Archive for the ‘crops’ Category

Food, Crops, Subsidies and Hunger in the Global Economy

November 17, 2008

This spring, disaster loomed in the global food market. Precipitous increases in the prices of staples like rice (up more than a hundred and fifty per cent in a few months) and maize provoked food riots, toppled governments, and threatened the lives of tens of millions. But the bursting of the commodity bubble eased those pressures, and food prices, while still high, have come well off the astronomical levels they hit in April. For Americans, the drop in commodity prices has put a few more bucks in people’s pockets; in much of the developing world, it may have saved many from actually starving. So did the global financial crisis solve the global food crisis?

By James Surowiecki
The New Yorker

Temporarily, perhaps. But the recent price drop doesn’t provide any long-term respite from the threat of food shortages or future price spikes. Nor has it reassured anyone about the health of the global agricultural system, which the crisis revealed as dangerously unstable. Four decades after the Green Revolution, and after waves of market reforms intended to transform agricultural production, we’re still having a hard time insuring that people simply get enough to eat, and we seem to be more vulnerable to supply shocks than ever.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Over the past two decades, countries around the world have moved away from their focus on “food security” and handed market forces a greater role in shaping agricultural policy. Before the nineteen-eighties, developing countries had so-called “agricultural marketing boards,” which would buy commodities from farmers at fixed prices (prices high enough to keep farmers farming), and then store them in strategic reserves that could be used in the event of bad harvests or soaring import prices. But in the eighties and nineties, often as part of structural-adjustment programs imposed by the I.M.F. or the World Bank, many marketing boards were eliminated or cut back, and grain reserves, deemed inefficient and unnecessary, were sold off. In the same way, structural-adjustment programs often did away with government investment in and subsidies to agriculture—most notably, subsidies for things like fertilizers and high-yield seeds.

People try to catch fish at flooded rice fields in Me Linh district ... 
People try to catch fish at flooded rice fields in Me Linh district in Hanoi, Vietnam, Monday, Nov. 10, 2008. The floods have ruined many of the area’s crops.(AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

The logic behind these reforms was simple: the market would allocate resources more efficiently than government, leading to greater productivity. Farmers, instead of growing subsidized maize and wheat at high cost, could concentrate on cash crops, like cashews and chocolate, and use the money they made to buy staple foods. If a country couldn’t compete in the global economy, production would migrate to countries that could. It was also assumed that, once governments stepped out of the way, private investment would flood into agriculture, boosting performance. And international aid seemed a more efficient way of relieving food crises than relying on countries to maintain surpluses and food-security programs, which are wasteful and costly.

This “marketization” of agriculture has not, to be sure, been fully carried through. Subsidies are still endemic in rich countries and poor, while developing countries often place tariffs on imported food, which benefit their farmers but drive up prices for consumers. And in extreme circumstances countries restrict exports, hoarding food for their own citizens.

Related:
Vietnam to grow genetically modified crops

Read the rest:
http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2008/11/2
4/081124ta_talk_surowiecki

Vietnam to grow genetically modified crops

November 13, 2008

Vietnam plans to test genetically modified (GM) agricultural crops from now until 2010 and then grow them on a large scale, media reports in the communist country said on Thursday.

Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat announced the plan in a National Assembly session this week, said the state-run Vietnam News Agency.

AFP

Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat talks to media in 2006. Vietnam ... 
Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat talks to media in 2006. Vietnam plans to test genetically modified (GM) agricultural crops from now until 2010 and then grow them on a large scale, media reports in the communist country said on Thursday.(AFP/File/Hoang Dinh Nam)

Under the government plan, Vietnam would from 2011 plant GM species of maize, cotton and soybean, said the news site Vietnamnet quoting experts attending a recent biotechnology workshop.

The Ho Chi Minh City Biotechnology Centre plans to grow a GM maize variety from the Philippines on a trial basis, the report said.

