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Archive for November 2012

AMIS for us, we hope, but wheat and maize look scarce

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Welcome tables from the FAO AMIS, with USDA, IGC and FAO forecasts for major crops. Note the declines in production

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS for short, although whether it Francophonically proves to be an ‘ami’ of the cereal trader or the food consuming household we shall know in the months to come) has released its Market Monitor Number 3 which is for 2012 November.

Here, in a bland paragraph that tells us nothing about the travails of households budgeting for their evening bread, ‘roti‘, or rice, the AMIS Market Monitor has said: “World supply and demand situation continues to tighten for wheat and maize but rice and soybeans have eased.”

Here’s the rest of the snapshot paragraph: “In recent weeks, unfavourable weather conditions affecting some winter wheat growing areas in the northern hemisphere and maize and soybeans in the southern hemisphere have become a concern. In addition, contradictory reports about possible export restrictions by Ukraine also influenced the market.”

Two familiar blues and a new green. The IGC Commodity Price Indices chart in the company of the FAO’s Food Price and Food Commodity Price Indices charts.

What I find useful is that the tables provided now include the USDA estimates and the IGC estimates. And moreover, in a generous display of collegial latitude (perhaps the AMIS has its good points after all) the Monitor has included the IGC index chart alongside the FAO index chart.

But as the World Food Programme (WFP) tirelessly warns, From Africa and Asia to Latin America and the Near East, there are 870 million people in the world who do not get enough food to lead a normal, active life (see the WFP’s hunger map here in Englishen français, en español. What does that do to households who are not the primary audience of the AMIS?

This report from IRIN has said that now in Pakistan, more than half of households are food insecure, according to the last major national nutrition survey. The prices of staple grains like wheat and rice have been stable but are “significantly higher” than 2011, according to the World Food Programme’s (WFP) October 2012 Global Food Security Update. A 25% rise in fuel prices has also pushed up the price of food, as it becomes increasingly expensive to transport. WFP says rising food prices in international markets recently may also lead to price hikes in Pakistan. Clearly, we need to find a way to filter the AMIS outputs (or screen its inputs) so that the Monitors are more directly useful to houseolds and their struggle to find enough healthy food at affordable prices.

Moorosi Nchejana is one of 40 farmers in the village of Mabalane in Lesotho’s Mohale’s Hoek district who participated in a pilot programme by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization to strengthen farmers’ capacity to adapt to climate change (June 2012). Photo: IRIN / Mujahid Safodien

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The four degree doom

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Conducted by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Climate Analytics in Berlin, the report, ‘Turn Down The Heat’, released this month just before the next round of climate change negotiations begin in Doha, Qatar, discusses bluntly the frightening risks of a future without climate policy.

There are several sharp and extremely urgent messages for politicians and policy-makers alike in the Potsdam report. Politicians, whether in the OECD countries or in the BRICS or in the G20, have proven themselves time and again, year after year, to favour the enrichment of themselves and their constituencies over any consideration of a shared planet and a cooperative future. What do we have left? Policy-makers, bureaucrats, NGO and community representatives and hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens in our countries, and so it becomes necessary that these are the people who read and digest what Potsdam has had to say.

What does the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics have to say? “Humankind’s emissions of greenhouse gases are breaking new records every year. Hence we’re on a path towards 4-degree global warming probably as soon as by the end of this century. This would mean a world of risks beyond the experience of our civilisation – including heat waves, especially in the tropics, a sea-level rise affecting hundreds of millions of people, and regional yield failures impacting global food security.”

As usual, it is the poorest in the world are those that will be hit hardest, the researchers conclude, making development without climate policy almost impossible. But we have to ask – how possible is it with the current apology of climate policy? What is popularly called the “global community” by the world’s mainstream media (most of which is owned by corporations, politicians or both) is considered to have committed to holding warming below 2°C to prevent “dangerous” climate change. This is rubbish, and the Potsdam report all but says so: “The sum total of current policies – in place and pledged – will very likely lead to warming far in excess of this level. Indeed, present emission trends put the world plausibly on a path toward 4°C warming within this century.”

