Resources Research

Culture and systems of knowledge, cultivation and food, population and consumption

Posts Tagged ‘diet

Vegetable hocus-pocus in India

with 2 comments

Which one of these two statements is false?

‘India has more than enough vegetables to feed its households, which need about 144 million tons per year’

‘There is a deficit of about 20 million tons in 2 out of 3 vegetable types India’s households need’

Which one you choose as false depends on whose interpretation of vegetable self-sufficiency you lean towards: the Ministry of Agriculture’s triumphant announcements of ever higher vegetable tonnage, or the data on crop quantities combined with current population and dietary needs (as I do here).

My answer is that the second of the two statements is nearly true whereas the first is entirely false. This is the explanation, and it is based on the data using which the startling graphic presented above was drawn.

In its ‘First Advance Estimates of Horticulture Crops’ for 2017-18, the Ministry of Agriculture has said that a record quantity of 180 million tons of vegetables has been cultivated.

This is no doubt a quantity record for vegetables. It apparently exceeds by a wide margin the quantity required to adequately provide all our households with vegetables for their daily meals. How many household would that be? My calculation, based on the projected increases in population and household contained in Census 2011, is about 270 million (or 27 crore) households in 2018, and with the mean size of the household being 4.8 members.

Such a typical household needs about 1.44 kilograms per day of vegetables as part of a well-balanced diet. Adjusting for the smaller portions eaten by children (up to 14 or 15 years old) and the elderly (from about 65 years old) and further adjusting for the losses and waste that take place from the time vegetables are brought to mandis till they cooked in kitchens, a total of about 144 million tons is needed to supply all our households for a year.

With 180 million tons cultivated and 144 million tons needed, we seem to have a surplus of some 36 million tons of vegetables.

Not so. This ‘surplus’ needs closer examination, which the chart guides you towards. As you see, the biggest circles belong to five vegetable categories: potato, tomato, other vegetables, onion, and brinjal.

What these biggest circles represent needs to be connected to what the National Institute of Nutrition has recommended as the required daily quantities of vegetables. And that is, not just 300 grams per day, but 50 grams of green leafy vegetables, 100 grams of roots and tubers and 150 grams of other vegetables. A household consuming the stipulated 1.44 kg/day of vegetables if those vegetables are a kilo of potatoes and 440 grams of tomatoes is not a household eating vegetables – it’s a household eating far too many potatoes and tomatoes.

The chart shows us dramatically how unbalanced the cultivation of vegetables has become in India. Nearly 40% of the total cultivated is onions and potatoes (70 mt). Add tomatoes and the three account for 51% of the total (93 mt). Add brinjal and the four account for 58% of the total (105 mt).

Our 270 million households should be buying, cooking and eating about 95 million tons of vegetables that are green and leafy, or are ‘other vegetables’. But in these two categories, we are growing no more than about 75 mt – which reveals a massive shortfall of 20 million tons.

This is the truth behind the tale of booming, record vegetable production. Those five big circles in the chart should never have been the sizes they are. Our households do not need an allocation of 500 grams of potatoes per day (no, Lays, Pringles, Doritos, Kurkure, Uncle Chipps, Bingo, Haldirams chips and wafers are not food).

What we need instead is for every taluka, tehsil, block and mandal to value and grow its local varieties of leafy greens, roots and tubers, shoots and stems, edible flowers and buds. That is what will bring back genuine vegetable nutrition and diversity.

Advertisements

Written by makanaka

January 8, 2018 at 19:50

Fat-finding with a new meter for Bharat

leave a comment »

RG_NSSO_fat_per_capita_201412This rather nice infographic (all our own work) shows the variation in average fat intake per capita across fractile classes of monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) at the all-India level for the rural and urban populations. It also shows the variation in fat intake between rural and urban populations of 17 major states.

We find that the average fat intake for India was about 46gm per rural person per day and 58gm per urban person per day (in 2011-12). But averages hide a great deal, and our intriguing fat-finding meter brings out, with alarming clarity, the (somewhat greasy) details.

This graphic is based on the average daily fat intake per capita in 2011-12. The data is found in the National Sample Survey Office report No. 560 on ‘Nutritional Intake in India, 2011-12’. This report is based on the 68th round survey (July 2011 to June 2012) of the National Statistical Organisation, Government of India.

