Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Ironies of Imperialism: Haiti vs. India

I first criticized the Green Revolution in

Perelman, Michael. 1971. "Second Thoughts on the Green Revolution." The New Republic, v. 165 (17 July): pp. 21-22; and then in a book, Farming for Profit in a Hungry World.

The Green Revolution was designed to promote capitalist development by changing class relationships in the countryside, making developing countries more dependent on imported inputs, while leaving the system susceptible to the environmental problems associated with intensive chemical agriculture.

The Wall Street Journal published an article describing the falling yields in India from the over-application of nitrogen fertilizer. A second article describes the heroic efforts of an agricultural operation funded in part by the wonderful Paul Farmer.

The articles offer a fascinating window into the contradictions of capitalist development, the unexplained damage done to Haiti by imperialism -- they do so without ever connecting the dots, but that is easy to do.

Anand, Geeta. 2010. "Green Revolution in India Wilts as Subsidies Backfire" Wall Street Journal (23 February): p. A 1.

"In the 1970s, India dramatically increased food production, finally allowing this giant country to feed itself. But government efforts to continue that miracle by encouraging farmers to use fertilizers have backfired, forcing the country to expand its reliance on imported food."

"India has been providing farmers with heavily subsidized fertilizer for more than three decades. The overuse of one type -- urea -- is so degrading the soil that yields on some crops are falling and import levels are rising. So are food prices, which jumped 19% last year. The country now produces less rice per hectare than its far poorer neighbors: Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh."

"Agriculture's decline is emerging as one of the hottest political issues in the world's biggest democracy."

"On Thursday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's cabinet announced that India would adopt a new subsidy program in April, hoping to replenish the soil by giving farmers incentives to use a better mix of nutrients. But in a major compromise, the government left in place the old subsidy on urea -- meaning farmers will still have a big incentive to use too much of it."

"India spends almost twice as much on food imports today as it did in 2002, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. Wheat imports hit 1.7 million tons in 2008, up from about 1,300 tons in 2002. Food prices rose 19% last year. Mr. Singh's government, however, said it would continue to subsidize urea, although it would set the price 10% higher.
Mr. Awasti, the fertilizer cooperative head, says the continuing urea subsidy means that farmers likely will still use too much of it. "The government is opting, as with any very difficult change, to adopt it in phases," he says. He says he believes that the urea subsidy will be dropped altogether in a year."

Twenty-one percent of the urea, 67% of the phosphorus-based fertilizers and 100% of the potash-rich fertilizers sold in India in the fiscal year ended March 2009 were imported, according to a report this month from Fitch Ratings.


Dugan, Ianthe Jeanne. 2010. "Quake Has Haiti Relying on Agricultural Program in Countryside" Wall Street Journal (23 February): p. A 15.

"An agricultural program that helped inch people out of poverty and hunger in this village about 25 miles north of Port-au-Prince is racing to feed thousands who flocked here after the earthquake. The increased role of the program, called Zanmi Agrikol, shows the catastrophe's effects on the countryside, where an estimated half-million people fled from the capital. Since the mid-January disaster, the Haitian government has been trying to figure out how to provide food and jobs in rural areas neglected for decades. Zanmi Agrikol -- which means "Partners in Agriculture" in Creole -- is one model of how the agricultural industry and cottage businesses will help meet the challenge."

""Since this business started, we have been able to buy food and send our son to school," St. Jean Nadine Wadley said recently, as she walked home with her husband and son, after washing clothes and bathing in a nearby river. Through Zanmi Agrikol, the Wadleys and 240 other families receive seeds, farming equipment as well as trees for reforestation and food, including mango, citrus and banana trees. They are taught techniques such as planting, composting and terracing sloped yards. As a result, most families here are cultivating tiny plots of land at home, so they can grow their own food and sell a small surplus."

"Now, with refugees having more than doubled the size of the village, organizers and residents are racing to expand the program. "Now we have 10 new people in our house. And we don't have enough food," Mrs. Wadley says."

