productivity growth and threaten even current levels of production. Of the poor, 80 per cent in Latin America, 60 per cent in Asia and 50 per cent in Africa live on marginal land of low productivity and high susceptibility to environmental degradation. Raising productivity on these lands can be extremely difficult. Quality farmlands are being lost at an astonishing rate to diversion for non-farm uses, desertification, deforestation, soil erosion, and the depletion and pollution of water resources. These factors have resulted in the degradation of nearly one billion hectares worldwide since the Second World War. In addition, climatic changes resulting from the increased emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere are expected to exert additional negative impact over the long term, the extent of which is difficult to assess.

Opportunities in Agriculture

Rapid and sustained expansion of food and agricultural production cannot be achieved without concerted efforts to address these factors. At the same time there are a number of positive factors that offer opportunities to increase productivity significantly in the near to middle term.

Closing the productivity gap

A survey comparing the levels of productivity for major crops between countries reveals a wide disparity between proven technological potentials and actual field results for every crop. Cereal yields in Western Europe and North America average 4.5 tons per hectare, compared to three tons in Asia, 2.3 tons in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, two tons in Latin America and slightly more than one ton in Africa. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) projects a 40 per cent increase in wheat yields in 92 developing countries, excluding China, by 2010. In rice, countries with widely differing climatic conditions, such as Australia, Korea, Egypt, Spain, Japan and Italy, achieve average yields nearly double the world average and two to three times the yields achieved in countries such as India, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. Total rice yields in 92 developing countries are expected to rise to 37 per cent by 2010. Maize yields in Greece, Chile, Austria, Italy and Germany average more than double the world average, and five to six times the averages achieved in large maize-producing countries such as India. Even comparing areas under irrigated maize, average yields range from 1.5 to 8.4 tons per hectare. New varieties of maize are under development that yield 30 per cent more grain in a drought season than conventional varieties. They could be especially effective in lowland tropics, including much of Africa. Potato yields in Belgium and the Netherlands are roughly three times the world average. This productivity gap between what is routinely achieved by different countries represents a vast immediate potential for improving yields that does not require significant additional investment of time or money in R & D. The world already possesses the knowledge, technology and organizational capacities to raise considerably average world yields in major crops.

Emphasizing cultivation practices

The phenomenal increases in productivity achieved over the past three decades through the development of improved and hybrid varieties of seeds have over shadowed and distracted attention from the equally great potential of raising yields through improvements in methods of cultivation. This is especially true since much of the slowdown in productivity growth is attributable to depletion of soil and water resources, which can be partially rectified or offset by improved practices. Growing environmental concerns in the West have generated pressure for reducing fertilizer consumption in developing countries, when in most instances fertilizer application levels are lower than those in Western Europe by a factor of five or ten times. Increased, rather than reduced, use of chemical fertilizers will be essential to the expansion of agriculture in these countries and can considerably increase crop yields. Total fertilizer consumption by developing countries is expected to double by 2010. Furthermore, replacing macro-nutrients lost during intensive cultivation does not compensate for the depletion of more than a dozen micro-nutrients that also determine the quantity and quality of crops. Even in such agriculturally diverse countries as the United States and India, it has been demonstrated that better management of micro-nutrients can raise productivity substantially in some intensively cultivated areas by as much as 50 to 100 per cent or more in a wide variety of crops without significant changes in the structure or method of cultivation. Greater attention is needed to conserving and applying organic sources of manure and raising nitrogen-fixing crops, as well as to the use of bio-fertilizers. Unlike the creation of new irrigated lands, the application of such environmentally sustainable field practices is neither very costly nor technology-intensive and can be widely propagated through improvements in agricultural training and extension.

