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Why India needs a national culture policy

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‘Culture’ in India is an idea influenced by two contrasting views.

Either, India possesses a superabundance of culture and a great pool of talent – which takes inspiration from excellent Akademis – to work at preserving traditions, re-inventing them with new orientations and new media, and supplying burgeoning cultural industries with material.

Or, India has a creaky government framework to interpret culture and administer it, which is headed by the Ministry of Culture – a framework entirely without policy direction, surviving at whim on a shoestring national budgetary allocation.

Both these views are true, each incumbent upon where ‘government’ is located vis-a-vis culture. The former view is what we find the Ministry of Culture preferring to portray, ignoring the latter view, with which it does not engage. The ministry has since the years following Independence occupied a high ground and, having fortified itself with institutions and centres, is unable to speak a language other than the rosily administrative.

For this reason, because India in 2018 has a Ministry of Culture so utterly out of touch and out of tune with the teeming types of current discourse about culture (expressions, industries, media, collaborations), the insistence that a culture policy is needed, and needed quickly, is a welcome one. This need was given substance by an article in Swarajya titled, Whose Culture Is It Anyway? Why India Needs A Comprehensive National Cultural Policy by Vikram Sampath, and I am thankful to both the magazine and the writer for having opened a space to consider, debate and act on the subject.

To the question – why should India not have a national policy on culture? – the most dismissive replies have come from a constituency which says that we are a civilisation whose recorded histories stretch back at least five millennia, whose puranic histories reach back further still, and therefore have no need for such new artifices like culture policies.

This article was published by Swarajya in January 2018. It is a shortened version of the commentary available in full here: click for the pdf.

Whereas for artistes and practitioners, who are entirely submerged in their fields, the question of such integration is superfluous, there is the matter of Indian society: our families and households inhabiting more than 4,041 ‘statutory’ towns (465 of which have populations of above 1 lakh), and about 597,000 villages. It is for these families and households, and for the many kinds of social, community, economic, geographic and occupational networks that link and support them, that a cultural policy is to be considered.

Defining culture is certainly not what the policy is for. Doing so is unnecessary and will also lead to contentious arguments over definitions, which will inevitably distract one from why a policy is needed in the first place, as Sampath has set out in detail in his article. But a policy needs a statement about the subject it is setting a direction for, and in such a spirit, distilling the many excellent statements which our Akademis, artistes and intellectuals have given us, what emerges is that in India, culture is elaborated by us as expressions of our creativity and spirituality, including our language, architecture, literature, music and art.

It is also the way we live, conduct ourselves with each other, before nature and before god, the way we think, and the way in which we see and perform the world through attitudes, customs, and practices. Our cultures transmit to us an intrinsic understanding of the way our world works, and leads us to see what is important within that world, thus our values.

This is an organic view. The Ministry of Culture, the institutes and centres it runs directly and those autonomous to it, and state government cultural departments take a state view, seeking a connection with the Constitution of India. Article 29 of the Constitution states that “Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same” and Article 51 A(F) of the Constitution states that “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture”.

The language and import of these Articles have very much to do with the Constitution’s overall message of rights and duties, and therefore it is not able to embrace the creativity, ways of living, understanding between human and nature and traditions of expression that contribute to ideas about and practices of cultures.

In his article (based on a concept paper submitted to the Ministry of Culture and NITI Aayog) Sampath has listed and explained the important elements a national policy on culture must contain. These are: (1) Complete overhaul, rationalisation and effective management of existing cultural bodies under the government, (2) Enhanced funding for India’s cultural industry, (3) Bringing culture to young minds by allowing education to inculcate a sense of national identity, pride and self-worth, (4) Enabling skills development and vocational training so that artisans, weavers, artists, painters and craftsmen find markets, (5) Integrating culture with tourism, (6) Disseminating cultural knowledge to the public through media including digital, and (7) Educating an international audience about India’s culture, heritage, traditional knowledge, performing and visual arts.