The NSS report found that the 10th and 11th rural population fractiles consume twice as much fat per day as those in the 3rd rural fractile class (members of a fractile numbered lower spend less per month than members of those numbered higher). Likewise, the 8th and 9th urban population fractiles consume 1.5 times as much fat per day as those in the 3rd and 4th urban fractile classes.

There is much variation between the fat intake by rural populations of states. In both rural and urban, per capita intake was lowest in Odisha (rural: 27.1gm; urban: 37.7gm) and Assam (rural: 29.6gm; urban: 39.2gm). The states with highest fat intake were Haryana (rural: 68.6gm; urban: 74.7gm), Gujarat (rural: 61.5gm; urban: 73.1gm) and Punjab (rural: 70.3gm; urban: 69.2gm).

But the NSS report found that the increase in fat intake per capita with the rise in MPCE level is steeper than the corresponding increase for protein intake (we will link this finding with a forthcoming infographic). Per capita fat intake in the top fractile class of the urban sector was about 100gm, more than three times that in the lowest fractile class (about 27gm), while in the rural sector the intake of the top fractile class, at 92gm, was more than four times higher than that of the bottom class (21gm).

In contrast to the remarkable closeness of average protein intake across the rural-urban
divide, average urban fat intake is noticeably higher than rural intake in all the fractile
classes. Except for the lowest fractile class (bottom 5% of population ranked by MPCE), the
difference in per capita fat intake between a rural fractile class and the corresponding urban
fractile class is never less than 7.5gm.

The fitful pulse of an Indian food staple

leave a comment »

RG_pulses_prices_201405

The history of consumer price indices for pulses in India’s ordinary shops and bazaars since 2006 January is one of five periods. The first, from 2006 January to 2008 June, is of a rise in some pulse foods, a decline in a few, and little movement in others. The second period is one of a rise in concert from 2008 June to 2010 January, some pulse foods rising very steeply and not others – whole moong did but not whole urad, masur dal did but peas did not, horse gram did but not rajmah.

The third period, from 2010 February to 2011 August, is an overall lowering of the price indices for almost all pulse foods. This happened when the general food price index rose quickly and stayed high – but pulses remained relatively unaffected. That insulation, the fourth period, didn’t last long, from 2011 September till around 2012 May (even shorter for some pulse foods).

The fifth period began around 2011 July for some pulses, and two months later for others, and is continuing. This is a period of volatility in the price indices of the pulses group to an extent not seen in the previous seven years – peas rises but not gram, horse gram and rajmah shot up but raungi and white gram dipped, whole masur and whole moong soared while besan fell and papad remained flat.

The data I have taken from the monthly itemised retail consumer price indices, weighed to be all-India, for industrial workers with their base of 100 being in 2001, and compiled by the Labour Bureau, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India.

At the end of the second quarter of 2014, the spread of price index values for the pulses group of our staple foods is wider than at any time in the last eight years. It is this food group that provides the nutritional balance and is a culturally rich source of protein in everyday meals and popular home-made snacks. The overall price rise these charts graphically illustrate, and the uncertainty about their availability (which is what the recent volatility of the individual index lines show) are evidence of the threat to the nutritional security of many millions of rural and urban households in India.

Written by makanaka

May 23, 2014 at 20:39

The hunger that Bharat inherited from two lean decades

leave a comment »

What did the ‘liberalisation’ of the Indian economy bring? What has 20 years of the ‘India growth story’, which is sold around the world, brought its labour and workers? How have households rural and urban fared at balancing their budgets and meeting their needs? Poorly, for it has been a struggle that continues.

RG_nutrition_3An analysis in the journal of the National Sample Survey Office, Sarvekshana, has compiled estimates of average calorie intake for the country and the major states from six quinquennial (every five years) surveys of consumer expenditure. These surveys show a decline in average calorie intake between 1972-73 and 2009-10. The overall decline is substantially greater for rural than for urban India, and appears to have been sharper in the period since 1993-94 (as measured by the 50th round of NSSO surveys), especially in the urban sector.

The analysis on ‘Trends in Nutritional Intake in India’ has shown that the proportion of households with calorie intake below the level of 2700 kcal per consumer unit per day (this is a measure different from per capita) has grown steadily since 1993-94: from under 52% in rural India to nearly 62%, and from 57% in urban India to about 63%.

