Resources Research

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

Posts Tagged ‘fruit

Regions of wheat, lands of rice

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The return of budgetary focus towards agriculture and the economies of rural India will help deepen our understanding about where crops are grown and for whom. These are still more often described in national aggregate terms of annual estimates, than by season, state and the growing appetites of urban agglomerations.

This could change over the next few years, especially as the so-called services sector shrinks both by the number of people it employs and by its importance to the national economy. Services – a peculiarly invented term that was quite unknown and unused when I was a teenager – has come about because of the financialisation of those portions of social activity which were done at small scale, informally and as adjunct activities to the work of the public sector, the manufacturers and factories, and the great numbers of cultivators (and those working on agricultural produce). The many enforced errors of contemporary economics means that this will continue to change – not without pain and confusion – but that social activity that has some economic dimension will return to what it was two generations earlier.

While it does, we find there are differences in the concentration of food staples produced – that is, how much by quantity do certain regions grow our food staples as a significant fraction of national production of that food staple. This is more readily available as state quantities instead of district. I have suggested to the Ministry of Agriculture that this ought to be monitored not only at the level of the district but also by the agro-ecological zone, or region, for we have 120 in India, and they represent varying climatic conditions, soil typologies, river basins and cultivation systems.

At present, what we see then is that for rice and wheat, the top three producing states account for 36.7% (rice) and 62% (wheat) of the country’s production. This distribution – or concentration – should cause a review of the crop choices that our kisans make in the growing districts and agro-ecological zones. For a simple pointer such as this tells us that 37 out of every 100 quintals of rice grown in India are grown in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh and that 62 out of every 100 quintals of wheat grown in India are grown in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh.

The corresponding distribution/concentration with coarse cereals is better than wheat but not better than rice for 45.4% of total coarse cereals are grown in Rajasthan, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Likewise, 48.8% of all pulses are grown in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. The tale is similar with oilseeds (63.8% in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat), with sugarcane (73% in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka) and cotton (69.8% in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh).

With horticulture – that is, vegetables and fruit – there is less state-level concentration to be seen. India’s kisans grow about 170 million tons of vegetables and about 85 million tons of fruit a year and their concentrations vary – West Bengal and Odisha grow a great deal of brinjal, Maharashtra grows onions, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal lead in potatoes, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka grow the most tomatoes, and so on. Overall however, the range of distribution amongst the large states of their produce of vegetables and fruit is not as concentrated as with the food staples. The reasons for this difference can tell us a great deal about the need for district and watershed-level food security, employing as always sound zero budget farming techniques (no external inputs) and local and indigenous knowledge of cultivation techniques.

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Visiting our total household food budget

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Twice as much over the 11 years until 2009-10, and three times as much over the 10 years until 2012-13. That has been the increase in rupee expenditure for this basket of foods.

The data is from the private final consumption series, calculated by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI). The totals (left scale of the chart) is in thousand crore rupees.

In this chart I have shown the expenditure (in current rupees) for: Cereals and Bread, Pulses, Sugar and Gur, Oils and Oilseeds, Fruits and Vegetables, Milk and Milk Products, and Meat Egg and Fish. These totals also indicate the size in rupees of the food industry – but do not include the processed and packaged food industry.

The rise in consumption expenditure expressed in rupees is a money measure alone, and not a quantity or volume measure. We can see that the portion of milk and milk products in this group has gone up from just over 18% to 25% over 14 years, and the portion of meat, eggs and fish has gone up from just under 9% to 12.5% over the same period.

From 2006 the rising trend of expenditure on fruits and vegetables became steeper than the rising trend of cereals and bread. In 2005-06 the portion spent on fruit and vegetables in this group was just over 26% and that has risen slightly to 28% in 2012-13. In contrast for cereals and bread, the portion of 27.5% in 2005-06 has dropped to just over 21% in 2012-13.