Increasing exports

Over the next six years, the agreements reached during the Uruguay Round of GATT negotiations are expected to reduce the tariffs levied by the industrial nations on agricultural products by 37 per cent and on tropical food exports by 43 per cent. Developing countries will cut agricultural tariffs by an average of 24 per cent. In addition, North American and Western European countries have agreed to cut agricultural subsidies by one-third. Together these cuts are expected to result in a 20 per cent rise in exports of agricultural and processed foods by 2005. The share of developing countries in this increase has been estimated at $20 billion to $60 billion annually. Increased trade can act as a strong stimulus to the growth of agricultural, agro-industrial and rural employment, provided that these countries respond dynamically to the opportunity by raising productivity and strengthening rural infrastructure for storage, processing and distribution. However, rising demand within developing countries themselves will limit overall growth of exports, and increasing exports will push up domestic food prices, unless much greater priority is given to matching production with opportunities for home and external trade.

Increased private investment

The modernization of the farm sector greatly needs the investment, technology, professional management and marketing expertise which private firms can bring. Wherever land reforms have resulted in the division of farms into small parcels, farmers need to be supported by well-organized services, particularly for post-harvest handling, provided either by companies or co-operatives. Economic liberalization offers expanded opportunities for private enterprise to work with small producers in a wide range of agro-industries to combine the social benefits of small holdings with the economies and marketing expertise of corporate management. The contract system of agricultural production introduced in backward regions of Thailand has enabled small farmers to work closely with private businesses to produce labour-intensive, value-added crops, with technology, training and marketing provided by the companies, resulting in a rapid rise of farm incomes and job opportunities. Developing countries possess significant advantages in terms of climate, year-round production and low labour costs that are conducive to foreign investment. With private capital flows on the rise, there is an opportunity for developing countries to upgrade technology and obtain direct access to foreign markets by providing a conducive atmosphere for foreign investments and collaborations in agri-business ventures, such as hybrid seed production, flowers, processed fruit and vegetables, fresh and salt water aquaculture, and sericulture.

Shift from commodity-based to resource-based planning

The responsibility of governments to achieve dramatic increases in foodgrain production to keep pace with population growth naturally led to a commodity-based approach to agricultural development in many developing countries. Governments projected demand, set production targets for specific crops, and instituted programmes to help farmers produce the food needed to meet the minimum needs of the population. But once shortages are eliminated, the focus on specific commodities becomes a barrier to further agricultural development, because it retards diversification into more profitable commercial crops. Contrary to free market theory, farmers in many countries have tended to continue production of traditional crops, even when prices have fallen in response to increased supplies.

There is still a need for government to educate and encourage farmers to adopt resource-based planning, oriented to national and international market potentials and based on principles of economics, employment and ecology. Resource-based planning examines how the available land and water resources can best be utilized to achieve maximum and sustainable economic return to the farmer, which is only rarely the priority of governments in developing countries that tend to focus on production targets for specific commodities. This shift can lead to diversification into commercial crops, such as fruit and vegetables, that generate significant increases in on-farm employment and incomes and act as a stimulus to downstream agro-industries.

From minimum needs to maximum potentials

The factors which have perpetuated commodity-based planning in agriculture have also fostered an emphasis on minimum targets, rather than maximum goals. Often government has perceived that its responsibility was to ensure sufficient food to prevent famine, not maximum output and profitability. Government machinery has proved effective in forcing through radical measures to disseminate new technology, seed and production methods in the face of crisis, but it usually lacks the driving impetus to work for the highest benefit of individual farmers. The shift needed is for planners to study the potentials of the agricultural sector to serve as an engine for job creation and higher incomes, and as a stimulus to industrialization and exports, and then to formulate national goals to maximize exploitation of these potentials.

Integration of agriculture, marketing and processing

Conscious efforts can be made to foster the natural linkage between agricultural and industrial development by placing emphasis on crops that have the greatest potential for stimulating the growth of agro-industries, services and exports. Filling in the missing links in the chain of processing and distribution, such as pre-cooling for fruit and vegetables, can enable small farmers to produce for national and export markets; it also results in higher at-farm prices and creates alternative forms of rural employment.

