Posts Tagged ‘subsidies’


Agricultural Population Growth Marginal as Nonagricultural Population Soars

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The global agricultural population—defined as individuals dependent on agriculture, hunting, fishing, and forestry for their livelihood—accounted for over 37 percent of the world’s total population in 2011, the most recent year for which data are available. This is a decrease of 12 percent from 1980, when the world’s agricultural and nonagricultural populations were roughly the same size. Although the agricultural population shrunk as a share of total population between 1980 and 2011, it grew numerically from 2.2 billion to 2.6 billion people during this period.

The world’s agricultural population grew from 2.2 billion to 2.6 billion people between 1980 and 2011. (Photo Credit: UNDP)

Between 1980 and 2011, the nonagricultural population grew by a staggering 94 percent, from 2.2 billion to 4.4 billion people—a rate approximately five times greater than that of agricultural population growth. In both cases growth was driven by the massive increase in the world’s total population, which more than doubled between 1961 and 2011, from 3.1 billion to 7 billion people.

It should be noted that the distinction between these population groups is not the same as the rural-urban divide. Rural populations are not exclusively agricultural, nor are urban populations exclusively nonagricultural. The rural population of Africa in 2011 was 622.8 million, for instance, while the agricultural population was 520.3 million.

Although the agricultural population grew worldwide between 1980 and 2011, growth was restricted to Africa, Asia, and Oceania. During this period, this population group declined in North, Central, and South America, in the Caribbean, and in Europe.

In 2011, Africa and Asia accounted for about 95 percent of the world’s agricultural population. In contrast, the agricultural population in the Americas accounted for a little less than 4 percent. Especially in the United States, this is the result of the development and use of new and innovative technologies as well as the increased use of farm machinery, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation systems that require less manual labor.



5 Strategies the United Nations Special Rapporteur Suggests for Public Health

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By Alison Blackmore

With 1.3 billion people now overweight or obese, nearly 1 billion undernourished, and even more suffering from critical micronutrient deficiencies, it is no secret that our food system is broken. Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food released a report in 2011 urging governments to move away from the practice of merely prescribing health warnings and applying band-aids to public health challenges. Instead, he urged governments to address the root causes of the international health crisis.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food urges governments to address the root causes of the international health crisis. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia)

Today, Nourishing the Planet looks at the five actions that Mr. De Schutter suggests that governments take to protect the human right to adequate food around the world.

Taxing unhealthy products. De Schutter reported that taxing unhealthy products can be an effective strategy to encourage healthy diets, since price is an important determinant in consumption levels. Research published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2007 showed that a 10 percent tax on soft drinks could lead to an 8–10 percent reduction in purchases. Because foods high in fat, salt, and sugar are cheap while nutritious diets can be expensive, many consumers gravitate toward unhealthy food choices out of financial necessity. To ensure a more equal food system, the report advises governments to direct the tax revenues raised from foods high in fat, salt, and sugar toward making healthy food more affordable and accessible to poor communities.

Example: Despite strong opposition from retailers city-wide, in May 2010 the Washington, D.C. Council added sweetened soda to those items subject to the 6 percent sales tax. The city intended to use the tax revenue to support D.C.’s Healthy Schools Act, a landmark measure seeking to improve school nutrition and increase Physical Education programs.

Regulating foods high in saturated fats, salt, and sugar. Taxing foods high in fats, sugar, and salt is just one way of suppressing a sugar-high food system before it crashes. De Schutter also suggests that governments regulate junk food and fast food advertisements, especially those catered to children; provide accurate and balanced nutritional information to consumers; and adopt a plan to replace trans-fats with polyunsaturated fats in nearly all food products.

Example: In October of 2011, Denmark imposed a so-called “fat tax” on products high in saturated fats in order to repress rising obesity rates, which have led to increasing medical and social problems. Denmark has a long history of taxing unhealthy products to promote healthy diets, such as a tax on candy and a ban on trans-fats—perhaps a reason the country’s obesity rate in 2011 was 1.6 percent lower than the European average of 15 percent.



Global Irrigated Area at Record Levels, But Expansion Slowing

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By Judith Renner

In 2009, the most recent year for which global data are available from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 311 million hectares in the world was equipped for irrigation but only 84 percent of that area was actually being irrigated, according to new research conducted for our Vital Signs Online service. As of 2010, the countries with the largest irrigated areas were India (39 million hectares), China (19 million), and the United States (17 million).

Water withdrawals for irrigation will need to rise by 11 percent in the next three decades to meet crop production demands. (Photo Credit: Julie Braun)

The irrigation sector claims about 70 percent of the freshwater withdrawals worldwide. Irrigation can offer crop yields that are two to four times greater than is possible with rainfed farming, and it currently provides 40 percent of the world’s food from approximately 20 percent of all agricultural land.

Since the late 1970s, irrigation expansion has experienced a marked slowdown. The FAO attributes the decline in investment to the unsatisfactory performances of formal large canal systems, corruption in the construction process, and acknowledgement of the environmental impact of irrigation projects.