The increase in total ocean heat content from the surface to 2000 m, based on running five-year analyses. Reference period is 1955–2006. The black line shows the increasing heat content at depth (700 to 2000 m), illustrating a significant and rising trend, while most of the heat remains in the top 700 m of the ocean. Vertical bars and shaded area represent +/–2 standard deviations about the five-year estimate for respective depths. Chart: Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

As I am intimately concerned with agriculture and food and therefore the effects of a changing climate upon them, I turned to that section of the ‘Turn Down The Heat’ report (get the pdf here). The Potsdam researchers said that projections for food and agriculture over the 21st century indicate substantial challenges irrespective of climate change. They added: “As early as 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach about 9 billion people and demand for food is expected to increase accordingly.”

Here I found the first problem, and that indicated yet again that the climate scientists are good at modelling climate, but bad at understanding how the food system (not the natural one, the corporate one) actually works. What is more correct in my view is that primary agricultural produce at current levels is enough to feed a growing population for the next two generations provided (1) food crops such as maize are not grown to provide biofuel, (2) meat in all its hideous factory-farmed forms is drastically reduced in all agro-ecological regions, (3) the huge inventories held by the regional and global food processing and food retail industries are drastically cut down (that their businesses are shut down).

The Potsdam report continued that “based on the observed relationship between per capita GDP and per capita demand for crop calories (human consumption, feed crops, fish production and losses during food production)” it is reasonable (from the evidence it cites) to “project a global increase in the demand for crops by about 100 percent from 2005 to 2050”. It mentions “other estimates for the same period project a 70 percent increase of demand” and that “several projections suggest that global cereal and livestock production may need to increase by between 60 and 100 percent to 2050, depending on the warming scenario”.

Here I found the second problem. What is meant by these expert reports when they talk about the relationship between per capita GDP and per capita demand for crop calories? Beyond a localised recommended daily dietary allowance designed to provide proper nutrition, extra consumption of food calories (and protein and fats and sugar and micro-nutrients) can no longer be seen as expected to rise in parallel with rising income (where is income rising in real terms anyway, my thermometric friends, other than for the 1% who are causing most of this trouble in the first place?). The reform of diet and the return of local slow food is the answer to those complex, altogether unnecessary equations that posit 40%, 50%, 70% or 100% increases in food production over X, Y or Z years.

Then, the Potsdam report goes on to say that “the historical context can on the one hand provide reassurance that despite growing population, food production has been able to increase to keep pace with demand and that despite occasional fluctuations, food prices generally stabilise or decrease in real terms”.

Here I found the third problem and it is, as the more laid-back of Americans tend to say, it’s a doozy. What’s the historical context? Is it the Green Revolution by any chance? Is it the mutation of hybrid agri into bio-tech agri? Considering that the climate scientists are the ones who are very familiar with the gases now crowding our atmosphere, have they not made the connection between industrial, synthetic, high-external input agriculture and the nitrification of the atmosphere they’re so good at measuring? I’ll bet they are, so how can they point to the relentless growth of primary crop tonnage as a “reassurance” when it’s in fact the opposite?

That’s my quick reaction to the food growth part of what they have said. As for “food prices generally stabilise or decrease in real terms”, clearly they don’t consult even the mild-mannered FAO food price index, which has entered in 2012 November yet another month of its high plateau which makes it the longest sustained maintenance of elevated food price index since it began. The climate scientists are good at climate, but they surely need a crash course in understanding how the corporations and their patrons, those pesky politicians who are preparing for another jaw-jaw in Doha, exploit climate change for profit, and that includes making an extra penny out of a kilo of wheat flour, never mind the weather outside.

Written by makanaka

November 24, 2012 at 17:05

We are stifled by growth greed, our air reeks of carbon dioxide

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An image from the Atlas of Health and Climate, a joint publication by the World Meteorological Organization and the World Health Organization: “Human health is profoundly affected by weather and climate. Extreme weather events kill tens of thousands of people every year and undermine the physical and psychological health of millions. Droughts directly affect nutrition and the incidence of diseases associated with malnutrition. Floods and cyclones can trigger outbreaks of infectious diseases and damage hospitals and other health infrastructure, overwhelming health services just when they are needed most.”

The World Meteorological Organization has said that the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2011. Between 1990 and 2011 there was a 30% increase in what the climate scientists call “radiative forcing” – the warming effect on our climate – because of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping long-lived gases.

Since the start of the industrial era in 1750, according to the WMO’s 2011 Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, about 375 billion tonnes of carbon have been released into the atmosphere as CO2, most of this from fossil fuel combustion.

