Crops That Are Fighting PovertyAcross the world, agriculture remains one of the primary sources of income for those living in poverty. A 2019 report by The World Bank reported that 80% of those living in extreme poverty reside in rural regions, and a large majority of these individuals rely upon agriculture for their livelihood. The World Bank also notes that developing agriculture is one of the most effective ways to alleviate poverty, reduce food insecurity and enhance the general well-being of those living in a community. Potatoes in China, cassava in sub-Saharan Africa, rice in Sierra Leone, pearl millet in India and bananas in Costa Rica are five examples of crops that are fighting poverty.

5 Crops That Are Fighting Poverty

  1. Potatoes in China: In 2019, China was the world’s number one potato-producing country. With a rural population of 45.23%, the nation greatly relies upon agriculture to provide food as well as income to its citizens. In Ulanqub, otherwise known as the “potato city” of China, potato farming is one of the primary means for farmers to rise out of poverty. Due to the fact that viruses have the potential to destroy up to 80% of potato crops, potato engineers in Ulanqub have developed seeds that are more impervious to viruses. These engineers place a sterile potato stem into a solution filled with nutrients to create “virus-free breeder seeds.” The seeds are then planted and produce potatoes of higher quality, ensuring that farmers are able to generate sufficient income and climb out of poverty.
  2. Cassava in sub-Saharan Africa: Cassava is a principal source of calories for 40% of Africans. This crop has traditionally been important during times of famine and low rainfall because it is drought-resistant, requires easily-accessible tools and is easily harvestable by one family. The organization NextGen utilizes genomic technology to isolate beneficial cassava traits that increase plant viability, root quality and yield quantity. By analyzing crop DNA and statistically predicting performance, NextGen is creating cassava crops that are fighting poverty.
  3. Rice in Sierra Leone: Agriculture accounts for 57% of Sierra Leone’s GDP, with rice reigning as the primary staple crop. However, in 2011, the nation was a net rice importer due to struggles with planting efficiency. The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) was developed to increase rice crop yield and decrease the labor necessary for upkeep. This method requires the use of organic fertilizers, tighter regulations for watering quantities, greater spacing between seeds to decrease plant competition and rotary hoes for weeding. As of 2014, 10,865 individuals had implemented this strategy in Sierra Leone. SRI has enabled rice to become one of the crops that is fighting poverty by increasing crop production from two to six tons per hectare.
  4. Pearl Millet in India: In India, agriculture employs 59% of the nation’s workforce, with 82% of farmers operating small farms that are highly susceptible to the negative impacts of climate change. As temperatures rise to a scorching 114℉, crops that are able to survive extreme heat are becoming necessary. Wild pearl millet, a relative of domestic pearl millet, is one crop that can withstand such temperatures. Researchers in India are breeding wild pearl millet seeds with domestic pearl millet in order to enhance resistance to heat and the common “blast” disease. With breeding innovations, pearl millet is one of the crops that are fighting poverty.
  5. Bananas in Costa Rica: One out of every 10 bananas produced in 2015 hailed from Costa Rica, the globe’s third-largest banana producer. This industry generated $ 1.1 billion in 2017 and provides jobs for 100,000 Costa Ricans. However, approximately 90% of banana crops across the nation are at risk of nutrient deprivation from a pest known as nematode, which has the potential to obliterate entire plantations. An article by CropLife International reported that a sustainable pesticide has been created by plant scientists in order to mitigate poverty-inducing crop loss and provide environmentally-conscious methods for banana farmers to ward off pests.

Developing crop viability and agricultural technology is important for poverty alleviation as agriculture possesses twice the likelihood of creating financial growth than other economic sectors. Innovations in crop production that decrease the likelihood of failure from drought, disease and changing weather patterns are important for the well-being of rural communities across the globe. Potatoes, cassava, rice, pearl millet and bananas are just five examples of crops that are fighting poverty, but improvements in different facets of agriculture have the potential to enhance the livelihoods of those who provide the world’s food.