Empowerment of women

The vast majority of women living in rural areas are engaged in agriculture. Therefore, upgrading productivity, skills and incomes in this sector is the single most effective means of improving the livelihood of women in developing countries. Skill development programmes in areas such as hybrid seed production, floriculture, inland aquaculture, vegetables and poultry can be particularly beneficial. Promotion of micro-level credit institutions and savings programmes can generate capital for the establishment by women of small rural enterprises.

Food Security in Africa

The present prognosis for Africa resembles the pessimistic assessment of Asia in the 1960s that projected most Asians would face starvation in the 1970s. Over the past two decades, total food production in Africa has grown at exactly the same rate as for the world as a whole, but high levels of population growth have resulted in declining availability of food per capita in many countries, particularly in the sub-Saharan region. This suggests that a grim outcome is not inevitable, if concerted action is taken now.

Several factors have impeded achievement of higher agricultural growth rates in the region: political instability and civil unrest, poor macro-economic and agricultural policies, drought, and physical difficulties in farming in some areas. The ravages of war have had the most devastating effect, but inadequate and counter-productive policies have also had a major impact. Low mandated prices for agricultural products have acted as a disincentive to producers. State control of farm support systems, including marketing, transportation and input supply, is highly bureaucratic, inefficient, and, often, corrupt. Overvalued exchange rates encourage the import of low-priced farm products, depress local farm incomes, and make exports uncompetitive. Underdeveloped infrastructure results in high transport and marketing costs. The slow rate of technological development and diffusion have slowed growth in agricultural productivity. Irrigation potential is underdeveloped and poorly managed.

A major international commitment is needed to reverse the trends and end the famine threat in Africa. The region possesses considerable potential that could be converted into higher rates of growth. Africa has the world’s largest reserve of arable land, one billion hectares, of which only 20 per cent is presently cultivated. Fertilizer use in sub-Saharan Africa is very low relative to other developing countries. Per hectare consumption averages just 13 per cent of the level in India and 3.5 per cent of the level in China. Recent studies indicate that the area under irrigated crops could be expanded four to five times, primarily through small, private irrigation systems. Improved farm systems have demonstrated that they can raise the yields of most crops in the region. Changes in agricultural policy can improve the efficiency in factor and output markets, raise the incentives of private small farmers, and improve technology generation and dissemination. Institutional reform can improve marketing and distribution services. Investment in infrastructure can significantly lower marketing costs. Indigenous technological capacities can be strengthened to develop location-specific technologies, rather than relying on direct material transfer of crop varieties unsuited to local conditions. Greater emphasis on the training of local manpower can significantly improve the effectiveness of agricultural extension systems and integrated rural development projects.

Special Status of Agriculture

The obvious limitations of government-directed agricultural development, coupled with the resurgent popularity of free-market policies following the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the successful completion of the GATT negotiations, raise fundamental issues about the status of agriculture and the role of government in this sector. Advocates of private enterprise contrast the failures of Eastern European agriculture with the achievements of the industrial nations as ample evidence of the free markets superior capacity to achieve high levels of agricultural productivity. Recently, international and bilateral financial institutions have promoted the market as the most effective instrument for managing agriculture throughout the world.

This view leaves two questions unanswered. First, if the market is so effective, why is it that every major capitalist economy utilizes such a vast array of subsidies, incentives, controls, production quotas and fixed pricing mechanisms to govern production and trade in agricultural products? Even after GATT, protection for this sector by industrial nations will remain high. Second, granted that the market works effectively for mature capitalist societies with high levels of technology, education, productivity, living standards and food surpluses, and relatively small portions of the workforce dependent on agriculture, is the same necessarily true for countries at an earlier stage of development, in which (1) a majority of the workforce is dependent on agriculture for sustenance, (2) levels of education, productivity and incomes are low, and (3) any increase in food prices can have a devastating impact on food consumption levels in the country? The answers to these questions are relevant both to the countries presently making the transition from centrally planned to market economies in Eastern Europe and to poorer developing countries striving to achieve food security.

