Archive for June 2012
Three weeks into monsoon 2012 and we are seeing growing rainfall deficits in India. The Indian Meteorological Department, accustomed to sobordinating its forecasting methods to political calculations about the socio-economic impacts of a delayed / below-average monsoon, is still saying the rains are “slightly delayed but not yet a worry for farming”. This is even though its data are pointing to almost all parts of the country having received lower than average rainfall in the first three weeks of June.
“Overall monsoon progress is slightly behind schedule but such delays are usual,” L.S. Rathore, director-general of the India Meteorological Department (IMD), told the media, and for good measure added that there was no cause for concern yet. A national rainfall average has no meaning, as there are 36 meteorological sub-divisions, but even so India has received rains 26% below average so far since the beginning of the season. The Department had forecast an average monsoon in 2012 before the start of the four-month long rainy season in April. Now we await its second official monsoon forecast, due around now.
This seven-day rainfall chart and anomaly chart series shows where monsoon 2012 has failed to reach, and the size of the North Indian and Gangetic dry swathes are indeed worrying:
Ever since October 2011 when the world’s seventh billion person was born, there has been a new flurry of articles and prognoses about the need to increase ‘global’ food production to feed a ‘global’ population. While this may be all very well for earth systems scientists and researchers who are accustomed to dealing with planetary scale, those in charge of planning for agriculture at national and sub-national levels find it difficult enough relating to their own numbers (in India, the population of the smallest states are between 1 and 2 million, while that of the largest, Uttar Pradesh, is close to 200 million (!) which if it were a country would be placed between the fourth and fifth most populous countries – Indonesia and Brazil).
Through this year, numerous inter-governmental agencies and large organisations – including the FAO, WFP and IFAD – have discussed the need to be able to feed a population of nine billion, which we are expected to be in 2050 or thereabouts. And so says, recently, the ‘Sustainable Agricultural Productivity Growth And Bridging The Gap For Small-Family Farms’, which is the ‘Interagency Report to the Mexican G20 Presidency’ (12 June 2012).
Explaining that “the growing global demand for food, feed and biofuel is well established”, this inter-agency report has said that income growth will increase the quantity and change the composition of agricultural commodity demand. I find this approach a troublesome one because on the one hand there is growing recognition (even if corrective action is small and mostly symbolic) that consumption is to sustainable the way energy efficiency is to total energy use. Why are large agency and inter-agency reports continuing to skirt a matter which should be dealt with head-on – that consumption of food by the populations of ‘developing’ countries, on the lines of that practiced by the populations of OECD countries – cannot be encouraged by the food MNCs and the global food retail consortia?
It is because of this consistent refusal to see – and name – the elephant in the room that this report, to the Mexican G20 Presidency, has said: “Significant increases in production of all major crops, livestock and fisheries will thus be required”.
What are the estimates provided? “Estimates indicate that by 2050, agricultural production would need to grow globally by 70% over the same period, and more specifically by almost 100% in developing countries, to feed the growing population alone… ” I am puzzled by the easy acceptance of this simple equation by the following agencies and institutions, all of whom have contributed to this report: Bioversity, CGIAR Consortium, FAO, IFAD, IFPRI, IICA, OECD, UNCTAD, Coordination team of UN High Level Task Force on the Food Security Crisis, WFP, World Bank, and WTO.
There is a mathematics here that is eluding me. The estimate is that from now until 2050, world population will grow around 30% – from the current 7 billion to an estimated 9.1 billion. However, if population grows at 30%, why must the available food (excluding biofuels demand) grow at 70% over the same period? It is extremely difficult for most people (earth system scientists excluded) to make sense of such large numbers. In order to break up large numbers into more familiar terms, I have (from UN’s World Population Prospects 2010) extracted the following data. These are the populations of France, DR Congo, Thailand, Turkey and Iran, these are the world’s 21st to 17th most populous countries (in that order).
In 2012 their populations are: France 63.5 million, DR Congo 69.6 m, Thailand 69.9 m, Turkey 74.5 m, and Iran 75.6 m. Let’s not try to strain to look ahead as far as 2050 (by which time some of us will have returned to our ecosystems as dust or as ashes) but look to 2027, or 15 years ahead. Then, the populations will look like this: France 67.7 million, DR Congo 99.6 m, Thailand 73.1 m, Turkey 85.1 m and Iran 83.7 m.