This is a sound list as it blends current concerns (they have been current since the early 1960s!) with contemporary ideas of arts management, the place of cultural industries and the need to place culture more centrally in education. As part of my work for the UNESCO 2003 Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage, the management of creative products and goods, the matter of livelihoods and incomes (not only of artistes but what the Convention refers to as tradition bearers), and infusing formal curricula in schools and universities with an understanding of cultures and their practicing, are all indeed central.

Moreover, it is over a decade since UNESCO itself began to not only re-frame but to act towards greater cooperation and collaboration between its cultural conventions and between several long-running programmes in which culture is central. These are the 2003 ICH Convention, the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, the 1972 World Heritage Convention, the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Programme, and the UNESCO Memory of the World programme. Whereas earlier these functioned quite isolated from one another (largely because of the structural barriers in the ways they were conceived to work and be administered) today integration has become visible.

I mention this because governments often look to an inter-governmental system for guidance or direction, and India takes a justifiable pride in being a member of UNESCO since 1946, with 36 monuments, sites and structures on the World Heritage List, with 13 elements listed by the ICH Convention, with 10 protected areas and natural reserves under the Man and Biosphere programme, and with nine archival and textual repositories in the Memory of the World programme.

Such integration is a far cry from what we inherited as being legislated ‘culture’ which had to be ‘administered’. Hence young post-Independence India considered culture and heritage as being born out of enactments of government, an attitude that ossified itself so solidly it continues into 2018. As examples we have The Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1904, The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites Remains Act, 1958 (and Rules, 1959), The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 (and Rules, 1973), The Delivery of Books’ and Newspapers’ (Public Libraries) Act, 1954, The Public Records Act, 1993 (and Rules, 1997). We even had The Treasure Trove Act of 1878!

Likewise, institutes and centres that have to do with manuscripts and books, archives, libraries, cultural objects and art holdings, museums, classical arts foundations are governed by acts and rules, and these include some of the most well-known centres of India: the Asiatic Society, the Victoria Memorial, the Salar Jung Museum, the Khuda Bakhsh library, the Kalakshetra Foundation and the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial.

It may not be poetic licence to claim that imagining the forms of national cultural administration through these legislations, rules and acts would cause the younger generation of Indians to call to mind gloomy hallways filled with massive bookcases, whose great keys lie rusting on pegs in some dim anteroom, attended to by geriatrics who may have been the only readers if at all of the mouldering tomes they watch over.

It is a picture not altered by bright paint, shiny new racks and computer terminals because the vintage grip of these legislations has not relented, nor has the opportunity such cultural ‘legislation’ gives to those who would command and control centres as petty administrative fiefdoms. Sampath says as much: “everyone seems to be intent on rediscovering the same wheel, and that too over and over again” and “regional centres are set up as further money-guzzling mechanisms, with no sense of mission, objectives, or agenda”. This is what points to a signal difference between institutions established by legislative fiat, and those which emerge from an application of cultural policy, regardless of whether they are state-controlled or receive budgetary support from central or state governments.

In September 2015 when the UN member countries adopted what is called ‘Transforming our world: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development’ (the 2030 Agenda in short), also adopted were the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs). UNESCO had since 2013 argued for the greater inclusion of culture, if not as a standalone SDG then as central to several SDGs. An SDG on culture did not materialise, but the efforts to have one did lead many countries to think more holistically – and inventively – about the place of culture in national development. Today, there are 111 countries that have adopted a national development plan or strategy, and out of these 96 include references to the cultural dimension.

It is far from a template adoption. The UNESCO 2018 report, ‘Re-shaping cultural policies: advancing creativity for development’, which explains how the 2005 Convention on Diversity of Cultural Expressions is being implemented, has sounded a note of worry that there are a large number of countries which acknowledge the cultural dimension “primarily as an instrumentality, as a driver of economic or social outputs” and moreover that “across the board, the environmental impact of cultural production and artistic practice itself is not yet taken sufficiently into account”.

