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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 4 - AUGUST 1994: SUSTAINABLE FARMING: A POLITICAL GEOGRAPHY

Robert L. Paarlberg

Robert L. Paarlberg is professor of political science at Wellesley College and associate at the Harvard University Center for International Affairs. Paarlberg's policy essay, Countrysides at Risk, will be published in October 1994 by the Overseas Development Council, Washington, D.C.

Farming is a threat to the natural environment in rich as well as poor countries, but the human stakes are now much higher in the developing world, where food needs are acute and growing rapidly. Roughly 700 million people in developing countries do not have access to sufficient food supplies to meet their needs for a healthy and productive life. Already because of population growth, the developing world is being asked to feed 88 million additional people every year, the equivalent of feeding a new Mexico every year. How can this production task be met if environmentally destructive farming practices continue?

In much of Africa, where crop yields will have to increase, the "mining" of soil nutrients is now helping to push average crop yields into decline. In much of South Asia, old irrigated lands are becoming saline and waterlogged and are going out of use almost as fast as new irrigated lands are coming into production. From Honduras to Java, soils are washing away on newly cleared sloping lands. In East Asia, South Asia, and Central America, the natural biological controls for crop pests are being poisoned with farm chemicals, even while the pests themselves are becoming more poison resistant.

Worsening this crisis today is a paralyzing technical debate between agriculturalists and environmentalists over what environmentally sustainable farming would actually look like. Production-oriented agriculturalists argue that environmental protection - especially protection of forests and topsoil - can be advanced through modern, input-intensive farming. Environmental advocates, by contrast, associate high-input farming with chemical pollution, a faster exhaustion of water supplies, and a dangerous loss of biodiversity. They feel it is better to hold onto traditional farming techniques suited to local ecologies and to the circumstances of ordinary resource-poor farmers.

These divergent technical preferences between agriculturalists and environmentalists have helped paralyze the international policy community. Bilateral and multilateral assistance organizations, not wishing to antagonize powerful environmental lobby groups, have become increasingly wary of sponsoring input-intensive, science-based farm modernization projects. This is one reason international assistance to farming and to farm research has recently faltered. Yet the number of people needing food in the developing world grows larger every year, while the quality of their farm resource base continues to degrade.

How can this paralyzing policy deadlock be broken? Paying more attention to geography and to politics is one way to start. In some regions of the developing world the agriculturalists are right to argue for more use of purchased inputs, while in other regions less input use is needed, so the environmentalists are right. In some regions neither group will be entirely correct, since appropriate technical changes will not take place without more fundamental political and social change.

THE GEOGRAPHY OF RESOURCE ABUSE

In Africa, agriculturalists tend to be right: use of purchased inputs will have to increase if food production is ever to increase at an acceptable cost to the rural environment. Fertilizer use in Africa today, at 12 kilograms per hectare, is only 1/4 the level of India and only 1/36 the level of Japan. Irrigation covers only 4 percent of cultivated area in Sub-Saharan Africa, compared with 26 percent in India and 44 percent in China. Africa's rural environment is at risk because too many farmers are trying to produce more simply by extending traditional low-input practices - such as shifting cultivation - into forest land, or onto drier and more fragile lands, or by shortening fallow times.

In Africa, and also in much of nonirrigated dry or upland Asia, the only way to boost production in pace with local food needs without having to cut more trees or plow up more land will be to move toward higher purchased input use and higher-yield farming. The experience of India is telling. By switching to highly responsive seeds, more fertilizer use, and expanded irrigation, India was able to double its total wheat production between 1964/65 and 1970/71. This not only helped India avoid a famine, it also helped protect the rural environment. If India had attempted to use traditional low-yield farming techniques to secure the same wheat production gain, it would have had to plow up an additional 36 million hectares of cropland, resulting in further deforestation, substantial habitat destruction, and soil erosion. Environmentalists who criticize India's green revolution should acknowledge the need to boost total production and weigh the environmental damage that would have taken place if this had been attempted without a switch to input-intensive farming.