Thus we see that, as the ‘Interagency Report to the Mexican G20 Presidency’ has explained, it is indeed some ‘developing’ countries which will need to provide for considerably more food being grown and made available – DR Congo will have, in this short span of years, 30 million more people! Turkey will have more than 10 million more! The growth – again for the 2012 to 2027 period alone – is France 7%, DR Congo 43%, Thailand 5%, Turkey 14% and Iran 11%.
Does it then still make sense to speak of 2050 horizons and 2.1 billion more people when we are at best talking to national planners, sectoral administrators and thematically-oriented agencies accustomed more to district boundaries than continental spreads? I say it doesn’t – and the less time and money and conferencing we expend on these beyond-humanscale numbers the more sense we will make to those in need of guidance. The question then resolves itself as being more prickly, and more in need of hard answers – if the 30 million additional people in DR Congo are to choose a diet that has 50% less meat and 50% more indigenous vegetables and tubers and roots in it, will DR Congo still – over this period alone – need to plan for growing 43% more food (grain) to keep pace with population growth? Will Turkey need to do the same (time to encourage more çorbasi and less schwarma perhaps!)?
The Inclusive Wealth Report 2012 has been launched at the Rio+20 Conference in Brazil. The report presents a framework that offers a long-term perspective on human well-being and sustainability, “based on a comprehensive analysis of nations´ productive base and their link to economic development”.
Developed by the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP), the IWR 2012 was developed on the notion that current economic production indicators such as gross domestic product (GDP) and the Human Development Index (HDI) are insufficient, as they fail to reflect the state of natural resources or ecological conditions, and focus exclusively on the short term, without indicating whether national policies are sustainable.
The IWR 2012 features an index that measures the wealth of nations by looking into a country’s capital assets, including manufactured, human and natural capital, and its corresponding values: the Inclusive Wealth Index (IWI). Results show changes in inclusive wealth from 1990 to 2008, and include a long-term comparison to GDP for an initial group of 20 countries worldwide, which represent 72% of the world GDP and 56% of the global population.
* 70 percent of countries assessed in the 2012 Inclusive Wealth Report present a positive Inclusive Wealth Index (IWI) per capita growth, indicating sustainability.
* High population growth with respect to IWI growth rates caused 25 percent of countries assessed to become unsustainable.
* While 19 out of the 20 countries experienced a decline in natural capital, six of them also saw a decline in their inclusive wealth, thus following an unsustainable track.
* Human capital has increased in every country, being the prime capital form that offsets the decline in natural capital in most economies.
* There are clear signs of trade-off effects among different forms of capital (manufactured, human, and natural capital) as witnessed by increases and declines of capital stocks for 20 countries over 19 years.
* Technological innovation and/or oil capital gains outweigh declines in natural capital and damages from climate change, moving a number of countries from an unsustainable to a sustainable trajectory.
* 25 percent of assessed countries, which showed a positive trend when measured by GDP per capita and the HDI, were found to have a negative IWI.
* The primary driver of the difference in performance was the decline in natural capital.
* Estimates of inclusive wealth can be improved significantly with better data on the stocks of natural, human, and social capital and their values for human well-being.
What is the inclusive wealth framework? It is based on social welfare theory “to consider the multiple issues that sustainable development attempts to address”. First, according to IWR 2012, the inclusive wealth framework “moves away from the arbitrary notion of needs” (about time too, not that the rank-and-file economists are going to be listening) and “redefines the objective of sustainable development as a discounted flow of utility” – this is not good, and does not in any way appeal to readers and practitioners who do not see organic development as automatically linked to some form of economic measurement – which, in this case, is consumption. Does this mean consumption (or not) is the central idea that underlies inclusive wealth? Let’s see. “The framework is flexible enough to allow consumption to include not just material goods, but also elements such as leisure, spiritual aspirations, social relations, and environmental security, among others”. Interesting and curious – spiritual aspiration as a consumption good? Family and clan or tribe ties as consumption?
