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Old 05-05-2008, 06:45 PM   #31
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Old 05-05-2008, 10:38 PM   #32
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Old 06-21-2008, 11:49 PM   #33
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India’s Growth Outstrips Crops

By SOMINI SENGUPTA
New York Times, June 22


JALANDHAR, Pubjab — With the right technology and policies, India could help feed the world. Instead, it can barely feed itself.

India’s supply of arable land is second only to that of the United States, its economy is one of the fastest growing in the world, and its industrial innovation is legendary. But when it comes to agriculture, its output lags far behind potential. For some staples, India must turn to already stretched international markets, exacerbating a global food crisis. It was not supposed to be this way. Forty years ago, a giant development effort known as the Green Revolution drove hunger from an India synonymous with famine and want. Now, after a decade of neglect, this country is growing faster than its ability to produce more rice and wheat. The problem has grown so dire that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called for a Second Green Revolution “so that the specter of food shortages is banished from the horizon once again.” And while Mr. Singh worries about feeding the poor, India’s growing affluent population demands not only more food but also a greater variety.

...India’s own people are paying as well. Farmers, most subsisting on small, rain-fed plots, are disproportionately poor, and inflation has soared past 11%, the highest in 13 years. Experts blame the agriculture slowdown on a variety of factors. The Green Revolution introduced high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat, expanded the use of irrigation, pesticides and fertilizers, and transformed the northwestern plains into India’s breadbasket. Between 1968 and 1998, the production of cereals in India more than doubled. But since the 1980s, the government has not expanded irrigation and access to loans for farmers, or to advance agricultural research. Groundwater has been depleted at alarming rates. The Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington says changes in temperature and rain patterns could diminish India’s agricultural output by 30% by the 2080s.

Family farms have shrunk in size and quantity, and a few years ago mounting debt began to drive some farmers to suicide. Now many find it more profitable to sell their land to developers of industrial buildings. Among farmers who stay on their land, many are experimenting with growing high-value fruits and vegetables that prosperous Indians are craving, but there are few refrigerated trucks to transport their produce to modern supermarkets. A long and inefficient supply chain means that the average farmer receives less than a fifth of the price the consumer pays, a World Bank study found, far less than farmers in, say, Thailand or the United States.

Surinder Singh Chawla knows the system is broken. Mr. Chawla, 62, bore witness to the Green Revolution—and its demise. Once, his family grew wheat and potatoes on 20 acres. They looked to the sky for rains. They used cow manure for fertilizer. Then came the Mexican semi-dwarf wheat seedlings that the revolution helped introduce to India. Mr. Chawla’s wheat yields soared. A few years later, the same happened with new high-yield rice seeds. Increasingly prosperous, Mr. Chawla finally bought his first tractor in 1980. But he has since witnessed with horror the ills the revolution wrought: in a common occurrence here, the water table under his land has sunk by 100 feet over three decades as he and other farmers irrigated their fields. By the 1980s, government investment in canals fed by rivers had tapered off, and wells became the principal source of irrigation, helped by a shortsighted government policy of free electricity to pump water. Here in Punjab, more than three-fourths of the districts extract more groundwater than is replenished by nature.

Between 1980 and 2002, the government continued to heavily subsidize fertilizers and food grains for the poor, but reduced its total investment in agriculture. Public spending on farming shrank by roughly a third, according to an analysis of government data by the Center for Policy Alternatives in New Delhi. Today only 40% of Indian farms are irrigated. “When there is no water, there is nothing,” Mr. Chawla said. And he sees more trouble on the way. The summers are hotter than he remembers. The rains are more fickle. Last summer, he wanted to ease out of growing rice, a water-intensive crop.

The gains of the Green Revolution have begun to ebb in other countries, too, like Indonesia and the Philippines, agriculture experts say. But the implications in India are greater because of its sheer size. India raised a red flag two years ago about how heavily the appetites of its 1.1 billion people would weigh on world food prices. For the first time in many years, India had to import wheat for its grain stockpile. In two years it bought about 7 million tons. Today, two staples of the Indian diet are imported in ever-increasing quantities because farmers cannot keep up with growing demand—pulses, like lentils and peas, and vegetable oils, the main sources of protein and calories, respectively, for most Indians. “India could be a big actor in supplying food to the rest of the world if the existing agricultural productivity gap could be closed,” said Adolfo Brizzi, manager of the South Asia agriculture program at the World Bank in Washington. “When it goes to the market to import, it typically puts pressure on international market prices, and every time India goes for export, it increases the supply and therefore mitigates the price levels.”

