Fair and long-lasting 'green revolutions' for the poorest countries
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CTA. 1998. Fair and long-lasting 'green revolutions' for the poorest countries. Spore 73. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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A 2020 vision for food, agriculture and the environment,1996 IFPRI, 1200 Seventeenth Street NW, Washington DC 20036-3006, USA The green revolution revisited: critique and alternatives by B Glaeser 1987 206pp Allen & Unwin, London, UK After the green
Within some thirty years, the Green Revolution in Asia changed the global balance of food supply to the point at which some countries, which had previously been structurally deficient in food, became flourishing exporters of cereals. However, even within these same countries, the present yield ceiling, coupled with soil degradation, is currently raising concerns. Elsewhere, notably in Africa, many countries are experiencing rising demand for food from their rapidly expanding populations and yet are hardly able to maintain their current, mediocre production levels. Why should there be such great differences - and how can the poorest countries bring about their own 'green revolutions'? The Green Revolution began in Europe at the end of the 1950s and then spread to India and many other Asian countries at the beginning of the 1970s, improving the world supply of food even though the world population doubled. According to Gordon Conway, Vice Chancellor of the University of Sussex (UK), average yields of cereals more than doubled from 1.1t/ha to about 2.7t/ha and food production increased from 300kg to 360kg per capita. This global picture, while positive overall, nevertheless hides major differences between regions. Many countries, particularly ACP countries, have found themselves unable to take advantage of this process and some have even recorded a decrease in food supply. Furthermore, even in those countries where food production was most progressive, the Green Revolution failed to eliminate malnutrition totally. India, for example, while being largely self-sufficient in cereals and with an annual surplus of 30 million tonnes, nevertheless still has 400 million people living below the poverty line in a state of chronic under-nutrition. Forecasts to 2020, notably that of IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute), suggest an increase in the world population of more than 2 billion individuals, principally in the less favoured countries of Africa and Asia. New concerns are now arising because cereal yields seem to have reached a ceiling in the major producing regions. One reason for yields not increasing as before is the fact that demand from those who can pay has largely been met. Efforts to increase productivity tend to create an excess of supply which is beyond the markets' capacity to absorb. This is very different from saying that the need, or 'social' demand, has been met. Another factor has been soil degradation including waterlogging, salination, lack of organic matter and compaction, all of which are consequences of more intensive cultivation. Another risk to future food supply is associated with the fact that, in the context of climate change, more than 50% of the world food supply depends on the cultivation of three cereals: wheat, rice and maize. It is the sustainability of this traditional, and often inequitable, model of food production which is now being questioned. What makes a 'green' revolution? The Green Revolution in Asia has too often been attributed solely to the adoption of high yielding varieties of wheat and rice developed by the International Wheat and Maize Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and the International Rice Research Institution (IRRI) respectively. In reality it was the result of many complex and interacting technical and economic factors coupled with political determination in countries such as India. Greater intensity of crop production implies the use of varieties with high yielding potential and, therefore, recourse to inputs such as fertilizer, pesticides, water and mechanization. Water, in particular, must be properly managed because no farmer can afford to purchase inputs that are expensive in relation to his resources when unpredictable rainfall puts a return on that outlay at risk. This is why the Green Revolution has, for the most part, been restricted to those regions where water is plentiful and where it can be easily managed to provide irrigation and drainage. A simplified view might be that a 'green revolution' can be achieved wherever environmental conditions can be adapted to suit high yielding varieties. In reality, it has to be said that many other conditions are also necessary. From the farmers' point of view, there are two basic factors upon which intensification of production depend; improved farm profitability and a reduction in associated risks. Irrigation and pesticides reduce the agronomic risk but dramatically increase the economic risk. Any improvement in profitability will be totally dependent on the market. No 'green revolution' can take place unless there are consumers, preferably close by, who are able to buy the produce at a price which is sufficient to remunerate the work of farmers and cover the costs of production and marketing. In Asia, as in Europe, fiscal incentives have been used to improve national competitiveness and reduce the cost of production. Policies have included such measures as removing taxes on inputs, or subsidizing them, giving access to credit at favourable rates, and even rural electrification which is a more economical means of pumping irrigation water than diesel pumps. An effective, commercial, production chain together with efficient transport systems combine to reduce the costs of trading and improve access to markets. This is why Uma Lele of the World Bank underlined the fact that her country, India, had a road system that, even in the 1970s, was five times better than that of Nigeria during the 1980s, despite both countries having the same population density. Uma Lele also recalls that, with regard to direct state intervention in the market, even where a monopoly situation does not exist, 'Throughout Asia, the State has had an important role in bringing stability to agricultural prices, being both buyer and seller of last resort. It has also undertaken to pay compensation when necessary'. This is no different from the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union which, despite reforms, is still using mechanisms to limit imports and intervene in the market for cereals, meat and milk, in particular, by guaranteeing minimum prices to farmers which are sometimes much higher than world market prices. The globalization of world markets and the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are not making the task for the poorest countries, the majority of them African, any easier. Already subject to less favourable agro-climatic conditions, economic instability and poor access to markets, they will need much more in the way of organization and information than they presently enjoy if they are to achieve their own 'green revolutions'. Green and white revolutions in Africa The success of maize in Zimbabwe and cotton in West Africa show that Africa is capable of such 'revolutions'. The 'white revolution' in cotton cultivation has taken place in rainfed savanna where the monetary economy was, at the outset, still weak. This demonstrates the complementary influences of the market and of political will. Opening up of transport