How useful is the IWR 2012 shaping up to be? There is an “equivalence theorem whereby the framework allows the move from the constituents of well-being to their determinants”. Sounds profound. What does it mean? It refers to the various capital assets a country is able to accumulate – note they’re talking about country, not household, not social network. “This asset base is called the productive base of the nation. The productive base forms the basis for sustainable development and provides a tangible measure for governments to use and track over time”. Again, this is not so good – we want to see inclusive wealth as being easily understood by households (let’s say rural households) and by local administrations (like panchayats in India).
The IWR 2012 goes on to say that “more importantly, the framework provides information for policy-makers – particularly planning authorities – on which forms of capital investment should be made for ensuring the sustainability of the productive base of an economy”. Again not good, because the IWR 2012 has mentioned spirituality and social ties ande environmental security – so why return like a lost child to “the productive base” when ‘productive’ can continue to mean what it does today? A closer reading will no doubt provide answers.
The IWR 2012 has said, predictably and quite justified, that traditional indicators such as gross domestic product (GDP) per capita and the Human Development Index (HDI) have been the main determinants used to measure the progress of nations. “GDP per capita was developed just after World War II by economist Simon Kuznets. It was constructed by Kuznets to measure the level of economic production and to provide guidance to policy-makers on which sectors of the economy are growing and which are slowing, and the throughput that is used by the economy” – a concise definition of GDP worth keeping in mind to see why it has so needed replacing for at least the last generation.
GDP was always meant to be used strictly as an indicator for economic production. Somewhere along the line, GDP came to be used by policy-makers to measure the overall progress and performance of a nation (they were lazy, to begin with, and the gradual realisation of environmental costs from the pursuit of progress made alternatives politically inconvenient to adopt, especially when these implied the well-being of citizens). “This caused some fundamental problems, not with the indicator itself, but with the way it has been used. Increases in total economic production do not translate into improvements in well-being. They might increase employment and might increase the income of individuals, but all these are just possible outcomes and not automatic consequences of economic growth.” That is a truth well worth repeating at every available forum. From a very cursory reading, the IWR 2012 is a very well-conceived beginning to find a Grand Indicator that will once and for all consign GDP to the corner in which it belongs.
In mid-May 2012, the United Nations Development Programme (the UNDP) released its Africa Human Development report for 2012. Entitled ‘Towards a Food Secure Future’, the report is unremarkable for its assessments and language – these have changed but little where Africa (indeed where the recalcitrant South is concerned) is concerned over the last 30 years – and remarkable for the subtext of the agriculture and food focus to human development.
The UNDP today, like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (and their cousin multilateral lending agencies, the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, all incestuous, all unscrupulous, all functioning as think-sinks for mendacious economists who lie with flash charts and sophisticated ppts), is softly softly peddling an industry line. The industry in this case, in the 2012 for Africa case, is food and agriculture, land and poverty, the provisioning of specials foods and the provisioning of the money with which to purchase this reconstituted manna.
For most of Africa south of the Maghrib (or Maghreb, if you prefer, it is impossible to render adequately the flowing Arabic, the Ar’biyy’a, into l’Anglais, into the stilted Roman alphabet) wherever white settlement occured in quantity, the pattern in land expropriation and the use of labour was set by the Union of South Africa. So said Basil Davidson in ‘Let Freedom Come’ (Little, Brown & Co., 1978). This pattern heralded a long period of rising white prosperity still continuing in the 1970s, if with some checks and hiccups (hiccoughs too, the uprising kind) in the 1920s and 1930s, remarked Davidson. He pointed out that South Africa’s Land Act of 1913 provided a model that abolished all African land ownership (i.e., ownership by ‘native’ Africans). Labour supply was increased and the wage rate was lowered and Davidson went on to say that “the same system of proletarianising self-sufficient peasants and of driving them into a labour market where they could have no bargaining power, was used elsewhere with local variants”.
