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Posts Tagged ‘Gini

Those fêted food sinks, the many new towns of India

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rg-blogpost-201301-urban2There are inter-related concerns about local needs for food and nutrition. What these cost and for which kinds of consumers, just as much as the ability of households to find and buy affordable food staples, are important matters for us.

They are also matters that continue to be neglected because the coordination this demands is not yet recognised as an outcome, let alone a target, for administrators (and for the private sector whose role in governing, through public-private partnerships and similar arrangements grows ever larger). Although in the name of consultation and planning, the Government of India routinely discusses the need for ‘convergence’ between programmes run by ministries, there is scarcely any.

At the edge of the Dharavi township in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), a woman runs a tiny provisions shop.

At the edge of the Dharavi township in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), a woman runs a tiny provisions shop.

You will find recently different explorations of this theme in ‘A quickening count, the movement from rural Bharat to urban India’, ‘The 0.05 kilowatt farming human and other strange equations from India’, ‘India Census 2011 – what they use in 330 million homes for light, cooking, drainage and phones’ and in ‘How food took 57% of the rural Indian’s budget’.

The Ministries of Agriculture, Rural Development, Women and Child Development and Health do not come together to examine districts and blocks and tehsils, rather than each through their own lens, to agree on measures that benefit the households who bear the multiple burdens of high food prices, poor access to food, high burdens of communicable diseases and suffer from low health and human development indices.

In its note on ‘Issues for the Approach to the Twelfth Plan’ (2011 April), the Planning Commission said as much: “There is a perception that government programmes, especially centrally sponsored schemes, are not sensitive enough to local needs. Also, government works in silos with little effort to achieve convergence and co-ordination across ministries and between centre and states, even though most problems require inter-governmental and inter-ministerial co-ordination.” Typically, the Planning Commission swallows none of its own advice, so you will find no remedies in the three-volume draft Twelfth Five Tear Plan document.

From a reading of the early results of the 66th Round of the National Sample Survey, ‘Key Indicators of Household Consumer Expenditure in India, 2009-10’, for the urban population, in all income deciles including those that comprise the urban poor, the situation is already grim. Bhiwani in Haryana (population 197,662), Bhind in Madhya Pradesh (197,332), Amroha in Uttar Pradesh (197,135) and Hardoi also in Uttar Pradesh (197,046) are four urban centres whose populations are at the median of those towns in India whose inhabitants number over 100,000.

The average number of children in each (in the 0-6 year age group) is 23,890. Based on the recommended daily dietary allowance calculated for an Indian vegetarian diet by the National Institute of Nutrition, India, the minimum annual demand of each of these four urban centres is: cereals and millets, 43,124 tons; pulses, 9,122 tons; milk and milk products (kilolitres), 33,172; roots and tubers, 22,115 tons; green leafy vegetables, 11,057 tons; other vegetables, 22,115 tons; and fruits, 11,057 tons36. Whether through the lens of municipal services provisioning or as a consumer project, urban administrations rarely plan for the food required by their citizens – its sources, costs and alternatives that can help establish a nutrient cycle between urban consumption and rural producers.

Detailed income distribution estimates for India were described in in the study ‘Human Development in India’ (2010) and revealed quite high income inequality, with a Gini coefficient of 0.54 – or around the same as Brazil (we may both be BRICS countries but Brazil’s Amazon- and minerals-fuelled income inequalities are to be shunned, not emulated). Estimates based on village surveys derive even higher Gini coefficients: on average 0.645 across households and 0.595 across persons even within villages (as recorded in ‘Is India Really a Country of Low Income-Inequality? Observations from Eight Villages”, Review of Agrarian Studies 2011).

Changes in ten years between the numbers of villages, blocks, districts and towns.

Changes in ten years between the numbers of villages, blocks, districts and towns.

This is reinforced now by the latest release of consumption data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), the provisional results of household consumer expenditure survey of the NSS 68th round (July 2011 to June 2012). Some salient findings of the survey are: the average household monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) in 2011-12 was estimated at Rs 1,281.45 in rural India and Rs 2,401.68 in urban India. Thus the per capita expenditure level of the urban population was on the average about 87.4% higher than that of the rural population.

The top 10% of the rural population, ranked by MPCE, had an average MPCE of Rs 3,459.77, about 6.9 times that of the bottom 10%. The top 10% of the urban population had an average MPCE of Rs 7,651.68, about 10.9 times that of the bottom 10%. And finally, in urban India, half of the population was living with an MPCE of below Rs 1,759, about 70% of population had an MPCE of above Rs 1,295.

