SKIP X

Feeding Ourselves

Feeding Ourselves

The sidewalks of Bangkok. (SlapAyoda/Flickr)

New York: January 29, 2001

Keynote Speaker:
Nitin Desai, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs

Panelists:
Roy Prosterman, President, Rural Development Institute
Jaimie Cloud, Director, Sustainability Education Center at The American Forum for Global Education
Malcolm Bale, Sector Manager, Rural Development Unit, East Asia and Pacific Region, World Bank

Introducing the Panelists:
Brian Halweil, Research Associate, Worldwatch Institute

Moderator:
Dr. Mahnaz Ispahani, Deputy Director of Human Rights and International Cooperation, Ford Foundation

 

Program is followed by a Question and Answer Session

Nicholas Platt

Good evening. I'm Nick Platt. I'm president of the Asia Society and I'm just delighted to welcome all of you here. The Society is honored to host this evening's event, “Feeding Ourselves: Strategies and Solutions to End Hunger in Asia.” This is being held in conjunction with the opening of a major photo exhibition on hunger in Asia by the renowned Japanese photographer Hiroji Kubota. This program is part of Asia Society's new and exciting initiative entitled the "Asian Social Issues Program," a public-education initiative which looks at critical social challenges like poverty, environmental degradation and human rights violations in various parts of Asia and considers the solutions and the responses that are being generated in the region to address these challenges in a sustainable and a coherent manner.

This evening's panel event examines the critical issue of hunger that exists across the globe, as well as relative solutions and the commitment and vision that is required to address this challenge. Major funding for this evening's event was made possible by generous grants from the Ford Foundation, Ward Woods, NHK Joho Network, Ronald Anderson, David Hirsch, and Fuji Film. We'd also like to thank State Senator Roy Goodman for making possible a grant from the New York State Offices of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and also Magnum Photos for helping to organize and support Mr. Kubota's work.

I hope you'll all join us after this panel event for a reception and a viewing of the photographs that will be held at the Asia Society offices across the street on Park Avenue. Mr. Kubota, where are you? Please stand and take a bow. We're delighted you're here. I've long been an admirer of your work. That said, I would like now to welcome Dr. Mahnaz Ispahani, the Deputy Director of Human Rights and International Cooperation at the Ford Foundation, who will preside this evening and introduce the speakers. Mahnaz, the floor is yours.

Dr. Mahnaz Ispahani

Thank you, Nick. I will be brief because I think we have a very interesting and important discussion ahead, but would like to add my welcome to Nick's this evening. Hunger, as we all know, is not a new phenomenon, nor is famine, but, as Amartya Sen says, it is intolerable in the modern world. We live in an age of potential abundance of food, of wealth, and of innovation, where it is actually possible to feed all of us in the North and the South and the city and in rural communities.

Obviously, the problem of hunger is an urgent one, but when we begin to consider the strategies and policies to combat it, to eradicate it, the choices are very complex. The issues raised, and which I'm sure you will hear about today, from land rights and use to biotechnology, from the type and extent of government regulation to public action, from the connections of hunger to population growth and to the environment, to the rootedness of hunger in economic and in social inequalities, particularly as they affect poor women, I think these are issues that require solutions based on political will, cultural and environmental knowledge, and the costing out of the costs and benefits of scientific innovation.

Our main speaker today is Mr. Nitin Desai. I'm very pleased to introduce him. He has a distinguished record of public service, which you can read about in the bio that you have with you. He began his career first with the government of India and then continued at the United Nations. He has served in many capacities. Since 1973, in India's Planning Commission, in its Ministry of Finance and most recently as Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs at the UN.

Nitin Desai

Ms. Ispahani, Mr. Platt, ladies and gentlemen, it's a pleasure for me to be here to participate in this panel which the Asia Society has organized on ending hunger in Asia on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition of photographs by Hiroji Kubota. We've been looking at those photographs and they truly are stunning and astounding. We're also meeting at a very sad time for one part of Asia, the part I come from, which has had to cope with one of the most horrendous earthquakes that it has known, ever, and we still do not know how bad the situation is likely to be. So at this time, when we meet on this issue of hunger in Asia, our hearts should also be with the people particularly in Gujarat who are at the moment suffering from this great catastrophe which has hit them, and deserve not just our sympathies, but our help, also--more substantial material assistance.