How important are development – by which is meant a development that is ecologically harmonious and which contributes to social cohesion rather than inequity – and environment in the framing of a cultural policy? I would like to illustrate using two examples from my work for UNESCO in recent years.

Our neighbour Sri Lanka in 2017 embarked on a drafting of a national policy on intangible cultural heritage (ICH), which would supplement, enlarge and strengthen the work being done under the country’s National Cultural Policy and its National Policy of Traditional Knowledge and Practices. This drafting (advised by UNESCO) was steered by the Ministry of Education, Government of Sri Lanka, which ensured a wide-ranging series of consultations to assist and benefit the tradition bearers and practitioners of ICH and local knowledge systems in Sri Lanka. For the practitioners of these arts and crafts, every kind of material they use, every way in which it is fashioned, every place from where it is gathered, the functions which their creations fulfil, the meanings attached to those functions, all these are guidelines considered cultural.

The second example is from Cambodia, where UNESCO’s work towards deepening and strengthening the recognition of and support for traditional practices, knowledge and cultural expressions had as its backdrop the needs of a population for which four out of every five households lived in villages. Reliable sources of income throughout the year, securing multiple streams of livelihood for the members of a households, finding income and livelihood from activities that were tied closely to agriculture and cultivation or fishery, ascertaining the role and potential of handicraft and hand weaves – all these proved to be concerns that fundamentally tied culture with the environment, and the training, consultations and distillation of learning from meetings over six years (2011-16) had emphasised this tie.

In both countries – just as it is in India and throughout South-East Asia – the use of nature’s resources is as common as is its integration with culture and heritage. The connection with the natural world, for communities in Sri Lanka and Cambodia, has been particularly intimate. Traditional names of villages reflect their inhabitants’ perceptions of the environment that surrounds them. Place names incorporate kinds of vegetation. Paddy lands are classified in a number of ways, where the grain is threshed and winnowed are given specific names. So too are river floodplains, groves of low trees, highland and lowland cultivation areas. Biodiversity is the basis for indigenous and local systems of medicine and treatment, and are extremely significant in social practices.

Is such an approach possible with the government cultural machinery? I take as an answer a statement in the ‘Report of the High Powered Committee on the Akademis and other Institutions under the Ministry of Culture’, 2014: “What is most crucial today is that the Ministry of Culture accepts that it is stuck in antediluvian systems and that change is inevitable. Indeed, it must guide that change assiduously, else the bureaucratic control centre would be ‘out of sync’ with the outside environment.”

This latest report on the Ministry of Culture and its institutions was referred to by Sampath, who in an exasperated tone noted that its recommendations at the time of his article (2017) had not been acted upon, and such inaction followed exactly the same responses to predecessor reports completed in 1990, 1972 and 1964, all having made recommendations with none being acted upon. If cultural institutions such as the three Akademis (Sangeet Natak, Lalit Kala and Sahitya) are to be managed and budgeted for, and a training centre (the Centre for Cultural Resources and Training) is to be maintained, do we need a Ministry of Culture for the purpose?

The 2014 High Powered Committee report has explained that we do, because the Ministry has to work as a “point of coordination for cultural expression, and a catalyst for the dissemination of that expression through the encouragement and sponsorship of multifarious artistic activity”; it “has to guide the people towards higher expressions of the arts, and enable us to differentiate between mediocrity and excellence” and has also “to protect our heritage, both tangible and intangible, through research and documentation, and at the same time prepare us for new pursuits in the creative world.”

I agree with these reasons, but do not think it is or ought to be the prerogative of the Ministry alone (zonal cultural centres included of which there are six) to accomplish these tasks. Neither does this work become the responsibility of the constellation of centres, institutes, libraries, archives, arts foundations and research societies recognised by the Ministry. This is why a national policy on culture for India is needed, which will help explain the duties we have towards our inheritances, and will help construct a superstructure of competencies and human resources, supported by relevant pedagogies, financial channels, collaborations with allied sectors of the formal and informal economies, and which will inform policy and its implementation with the values that sustain our society.