Suzi Quigg
Photo: Flickr

The Green Revolution
Up until the early 20th century, agricultural practices in developing nations changed very little over thousands of years. Growing populations meant that these countries needed to figure out a way to feed their people. New techniques were necessary to ensure that there was an increase in crop production in places that struggled to produce proper amounts of food. These innovations were able to come to fruition by implementing what people now know as the Green Revolution.

The Green Revolution is a set of changes that occurred in developing nations that saw an increase in crop production. These changes included introducing new irrigation techniques that people could use to cultivate the land, planting genetically modified seeds that raise crops and applying chemical pesticides and fertilizers. These techniques allowed nations to produce more crops than they ever had in the past.

One of the most significant contributors to the success of the Green Revolution was an American scientist named Norman Borlaug. In 1954, Borlaug, with funding from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, developed a genetically modified high yielding variety (HYV) of wheat seeds. These seeds went to the Philippines, India and Mexico, where they were able to increase their harvest from previous years significantly. This type of seed development would lead to other HYV of seeds, including bean, rice and corn that could grow in other parts of the world. Borlaug is responsible for saving over a billion people from starvation in developing nations.

The Green Revolution and Mexico

Initially, the Green Revolution began in the 1940s in Mexico. The Mexican government received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to eventually discover ways to use dry land for massive crop production. Along with irrigation changes, the Mexican government created the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center that helped with research to discover stronger HYV of crops that can survive the arid land of northwest Mexico and produce more products. Wheat became one of the most successful crops in Mexico, and by 1960 it was able to change from importing wheat to exporting it. Mexico is now a major wheat exporter, and as of August 2019, it has exported 1 million metric tons of wheat thanks to the success of the green revolution.

The Green Revolution and India

In 1950, after the notorious famine India suffered from the decade before, the country was still struggling to feed its growing population of over 375 million. India had a problem with the number of crops it was producing; it simply was not enough. Because of the success of the HYV of crops in Mexico, the Indian government, along with funding from the Ford Foundation, was able to bring those crops to the northern Indian region of Punjab. The region of Punjab received those seeds because of its past agricultural success and access to water. The introduction of the new HYV seeds helped to avoid widespread famine and significantly increased wheat production in India. In 1960 India produced 10 million tons of wheat; by 2006 it was producing 69 million tons. Today, India’s population is at 1.3 billion and growing, so it needs to continue its success. With 44 percent of India’s current working population in the agriculture industry, there are calls by some for a second Green Revolution in order to feed the constantly rising population. In 2019, India has already set a new all-time high for wheat production at over 100 million tons, but exports are lower than previous years.

The Green Revolution and the Philippines

The Government of the Philippines created the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in 1960 with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and Ford Foundation. The institute emerged to discover new strains of rice that would be able to feed the growing population of Asia. In 1966 the IRRI produced a new form of rice called IR8, or miracle rice, that was a cross between two types of rice, Peta and Dee-Geo-woo-gen. In the 20 years following the discovery of IR8, the Philippines’ annual production of rice went from 3.7 million tons to 7.7 million. IR8 was an HYV crop so successful it saw the Philippines become a rice exporter for the first time in the 20th century. Recently it was able to export 35 tons of rice after seeing the success of its crops. The country is now the eighth largest producer of rice in the world, having produced 2.7 percent of the world’s rice.

None of the successes of the Green Revolution would have been possible if it were not for the grants from charitable organizations as well as the dedication from leaders like Norman Borlaug. Through innovation and scientific research, the world saw discoveries that helped billions in developing countries. Mexico, India and the Philippines were able to overcome obstacles such as their environment and population growth to help feed the world.

Samuel Bostwick
Photo: Flickr

Local Cambodian millers will be able to boost rice production through increased storage capacity. The progress is possible through the investment of two Chinese investors in a proposed rice storage facility.

The Phnom Penh Post reported on July 3 that two Chinese investors are interested in building a large rice storage facility. The investors, Jilin Province Investment Group Co. Ltd. and Jilin Ianzhong Agricultural Development Co. Ltd., are from the northern Chinese province of Jilin.