GM technology has been highly controversial, praised by some for increasing yields and improving varieties, and condemned by others for creating “frankenfoods” that pose dangers to the environment and people’s health.

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20081113/sc_afp/vietnambio
techagriculturegm_081113171333

Afghanistan at the crossroads: Drought, food crisis drive Afghans out of villages

November 10, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan, November 10 (UNHCR) – Severe drought and food shortages have caused thousands of people to leave their villages in Afghanistan’s north and west to find work and aid. Many more are expected to move in desperation as winter approaches.

Provinces such as Badghis, Faryab, Jawzjan, Ghor, Saripul, Balkh and Samangan have been hard hit by a harsh winter earlier this year, followed by a debilitating drought and poor harvest. The production of wheat – an Afghan staple – is reportedly down by 36 percent compared to last year, while the Ministry of Agriculture has said the country is facing a deficit of 2 million tonnes of mixed food items over the next six months.

Soaring global food prices have exacerbated the problem of food insecurity. A UN appeal in July reported that the prices of wheat and wheat flour have gone up by 200 percent countrywide over the past year. The worst affected people are the small farmers, landless people, nomads and casual labourers.

“There’s no rain this year,” complains Qadir, 25, who left his village in Balkh three months ago to find work in Kabul. “Back home, I own a plot of rain-fed land and grew wheat on it. It’s small but was enough to feed my family – until the drought. I just left the land. It’s useless.”

Saifullah, 30, chips in, “The drought has affected hundreds of families in Samangan. We cultivated seeds but couldn’t get a harvest or recoup our money. We’re all leaving.”

Momin, 18, is from Charken village in Balkh province, where he supports a family of six people. “My whole neighbourhood is affected. In the past, we could work on our farms. But now, people are going to Mazar-e-Sharif or Kabul to find jobs,” he says.

The three men have joined hundreds of others at Charahi Sarai Shomali, a busy roundabout in northern Kabul located beside a bus station that plies the route between Kabul and the northern provinces. They come here early every morning and wait for potential employers to pick them up for daily-wage labour, mostly on construction sites. They make US$3-US$4 a day and work three to four days a week on average.

To save up for their families, it’s not unusual for more than 10 of these migrant workers to share one room in Kabul. The living is rough, but at least they have some income and a roof over their heads – unlike the thousands of others who have been displaced by the drought and shortage of food and water.

The numbers of the drought-displaced vary. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates that more than 6,500 Afghans have left their homes in the north and west as a result of the drought this year. The International Committee of the Red Cross believes some 280,000 people are suffering from its effects, and that thousands of families could leave their homes in search of food and work as winter looms.

In the last six months, UNHCR has reported the displacement of more than 2,700 families (approximately 19,000 people), mostly from or within Badghis, Balkh, Saripul and Samangan provinces. Some have gone to district centres like Mazar-e-Sharif, to nearby provinces like Herat, or to neighbouring countries such as Iran and Pakistan. All were forced to move because of food insecurity, drought or poverty.

Some families leaving Keshendeh district in Balkh dismantled their houses, indicating they had no intention to return. Those who remain said that without food and water assistance, 70 percent of the population – or some 500 families – could leave the area. UNHCR is working with other UN agencies and the government to start bringing water tankers as soon as possible.

“Meeting humanitarian needs in areas of origin is the best way to prevent food and drought-related displacement,” said Ewen Macleod, the UN refugee agency’s acting representative in Afghanistan. “This means pre-positioning aid before snow and the cold weather cut off access to some of these areas.”

Returnees have been affected too, including 183 families who returned from Pakistan to Saripul last year and recently left again for Quetta in south-western Pakistan. In the central Afghan provinces of Logar and Ghazni, food insecurity meant that returnees were too busy trying to support themselves to complete construction on their UNHCR-funded shelters. The agency worked with the World Food Programme to provide food to 700 families so that they could focus on finishing their homes before the onset of winter.