Nations accord special status to their agricultural sector for several reasons. Continuous supplies of food are absolutely essential to the welfare of the population. Food prices are extremely sensitive to changes in the supply of foodstuffs. Even a small increase or decrease in supply can lead to a very wide fluctuation in prices. A bumper harvest can depress prices to the point of bankrupting large numbers of farmers. A poor harvest can send food prices soaring beyond the purchasing power of large numbers of people. Buffer stocks, subsidies and incentives are used to protect agriculture from sharp price fluctuations. Al though the principles of free trade argue that countries should produce only those items in which they possess a competitive advantage and procure the rest from overseas, few nations are willing to entrust their food supply entirely or even substantially to foreign parties. For decades Japan maintained trade barriers to keep the price of rice at more than six times the international level in order to protect and preserve domestic rice producers; the US government exports subsidized wheat; and the European Community sells subsidized milk powder and butter internationally at prices up to one-third below the domestic level.

The debate over the legitimate role of government in protection of the agricultural economy is partially a question of timing. Market institutions and competitive strengths are normally built up over decades. Advanced nations with highly mechanized and efficient agricultural sectors are in a much better position to withstand the impact of foreign competition than countries at an earlier stage of development. Countries suffering from food deficits and those in the midst of radical economic reforms are ill-advised to make a sudden, wholesale shift to market mechanisms to stimulate growth of this sector.

ICPF strongly favours a movement towards the liberalization of world trade in agricultural products because it can be of immense benefit to job creation, industrialization, and economic growth in developing countries, and thereby act as a driving force for growth and employment generation in the industrial world as well. The liberalization of domestic policies for this sector is also needed in developing countries where government controls and populist policies have often retarded growth of agriculture. However, the timing and extent of these measures should be dictated by the relative strengths and needs of each particular country, not by strict adherence to any economic doctrine.

Role of Government

Agricultural subsidies and protection are subsets of a larger issue the role of government in agricultural development. The experience of the past four decades strongly supports the view that government can play a vital role in stimulating agriculture up to the stage where the rural economy demonstrates the dynamism needed to take off on its own. Although the Green Revolution has been widely heralded as an achievement of modern technology, the hybrid seeds and chemical-based cultivation practices that formed the technological basis for the breakthrough in foodgrain production constitute only one part of a comprehensive, integrated development strategy in which government played a central and crucial role. This strategy included massive, country-wide demonstration programmes to introduce farmers to new technology, the establishment of new public sector agencies for rapid multiplication and distribution of seeds, assured markets and guaranteed floor prices for foodgrains to eliminate fear that higher production would result in crashing prices, construction of additional storage capacity to house the increased production, import or manufacture of fertilizers, and, most importantly, for transport, distribution and marketing of surplus grains in food deficit areas. Few developing countries perhaps few countries at any stage of development could have marshalled resources on such a massive scale and instituted such widespread changes so rapidly without heavy reliance on the government for both planning and execution. In the majority of developing countries, government is still the most organized and efficient agency and the only one capable of such significant initiative. In formulating strategies, it is essential to take fully into account both the stages and steps of the development process. At this stage in their development, it is highly unlikely that food-deficit African nations can make rapid progress toward food self-sufficiency without strong government support and investment to improve technology, training, techno-infrastructure and trade.

Once the rural sector begins to exhibit its own dynamism, as in the majority of developing countries, there is strong justification for a shift in the role of government from that of prime mover, planner and controller of development to that of catalyst and pioneer. Government agencies can tap the potentials of agriculture, identifying new commercial opportunities, educating farmers, demonstrating new potentials, assisting in the transfer and dissemination of new technology, and promoting the establishment of effective organizations preferably privately or co-operatively owned by farmers or at least with their participation to process, distribute and market what is produced.

