Monday, June 23, 2008

This Day in Agriculture - India Falling Below Potential / Opening Conservation Lands to Farming in the US

A couple of interesting reads from the previous week - it does highlight some potential solutions to the growing food crisis i.e. If India could even become 2/3rds as productive in their agriculture sector, they could race up to join the United States and Russia/satellite states as an agriculture giant. But it is a long road ahead.

NYTimes: In Fertile India, Growth Outstrips Agriculture
  • With the right technology and policies, India could help feed the world. Instead, it can barely feed itself.
  • India’s supply of arable land is second only to that of the United States, its economy is one of the fastest growing in the world, and its industrial innovation is legendary. But when it comes to agriculture, its output lags far behind potential. For some staples, India must turn to already stretched international markets, exacerbating a global food crisis.
  • Forty years ago, a giant development effort known as the Green Revolution drove hunger from an India synonymous with famine and want. Now, after a decade of neglect, this country is growing faster than its ability to produce more rice and wheat.
  • ....while (Prime Minister) Mr. Singh worries about feeding the poor, India’s growing affluent population demands not only more food but also a greater variety.
  • India’s own people are paying as well. Farmers, most subsisting on small, rain-fed plots, are disproportionately poor, and inflation has soared past 11 percent, the highest in 13 years.
  • The Green Revolution introduced high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat, expanded the use of irrigation, pesticides and fertilizers, and transformed the northwestern plains into India’s breadbasket. Between 1968 and 1998, the production of cereals in India more than doubled. But since the 1980s, the government has not expanded irrigation and access to loans for farmers, or to advance agricultural research. Groundwater has been depleted at alarming rates. (the ultimate shortage)
  • Family farms have shrunk in size and quantity, and a few years ago mounting debt began to drive some farmers to suicide. Now many find it more profitable to sell their land to developers of industrial buildings. (loss of arable land - this is repeating in many developing countries as "urban" takes over "rural")
  • Among farmers who stay on their land, many are experimenting with growing high-value fruits and vegetables that prosperous Indians are craving, but there are few refrigerated trucks to transport their produce to modern supermarkets.
  • A long and inefficient supply chain means that the average farmer receives less than a fifth of the price the consumer pays, a World Bank study found, far less than farmers in, say, Thailand or the United States.
  • Here in Punjab, more than three-fourths of the districts extract more groundwater than is replenished by nature.
  • Today only 40 percent of Indian farms are irrigated. “When there is no water, there is nothing,” Mr. Chawla said. (that's a problem...)
  • The luckiest farmers make more money selling out to land-hungry mall developers. Gurmeet Singh Bassi, 33, blessed with a farm on the edges of a booming Punjabi city called Ludhiana, sold off most of his ancestral land. Its value had grown more than fivefold in two years.
NYTimes: U.S. May Free up More Land for Corn Crops
  • Signs are growing that the government may allow farmers to plant crops on millions of acres of conservation land, while a chorus of voices is also pleading with Washington to cut requirements for ethanol production.
  • In disasters, the Environmental Protection Agency can roll back requirements for ethanol production, which could free up a large amount of corn for animal feed. Mr. Grassley, a strong ethanol backer, rejected that proposition, but in recent days many industries that depend on corn have urged the government to act.
  • About 34 million acres are enrolled in the government’s biggest conservation program, known as the Conservation Reserve Program. Farmers enroll their land for as long as a decade and cannot take it out without paying severe penalties.

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