The Jilin province is a major food producer, specializing in rice, corn, grain sorghum, millet and beans. Unlike Cambodia, the region is also very industrialized.

According to the World Bank, the agricultural industry in Cambodia is experiencing a deceleration from its prior growth, decreasing from 5.3 percent between 2004 and 2012 to less than two percent between 2013 and 2014. At the same time, poverty rates in the country also decreased, at least partly fueled by positive developments in agriculture. The World Bank reported it at 18 percent in 2012.

With 14 percent of the population living below the poverty line, Cambodia has a higher poverty rate than some of its neighbors. For example, in Indonesia only 10.9 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line, and in Vietnam the percentage is seven.

The Asian Development Bank emphasized the importance of the agricultural industry in sustaining the economy in Cambodia.

The World Bank reported that “since 2013, Cambodia’s rice production has flattened. This was due to the deceleration in land expansion, bad weather, failing global rice prices, and the tightening of completion among rice partners.”

The World Bank also recommended a policy of developing the agricultural business and agro-processing industry in Cambodia. Structural innovations like a rice storage facility in Cambodia would be able to contribute to a boost in the country’s economy.

In addition to boosting Cambodia’s rice exports, the new rice storage facility also has the potential to allow local millers to operate year-round. With safe, dry storage, the rice will also be less likely to absorb water from the humid environment.

By increasing the number of rice storage facilities, rice farmers will be able to protect their harvested rice from the weather and increase their crop production to offset lower global rice prices.

Hannah Pickering

Photo: Google

Golden Rice grain compared to white rice
Recently, scientists at the Ghent University have successfully engineered a new folate-rich rice strain. The most notable achievement of this experiment has been the stabilization of the bio-engineered nutrition richness.

Biofortification is a relatively new venture into the field of agricultural biotechnology. It involves modifying the genetic makeup of an agricultural plant to yield a more nutrient-rich product. The results of biofortification of plants have been tested for nutritional value and bio-availability for the consumers, with promising results.

In addition to increasing the nutrition value of food products, scientists are also focusing on making the products more sustainable. New research in this area is committed to not only increasing the dietary value of the crops, but also providing for practical answers for food shortage problems globally. For instance, crops that are more resistant to droughts and natural adversities are being manufactured. Food staples such as grains are being engineered to comprise nutrients from more expensive and inaccessible vegetables.

A significant issue in the provision of sufficient food for the whole world is the problem of food wastage and storage. The world today produces more food per person than ever before; however, food insecurity continues to be an issue with the improper handling and storage of food.

Crops such as rice, wheat and other grains are generally easier to store than most foodstuffs. However, the long-term storage of food deprives them of much of their nutritional value. Micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals are likely to be degraded as a result of long-term storage, as well as the methods of storage.

Folate, or Vitamin B9 as it is popularly known, is one such nutrient. It is found in abundance in leafy green vegetables such as spinach; such vegetables are, however, difficult to store for extended periods of time. Folate is a water-soluble vitamin; consequently, it cannot be stored in the body, and needs to be replenished constantly. Folate deficiency can lead to abnormally large blood cells, and ultimately anemia, which is particularly dangerous for pregnant women.

To tackle this problem, the researchers at Ghent University took a two-pronged approach: making the rice folate-rich, as well as stabilizing the folate to ensure its availability after long periods of storage. They used a folate-binding protein- found originally in animals- to stabilize the folate molecules. The resulting molecule was found to be more resistant to degradation after storage.

The rice strain manufactured has not been introduced commercially as of yet; the public use of the strain remains subject to testing and approval by appropriate authorities. This research is, nevertheless, an innovative step in the quest for engineering more nutritious and healthier crops for ending hunger and malnourishment.

Atifah Safi

Sources: Ugent, NIH
Photo: cbnnews

The Codex Alimentarius Commission announced last week that tighter restrictions should be placed on the amount of lead in baby formula, as well as the amount of arsenic in rice.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission is an organization managed by both the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). According to the Commission, baby formula should contain no more than 0.01 mg/kg of lead and rice no more than 0.2 mg/kg of arsenic.