Coping with the environmental problems to preserve the ecological foundations essential for sustainable agriculture is an area in which government has special responsibilities and must play a leading role on an ongoing basis. Regulating the diversion of prime farm land for non-farm uses, expansion of irrigation capacity, control of groundwater exploitation, major programmes for reforestation and to prevent or reverse desertification, and regulation of pesticide use can only be effectively planned, monitored and regulated by governments.

Comprehensive Strategies

In this and previous chapters, we have tried to present an integrated perspective of the political, economic and technological factors that need to be taken into account in formulating a comprehensive approach to the issues of peace, food and employment. In an effort to illustrate the potential efficacy of this approach in a country representing nearly 25 per cent of the world’s poor, ICPF conducted an in-depth country level study in India to evolve a strategy for stimulating massive increases in job growth and food production (see box pp. 122-24).

Prosperity 2000 strategy for India

The potential for accelerating job creation and increasing food production through a mix of the strategies discussed in this report is illustrated by the strategy which ICPF has proposed to achieve full employment in India and thereby to raise the entire population above the poverty line by generating additional employment opportunities for 100 million persons in the coming decade. This strategy utilizes agriculture as an engine for growth by accelerating the development of commercial agriculture, agro-industry and agro-exports. It calls for a shift in thinking concerning agriculture from production for survival and subsistence to production for maximum and sustainable profit, from emphasis on meeting minimum needs to realizing maximum potentials, from commodity-based to resource-based planning. It seeks to tap the country’s competitive advantage in labour-intensive agricultural crops and allied industries to double agricultural production – raising the annual growth rate to 4 per cent (versus 2.3 per cent in the 1980s) – achieve complete nutritional self-sufficiency, raise rural incomes and double India’s total exports.

Creating new jobs through this low-cost strategy can be accomplished entirely with the country’s own resources, though foreign firms will find investment in India’s agro-industrial sector very attractive. Initially, about half of the new jobs will be generated on farms by raising productivity through methods to improve management of micro-nutrients and water, expanding the total irrigated area by more complete utilization of the substantial additional capacity that has already been created, emphasis on more labour-intensive commercial crops such as sugar, cotton, fruit, flowers, and vegetables, sericulture, inland and coastal aquaculture, reclamation of wastelands for forestry and fodder, and increasing subsidiary incomes from animal husbandry and poultry.

The expansion and intensification of cultivation of these products will raise agricultural output by $25 billion and generate approximately 45 million equivalent full-time unskilled and semi-skilled jobs in agriculture for unemployed and under-employed farmers and landless labour.

The additional agricultural production will form raw material for expansion of rural industrialization and non-farm employment. Another 10 million jobs will be created in downstream agro-industries located in rural areas – in sugar mills, cotton and textile mills, processing units for fruit, fish and silk, and in marketing and distribution – thus serving as a counter-magnet to urban migration. Growth of agro-industry will stimulate demand for industrial machinery and services. The multiplier effect of skyrocketing rural demand will stimulate demand in a broad range of consumer industries and create an estimated 45 million rural and urban jobs in industry and services.

Funding for the strategy would come from a mix of public sector and private sector investment. The funding requirements are within the range of current five-year projections: 84 per cent of additional planned investment in agriculture and 25 per cent of additional planned expenditure in industry. The average cost per additional job is less than $1,000, roughly one-tenth the average cost of jobs in India’s private sector and one-hundredth the cost of new jobs in the public sector.

Implementation of the strategy will require a substantial investment in training of both on-farm and industrial workers, but the plan is based on the recognition that enhancing the skills of the nation’s rural work-force will take time and must be done incrementally. As the programme gains momentum and rural incomes rise, the demand for industrial products and services will grow, resulting in a shift to greater farm mechanization and gradual movement of more and more workers to non-farm employment.