India’s crop quotas for a rain-troubled year

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In this graphic, the size of the crop squares are relative to each other. The numbers are in million tons. Rice, wheat, pulses, coarse cereals, sugarcane. oilseeds and the fibre crops are the major categories for the 2014-15 crop production targets. What is always left out from the 'foodgrain'-based projections are vegetables and fruit, and these I have included based on the 2013-14 advance estimates for horticultural crops.

In this graphic, the size of the crop squares are relative to each other. The numbers are in million tons. Rice, wheat, pulses, coarse cereals, sugarcane. oilseeds and the fibre crops are the major categories for the 2014-15 crop production targets. What is always left out from the ‘foodgrain’-based projections are vegetables and fruit, and these I have included based on the 2013-14 advance estimates for horticultural crops.

Your allocation for the year could be 136 kilograms of vegetables, provided the monsoon holds good, which at this point in its annual career does not look likely. We need the veggies (not just potato, onion, cabbage and tomato) as much as fruit. But the central government is more traditionally concerned with ‘foodgrain’, by which is meant rice, wheat, pulses and coarse cereals.

That is what is meant by the ‘foodgrain production targets’, which have been issued by the Ministry of Agriculture for 2014-15 – as usual with scant sign of whether the Ministries of Earth Sciences and Water Resources were invited to a little chat over tea and samosas. I would have expected at least a “what do you think dear colleagues, is 94 million tons of wheat wildly optimistic given the clear blue skies that o’ertop us from Lutyens’ Delhi to Indore?” and at least some assenting murmurings from those foregathered.

But no, such niceties are not practiced by our bureaucrats. So the Ministry of Agriculture gruffly rings up the state agriculture departments, bullies them to send in the projections that make the Big Picture add up nicely, sends the tea-stained sheaf to the senior day clerk (Grade IV), and the annual hocus-pocus is readied once more. What the departments in the states say they are confident about is represented in the chart panel below, which shows you for rice, wheat, coarse cereals and pulses the produce expected from the major states. The question is: will monsoon 2014 co-operate?

Rice, wheat, coarse cereals and pulses, and the states which grow them the most, targets for 2014-15, using data from the Ministry of Agriculture

Rice, wheat, coarse cereals and pulses, and the states which grow them the most, targets for 2014-15, using data from the Ministry of Agriculture

Written by makanaka

July 12, 2014 at 18:25

India’s 259 million ton target

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Self-sufficiency or price volatility? There are choices to be made for food cultivators in India. Illustration: Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation

Self-sufficiency or price volatility? There are choices to be made for food cultivators in India. Illustration: Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation

Quietly, the Ministry of Agriculture has issued its first estimate for the crop year 2013-14. Food price inflation in every single state and union territory has been rising over the last four to five years, and with the furore over the WTO Ministerial Conference just over, and with promises to keep over the National Food Security Act, the big bottom-line should have been accompanied by a number of careful statements from ministries and departments concerned with cultivation and with the supply of food.

These would be the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, the Ministry of Agriculture itself, the Ministry of Food Processing Industries, the Ministry of Commerce (whose minister represented us at the WTO meeting), the Ministry of Rural Development (under which the gigantic rural employment guarantee programme now includes work on agriculture, and safeguards against leaching labour away from the fields when it is needed in those fields), and so on. But, we have a 259 million ton bottom-line number for the country for 2013-14 and there’s no elaboration of it whatsoever from any chamber of the government.

RG_2013-14_crop_targetsHere are the key numbers in million tons (with the first advance estimates, where given, in parentheses). Rice 105 (92.32), wheat 92.5, pulses (which is tur, gram, urad, moong, other rabi and kharif pulses) 19 (18.02), coarse cereals (which is jowar, bajra, maize, ragi, small millets, barley) 42.5 (43.99). To this I have added vegetables and fruit – these are for reasons I cannot fathom (but have suspicions about) still omitted from the targets and from the estimates; this happens four times a year, and they are released with a dullness and lethargy that belie the frantic scenes in the districts whenever a fair price shop is restocked. [You can get the xlsx file with the latest data here.]