"An estimated 6,000 went to Grand-Anse. And at least 9,000 journeyed to the Central Plateau, where Corporant is located. This rare reverse urban migration is creating a crisis in rural areas that were relatively stable immediately after the earthquake. Many people are looking to agriculture to help solve the problem, though most caution that Haiti needs far more than agricultural programs to turn the country around."

"It's a very dangerous situation," says Johanna Mendelson Forman, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "There is an urgency to take a serious look at expanding agricultural projects that had been in the works. The country needs to grow its own food. But it is not going to solve all the economic and socioeconomic issues." [She does not identify the "it."]

"Gillaine Warne, an Australian-born horticulturalist who runs Zanmi Agrikol.
Ms. Warne recently called an emergency meeting with 27 Haitians—agronomists, technicians, nursery men, tractor drivers, and gardeners—on the 80-acre farm where Zanmi Agrikol grows peanuts and other crops for a local nutrition program. They put together a long list of vegetables -- such as Haitian spinach, eggplant, sweet potatoes, beans, corn and peanuts -- that will grow quickly, between planting seasons, and can be harvested in three months."

"Ms. Warne, who started Zanmi Agrikol in 2004, splits her time between Haiti and Greenville, S.C. Funding for the program comes from Partners in Health, a Boston-based medical and social services organization that operates clinics and hospitals in Haiti, as well as from an Episcopal church in South Carolina and Rotary International."

"The goal is to make this region self-sufficient—"to move away from dependency on handouts," Ms. Warne said. "This is a rural country, and now it is coming back to its roots."

"Even before the earthquake, more than half of Haiti's population was undernourished. Now, food prices are too high for many people. For example, the price of a 55-pound bag of rice rose after the quake by roughly 40% to about $42, said Louise Ivers, a physician working for Partners in Health in Port-au-Prince."

"Haiti's agriculture sector accounts for 60% of the country's annual economic output, but is still sclerotic. Most land is broken into small and disorganized holdings. Haitian farmers have little access to capital, modern machinery, and marketing muscle. As a result, sectors such as the fruit industry have lagged behind those of the neighboring Dominican Republic."


r l love said...

The person who wrote the article on India's agriculture does not know enough about fertilizer to write an article on the subject. The problem as described is most likely one having to do with micro-nutrients, or ph, not a lack of potassium or potash. The ratio presented:

"In the state of Haryana, farmers used 32 times more nitrogen than potassium in the fiscal year ended March 2009, much more than the recommended 4-to- ratio, according to the Indian Journal of Fertilizers, a trade publication. In Punjab state, they used 24 times more nitrogen than potassium, the figures show."

That is a ratio of 32:1:1.5, which is not much different than standard lawn fertilizer. This may not be optimum, depending on soil conditions, but the assumption that using too much of this fertilizer composition is a cause of low yields and water waste, is...well, very unlikely, and especially so if spread by hand. I've applied as much as 500 pounds an acre (hopper), which is double the recommended amount and there was some inefficiency in terms of cost, but yields went up and the soil was in fact better the following season. A level of toxicity is perhaps possible over a long period of time, although, how a standard soil test would not be taken while a nation's production levels dropped off is a little hard to believe. Even without testing the soil anyone with 'any' experience with farming can see when nitrogen levels are too high or too low -- visually, (Excessive nitrogen causes plants to be darker and vice versa).

Significant progress is being made with biochar in India.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

The Wall Street Journal article quoted said:
"In the 1970s, India dramatically increased food production, finally allowing this giant country to feed itself.

However this statement appears to be a distortion of what actually happened. Yield per unit of farmland improved by more than 30 per cent between 1947 [when India gained political independence from the British] and 1979
The ‘green revolution’ didn’t begin until 1967. 20 years of increasing agricultural yield from India’s ‘Land Transformation Program’ occurred and only 12 years of increasing yield from the Green Revolution.

The variety of crops used in the Green Revolution needed more water, more fertilizer, more fungicides and other chemicals.