The theme that we have before us for today is essentially on hunger in Asia, one of the most densely populated, but also one of the fastest-growing parts of the world. My job as a keynote speaker is like that of an overture in music--not to try to spell the full problem out, but to basically list the themes which I'm sure the other speakers will pick up and elaborate with far greater competence than I possibly could.

The evidence is well known. The part of Asia that we normally talk of when we discuss agriculture is not actually the geographic Asia. When you hear the term “Asian statistics on agriculture, ” it actually refers to Asia east of Afghanistan. Asia west of Afghanistan is grouped together always with North Africa, into something called the “Near East.” I don't know near to what, but it's called ”Near East,” and this is the normal terminology. So, most of the numbers that you hear when they say “Asia,” they really mean Asia east of Afghanistan. The greater part of this mass, which has a little over 3 billion people, is essentially a rice-growing, rice-consuming area, with some wheat-growing, wheat-producing areas to the western and northern fringes. It has an agricultural ecosystem which is truly unique, monsoon-dependent, stretching out over virtually the entire year in terms of the crop cycles.

Amongst these 3 billion people, in terms of the latest assessments made by the FAO, something like over 500 million are undernourished. The numbers can be broken down. Most of them, as you would expect, are in two countries, China and India. Most of the population happens to be in these two countries, China and India. But something more can be said about these numbers. First, the trends. Over the past 20 years, the extent of hunger in Asia has come down. If we look at the numbers which the FAO projects, then over this time period, the extent of hunger in Asia as I've defined it, has come down from, roughly 32% of the population in '79-'81--let's say 1980--to around 17% of the population in the period '96-'98, which is a very substantial achievement and it's more or less reflected in most parts of Asia. Second, the depth of hunger. This is one of the other things that we tend to look at, also, in our statistics now--not just how many people do not have a diet which is adequate in terms of daily dietary energy requirements, but also how far are they below this? This assessment has also been given by FAO and one sees that basically, for most parts of Asia, particularly the very densely populated countries of China and India, what one is talking of is a relatively small deficiency in the daily kilocalorie requirements amongst the people who go hungry.

If we look at the trend a little more closely, one finds that the greater part of this gain was realized in the '80s, and that in the '90s, progress has been significantly slower. In fact, the year 2000 was a year when, in South Asia, per capita food availability actually declined and we also had, in the late '90s, the experience of this terrible famine in the DPR Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. So it's not as if the broad picture that I described of declining hunger necessarily is something that one can take great comfort in. You must also recognize something else. This is what the numbers were: 32 to 17. But when one starts looking at it a different way, what we call anthropometric measurement, actually going and looking at children, particularly, and seeing what the weight relative to age and height is, and plotting that, then the numbers look very different. If you look at the anthropometric measurement of undernourishment, Asia has very high numbers, numbers much higher than the incidence of kilocalorie deficiency which I just gave. In places like South Asia you get numbers like 50% of the children are underweight. Even in Southeast Asia, you get numbers like 30% are underweight, and that's the sort of number you get in sub-Saharan Africa. China is a bit lower. And this is a puzzle. Why should this be, even now--these are not old data. These are data for the '90s, late '90s. Why is it that despite these numbers, which show that more people seem to be in a situation where they're getting enough food, why is it that the anthropometric measurements do not necessarily show the same results? They show similar trends, but not as much.

Perhaps the answer lies in the measurement. Perhaps, in a sense, a small person is not necessarily a weak person. But there may be other factors, like the intra-family distribution of food and this is one which we may have to look at. Just to give you a sense of this, I want to just describe to you one case. One of the very interesting things that the FAO has done is they actually went and observed some people for 24 hours, or days, and then tried to write a description of a particular person's diet, and then analyzed that. The story I'm going to read to you is about a Pakistani adolescent girl, Tahira Khan. Her name is obviously not her real name. Tahira Khan is a newly married 15-year-old in an isolated hill community in Pakistan. In the morning, she fetches water to boil for chai tea, which she drinks with milk and sugar. She and her mother-in-law prepare the family breakfast. After the men leave for the fields, Tahira eats her share, generally one parotta, which is a type of pancake, made of whole-wheat flour and ghee, which is clarified butter. Once or twice a week, she also has an egg fried in ghee. She and her mother-in-law spend most of the day on household chores, and in the afternoon, Tahira eats one chapati--a light, white bread--with a vegetable preparation made of potatoes and eggplants. When the men return from the fields, Tahira serves the evening meal, and then eats herself. This is usually, one chapati and, again, some vegetables. As the village is difficult to reach, the family depends on the gardens for most of their food, so the variety is limited. When her diet was analyzed, she probably has an adequate level of protein, but of low quality, because it comes mostly from the wheat. Pulses would improve it, but she doesn't get enough of that, and she, of course, has a very low intake of fat. Her limited diet is a concern because she is still growing and, in particular, she needs more calcium for herself and her children. When one analyzes her diet, what one finds is that she had a diet which is roughly in the region of around 1,600 kilocalories, as against what she should have, which is around 2,200.