Using averages of all-India production of vegetables and fruit for the last three years available (these are 2012-13, 2011-12 and 2010-11) I can supply what could serve as ‘targets’ for horticultural production as follows: vegetables 154.1 mt, fruit 76.3 mt. But, to hint at my suspicion, this is lucrative export produce and the government agency, the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), working in concert with the Ministry of Food Processing Industries, is responsible for converting our vegetables and fruit into produce shipped off in containers, or into raw material for India’s growing ‘food service’ industry (awful term, as if we needed yet another service to add to the inequitous burden of the info-tech and financial services) and the domestic organised retail trade (yes that means Walmart, Tesco, Auchan, Carrefour, Metro and who knows who else).

Written by makanaka

December 20, 2013 at 17:08

How food took 57% of the rural Indian’s budget

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The National Sample Survey Office of India conducts country-wide household consumer expenditure surveys at regular intervals. These surveys are conducted through interviews of a representative sample of households selected randomly through a scientific design and cover almost the entire geographical area of India.

Monthly per capita expenditure in India's states for the rural population. Source: NSSO, Report No.538

The household consumer expenditure survey is generally conducted as one of the main subjects of the NSS survey at intervals of five years (called quinquennial intervals). This  provides a series of expenditure surveys. The 66th round survey (July 2009 to June 2010) was the eighth such survey of this quinquennial series, the seventh having been conducted during the 61st round (July 2004 to June 2005).

The NSS consumer expenditure survey aims at generating estimates of average household monthly per capita consumer expenditure (MPCE), its distribution over households and persons, and its break-up by commodity group, separately for the rural and urban sectors of the country, for India’s states and union territories (there are 35), and for different socio-economic groups.

The NSS Office calls these indicators “amongst the most important measures of the level of living of the respective domains of the population”. In fact, they are the most important by far, unmatched in size and scale and detail. The distribution of MPCE highlights the differences in level of living of the different segments of the population and is invaluable for the serious study of the prevalence of poverty and inequality. These numbers enable central and state planners and decision-making processes to allocate resources among sectors, regions, and socio-economic groups, and also helps assess the ‘inclusiveness’ of economic growth.

The NSSO has issued its report on the level and pattern of consumer expenditure in India, a voluminous report based on information collected during July 2009 to June 2010 from 7,428 villages and 5,263 urban blocks spread over the entire country. Two different schedules were used to collect information on consumer expenditure, the first being canvassed in 100,855 households and the second in 100,794 households. Key findings follow:

Level of consumption
* Using the MMRP (Modified Mixed Reference Period) method of measurement of MPCE (Monthly Per Capita Consumer Expenditure), average MPCE in 2009-10 was estimated as Rs 1,053.64 in rural India and Rs 1,984.46 in urban India.
* The poorest 10% of India’s rural population had an average MPCE of Rs 453. The poorest 10% of the urban population had an average MPCE of Rs 599.
* The top 10% of the rural  population, ranked by MPCE, had an average MPCE of Rs 2,517 – about 5.6 times that of the bottom 10%. The top 10% of the urban population had an average MPCE of Rs 5,863 – about 9.8 times that of the bottom 10%.
* Among the major states, Kerala (Rs 1,835) had the highest rural MPCE. It was followed by Punjab (Rs 1,649) and Haryana (Rs 1,510). In all other major states, average rural MPCE was between Rs 750 and Rs 1,250.
* Average rural MPCE was lowest in Bihar and Chhattisgarh (around Rs 780), and also low in Orissa and Jharkhand (around Rs 820), as well as in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh (around Rs 900).
* Maharashtra (Rs 2,437) and Kerala (Rs 2,413) were the two major States with the highest MPCE in the urban sector, followed  by Haryana (Rs 2,321). Urban MPCE was lowest in Bihar (Rs 1,238).
* The median level of MPCE was Rs 895 in rural India and Rs 1,502 in urban India.
* In the 22-year period from 1987-88 to 2009-10, real MPCE measured by the Uniform Reference Period method was estimated to have grown by only 19% in rural India, but by as much as 42% in urban India. The growth in real urban MPCE over the 16-year period between 1993-94 and 2009-10 was about 34%.
* Measured by the Mixed Reference Period method, real MPCE grew by about 19% in rural India during the 16-year-period from 1993-94 to 2009-10, and by as much as 37½% in urban India over the same period.