It was as long ago as 1993, at a UNESCO-sponsored meeting held at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in New Delhi, that the basic distinctions that exist between anthropocentric and cosmocentric approaches to the question of cultural identity and development were reflected upon. The participants discussed what constitutes culture and development not individually, but as an integral holistic notion including linguistic, ecological and ways-of-living identities. It is in this spirit that I once again thank Swarajya and Vikram Sampath for reopening a discussion which should never have gone out of vogue, and which, I hope will take on both a new urgency and a new vibrancy.

[This article was published by Swarajya in January 2018.]

Written by makanaka

February 5, 2018 at 22:38

The ideologies about knowledge

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RG_TERI_terragreen_201605

The few paragraphs that follow are taken from my recent article for the TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute) magazine, Terragreen. Published in the 2016 May issue, the article links what we often call traditional knowledge with the ways in which we understand ecology and the ways in which we are defining ‘sustainable development’.

quotes-blueSustainable development has today become a commonly used term, yet it describes a concept that is still being considered by different kinds of societies, by each in a manner of its choosing. This has happened because while historically how societies grew to be ‘developed’ was a process that took a variety of pathways, today the prescribed pathway to the ‘modern’ scarcely changes from one country to another.

Hence culturally what these societies have considered as being ‘sustainable’ behaviour – each according to its ecological context – is being replaced by a prescribed template in which interpretations are discouraged. Such a regime of prescription has led only to the obscuring of the many different kinds of needs felt by communities that desire a ‘development’ that makes cultural sense, but also of the kinds of knowledge which will allow that ‘development’ to be sustainable.

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Click for image pdf (600kb) of article

Some of this knowledge we can readily see. To employ labels whose origin is western, these streams of knowledge and practice are called traditional knowledge, intangible cultural heritage, indigenous wisdom, folk traditions, or indigenous and local knowledge. These labels help serve as gateways to understand both the ideas, ‘development’ and ‘sustainable’. It is well that they do for today, very much more conspicuously than 20 years earlier, there is a concern for declining biodiversity, about the pace and direction of global environmental change, a concern over the unsustainable human impact on the biosphere and the diminishing of community identity.

There is widespread acknowledgement of the urgency of the situation – this is perceived across cultures, geographical scales (that is, from local units such as a village, to national governments), and knowledge systems (and this includes both formal and non-formal ways of recognising these systems). The need for such a new dialogue on the situation is expressed in several global science-policy initiatives, both older and recent, such as the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) which is now 22 years old, and the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), whose first authoritative reports became available in 2015.

Development whose sustainability is defined locally and implemented locally means that the ‘investment’, ‘technology’ and ‘innovation’ (terms that have become popular to describe development efforts) comes from the people themselves. Many diverse agencies at this level – civil society, youth groups, vocational networks, small philanthropies – assist such development and provide the capacities needed. This is the level at which the greatest reliance on cultural approaches takes place, endogenously.

In domains such as traditional medicine, forestry, the conservation of biodiversity, the protection of wetlands, it is practitioners of intangible cultural heritage and bearers of traditional knowledge, together with the communities to which they belong, who observe and interpret phenomena at scales much finer than formal scientists are familiar with. Besides, they possess the ability to draw upon considerable temporal depth in their observations. For the scientific world, such observations are invaluable contributions that advance our knowledge about climate change. For the local world, indigenous knowledge and cultural practices are the means with which the effects of climate change are negotiated so that livelihoods are maintained, ritual and cultivation continue, and survival remains meaningful.