Our stifling (and that of the flora and fauna with which we share our Earth, and who are victims as much as we are) is taking place because about half of this CO2 remains in the atmosphere (the rest gets absorbed by the oceans and biospheres, usually forests – which are being cut down at a fearsome rate – around the world).

Do they learn and listen? Not at all, as this report in The Guardian has just explained. More than 1,000 coal-fired power plants are being planned worldwide, new research by the World Resources Institute has revealed. The huge planned expansion comes despite warnings – such as this one from the WMO – that the planet’s fast-rising carbon emissions must peak within a few years if runaway climate change is to be avoided. Coal plants are the most polluting of all power stations and the World Resources Institute identified 1,200 coal plants in planning across 59 countries, with about three-quarters in China and India. The capacity of the new plants add up to 1,400GW to global greenhouse gas emissions. India is planning 455 new plants compared to 363 in China.

“These billions of tonnes of additional carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will remain there for centuries, causing our planet to warm further and impacting on all aspects of life on earth,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “Future emissions will only compound the situation.”

This eighth WMO-Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) Annual Bulletin reports on the atmospheric burdens and rates of change of the most important long-lived greenhouse gases (very unhelpfully acronymed as ‘LLGHGs’, which is rivalled perhaps in unwieldiness by ‘LULUCF’). These are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, CFC-12 and CFC-11.

Radiative forcing, relative to 1750, of all the long-lived greenhouse gases. The NOAA Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI), which is indexed to 1 for the year 1990, is shown on the right axis. Chart: NOAA ESRL Global Monitoring Division

The three greenhouse gases we are most familiar with – carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4)and nitrous oxide (N2O) – are closely linked to anthropogenic activities, and interact strongly with the biosphere and the oceans.

Predicting the evolution of the atmospheric content of greenhouse gases requires an understanding of their many sources, sinks and chemical transformations in the atmosphere. There we are helped by the NOAA’s (the USA’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Annual Greenhouse Gas Indexin 2011 this index was 1.30, representing an increase in total radiative forcing by all long-lived greenhouse gases of 30% since 1990 and of 1.2% from 2010 to 2011. Read that again – more than one per cent from 2010 to 2011! What do the G20 governments and multinationals do not understand by these numbers? Are we to believe that the same people who design complex financial derivatives don’t get climate change math?

Written by makanaka

November 21, 2012 at 21:02

Energy, climate, growth, China, India – the World Energy Outlook 2012

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Inputs to the power sector to generate electricity accounted for 38% of global primary energy use in 2010, the single largest element of primary demand. In the New Policies Scenario, this share rises to 42% in 2035. Demand for electricity is pushed higher by population and economic growth, and by households and industries switching from traditional biomass, coal, oil and natural gas to electricity. The fuel mix within the power sector changes considerably, with low- and zero-carbon technologies becoming increasingly important. Graphic: IEA, WEO-2012

In four parts, 18 chapters, four annexes, illustrated by around 300 figures, the chapters supported by about 100 tables, a separate set of data upon which scenarios rest, the World Energy Outlook 2012 of the International Energy Agency (IEA) is a 690-page behemoth. I can only sketch its merest outline here, and in a fleeting way touch upon the knowledge and information it contains.

Drawing on the latest data and policy developments, the World Energy Outlook 2012 presents projections of energy trends through to 2035 and insights into what they mean for energy security, the environment and economic development. “Over the Outlook period, the interaction of many different factors will drive the evolution of energy markets,” said the WEO-2012. “As outcomes are hard to predict with accuracy, the report presents several different scenarios, which are differentiated primarily by their underlying assumptions about government policies.” We are told that the starting year of the scenarios is 2010, the latest year for which comprehensive historical energy data for all countries were available. What are these four scenarios?

Based on preliminary estimates, energy-related CO2 emissions reached a record 31.2 gigatonnes (Gt) in 2011, representing by far the largest source (around 60%) of global greenhouse-gas emissions (measured on a CO2-equivalent basis). Emissions continue to rise in the New Policies Scenario, putting the world on a path that is consistent with a long-term average global temperature increase of 3.6 °C above levels that prevailed at the start of the industrial era. Chart: IEA, WEO-2012

1. The New Policies Scenario – the report’s central scenario – takes into account broad policy commitments and plans that have already been implemented to address energy-related challenges as well as those that have been announced, even where the specific measures to implement these commitments have yet to be introduced.

2. To illustrate the outcome of our current course, if unchanged, the Current Policies Scenario embodies the effects of only those government policies and measures that had been enacted or adopted by mid-2012.