Monthly per capita expenditure in India's states for the urban population. Source: NSSO, Report No.538

Pattern of consumption
* Using the MMRP (Modified Mixed Reference Period) method of MPCE measurement, food was estimated to account for about 57% of the value of the average rural Indian’s household consumption during 2009-10. This included 14% for cereals and cereal substitutes, a little less than 8% for milk and milk products, and 8% on vegetables. Among non-food item categories, fuel for cooking and lighting accounted for about 8%, clothing and footwear for 6%, medical expenses for a little over 5%, conveyance and education for about 3.5% each, other consumer services for 4%, and consumer durables for 3.5%.
* For the average urban Indian, over 44% of the value of household consumption was accounted for by food, including 8% by cereals and 7% by milk and its products.
* The share of most of the food item groups in total consumption expenditure was higher in rural India than in urban India, fruits and processed food being exceptions. For non-food item groups, the share was usually higher in urban India. The most noticeable differences were in case of cereals (urban share: 8%, rural share: 13.8%), rent (urban: 6%, rural share: 0.5%) and education (urban: 8%, rural: 3.6%).
* In the major states, the share of food in rural MPCE varied from 46% for Kerala and 48% for Punjab to 64% in Assam and 65% in Bihar. In the  urban sector it varied from 40-41% in Kerala and Maharashtra to 52% in Jharkhand and 53% in Bihar and Assam.
* The share of cereals in total expenditure in rural India varied across the major states from 7% in Punjab and Haryana to 21% in Assam and Bihar. In urban India, the share varied from 6% for Haryana, Punjab and Kerala to 13% in Assam and 15% in Bihar.
* The budget share of cereals was 23-24% for the bottom decile class of rural India but fell with rise in MPCE to about 7-8% for the top decile class. In urban India the share of cereals fell from 18-19% for the bottom decile class to 3-4% for the top decile class.
* The budget share of milk and milk products in rural household consumer expenditure was seen to rise with MPCE level from 3-4% in the bottom decile class to 9% in the ninth decile class. For urban India, however, the share was higher for the middle third of the population than for the highest decile classes.
* The share of fuel and light in household consumer expenditure was around 10-11% for the bottom decile class in both sectors. With rise in MPCE it was seen to fall to about 6% in the top decile class for rural India and 5% for urban India.

Quantity of cereal consumption
* Average cereal consumption per person per month was 11.3 kg in rural India and 9.4 kg in urban India.
* In rural India, average monthly per capita cereal consumption was around 10.2 kg for the poorest 10% of the population. With rise in MPCE it was seen to increase, quickly at first, to reach 11 kg in the third decile class, and then more slowly. It was above 12 kg for the top two decile classes. In urban India, per capita cereal consumption was seen to increase from under 9.5 kg to about 9.7 kg per month over the first five decile classes but then to fall, finally plunging to 8.6 kg for the top decile class of population.
* Over the 16-year period from 1993-94 to 2009-10, estimated monthly per capita cereal consumption (which does not include cereal content of purchased processed food) fell from 13.4 kg to 11.35 kg in rural India and from 10.6 kg to 9.39 kg in urban India. The fall was spread over all major states.

A forest poem to the Amazon

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A new book from FAO (the UN Food and Agriculture Organization) with CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research) and People and Plants International, features the uncommon quality of bringing together original scientific knowledge on fruits and useful plants of the Amazon forest and the sensibility to detect the deep interaction between life, traditional knowledge of our forests and folk culture. With its simple language making its contents accessible and practical, this book discusses aspects fundamental to the future of the Amazon and presents a development model that is economically and socially fair, and which respects the environment.

The first aspect is related to collective health, by strengthening the use of plants capable of substantially improving the nutritional value of our diet and, consequently, preventing the so called “illnesses of the poor”. The studies developed by the authors correlated the seasonal availability of fruits in the forest with the incidence of diseases, showing that during periods of scarcity the number of cases of some diseases is highest.