Organization is a crucial issue in a country of more than 90 million small farmers. The strategy envisions the establishment of several new types of organization to bring together small farmers for processing, marketing and distribution and to promote more active linkages between farmers and the private industrial sector, both Indian and foreign.

In order to implement such a massive strategy within a ten-year period, government must play a central role as catalyst and pioneer, rather than owner or manager, to generate widespread public awareness about the technological and commercial opportunities, identify optimal and sustainable resource-based potentials for specific regions, facilitate the transfer and dissemination of technology, provide training and demonstration, invest in the techno-infrastructure needed for transport, storage and distribution, offer management education to rural enterprises, and promote the establishment of new organizations.

The Prosperity 2000 strategy has been adopted by the Indian government and incorporated in India’s Eighth Five Year Plan. A Small Farmer’s Agri-Business Consortium, a specialized agency for implementation of the strategy, has been established by the government to coordinate implementation. In order to evolve a detailed methodology for implementation and to demonstrate the feasibility of the strategy model, district programmes are being organized in 12 districts around the country. A detailed study of Pune District in the State of Maharashtra has documented the potential for creating 750,000 jobs through this strategy. Extrapolation of these results suggests that the 100 million jobs that India needs to create and the 1 billion needed in the developing world are, indeed, achievable, provided that industrial countries adopt trade policies on agricultural products designed to enhance export opportunities for developing nations.

International Agenda for Food Security

The crucial importance of food security to world peace and economic development demands that the international community take collective responsibility and initiative to eradicate hunger and famine on a global basis as a complement to the initiatives of individual countries to deal with the problem domestically. The growth of food production in developing countries can be accelerated dramatically by the application of resource-based, location-specific strategies that incorporate a proper blending of traditional and frontier technologies and integrate all the links in the chain of production, processing, transport and distribution. Conditions vary too widely from country to country for detailed recommendations to be broadly applied. However, a number of strategies are relevant to the majority of developing countries. Some of the components of an Action Plan designed to achieve this goal are given below.

Elimination of agricultural trade barriers by industrial nations. The agreements reached for liberalizing agricultural trade in the Uruguay Round of GATT are an important step forward, but they will not release the full dynamism of the agricultural sector, which is so critical for more rapid growth of incomes and employment in both developing and developed countries. In the previous chapter, we have called for rapid reduction leading to a complete elimination of agricultural subsidies and other trade barriers by industrial nations, which can generate a positive multiplier effect. It has been estimated that complete liberalization of trade in agricultural commodities would yield an annual gain (in 1992 dollars) of about $25 billion for OECD countries and $22 billion for developing and formerly centrally planned countries. Actual gains could be very much higher. These subsidies cost Western consumers several hundred billion dollars annually. In addition, they lead to dumping of surplus sugar, cereal, milk and beef in developing countries, often pushing down the prices which farmers in these countries receive for their produce to far below their production cost. The benefits of eliminating these subsidies would be multiple. For instance, eliminating subsidies to sugar-beet growers and dairy farmers in Europe would stimulate greater demand, not only for imported sugar from developing countries, but also for cocoa, which combined with sugar and milk is the basis for the chocolate industry. Measures of this type will result in substantially increased demand for agricultural products from developing countries, the first step in an upward spiral of global economic growth that will stimulate industrial exports and job growth in both East and West.