The reason I'm reading this story out to you is essentially to reflect something else, that hunger is more than a matter of simple food availability. Hunger is also how food gets distributed. How food gets distributed amongst people within a country, which is largely a matter of entitlements--do people have the income to be able to buy the food which is available--and how food gets distributed within the family. Let me mention here that in the aggregate, Asia right now produces enough food to insure everybody a diet which is adequate in terms of daily energy supply requirements. The problem is that there are 500 million people who do not have the income which would allow them to buy the food which is available in Asia, and within families there's a story of tight rations. There are problems of how food which the family consumes is distributed amongst these people [family members].

What this leads to is some categorization of who are the hungry people in Asia. Who are the vulnerable? In terms of categories in all parts of the country: children, women and the elderly. In terms of occupations: nomads, artisans, landless laborers, small farmers, people living on the fringes of the informal sector in urban areas. Where are these people who are vulnerable to hunger? Typically in ecologically stressed areas--dry lands, mountains, coastal areas, somewhere deep in the interior. When do they suffer most? Typically in periods of production stress, when you have a severe drought or immediately before the harvest comes in, when local food stocks are always at their lowest. I've given this description of the evidence as I call it, because I think this is what should help us to define what measures are required, what the structural reforms required are, what the strategies required are.

The first category of strategies that one should look for are what I would loosely describe as food nutrition interventions, interventions which seek to modify the way in which available food and nutrition is distributed amongst the people in the country. This has to refer not just to the big, big area of energy and proteins, but also micronutrients, because micronutrient deficiencies in things like iron, iodine, vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium are also very widespread. The sorts of things that one can do here, which governments have tried, is to modify the distribution of food which would take place under normal circumstances. I will just list them and I hope that the panelists later will pick up some of these.

One, typically, food-for-work type activities. Whenever you get a drought, then you organize food-for-work activities so that the people who are in need of food are given work which allows them to buy food which you presumably get from other parts of the country or abroad. I would say one of the success stories of Asia, particularly in South Asia, has been the way in which a very organized system of famine relief has been put in place so that it has not had a major famine--the types of cases of famines which you got in pre-independence days. I was involved a bit in the 1987 drought and the whole system kicks in fast. You don't wait until people are dying of starvation. You start moving with food-for-work schemes when people can go out for work. You don't wait until they are starving, as they do in many other parts of the world. But I hope somebody else will pick up some of these themes.

The second, food for work is typically something that you do in situations of special stress, when you have a major drought which affects an area. Not that that's the only time you need to do it. In many parts of India it has been used also under normal circumstances like an employment-guarantee program so that people who have a deficiency of employment in their dry season or the agricultural off-season have a source of income. This is not as if it's strictly only a drought-relief measure. It can be a part of the welfare policy. Through the UN, through the World Food Programme, we do support a lot of this type of activity, food-for-work activity.

Third, food supplementation, particularly for vulnerable groups, like children, women and elderly. This is a major class of interventions which can be done--a midday meals program for children in schools to ensure that they get at least one nutritious meal a day. Supplemental feeding programs to take care of micronutrient deficiencies. Supplemental programs to deliver extra nutrition to pregnant and lactating mothers. This is what I call food supplementation, and it has an important role.

Fourth, overall a system of either outright subsidies or publicly managed distribution to ensure that poor people have access to food at affordable prices, what's often called a public-distribution system or a food subsidy. Many of my colleagues in the economics profession don't like it, but I promise you, it plays an important role in ensuring food security for a lot of households. The challenge is to design it so it doesn't get misused.

