Bolstering farm sector in developing economies

B K Mukhopadhyay | Published: August 05, 2018 21:32:39 | Updated: August 06, 2018 21:21:24

Innovative Integrated Farming System (IFS)

The Indian Government is promoting scientifically designed and tailor-made Integrated Farming System (IFS). Time is ripe for promoting location-specific IFS models for achieving the goal of doubling farmers' income by 2022. IFS address multiple objectives including raising production, profits, cost-reduction through recycling, family nutrition, ecological security and employment generation, among others. They are the small farms (of up to 2 hectare) that hold the key to ensuring food and nutritional security of India. Hence location specific integration is necessary. Naturally, through IFS, the income of farmers will go up as they will be producing field crops along with other farm activities like dairy and poultry. 'The 2017-18 Economic Survey' mentioned that the share of income of farmers from crop production increased by only one per cent, while it increased by seven per cent for livestock over a period of 10 years.

In today's world, a stronger performing agricultural sector is fundamental for such economies' overall economic growth and as such a constantly-growing agricultural sector is crucial for addressing hunger, poverty and inequality. 

Agriculture continues to play a dominant role globally and its importance has been on the rise over time owing to a number of reasons. Agriculture rules the economies of most developing economies, providing jobs, income and exports.  For example: in Africa, some 60 per cent of employment and 20 per cent of the continent's export earnings are generating from agricultural activities. Agricultural inputs account for two-thirds of value-added manufacture in most African countries.

A healthy agriculture sector means more jobs, more income and more food for the poor in as much as improving agricultural performance generates income in rural, semi-urban, urban and metropolitan regions. Rising income enables households to save / spend more thus stimulating growth and investment in other sectors and at the same time addressing hunger and poverty. 

Though significant changes are being witnessed in India, China, Bangladesh or Israel, among others, yet so far as the developing world as a whole is concerned, the situation as of now cannot be termed as satisfactory. 

Let us review the latest goings - good or bad - taking the examples from some of developing economies.

It is heartening to note that in developing economies like Vietnam, Bangladesh and India, agri allied activities are increasing. In Vietnam, a good number of farmers in Da Lat [city of flowers] have switched to hi-tech floriculture in recent years. This is heralding a transformation of the agriculture sector in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, which now has a total of 3,800ha dedicated to hi-tech cultivation of flowers, according to the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Indeed, the application of hi-tech farming has been a breakthrough in agricultural production, bringing about far-reaching changes in rural areas as well as the lives of farmers in Lam Dong. The application of advanced technology resulted in higher productivity and value than traditional cultivation. With hi-tech floriculture, farmers grow flowers in greenhouses with automatic irrigation systems. Hi-tech farming brought in recent years, an average annual revenues of between VND 800 million (US$38,000) and VND 1 billion ($47,600) per ha, 1.6 times the earnings from traditional cultivation. Previously, a few companies and households were the only ones applying hi-tech floriculture in Lam Dong, but this number has increased exponentially in the last seven to eight years. It is pertinent to note that Lam Dong flowers are exported not only to neighbouring countries and territories but also to the EU and North America.

Especially, the African situation as a whole requires immediate pep up. Current trends in food security and poverty indicators by region clearly emphasise the urgency for African countries. The numbers of people living on less than $1 per day is expected to go up by 45 million in Africa between 1999 and 2015.

In other developing regions, the poverty numbers are expected to decrease by 330 million. Expectations are similar for the numbers of undernourished - with six million more in sub-Saharan Africa and a substantial decrease in undernourished Asia and Latin American region.  The regional average food consumption level in Africa is expected to increase only by seven per cent in the next 15 years to 2,360 kcal/person/day compared with 2,700 for South Asia, 2,980 for Latin America and 3,060 for East Asia.

Hopefully, the organic farming sector can gain some ground. In Sri Lanka, much of the agricultural sector has become dependent on agricultural chemicals. It has been a fact that fertilisers, pesticides, and growth regulators are widely used because of the increasing demand for food quantity, rather than quality, from a limited land area. The silver lining is that in the recent past interested individuals have developed organic farming units - accumulated knowledge on the benefits of organic farming, as well as increasing demand for export of organically-grown products playing the role.  However, these units, scattered in the wet zone, are considered negligible in the agricultural sector, in as much as productivity is somewhat less than the traditional farming units which use agricultural chemicals.

The emerging fact is, therefore, fundamental changes in priorities and strategies are needed over the next two decades if current trends are to be reversed, especially with a view to: alleviating poverty, by emphasizing the production of basic goods and services and by generating income to meet basic needs; protecting the environment, by conserving and rehabilitating watersheds, arresting land degradation and desertification and conserving biological diversity.

Time is ripe for adopting practical realistic strategies that can ensure food, water and energy security. This involves (i) empowering key actors and enhancing positive action by assigning top priority to the public sector and enabling it to play a leading role in creating conditions for all stakeholders to function effectively; (ii) supporting the development of an effective and transparent market mechanism; (iii) improving the efficiency of the informal sector by providing legal, institutional and other support mechanisms.

Specific attention must be paid towards improving strategic planning capacities at the national and sub-regional level, as rightly pointed out by the FAO. The aim is to promote and encourage actions to improve agriculture's contributions to economic growth and hunger reduction.

Countries should share information, experiences and effective policies to help each other.  Yes, the destruction of forest land for other economic purposes occurred in many ASEAN countries. The forest coverage in ASEAN nations is around 48 per cent, which is 19 per cent higher than in the rest of Asia. Laos has the highest coverage with 67 per cent - and Singapore the lowest with three per cent. Viet Nam ranked seventh with 42 per cent. Viet Nam signed a co-operation agreement with Cambodia and Laos on trans-border forestry protection and illegal logging prevention.

It has rightly been opined that 'today's agricultural situation is plainly one of squandered resources. Even America, often called the 'land of plenty' and 'breadbasket of the world,' is now a major food importer besieged with soil erosion, unpredictable weather patterns, inflated prices and farm bankruptcies in a world of food shortages and international tensions competing for resources. The "Green Revolution" of Norman Borlaugh's day only served to delay the growing crisis.'

Rupert Murdoch has rightly opined: 'The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow.' Sooner we understand this, the better.

Dr B K Mukhopadhyay, management economist, is Principal of ICFAI University, Tripura, India.


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