In the land of air-conditioned cup noodle eaters

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Ever more varieties of snacks from fewer crop staples. The conversion of primary crops into processed food, and the retail chain that drops it into the consumer's basket, all this requires energy. Image: Rahul Goswami 2013

Ever more varieties of snacks from fewer crop staples. The conversion of primary crops into processed food, and the retail chain that drops it into the consumer’s basket, all this requires energy. Image: Rahul Goswami 2013

We are being misinformed and poorly entertained. There is a great big complex apparatus that tells us, as it has done for most of the last 20 years, that climate change is about science and observation, about technology and finance. This is the international apparatus. Then there is the national bedlam, comprising government, NGOs, think-tanks, research institutes and academia, industry and business, capital markets and finance. The national bedlam on climate change contains many views, some of which are directly related to the international apparatus. Our government, usually in the form of utterances by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, attempts to connect economics to everything else it thinks is important, and present the resulting mess as our climate change policy, which only provokes more bedlam.

Such is the state of affairs in India concerning climate change. Industry and finance, whatever their motivations (profit, market, subsidies, friendly politicians, and so on), are fairly consistent in what they say they want. NGOs and think-tanks – most of which function as localised versions of the international apparatus – are responsible for an outsized share of the bedlam, for they must not only protect the interests of their principals (usually in the West) but at the same time be seen to be informed, authoritative and influential at home. Ordinarily, this renders them schizophrenic, but the hullabaloo surrounding climate change in India is so loud, no-one notices the schizophrenia of the NGOs and think-tanks. Media – that is to say, vapid but noisy television and dull but verbose print commentators – sides with one group or another depending on who’s paying for the junkets.

Property, assembly-line homes and the trope of quick ownership to attract young earners. One more energy sink. Image: Rahul Goswami 2013

Property, assembly-line homes and the trope of quick ownership to attract young earners. One more energy sink. Image: Rahul Goswami 2013

The punctuations in this long-running and episodic climate change opera that we witness in India are the annual international gatherings, and the erratic policy pronouncements by the central government. For most people, struggling with food price inflation, with urban living environments choked by particulate matter, hounded by creditors and surrounded by useless gadgetry, climate change is a non-subject. And so the middle class stays out of the bedlam, for it is too busy negotiating the storied ‘growth’ of India or breathlessly seeking to profit from it in as many ways as there are flavours of potato chips. Who is left from the 1.275 billion Bharat-vaasis who can cast an appraising eye on the bit players and techno-buskers, and who can judge for themselves the consequences of their actions? We don’t know. And it is such not knowing that balances, with a taut silence, the bedlam of the posturing think-tanks, the technology fetishists, the grasping NGOs, the carbon merchants and their political cronies.

It has helped us not at all to be served, every other week or so, the bland intellectual regurgitations of India’s talking climate heads. It has helped us not at all to be preached at (faithfully reported, accompanied by appropriate editorial cant) by the United Nations whose agency, the UNFCCC, has fostered 20 years of expensive gatherings designed to deceive thinking folk. It has helped us not at all to have to correct, time and again, a government that does nothing about capitalism’s operatives who consistently attack and dismantle efforts to protect our people from environmentally destructive activities. It has helped us not at all to have dealt out to us, from one ruling coalition to the next, from a fattened ’empowered group of ministers’ to a PM’s Council that prefers fiat, missions and programmes that speak ‘renewable’ but which refuse stubbornly to talk consumption.

The balance between settlement and land. Absent entirely in our cities and towns, threatened in our villages. Image: Rahul Goswami 2013

The balance between settlement and land. Absent entirely in our cities and towns, threatened in our villages. Image: Rahul Goswami 2013

Climate change and Bharat is about none of this and it is about all of this in relation to our behaviour. Ours is the land of air-conditioned youth devouring cup noodles while gesturing with greasy fingers across smartphone screens. It is not the land where their grand-parents tilled fields, tended orchards, walked on pilgrimages and lit lanterns in simple dwellings. But this is now, and here, in urban Coimbatore and Cuttack as much as in rural Darbhanga and Dharwad, the reckoning of the effect of our 1.275 on climate has to do with the buying of cars (bigger and two per family) and the widening of roads.

