FAO’s thought for food
Feeding the world’s seven billion people is not an easy task. As the number of mouths to feed rises, so will the complexity of solutions required to meet the challenge
Feeding the world’s seven billion people is not an easy task. As the number of mouths to feed rises, so will the complexity of solutions required to meet the challenge. A return to simple farming is not an option.
Yet this is what multilateral agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) advocate. Now, 50 years after the Green Revolution was begun, FAO wants to turn the clock back. On Monday, this adjunct of the United Nations proposed a model to overcome the food barrier. It wants to carry out what it calls Sustainable Crop Production Intensification, or SCPI, that it describes in a new book Save and Grow.
This approach advocates a return of focus on the small farmer, use of resources “wisely” (meaning less intensively), fewer pesticides, soil conservation and water preservation. It wants small-hold agriculture to be made profitable; transfer of “appropriate” technologies and much more. Basically a return to pre-1960s’ way of doing farming.
There is something eerie about such advocacy. There is no doubt that today resource constraints are acute. India, for example, has witnessed some of its intensive agriculture regions deplete their water levels alarmingly. This even as demand for food has gone up dramatically. This is going to rise further after food security is enshrined as a law. In such a situation, it would be suicidal to return to “organic” farming as it were. Water use would certainly come down, but so would output—a recipe for chaos. India has also pretty much exhausted its land frontier—the potential use of land with the available technology.
There are, of course, fixes to the problem. Africa, for example, has a huge land mass available for agriculture, but lacks technology and experience of the kind that India has. Indian farmers have been relocating there to big farms that are available on long leases. Indian farmers can reap economies of scale (most farmers in African countries are parcelled out in 50-100-hectare lots) while Africa can get its farmers trained. Then, there is the use of biotechnology to boost output using the same level of inputs.
These ideas hardly find any mention in SCPI, which, shorn of its verbal promise, is something that is hardly practicable today.