This is no surprise to the large proportion of our population who have borne the merciless brunt of food inflation for close to a generation. Between 2004 and 2013, food prices in general rose by 157%. Cereals, the staple diet of the poorest, were high on the scale, with rice at 137% and wheat at 117%. Pulses – the sole source of protein for most – had risen by 123%. Potato was even higher at 185%. As for vegetables, they have long priced themselves out of the diet of the poor, by rising up to 350%. This crippling rise continued while the government (UPA-I and UPA-II) loudly claimed every few months it would bring prices down.

RG_nutrition_1That is why the share of cereals in total calorie intake has declined since 1993-94 by nearly 7 percentage points for rural India and by about 3.5 percentage points for urban India: the share of oils and fats has on the other hand risen by 3 percentage points for both. The share of milk and milk products has grown by about 1.4 percentage points in urban India but by only 0.6 percentage points in rural India.

Moreover, at the all-India level protein intake has fallen from 60.2 grams to 55 grams per person per day in rural India and from 57.2 grams to 53.5 grams in urban India over the period 1993-94 to 2009-10. The decline has taken place in most major states but has been sharpest in rural areas of Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab – where intake has fallen by 9-12 grams.

As the major trade unions have been raising an alarm about at least every quarter, the price of rice for BPL (below poverty line) card holders increased from Rs 350 per quintal in 1997-98 to Rs 415 per quintal in 2007-08. In the same period the APL (above poverty line) price was increased from Rs 550 per quintal to Rs 755. For wheat, the price for BPL card holders was increased from Rs 250 per quintal to Rs 415 and for APL card holders from Rs 450 to Rs 610 in a period of 10 years.

RG_nutrition_2In such a situation, fats ought not to be a contributor to calories more than it was 30 years ago. But the analysis tells us otherwise – for India has become the favoured importer of palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia. Every major state shows an increase in its population’s fat intake. At the all-India level the increase has been from 31.4 grams per person per day in 1993-94 for the rural population to 38.3 grams in 2009-10 – a rise of 7 grams per day over the 16-year period, and from 42 grams to 47.9 grams per day for the urban population, a rise of 6 grams per day over the same period. Between 1993-94 and 2009-10, the contribution of cereals to protein intake has fallen by about 4.5 percentage points in rural India and by 3 percentage points in urban India, while the contribution of pulses has fallen slightly in both rural and urban India.

This analysis from the NSSO must be viewed against the growing trend in India of the corporatisation of agriculture and the industrialisation of the food system. New market monopolies whose reach is far greater than could be conceived in 1993-94 are now at work, aided by speculative financial predators. There is in response a need for strengthening social ownership of the cultivation of food staples, of the organic agriculture movement, of shortening the distances that food travels, of localisation of the Bharatiya food web.

How the geography of world obesity has shifted

with one comment

(1) Obesity is on the rise globally: One in three adults in the world (1.46 billion) were overweight or obese in 2008, up by 23% since 1980. (2) Where overweight or obese people live is changing: North Africa and the Middle East, and Latin America now have almost the same percentage of overweight or obese people as Europe. Graphics: ODI

(1) Obesity is on the rise globally: One in three adults in the world (1.46 billion) were overweight or obese in 2008, up by 23% since 1980. (2) Where overweight or obese people live is changing: North Africa and the Middle East, and Latin America now have almost the same percentage of overweight or obese people as Europe. Graphics: ODI

For the last few years, food scarcity and the effects of industrial food have co-existed, often within the same demographic circle and within countries. This is no contradiction (although it demands far more attentive food policy) because the in the world’s industrialised agriculture and processed food system, both must exist in order that profits are made, in order that ‘economic growth’ is fulfilled.

Now, the BBC has reported that the number of overweight and obese adults in the ‘developing world’ (an unnecessary hangover that label, which media organisations must outlaw) has almost quadrupled to around one billion since 1980. The BBC report is based on a study by Britain’s Overseas Development Institute, which has said that one in three people worldwide was now overweight – the study uses these findings to urge governments to do more to influence diets.

(1) Obesity is growing in the developing world: In the developing world, the number of overweight or obese adults more than tripled from 250 million in 1980 to 904 million. (2) Where overweight or obese people live is changing: More adults were overweight or obese in developing countries than in rich countries in 2008. Graphics: ODI

(1) Obesity is growing in the developing world: In the developing world, the number of overweight or obese adults more than tripled from 250 million in 1980 to 904 million. (2) Where overweight or obese people live is changing: More adults were overweight or obese in developing countries than in rich countries in 2008. Graphics: ODI

There has indeed been a dramatic increase in the numbers of overweight or obese people in the past 30 years, as anyone who has passed through public places is likely to have observed. Previously considered a problem in richer countries, the biggest rises are in what those familiar with ‘development economics’ (another term that means effectively nothing) call ‘middle income countries’ and the ‘developing world’.
The ODI study, called ‘Future Diets’, has traced how the changes in diet – more fat, more meat, more sugar and bigger portions (what the Americans loving call ‘supersize’) – have led to a health crisis. It also looks at how policy-makers have tried to curb these excesses, usually with little success.

