Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Changing face of agriculture and food-An encouraging trend

Agriculture provides bread and butter for the sustenance of population in this planet and every country strives to be self sufficient as far as food is concerned. But with limited land availability all countries cannot produce all their food needs without resorting to imports from surplus producers. Fair enough. What is galling however is the strategy, approach and practices indulged by those surplus producers to coax their land to produce more and more, year after year. The so called industrial agriculture, unlike the small farmer based economies that struggle in many developing countries, produces food that are patently unhealthy and possibly dangerous and most of the health disorders that plague the population in wealthy countries like obesity, CVD, blood pressure, cancer, diabetes etc have been attributed to the reckless way food is raised in these countries. Though dispassionate and well respected critics were crying hoarse about the direction in which agriculture has been moving during the last 3-4 decades, there is hardly any audience for them, the industry behaving as a law into itself without being checked or moderated by governments vested with the power of the people to ensure their welfare. Though there have been some minor changes in the attitude of the industry, still these changes were not considered significant enough to make any serious dent in the already deteriorating health of the denizens. Ultimately citizens are realizing that they cannot depend on the governments totally to protect them and being the consumers who sustain the industry they can have a sobering influence in the market place. According to some experts perceptible but significant changes are taking place in the food front in countries like the US where the influence of big agriculture is declining significantly and more healthy foods are providing options for them, mostly driven by consumer pressure. Read further about this epoch making changes in the food front.

"There are now more than 8,000 farmers markets in America, an increase of 180 percent since 2006. More than 4,000 school districts now have farm-to-school programs, a 430 percent increase since 2006, and the percentage of elementary school with gardens has doubled, to 26 percent.  During that period, sales of soda have plummeted, falling 14 percent between 2004 and 2014.The food industry is rushing to reformulate hundreds of products to remove high fructose corn syrup and other processed-food ingredients that consumers have made clear they will no longer tolerate. Sales of organic food have more than doubled since 2006, from $16.7 billion in 2006 to more than $40 billion today.
The kind of grass-finished beef and pastured eggs that Joel Salatin produces at Polyface Farm were so exotic in 2006 that national sales figures for them didn't exist; now, you can find these foods in many supermarkets, and both categories are growing by double-digit percentages each year. (Carl's Junior, the fast food chain, introduced a grass-fed hamburger in 2014.) From California to Georgia, there are now hundreds of farms modeled on Polyface's intricate choreography of animals. And Salatin himself has become an international celebrity farmer, a social type I don't think existed in 2006. In fact one of the most encouraging developments of the last few years has been the rising prestige of farmers, who, as Salatin pointed out, used to be the butt of dumb hick jokes. One of the most popular internships among college students today is to work on an organic farm. Most of these aspiring farmers will no doubt decide farming is not for them, but even those will emerge from the experience with a keener appreciation for what it takes to be a farmer and a greater willingness to pay a fair price for the important work farmers do. But some of these novices are evidently sticking it out: The total number of farmers in America, which had been in free fall for most of the 20th century as agriculture industrialized, has begun to rise again for the first time since the U.S. Department of Agriculture began keeping track. This is encouraging news, since it's hard to imagine creating a more sustainable and diversified agriculture without a great many more farmers on the land."

In a country like India green revolution and white revolution during the latter half of last century did bring about dramatic increase in the production of rice and wheat but the fortunes of millions of small farmers did not see much change. Thousands of small farmers are finding farm life unbearable and committing suicides to escape from misery and sufferings because the small landholdings, most of them being less than an hectare, cannot provide enough to elk out an honorable existence without heavy debt burden. The land scenario as it exists now does not lend itself to application of modern farming technologies and the financial wherewithal for adopting them is sorely missing. It is no wonder that rural farmers are shifting in hordes to urban regions looking for a livelihood as laborers and their number is dwindling fast. India is thus in a dilemma as to how it can feed its 1.2 billion plus population in the coming years having neglected agriculture for so long. The new emphasis by the present regime on agriculture needs to be translated into a mission based ground level action to save the farmers from extinction and spare the country of famine in future. Fortunately the much hated industrial agriculture has not been able to take roots in the country, in spite of the attempts being made by large MNCs and if healthy food is to be ensured this has to come from millions of small farmers who must be organized into modern cooperative organizations for large scale application of new indigenous technologies developed by our own varsities suited to small farmers. India must not repeat the mistakes of countries like the US in promoting powerful agricultural private corporates who eventually become too powerful to be controlled or moderated for the welfare of the citizens.. 


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