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close this bookBriefs for Food, Agriculture, and the Environment - 2020 Vision : Brief 1 - 64 (IFPRI)
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View the document2020 BRIEF 1 - AUGUST 1994: ECONOMIC GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT
View the document2020 BRIEF 2 - AUGUST 1994: WORLD SUPPLY AND DEMAND PROJECTIONS FOR CEREALS, 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 3 - AUGUST 1994: WORLD PRODUCTION OF CEREALS, 1966-90
View the document2020 BRIEF 4 - AUGUST 1994: SUSTAINABLE FARMING: A POLITICAL GEOGRAPHY
View the document2020 BRIEF 5 - OCTOBER 1994: WORLD POPULATION PROJECTIONS, 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 6 - OCTOBER 1994: MALNUTRITION AND FOOD INSECURITY PROJECTIONS, 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 7 - OCTOBER 1994: AGRICULTURAL GROWTH AS A KEY TO POVERTY ALLEVIATION
View the document2020 BRIEF 8 - OCTOBER 1994: CONSERVATION AND ENHANCEMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES
View the document2020 BRIEF 9 - FEBRUARY 1995: THE ROLE OF AGRICULTURE IN SAVING THE RAIN FOREST
View the document2020 BRIEF 10 - FEBRUARY 1995: A TIME OF PLENTY, A WORLD OF NEED: THE ROLE OF FOOD AID IN 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 11 - FEBRUARY 1995: MANAGING AGRICULTURAL INTENSIFICATION
View the document2020 BRIEF 12 - FEBRUARY 1995: TRADE LIBERALIZATION AND REGIONAL INTEGRATION: IMPLICATIONS FOR 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 13 - APRIL 1995: THE POTENTIAL OF TECHNOLOGY TO MEET WORLD FOOD NEEDS IN 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 14 - APRIL 1995: AN ECOREGIONAL PERSPECTIVE ON MALNUTRITION
View the document2020 BRIEF 15 - APRIL 1995: AGRICULTURAL GROWTH IS THE KEY TO POVERTY ALLEVIATION IN LOW-INCOME DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
View the document2020 BRIEF 16 - APRIL 1995: DECLINING ASSISTANCE TO DEVELOPING-COUNTRY AGRICULTURE: CHANGE OF PARADIGM?
View the document2020 BRIEF 17 - MAY 1995: GENERATING FOOD SECURITY IN THE YEAR 2020: WOMEN AS PRODUCERS, GATEKEEPERS, AND SHOCK ABSORBERS
View the document2020 BRIEF 18 - MAY 1995: BIOPHYSICAL LIMITS TO GLOBAL FOOD PRODUCTION
View the document2020 BRIEF 19 - MAY 1995: CAUSES OF HUNGER
View the document2020 BRIEF 20 - MAY 1995: CHINA AND THE FUTURE GLOBAL FOOD SITUATION
View the document2020 BRIEF 21 - JUNE 1995: DEALING WITH WATER SCARCITY IN THE NEXT CENTURY
View the document2020 BRIEF 22 - JUNE 1995: THE RIGHT TO FOOD: WIDELY ACKNOWLEDGED AND POORLY PROTECTED
View the document2020 BRIEF 23 - JUNE 1995: CEREALS PROSPECTS IN INDIA TO 2020: IMPLICATIONS FOR POLICY
View the document2020 BRIEF 24 - JUNE 1995: REVAMPING AGRICULTURAL R&D
View the document2020 BRIEF 25 - AUGUST 1995: MORE THAN FOOD IS NEEDED TO ACHIEVE GOOD NUTRITION BY 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 26 - AUGUST 1995: PERSPECTIVES ON EUROPEAN AGRICULTURE IN 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 27 - AUGUST 1995: NONDEGRADING LAND USE STRATEGIES FOR TROPICAL HILLSIDES
View the document2020 BRIEF 28 - AUGUST 1995: EMPLOYMENT PROGRAMS FOR FOOD SECURITY IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA
View the document2020 BRIEF 29 - AUGUST 1995: POVERTY, FOOD SECURITY, AND THE ENVIRONMENT
View the document2020 BRIEF 30 - JANUARY 1996: RISING FOOD PRICES AND FALLING GRAIN STOCKS: SHORT-RUN BLIPS OR NEW TRENDS?
View the document2020 BRIEF 31 - APRIL 1996: MIDDLE EAST WATER CONFLICTS AND DIRECTIONS FOR CONFLICT RESOLUTION
View the document2020 BRIEF 32 - APRIL 1996: THE TRANSITION IN THE CONTRIBUTION OF LIVING AQUATIC RESOURCES TO FOOD SECURITY
View the document2020 BRIEF 33 - JUNE 1996: MANAGING RESOURCES FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE IN SOUTH ASIA
View the document2020 BRIEF 34 - JUNE 1996: IMPLEMENTING THE URUGUAY ROUND: INCREASED FOOD PRICE STABILITY BY 2020?
View the document2020 BRIEF 35 - JULY 1996: SOCIOPOLITICAL EFFECTS OF NEW BIOTECHNOLOGIES IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