There are other areas that one can talk of: Nutrition surveillance and education, and related areas of health and sanitation. Take sanitation. There is a study in India which shows that improving water supply does more for children's health than supplemental nutrition because, by reducing diarrheal diseases, their uptake of nutrition from water consumed increases so much that you really don't have to have the supplemental nutrition and there are studies which show that this is probably often a better intervention than direct supplemental feeding. There is an example of Thailand, which did this. Early in the '80s, it identified around 286 districts and if you look at them, they're all remote districts--way up in the north, bordering on Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, and deep, way down in the south. They identified these, they studied them, and they put in a program--not food for work, but supplemental feeding, nutrition education, production of nutritious foods--with dramatic results. What we're talking of is between '82 and '92. In anthropometric terms, undernourishment declined from 35% to 8%. Moderate undernourishment from 8% to 2%, and severe undernourishment from 2% to practically nothing. This is from '82 to '98. So it can be done and this is something that was done in Asia.

These are all measures to improve the distribution of food, but if you look at the longer term in Asia, and particularly if you look at some of the material which has been put here in the article by Gordon Conway, which Lester Brown has often written about, if you look ahead, it's not clear that Asia does not have a production problem. It's not clear that what we have had over this green-revolution period which has helped us to sustain the food economy, which has helped to maintain the availability of food so that the governments have to focus mainly on issues of distribution and entitlement, will remain. I'm sure that many of the panelists will pick up what are the prospects for a substantial expansion of food production in Asia in order to keep hunger away.

Our present trends--we believe that we can meet the Food Summit target of having the people end hunger by 2015. But much more is going to be required than just food-distribution policies. Trade can be only a marginal element in meeting Asia's food needs. They are too large. We've got 3 billion people, half the population of the world. One cannot design a food production system in land-surplus countries and expect to move what would be astronomical quantities of food across the seas into these Asian countries. Asian countries will have to basically grow their own food. I'm not talking of the Near East, some of the smaller population countries with oil wells, which is a different matter. But the Asian countries that I'm talking of, which is monsoon Asia, rice Asia, will have to depend essentially on their own production.

The key areas of concern here are, one: land and water management. Asia's land availability is way below the world's. So in the world as a whole, we have roughly one and a half hectares per person. In Asia you have something like between 0.3 and 0.5 hectares per person. It's lower than, say, Europe. So you have an extremely low level of land availability. There are severe problems of water stress, much of which has been described here in the prefaces, the preface to the book by Mr. Hiroji and water stress may be the key problem in Asia in the future. Yet, we need intensification. So one great challenge is, can we really have an integrated management of our land and water systems in Asia so that we maximize the productivity and do what Gordon Conway describes as a doubly green revolution--a green revolution which is green in that it produces more, but a green revolution which is green in that it also conserves and protects the resource base. He describes it as a doubly green revolution. So there's one great challenge. There are experiments, there are examples where this has been done, and this is one area we need to look at, along with some ownership issues, both on land and water.

Second, markets. The message of liberalization has been given in Asia. It's certainly liberalizing very rapidly. But I do not believe that Asian countries can rely essentially on the international trade for meeting their food needs. Nothing against liberalization, but I would say that the primary focus of agricultural policy in Asia must be food security, rather than just creating efficiency. This, for an economist, is a heretical view, but I do believe this. I'm not sure that the focus of policy in Asia should be in terms of creating efficiency. It should be in terms of long-term food sufficiency and long-term resource management, because I do not think that neither Asia nor the world can have an Asia dependent on the rest of the world for feeding itself.