The second aspect is related to a powerful characteristic of the Amazon, still underexplored and poorly documented: the role of women in the knowledge and use of the non-timber forest patrimony. The advancement of sustainable experiences in the Amazon has witnessed a strong contribution of women – especially in the reinforcement of community actions and creativity to guarantee the social and material survival of the family. Women may be the strategic leverage to provide both the cement and scale needed to create a new paradigm in the region.

The third aspect is the ability to associate forests and development – which instead of “throwing us into the vortex of limitless competitiveness and selfishness, leads us to community, to solidarity, and to human and spiritual values as mediators of each one’s goals”, said Marina Silva, former Minister of the Environment of Brazil, who wrote the preface.

The reader will also find studies on the Articulated Movement of the Amazon Women (MAMA) from Acre, community management (Center of Amazonian Workers, CTA, project, Acre), environmental education (Health and Happiness Project, Santarém – Pará State; and SOS Amazon, Acre) and other tracks that lead to integral sustainability, in which it makes sense to take care of the environment since this is the way to take care of life itself, of children and our future. Marina Silva has called the book “An extraordinary poem to Amazonia”.

Written in easy-to-grasp, accessible language, the book seeks to take science out of the ivory tower and put it to work on the ground, in the hands of people. The release of ‘Fruit Trees and Useful Plants in Amazonian Life’ marked the close of the International Year of Forests.

Some 80% of people living in the developing world rely on non-wood forest products such as fruits and medicinal plants for their nutritional and health needs. This book provides information on Amazon fruits and plants, and is an example of how to make our knowledge accessible for poor people to help them maximize the benefits from forest products and services and improve their livelihoods. The layout of the book aims at allowing readers lacking in formal education to extract knowledge using pictures and numbers. Twenty five percent of people in developing countries are functionally illiterate — in rural areas this figure can reach close to 40%.

“Some 90 Brazilian and international researchers who were willing to present their research to rural villagers in alternative formats — including jokes, recipes and pictures — collaborated in the production of this book,” said Tina Etherington, who managed the publication project for FAO’s Forestry Department. “And a number of farmers, midwives, hunters and musicians contributed valuable insights and experience as well. The book is of interest to a worldwide audience because of its truly innovative way of presenting science and how those techniques can be transferred to other areas in the world.”

Patricia Shanley, Senior Research Associate at CIFOR and lead editor of the publication, said: “This is an unusual book. Written by and for semi-literate rural villagers, it weaves together a tapestry of voices about the myriad values forests contain. The book enables nutritional data and ecology to coexist alongside music and folklore making the forest and its inhabitants come alive.”

The Amazon is the largest contiguous tropical forest remaining in the world, with 25 million people living in the Brazilian Amazon alone. However, deforestation, fire and climate change could destabilize the region and result in the forest shrinking to one third of its size in 65 years, according to today’s publication. In addition to the environmental services they provide, forests like the Amazon are also a rich nutritional storehouse.

Fruits provide essential nutrients, minerals and anti-oxidants that keep the body strong and resistant to disease. Buriti palm fruit, for example, contains the highest known levels of vitamin A of any plant in the world. And açaí fruit is being hailed as a “superfood” for its high antioxidant and omega fatty acid content. Brazil nuts are rich in a complete protein similar to the protein content of cow’s milk, which is why they are known as the “meat” of the plant kingdom, said the publication.

Industrialising India’s Food Flows: An analysis of the food waste argument

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The alternative economics webcentre MacroScan has published my article on food waste/loss, food flows and food processing in India.

Here is the introductory text: “From the mid-term appraisal of the Eleventh Five Year plan onwards, central government ministries have been telling us that post-harvest losses in India are high, particularly for fruits and vegetables. The amount of waste often quoted is up to 40% for vegetables and fruits, and has been held up as the most compelling reason to permit a flood of investment in the new sector of agricultural logistics, to allow the creation of huge food processing zones, and to link all these to retail food structures in urban markets. The urban orientation of such an approach ignores the integrated and organic farming approach, as it does the evidence that sophistication in food processing has not in the West prevented food loss or waste.”

