Resources Research

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

Posts Tagged ‘livelihood

The FAO mask slips further

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Family farming is a descriptive phrase that rings well with environmentalists, with anthropologists and ethnologists who have had anything to do with food and its cultivation, with naturalists and especially with the many groups promoting agro-ecological farming all over the world. What could be wrong with recognising and valorising family farming?

The FAO's view of smallholder farming, agri-business and markets, rendered in textbook business school fashion.

The FAO’s view of smallholder farming, agri-business and markets, rendered in textbook business school fashion.

Quite a lot, when it comes through the machinery of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s propaganda mill. The most cited of the FAO’s ‘flagship’ publications, the State of Food and Agriculture in 2014 has as its theme family farming, but this theme carries a passenger, which the FAO has described as ‘Innovation in family farming’. And that is how the mask has slipped further.

[The State of Food and Agriculture, FAO’s major annual flagship publication has as its 2014 theme ‘Innovation in family farming’ (the full report here and a summary here).]

The publication needs to be read not for the assertions of how important smallholder farming is, but for the conceptual machinery that has been assembled so that a technical take-over of small farms can be achieved with limited opposition. This is the scheme of the FAO of 2014, which is sadly a very different agency from what it was even a decade ago.

SOFA 2014 in its prose swings rather schizophrenically between sugary pronouncements about how family farms are “the custodians of about 75 percent of all agricultural resources in the world”, and therefore why they should be the new focus for an innovation that is techno-centric. The publication has made liberal use of terms such as “improved ecological and resource sustainability” and where the word ‘sustainable’ is used ‘vulnerable’ is surely not far behind. It isn’t, and SOFA 2014 goes to some lengths to convince its readers that most family farms are vulnerable in one or many ways.

The spin doctors employed by the FAO have come up with what the publication has called a triple challenge for family farming (challenges are most intimidating when they come in threes). This is: “yield growth to meet the world’s need for food security and better nutrition; environmental sustainability to protect the planet and to secure their own productive capacity; and productivity growth and livelihood diversification to lift themselves out of poverty and hunger”. The answer, according to the machine men of international crop science, is that they must innovate (or, better still, nominally hold the title to the factors of crop production while the innovation is administered by outside agents).

FAO_SOFA_2014_coverThis very brief canning of the publication’s main objective helps to place in context the main messages of this year’s State of Food and Agriculture, which include:

“Family farms are part of the solution for achieving food security and sustainable rural development; the world’s food security and environmental sustainability depend on the more than 500 million family farms that form the backbone of agriculture in most countries.”

Here the device of a very large number, 500 million, is used to reassure the critics that the forces that would control the world’s crop staples are unlikely to homogenise such a number. But indeed it is their number and variety that are being studied carefully in order to find approaches that – to use the acidic terms of the multi-lateral banks – boost investor confidence. Hence the considered advice from FAO: “Family farms are an extremely diverse group, and innovation systems must take this diversity into account.”

There is more on complexity and diversity with specific regard to the institutions for crop science (and for food retail and sales, the porcine twin of formal modern agriculture research). The SOFA has said: “The challenges facing agriculture and the institutional environment for agricultural innovation are far more complex than ever before; the world must create an innovation system that embraces this complexity.” What the FAO means by “more complex than ever before” is the growing opposition to industrial agriculture, agricultural biotechnology and the use of genetic modification techniques. So, the embracing that is called for is one that should sound acceptable, non-threatening, inclusive, participatory and all the other terms that the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal-setters so volubly use.

FAO_SOFA_2014_cover_bwInstitutions cost money, which will come from where exactly? The FAO has a ready answer. “Public investment in agricultural R&D and extension and advisory services should be increased and refocused to emphasise sustainable intensification and closing yield and labour productivity gaps.” That is to say, leave the innovation bit to the private sector, turn your research centres (built and run with public monies) over to us, dismantle your nationalist agricultural extension service but give us the network, and look how we close yield and productivity gaps. That’s the pitch, in a nutshell, ignoring the several blunt cautions raised by other UN agencies (including the previous Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food) that we have quite enough food but far too little equity and fairness concerning how it reaches those who need it.

This publication, the State of Food and Agriculture, is the latest that has been outfitted to serve FAO’s new interest, camouflaged though it is. The usual empowering wordiness that has become so tiresomely characteristic of the UN system is on view here too: family farmers need an enabling environment, good governance, stable macroeconomic conditions, transparent legal and regulatory regimes, secure property rights, risk management tools, market infrastructure, capacity development through investment in education and training, participatory agricultural research, emphasise sustainable intensification, closing the yield and productivity gaps.

Until the next major report, this one will be turned into a mini-curriculum to be referenced by client governments so that a technologically obsessed industrial agriculture and seed industry annexes larger shares of old markets (India and South-East Asia) and totally subordinates small new ones (African countries). ‘Fiat panis’ (let there be bread) is the FAO motto and after a reading of SOFA 2014 one could be excused for considering that this motto be switched with ‘fiat food oligarchs’, for that is the direction the FAO, under Jose Graziano da Silva, is firmly pursuing.

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Rain, districts and agriculture in India, a first calculus

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Major rainfed districts of India and their main crops (Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are mainly horticulture-based). Map: NRAA

Major rainfed districts of India and their main crops (Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are mainly horticulture-based). Map: NRAA

Big dams and canals, ‘command areas’ and the high-yield crops they fostered have occupied the well-fortified middle ground of agriculture in India throughout the history of the five year plans. In the shadow of this view lies rainfed farming – no dams, canals, brobdingnagian irrigation schemes, suspicious water authorities and over-zealous agri-commodity boards to be seen here.