The largest recent displacement took place in Balkh, where 1,400 families left their homes in Alborz in late May and set up a makeshift camp beside a river in Sholgara district. After weeks of talks between the community, government and UN agencies, the families were transported back to their villages in mid-July, where they received food rations.

As security deteriorates in parts of the country, the UN has appealed for humanitarian access to allow aid workers to distribute food to needy communities ahead of winter. A recent report by British think tank, the Royal United Services Institute, warned that a looming famine in Afghanistan could pose a greater threat to international efforts to rebuild the country than the conflict there.

Desperation defies definition. Whether driven by hunger, thirst or poverty, thousands of Afghans are moving in an effort to survive. Asked if he plans to return home to Balkh soon, Momin the young job seeker in Kabul sighs, “If you have money, you miss your family. If you have no money, you can’t afford to miss them. You need to do something to help them.”

His friend Abdul Qadir, also from Balkh, adds simply, “If things get worse in Afghanistan, I’ll have to go to Pakistan again.”

By Vivian Tan
in Kabul, Afghanistan

Rain In Vietnam Slows Crop Deliveries; Drives prices….

November 10, 2008

By Claudia Carpenter

Nov. 10 (Bloomberg) — Robusta coffee rose for a second day in London on speculation rain will slow shipment of a record crop from Vietnam, the world’s largest grower.

Rains in central and southern Vietnam may disrupt collection and transportation of beans, according to U.S. weather forecaster Meteorlogix LLC. Coffee dropped 22 percent last month as Vietnam began harvesting the crop estimated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at a record 21 million bags. Commodity prices climbed following gains in crude oil and a drop in the dollar.

“Rains delay the whole process,” said Stefan Uhlenbrock, senior commodity analyst at German research company F.O. Licht. “They do not have in-house drying facilities so they have to more or less dry the coffee outside.”

Robusta for January delivery rose $22, or 1.3 percent, to $1,762 a metric….

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http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601012&sid=aW9Xp8vyLF_c

By Claudia

Six Months after Myanmar Cyclone, Rebuilding Lags Due To Government Hastles

November 2, 2008

After the cyclone devestated Myanmar last May, the military junta governing the former Burma was so uncooperative and unhelpful that even international aid groups were delayed and hastled….

From the Associated Press

YANGON, Myanmar – Six months after Cyclone Nargis smashed into Myanmar‘s coastline, killing tens of thousands of people, aid groups say once-lagging relief efforts have picked up pace but the task of rebuilding and recovery is far from finished.

Foreign aid staffers were initially barred from cyclone-affected areas and the ruling military junta was criticized for its ineffective response to the May 2-3 disaster. During a visit by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in late May, it agreed to allow in some foreign aid workers and formed a “Tripartite Core Group” made up of the government, the U.N. and Southeast Asian countries to facilitate the flow of international assistance.

A Buddhist monk walks over the remains of his cyclone-destroyed ... 
A Buddhist monk walks over the remains of his cyclone-destroyed monastery in Kaunt Chaung. Six months since Cyclone Nargis lashed the secretive state of Myanmar – killing 138,000 people – the initial despair over the ruling junta’s inaction has been replaced by cautious optimism that more aid is reaching the country’s needy, the UN has said.(AFP/File/Lisandru)

Despite the slow initial response, “the relief effort for the first six months has been successful,” said Ramesh Shrestha, the representative in Myanmar for UNICEF, which has coordinated aid to women and children. “However, we cannot stop now.”

The U.N. said in a statement issued Sunday on behalf of the Tripartite Core Group that “there is a continued need for emergency relief, as well as support for early and long-term recovery efforts.”

Only 53.3 percent of the $484 million in relief money sought by a U.N.-coordinated appeal has been raised, it said.

The official death toll is 84,537, with 53,836 others listed as missing. Some 2.4 million people were severely affected by the storm, with the total damage estimated as high as $4 billion.