Codex helps to set safety standards and nutritional guidelines for food consumers and suppliers throughout the world. The Commission’s annual meeting featured representatives from 170 countries, the European Union and 30 international governmental and non-governmental bodies.

According to a 2010 WHO report, childhood lead poisoning is a common and well-understood childhood disease. With an environmental origin, a child’s exposure to lead can originate from petrol, the mining industry, lead-based paints, soil, drinking water and different forms of waste.

The report states that extensive lead exposure can result in nervous system and brain damage and even death. Acute symptomatic lead poisoning is common today in developing countries where children inhabit areas prone to lead poisoning.

While lead is a naturally-occurring chemical, it often ends up in baby formula due to the nature of the formula’s production.

Additionally, high levels of prolonged exposure to arsenic can result in cancer, skin lesions, developmental problems, heart disease and diabetes. Arsenic that is ingested can cause nervous system and brain problems.

Like lead, arsenic is a naturally-occurring chemical found in groundwater and soil. It is arguably most dangerous in parts of Asia where rice paddy fields often utilize arsenic-rich groundwater. Crop farming in raised beds rather than arsenic-tainted fields diminishes the danger of the chemical affecting agriculture.

In addition, Codex suggested that some veterinary drugs be outlawed in farm animals as a means to prevent the drugs from affecting consumable foods, including meat, milk, eggs or honey. The participating countries called for new limits on pesticide residues and additives in foods, limits on toxins and other contaminants and new safety and quality measures for certain foods.

As the Commission and the developed world seek to create a safer and more inhabitable society, tighter restrictions on consumable products may continue to play an important role in shaping the need for more reliable food standards.

– Ethan Safran

Sources: allAfrica, Nutrition Insight, World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Photo: Wikipedia

thai rice exports
Three years since the Thai government instituted a controversial rice subsidy policy, Thai rice exports are expected to regain a top spot in the world – reaching number two, just behind India.

Thailand was the world’s number one exporter of rice until 2011 when the government began paying rural farmers more for their rice than the market price in an effort to boost rural income. The government would purchase the rice from farmers at 50 percent the market rate and instead of exporting it, the majority was stockpiled in warehouses. The hope was that by withholding the rice from the global market, prices and local farmers’ incomes would increase.

What resulted however was other countries began to fill the gap as Thailand withheld their exports. Vietnam and India knocked Thailand from the top exporter position, costing the country $9.2 billion.

The subsidy expired this past February, leaving the country with 10-15 million metric tons of rice (two years’ worth of exports) left over. Much of that rice was held in storage and is now rotting or has been stolen; leaving Thai rice prices 30 percent lower than before the subsidy.

Thailand’s white rice price is currently quoted at about $380 to $390 per ton, which is around $25 and $40 less than what is offered by Vietnam and India. However, other factors such as weather could affect production. The El Nino effect, which is expected to be a factor later this year, could cause less rainfall during India’s monsoon season, resulting in a loss in rice output for India and giving Thailand the boost it needs to reclaim its former top spot.

Thailand’s population is 65 percent rural and 35 percent urban meaning that rice cultivation plays a major factor in the livelihood of much of the population. While Thailand is also grappling with a recent coup, making up for the losses from the past couple of years is a major priority as the new government works to establish legitimacy in the countryside.

General Prayuth recently ordered state-owned farm banks to disburse $2.7 billion owed to 800,000 farmers who were left unpaid for months for their rice. The government has also pledged to help with production costs including fertilizer and seeds – although it will avoid giving cash handouts. This distribution means that the government will absorb the losses from the old rice as a way to create stability and get the country’s rice production back on stable food.

While government relations may remain precarious over the coming months, it seems that Thailand will continue to develop and focus on providing its population the ability to be on top in rice exporting.

— Andrea Blinkhorn 

Sources: Which Country, FAO 1, FAO 2, World Bank, The Wall Street Journal
Photo: Flickr

As the military coup continues in Thailand, Thai military leaders delivered rice payments promised to farmers. The rice was given to the government in return of payments through a rice-pledging scheme created by Yingluck Shinawatra, the Prime Minister of Thailand, as a populist measure.