View the document2020 BRIEF 36 - OCTOBER 1996: RUSSIA'S FOOD ECONOMY IN TRANSITION: WHAT DO REFORMS MEAN FOR THE LONG-TERM OUTLOOK?
View the document2020 BRIEF 37 - OCTOBER 1996: UNCOMMON OPPORTUNITIES FOR ACHIEVING SUSTAINABLE FOOD AND NUTRITION SECURITY - An Agenda for Science and Public Policy
View the document2020 BRIEF 38 - OCTOBER 1996: WORLD TRENDS IN FERTILIZER USE AND PROJECTIONS TO 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 39 - OCTOBER 1996: REDUCING POVERTY AND PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT: THE OVERLOOKED POTENTIAL OF LESS-FAVORED LANDS
View the document2020 BRIEF 40 - OCTOBER 1996: POLICIES TO PROMOTE ENVIRONMENTALLY SUSTAINABLE FERTILIZER USE AND SUPPLY TO 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 41 - DECEMBER 1996: STRUCTURAL CHANGES IN THE DEMAND FOR FOOD IN ASIA
View the document2020 BRIEF 42 - MARCH 1997: AFRICA'S CHANGING AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT STRATEGIES
View the document2020 BRIEF 43 - JUNE 1997: THE POTENTIAL IMPACT OF AIDS ON POPULATION AND ECONOMIC GROWTH RATES
View the document2020 BRIEF 44 - JUNE 1997: LAND DEGRADATION IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD: ISSUES AND POLICY OPTIONS FOR 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 45 - JUNE 1997: AGRICULTURE, TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE, AND THE ENVIRONMENT IN LATIN AMERICA: A 2020 PERSPECTIVE
View the document2020 BRIEF 46 - JUNE 1997: AGRICULTURE, TRADE, AND REGIONALISM IN SOUTH ASIA
View the document2020 BRIEF 47 - AUGUST 1997: THE NONFARM SECTOR AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT: REVIEW OF ISSUES AND EVIDENCE
View the document2020 BRIEF 48 - FEBRUARY 1998: CHALLENGES TO THE 2020 VISION FOR LATIN AMERICA: FOOD AND AGRICULTURE SINCE 1970
View the document2020 BRIEF 49 - APRIL 1998: NUTRITION SECURITY IN URBAN AREAS OF LATIN AMERICA
View the document2020 BRIEF 50 - JUNE 1998: FOOD FROM PEACE: BREAKING THE LINKS BETWEEN CONFLICT AND HUNGER
View the document2020 BRIEF 51 - JULY 1998: TECHNOLOGICAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR SUSTAINING WHEAT PRODUCTIVITY GROWTH TOWARD 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 52 - SEPTEMBER 1998: PEST MANAGEMENT AND FOOD PRODUCTION: LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
View the document2020 BRIEF 53 - OCTOBER 1998: POPULATION GROWTH AND POLICY OPTIONS IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD
View the document2020 BRIEF 54 - OCTOBER 1998: FOSTERING GLOBAL WELL-BEING: A NEW PARADIGM TO REVITALIZE AGRICULTURAL AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT
View the document2020 BRIEF 55 - OCTOBER 1998: THE POTENTIAL OF AGROECOLOGY TO COMBAT HUNGER IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD
View the document2020 RESUMEN No. 56 - OCTUBRE DE 1998: AYUDA A LA AGRICULTURA EN LOS PAÍSES EN DESARROLLO: INVERSIONES EN LA REDUCCIÓN DE LA POBREZA Y NUEVAS OPORTUNIDADES DE EXPORTACIÓN
View the document2020 BRIEF 57 - OCTOBER 1998: ECONOMIC CRISIS IN ASIA: A FUTURE OF DIMINISHING GROWTH AND INCREASING POVERTY?
View the document2020 BRIEF 58 - FEBRUARY 1999: SOIL DEGRADATION: A THREAT TO DEVELOPING-COUNTRY FOOD SECURITY BY 20207
View the document2020 BRIEF 59 - MARCH 1999: AGRICULTURAL GROWTH, POVERTY ALLEVIATION, AND ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY: HAVING IT ALL
View the document2020 BRIEF 60 - MAY 1999: CRITICAL CHOICES FOR CHINA'S AGRICULTURAL POLICY
View the document2020 BRIEF 61 - MAY 1999: LIVESTOCK TO 2020: THE NEXT FOOD REVOLUTION
View the document2020 BRIEF 62 - OCTOBER 1999: NUTRIENT DEPLETION IN THE AGRICULTURAL SOILS OF AFRICA
View the document2020 BRIEF 63 - NOVEMBER 1999: PROSPECTS FOR INDIA'S CEREAL SUPPLY AND DEMAND TO 2020
View the document2020 BRIEF 64 - FEBRUARY 2000: OVERCOMING CHILD MALNUTRITION IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES: PAST ACHIEVEMENTS AND FUTURE CHOICES
View the document2020 BRIEF 65 - MARCH 2000: COMBINING INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL INPUTS FOR SUSTAINABLE INTENSIFICATION