[Use this calculator to check where you are on what the BBC calls ‘the global fat scale’]

The official line on the causes of obesity includes higher incomes. The rationale is that those households which earn more are now able to choose the kind of foods they want, and that they choose poorly. Changes in lifestyle are mentioned, as is the increasing availability of processed foods, the dreadful impact of advertising in and on every space discernible by our senses, and the co-option of media by the food industry (along with most other consumerist industries that require propaganda to ensure quarterly profit and expectations are met and that shareholder value is protected).

(1) Sugar and sweetener consumption is rising: An indicator of changing diets is the increasing consumption of sugar and sweeteners, which has risen by over 20% per person between 1961 and 2009. (2) Change is possible: South Koreans ate 300% more fruit and 10% more vegetables in 2009 compared to 1980 thanks to concerted government-led campaigns. Graphics: ODI

(1) Sugar and sweetener consumption is rising: An indicator of changing diets is the increasing consumption of sugar and sweeteners, which has risen by over 20% per person between 1961 and 2009. (2) Change is possible: South Koreans ate 300% more fruit and 10% more vegetables in 2009 compared to 1980 thanks to concerted government-led campaigns. Graphics: ODI

But this is the very alarming result. In what are also called ’emerging economies’, where a large middle class of people with rising incomes lives in urban centres and takes less physical exercise than their parents and grandparents did, there is “an explosion in overweight and obesity in the past 30 years” which of course will lead to serious implications for public health.

The consumption of fat, salt and sugar has increased globally according to the United Nations, and these increases are significant factors in the increase seen in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers. The study has recommended more concerted public health measures from governments, similar to those taken to limit smoking in developed countries, but of course, to really bring about a change in the way new entrants into the urban middle classes eat, there must be the admission that economic ‘growth’ should first stop, then reverse. How likely is that in the next generation?

What rural India does and doesn’t eat

with 3 comments

How much cereals (rice, wheat, millet, sorghum) and pulses do rural Indians consume in a month? In general, not anywhere near how much they should.

How much cereals (rice, wheat, millet, sorghum) and pulses do rural Indians consume in a month? In general, not anywhere near how much they should.

The circles in this chart represent the rural population of 20 of India’s largest states by population. The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) divides the rural (and also the urban) population of each state into tenths (they call them ‘deciles’), and the NSS surveys on consumption expenditure tell us how much each decile in each state spends, for example between Rs 800 and Rs 950 a month.

I made this chart using data from the NSS report, ‘Level and Pattern of Consumer Expenditure’ (the 66th Round, which surveyed the population between 2009 July and 2010 June). With 20 states and ten categories each, I had 200 readings to plot, examining the consumption in quantities for cereals and pulses.

Depending on the population of the state, some of those circles represent 3-5 million people! Now here is the grim finding. Of these, 72 do not meet even 75% of the minimum cereals requirement (about 10.4 kg) a month, and 106 do not meet even 50% of the minimum pulses requirement (about 0.6 kg) a month – these are the National Institute of Nutrition recommended dietary allowances. And 43 of these deciles are severely deficient in both.

How can the state explain the existence of these huge deficits in basic nutrition (see the coloured area of the chart, which includes tens of millions) while simultaneously chasing 'growth' as the means to remove those deficits?

How can the state explain the existence of these huge deficits in basic nutrition (see the coloured area of the chart, which includes tens of millions) while simultaneously chasing ‘growth’ as the means to remove those deficits?

For the last week, there has been a great deal of comment and discussion about how the increase in expenditure – especially in rural India – is ‘evidence’ of increasing incomes, of widening prosperity and a general ‘lifting out of poverty’. It is misleading because neither the central government nor its supporters (there are many supporting views to be found in the media) has pointed out that an increase in expenditure will of course take place given the rise in the price of food and fuel.