The increasing availability of inexpensive individual pumps and well construction methods has led to a shift from public to private investment in irrigation, and from larger to smaller-scale systems. The takeoff in individual groundwater irrigation has been concentrated in India, China, and much of Southeast Asia. The idea of affordable and effective irrigation is attractive to poor farmers worldwide, with rewards of higher outputs and incomes and better diets.

The option is often made even more appealing with offers of government subsidies for energy costs of running groundwater pumps and support prices of irrigated products. In India’s Gujarat state, for example, energy subsidies are structured so that farmers pay a flat rate, no matter how much electricity they use. But with rising numbers of farmers tapping groundwater resources, more and more aquifers are in danger of overuse.

If groundwater resources are overexploited, aquifers will be unable to recharge fast enough to keep pace with water withdrawals. It should be noted that not all aquifers are being pumped at unsustainable levels—in fact, 80 percent of aquifers worldwide could handle additional water withdrawals. One troubling aspect of groundwater withdrawals is that the world’s major agricultural producers (particularly India, China, and the United States) are also the ones responsible for the highest levels of depletion.a

Another problem with pumping water from aquifers and redirecting flows for irrigation is the impact on delicate environmental balances. Salinization occurs when water moves past plant roots to the water table due to inefficient irrigation and drainage systems; as the water table rises, it brings salts to the base of plant roots. Plants take in the water, and the salts are left behind, degrading soil quality and therefore the potential for growth.

A potentially better alternative is drip irrigation, a form of micro-irrigation that waters plants slowly and in small amounts either on the soil surface or directly on roots. Using these techniques has the potential to reduce water use by as much as 70 percent while increasing output by 20–90 percent. Within the last two decades, the area irrigated using drip and other micro-irrigation methods has increased 6.4-fold, from 1.6 million hectares to over 10.3 million hectares.

With predictions of a global population exceeding 9 billion by 2050, demand for higher agricultural output will put more strain on already fragile water reserves. Even without the effects of climate change, water withdrawals for irrigation will need to rise by 11 percent in the next three decades to meet crop production demands. Reconciling increasing food demands with decreasing water security requires efficient systems that produce more food with less water and that minimize water waste. Intelligent water management is crucial especially in the face of climate change, which will force the agriculture industry to compete with the environment for water.

Further highlights from the report:

  1. The share of the area equipped for irrigation that is actually under irrigation ranges from 77 to 87 percent in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and in Oceania, but is only 59 percent in Europe. More reliable rainfall allows farmers in northern and eastern Europe to rely less on existing irrigation infrastructure than is the case in drier or more variable climates.
  2. Worldwide, the most commonly used irrigation technique is flood irrigation, even though plants often use only about half the amount of water applied in that system.
  3. India claims the lead in irrigated area worldwide, irrigating almost 2 million hectares of its land using drip and micro-irrigation techniques.

Judith Renner is a senior at Fordham University in New York.


Briefing serves up food for thought on global hunger

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By Philip Newell

At a Global Hunger and Food Security briefing held by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and the Interfaith Working Group on Global Hunger and Food Security, several experts offered a bounty of ideas to fortify food security around the world.  In attendance were representatives from United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and American Jewish World Service (AJWS), as well as keynote speaker and U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter.

Planting different kinds of crops in a field (multi-cropping) is a main tenant of Agroecology (Photo Credit: Bernard Pollack)

De Schutter was on hand to discuss his most recent report, Agroecology and the Right to Food in which he lays out a series of recommendations for national and international development policy.  “We are not facing a food crisis” explained De Schutter, “We are facing three crises,” poverty, environment, and nutrition. But according to De Schutter, agro-ecology can help address all these problems.

Agroecology can help alleviate  the poverty crisis by encouraging small farmers to grow a variety of complimentary crops to be sold locally, instead of growing grains exclusively for sale in the global market.  This transition to more diversified agricultural systems can also help alleviate the ecological crisis by helping to  reduce dependence on artificial fertilizers and other inputs.  And when farmers grow a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables, their families eat better. According to De Schutter, governments and donor groups should increase investment in public goods. Instead of doling out seeds and fertilizer through subsidies, donors should be focused on helping to  establish markets and infrastructure, such as roads, that allow farmers to sell their produce. Regional and local markets need to be established, thereby “linking rural local producers with urban consumers” said De Schutter.

De Schutter also explained how investing in knowledge systems will help connect farmers with researchers, as well as helping connect farmers to one another. And, said De Schutter, aid and development programs need to include  the “gender dimension” to make sure women farmers are getting the resources they need.  In many developing nations, women lack the access to most means of production, notably land ownership and financing.



Sustainable Agriculture takes root in Oxfam’s GROW Campaign

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By Philip Newell

According to Oxfam President Ray Offenheiser, making sure that “everyone has enough to eat.  Always.” is the main goal of Oxfam’s new Grow campaign.  Oxfam seeks to drastically reduce the number of people suffering from malnutrition across the globe. It’s aiming to solve the dilemma of “how to feed nine billion people by 2050 without breaking the planet.”