  • Global, environmentally sustainable Green Revolution.
    The term ‘Green Revolution’ has been praised for its positive impact on crop productivity and criticized for its likely adverse effects on the environment and social equity. It is often overlooked that one of the most beneficial consequences of the Green Revolution has been its ‘forest-saving’ nature. If agricultural production had not been increased through higher productivity, more forest land would have been diverted to annual cropping. India alone would have needed at least 50 million hectares of additional land to produce the wheat and rice it now produces, if average yields had remained at pre-Green Revolution levels. It is, therefore, important that the concept of higher productivity per unit of land, water, time, energy, labour and capital be extended to all farming systems and all regions. Most developing countries will have no option but to produce more food and agricultural commodities from less land and water in the twenty-first century. The challenge lies in accomplishing this in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner. The FAO should launch a co ordinated international effort to extend the principles and strategies of the Green Revolution to eradicate global food shortages within a decade. The Green Revolution was originally applied to improving productivity of wheat and rice in high potential areas. After the first rounds of phenomenal success, the effort to extend it to other agricultural regions and other crops lost momentum, because the urgent necessity had been eliminated. Recognizing the importance of agricultural surplus to rural employment, industrialization and exports, renewed efforts are called for to apply the comprehensive, integrated approach of the Green Revolution to high potential commercial crops and to all regions. With the knowledge gained over the past 30 years, greater emphasis can be placed on ensuring that the productivity improvements are not only economically viable but also ecologically sustainable. Region-specific strategies should be adopted for mountain areas, high rainfall tropics, uplands and irrigated plains. The crops covered should include foodgrains and oil seeds, cotton and jute, sugar cane, fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, medicinal plants, spices, and agro-forestry for fodder, fuel and industrial raw materials.
  • UN development force for food deficit regions.
    The complex task of planning, managing and executing nationwide programmes to eradicate food shortages may be beyond the political, administrative and management capacities of some governments, hampered by the absence of training and experience, political instability or social strife. The slowest member country retards the progress of the whole world. The interests of global peace, political stability and basic human rights justify and may necessitate external assistance to help countries establish viable food security systems. In countries that are unable either to produce sufficient food or to initiate coordinated programmes to overcome present deficits, the international development force proposed earlier in this report can act in a trusteeship role to assist in designing and implementing integrated programmes to upgrade food production and distribution. UNDP can undertake the role of coordinating the activities of all UN agencies in this effort. Emphasis should be placed on sustainable production and distribution not just relief operations through the introduction of effective systems for planning, administration, education, demonstration and implementation.
  • Model districts.
    The potential benefits of applying a resource-based, location-specific approach to agriculture can best be demonstrated by the establishment of model programmes in different agro-climatic regions. The models should be large enough geographically to serve as a viable index of national-level potentials and of economic and ecological sustainability. Although the concept may vary from place to place, the central approach is to examine in detail the current usage of both land and water resources and then formulate a district level plan for utilizing available physical, technological, human, managerial and financial resources in a sustainable manner to optimize, over time, production, productivity, farm incomes and employment, non-farm occupations, self-employment opportunities, agro-industrial development, exports and expansion of the service sector. This analysis is likely to identify a wide gap between present and potential achievements, which can form the basis for creating an alternative district development plan. Government can seek the assistance of farmers’ organizations, private enter prise, educational and research institutes, and voluntary agencies for gathering information, analysis and plan formulation. Implementation of the plan should be primarily through activities that facilitate more efficient operation of market forces, such as assisting farmers to identify and transfer improved technology, establishing commercial organizations of small farmers and linkages between farms and industry, disseminating in formation on markets and technology, demonstration, education, training and incentives to stimulate rapid multiplication. The UN development force can undertake to assist countries in the design and implementation of model district programmes in food deficit countries, and to transfer the expertise needed for replication in other parts of each country.
  • World food model.