Written by makanaka

May 23, 2011 at 11:17

The state of the world’s crop biodiversity

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FAO, The Second Report on the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and AgricultureThis is a big one from the FAO. The Second Report on the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is a mega tome. At just under 400 pages, this very dense report is packed into eight chapters which occupy half the pages. The other half is made up of annexures and appendices. Even then, it’s just part of the entire SOWPGR2 package, for there is a synthesis report, the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources, there is a thematic background studies section with seven studies, there are the country reports (over 100!) and there is a picture gallery. It’s an entire curriculum.

It’s been a while coming – the first report was published by FAO 14 years ago and much has changed since then. For one thing, climate change was quite uncommon in common discourse. This is hugely important because the genetic diversity of the grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits that we grow and eat – referred to as plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, or PGRFA – are the foundation of food production, and the biological basis for food security, livelihoods and economic development.

FAO, The Second Report on the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and AgricultureThe synthesis report says that PGRFA are crucial for helping farmers adapt to current and future challenges, including the effects of climate change. FAO’s Second Report on the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture provides a comprehensive overview of recent trends in PGRFA conservation and use around the world.

It is based on information gathered from more than 100 countries, as well as from regional and international research and support organizations and academic programmes. The report documents the current status of plant genetic resources diversity, conservation and use, as well as the extent and role of national, regional and international efforts that underpin the contributions of PGRFA to food security. It highlights the most significant changes that have occurred in the sector since 1996, as well as the gaps and needs that remain for setting future priorities.

The core messages:
FAO, The Second Report on the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture• PGRFA are essential raw materials for helping farmers respond to climate change. Plant breeding capacity needs to be strengthened and breeding programmes must be expanded to develop varieties with traits needed to meet this challenge.
• Loss of PGRFA has reduced options for the agricultural sector. The major causes of genetic erosion are land clearing, population pressures, overgrazing, environmental degradation and changing agricultural practices.
• Local PGRFA diversity found in farmers’ fields or in situ is still largely inadequately documented and managed. There is now a growing awareness of the importance of this diversity and its contribution to local food security.
• There has been progress in securing PGRFA diversity in a larger number of national genebanks. However, much of the diversity, particularly of crop wild relatives (CWR) and underused species relevant for food and agriculture, still needs to be secured for present and future use.
FAO, The Second Report on the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture• Rapid scientific advances, especially in information technology and molecular biology, have introduced new techniques for PGRFA conservation and use. Their wider application offers new opportunities to increase efficiency of the conservation–production chain.
• Significant policy developments have changed the landscape of PGRFA management. Many more countries have adopted national programmes, laws and regulations for biodiversity following the adoption of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA).
• Better communication, collaboration and partnerships are needed among institutions dealing with PGRFA management – from conservation to plant breeding and seed systems. These are the key factors for an integrated conservation and utilization strategy and delivering sustainable solutions to build a world without hunger.

Food production and grain trade, May 2010

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Vendors in Mapusa, Goa

Vendors in Mapusa, Goa. The middle basket contains 'nachne', local millet

This is to be a monthly posting from now on. It will for a start draw on three main sources of global analysis: the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Grains Council, and the US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Extracts from the three major sources run below, but this is to be placed in global context by the food production and supply situation in two of our neighbours in South Asia, Nepal and Afghanistan. There is hunger and displacement in Pakistan and Sri Lanka too, and I’ll update this posting with relevant reports. Also contrast the global views with the announcement from the US Department of Agriculture, which comes at the end of the list of extracts.

