|Traditional Field Crops (Peace Corps, 1981, 283 p.)|
|An introduction to the reference crops|
There are basically four ways of increasing the production of the reference crops:
· Improving existing cropland
· Extending cultivation to new, uncropped areas
· Improving the infrastructure
· Establishing crop improvement programs.
Any meaningful production increase will require varying emphasis on all four methods.
Improving Existing Cropland
Unquestionably, improved drainage (by land leveling, runoff canals or underground tile drains) and erosion control are high-gain investments. Erosion control not only reduces soil losses and yield deterioration, but in many cases actually improves production by increasing the amount of rainfall retained by the soil.
In the case of irrigation projects, however, the results are often mixed. Many irrigation projects have paid little attention to the potential environmental damage or to the technical problems and soil types involved. Huge dams and artificial lakes have definite appeal on paper, but have often led to drainage and salt accumulation problems, as well as to weed-choked canals and serious health hazards like malaria and schistosomiasis (bilharsia).
Pumping projects relying on wells face similar problems and can seriously lower the water table to the point of endangering the supply. Water alone is not enough to assure profitable yields which must be high to cover the added costs of irrigation. Unless such projects are carefully planned and combined with a crop improvement program, the results are likely to be disappointing.
Extending Cultivation To New Areas
The FAO estimates that total world food production increased by about 50 percent from 1963-76, while cultivated land area grew by only two percent. Estimates concerning the amount of additional cultivable land differ considerably, but suggest that the world as a whole is utilizing only about onethird to one-half of actual and potential arable land (suitable for crops or for livestock). The largest areas of "new" land are in the lowland tropics of Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. There are, however some drawbacks:
· Only a small percentage of these lands are capable of sustaining intensive agriculture because of soil or climate factors; an alarming proportion has been claimed by land speculators or is being divided up into ranches by investors, as in Brazil.
· Whether in high rainfall or in arid regions, much of this land is prone to accelerated erosion or irrigation-induced salinization (accumulation of salts at the soil surface).
· As we have seen, most of the reference crops are not well adapted to high rainfall and humidity. Pasture and perennial crops may be the best choices under these constraints.
Improving the Infrastructure
In agriculture, the infrastructure refers to those installations, facilities, inputs, and services that encourage production. The most important of these are:
· Roads and transport
· Markets and marketing standards
· Storage facilities
· Improvements to land such as drainage, erosion control, and irrigation
· Yield-increasing technology
· A viable extension service
· Availability of agricultural machinery and equipment
· Political stability
· An equitable land tenure and distribution system
· National planning for agricultural development
· Crop prices that encourage increased output
Inequities in land tenure and distribution can have tremendous social and economic consequences and can effectively dampen farming incentives for those affected. In El Salvador, 19 percent of the farms occupy about 48 percent of the land and belong to wealthy "latifundistas" (ranch-type farmers) who grow cotton, coffee, and sugarcane, frequently on an absentee basis. These farms are concentrated on the country's best soil, while the "campesinos" (small farmers) are restricted to the eroded and rocky hillsides where they grow maize, sorghum, and beans. About 47 percent of the country's farms are smaller than 2.47 acres (one hectare) and occupy only four percent of the total land. The majority of the farm units in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Peru have been designated as sub-family.
While the implementation of most other infrastructural essentials is hindered mainly by insufficient capital, land reform faces heavy political obstacles and in some cases is not feasible in terms of land supplies. Furthermore, when small farmers purchase land in densely populated regions like the Guatemala Highlands, the Cibao area of the Dominican Republic, and the lake region of Bolivia, competition frequently drives land prices too high for farming to be economical.
Crop Improvement Programs
More than any other single factor, the development of yieldimproving technology associated with the crop improvement programs of the national and international research institutes will play the mayor role in increasing the yields of the reference crops in the developing countries.