Look at the map. Rainfed areas occupy some 200 million hectares (that is, over two-fifths of India’s total geographical area) and agriculture that depends on the south-west monsoon (and winter rains) is to be found in about 56% of the total cropped area. The National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA) of India has estimated that 77% of pulses, 66% of oilseeds and 45% of cereals are grown under rainfed conditions.

In which ways can these districts be better understood? The Ministry of Agriculture is (and has been) remarkably unconcerned about relating agriculture to socio-cultural factors in India’s districts, whether they are rainfed or happily commanded by a big dam. The national agricultural research system, staffed from top to bottom by careerists more interested in a foreign research fellowship (however pointless, but preferably at an American agricultural university), has ignored every consideration other than crop science. The factors that affect the inhabitants – and therefore the cultivators – of a rainfed district have scarcely been examined.

Now, a beginning has been made by the NRAA and two partners, and it is a good one, even if I say so myself. The state (and union territories, let’s not forget those usually post-colonial pockets, their renown coming from some anachronistic curiousity) has been and remains the default administrative unit for measuring progress or deprivation, when such measurement is done by the central government. That Andhra Pradesh with 23 districts and a population of 84 million should be considered a state in the same manner as Manipur, with nine districts and a population 2.7 million is a typological mismatch that has rarely bothered our planners, else they would have long ago abandoned the ‘state’ as the object to be measured.

What the districts look like in the RAPI list

What the districts look like in the RAPI list

It needn’t have been so rickety, this basis for understanding lesser administrative units. For a spell of some six or seven years, until about 2004-05, the Planning Commission had calculated district domestic products. It was an extremely limited data set and the methods used are not clear, but despite its faults, the series provided a glimpse of economic activity at the level of the district, and was therefore more readily understandable by those working in talukas or tehsils – the administrative remove was no more than a level. In around 2007-08, the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard) released a district-denominated index to aid planning for rural credit. There was a pilot data set provided for Maharashtra, and I always wondered why Nabard, with all its experience and reach and numerous partners, had not followed that experiment with a country-wide district index.

What we have now has enough potential to serve as India’s first district-denominated agriculture and rural development index. Even if the Ministries of Agriculture and of Rural Development ignore it (for the usual absurd reasons that have to do with the gaseous egos of ministers and their puffed-up underlings, IAS cadres not excepted) the index set is sound enough to begin being adopted by institutions and research groups (as also NGOs and CBOs) and thereby expanded and developed in wiki-like manner.

The impetus comes from the National Rainfed Area Authority which has worked with the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA, in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh) and the Indian Agricultural Statistics Research Institute (IASRI, in New Delhi). I am pleasantly surprised by the uncharacteristic cooperation between these institutions, not because India’s NARS doesn’t have within it people with skill and who care, but because the indefatigably short-sighted lot running the Indian Council of Agricultural Research have traditionally scotched all such socially relevant collaboration. So, encomiums are due to CRIDA and IASRI for being true to their potential.

A farmer in the district of Mysore, Karnataka state, prepares her rice field.

A farmer in the district of Mysore, Karnataka state, prepares her rice field.

And that is how we have the ‘Rainfed Areas Prioritisation Index’ (naturally collapsible into RAPI) which combines a natural resource index and an integrated livelihood index. Thus, each one of 499 districts (urban and urbanised districts are excluded, as are districts in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala, as cultivation in the districts of these three states is considered to be predominantly horticulture). The natural resource index has seven variables: rainfall, drought, available water content of soil, area under degraded and waste lands, rainfed area, status of ground water, and irrigation intensity. The integrated livelihood index has three variables: socio-economic index, health and sanitation index and infrastructure index.

These two indices have been combined by assigning a weight of two-thirds to the natural resource priority index of a district, and weight of one-third to the livelihood priority index of a district, and so to derive the district’s Rainfed Areas Prioritisation Index (RAPI). Based on their RAPI scores, the three index developers have identified 167 districts, the top one-third of the full list, as needing attention with programmes designed to strengthen and support rainfed farming.

[You can find an Excel file with the 167 districts here. There are, in order of frequency per state, 32 in Rajasthan, 30 in Madhya Pradesh, 16 in Karnataka, 16 in Maharashtra, 13 in Gujarat, 13 in Jharkhand, 11 in Uttar Pradesh, 9 in Andhra Pradesh, 8 in Orissa, 6 in Tamil Nadu, 5 in Chhattisgarh, 4 in Bihar, 2 in Assam and 2 in West Bengal.]

The RAPI has come at an important moment. The Twelfth Five Year plan is now a year old and the budgetary support given to India’s two ‘flagship’ (how did this term become so popular? The Bharat Nirman seems to be all flag and never mind the ship) agriculture programmes – the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana and the National Food Security Mission – continues to increase. How to measure whether the RKVY and the NFSM are money well spent, or ill spent. The RAPI should help there, but far more important, it is the first genuinely local framework for gauging a district’s endowment of agricultural, human, natural and econmic resources. Wish it well.

India in 2015 – 63 million-plus cities

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RG_new_city_marks2The 27 cities shown on this map are no different from many others like them in India today, and the selection of these 27 is based solely on a single numerical milestone which I am fairly sure few of each city’s citizens (or administrations for that matter) will have marked.

On some day during the months since March 2011, the population of each of these 27 cities has crossed 150,000 – this is the criterion. March 2011 is the month to which the Census 2011 has fixed its population count, for the country, for a state, a district, a town.

And so these 27 cities share one criterion – which they be quite unaware of – which is that when their inhabitants were enumerated for the 2011 census, their populations were under 150,000 whereas in the four years since that mark has been crossed.

