Archive for June 2013
Poignant writing by Nic Dawes in South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, as Nelson Mandela remains in hospital:
“The truth is that Nelson Mandela has been absent not just from banquets, front pages, and the high councils of the ANC, for close to a decade. He has too often been absent from our conception of ourselves, and the messy, joyous work of building a democracy in which the full realisation of our individual and collective humanity is possible.”
“The ANC, which he regarded as essential to the transformation of our national life, without which, he said, “I would be nothing”, is struggling amid factionalism and greed to recall his 2009 injunction “to let the good of our people always remain supreme in all our considerations”.”
“As much as he may have sought peace after a life of constant struggle, Madiba was also teaching a basic lesson: this must be a nation of laws, and of institutions, not of men, certainly not of one man. We, his people, are less gifted.”
What do and what can rural residents spend on food and the essentials of living in India? This chart gives us an indication. It is based on new data contained in the latest revelation (my word, not theirs) from the National Sample Survey Office and is titled ‘Key Indicators of Household Consumer Expenditure in India’ (the 68th Round of sampling, for those who follow the extraordinary programme of this sterling statistical organisation).
There is data enough in the volume to inform us, clearly and starkly, that the cumulative impact of several years of food price inflation is hurting households more with every passing quarter. Consider what this new data release tells us:
* That the average rural monthly expenditure per person was lowest in the states of Odisha and Jharkhand (around Rs 1,000) and also in Chhattisgarh (Rs 1,027).
* In Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, the rural monthly expenditure per person was about Rs 1,125 to Rs 1,160.
* In urban India (not shown in this chart, but I will add to this posting with an expanded update) Bihar had the lowest monthly expenditure per person (called monthly per capita expenditure by the NSSO and abbreviated to MPCE) of Rs 1,507.
* In Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, urban MPCE was between Rs 1,865 and Rs 2,060. These six were the six major states with the lowest MPCEs for both rural and urban citizens.
But those are averages, and in this data release, the NSSO has divided its usual ten deciles even further for the lowest and highest deciles. (The decile is the surveyed population divided into tenths, with these being classified by expenditure level.) Doing so gives us a better view of the elastic expense trends in the top ten per cent of the population, the class which is so pampered by the central government. For rural India then, the 5th percentile of the MPCE distribution was estimated as Rs 616 and the 10th percentile as Rs 710 – and these are all-India averages.
About half the total rural population is thus estimated to have a MPCE below Rs 1,198. Only about 10% of the rural population reported household MPCE above Rs 2,296 and only 5% reported MPCE above Rs 2,886 (this is using what is called the ‘modified mixed reference period’ or MMRP, in which the person interviewed is asked to recall purchases made over two different lengths of time, for different sorts of goods). The bottom-line is that food accounted for about 53% of the value of the average rural Indian’s household consumption during 2011-12.
This included 11% for cereals and cereal substitutes, 8% for milk and milk products, another 8% on beverages and processed food, and 6.5% on vegetables. Among non-food item categories, fuel for cooking and lighting accounted for about 8%, clothing and footwear for 7%, medical expenses for about 6.5%, education for 3.5%, conveyance for 4%, other consumer services for 4%, and consumer durables for 4.5%.
This ought to be a ringing alarm about access to food for the country’s planners, who are otherwise obsessed with GDP growth and whether India is cosmetically dolled up enough to attract global finance capital. It hasn’t sounded even a muted gong, and even if it had, one stunning inference from this table has been ignored – that this is an indicator of food and multi-dimensional poverty and that millions of rural residents are unable to afford food and basic services.
How so? Look at the chart again. Imagine, at just above the line marking 2,000 rupees, a dotted red line at a level of around 2,070 rupees. That is the equivalent (before the recent fall in the rupee’s value against the US dollar) of USD 1.25 a day, which has (ill-advisedly) been cemented in development wisdom as a poverty line that can be applied in countries like India. Let’s accept that in order to focus on what the new NSSO data tells us.
At the Rs 2,070 level we see that for a relatively prosperous state like Haryana (a former Green Revolution state) about 50% of the rural population cannot spend, per person per month, this amount. The percentage of the rural population below and above this line is similar, more or less, for Punjab (also a former Green Revolution state) and for Kerala (which is not, but has income from economic migrants abroad).
But the entire rural populations of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha cannot spend this amount, because they do not earn it. How many is that? Using the 2001-2011 population growth rates (for rural populations of states) this means 98.96 million in rural Bihar, 20.65 million in rural Chhattisgarh, 26.52 million in rural Jharkhand and 36.19 million in rural Odisha are below this line. What of other states with large rural populations?
In Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, 90% of the rural population is below this line and that means 25.23 million in Assam, 49.90 million in Madhya Pradesh, 147.25 million in Uttar Pradesh, and 57.26 million in West Bengal. In Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, 80% of the rural population is below this line and that means 28.52 million in Gujarat, 30.66 million in Karnataka, 50.77 million in Maharashtra and 43.55 million in Rajasthan. In Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, 70% of the rural population is below this line and that means 39.64 million in Andhra Pradesh and 26.56 million in Tamil Nadu.