On the other hand, the environmentalists' preference for reduced input use is fully justified in some of the more advanced Asian countries now undergoing rapid industrial development, such as Taiwan and Korea. An earlier switch to high-yield farming in these countries helped ease a first generation of rural environmental problems - soil erosion, tree cutting, and habitat destruction - but it has now become associated with a dangerous "second generation" of problems, including excess water and fertilizer use, inadequate nutrient and animal waste containment, loss of biodiversity, and excessive reliance on pesticides.

Agriculturalists argue that most of these are technical problems that need not permanently accompany a switch to high-yield farming. If given proper policy signals (tighter pollution regulations, more liberal trade policies, and input or credit subsidy reductions), input supply industries will innovate cleaner and safer products, and farmers will learn to profit by using inputs in smaller quantities and with greater precision. Just as these farmers originally learned to substitute larger quantities of purchased inputs for land, soon they will learn to replace input quantity with better quality and with improved management (for example, by switching from exclusive reliance on pesticides to integrated pest management).

This optimistic vision has merit, but too often it discounts political realities. Environmentally damaging input mismanagement has persisted in the rapidly industrializing countries of East Asia in part because farmers there (similar to well-organized farm lobbies in all mature industrial countries) tend to gain disproportionate political influence and then to use that influence to demand subsidies and trade protection. The predictable result is a policy set (artificially high commodity prices, combined with artificially cheap inputs) that induces damaging input use habits. Similar to politically powerful farmers in Europe or North America, farmers in these rapidly industrializing countries also use their organized influence to escape accountability for the adverse effects (mostly off-farm) that result from their careless and excessive water and chemical use.

THE POLITICS OF RESOURCE ABUSE

At a deeper level, resource abuse in farming often reflects power abuse. In East Asia, where farmers tend to be politically stronger within their sector than nonfarmers, much of the environmental damage they do reflects the subsidies they are able to command, and most of the suffering from that damage is felt by politically weaker nonfarmers (as when animal wastes pollute congested urban areas or when excessive irrigation and chemical use depletes or pollutes off-farm surface and ground water supplies). In Africa, by contrast, where farmers tend to be politically weaker than urban dwellers and vulnerable to the whims of centralized government ministries, the environmental damage they do grows out of this weakness. They use too few inputs rather than too many because their production tends to be overtaxed rather than subsidized. Lacking secure local control over the resource base, they tend to exploit and overuse good resources when given the chance, while skimping on investments in long-term protection. The environmental damage they do mostly takes place on the farm (overgrazing, loss of trees, soil nutrient depletion), so it harms farmers more than nonfarmers in yet another manifestation of the underlying power relationship at work.

These links between political power and environmental resource protection can be seen in a slightly more complex pattern in Latin America. This is a region where a politically weak rural majority, often without secure access to good land, farms alongside a politically privileged minority of commercial farmers. The result is a dualistic pattern of environmental resource abuse. Privileged commercial farmers on high-potential lands use government subsidies to overmechanize, overirrigate, and overspray, even while nearby peasant farmers, with insecure access even to low-potential lands, are mining soils, invading forest margins, and plowing hillsides in an environmentally damaging "hit-and-run" fashion.

Where first-generation and second-generation forms of environmental damage are taking place side by side, due to persistent rural social inequities and insecurities, technical solutions alone (either agriculturalist or environmentalist) will miss the point. The solution must include more fundamental rural social and political reform.

CONCLUSIONS

The sustainable farming debate will remain deadlocked until it is recast in a region-specific and politically aware form that emphasizes the vastly different circumstances of farmers in different parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. If regional precision is maintained, paralyzing technical arguments between powerful agriculturalists and environmentalists can be minimized, and important reform imperatives that go beyond technical choice can be highlighted as well.