[You will find more on the theme of population, the Census of India 2011 and urban and rural population growth here: ‘So very many of us’, ‘To localise and humanise India’s urban project’, ‘The slowing motion of India’s quick mobility’, ‘The urbanised middle class symphony’. Thematic and state-wise links to direct data files can be found at: ‘India’s 2011 census, a population turning point’ and ‘India’s 2011 census, the states and their prime numbers’.]

When the provisional results of the Census of India 2011 were released, through the year 2011, the number of cities with populations of a million and over was 53.

The number of cities with over a million inhabitants, from 53 in 2013 to 63 in 2015. Cities with names in red type will reach a million in 2015.

The number of cities with over a million inhabitants, from 53 in 2013 to 63 in 2015. Cities with names in red type will reach a million in 2015.

That was the tally almost two years ago. Between the 2011 census and the 2001 census the growth rate of the urban population was 31.8% which, turned into a simple annual rate for those ten years, is just under 3.2% per year.

At this rate, in mid-2013, six more cities will have joined the list of those with a population of over a million.

These six cities are: Mysore (in Karnataka, estimated population of 1,046,469), Bareilly (in Uttar Pradesh, 1,042,257), Guwahati (in Assam, 1,030,149), Tiruppur (in Tamil Nadu, 1,024,228), Sholapur (in Maharashtra, 1,011,609) and Hubli-Dharwad (in Karnataka, 1,003,886).

Within the next few months, India will have 59 cities with populations of over a million.

By mid-2015 (the final year of the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs), there will be another four cities with populations of over a million: Salem (in Tamil Nadu, estimated population of 1,036,066), Aligarh (in Uttar Pradesh, 1,025,255), Gurgaon (in Haryana, 1,016,698) and Moradabad (in Uttar Pradesh, 1,002,994).

That year, Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh), Thrissur (Kerala) and Vadodara (Gujarat) will have populations of over two million; the populations of Kanpur and Lucknow (both Uttar Pradesh) will cross three million and that of Surat (Gujarat) will cross five million. India will have 63 (ten more than in 2011) cities with populations of at least a million.

These are projections that have not taken into account the state-wise variations of rural and urban growth rates. Also not accounted for is migration, as the migration data from Census 2011 has yet to be released.

A pre-Rio pentagram from the IIED

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Energy equity, adaptation planning for food and farming, paying for watershed services, Costa Rica’s environment success and food system governance by citizens – these are the subjects of five new briefing papers prepared and released by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). These topics will feature – more or less prominently, we never know, given the politicisation that occurs at every inter-governmental meeting concerning environment and responsibility – in next month’s Rio+20 summit.

Here are the synopses and links:

1. Energy equity: will the UN Sustainable Energy for All initiative make a difference?
Establishing inclusive governance of food systems — where farmers and other citizens play an active role in designing and implementing food and agricultural policies — is not just a matter of equity or social justice. Evidence shows that it can also lead to more sustainable livelihoods and environments. And yet, across the world, food system governance is marked by exclusionary processes that favour the values and interests of more powerful corporations, investors, big farmers and large research institutes. How can we tip the balance and amplify the voice and influence of marginalised citizens in setting the food and agricultural policies that affect them? Research points to six tried and tested ways that, when combined, can empower citizens in the governance of food systems.

2. Planning adaptation for food and farming: lessons from 40 years’ research
Local farmers and pastoralists in poor countries have long coped with droughts, floods and variable rainfall patterns. This first-hand experience is invaluable for those working on climate change adaptation policies, but how do we access it? IIED has 40 years’ experience working alongside vulnerable communities to help inform regional, national and global policies. Our research has shown that measures to increase climate change resilience must view food, energy, water and waste management systems as interconnected and mutually dependent. This holistic approach must also be applied to economic analysis on adaptation planning. Similarly, it is vital to use traditional knowledge and management skills, which can further support adaptation planning. Taking these lessons into account, we can then address the emerging policy challenges that we face.

3. Paying for watershed services: an effective tool in the developing world?
Payments for watershed services (PWS) are an increasingly popular conservation and water management tool in developing countries. Some schemes are thriving, and are pro-poor. Others are stalling or have only mixed success. Most rely on public or donor finance; and other sources of funding are unlikely to play a significant role any time soon. In part, financing PWS schemes remains a challenge because the actual evidence for their effectiveness is still scanty — it is hard to prove that they actually work to benefit both livelihoods and environments. Getting more direct and concrete data on costs and benefits will be crucial to securing the long-term future of PWS schemes.

4. Payments for environmental services in Costa Rica: from Rio to Rio and beyond
Costa Rica has shown how a small developing country can grab the bull of environmental degradation by the horns, and reverse one of the highest deforestation rates in Latin America to become the poster child of environment success. Key to its achievement has been the country’s payments for environmental services (PES) programme, which began in 1997 and which many countries are now looking to learn from, especially as water markets and schemes to reward forest conservation and reduced deforestation (REDD+) grow. Within Costa Rica too, there is a need to first reflect on how the contexts for, and challenges facing, PES have changed; and continue building a robust programme that can ensure the coming decade is as successful as the past one.

5. Putting citizens at the heart of food system governance
Establishing inclusive governance of food systems — where farmers and other citizens play an active role in designing and implementing food and agricultural policies — is not just a matter of equity or social justice. Evidence shows that it can also lead to more sustainable livelihoods and environments. And yet, across the world, food system governance is marked by exclusionary processes that favour the values and interests of more powerful corporations, investors, big farmers and large research institutes. How can we tip the balance and amplify the voice and influence of marginalised citizens in setting the food and agricultural policies that affect them? Research points to six tried and tested ways that, when combined, can empower citizens in the governance of food systems.