[1] “Nominal prices, in US dollar terms, of staple food commodities, mainly rice and wheat, have generally declined from the 2008 peak but remain significantly above their pre-2008 food-crisis levels in several countries. The price impact on overall food consumption of the vulnerable population is still expected to be substantial. Prices of rice have been increasing in India since the second half of 2008 and currently are above their levels of a year ago 5 percent in Chennai to 42 percent in Patna.”
“Retail prices of rice have also been rising since late 2009 in Bangladesh, the Philippines, Pakistan and Myanmar. In exporting countries such as Thailand and Viet Nam, rice prices (in local currencies) have declined since January 2010 due to strong international demand. Prices of wheat in India and Pakistan have also been rising steadily since October 2008. Recent increases are attributed to concerns over the unfavourable harvests of the current 2010 Rabi season. In Afghanistan, prices of wheat have been coming down since the 2009 bumper harvest in the country.” From FAO Crop Prospects and Food Situation May 2010

[2] “The forecast of world wheat production is increased by 2m. tons, to 660m. (676m.). World wheat consumption is forecast to grow by 1%, to a record 654m. tons, unchanged from last month. The forecast of global stocks is raised by 2m. tons, to a nine-year high of 201m. (195m.), with much of the increase in China and India.”
“World rice production in 2009/10 is estimated to decline for the first time in seven years, by 1%, to 442m. tons, mostly reflecting a reduced main crop in India. At 442m. tons, rice consumption will expand by 1%, in line with the global population trend. Inventories in China are expected to rise, but those in India and the five leading exporters are forecast to decrease. World trade in calendar 2010 is projected to recover by 5%, to 29.9m. tons, underpinned by larger shipments to Far East Asian markets.” From International Grains Council Grain Market Report 2010 May

FAO rice retail prices, from FAO Crop Prospects and Food Situation May 2010

FAO rice retail prices

[3] “Global wheat supplies for 2010/11 are projected 2 percent higher with larger year-to-year beginning stocks more than offsetting lower expected production. Global 2010/11 wheat production is projected at 672.2 million tons, down 1 percent from 2009/10 and the third largest production on record if realized. Larger projected production in EU-27, South America, and the Middle East is more than offset by expected declines in FSU-12, North Africa, South Asia, China, Canada, and Australia.”
“Global coarse grain production for 2010/11 is projected at a record 1,129.8 million tons, up 2 percent from 2009/10. Most of the 27.4-million-ton increase in coarse grains production results from higher projected foreign corn production, up 19.9 million tons from 2009/10. Higher expected foreign corn area and rising yields combine with higher U.S. area to boost global corn production to a record 835.0 million tons, up 26.5 million from 2009/10. Corn production is projected higher year-to-year for China, Mexico, India, Russia, EU-27, Ukraine, and Canada.”
“Global 2010/11 rice production is projected at a record 459.7 million tons, up 17.6 million or 4 percent from 2009/10. World disappearance (consumption and residual) is projected at a record 453.4 million tons, up 10.9 million or 2 percent. Large crops are projected for most of Asia including record or near-record crops in Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. Additionally, large crops are forecast for the U.S., EU-27, and Nigeria.” From US Department of Agriculture, World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, 11 May 2010

In Nepal, food supplies are running low in the western hills. An IRIN report from Kathmandu (21 May 2010) says: “Food security for more than 600,000 people in the western hills of Nepal is set to deteriorate, aid agencies warn. With already low agricultural production in the more food-insecure areas, inflation is exacerbating matters further. “A lot of villagers are opting for more desperate coping mechanisms,” Richard Ragan, country representative for the World Food Programme (WFP), told IRIN in Kathmandu. Many villagers are already reducing the number of meals they eat each day, cutting portions, or migrating to urban areas or India for work, he said. ‘In a desperate attempt to buy food, families are even selling their livestock and household assets and the out-migration [to Nepali cities and India] has increased already by 40 percent,’ Ragan said.”

Gulmohur trees in bloom, May in Maharashtra

Gulmohur trees in bloom, May in Maharashtra

In Afghanistan, farmers face a tough choice: wheat, fruit or saffron? An IRIN report from Kabul (20 May 2010) says: “Pointing to his flourishing wheat field in the western Afghan province of Herat, Abdullah says he regrets cultivating the crop. Wheat is very cheap,” he told IRIN, adding that he would hardly make 50,000 Afghanis (about US$1,050) from his two hectares. “I won’t be able to feed my family properly with this income.” Several farmers contacted by IRIN in Helmand, Kandahar and Balkh provinces had similar sentiments. Wheat is considered a strategic crop and a staple food, but imports are always required, even when there is a bumper harvest. About seven million (over 24 percent of the country’s estimated 27 million population) are food-insecure and many others are highly vulnerable to food price fluctuations, according to aid agencies.”

