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View Diary: Another Revolution in Agriculture Underway? (87 comments)

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  •  This is not why they want to increase yields (7+ / 0-)

    You wrote:

    in a region that needs to increase yields to feed the poorest of the poor.  
    This is a common misunderstanding about the economics of food and farming in places like India.

    The people in the position to increase yields, like the farmer described in the diary, are not the poorest of the poor. In fact, as the diary explains, his harvest was over 20 tons -- way more than his family could use. He, like many Indian farmers who could use this technique, is a commercial farmer. He wants to increase his yield so he can sell more rice and make more income.

    The poorest of the poor tend to be landless, and often are agricultural workers. They will not experience increased yield or increased income because they are not farmers and don't share in the increase in yields -- unless perhaps their wages increase.

    India already exports rice most years. Increasing yield will likely mean more exports, higher income for better off farmers, or more nutritious diet for those who can afford to buy more rice, or a more meat based diet as excess rice is fed to animals for slaughter.

    The danger of higher yields, however, is that higher yields mean more rice, which means greater supply, which means a fall in the price of rice, which means lower incomes.

    That's why in Europe and North America, farm support programs have often involved paying farmers NOT to grow more crops.

    It's impossible to tell what increased yields means for any rural person, but a good outcome would be that falling prices would allow the poorest of the poor to afford to purchase more rice, and because this technique is more labor intensive, might cause a rise in the demand for landless agricultural workers and a rise in their wages. But it is difficult to predict and it's never as simple as more food=more food eaten by the poor.

    To understand the problems of third world farmers, one needs to look beyond simple Malthusian explanations of scarcity and look at most of these farmers as small commercial enterprises which, for better or worse, is what they are.

    •  commercial enterprise (0+ / 0-)

      So as a small commercial enterprise owned by a poor farmer, increasing his yield by organic methods rather than by chemical inputs and patented seed would seem a good thing to me.

      Does he have a support program paying him not to grow rice?  How else will he support his family?  As you say, it's difficult to predict the future but for this farmer, right now, he is improving life for himself and his family.  While in other parts of India, farmers are committing suicide over the failures of GM crops.

      •  Your are correct on a micro level (0+ / 0-)

        Of course, if he can grow more rice without buying expensive chemical inputs, he will be better off.

        But if you read studies based on rural third world household "budgets" their biggest constraint tends to be labor ("there aren't enough hours in the day"). I'm just pointing out that people who already work 80-100 hours a week might not trade yet more hours weeding (because they aren't flooding the paddy fields) for increased yield. This new technique probably requires the hiring of agricultural workers. That's actually a very, very good thing given that the poorest of the poor are landless agricultural workers. But it isn't clear that they would make that choice.

        The other problem is that although an increase in yield is great for the farmer the first year he alone introduces it, new techniques tend to increase collective yield, which means more output and lower prices.

        I read a study about the green revolution in the Philippines a long time ago. Most farmers felt they were better off and upgraded their houses, but their complaints were (1) they had to work a lot harder and put in more hours and (2) after others adopted their new techniques there was a glut of rice and prices fell and they were back where they started in terms of individual income. They were growing much more rice with much more work and earning the same "salary".

        The study's conclusion was that the green revolution was great for the Philippines as a collective society because there was more and cheaper food. But for the farmers all it meant was growing more rice with more work for the same income. The study concluded that the farmers were the "heroes and victims" of the green revolution.

    •  small commercial enterprises vs. international (0+ / 0-)

      corporations, both want to make maximum profit out of their land ... if it is "their" land. The larger the corporations the less interested they are to think about those whose land they bought off or leased from.

      If a small commercial enterprise can't pay the lease for any additional land he wants to have to increase his output and profit, or if small farming enterprises can't be created anymore, because the land is gone and owned by "big boys", there is not even a discussion about what  farming methods to use, but how much the lease or the land costs.

      Organic farming too is mostly done because it's more profitable to the small farming enterprise.... and consumer can't afford to buy potatos at $ 6.00 per 5 pounds ... etc.

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