Quiet numbers tell district tales – rural and urban India, part 6

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In north-east Mumbai (Bombay), open land under high-tension cables becomes a place for many cricket games on a Sunday afternoon.

Census 2011 also informs both the incumbent ‘sirkar’ and us that there are 22 districts in which literacy rates for the rural female population are above 74% (all 14 of Kerala’s districts are included). However, it is in the next 10% range of literacy rates – 74% to 64% – that gains since the 2001 census must be protected and this set includes 82 districts. It is a widely dispersed set, comprising districts from 21 states and union territories.

There are 11 from Maharashtra (including Sangli, Bhandara and Gondiya), 9 from Punjab (including Kapurthala, Gurdaspur and Sahibzada), 7 from Orissa (including Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara and Bhadrak), 7 also from Himachal Pradesh (including Una, Kangra and Solan), 6 from Tamil Nadu (including Thoothukkudi and Nagapattinam) and 5 from Gujarat (including Navsari and Mahesana).

In the background, some of the most expensive office space in the world, Mumbai's Nariman Point business district. In the foreground, temporary shanties on the beach.

The Office of the Registrar General of India, which administers the Census, has cautioned that all the data releases so far are still provisional figures. However, the implications are now plain to see, and give rise to a set of socio-economic questions which demographic and field research over the 12th Plan Period (2012-17) will enlarge and expand upon. Is there for example a correlation between districts whose rural populations have unfavourable female to male gender ratios and districts in which female literacy ratios are low? Comparing the bottom 100 districts under both conditions shows that there are only 12 districts in which both conditions are present (5 in Uttar Pradesh, 2 in Rajasthan, and 2 in Jammu & Kashmir).

A valley in the western hills of Maharashtra state in summer, exhibiting denuded hillsides and scant grazing for shepherds. From villages such as this one, youth and families make their way to the cities.

Most encouraging is that there are 40 districts in which the ratio of the number of literate females to literate males (this is a different ratio from literacy rate), is 0.90 or better, ie there are 900 or more literate females to 1,000 literate males. In this set are all Kerala’s 14 districts but also 13 districts from the Northeast (from Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland).

The remainder are from island Union Territories, from the southern states (3 from Karnataka, 2 from Andhra Pradesh and one each from Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Puducherry), from hill states (2 from Uttarakhand, 2 from Himachal Pradesh) and one from Maharashtra. It is these districts that provide abundant reason for the allocation of a minimum 6% of GDP allocation for education – a long-standing commitment – which must begin to be fulfilled in the 2012-17 Plan period.

Thane district, north of the Mumbai metropolitan region, has experienced one of the fastest growths in population in India over the last decade.

How will the Government of India consider these early indicators from Census 2011? How will India’s civil society and the great breadth of organisations – voluntary groups, people’s movements, rural foundations and the like – which have been delivering development ‘outcomes’, year after year, without the benefit of budgetary support but motivated by the plain fact that inequity still exists, how will this group see these indicators?

The Government of India revels in presenting contradiction as a substitute for careful, evidence-based and inter-generational planning. When downward trends – such as those seen in female illiteracy and in the gender ratios of the 0-6 age-group – have been slow over the last 25 years, there is a need to set long-term objectives that are not tied to the end of the next available Plan period, but which use a Plan direction to help achieve them. In this, the Approach Paper to the 12th Five-Year Plan has failed quite signally, because its authors have not drawn the only possible conclusions from the Census 2011 data presented till date. Yet others have done so, notably India’s civil society and its more responsive group of academics. Hence the abundance of contradictions in all major documents – the Approach Paper being the most important, annual Economic Surveys being another type – which seek to reassure one section while in fact underwriting the ambitions of another.

Rural labour pitches camp. Mobile populations such as this one move from more disadvantaged districts to less, as even intermittent agricultural wages and harsh living conditions are better than debt.

So we see that a state which must ensure provision of Right to Education to every child up to the age of 14 years, because it is constitutionally bound to do so, complains in the planning phase itself that scarce resources constrain it from carrying out its duties and therefore advises its citizens that measures like public-private partnership (PPP) should be resorted to. How will such cunning better the lives and present culturally relevant opportunities for the rural populations in the remaining 591 districts which are under the 0.90 ratio for literate females to literate males? What will the emphasis on vocational training (for the urban job pools) instead of people’s empowerment mean for the rural populations in 403 districts where this ratio is less than 0.75 – which means the number of literate rural females is under three-fourths the number of literate males – and in 69 of these districts it is even under 0.60 (25 in Rajasthan, 14 in Uttar Pradesh, 9 in Madhya Pradesh, 6 in Jammu and Kashmir)?

[This is the sixth of a small series of postings on rural and urban India, which reproduces material from my analysis of Census 2011 data on India’s rural and urban populations, published by Infochange India. See the first in the series here; see the second in the series here; see the third in the series here; see the fourth in the series here; see the fifth in the series here.]

Quiet numbers tell district tales – rural and urban India, part 5

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Teenager on a bicycle in rural Maharashtra, western India. At the current rate of migration from rural districts to urban centres, this youth may not stay in the farm labour pool for much longer.

What effect has this imbalanced ratio, so common in the rural populations of districts, on literacy and education? Census 2011 has told us so far that there are 55 districts in which the rural literacy rate is 74% or higher — this is the national effective literacy rate (for the population that is seven years old and above) which is a figure derived from rural and urban, male and female literacy rates. The literacy rates in these 55 districts are for all persons, female and male together. They range from 74% to 89%. All 14 of Kerala’s districts are among the 55, there are 7 districts from Maharashtra, 5 from Tamil Nadu, and 4 each from Mizoram, Orissa and Himachal Pradesh.