3. The basis of the 450 Scenario is different. Rather than being a projection based on past trends, modified by known policy actions, it deliberately selects a plausible energy pathway. The pathway chosen is consistent with actions having around a 50% chance of meeting the goal of limiting the global increase in average temperature to two degrees Celsius (2°C) in the long term, compared with pre-industrial levels.

4. The Efficient World Scenario has been developed especially for the World Energy Outlook 2012 (WEO-2012). It enables us to quantify the implications for the economy, the environment and energy security of a major step change in energy efficiency.

In the New Policies Scenario, global energy intensity (energy demand per unit of GDP) falls by 1.8% per year between 2010 and 2035. Between 2010 and 2035, energy intensity declines by an average of 37% and 49% in OECD and non-OECD countries respectively. Yet average energy intensity in non-OCED countries in 2035 of 0.16 tonnes of oil equivalent (toe) per thousand dollars of GDP is still more than twice the OECD level. Chart: IEA, WEO-2012

I have extracted five important messages from the summary which are connected to the subjects you find in this blog – food and agriculture, consumer behaviour and its impacts on our lives, the uses that scarce energy is put to, the uses that scarce water is put to, the ways in which governments and societies (very different, these two) view food, energy and water.

Five key messages:
“Energy efficiency can keep the door to 2°C open for just a bit longer.” Successive editions of the World Energy Outlook have shown that the climate goal of limiting warming to 2°C is becoming more difficult and more costly with each year that passes. The 450 Scenario examines the actions necessary to achieve this goal and finds that almost four-fifths of the CO2 emissions allowable by 2035 are already locked-in by existing power plants, factories, buildings, etc. No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2°C goal.

“Will coal remain a fuel of choice?” Coal has met nearly half of the rise in global energy demand over the last decade, growing faster even than total renewables. Whether coal demand carries on rising strongly or changes course will depend on the strength of policy measures that favour lower-emissions energy sources, the deployment of more efficient coal-burning technologies and, especially important in the longer term, CCS. The policy decisions carrying the most weight for the global coal balance will be taken in Beijing and New Delhi – China and India account for almost three-quarters of projected non-OECD coal demand growth (OECD coal use declines).

China makes a major contribution to the increase in primary demand for all fuels: oil (54%), coal (49%), natural gas (27%), nuclear power (57%) and renewables (14%). Its reliance on coal declines from 66% of the country’s primary energy use in 2010 to 51% in 2035. Energy use in India, which recently overtook Russia to become the world’s third-largest energy consumer, more than doubles over the Outlook period. India makes the second-largest contribution to the increase in global demand after China. Chart: IEA, WEO-2012

“If nuclear falls back, what takes its place?” The anticipated role of nuclear power has been scaled back as countries have reviewed policies in the wake of the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. Japan and France have recently joined the countries with intentions to reduce their use of nuclear power, while its competitiveness in the United States and Canada is being challenged by relatively cheap natural gas. The report’s projections for growth in installed nuclear capacity are lower than in last year’s Outlook and, while nuclear output still grows in absolute terms (driven by expanded generation in China, Korea, India and Russia), its share in the global electricity mix falls slightly over time.

“A continuing focus on the goal of universal energy access.” Despite progress in the past year, nearly 1.3 billion people remain without access to electricity and 2.6 billion do not have access to clean cooking facilities. Ten countries – four in developing Asia and six in sub-Saharan Africa – account for two-thirds of those people without electricity and just three countries – India, China and Bangladesh – account for more than half of those without clean cooking facilities. The report presents an Energy Development Index (EDI) for 80 countries, to aid policy makers in tracking progress towards providing modern energy access. The EDI is a composite index that measures a country’s energy development at the household and community level.

“Energy is becoming a thirstier resource.” Water needs for energy production are set to grow at twice the rate of energy demand. The report estimates that water withdrawals for energy production in 2010 were 583 billion cubic metres (bcm). Of that, water consumption – the volume withdrawn but not returned to its source – was 66 bcm. The projected rise in water consumption of 85% over the period to 2035 reflects a move towards more water-intensive power generation and expanding output of biofuels.

Such is the barest glimpse of the WEO-2012. There are a number of aspects of the Outlook which deserve more scrutiny with a view to learning energy use and misuse, and this will be expanded upon in the weeks ahead.