2020 BRIEF 33 - JUNE 1996: MANAGING RESOURCES FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE IN SOUTH ASIA

Gerard J. Gill

Gerard J. Gill is currently senior policy adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture, His Majesty's Government of Nepal, in Kathmandu.

In the next 25 years, South Asia's food requirements are likely to double, while its natural resource base is likely to shrink. The subcontinent, which carries 21 percent of the world's population on just 3 percent of its land area, already has a high proportion of its land under cultivation and relatively little under forest and pastures (Figure 1). Industrialization and urbanization will further encroach on agricultural and forest land. Over the next quarter century, countries in the region will need to feed their growing populations on increasingly restricted natural resources, with the added requirement of safeguarding the environment and natural resource base.

The role of agriculture and the policies needed will be quite different in areas that are agriculturally favored, such as those with advantageous topography, good infrastructure, irrigation potential, and market access, and those that are unfavored, like remote areas, hillsides, forests, and places with problem soils. To generate the most benefits in terms of both food production and sustainable use, favored areas will need to move toward an agricultural structure based on comparative advantage in keeping with their natural resource base (rather than concentrating solely on feeding the population from local production). Efforts in unfavored areas, however, must concentrate on removing policies and practices that encourage degradation.

THE CURRENT STATE OF THE NATURAL RESOURCE BASE

One of the main problems facing natural resource management in South Asia is that the links between food production and the natural resource base, although strong, are both complex and poorly understood. High priority must be given to finding better methods of measuring and monitoring the natural resource base so as first to avoid counterproductive policies and then to design policies that help maintain and enhance the environment.

Although the nature, extent, and consequences of South Asian deforestation - particularly in hill areas - have been exaggerated, there is no doubt that deforestation is taking place or that it has negative effects on agriculture. These harmful effects include increased seasonably of stream flow, erosion of biodiversity, and the loss of forest-induced rainfall. The loss of leaf fodder and bedding materials resulting from deforestation means that fewer animals can be kept, which in turn has a negative effect on the organic content of the soil. Reduced availability of firewood also means that most of the remaining dung must now be used as fuel instead of being returned to the land.

Soil structure of farmland in South Asia is deteriorating as a result of the switch to inorganic fertilizers and more intensive cropping. Unbalanced use of fertilizers has led to micronutrient deficiencies. Soil erosion is depleting yields now and poses a long-term threat to sustainability.


Figure 1 - Land use by category, 1992

Source: Calculated from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World Food Model (Rome, 1993), Table 1.

As industrialization and urbanization increase, more water will have to be diverted to industries and cities, and the use of water for irrigation will therefore have to become more efficient. At present, wasteful flood irrigation is the norm, often encouraged by subsidies. Application is excessive, and evaporation and seepage losses from both canals and fields are high. Often the plants cannot use more than a fraction of the water provided.