A lorry driver poses with his cargo, new tractors. The depletion of agricultural labour has turned agricultural machinery a fast-growing industrial sector. Worryingly for India, government planners see capital used for machinery and industrial agriculture as evidence of 'growth'. But food security remains uncertain for many rural communities.

The top 10 districts in this set are all from Kerala save one, East Delhi. But these 55 districts have returned literacy rates that will form the basis of study and analysis in the years to come, they are outnumbered, by a factor of more than 11 to 1, by districts whose rural populations lie under the 74% national mark, and this too will serve as an early indicator, continually updated, of the commitment of the Indian state to its implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act of 2009, and of the results of the first 10 years of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.

Since its inception in 2001-02 the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) has been treated by the Government of India and the states as the main vehicle for providing elementary education to all children in the 6-14 age-group. Its outcome — this is how the annual and Plan period results of India’s ‘flagship’ national programmes are now described — is the universalisation of elementary education. The Right to Education Act (RTE) of 2009 gives all children the fundamental right to demand eight years of quality elementary education. For the planners in the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the effective enforcement of this right requires what they like to call ‘alignment’ with the vision, strategies and norms of the SSA. In so doing, they immediately run into a thicket of problems for, to begin with, there are half-a-million vacancies of teachers in the country, another half-million teachers are required to meet the RTE norms on pupil-teacher ratios, and moreover 0.6 million teachers in the public school system are untrained.

This is the creaking administrative set-up against which the total literacy rates of the 585 districts whose rural populations are under the 74% mark must be viewed. Of these, 209 districts have literacy rates for their rural populations which are between 50% and 60%. This set of districts includes 33 from Uttar Pradesh, 30 from Madhya Pradesh, 20 from Bihar, 18 from Jharkhand, 17 from Rajasthan, 13 each from Assam and Andhra Pradesh, and 9 from Karnataka. And finally, there are 95 districts whose literacy rates of the rural population are under 50%.

Low-cost housing in north Mumbai (Bombay). Colonies such as this are typical: unclean surroundings caused by an absence of civic services, minimal water and sanitation for residents, no route to remedy because of political and social barriers.

This set of districts at the bottom of the table includes 17 from Bihar, 14 from Rajasthan, 9 each from Uttar Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir, 7 from Madhya Pradesh and 6 each from Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Arunachal Pradesh. The districts of Yadgir (Karnataka), Purnia (Bihar), Shrawasti (Uttar Pradesh), Pakur (Jharkhand), Malkangiri, Rayagada, Nabarangapur, Koraput (all Orissa), Tirap (Arunchal Pradesh), Barwani, Jhabua, Alirajpur (all Madhya Pradesh), and Narayanpur, Bijapur and Dakshin Bastar Dantewada (all Chhattisgarh) are the 15 districts at the very base of the table with literacy rates of the rural population at under 40%.

Over 11 Plan periods there have been some cumulative gains in a few sectors. Today, in rural areas, seven major flagship programmes are being administered, with less overall coordination between them than is looked for – a contrast against the ease with which the central government’s major ministries collaborate on advancing the cause of the urban elite — but which nonetheless have given us evidence that their combined impact has improved the conditions of some.

A man transports an LPG cylinder, to be used as cooking fuel, to his home in a shanty colony in north Mumbai (Bombay). Already burdened by the high cost of petroleum products, slum-dwellers are forced to pay a premium for cooking fuels and water.

The seven programmes are: the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), Indira Awas Yojana (IAY), the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) and Total Sanitation Campaign (TSP), the Integrated Watershed Development Programme (IWDP), Pradhan Mantri Grameen Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), and rural electrification which includes separation of agricultural feeders and includes also the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY).

For the local administrator these present a bewildering array of reporting obligations. A hundred years ago, such an administrator’s lot was aptly described by J Chartres Molony, Superintendent of Census 1911 in (the then) Madras: “The Village Officer, source of all Indian information, is the recorder of his village, and it well may be that amid the toils of keeping accounts and collecting ‘mamuls’, he pays scant heed to what he and his friends consider the idle curiosity of an eccentric sirkar.”

[This is the fifth of a small series of postings on rural and urban India, which reproduces material from my analysis of Census 2011 data on India’s rural and urban populations, published by Infochange India. See the first in the series here; see the second in the series here; see the third in the series here; see the fourth in the series here.]

Dear scientists and donors, what part of ‘agro-ecology’ don’t you understand?

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“Resource-conserving, low-external-input techniques have a proven potential to significantly improve yields,” Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has told the UN Human Rights Council at its Sixteenth session.

“In what may be the most systematic study of the potential of such techniques to date, Jules Pretty et al. compared the impacts of 286 recent sustainable agriculture projects in 57 poor countries covering 37 million hectares (3 per cent of the cultivated area in developing countries). They found that such interventions increased productivity on 12.6 millions farms, with an average crop increase of 79 per cent, while improving the supply of critical environmental services.”

“Disaggregated data from this research showed that average food production per household rose by 1.7 tonnes per year (up by 73 per cent) for 4.42 million small farmers growing cereals and roots on 3.6 million hectares, and that increase in food production was 17 tonnes per year (up 150 per cent) for 146,000 farmers on 542,000 hectares cultivating roots (potato, sweet potato, cassava). After UNCTAD and UNEP reanalyzed the database to produce a summary of the impacts in Africa, it was found that the average crop yield increase was even higher for these projects than the global average of 79 per cent at 116 per cent increase for all African projects and 128 per cent increase for projects in East Africa.”