The previous government blamed the protests and the limited mandate of the government, after the parliament was dissolved last year, for the failure to pay farmers the promised sums. However, the program has been criticized for its waste and corruption, especially by the Bangkok establishment. Intended to help rural areas, the payouts are double the market price found on world markets.

Regardless, the military has made it one of their first priorities.

The Thai military ordered that 92 billion baht, or $2.8 billion, be paid out, while the country’s banks must lend the government the necessary cash.

In the national newspaper, Ban Maung, headlines read: “Farmers Receive Money With Tears of Joy,” in line with the compliant role the Thai media has taken with the military.

Despite many reports of praise from farmers over the payout, in the northeast section of  Thailand, where support for the previous regime remains high, the policy is unlikely to gain much support, according to David Streckfuss, an expert in Thai politics of the northeast region.

In Chiang Yuen, a part of Northeastern Thailand, farmers hope for a return to normalcy, in which they expect the ousted Pheu Thai party and its populist policies to return to power.

For the Bangkok middle-class, the loss of their hegemony over Thai politics left many in dissatisfaction. Particularly, many felt that the system of democracy that was in place consigned them into the structural minority. Now the middle-class views democracy as an inefficient and wasteful use of their taxes, especially as many government policies only benefit the ‘greedy poor.’

In contrast, many people from the northern provinces feel the benefits and are in favor of the previous government.

As the coup continues, the outbreak of class warfare is likely. Although the middle-class is pushing for the return to a constitutional minority rule, such a result is unlikely.

The potential for a descent into civil war in which the Northern provinces would oppose the Bangkok establishment is possible. If such a result were to happen, the effects would be devastating, displacing many into poverty and ruining the promise of the nation and its progress.

— William Ying

Sources: BBC, Borgen, Channel News Asia, New York Times, The Nation
Photo: Channel News Asia 2

mynamar monkeys
Myanmar makes strides towards reclaiming the title of being the primary source of rice exports, so named the “Asian Rice Bowl,” by doubling its rice production and export.

In fact, Myanmar aims to ship 2.5 million metric tons of rice between 2014-2015 with a targeted increase of 4.8 million tons between the years 2019-2020. In comparison, Myanmar shipped approximately 690,000 tons last year, ranking 9th in the world.

Among Myanmar’s competitors are its neighboring countries: Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. In its favor, Myanmar holds vast arable land, a large water supply and labor force, as well as low production costs.

Myanmar’s primary beneficiaries include Russia, as well as a number of other European and African countries. Half of Myanmar’s rice shipment goes towards its largest shipper: China.

However, a key hindrance to Myanmar’s growth concerns the remnants of its past military regime. Myanmar was the largest exporter of rice between 1961-1963.

More importantly, Myanmar’s prime deterrent in reestablishing itself as a large rice exporter is its infrastructure. With almost five decades run by a military junta, Myanmar has since seen little development in mechanization, basic electricity, telephone networks, and facilities such as governmental buildings are severely lacking in computers. From processing and shipment to transport, Myanmar is also lacking in the quality of its ports.

As the nation shrugs off 49 years of dictatorship rule, Myanmar is ready to show the world, particularly foreign investors, that the rules will change. In 2010, pro-democracy and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was released. Since then, many more political prisoners have been released. Political parties formed and participated in parliamentary elections in 2012 and in the same year, privately owned newspapers were allowed into the country.

Results have come about. Previous economic sanctions by the United States and the European Union have been lifted. The Asian Development Bank, in a bid to jump start the fledgling regime’s economic and social institutions, granted loans to Myanmar. Furthermore, Myanmar recently regained its position in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Despite a history of human rights abuses and ethnic and religious conflicts occurring, Myanmar is implementing necessary changes, starting with rice.

In regards to its citizens, Myanmar’s working sector is heavily tied to the rice industry in which an estimated 70% of the population partakes. Additionally, 13% of Myanmar’s gross domestic product is in the rice industry.