Comparing what the NSS has surveyed in 2009-10 with its 2004-05 survey, in some areas of expenditure the rupee rise is 300%-400% (such as for the eggs fish and meat, fresh fruit and beverages categories) and it will be useful to extract the quantities behind these increases in expenditure (I will get around to doing this as soon as possible).

In any case, the quantities consumed for cereals and pulses have actually declined for rural and urban citizens. While the proportion of expense, out of total food expense (all-India figures for rural populations), on pulses and on milk (and milk products) has remained roughly the same – 5.6% to 5.2% and 15.3% to 15.2% – the proportion spent on cereals has dropped from 32.7% to 20.2%.

I think this an extremely significant change that can be read together with the two big increases in proportion of spending – on egg fish and meat from 6% to 9% and on beverages from 8.2% to 15%. In the NSS definition, beverages also includes purchased meals and processed food, and it is this conversion of primary cereals (including coarse cereals) and pulses to processed foods that I see as an important factor behind the biggest change in the proportions spent on food in recent years.

The Fukushima report, grim truth and a salute to heroism in Japan

leave a comment »

Signatures of the ten members of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission

Japan has found new heroism and it is in the form of the ten members of the first independent commission chartered by the Diet in the history of Japan’s constitutional government. Their report, ‘The official report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission’, has come as a powerful call for the abandonment of nuclear power in Japan and indeed worldwide.

The voluminous report was designed from the start along lines wholly and utterly ignored by the subjects of the report – the government of Japan and the Japanese nuclear power industry (and also, by association, the international nuclear mongers). And that is the maximum degree of information disclosure. To achieve this, all 19 of the commission meetings were open to public observation and broadcast on the internet (except the first one), simultaneously in Japanese and English, to a total of 800,000 viewers. The commission also also used social media, Facebook and Twitter to communicate with the public, receiving over 170,000 comments. To gain a global perspective, the commission dispatched three teams overseas, and included interviews and hearings with experts from the USA, France, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

These ten members have shown the determination to achieve maximum information disclosure in a culture, and against unfathomable pressure, that is determined otherwise. They have posed the toughest questions possible and drawn out, from hundreds of responses, the strands of truth about Japanese society which have since 2011 March 11 been obscured by the scale of the disaster, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and the massive, tragic loss of life.

These ten members have emphasised through their doggedness and their untiring pursuit of the truth, no matter how bitter, that it is of vital importance that their work – this report – be utilised, as they have said, “for the Japanese people and for the people of the world”. They have demanded that national pride be set aside if it obstructs the truth, and for this, they symbolise a heroism Japan has, in an hour of unprecedented public outrage, rediscovered.

They are Kiyoshi Kurokawa (chairman) and members Kenzo Oshima, Hisako Sakiyama, Masafumi Sakurai, Yoshinori Yokoyama, Mitsuhiko Tanaka, Koichi Tanaka, Katsuhiko Ishibashi, Reiko Hachisuka and Shuya Nomura. We must salute them.

The text below is from the chairman’s message in the English executive summary of the report (pdf, 2.4 mb):

Map showing accumulated cesium-137, from the report

“The earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 were natural disasters of a magnitude that shocked the entire world. Although triggered by these cataclysmic events, the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant cannot be regarded as a natural disaster. It was a profoundly manmade disaster – that could and should have been foreseen and prevented. And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response.

“How could such an accident occur in Japan, a nation that takes such great pride in its global reputation for excellence in engineering and technology? This Commission believes the Japanese people – and the global community – deserve a full, honest and transparent answer to this question.

“Our report catalogues a multitude of errors and willful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the events of March 11. And it examines serious deficiencies in the response to the accident by TEPCO, regulators and the government. For all the extensive detail it provides, what this report cannot fully convey – especially to a global audience – is the mindset that supported the negligence behind this disaster. What must be admitted – very painfully – is that this was a disaster “Made in Japan”. Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity. Had other Japanese been in the shoes of those who bear responsibility for this accident, the result may well have been the same.

“Following the 1970s “oil shocks,” Japan accelerated the development of nuclear power in an effort to achieve national energy security. As such, it was embraced as a policy goal by government and business alike, and pursued with the same single-minded determination that drove Japan’s postwar economic miracle. With such a powerful mandate, nuclear power became an unstoppable force, immune to scrutiny by civil society. Its regulation was entrusted to the same government bureaucracy responsible for its promotion. At a time when Japan’s self-confidence was soaring, a tightly knit elite with enormous financial resources had diminishing regard for anything ‘not invented here’.