Olivier De Schutter, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

Olivier De Schutter, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

The most recent large-scale study points to the same conclusions, De Schutter has said. Research commissioned by the Foresight Global Food and Farming Futures project of the UK Government reviewed 40 projects in 20 African countries where sustainable intensification was developed during the 2000s. The projects included crop improvements (particularly improvements through participatory plant breeding on hitherto neglected orphan crops), integrated pest management, soil conservation and agro-forestry. By early 2010, these projects had documented benefits for 10.39 million farmers and their families and improvements on approximately 12.75 million hectares. Crop yields more than doubled on average (increasing 2.13-fold) over a period of 3-10 years, resulting in an increase in aggregate food production of 5.79 million tonnes per year, equivalent to 557 kg per farming household.

The Special Rapporteur’s recommendations:
As part of their obligation to devote the maximum of their available resources to the progressive realization of the right to food, States should implement public policies supporting the adoption of agroecological practices by:
• making reference to agroecology and sustainable agriculture in national strategies for the realisation of the right to food and by including measures adopted in the agricultural sector in national adaptation plans of action (NAPAs) and in the list of nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) adopted by countries in their efforts to mitigate climate change;
• reorienting public spending in agriculture by prioritizing the provision of public goods, such as extension services, rural infrastructures and agricultural research, and by building on the complementary strengths of seeds-and-breeds and agroecological methods, allocating resources to both, and exploring the synergies, such as linking fertilizer subsidies directly to agroecological investments on the farm (“subsidy to sustainability”);
• supporting decentralized participatory research and the dissemination of knowledge about the best sustainable agricultural practices by relying on existing farmers’ organisations and networks, and including schemes designed specifically for women;
• improving the ability of producers practicing sustainable agriculture to access markets, using instruments such as public procurement, credit, farmers’ markets, and creating a supportive trade and macroeconomic framework.

The research community, including centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research and the Global Forum on Agricultural Research, should:
• increase the budget for agroecological research at the field level (design of sustainable and resilient agroecological systems), farm and community levels (impacts of various practices on incomes and livelihoods), and national and sub-national levels (impact on socio-economic development, participatory scaling-up strategies, and impacts of public policies), and develop research with the intended beneficiaries according to the principles of participation and coconstruction;
• train scientists in the design of agroecological approaches, participatory research methods, and processes of co-inquiry with farmers, and ensure that their organizational culture is supportive of agroecological innovations and participatory research;
• assess projects on the basis of a comprehensive set of performance criteria (impacts on incomes, resource efficiency, impacts on hunger and malnutrition, empowerment of beneficiaries, etc.) with indicators appropriately disaggregated by population to allow monitoring improvements in the status of vulnerable populations, taking into account the requirements of the right to food, in addition to classical agronomical measures.

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.

Urban food pistoleros

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A boy plays with mud pistols in Mathare slum of Nairobi, Kenya ©Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

A boy plays with mud pistols in Mathare slum of Nairobi, Kenya ©Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

Alexander Müller, Assistant Director General, Natural Resources Management and Environment Department (FAO) and Paul Munro-Faure, Chairperson, Food for the Cities Multidisciplinary Initiative (FAO) have put out a call for “ideas, contributions and inputs that could be used for a conclusive statement related to food, agriculture and cities to be finalised during the World Urban Forum V“. This will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 22 to 26 March and the theme is: ‘The Right to the City, Bridging the Urban Divide’. As the call went out on the Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum), I sent in my response, as below:

Dear Alexander, Paul,

My contribution to your call on FSN for a statement on food, agriculture and cities follows. I work in India, with a Ministry of Agriculture programme called National Agricultural Innovation Project. One of its sub-projects is a knowledge-sharing effort that links crop science and farm practice through ICT. Within that framework I study rural livelihoods and the urban demand on a rural space that faces greater constraints with every passing year.

We are told frequently by central governments that growth is good (i.e. rising GDP) and that increasing per capita income is a national mission. This assertion has much to do with the boom-and-bust cycles we have witnessed in the last decade: in any number of stock markets, in the banking and finance system, in savings and pensions systems, in commodities, in credit and derivatives, and of course in basic food grains. That these cycles have occurred more frequently has as much to do with growing urbanisation in the South, and the mechanics of globalised capital and market risk.

The result is that cities in the South are, to put it crudely, laboratories for risk-taking experiments. The Gini coefficients of cities in Asia show why this is so. (Generally, cities and countries with a Gini coefficient of between 0.2 and 0.39 have relatively equitable distribution of resources. A Gini coefficient of 0.4 denotes moderately unequal distributions of income or consumption. This is the threshold at which cities and countries should tackle inequality urgently.)

Here are the composite urban Gini coefficients (from ‘State of the World’s Cities 2008/2009: Harmonious Cities’; United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), 2008). Over a given period (separate for each country), the urban Gini rose most for Nepal (0.26 to 0.43 from 1985 to 1996), China (0.23 to 0.32 from 1988 to 2002), Viet Nam (0.35 to 0.41 from 1993 to 2002), Bangladesh (0.31 to 0.37 from 1991 to 2000), Sri Lanka (0.37 to 0.42 from 1990 to 2002) and Pakistan (0.32 to 0.34 from 2000 to 2004) and it dropped marginally for India (0.35 to 0.34 from 1994 to 2000) and Cambodia (0.47 to 0.41 from 1994 to 2004). Note that the UN-Habitat calculations are only until 2004 for the latest city, and that the impacts of the triple crisis of climate change, financial volatility and food system distortions became widespread only thereafter. It’s very likely then that in cities in Asia, Africa and South America, the Gini coefficient has risen faster in the last five years than in the decade until 2004.