It has to do with the building of housing ‘complexes’ (modern amenities and 24×7 power, but naturally), the contrived convenience factor of retail food markets whose demands deepen the monoculturing of our land mosaics, once so very diverse with coarse cereals, the myth-making of jobs and employment by cramming vast buildings with directionless migrant youth, and attaching to them (costs calculated by the second) the electronic machinery that makes online retail possible, the imagery of the flick of the switch or click of a button delivering goods and services as though from the horn of plenty, the vacuous promises of imminent superpowerdom and a techno-utopia set to the beat of Bollywood lyrics. We have indeed been misinformed.

What’s the ‘intensity’ of agri research nowadays?

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Nice infographic, but where are the prices of rice and wheat?

What do countries spend of agricultural research and development? How much is the ‘intensity’ of their agri-R&D spend – whether measured by agriculture domestic product or by ‘agriculturally active population’ (which I’m taking to mean farmers)? How much of this spending comes from taxpayers’ money and how much from the profits of the food companies and food retail chains and the food biotech corporations?

You’ll find some of these answers (in what form I cannot yet say without a close long look at what this new assessment lens is all about) in the ASTI Global Assessment of Agricultural R&D Spending, published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI, which is one of the CGIAR institutes) in collaboration with the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR).

ASTI is Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators and the assessment says it uses “internationally comparable data on agricultural R&D investments and capacity for developing countries” (can’t see how really, as ag-biodiversity is culturally dependent, but of course Big Ag is mono-minded).

Does this impressive-sounding scrutiny have any bottom-lines for real small farmers worth reading? I am sceptical, given the CGIAR orientation, but here are two sequiturs:

“Global agricultural R&D spending in the public and private sectors steadily increased between 2000 and 2008. Most of this growth was driven by larger middle-income countries such as China and India.”

“Following a decade of slow growth in the 1990s, global public spending on agricultural R&D increased by 22 percent from 2000 to 2008—from $26.1 billion to $31.7 billion.”

I looked, but couldn’t find the connection between all this R&D and the woman wearing the sari.

Written by makanaka

November 12, 2012 at 20:49

New, improved human development indices

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Now where did I put that new index?

Policymakers and commentators are constantly looking for new ways to measure development, writes Martin Ravallion, Director of the Development Research Group of the World Bank, in his column at VoxEU. In his comment, titled ‘Your new composite index has arrived: Please handle with care’, he warns against embracing new composite indices with little guidance from economic or other theories. Ravallion then talks about the strengths and weaknesses of using what he calls ‘mashup’ indices of development (a ‘mashup’ is a web term, which means to mix data in a new way using a new ‘app’ that presents it to users).

“A host of indicators are used to track development. The World Bank’s annual World Development Indicators presents hundreds of such indicators. The United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals are defined using a long list of indicators. Faced with so many indicators – a “large and eclectic dashboard,” as the Stiglitz report nicely puts it – there is an understandable desire to form a single composite index.”

You want to index our work? Surely you're joking.

“For some of the composite indices found in practice, economic theory provides useful clues as to how the index should be constructed (GDP, for example). This is not the case for another type of composite index that is becoming popular. For these, neither the list of underlying data nor the aggregation technique is informed by theory or practice. The maker of the composite-indicator has free roam and is largely unconstrained by economic or other theories intended to inform measurement practice.”

Having referenced in his article the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, developed by among others Sabina Alkire and Maria Emma Santos, Alkire has commented on Ravallion’s musings. “I am grateful for the interest shown in our Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) that we developed as an experimental series for the 2010 UNDP Human Development Report that will be released 4 November.”

This paper recycling shop in Mumbai is not yet a beneficiary of the human development indexing effort

“In sum, I agree with Martin’s statement in his Mashup paper, “The lesson to be drawn from this review is not to abandon mashup indices.” I agree equally with the emphasis of this article: that we need to handle composite indices of all kinds with care and curiousity, to understand exactly their construction, their robustness, their legitimate policy interpretations, and their oversights. For that reason Maria Emma Santos and I have stated explicitly the strengths and limitations of the new Multidimensional Poverty Index, and undertaken thorough robustness tests and quality checks, and found it was indeed robust to a number of plausible changes to the indicators, thresholds, and changes in the poverty cutoff. We also have highlighted the areas which do require further research, are undertaking that work and hope others will contribute.”