Establishing local food markets connects small farmers with local customers, strengthening food security and is key to sustainable food systems. (Photo Credit: Bernard Pollack)

The Grow campaign will address the food crisis by attempting to reduce the vulnerability of farmers to climate change and increase food security across the globe. According to Offenheiser, we need a determined effort to bring together diverse stakeholders in order to cooperatively, “grow our future.”  “We’re on the brink of a serious crisis”, says Offenheiser, with increasing price shocks and volatility in the food commodity market, price hikes in the oil sector, and large-scale land acquisitions or land grabs.

Oxfam’s Grow campaign focuses on a few key areas.  First is increasing the amount of investment in small-scale producers.  Given that most of the world’s poor and hungry are small-scale farmers, it is important to ensure they receive a reasonable amount of support from governments, private companies, and the international funding and donor communities to help farmers develop and implement sustainable and resilient agricultural systems. This sentiment was echoed by Kenyan Ambassador Elkanaha Odembo, who spoke briefly on the paradox of coffee production.  Every company in the coffee supply chain, from roaster to packager to shipment to brewing, brings home large profits from the coffee business. Unfortunately, producers get very little of the profit from coffee production.  “Why is it?”, asked Ambassador Odembo, “that third generation coffee farmers die poor” while every other link in the supply chain is able to reap such profit? The answer, he says, is global supply chain economics.

According to UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter, the best way to empower the impoverished is through strengthening or creating networks which serve to organize farmers.  This increased organization serves not only to spread agroecological and indigenous knowledge regarding specific growing practices or products, but more importantly to give these small-scale farmers a voice loud enough to be recognized by the global market.  If these farmers are better organized, says De Schutter, they will be capable of negotiating a more equitable price for their crops and more equitable treatment from the global economy.  He also suggested that we need better accountability of our governments.  By ensuring that public officials are held accountable for the decisions they make regarding food and agriculture, the public is capable of penalizing inaction and rewarding positive policies.



Part 14: Where Would You Like to See More Agricultural Funding Directed?

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Each day we are posting three of your responses to the question: Where Would You Like to See More Agricultural Funding Directed?

Photo credit: Bernard Pollack

1. Rachel Friedman says:
“I would agree somewhat with Jan Nijhoff (COMESA), in that more funding needs to go into setting up networks for farmers to access markets and receive a fair price for their goods–whether that is by helping to form cooperatives that have more power or in those partnerships with private entities.”

2. Jennifer Geist, Bridges to Understanding, USA says:
“I really feel like there is a great deal of knowledge held by people in every country, every climate, and that we need to support local efforts to feed local people in accordance with that local know-how. Mass production may be more efficient in some ways, especially using food production to create wealth, but sustainability and security will be found in local production and consumption. We should fund local farmers to produce and feed their communities, and we should remove the competition/subsidies that make this work unfeasible. The oldest family farm in America was just sold this week!”

3. Lowden Stoole says:
“Thank  you for the opportunity to add my views to the debate on agricultural funding. I am using the principals of Foundation for Farming to educate small-scale farmers in the rural areas of Zimbabwe and have been greatly encouraged  by the results. Like Ambassador Ray (Zimbabwe), I have for a long time felt that Africa no longer needs hand-outs particularly food, but that funding should be directed into education and training. There must be a move from dependency to self sufficiency.”

To read more responses:
Part 1: Dave Andrews (USA), Dave Johnstone (Cameroon), & Pierre Castagnoli (Italy)
Part 2: Paul Sinandja (Togo), Dov Pasternak (Niger), & Pascal Pulvery (France)
Part 3Christine McCulloch (UK), Hans R Herren (USA), & Amadou Niang.
Part 4 : Michel Koos (Netherlands), Don Seville (USA), & Ron Gretlarson
Part 5Shahul Salim, Roger Leakey (Kenya), & Monty P Jones (Ghana)
Part 6: Calestous Juma (USA), Ray Anderson (USA), & Rob Munro (Zambia)
Part 7: Tom Philpott (USA), Grace Mwaura, & Thangavelu Vasantha Kumaran
Part 8: Peter Mietzner (Namibia), Madyo Couto (Mozambique), & Norman Thomas Uphoff (USA)
Part 9: Tilahun Amede (Ethiopia), Shree kumar Maharjan (Nepal), & Ashwani Vasishth (USA)
Part 10Mary Shawa (Malawi), Wayne S. Teel (USA), & Bell Okello (Kenya)
Part 11: Mark Wells (South Africa), Pashupati Chaudhary (USA), & Megan Putnam (Ghana)
Part 12:
David Wallinga (USA), Ysabel Vicente, & Esperance Zossou (Benin)
Part 13: Susi Basith (Indonesia), Diana Husic (USA), & Carolina Cardona (Togo)

What is your answer? Email me at or tweet your response to @WorldWatchAg