Gini coefficients for populations in Asian cities

Gini coefficients for populations in Asian cities

There’s another aspect that the urban Gini indicates, which several country studies have dealt with in the last few years, and that is the rural-urban divide, in terms of income inequality, consumption inequality, inequality in access to basic services and inequality of representation. Yet those at the deprived end of this quotient are also those who grow the food, absorb the agricultural risks, manage the natural resources and steward the crop biodiversity for a country. If we subscribe to the view of a dominant policy theocracy that ‘economic efficiency’ is good, then for such gross inequalities to be allowed to continue is not good, yet they do. For one thing, education and healthcare outcomes are directly impacted by such inequalities, let alone industrially-oriented ratios such as cost of redistribution, investment allocation and ‘growth’. Yet these continue, and are seen in every single country of the South quite conspicuously in the higher bands of food inflation in rural areas as compared with urban areas.

If inequality seems inescapable at outcome level however, the rural and urban ‘poor’ are certainly not sitting around waiting to be pushed even further into penury. They are using their stores of traditional knowledge (which have travelled with them just as they have migrated to the world’s peri-urbs) to innovate, adapt and survive. If we look at waste recycling in developing countries, most of it (as tonnage and as material value) relies largely on the informal recovery of waste of every description by scavengers or waste pickers. A raft of studies done on this sector in the Asia-Pacific region provide estimates of at least 2% and as much as 4% of the urban population is occupied in waste recovery (its reprocessing and re-use occupies another set of the population).

Is there a similar ‘waste picker’ model of urban agriculture that is being followed, almost invisibly, in Asian cities and towns? Likely yes. It flies under the radar of statistics because it is, per household unit, so small and well integrated with astonishingly tough living conditions. It is seen on tiny patches of marginal lands that are unsettled, usually only because of a city municipality’s hostility to rural migrants. These tiny linear patches run alongside railway tracks, drainage canals, water pipelines, expressways, marshes and swamps, residual watercourses, and between industrial zones. These vestigial connections to the immeasurably healthier lives led in their rural origins by migrants are the only in situ ‘urban farms’ in most Asian cities and towns. Existing municipal planning and zoning in Asia of the South either ignores them or subtracts them from its calculations.

A street in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh ©Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

A street in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh ©Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

Yet such spaces will be vital for our urban settlements. They are currently farmed in squalid conditions, often cheek-by-jowl with small-scale industries and their toxic effluents, and have no option but to use dangerously polluted water sources. Were they to be encouraged, planned for, incentivised and built into ward or neighbourhood food markets, they would lessen the massive burden the city places upon rural food cultivators. In ‘developing’ Asian cities that today are exemplars of more-GDP-is-good economics, there is often an utter disconnection between purchase of food and a recognition of its sources. The size, power and reach of the food processing industry plays a dominant role in enforcing this disconnection, for what it calls its economies of scale would not exist without it.

Where lie the answers? Linking rural food production – not with urban consumers but with urban wards and neighbourhoods – can help bridge the Gini gaps between urban and rural, between urban salaried and urban marginal. Just as in the ‘transition towns’ movement, in which agriculture is being increasingly promoted in urban areas, so too rural non-agricultural livelihoods development is starting to be promoted. Work-in-progress examples include the strategy adopted for the promotion of Town and Village Enterprises (TVEs) in China. These expanded rapidly in China in the post-reform period and as a result of their promotion between 1978 and 2000, the number of workers in China’s rural non-farm and farm labour sector grew, which stemmed the tide toward the hungry cities.

‘Do or die’ year for agriculture

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“If we don’t take steps to address the serious ecological, economic and social crises facing our farm families, we will be forced to support foreign farmers, through extensive food imports.”
“This will result in a rise in food inflation, increase the rural-urban and rich-poor divides and allow the era of farmers’ suicides to persist.”
“On the other hand, we have a unique opportunity for ensuring food for all by mobilizing the power of Yuva and Mahila Kisans and by harnessing the vast untapped yield reservoir existing in most farming systems through synergy between technology and public policy.”
“2010 is a do or die year for Indian agriculture.”

An increased number of residents of the terai are now food insecure as a result of unusually heavy rains earlier this month

An increased number of residents of the terai are now food insecure as a result of unusually heavy rains earlier this month

So says Prof M S Swaminathan, India’s best-known agriculture scientist, who established the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation in 1988. Chastened by the limitations of the ‘green revolution’, the MSSRF’s mission is the conservation and enhancement of natural resources, and generation of agricultural, rural and off-farm employment with a particular emphasis on the poor and the women.

Swaminathan made these points in a blunt, hard-hitting and no-nonsense convocation address at the Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana on 10 February 2010. The content of his address should have attracted national attention, because of the urgency of his tone and also because of the specific, very feasible institutional transformations his suggestions will need. He talked about adaptation to climate change and explained that a group of scientists led by the MSSRF have undertaken studies during the last five years in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh on climate change adaptation measures. The districts chosen were Udaipur in Rajasthan and Mehabubnagar in Andhra Pradesh. The approach adopted was to bring about a blend of traditional wisdom and modern science through farmer participatory research.

MSS mentioned five particular points of adaptation:
1. Water conservation and sustainable and equitable use
2. Promoting fodder security
3. More crop and income per drop of water
4. Weather information for all and climate literacy
5. Strengthening community institutions

He said these interventions were supported by training and skill development and education and social mobilization. A training manual was prepared by MSSRF for training one woman and one male member of every Panchayat as Climate Risk Managers. Such local level Climate Risk Managers will be well trained in the art and science of managing weather abnormalities. The work has highlighted the need for location specific adaptation measures and for participatory research and knowledge management.

