In Desperate Need of an Agricultural Revolution

On Wednesday, Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram attacked developing nations’ usage of crops for biofuel, referring to the policy as “uncaring” in light of a relentless rise in prices of food and commodities. 

Chidambaram isn’t the only one getting alarmed about the nexus between agricultural productivity, rising food prices, and poverty – in fact, just yesterday, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) launched the publication of its flagship survey entitled, “Sustaining Growth and Sharing Prosperity,” in which it “examines the most critical issues, challenges and risks confronting the Asia-Pacific region in its socio-economic spheres of development.”  One of the main issues highlighted in the survey focused on declining productivity in the agricultural sector, largely due to the “absence of rural infrastructure, incomplete land reforms, and limited alternative income generating activities.”  According to Ravi Ratnayake, director of ESCAP’s Poverty and Development Division,

“Agriculture provides employment for 60 per cent of the working population, mostly poor, in Asia and the Pacific, but decades of neglect by policy-makers have weakened the sector’s capacity to lower poverty and inequality.  Growth and productivity in agriculture have been slowing, and the ‘green revolution’ that boosted agriculture yields in the 1970s has bypassed millions.” 

In response, the survey calls for a “revolution” in agricultural productivity, especially in light of rising food prices and the soaring demand for biofuels: 

Agriculture needs revitalization. This requires a market orientation with a focus on improving agricultural productivity. Also needed are reforms in land policies, connecting the rural poor to cities and markets, and making it easier for farmers to access loans and crop insurance. Along with this approach, diversification of skills should complement agricultural development – by empowering the poor, particularly women, improving skills to tap labour market opportunities and by promoting rural non-farm activities and regional growth centres.

To read the complete text of the survey, go here.

Source:  OneWorld South Asia

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