Taken together those rural populations are 681.72 million (more than twice the population of the USA). They are 78% of India’s 2013 rural population, almost eight out of ten rural citizens.
The Earth Policy Institute has a startling data highlight about the consumption of pork in China. Half the world’s pigs, more than 470 million of them, live in China. While meat consumption in the United States has fallen more than 5% since peaking in 2007, says the institute, Chinese meat consumption has jumped 18%, from 64 million to 78 million tons — twice as much as in the USA (see the charts below). China already buys more than 60% of the world’s soybean exports to feed to its own livestock and has been a net importer of pork for the last five years.
In late May 2013 the American company Smithfield Foods Inc, which is reported to be the world’s leading pork producer, was bought by the Chinese company Shuanghui International, which is the owner of China’s largest meat processor. The acquisition has been reported by China Daily; USA Today seemed cautiously happy about China’s buying of American hogs; Forbes hastily attempted an analysis of what it all means; Fast Coexist provided that analysis with knobs on.
The change in the number of cultivators and agricultural labourers in India, as recently provided by Census 2011, is a major indicator of a state’s treatment of its crop-growing communities and its approach to land use. It is usually difficult to spot long-term trends in economic activity, in particular that of agriculture and food production, in the districts – a condition that the state does little to rectify.
Even so, these difficulties are eased to an extent by reading the census data together with other data – in particular land use and major crops. These should help us recognise the growing impacts on food security caused by rampant urbanisation and the steady erosion of the population of cultivators. [Please see the complete article on Macroscan.]
To gain a better understanding of the changes in the numbers of cultivators and agricultural labour (marginal or main) it is useful to read them with the change in the number of agricultural holdings in India over the same ten years, and this is provided, over exactly the same decade, by the Agricultural Census.
The last complete Agricultural Census is for the year 2005-06. The next is for 2010-11, and ‘All India Report on Number and Area of Operational Holdings (provisional)’, Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture (2012), from which we have the national and state level provisional data.
This tells us that the number of ‘operational holdings’ in India rose over a ten year period from 119.9 million to 137.7 million (up 14.8%). Whereas in three categories of the size of holdings (large, medium and semi-medium) the number of operational holdings dropped, in the categories of small and marginal the number rose (by 8.8% and 22.4% respectively). The rise in total operational holdings of 17.8 million is due mainly to the increase in the number of marginal holdings, that is, below one hectare, and these account for more than 95% of the all holdings added to the total in this ten-year period.
At a national level, the addition of such a large number of small holdings has not expanded the total acreage under cultivation. Rather, all cultivated land – in all size categories – has very slightly shrunk (by 0.16%) to 159.1 million hectares. However, the total masks both one large deficit and one large addition – a 17.5% decrease in the total operating area of large holdings (10-20 hectares, and above 20 hectares), and a 18.7% increase in the total operating area of marginal holdings (below one hectare). The total area operated as marginal holdings has risen from 29.8 million hectares in 2000-01 to 35.4 million hectares in 2010-11.
This provides some of the background about the change in land use that accompanies the disturbing top-level indication given to us by Census 2011 about India’s farmers. There are now 95.8 million cultivators for whom farming is their main occupation, reported P Sainath, which is less than 8 per cent of the population, down from 103 million in 2001 and 110 million in 1991.
It is with these readings – in the change in number of and type of farm plots – that the change in the numbers of cultivator and agricultural labour gives us a fuller picture. Considering the four categories of occupation under the Census enumeration which pertain to cultivation and agriculture, we have main or marginal cultivators or agricultural labourers, and data for the changes seen in these categories between the two Censuses (2001 and 2011). The changes for the 20 large states reveal the following (data sheet is available here as a xlsx file):
* The variation in the number of marginal agricultural labourers ranges from 170% more in Jammu and Kashmir, 100% more in Bihar and 83% more in Himachal Pradesh to 32% less in Kerala, 23% less in Maharashtra and 16% less in Karnataka.
* The variation in the number of marginal cultivators ranges from 47% more in Jharkhand, 31% more in Himachal Pradesh and 25% more in Bihar to 35% less in Gujarat, 34% less in Haryana and 33% less in Maharashtra.
* The variation in the number of main agricultural labourers ranges from 117% more in Rajasthan, 89% more in Himachal Pradesh and 73% more in Uttaranchal to 10% less in Kerala, 5% more in Bihar and 10% more in Punjab.
* The variation in the number of main cultivators ranges from 17% more in Assam, 12% more in Maharashtra and 2% more in Rajasthan to 40% less in Jammu and Kashmir, 24% less in Jharkhand and 20% less in Bihar.
These losses and Census gains have much to do with the great urbanisation taking place in the major states. There is a continuing trend of holdings smaller in size and greater in number (which must, from an agricultural productivity point of view, not automatically be considered a liability), which is a factor in the redistribution of cultivating communities of the food-producing districts. The consequences to the capacities of these districts for sustaining a minimum level of food production for their own consumption are yet to be recognised and understood.