The magical fieldscapes of Uttara Kannada

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This is the green western edge of the Deccan plateau of India, the gigantic highland of peninsular India that slopes gradually from west to east. They say that the western ‘ghats’, the range of hills (some say mountains, but the real mountains are the Himalaya and Hindu Kush, far to the north, while the Ghats rise about 1,500 metres above the continent in some of their southern spurs), that run for about 1,600 kilometres dissuade the south-west monsoon from bringing rain inland, but this is not quite true, for districts along the western edge of the plateau are well-watered in a good monsoon.

This magical landscape is found about 10 kilometres east of the the small town of Yellapur, in the district of Uttara Kannada, in the state of Karnataka. The land is gently rolling, and by mid-November early mornings bathe the landscape in a soft golden light. Mornings at this time are chilly, below 10 Celsius, and you can see the farmers here stride down the dusty pathways between fields, their worn sweaters keeping the chill away, their omnipresent cotton shawls – faded after months in the sun – wrapped that much tighter around their necks. In the distance, the taller peaks loom blue-grey in the distance, the skies above are cobalt with clarity.

Standing four to five metres tall, the larger of the cylindrical haystacks are minor engineering marvels and take shape organically thanks to the communal work of the farming household, neighbours, sharecroppers and of course youngsters with more enthusiasm than skill.

Dotting every cultivated hectare are the haystacks, the hayricks and the crop residue bales. These are gathered, tied, carried, lifted, piled, arranged and stacked by hand, and so the shapes they assume are organic, cones and rough domes that mimic the primal hut-shape, but dense with biomass. We are used to saying and hearing words like ‘crop residue’ and ‘agricultural biomass’, but the shapes that emerge at the end of a hectic harvest are made of material that goes by many local names. Often, these haystacks formed from rice straw, sugarcane tops, stalks of ‘jowar’ or ‘bajra’ (millets, or what the agricultural establishment demeaningly calls coarse grains).

Making the haystacks is a communal activity, inspiring for the ease with which the work gets done, and inspiring for the artistry that surrounds their fieldcraft. There are two men who stand atop a partially-formed haystack, and when they are up there you can judge the size of the pile and appreciate better how much ‘residue’ it must contain.

Crisp air enlivened with the scents of field and jungle, the sounds of a district that contentedly stewards forest and land

Women and men in the nearby fields arrange and tie the bales of gathered stalks and stems, their children help, their cattle continue to graze alongside, the ever-present companions to the good-natured ruminants, the cattle egrets, wait patiently or circle aloft impatiently, dogs snooze and the elderly offer quiet advice. The men atop the growing stack bark their instructions, from further up the fields, a group of women in bright sweaters but barefoot – tough and hardy – chat and chuckle as they work. This is district India, so alive with community spirit, secure in its fertility, in the stewardship of land and water, of stem and stalk.

What’s the ‘intensity’ of agri research nowadays?

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Nice infographic, but where are the prices of rice and wheat?

What do countries spend of agricultural research and development? How much is the ‘intensity’ of their agri-R&D spend – whether measured by agriculture domestic product or by ‘agriculturally active population’ (which I’m taking to mean farmers)? How much of this spending comes from taxpayers’ money and how much from the profits of the food companies and food retail chains and the food biotech corporations?

You’ll find some of these answers (in what form I cannot yet say without a close long look at what this new assessment lens is all about) in the ASTI Global Assessment of Agricultural R&D Spending, published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI, which is one of the CGIAR institutes) in collaboration with the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR).

ASTI is Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators and the assessment says it uses “internationally comparable data on agricultural R&D investments and capacity for developing countries” (can’t see how really, as ag-biodiversity is culturally dependent, but of course Big Ag is mono-minded).

Does this impressive-sounding scrutiny have any bottom-lines for real small farmers worth reading? I am sceptical, given the CGIAR orientation, but here are two sequiturs:

“Global agricultural R&D spending in the public and private sectors steadily increased between 2000 and 2008. Most of this growth was driven by larger middle-income countries such as China and India.”

“Following a decade of slow growth in the 1990s, global public spending on agricultural R&D increased by 22 percent from 2000 to 2008—from $26.1 billion to $31.7 billion.”

I looked, but couldn’t find the connection between all this R&D and the woman wearing the sari.