“This conceit was reinforced by the collective mindset of Japanese bureaucracy, by which the first duty of any individual bureaucrat is to defend the interests of his organization. Carried to an extreme, this led bureaucrats to put organizational interests ahead of their paramount duty to protect public safety. Only by grasping this mindset can one understand how Japan’s nuclear industry managed to avoid absorbing the critical lessons learned from Three Mile Island and Chernobyl; and how it became accepted practice to resist regulatory pressure and cover up small-scale accidents. It was this mindset that led to the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant.

“This report singles out numerous individuals and organizations for harsh criticism, but the goal is not—and should not be—to lay blame. The goal must be to learn from this disaster, and reflect deeply on its fundamental causes, in order to ensure that it is never repeated. Many of the lessons relate to policies and procedures, but the most important is one upon which each and every Japanese citizen should reflect very deeply. The consequences of negligence at Fukushima stand out as catastrophic, but the mindset that supported it can be found across Japan. In recognizing that fact, each of us should reflect on our responsibility as individuals in a democratic society.

“As the first investigative commission to be empowered by the legislature and independent of the bureaucracy, we hope this initiative can contribute to the development of Japan’s civil society. Above all, we have endeavored to produce a report that meets the highest standard of transparency. The people of Fukushima, the people of Japan and the global community deserve nothing less.”

Right-sizing the 2050 calculus on food and population

with 2 comments

A man walks away with a bag of rice at a food distribution centre in Tarenguel, Gorgol region, in Mauritania in May 2012. A full third of the country’s population, amounting to around a million people, are at risk of severe malnutrition if rain doesn’t fall by July. Photo: AlertNet / Reuters / Susana Vera

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?

A man gestures at a compound belonging to the World Food Programme as it is being looted in Abyei, in this United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) handout photo taken in May 2011. Photo: AlertNet / Reuters / Stuart Price / UNMIS

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).

People buy food at a vegetable market in Tripoli in August 2011. Photo: AlertNet / Reuters / Youssef Boudlal

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 planetary case for a meat-free society

leave a comment »

There is no case at all for humans to continue eating the amount of meat they do. In what are commonly called ‘industrialised’ countries (a category that includes most of the OECD countries) the share of meat in total food consumption is around 48% and has been so for several decades (has in fact been so once the overhang of the food shortages of the Second World War wore off, and particularly after the emergence of Europe’s common agricultural policy, which ushered in a change in that part of the world which was as far-reaching in its consequences as was the Green Revolution in South Asia).

Per capita consumption of major food items in developing countries, 1961-2005. Source: FAO

Now we see more clearly that as per capita food consumption has increased it has been accompanied by (those ‘market forces’ at work, the industrialisation of agriculture and the disinheritance from local choices for the average consumer, both by connected design) a change in dietary patterns that can only be described as catastrophic. Those who look at this change from an economic standpoint call it ‘structural’, for we have seen the diets of people in ‘developing’ (forgive the use of this term, so misleading it is, especially when the ‘developed’ world’s ravenous greed for resources turns these very concepts grotesquely on their heads) being altered.

In the South, for these peoples (some of them newly urbanised and whose activities contribute to the growing inequality of incomes – one has only to look at oddly swelling Gini curves to see this), there has been a rapid increases of livestock products (meat, milk, eggs), vegetable oils and, to a smaller extent, sugar, as sources of food energy. These three food groups together now provide 29% of total food consumption (also often called “dietary energy supply”) and this proportion has risen from 20% only three decades ago. Mind, these are not small increases over more than a generation – as a first look at this change will seem to imply. A single percentage point increase over a generation for a country’s population places a very large burden on land, water, crop growing patterns and of course health.

It is the prognosis that I find chilling. The FAO has rather unemotionally remarked that this share is projected to rise further to 35% in 2030 and to 37% in 2050. Can civilisation (let’s assume we can call this human imprint on the planet a single civilisation of a homogenous species although we all know it isn’t, not by any stretch of the fertile imaginations of our tens of thousands of indigenous peoples) tolerate such a shift in how people feed themselves. No, certainly not, the impact is catastrophic already.