“The adaptation interventions have also highlighted the need for mainstreaming gender considerations in all interventions. Women will suffer more from Climate Change, since they have been traditionally in charge of collecting water, fodder and fuel wood, and have been shouldering the responsibility for farm animal care and post-harvest technology. All interventions should therefore be pro-nature, pro-poor and pro-women.”

Sujit Kumar Mondal and his wife Rupashi Mondal of Gopalgonj district in southern Bangladesh working in their floating garden.

Sujit Kumar Mondal and his wife Rupashi Mondal of Gopalgonj district in southern Bangladesh working in their floating garden.

“It is clear that to promote location specific and farmer-centric adaptation measures; India will need a Climate Risk Management Research and Extension Centre at each of the 127 agro-ecological regions in the country. Such centres should prepare Drought, Flood and Good Weather Codes what can help to minimize the adverse impact of abnormal weather and to maximize the benefits of favourable monsoons and temperature. Risk surveillance and early warning should be the other responsibilities of such centres. Thus the work done so far has laid the foundation for a Climate Resilient Agriculture Movement in India. The importance of such a Movement will be obvious considering the fact that 60% of India’s population of 1.1 billion depend upon agriculture for their livelihood. In addition, India has to produce food, feed and fodder for over 1.1 billion human, and over a billion farm animal population.”

It is a shared responsibility, said MSS, and one that the non-farming, urban population must recognise and help bear. “Urban and non-farming members of the human family should realize that we live on this planet as the guests of sunlight and green plants, and of the farm women and men who toil in sun and rain, and day and night, to produce food for over 6 billion people, by bringing about synergy between green plants and sunlight. Let us salute the farmers of the world and help them to help in achieving the goal of a hunger free world, the first among the U N Millennium Development Goals.”

These points are made at a time when India (or rather the central government and key ministries) still places economic growth as a priority rather than ecologically sustainable existence which is mindful of cultural traditions and which builds on extensive systems of traditional knowledge to take a human development route that is climate neutral. From 2007 onwards, there have been major intergovernmental and international studies on the impacts of climate change (including on agriculture). Several of these have shown that in South and East Asia, rice yields are affected. For most crops and regions, carbon fertilisation accentuates the positive impacts and mitigates the negative ones. However, there is considerable uncertainty about the true impact of carbon fertilisation. Among developing countries, the number of countries which ‘lose’ exceed the number of countries that ‘gain’, and their decrease in cereal production was greater than gains elsewhere.

Developing countries are worse off, where agriculture is concerned, said an OECD study in 2008 titled ‘Costs of Inaction on Key Environmental Challenges’. For example, the scenario with the highest CO2 concentration showed a 7% decline for developing countries. For developed countries, yields actually increased under all scenarios, but the global effect was always negative, or (at best) neutral. Not only was there significant variation across countries; the implications for the risk of hunger also varied greatly, depending on assumptions made about the fertilising effects of increasing CO2 concentrations.

“Assuming ‘no action’ is taken with respect to emissions, positive changes in yields (due to warming, precipitation, and crop fertilisation) in mid and high latitudes were predicted to be more than compensated by reductions in the lower latitudes, particularly in Africa and the Indian sub-continent. Changing crop yields (and demands) will affect market prices for agricultural output, as well as land prices. Decreases in agricultural yields in developing countries are likely to have significant implications for risk of hunger.”

Moreover, there has been evidence enough of the links between reducing poverty and strengthening agriculture. A paper produced by DFID (the British official aid agency, in 2004) emphasises the historically close correlation between different rates of poverty reduction over the past 40 years and differences in agricultural performance – particularly the rate of growth of agricultural productivity. There are links described between agriculture and poverty reduction through four ‘transmission mechanisms’: 1) direct impact of improved agricultural performance on rural incomes; 2) impact of cheaper food for both urban and rural poor; 3) agriculture’s contribution to growth and the generation of economic opportunity in the non-farm sector; and 4) agriculture’s fundamental role in stimulating and sustaining economic transition, as countries (and poor people’s livelihoods) shift away from being primarily agricultural towards a broader base of manufacturing and services.

Why is this so important to India and so important now? An ADB paper explains (‘A General Equilibrium Analysis of the Impact of Climate Change on Agriculture in the People’s Republic of China’, by Fan Zhai, Tun Lin, and Enerelt Byambadorj, Asian Development Bank, 2010). Despite rapid growth in recent decades, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is no exception to the effects of climate change. It also faces a great challenge to meet increasing demand for agricultural products due to increasing population and income level in the coming years. In the PRC, agriculture accounted for 11.7% of the national gross domestic product (GDP) in 2006 and agricultural crop land occupied 157 million hectares. Agricultural production has enabled the country to feed a population of 1.3 billion people, more than a fifth of the world’s population, of whom 900 million live in rural areas, from an eighth of the world’s arable land.

“Global climate change could cause rises in temperature, redistribution of rainfall, and more frequent flooding and droughts, and do considerable damage to crop production and the agricultural sector in general,” says the ADB paper. “At the national level, overall impact on crop production, assuming there is no carbon dioxide (CO2) fertilisation, is an estimated 7 to 14% reduction in rice, 9 to 10% reduction in maize, and 2 to 9% reduction in wheat. Assuming an average drop of 7%, this means a reduction of almost 40 million metric tons of food grain, and 20% of the global grain trade. Such a loss would undermine food security in the PRC, with particular health consequences for the poor and women, as females are primarily responsible for feeding the family.”