...The luckiest farmers make more money selling out to land-hungry mall developers. Gurmeet Singh Bassi, 33, blessed with a farm on the edges of a booming Punjabi city called Ludhiana, sold off most of his ancestral land. Its value had grown more than fivefold in two years. He made enough to buy land in a more remote part of the state and hire laborers to till it. Meanwhile, Mr. Chawla’s neighbors migrated to North America. They were happy to lease their land to him, if he was foolish enough to stay and work it, he said. Today, he cultivates more than 100 acres. Last year, on a small patch of that land, he planted what no one in his village could imagine putting on their plate: baby corn, which he learned was being lapped up by upscale urban Indian restaurants and even sold abroad. At the time, baby corn brought a better profit than the government’s price for his wheat crop. This had been the Green Revolution’s other pillar—a fixed government price for grain. A farmer could sell his crop to a private trader, but for many small tillers, it was far easier to approach the nearest government granary, and accept their rate. For years, those prices remained miserably low, farmers and their advocates complained, and there was little incentive for farmers to invest in their crop. “For farmers,” said Mr. Swaminathan, the plant geneticist, “a remunerative price is the best fertilizer.”

Mr. Swaminathan’s adage proved true this year. After two years of having to import wheat, the government offered farmers a substantially higher price for their grain: farmers not only planted slightly more wheat but also sold much more of their harvest to the state. As a result, by May, the country’s buffer stocks were at record levels. Nanda Kumar, India’s most senior bureaucrat for food, said the country would not need to buy wheat on the world market this year. That is good news, for India and the world, but how long it will remain the case is unclear. Will greater demand for food and higher market prices enrich farmers, eventually, encouraging them to stay on their land? There is potential, but other conditions, like India’s inefficient transportation and supply chains, would have to improve too.

How to address these challenges is a matter of debate. From one quarter comes pressure to introduce genetically modified crops with greater yields; from another come lawsuits to stop it. And from yet another come pleas to mount a greener Green Revolution. Alexander Evans, author of a recent paper on food prices published by Chatham House, a British research institution, said: “This time around, it needs to be more efficient in its use of water, in its use of energy, in its use of fertilizer and land.”

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

And closer to home, at least for most of us:
Quote:
New York Times, June 22

The sharp rise in food prices is being felt acutely by poor families on food stamps, the federal food assistance program. In the past year, the cost of food for what the government considers a minimum nutritional diet has risen 7.2% nationwide. It is on track to become the largest increase since 1989, according to April data, the most recent numbers, from the United States Department of Agriculture. The prices of certain staples have risen even more. The cost of eggs, for example, has increased nearly 20%, and the price of milk and other dairy products has risen 10%. But food stamp allocations, intended to cover only minimum needs, have not changed since last fall and will not rise again until October, when an increase linked to inflation will take effect. The percentage, equal to the annual rise in prices for the minimum nutritional food basket as measured each June, is usually announced by early August. Some advocates and politicians say that this relief will not come soon enough and will probably not be adequate to keep pace with inflation.

Stacy Dean, the director of food assistance for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington social issues research and advocacy organization, estimates that the rising food prices have resulted in two fewer bags of groceries a month for the families most reliant on the program. “We know food stamps are falling short $34 a month” of the monthly $576 that the government says it costs a family of four to eat nutritional meals, she said. “The sudden price increases on top of everything else like soaring fuel and health care have meant squeeze and strain that is unprecedented since the late 1970s.”

The declining buying power of food stamps has not gone unrecognized in Washington. In May, Congress passed a farm bill that would raise the minimum amount of food stamps that families receive, starting in October. The bill, which was passed over President Bush’s veto, will also raise for the first time since 1996 the amount of income that families of fewer than four can keep for costs like housing or fuel without having their benefits reduced. This month, a coalition led by Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. called on Congress to immediately enact a temporary 20% increase in food stamps. Officials at the Agriculture Department, which administers the program, say there is no precedent for such an action. Families on food stamps have been hit hard across the nation, but perhaps not as hard as families in New York, where food costs are substantially higher than prices almost everywhere else, including other urban areas, according to the Food Research and Action Center, a research and advocacy group in Washington. The more than one million New Yorkers on food stamps receive on average $107 a month in assistance, which is slightly higher than the average for the rest of the country. But it is not enough to close the gap in food costs, experts say.
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Old 06-22-2008, 12:17 AM   #34
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Old 10-27-2008, 10:52 PM   #35
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Ethanol no longer seen as big driver of food price

by Sam Nelson
Guardian (UK), October 23


CHICAGO -- Heavy demand for corn from ethanol makers was seen as a key driver of corn futures to record highs in June, but since then the sharp decline of corn along with other commodities shows that belief was mistaken. Corn is down about 50% from its record high in June, even as the amount of the grain used to produce the renewable fuel in the United States remained the same.