Per capita GDP and meat consumption by country, 2005. Source: FAO

There are libraries of evidence to show that demand for livestock products has considerably increased since the early 1960s in the ‘developing’ countries. India, for example, so staunchly vegetarian through its struggle for freedom and through the leisurely years till economic ‘liberalisation’ strengthened its grip on minds and alimentary canals alike, is home to a very large and rapidly growing poultry industry (how quickly the vocabulary turns upon the rational, when did harmonious domestication and the organic circling of the nutrient cycle turn into an ‘industry’, banishing animals from their roles in our ecosystems?) and a fisheries ‘industry’ that has depleted the Arabian Sea (it is the Mer d’Oman from the other side) and the Bay of Bengal of their creatures both demersal and pelagic.

Thus we are confronted by the spectres of consumption of food which is attached, like a motor-car engine is to its crankshaft, to growth-by-magnitude. In the ‘developing’ South, the consumption of milk per capita has almost doubled (recall Operation Flood in India), meat consumption more than tripled and egg consumption increased by a factor of five (recall the National Egg Coordination Committee and its catchy jingle: “Meri jaan, meri jaan, murgi ke ande khana“). And yet, it is not yet South Asia – for the most substantial growth in per capita consumption of livestock products has occurred in East and Southeast Asia. China, in particular, has seen per capita consumption of meat quadruple, consumption of milk increase tenfold, and egg consumption increase eightfold between 1980 and 2005. And yet again, among the developing-country regions, only sub-Saharan Africa has seen a modest decline in per capita consumption of both meat and milk (according to FAO).

Where will this lead to? Into what zone of rolling disaster will the pursuit of the animal protein take our land-water-crop-habitat balance, already so precarious and already on a knife’s edge? The estimates (all bland, all unemotional, as if unable or unwilling to emote the reality to come) are that such demand is set to increase significantly towards 2050 because of population growth and continuing change of dietary patterns. The forecasts ought to be seen as terrifying: according to FAO’s estimates, an increase in the consumption of livestock products will cause a 553 million tons increase in the demand for feed, which represents half of the total demand increase for coarse grain between 2000 and 2050.

The FAO’s regiments of agro-economists and trend watchers have said that income growth in low-income countries and emerging economies will drive demand even higher (the Foresight 2011 report has said so too). They concur that there will be a shift to “high-status and non-seasonal foods, including more meat consumption, particularly in countries with rising income” (ah yes, the rising income, the fata morgana of a tide that lifts all boats, as the development banks have long wanted us to believe). No, comrades, it is not so – Nature does not recognise your balance-sheet.

Grains till 2016-17: the IGC speaks

leave a comment »

The International Grains Council (IGC) has prepared a summary of projections for grains and cereals. The IGC Secretariat has said of its work that “the figures represent the Secretariat’s view of the general development of the global grains economy in the period to 2016-17, taking into account a number of broad assumptions”.

These include assumed trends in population growth, prices, developments in agriculture and trade policy, as well as prospects for the global economy. “The latter have become increasingly uncertain over the past year”, the IGC Secretariat has said. The IGC has added the proviso that these estimates and the forecast derived from them are subject to risk, and this analysis assumes that current economic problems do not worsen. Here are the sections:

Total Grains
* World grains production in 2016-17 is projected to reach 1.98bn tons, a 158m. increase (+9%) compared with 2011-12; wheat output is forecast to rise by 30m. (4%) and maize by 94m. (11%).
* Despite heightened economic uncertainty, the analysis assumes any slowdown in global economic growth will be temporary and increasing prosperity will boost grains consumption, particularly for feed and industrial uses. Feed use is expected to rise at a slightly faster pace than in recent years, while increases in industrial use will slow from the very rapid rates in the past decade. Diversifying diets, particularly in favour of livestock products, will slow the rise in direct use of grains for human food. Total grains consumption is projected at 1.98bn. tons in 2016-17 (1.83bn. in 2011-12), including 659m. (630m.) for human food, 846m. (769m.) for feed and 343m. (302m.) for industrial uses.

World grains stocks are forecast to show little change in the medium term and are set to remain relatively tight, especially for maize. At the end of 2016-17, world grain carryover stocks are projected at 354m. tons (compared with 360m. at the end of 2011-12), including 118m. (123m.) of maize, 196m. (202m.) of wheat and 26m. (23m.) of barley.
* World grains trade is projected to increase by about 2% per year, to 273m. tons in 2016-17, with wheat and maize rising to new records. Increasing demand for wheat-based foods will lift wheat import needs in Africa and Asia. Imports of maize for feed will rise, especially in Pacific Asia, with China seen as a more regular buyer.