Here is the announcement from the US Department of Agriculture: “US farmers, ranchers and producers are poised to achieve $104.5 billion in sales – an $8 billion increase over last year and the second highest level in history.

  • The trade surplus in agriculture is now forecast to reach $28 billion, the second highest ever achieved.
  • The report comes on the heels of an historic six-month pace by U.S. agricultural exports, which shattered records with $59 billion in sales in the first half of the fiscal year and generated a 14 percent increase over the same period last year.
  • U.S. agricultural exports to China grew by nearly $3 billion during the first half of the fiscal year to $10.6 billion, making China the United States’ top market for this period. In total, exports to Asia have reached record highs, led by strong increases in China and Southeast Asia. Other outstanding country and regional customers include the European Union, Turkey, and North Africa.”

India’s 2008 food flows mystery

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CPI for Agricultural Labour data from 2007-10 March and FAO food index data over the same period

CPI for Agricultural Labour data from 2007-10 March and FAO food index data over the same period

My working experience with a central agriculture ministry programme (the NAIP – National Agricultural Innovation Project) has left me with some impressions of the perspective of the central institutional approach to agriculture, and these aren’t encouraging. My finding is (although I have little access to academic output on agriculture which is not crop science):

1. We in India lack an independent food retail price gathering and monitoring network. The data gathered by the Ministry of Agriculture (through its Directorate of Economics and Statistics) and by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution use different formats and schedules. Validating these is a huge task, and that is the reason why the unit level (place, food item, time) extraction becomes so very cumbersome.

2. We have even less knowledge (outside the commercial circuit) of the flows of agricultural produce: (a) From mandis to urban centres. Large transfers of foodgrains are logged by Indian Railways, but at district level, we have very little reliable data of the flows of cereals, pulses, vegetables and fruit, within district centres and outside; (b) From mandis (and contract farms, now strengthened by a draft national agriculture produce marketing committee act, APMC) to the food processing industry, and to commercial storage depots for use by either food processing sector and by the agri commodities exchanges.

3. Agriculture continues to be seen by central and state governments mainly as an APY (area, production, yield) activity, only rarely as a livelihood activity for a rural household (institutes such as Crida buck this trend, but we need more of them). That is why our organised state-level assessments are also still APY-centric (with a few scattered instances of enlightenment in the form of recognition of conservation agriculture). This is frustrating at a systemic level, because for example the Planning Commission has at hand any number of NGO and commissioned studies and assessments that place cultivation as a socio-cultural livelihood activity.

I’d say there that are technology answers to points 1 and 2 (see how commercial ventures like Nokia Lifetools, Reuters Market Light, Hariyali Kisan Bazar have used tech) but point 3 needs a lot of work.

This chart that I’ve made shows why. It uses the consumer price index (CPI) for Agricultural Labour data from 2007-10 March and FAO food index data over the same period. The eight states I’ve chosen (Haryana, Karnataka, Punjab, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh) recorded the highest increases among large states of CPI-AL over the period.

The FAO indices climb steeply till around Feb 2008. By December 2008 the FAO cereal index is back to the level it was at in August 2007. For that time the CPI-AL 8-state rise is relatively gradual and disconnected from the FAO trend. Between around Jan 2009 and July 2009 both FAO indices show some volatility in the 100-125% band. The 8 states’ CPI-AL however continue their rising trend. Only in December 2009 is there evidence of some congruence between the FAO set and the 8 states CPI-AL set, although the FAO pair are 105-120% up from March 2007 and the all-India CPI-AL is more than 135% up.

The big question for us is: what happened with food movements in India between 2007 July and 2008 November, when India and FAO data diverged so dramatically, and then from 2009 May onward, when the movements showed some similarity, although at different levels of the comparative index? Do the agricultural commodities markets hold the answer?