Well, an index is only as good as the intention that guides it. It will be most useful if it helps the right questions to be framed, and indicates where the answers may be found. Indices of poverty and human development which command most attention are also those that are global in scope. As Ravallion says, these help people – policymakers among them – see where their country stands when compared with others. That’s well and good, but much of our work is within countries, not across them, and much of our work involves dealing with realities that are highly subjective and fluid, open always to a variety of forces and influences.

Poverty for example may be deepened just as much by barriers of caste or environmental degradation as it is by ill health and natural calamity. How does one capture caste biases and environmental degradation as it affects a sub-tribe in a particular locale? An index that attempts to do this will be both dreadfully complex and not portable. Perhaps it is best for locals to develop their own means of measurement, comparison and rating. In that, the lessons provided by Ravallion, Alkire and the host of social scientists on whose shoulders they rest can be put to use.

OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2010-2019

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OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2010-2019The OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2010-2019 has just been released. A major joint document, this follows the regular, roughly ten-year wide focus series followed by both organisations on global agriculture. The new release has sections on food price volatility and the impact of commodity markets, and so will be of interest to the research and practitioner community looking at the finance-food-policy interfaces.

The Outlook says that demand for cereals for food and feed is projected to rise by one-third to 3 billion tons by 2050, and possibly higher due to a growing liquid biofuel market. Net cereal imports into the developing countries would increase almost three-fold to nearly 300 million tons by 2050, some 14% of their total cereal consumption. Demand for more income-responsive vegetable oils, meats and dairy products are expected to rise even faster. Livestock is one of the fastest growing sub-sectors in agriculture with over 80% of the projected growth in the next decade taking place in developing countries, particularly in Asia and the Pacific (especially China) and Latin America, outpacing growth in the OECD area by a factor of 2:1 over the next decade.

To support the necessary expansion in output in developing countries, FAO estimates the required average annual investment in primary agriculture and necessary downstream services (e.g. storage, processing) at USD 209 billion in 2009 prices (or USD 83 billion net of depreciation), much of which would come from private sources. Still, this amount represents a 50% increase from current levels and does not include the public investments required in such areas as roads, irrigation, electricity and education. In general since the 1970s, those countries with higher net investment per agricultural worker have been more successful at reducing hunger.

I’ve extracted three of the more interesting points from the Overview which prefaces the Outlook:

1. Average crop prices over the next ten years for the commodities covered in this Outlook are projected to be above the levels of the decade prior to the 2007/08 peaks, in both nominal and real terms (adjusted for inflation). Average wheat and coarse grain prices are projected to be nearly 15-40% higher in real terms relative to 1997-2006, while for vegetable oils real prices are expected to be more than 40% higher. World sugar prices to 2019 will also be above the average of the previous decade but well below the 29-year highs experienced at the end of 2009.

2. Developing countries will provide the main source of growth for world agricultural production, consumption and trade. Demand from developing countries is driven by rising per capita incomes and urbanisation, reinforced by population growth, which remains nearly twice that of the OECD area. As incomes rise, diets are expected to slowly diversify away from staple foods towards increased meats and processed foods that will favour livestock and dairy products. Also, with increasing affluence and an expanding middle class, food consumption in these countries should become less responsive to price and income changes, as is currently the case in OECD countries. This implies that larger changes in price and incomes will be required for consumption to adjust to any unforeseen shocks.

3. National and local emergency stockholding of key food security commodities, for food emergencies, particularly for low-income food importing countries, may increase confidence in the access to food in times of crisis and help stabilise local markets. Increased research, capacity building, and sharing of best practices to improve the functioning of emergency stock schemes are required. Whatever actions governments consider taking, it is always important to keep in mind the full set of policy measures, risks and possible responses for the targeted population.