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Global trends to 2030 and the confusion of alternative worlds

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Global_Trends_2030-graph3The National Intelligence Council of the USA, earlier in 2012 December, released the latest Global Trends report, which is titled ‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds’. The Global Trends project is described as bringing expertise from outside (the American) government on factors of such as globalisation, demography and the environment. In the USA, the Director of National Intelligence serves as the head of what in America is called the ‘intelligence community’, overseeing and directing the implementation of the American National Intelligence Program and acting as the principal adviser to the President, the National Security Council, and the Homeland Security Council for intelligence matters related to national security. Specifically, the goal of the Director of National Intelligence is described as “to effectively integrate foreign, military and domestic intelligence in defense of the homeland and of United States interests abroad”.

Global_Trends_2030-icon1With that background, ‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds’ is the fifth installment in the National Intelligence Council’s series aimed at providing to the ruling regime of the USA “a framework for thinking about the future” by “identifying critical trends and potential discontinuities”. This 2012 report distinguishes between ‘megatrends’ (factors that will likely occur under any scenario) and ‘game-changers’ (critical variables whose trajectories are far less certain). Finally, to better explain the diversity and complexity of various factors, the 2012 report sketches out scenarios or alternative worlds.

Global_Trends_2030-graph4From our Asian point of view, ‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds’ has a most interesting section describing the middle classes, which the report says almost everywhere in the developing world are poised to expand substantially in terms of both absolute numbers and the percentage of the population that can claim middle-class status during the next 15-20 years. “Even the more conservative models see a rise in the global total of those living in the middle class from the current 1 billion or so to over 2 billion people,” said the report.

All the analyses reviewed by the authors of the ‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds’ suggest that the most rapid growth of the middle class will occur in Asia, with India somewhat ahead of China over the long term. According to the Asian Development Bank, if China “achieves the new plan target of increasing household expenditures at least as rapidly as GDP, the size of its middle class will explode” with “75 percent of China’s population enjoying middle-class standards and $2/day poverty will be substantially wiped out”.

The report does not make an attempt to link the impact of the rise of this middle-class with either one of the ‘mega trends’ described or two of the ‘game-changers’ described, which speak in a halting manner about the effects of over-consumption and galloping resource grabbing.

Global_Trends_2030-icon2‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds’ has conceded that “establishing the threshold for determining when someone is middle class versus climbing out of poverty is difficult, particularly because the calculations rely on the use of purchasing power parity”. In India the debate about who is poor is 40 years old and remains intractable – thanks mostly to the intransigence of central planners who still refuse to link the current cost of basics with current low levels of real income.

Instead, ‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds’ has forecast that most new members of the middle class in 2030 will be at the lower end of the spectrum. “Their per capita incomes will be still rated as ‘poor’ by Western standards even though they will have begun to acquire the trappings of middle-class status. Growth in the number of those living in the top half of the range of this new middle class — which is likely to be more in line with Western middle-class standards — will be substantial, rising from 330 million in 2010 to 679 million in 2030.

Global_Trends_2030-graph2Much of the future global leadership is likely to come from this segment,” said the report, raising a number of worries. Firstly, I would be loath to see any kind of leadership – political, economic or social – come from this segment as such leadership will strengthen, not diminish, the consumption patterns destroying our environment. Second, it is less the chasing of ‘Western’ per capita incomes we need and more the re-education of the middle-class to emphasise the virtues of ‘less’ and ‘small’ that is urgently needed.

More to the point, ‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds’ has forecast that with the expansion of the middle class, income inequalities — and the report says these “have been a striking characteristic of the rising developing states” — may begin to lessen in the developing world. This is astonishingly misread. Approximately a generation of economic liberalisation (which has gone under various names in different large countries) in India, China, Russia, South Africa, Brazil and Indonesia have proven the opposite.

Global_Trends_2030-icon3The report goes on in this befuddled vein: “Even if the Gini coefficients, which are used to measure inequalities, decline in many developing countries, they are still unlikely to approach the level of many current European countries like Germany and Finland where inequality is relatively low”. Again, a decade of ‘austerity’ under various guises (longer in Britain in fact, under Thatcherism) in Europe has created inequalities approaching the true levels seen in the BRICS and similar countries, and these have been camouflaged by welfare measures that are fast-disappearing and by community action. So this ‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds’ is flat wrong on these matters.

However, the report has made an attempt to infuse some social science into what is otherwise good news for the global consumer goods multinationals (and of course for the fossil fuel barons). “That said, a perception of great inequality will remain, particularly between urban- and rural-dwellers, motivating a growing number of rural-dwellers to migrate to the cities to seek economic opportunities. Their chances of becoming richer will be substantially greater in cities, but the increasing migration to urban areas will mean at least an initial expansion in the slums and the specter of poverty,” said the ‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds’ report. More interesting is the warning the report has issued, which is that if new middle-class entrants find it difficult to cling to their new status and are pulled back toward impoverishment, they will pressure governments for change. “Rising expectations that are frustrated have historically been a powerful driver of political turmoil.” Hear, hear. Remember the 99 per cent.

The planetary case for a meat-free society

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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.