MANAGING RESOURCES IN UNFAVORED AREAS

Growing global awareness of the need for environmental protection in unfavored areas has in many cases generated more problems than solutions. Individuals from the developed world often assume that solutions appropriate to their own natural resource problems can be applied globally. The resulting pressures have often led to quick-fix technical approaches to complex social and economic problems. Large-scale government afforestation schemes in South Asia, for example, have failed to solve the problems they were designed to address because the nature of those problems was not well understood beforehand. Before appropriate technologies can be identified, much research needs to be done on the extent, causes, processes, consequences, and costs of environmental degradation in South Asia. Nonetheless, agricultural researchers are much more optimistic about generating sustainable production increases in such areas than they were 25 years ago.

Table 1 - Growth in foodgrain yields and use of inputs, irrigation, and tractors in South Asia, 1977/79 to 1987/89

Indicator

Bangladesh

India

Nepal

Pakistan

Sri Lanka


(percent)

Average yield of foodgrainsa

28

42

15

14

24

Fertilizer use

115

114

229

102

55

Pesticide useb

n.a.

1

n.a.

-12

n.a.

Irrigation use

73

14

127

13

7

Tractor use

39

136

50

136

54

Source: Computed from World Resources Institute, World Resources: A Guide to the Global Environment (New York Oxford University Press, 1992), Tables 18.1 and 18.2.

Note: n.a. indicates not available.

a1978/80 to 1988/89.

b1975/77 to 1982/84.

This does not mean that no action should be taken while research is being conducted. Sufficient information exists about the socioeconomic aspects of an appropriate resource management strategy, even if the details need to be fine-tuned to make them site- and group-specific. For instance, state ownership of natural resources is emerging as one of the most important causes of environmental degradation. Government-owned rangelands and forests are often the most degraded, and the performance of public-sector irrigation schemes has been often grossly inefficient. The mere fact of government ownership has often caused users to adopt an attitude of dependence and short-term gain toward resource management issues.

Throughout South Asia governments have made an important start in promoting user management of common property resources such as forests and irrigation systems. Adoption of this participatory approach demands removal of policy anomalies, enactment and enforcement of laws on users' rights, and above all, decentralized decisionmaking. If recent trends in this direction continue, users themselves will increasingly have to bear the costs of any wasteful use of resources instead of being able to pass these costs on to others. Such a change can only have beneficial effects on the resource base. Conflicts over resources will of course continue to arise, and training in conflict resolution is required at all levels.

MANAGING RESOURCES IN FAVORED AREAS

Favored areas are those in which the Green Revolution flourished. Despite what is often said by its denigrators, the Green Revolution has to its credit the fact that it saved much of South Asia from the famine that was widely predicted 25 years ago. Grain yields have grown dramatically over the past quarter century (Table 1). In the absence of such intensification, production could only have been maintained by bringing more and more fragile and marginal lands into cultivation. However, the Green Revolution has also imposed a cost in the shape of growing use of potentially harmful inputs.

The challenge for the next quarter century is to feed an ever larger population and to improve nutrition without further increasing pressures on a finite resource base or causing overrapid growth in reliance on imports. In the best-case scenario, by 2020 most countries in the region can be expected to have moved toward an agriculture based much more on comparative advantage and much less on the need to feed the population directly from the subcontinent's own resource base. Policies are needed over the next 25 years to facilitate this transition in agriculture while minimizing any adverse effects on natural resources.

Like policies for unfavored areas, policies for favored areas will require an approach that emphasizes participation, empowerment, and decentralization, but the mix of ingredients will be different because the social institutions and economic pressures and prospects are different. The technology problems are also different, since favored areas have gone through one round of productivity growth, and production from Green Revolution technologies has now, at best, plateaued.

Comparative advantage has a seasonal dimension that technology development could help exploit. For most of the year, land and fresh water are in short supply, increasingly so, as urbanization and industrialization compete with agriculture for these scarce resources. In the monsoon season, however, which affects most of the subcontinent, water is abundant and there is little that can be grown on flooded and waterlogged land. Rice is one of the few crops that will thrive in such conditions, so in terms of land and water there is little opportunity cost in growing it. Rice is also the preferred cereal for most people, so demand prospects are good. This suggests that research and extension resources might usefully be concentrated on improving productivity of rice in the monsoon season and noncereal, high-value, irrigated crops in the dry season.