In order to truly be the Asian Rice Bowl, Myanmar must continue to cultivate and foster its existing industry towards creating a surplus of opportunity for its citizens.

Miles Abadilla

Sources: BBC: Increase in Rice Exports, BBC: Reforms in Burma, Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters: Analysis, Thomson Reuters: ASEAN Chair

Success often brings its own challenges. In the small Southeast Asian nation of Laos, rice yields have doubled since 1995. But this growth in production and the government’s plans to become an exporter of rice create a whole new set of challenges.

The cultivation of rice is an ancient practice in Laos, going back at least 4,000 years. And even today not much has changed. 80% of the country’s population works either part-time or full-time growing rice. For many of them, while some cultivation methods have been improved and new seed and fertilizer have allowed for increased yields, the production of rice hasn’t evolved much over the millennia. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are still rare, and the majority of cultivation and harvest is still done by hand. Despite this, yields have been increasing and the government has been raising official targets for production every year.

This however creates a problem. As the government increases targets by 200,000 tons each year, bringing the target up to 3.8 million tons this year, Laos’s rice yield falls short. Increases are no longer enough to meet targets, and attempting to do so has begun to harm the environment. Slash-and-burn is a traditional method of preparing new arable land for crops. But as the demand for cropland has increased drastically in recent years, so too has the use of slash-and-burn. And while before, on a small scale, this method was reasonably sustainable, today on a massive scale it is causing significant damage to the microclimate and ecosystem of Laos.

It’s a very real example of the pressing need for sustainable action. Previous methods that posed no threat on a smaller scale can become significant when scaled up. For Laos, the focus needs to be on continuing to raise production and meet goals of becoming a rice exporter, while simultaneously ensuring that production can remain at such levels and that there are no long-term environmental side effects.

– David Wilson

Sources: Asia News Network Radio Free Asia
Photo: World Radio Switzerland

Rice Subsidy
For five decades, Thailand was the world’s leading rice exporter. In past two years, however, since the implementation of a costly rice subsidy program, the country has incurred a 4.4 billion loss in rice exports, thereby opening a gap that Vietnamese and Indian exporters have been able to exploit.

At the end of 2011, as elections approached, Thai President Yingluck Shinawatra decided to implement a rice subsidy benefitting four million farmers. By buying their rice at a price 50% higher than the world market price and thus increasing the farmers’ revenue, he ensured himself heightened popularity with the people.

The original idea, according to the Wall Street Journal, was for the plan to “…first function as a welfare handout by replacing private rice dealers with inflated government payments to farmers. Then, in phase two, the world’s top rice exporter would drive up global rice prices by withholding its crops from the market. Once prices rose high enough, Bangkok could recoup the investment by selling off its stockpiles.”

Unsurprisingly, this attempt to manipulate market prices failed as exporters from India and Vietnam rushed in to increase their share of rice exports and boost their own productivity.

In 2012, market prices remained low and Thailand lost its position as leading rice exporter to India, as its exports dropped by 37%.

Mid-June, the government announced a reduction of the rice subsidy from $485 per ton to $388 per ton, though the price still remained higher than the world market price. This 20% price reduction angered peasants, who constitute a majority of the governing party’s traditional electorate.

Monday July 1st, the government decided to reestablish the price of the subsidy to its initial level and reexamine the question in order to placate peasants who withdrew their demonstration threats.

The loss in Thai rice exports due to the subsidy can be evaluated at 35 percent between 2011 and 2013. In 2012 alone, Thai arrived in third position, exporting 6.9 million tons of rice versus 9.5 million for India and 7.8 million for Vietnam. The ill-planned subsidy program has been disastrous for Thailand so far, and promises to deepen government debt if the Thai government does not take action.

In the meantime, the government must quickly find a way to deal with the 17 million tons of Thai rice amassed in stockpiles. With little time left before the excess rice goes bad in one to two years, the government might already have to bring down prices in order to sell its surpluses, virtually guaranteeing that its investments will never be returned.

Lauren Yeh

Sources: WSJ, Le Monde, Global Voices Online
Photo: Rice Wisdom