Now, almost a century after that Land Act come into being (providing the precursor to apartheid) an African Development Report from the UN’s development experts has said that “addressing hunger is a precondition for sustained human development in sub-Saharan Africa” (who writes such sentences, I wonder, for do they truly not see the puppet of hunger in Africa and the South) dancing from the threads in the hands of the grain marketeers of the North and their local agents?). “Food security must be at centre of continent’s development agenda,” the report observes magisterially.
Pithy statements of concern are duly provided (and recirculated by the world’s press) by the UNDP public relations robots. Hence UNDP Administrator Helen Clark is quoted: “Impressive GDP growth rates in Africa have not translated into the elimination of hunger and malnutrition. Inclusive growth and people-centred approaches to food security are needed.” Hence Tegegnework Gettu, Director of UNDP’s Africa Bureau is quoted: “It is a harsh paradox that in a world of food surpluses, hunger and malnutrition remain pervasive on a continent with ample agricultural endowments.”
And that is why this report, ‘Towards a Food Secure Future’, is replete with paragraphs like the following, appropriating the language of fairness to conceal behind it the naked greed of the globe’s industrial food networks, their agri-biotechnology partners, their unreliable allies the commodity exchanges, and the political brokers who stitch together, for huge commissions, the whole wreck of an exploitative opera: “Breaking with the past, standing up to the vested interests of the privileged few and building institutions that rebalance power relations at all levels of society will require courageous citizens and dedicated leaders. Taking these steps is all the more pressing as new threats to the sustainability of sub-Saharan Africa’s food systems have emerged. Demographic change, environmental pressure, and global and local climate change are profoundly reconfiguring the region’s development options.”
This is the sort of hearkening to ‘green capitalism’, a disgusting notion, that the UNDP is steering dangerously close to. Why must it be so? Why should this UN agency err on the wrong side of propriety? A closer reading of Africa Human Development Report 2012, ‘Towards a Food Secure Future’, may answer these questions. Underlying the pregnant concern in the UNDP’s prose is an environmentalism that conforms to “weak sustainability” (as Samir Amin, director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal, has called it) and that is the marketing of “rights of access to the planet’s resources.” Great regiments of conventional economists have openly rallied to this position, proposing “the auctioning of world resources” (fisheries, pollution permits, forests, watersheds, and of course land). As Amin has said, this is a proposition which simply supports the oligopolies in their ambition to mortgage the future of the peoples of the South still further.
As the World Bank knows, the borrowing of an ecological discourse provides a very useful service to Imperialism Version 2.0. I find it impossible to imagine that the phalanx of authors who contributed to the Africa Human Development Report 2012 were all unaware of this capture, this mangling of the ecological discourse, this driving of a weak sustainability doctrine, this marginalising of the development issue and the diminishing, the ruthless diminishing, behind a sequined screen of consensual politics, of the agriculture and food rights of 53 countries that we have come to call Africa.
‘Towards a Food Secure Future’ has said, with the air of heavy pronouncement, with the air a cardinal of the curia adopts perhaps during a papal succession: “With more than one in four of its 856 million people undernourished, Sub-Saharan Africa remains the world’s most food-insecure region. At the moment, more than 15 million people are at risk in the Sahel alone – across the semi-arid belt from Senegal to Chad; and an equal number in the Horn of Africa remain vulnerable after last year’s food crisis in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.” Is there a hint of opportunism in these words? Is it possible that the Rockefeller of this era – in the form of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – has subtly (or forcefully, for the era of subtle manipulation is as firmly buried as the Bandung cooperation and the Warsaw Pact) influenced the UNDP’s authors? This is, to my mind, a manifesto for the feeding of Africa which extends ambitiously the ecologist discourse in the direction of the merchants of nutrition, the brokers of grain, the doctors of plant DNA.
The UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report 2012, ‘Towards a Food Secure Future’, may prove to be a turning point for the agency, or it may prove, I hope, a bridge too far, too dangerous, and saner counsel will pull it back into the realm of the familiar damnation of the world’s majority that Frantz Fanon spoke about, which ended not with the withdrawal of formal colonial rule, which continues for Africa in the razorwire-bounded transit camps, in rural pauperisation (Asia too, South America too, East and Central Europe too) and in shanty towns where odes to Steve Biko are still sung.