    The actual structure and dynamics of the development of global agriculture and its relationship to industrial ization, employment and trade needs to be fully understood in order to plan for, and achieve, a world free of hunger. Although national and international institutions maintain a variety of data bases and models to track the impact of production, trade and prices in agriculture, these models are too limited in scope and detail to construct a working global model of the agricultural sector, which could serve as a valuable tool in projecting the medium- and long-term interactions of changes in food production, consumption, employment, trade, productivity, technology and environmental factors. A world food model, which forms the essential basis for evolving a global strategic plan, can help eliminate both food deficits and surpluses.
  • On-farm training.
    The massive demonstration programmes, conducted in farmers’ own fields by countries such as India to propagate the Green Revolution technology, proved that even uneducated, traditional peasant farmers in developing countries will rush to adopt new technology when its application and benefits are clearly demonstrated. The slow dissemination of new technologies that still hampers agriculture in these countries is largely due to the ineffectiveness of more traditional types of extension and farmer education conducted on a relatively limited scale by agricultural colleges, technical institutes and research stations. This gap in the agricultural education system can be closed by expanding the agricultural training network to the village level. The establishment of farm schools in villages, on land temporarily leased from local farmers, can combine the advantages of both formal training and demonstration on farmers’ fields, with emphasis on economic viability and ecological sustainability. This is a low cost strategy that requires prior training of a large number of village level instructors, but little investment in infra structure. The schools can demonstrate the economic benefits of new and improved crops and cultivation practices, engaging local farmers as both students and staff, and covering most of the cost of training in the form of sale proceeds from the farm schools’ production.
  • Water conservation.
    The inefficient and negligent use of water in agriculture is one of the most serious barriers to a sustainable expansion of agricultural production. Public policy regarding the cost of water supplied by major irrigation projects and low-cost or free distribution of power for pumping underground water aggravate the problem. Technologically, the solutions to water depletion are largely in hand. What is needed is a massive effort in public education and demonstration, coupled with incentives to encourage their adoption. In monsoon regions it has been demonstrated that recharging underground aquifers by reverse pumping during rain-surplus seasons can restore ten years of water depletion in one rainy season. Proven methods are available and have been commercially applied with great success, as the achievements of Israel so dramatically demonstrate, radically to reduce water consumption by as much as five- to ten-fold, while at the same time significantly increasing crop yields. The most productive of these methods, involving the construction of greenhouses, is too capital-intensive for immediate wide spread adoption in developing countries. Drip and sprinkler irrigation are far more moderate in cost and still result in enormous savings of water. The cost of adopting these methods can be further reduced by more widely popularizing them, so as to achieve increasing economies of scale in their manufacture.
  • Low-input sustainable agriculture.
    While we have argued against pressure on food-deficit developing countries to reduce their comparatively low-level usage of mineral fertilizers and chemical pesticides, empirical studies sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences and the Department of Agriculture in the USA found strong evidence, long resisted by scientists and commercial farmers in the West, that chemical-free farming can be as productive and cost-effective as chemical-based methods. Industrial countries that offer subsidies to encourage chemical usage should modify their policies to provide active incentives for the use of chemical-free methods instead. During the last ten years, Indonesia has succeeded in bringing down the consumption of chemical pesticides without adversely affecting grain production through the nationwide adoption of integrated pest management systems for food crop protection. India has launched a massive national training programme to popularize bio logical methods of pest control, which can reduce the consumption and cost of chemical pesticides by 50 to 75 per cent. Public education programmes of this type are needed at the national and international level to disseminate information about chemical-free methods to producers and to educate consumers in developed and developing countries about both the health and environmental benefits of organically grown produce.
  • Inland aquaculture. Depletion of deep-sea fishery resources has resulted in a significant decline in world harvests from the sea. Proven technology is available for substantially replacing sea-grown fish with fresh or salt water pond-grown varieties. The new intensive and semi-intensive methods of cultivation can generate yields 10 to 100 times higher than traditional extensive methods. Due to the warmer climate and lower labour costs of the developing world, inland aquaculture can become a major stimulus to rural employment, incomes, processing industries and exports.
  • Micro-level indicators of food security. Development initiatives have been severely limited by the absence of accurate and sensitive measures to assess the impact of national-level policies and programmes on food security at community and household level. New indices, such as the Sustain able Livelihood Security Index now under development in India, need to be evolved and applied; they should combine measures of income and employment; food and nutritional status, including the availability of safe drinking water and sanitation facilities; ownership of productive assets; and education and productive skills.