Wheat
* Increases in world wheat production in the five years ending 2016 are expected to be broadly matched by use, and global stocks are expected to be maintained at close to recent levels.
* Planting decisions will be influenced by likely attractive prices for alternative crops, especially maize and oilseeds. Nevertheless, some rise in global wheat area is anticipated, led by gains in the CIS. After a relatively sharp increase of 1.6% in 2012-13, including a recovery in North America, global areas are projected to expand by around 0.4% annually. Taking into account slightly increased average yields over the period, world wheat production is projected to reach a record 714m. tons in 2016-17, representing an increase of 30m. compared with the estimate for 2011.
* World wheat consumption is projected to grow by 1.1% annually, close to the long-term average, reaching 716m. tons in 2016-17, up by 39m. compared with 2011-12. A continued increase in human food use accounts for half the rise, driven by expanding demand in developing countries. At 0.8% per year, the average annual increase is only slightly slower than the longer-term trend of 1.0%. Increases in world feed use mainly reflect a tight S&D outlook for maize and expectations that the cost of wheat will be more attractive than maize at times. Gains in industrial use are expected to accelerate, particularly for biofuels, although overall amounts will remain small relative to total consumption.
* World wheat carryover stocks are projected to stay relatively ample in the next five years, receding only slightly, to 196m. tons. Those in the eight major exporters are projected to show an initial rise, but then fall back to about the same level as currently.
* World wheat trade to 2016-17 is forecast to increase by around 2% per year, reaching a fresh record of 138m. tons. Increases in milling wheat trade will be sustained by rising demand in developing countries in Asia and Africa, while feed wheat may show some further gains if import costs are competitive with maize.

[The IGC forecast document is available here (pdf)]
[The spreadsheet (xls) with the major grains’ data is available here]

Rice
* Only a modest expansion in the global paddy (rice) area is forecast in the five years to 2016-17, with the average year-on-year increase projected at just 0.3% (compared to an average of 0.7% in the prior five-year period). To some extent, this reflects an expected contraction in China’s sowings, amid a continued shift to diets that are richer in protein. Taking into account slightly reduced average yield gains, global rice production (milled basis) is projected to increase by 23m. tons, to 482m. by 2016-17, an annual average growth rate of 1%.
* Global rice consumption is projected to reach 482m. tons by 2016-17, up by 25m. from 2011-12. At 1.1%, average growth, while broadly in line with the global population trend, will be lower than in previous years. This is due to a forecast contraction in China, as well as more moderate growth in other parts of Asia. Elsewhere, sub-Saharan Africa is expected to be one of the fastest growing regional markets, the result of a rising population and a shift away from traditional, locally-grown cereals.
* The world rice carryover is projected to rise only slightly over the next five years, to 103m. tons. In the five major exporters, stocks are expected to initially increase – centred on inventory accumulation in India and Thailand – before edging slightly lower. Their share of the world total will average around one-third through to 2016-17.
* Global rice trade is projected to expand by nearly 3% annually, to 37.2m. tons by 2017, broadly in line with maize but comfortably exceeding the year-to-year rise in wheat. Growth will be underpinned by larger shipments to Far East Asia, especially the Philippines, and sub-Saharan Africa. The latter sub-region will remain heavily dependent on imports to meet domestic requirements; their share of total consumption is forecast to average 45%.

Maize (Corn)
* The supply and demand for maize (corn) is projected to remain tight, with world inventories projected to drop to historically low levels.
* With firm global demand and generally tight availabilities expected to support world prices, maize plantings are projected to remain high across the forecast period. Increases in area and improvements in yields, especially in the US, Latin America and China, result in large consecutive crops. World maize production is forecast to increase to 949m. tons in 2016-17, some 94m. higher than the estimate for 2011.
* Global maize consumption is projected to rise to 949m. tons in 2016-17, up by 86m. from 2011-12. Growth in use is forecast to decelerate, mainly due to slowing industrial demand. With use for ethanol in the US levelling out, industrial consumption is projected to rise by 2% annually, compared to 12% in the last five years. Despite high prices, rising meat demand in developing countries will lift feed maize consumption by around 2% per year. Population growth, rising per capita incomes and changing dietary preferences are expected to boost meat consumption in parts of Asia, Latin America and Africa.
* World closing stocks are expected to tighten but, with supply and demand seen broadly in balance towards the end of the forecast period, the projected 2016-17 carryover of 118m. tons would only be 5m. below that at the end of 2011-12. US ending stocks are forecast to increase from recent lows, but China’s will decline.