Written by makanaka

November 12, 2012 at 20:49

The ‘growth’ devotees who have no clothes on

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Ah yes the pleasure that is to be had from the slicing up of pies. And when those pies belonged once to the poor, what then, dear OECD? Here, the OECD attempts to show what it means by ‘dramatic’ shifts expected in the balance of the global economy.

They are at it again, the devotees of ‘growth’ as the only, immutable, final, unassailable formula for humankind. This sect is the one that resides in the OECD, that odd grouping of 34 countries which the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says includes “many of the world’s most advanced countries but also emerging countries like Mexico, Chile and Turkey” and which works “closely with emerging giants like China, India and Brazil”. It’s the aura of ‘inclusion’, that 21st century super-buzzword, that such a group works hard to project. The effects and impacts of the OECD’s growth first policies are barely recognised, as rarely within the organisation as within its member governments.

In this latest ‘what if’ exercise (which the OECD excels at – and for which game it employs an unknown number of economists, financial modellers, statisticians, policy ‘experts’, sector specialists and sundry unemployables – the OECD has said that (1) global growth is good and (2) that it will come from China and India in the next 50 years.

Global growth means nothing to local farmers, to local municipal workers, to primary school teachers, to nurses and resident doctors in community health centres, to family-run retail shops in slums and favelas and in the shanty-towns of the South. But this is not the OECD world and these are not the ears and senses to which the OECD (or for that matter the multilateral lending agencies and their client, pliant, governments) appeal. But global growth means much to the dense network of financiers and the adjutants of capital and the accumulators of wealth and resources on every continent and in every odorous capital city, hence it must be reinforced as the overweening dogma of our era and never mind the over-fishing, over-extraction, over-feeding, the transgressing of ecological boundaries near and far.

And so it is that the world’s comprador media parrots the lines, reapplies the make-up. “The US is likely to cede the top spot to China in the next three years while India will also surpass the US over the long term, an OECD report said,” according to Emerging Markets, one such media outlet. “Global growth, though at a declining rate, will be sustained by emerging markets between now and 2060 when the global economy will grow at around 3% per year on average.”

This new piece of quasi-intellectual chicanery from the OECD has called it a shift in the balance of economic power, a dramatic shift “over the next half century, with fast-growing emerging-market economies accounting for an ever-increasing share of global output” and major changes in country shares in world GDP. Hence, ‘Looking to 2060: Long-term global growth prospects’ has predicted: “On the basis of 2005 purchasing power parities, China is projected to surpass the Euro Area in a year or so and the United States in a few more years, to become the largest economy in the world, and India is projected to surpass Japan in the next year or two and the Euro area in about 20 years”.

The idiom is no different from what it was in 2002 and indeed what it was in 1992 – such is the inertia that macroeconomics blankets itself with, such is the comfort zone into which the middle classes of these “emerging economies” have been shepherded and who need, from time to time, reminders that their outsized appetites – for personal and family wealth, for processed food, for automobiles and air-conditioners and gadgets and equated monthly installments of every hue – are the only tolerable and acceptable normal. Growth after all is the best tonic for a suffering planet and for the legions of poor, whether in Caracas or Colombo.

Remember that these awesome columns pay no attention to “unsustainable use of natural resources and services from the environment”. How OECD plots many acts of drama in the global economy.

This foggy and destructive school of thought is what leads to sterile statements such as “divergent long-term growth patterns lead to radical shifts in the relative size of economies”. Who cares about these divergent long-term growth patterns when they’re far more occupied with whether the medicines needed to treat their childrens’ fever are going to be affordable tomorrow and whether they should buy a couple of kilos more of flour to guard against a further spike in the price of that essential food next week? But such street and household concerns to not, in the spreadsheets of the OECD technicians, compute.

So we are told that the “United States is expected to cede its place as the world’s largest economy to China, as early as 2016” and that “the two Asian giants [China and India] will soon surpass the collective economy of the G7 nations”. Brazen within the rosy clouds of their fantasies, the OECD technicians (lotus-eaters in spadefuls) have no qualms about admitting what they have left out of their dreams: that “in keeping with the long-term focus, possible repercussions on trend output of prolonged period of deficient demand are ignored”, that “the resulting long-term scenario provides a relatively benign long-term outlook for the global economy”, that “the possibility of disorderly debt defaults, trade disruptions and possible bottlenecks to growth due to an unsustainable use of natural resources and services from the environment” are all happily kept out of the dream. “Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish,” Euripedes had counselled, and so we stand advised when confronted with such folly.