"The record high prices were a speculative bubble," said Stewart Ramsey, senior economist for Global Insight, Philadelphia. "We had a lot of reasons for prices to go up and to go up a lot and ethanol use was one of those," he added. US food prices, which normally rise by about 2.5% a year, surged by 4% in 2007, the biggest increase in 17 years. World food prices jumped a stunning 40%, causing food riots, hoarding and bread lines in some countries. The government has forecast that U.S. food prices will rise 5.5% this year and 4.5% in 2009.

...The use of corn to produce ethanol in the United States does add to the price of the grain. Analysts, including some in the ethanol sector, say ethanol demand adds about 75 cents to $1 per bushel to the price of corn, as a rule of thumb. Other analysts say it adds around 20%, or just under 80 cents per bushel at current prices. Those estimates hint that $4 per bushel corn might be priced at only $3 without demand for ethanol fuel.

Federal law calls for production of 9 billion gallons of biofuels this year and 10.5 billion next year. The requirement increases to 36 billion gallons by 2022, with ethanol supply from corn capped at 15 billion gallons. It takes roughly one bushel of corn to produce 2.8 gallons of ethanol. The Department of Agriculture has earmarked 4 billion bushels of corn, or roughly a third of this year's US corn crop, for ethanol use next year, up from 3 billion bushels or about 23% of last year's record 13.1 billion bushel crop.

Analysts said soaring corn prices were a symptom of big shifts of investment money into corn and other commodities. As big money began shifting out of stocks a few years ago, commodity markets like corn futures began climbing. "There was a speculative bubble in the market and that's one of the bigget things that came out of the market, is just that equity markets weren't good and for a while the money came into commodities," Ramsay said. By mid-February non-commercial investors, including speculators, index and hedge funds and managed pools of money, held nearly 484,000 long positions in CBOT corn futures, or 2.42 billion bushels of corn. That would be enough to produce more than 6.7 billion gallons of ethanol and more than 20 million tonnes of livestock feed, according to the Renewable Fuels Association, Washington DC.

By October those investors held about 240,000 long positions in the corn market, less than half the levels seen in the spring and early summer, the RFA said. "We had adequate corn stocks, there was no shortage of corn, that wasn't the issue," said Don Roose, analyst and president of U.S. Commodities, West Des Moines, Iowa. "What we got into is the dollar went so low, crude oil went up and that inflated a lot of things...it was that factor of the least resistance moving up...it was an all-in attitude in the commodity markets in general no matter what it was."

U.S. capacity to make ethanol has risen about 60% since last year to about 11.2 billion gallons per year, and if all the new plants and expansions come on line total US capacity would be about 13.8 billion gpy.
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Old 10-27-2008, 11:09 PM   #36
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The guardian article implies there is no food shortage, when in fact there is. The same land and water that is used to grow food for machines could be used to grow food for people. The government subsidies for corn ethanol are driven by special interests, and it requires fossil fuels to produce and distribute. It doesn't produce any net energy.
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Old 10-27-2008, 11:46 PM   #37
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Originally Posted by ntalwar View Post
The guardian article implies there is no food shortage, when in fact there is. The same land and water that is used to grow food for machines could be used to grow food for people. The government subsidies for corn ethanol are driven by special interests, and it requires fossil fuels to produce and distribute. It doesn't produce any net energy.
Well from everything I've gathered, this isn't the whole story. Yes, right now ethanol isn't the most effective means of fuel, but there have been some changes recently that lead me to believe it should still be researched and considered, there is a group now that claims they can produce the same ethanol just using the stalk, husk and byproduct.

As far as an actual food shortage that's up for debate. I haven't seen any consensus that has convinced me either way... There are a lot of factors that many reports either ignore or can't find a measurable way to factor in; such as waste, farmers who will sit on stock piles waiting for the right price(which even still happened this year after all the crop damage we suffered), etc...
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Old 10-28-2008, 10:39 AM   #38
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As far as an actual food shortage that's up for debate.
I'm referring to the billion plus in the world who are hungry.
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Old 10-28-2008, 12:33 PM   #39
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I'm referring to the billion plus in the world who are hungry.

Ok, I thought you meant even if the food was distributed evenly there wouldn't be enough...
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Old 10-30-2008, 08:22 PM   #40
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Check out spam.com

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