routes, supply of inputs, credit, extension, cotton ginning etc., provided for under publicly funded development companies, have served to make West Africa the leading world exporting region for cotton. The effect of liberalizing the cereals market in Mali and, more recently, devaluation of the CFA franc, has led to rapid intensification of rice production among the growers in the irrigated regions of the Office du Niger. Encouraged by the increase in price for paddy from 40 to 120 FCFA/kg between 1994 and 1996, there is now much greater use made of fertilizer, and transplanting is taking over from broadcast seeding. It would also be fair to include the rapid development of market gardening and peri-urban agricultural production as 'green revolutions' of a kind. Both have been stimulated by private enterprise and close proximity of markets. Improving farmers' techniques and diversification All these 'revolutions' are, however, still very limited and leave untouched the vast majority of rural areas. Each year, population growth further threatens the traditional, extensive farming systems. Shorter periods of fallow, and soils exposed to erosion as a result of primitive cultural techniques, both diminish natural soil fertility. Farmers have neither the capacity to invest in development nor the ability to undertake large-scale land management schemes. Furthermore, potential markets are too distant. In effect there is no serious possibility of being able to overcome the problems of malnutrition and poverty by undertaking large-scale, intensive monoculture traditionally associated with the Green Revolution. Many voices have been raised in recent years, among them scientists, NGOs, and even some politicians, all advocating a more evolutionary approach to local development. The concept of participatory research and development is central to this idea, which is built on the premise of sustainable land management and looks for more limited, although infinitely less costly, improvement in yields by a progressive improvement in farmers' techniques. Huge land management schemes, many of which have proved ruinous in the past, should therefore give way to practices that are manageable by farmers themselves for controlling erosion, for example, or village irrigation. In the same way, the diversity of production systems contributes to the sustainability of ecosystems and takes advantage of locally variable conditions and biodiversity. There is a wide range of cultural techniques that have been proved to be effective in managing soil fertility but that do not require a high level of inputs. Stands of Acacia albida have been used in some areas of the Sahel to improve soil fertility. More recent and more widespread are techniques such as composting, intercropping with leguminous crops for nitrogen fixation, use of mulch or permanent ground cover to prevent erosion, directly sown seed and agroforestry, all of which offer many possibilities. Farming systems which combine livestock and crops cost more in terms of investment and are more complicated to manage but they have the advantage of providing animal traction and organic manure for improving soil fertility. They can also add value to crop by-products used as feed. Immediate needs and techniques for the future Agricultural scientists are already undertaking work at a local level which is consistent with this type of diversified development. Much work has already been done on selecting varieties and developing farming methods which are appropriate to farmers' needs. A pragmatic approach is emerging. An effective device, which is currently available, for example, is installing a fly screen to protect tomatoes from whitefly, Bemisia tabaci, and the virus TYLCV which it carries. Also, an analysis of how local markets work may improve access to markets in secondary towns and even the capital. On a larger scale, agricultural research should revise its priorities and broaden its activities to include a greater number of successfully cultivated varieties. High Yielding Varieties (HYVs) that only perform in ideal conditions should no longer take priority. Varieties that are more robust in nature are more appropriate: they must be reasonably productive but, above all, less demanding in terms of inputs and more economical to cultivate. Many breeders are already working towards these goals by selecting for resistance to drought, pests and diseases. The identification of genetic sources of resistance to biotic or soil factors (such as salinity, acidity etc.) must be done systematically. The expertise in biotechnology, which has been developed in the most advanced research institutions in industrialized countries in order to take advantage of this genetic potential, should be the subject of knowledge transfer. As Antoine Cornet (ORSTOM) underlines 'progress depends on having scientists trained in this field in developing countries.' Diverse and locally specific 'green revolutions' are directing the scientific community towards working with farmers and taking advantage of their knowledge to make better use of agricultural ecosystems. The challenge, which is far more complex than any undertaken hitherto, is to work simultaneously at two very different levels in space and time; how to meet immediate needs while at the same time prepare for the future. Political will, decentralization and local management The task for policy makers is equally challenging. The need for finance, for example, is much less than that required for vast, irrigated schemes but putting that finance in place and assuring the viability of small-scale rural credit which is so essential for this type of development, are still far from being a reality. Even if it consists of no more than simple tracks, the cost of road infrastructure grows in proportion to the land area to be served. Reorganization of the tax and legal systems (tenancy law, company law, banking statutes, etc.) should favour private enterprise, especially for small processing units, trading and those services such as management advice as well as supplies, of which agriculture has need. It is obvious that a centralized administration will find it impossible to control access to, and sustainable management of, natural resources. The chaotic over-exploitation of forest resources, which is the norm rather than the exception far from the capital cities, is one obvious example. For small-scale 'green revolutions' to be effective, the State must decentralize some of its responsibilities. Local collectives are much better able to exercise proper control and may pass on to the State a proportion of the revenue generated by tax on use of resources. A contractual arrangement of this sort has been established near Niamey for use of firewood. Whether policies are successful or not should be judged more on whether they bring about a continuing drop in levels of malnutrition and an improvement in the quality of rural life, than in classical terms of return on investment or of volume of exports. The challenge should not be underestimated. How, and to what extent, should the concept of equality and fairness prevail over that of hard economics? For further information: A 2020 vision for food, agriculture and the environment,1996 IFPRI, 1200 Seventeenth Street NW, Washington DC 20036-3006, USA The green revolution revisited: critique and alternatives by B Glaeser 1987 206pp Allen & Unwin, London, UK After the green revolution: sustainable agriculture for development G R Conway, E B Barbier 1990 205pp Earthscan Publications Ltd, London N1 9JN, UK
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