Written by makanaka

November 10, 2012 at 21:35

The top 20 oryza districts of India

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Some of the rice varieties of Kerala state, displayed during the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting (COP 11) in Hyderabad in 2012 October.

Which are the districts of India which grow the most rice? Let’s look at the country-level numbers for rice in 2007-08, in 2008-09 and in 2009-10. In 2007-08 the total tonnage reported by the rice growing districts was 90.071 million tons, grown in 553 districts that reported rice harvests, and which grew their rice over 41.306 million hectares (413,000 sq kilometres, a combined area bigger than Paraguay).

In 2008-09 the total tonnage reported by the rice growing districts was 93.148 mt, grown in 508 districts that reported rice harvests, and which grew their rice over 42.759 m ha (427,590 sq km, which is a combined area nearly as large as Iraq). In 2009-10 the total tonnage reported by the rice growing districts was 80.07 mt, grown in 408 districts that reported rice harvests, and which grew their rice over 34.978 m ha (349,780 sq km which is a combined area larger than the Republic of the Congo). [See also this earlier entry on rice-growing districts of India.]

India’s rice-growing districts compared over three seasons.

So, looking at the rice totals, there were ups and downs even over three seasons – remember that the monsoon of 2009 was poor and we had drought conditions in many districts. I would have liked to include the data for 2010-11 at district level, but this is still minus West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh and I can’t understand why this is so because the regular ‘advance estimates’ released by the Ministry of Agriculture are supposed to be based on what the states send in as crop growing data every quarter. The three years before 2007-08 should help us understand these trends better and as soon as I collect and clean up data for those years I will add to this post. Meanwhile, you can download the spreadsheet of the top 20 districts for these three years here (xlsx).

Which are the districts that produce the most rice in India, year after year? Based on this three-season set, here’s what we have. In Andhra Pradesh the districts are East Godavari, Guntur, Karimnagar, Krishna, Nalgonda, Nellore and West Godavari. In Chhattisgarh it is Raipur. In Punjab the districts are Firozpur, Ludhiana, Moga, Patiala and Sangrur. In West Bengal the districts are 24 Parganas (South), Bankura, Birbhum, Burdwan, Hooghly, Midnapur (East), Midnapur (West) and Murshidabad.

The top rice-growing districts, 2007-08 to 2009-10, in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Chhattisgarh.

How much do these top 20 (there are 21 top districts over these three years) by year contribute to the country’s total rice harvest? In 2007-08 they contributed 23.16 mt which was 25.7% of the total rice harvest; in 2008-09 they contributed 24 mt which was again 25.7% of the total; in 2009-10 they contributed 21.93 mt which was 27.3% of the total.

Using a tonnage-based ranking, we have seen how the top 20 rice-growing districts contribute around a quarter of India’s total rice harvest. How different are the top 20 from a group of 20 rice-growing districts further down in the tonnage ranking, for example the 20 districts between 40 and 59 for those years? And is the 40-59 group of districts more diverse (geographically) and have more growing variety (what else do they grow?) than is shown by the dominance of the same districts from West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab in the top 20?

Let’s see what the numbers say. In 2007-08 the 20 districts between ranks 40 and 59 (ranked by tonnage) together harvested 7.20 mt, in 2008-09 it was 7.17 mt and in 2009-10 it was 6.90 mt.

Hence in all three years this set of 20 contributed around a third less rice than the top 20. This is a difference which helps explain the big gap between the tonnage for districts even between those at 80th and 90th percentiles – see the quick comparison chart for how concentrated India’s rice production is in relatively few rice-growing districts.

This cursory look at three years’ data for rice and the districts it is grown in raise several questions. Most important, why do we have complete data (at district level) only until 2009-10 and not after? I find this puzzling since we have advance estimates (released by the Ministry of Agriculture four times a year) for major cereals, pulses and commercial crops even into 2012-13. On what data from the states are these advance estimates then based if we can’t see district figures?

Also, why is there still so much concentration of rice production – 25% to 27% of the total – in only 20 districts? Depending on how many districts report rice harvests in a year, these 20 comprise no more than 4% or 5% of the total rice-growing districts in India. The National Food Security Mission (which concentrates on rice, wheat and pulses) is active in 137 districts specifically for growing rice, so in what way is this concentration of production significant? More on this matter to follow.