A major pressing issue is how survivors will be able to support themselves.

Recent visitors to the Irrawaddy Delta, the area worst hit by the storm, report that most cyclone victims have cooking utensils, mosquito nets and other basic necessities. But they express concern about opportunities to earn enough money to buy food.

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081102/ap_on_re_as/as_myanmar_cyclone_
recovery;_ylt=AoBSM67gxcYSKm3mpGUipeCs0NUE

Vietnam rice troubles could affect region

March 20, 2008
by Cecil Morella 

LOS BANOS, Philippines (AFP) – Vietnam‘s farm sector is reeling from outbreaks of pests and disease that could threaten its neighbours including China, according to one of the world’s leading rice experts.

A vendor puts rice into a bag for sale at a rice market in Ho ...
A vendor puts rice into a bag for sale at a rice market in Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam’s farm sector is reeling from outbreaks of pests and disease that could threaten its neighbours including China, according to one of the world’s leading rice experts.
(AFP/File/Hoang Dinh Nam)

Hanoi and the world scientific community have yet to find a way to prevent another crop failure following a virus attack on rice crops last year, said Robert Zeigler, head of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Vietnam is the fifth-largest rice producer and number three exporter in the world, and last year’s troubles hit some of the best rice-growing areas, Zeigler told AFP in an interview at the Institute, just south of Manila.

“The fact is, they got taken by surprise and they had some significant yield losses that they were just not….

An elderly woman sits sorting rice at a rice market in Ho Chi ...
An elderly woman sits sorting rice at a rice market in Ho Chi Minh city on March 6. Vietnam’s farm sector is reeling from outbreaks of pests and disease that could threaten its neighbours including China, according to one of the world’s leading rice experts.(AFP/File/Hoang Dinh Nam)

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 http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080320/wl_asia_afp/foodcommodityricevietnam
chinapest_080320061706

Related:
Inflation and Food Shortages?

Vietnam cracks down on hamster craze

March 7, 2008

HANOI (AFP) – Vietnam has launched a crackdown on hamsters, a wildly popular pet here in the current lunar Year of the Rat, fearing an influx of the foreign-bred rodent furballs could spread disease and destroy crops.

From next Monday, anyone possessing or trading hamsters faces stiff fines of up to 30 million dong (1,875 dollars), the Vietnam News daily reported, citing a new agriculture ministry directive to enforce a ban imposed last month.

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http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080307/od_afp/
vietnamhealthanimalshamstersoffbeat_080307085225

China’s inflation highest in 12 years

February 19, 2008

BEIJING, China (AP) — China’s inflation accelerated in January to 7.1 percent — its highest rate in 12 years — after devastating snowstorms worsened food shortages, setting back government efforts to cool rising prices, according to data reported Tuesday.

Economists are warning that inflation could rise further in coming months due to food shortages and high costs for coal and other industrial materials before easing later in the year.

Read the rest:
http://www.cnn.com/2008/BUSINESS/02/18/china.inflation.ap/index.html?section=cnn_latest 

Cold Weather Kills 60,000 Cattle In Vietnam

February 18, 2008

HANOI, Feb 18 (Bernama) — An ongoing record-long spell of cold weather in Vietnam’s northern region, which started on January 14, has killed nearly 60,000 cattle, mainly bull and buffalo calves, China’s Xinhua news agency, quoting local press reports Monday.

By February 17, the spell had killed a total of 59,962 cattle in the region, including 7,349 in Ha Giang province, 6,400 in Lao Cai and 5,571 in Bac Can province, Pioneer newspaper quoted Hoang Kim Giao, director of the Animal Husbandry Department under the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, as saying.

The cold weather also killed 104 hectares out of 260,000 hectares of the Winter-Spring crop in the Northern region, mainly in Thanh Hoa province, Nghe An province and Hai Phong city.

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http://www.bernama.com/bernama/v3/news_lite.php?id=314502