Written by makanaka

November 10, 2012 at 20:23

Meagre morsels: the food crisis of 2012

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Children enjoy their lunch break at Ngoma School, Sikaneka village, Maamba district, Zambia. February 2007. The UN’s Millennium Development Goals for 2015 aim to improve primary education, reduce child mortality, promote gender equality and reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. Photo: IRIN / Manoocher Deghati

1. The Dawn of Pakistan has reported that “a global race for grain trading power is putting more of the world’s vital cereals in the hands of fewer companies, with a string of recent acquisitions raising fears that consumers will pay even more for their food, while farmers are squeezed”. The report said that Archer Daniels Midland last week bid for Australia’s last independent grain handler GrainCorp, the latest in a series of moves by grain trading heavyweights to grab a larger slice of a booming market as developing economies seek food security.

2. Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz acutely observed that the invention of corn by the Mexicans is only comparable to the invention of fire by the early humans, according to this report from Voxxi. “From the inedible grass of the teocintle or teosinte, ancient Mexicans created modern corn, which was spread across Mesoamerica and eventually around the world.” The report said that the 60 or so breeds and the thousands of different varieties native to Mexico act as a genetic reservoir and a crucially important strategic good in terms of the global food supply and economy.

3. “Hunger and revolutions have always gone hand-in-hand, of course — the latter is what happens when you let them eat cake but the people have no bread,” explained this blog on Reuters. But at which point do prices pass the point of no return? Their research has found that food riots are most likely to occur when the FAO Food Price Index rises above 210. “Recognising the dangers of food speculation, six European banks – including Commerzbank, Germany’s second largest – this summer removed agricultural products from their commodity funds altogether. Wall Street, however, has not been so accommodating.”

4. Food security levels declined in 98 out of 105 countries between June and September because of rising food prices, according to updated data from the Economist Intelligence Unit and reported by Bloomberg Businessweek. The score for affordability of food dropped to 50.5 on a scale of 100 from 53.2 previously, an EIU researcher told the business magazine. Hungary, Brazil, Argentina and Russia had the biggest drops in affordability of food on a combination of economic weakness and inflation, the unit wrote. Global food prices have advanced 7.7 percent from June, according to the EIU. Among the most undernourished countries, the biggest drops in food affordability were recorded in South Africa, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Botswana, according to the report.

Food scarcity during Ramadan exacerbated by floods threatens thousands of poor people in Pakistan. Photo: IRIN / Abdul Majeed Goraya

5. The countries with the highest burden of under-nutrition, responsible for as many as 2.6 million child deaths a year, are the most exposed to food price spikes, reported The Guardian. They tend to be net importers of food, and have citizens who spend 30-60% of their income on food. When prices go up, poor people take their children out of school and prioritise foods that provide energy over nutrition. A relatively short spike can have long-term effects on the development and potential of children.

6. In August 2012, three of the eight “livelihood zones” in Burundi – around 200,000 people – were found to be at a “crisis” level of food security, or Phase 3 in the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification scale, said this All Africa report. This was variously due to recurrent drought, plant disease, poverty, lack of drinking water and land scarcity. Most of the rest of the country is in Phase 2 – also classified as “stressed” – with a risk of falling into Phase 3 “at the slightest shock”, such as flooding or hailstorms, according to Isaac Nzitunga of the Ministry of Agriculture. More than 60 percent of the population in the tiny, densely populated central African state, one still recovering from a 1993-2005 civil war which killed some 300,000 people and uprooted more than a million others, is at risk of food insecurity. Some 58 percent of children are chronically malnourished, which means their physical and intellectual development is seriously threatened.

India’s agriculture by the numbers – rice in 2009-10

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Rice. Where was it grown the most in 2009-10 in India? Data from the Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture, give us the answers only when we wrestle furiously with the perverse data reporting formats, when we wring the numbers out of heavily fortified tables and labour to arrange them in the simple arrays such knowledge prefers.

What did we find? That 408 districts reported some cultivation of rice. That the median amount of rice harvested per district in that year was 104,000 tons.

That at the 80th percentile, the harvest was 306,000 tons per district but that the 20th of the top 20 rice-growing districts (that was Raipur, in Chhattisgarh) grew 753,000 tons.

Where were the higher 19? Five were in Punjab, six in Andhra Pradesh and eight were in West Bengal. There are 13 districts which produced over 1 million tons of rice each.

Written by makanaka

November 3, 2012 at 13:24