Finally, the other area which we will have to focus on is issues of technology, clearly issues of technological research, and that has certainly been one of the major advantages and gains of international cooperation for the past decades--the whole CGIAR mechanism, which has released between 70 and 100 new varieties. The capacities available in the Asian countries for agricultural research are substantial, but there are problems cropping up. I don't know how many of you saw the article in the New York Times on Saturday, “Rice Genome Breakthrough.” It's interesting. Read this article. Two private companies have decoded the rice genome, sequenced the rice genome. They're still a long way from actually using it for manipulating this, but the worrying thing here is the privatization of this knowledge. The whole system of agricultural research on which not just Asia's but the whole world's food security depends was a publicly funded, publicly available research system. You would not have had the maize breakthroughs you got in the United States in the 1920s with this. You got it with public research on hybrid maize, and that's true even in Europe. The great breakthroughs of agriculture in the 20th century have come from public research, publicly funded. One of the fears many of us have is the decline in support for such publicly funded research; the privatization of what should be public knowledge.But are we really gaining in terms of more, quicker results through privatization? What's the difference between this and the public project to decode the genome? Two years. The public project will have the same information available by 2003. It's two years' difference, and those two years, this leads to privatization. Even more disturbing that they're not really interested in rice. They decoded the thing because they want to use the genetic information from rice to improve the crop varieties which are of interest in the industrial countries. So they're not even really interested, it appears, in rice itself, but in using this information for crops which are really meant for other purposes. It's the equivalent in series of making redder, rounder tomatoes. It's, in some sense, almost an abuse of biotechnology. So there are problems here, problems of fealty which will have to be looked at. I would say that this is going to be the difficult area of policy in the years to come.

I believe between this, food and nutrition policy, agricultural production policy are the complex things we are to get right if we are to meet the problem of hunger in Asia. I do not want to go on at this point and I really would look forward to listening to this. Let me just conclude by inviting you to look at the photographs of Mr. Kubota. They're very, very interesting. They are photographs of the people in Asia working in the fields, the land in Asia, the markets in Asia, and a few photographs, even, of the rubbish heaps in Asia and I think this is what we need to look at, because in the final analysis, this is not about numbers. This is about people, their livelihood, their security, and their well being. So I hope that we can address these issues in a compassionate, meaningful way which really addresses the concerns of the people like Tahira that I was talking about. So I thank you very much and I look forward to listening to your comments.

Mahnaz Ispahani

Thank you very much, Mr. Desai. That was a richly informative opening to our discussion. I'm going to turn the program over to Brian Halweil who is a Research Associate at the Worldwatch Institute who has written extensively on the social and ecological impacts of how we grow our food. I don't want to take any more time from Brian.

Brian Halweil

Thank you. I also don't want to take up too much time, because we have a wonderful panel ahead of us. Our food systems are incredibly complex. They're influenced by ecological interactions, microbes interacting in the topsoil, plants interacting with pests aboveground, chemicals that we put on the soil interacting with both plants and microbes. They're also influenced by social structures, men and women interacting in households, one farming culture interacting with another, different farming communities trading between themselves. Most recently, as agriculture is integrated into the global economy, there's yet another layer of complex interaction that's laid upon these and these include, as Mr. Desai mentioned, global patent laws, international trade agreements, sanctions against certain countries which influence food supplies, and a range of other interactions.

What this complexity basically means, it virtually guarantees that any attempt to modify the global food system, any attempt to eradicate poverty, to alleviate hunger, is going to have to be multifaceted. It's going to require many different approaches, so I'm excited to introduce our three panelists who, although they all work towards reducing poverty and hunger around the world, take different approaches, some legal, some economic, some educational, and some ecological.We have a slight change in the program order. Our first speaker is going to be Malcolm Bale, who joins us from the World Bank. Mr. Bale is Sector Manager for Strategy and Policy in the East Asia Regional Unit of the World Bank. Since joining the Bank in 1978, he's undertaken economic research on commodity trade, international trade policy, and has been an economic policy advisor in 20 countries. He's published articles and books on international trade and agricultural issues. He has also testified before the U.S. House and Senate on these issues. He has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Wisconsin, and he's also a member of the editorial board for the International Journal of Agricultural Economics. Mr. Bale.

Malcolm Bale

Basically, the words that I'm going to say are very much supportive of what Mr. Desai was speaking about. I'm just going to give you a few ideas and a few numbers. I was asked to speak first on food security and my basic hypothesis is that the main issue of food security that we should be concerned about is at the household level, that food and security is basically caused by poverty, that poverty is basically found in rural areas. Therefore, if we're interested in food security issues, we should be working on rural poverty alleviation efforts. A disclosure: that is my area of expertise, so I may have a conflict of interest. So, as I mentioned, there are three levels of food security. At the global level, food security is not a particularly great issue in as much as we observe abundance of food. In a lot of countries we observe, international food prices have been falling.

At the national level, I would argue that this is an issue for a decreasing number of countries in a decreasing number of years. It's not an issue we can ignore. It's an issue we have to be constantly vigilant about, but it is not the number one food security issue. I would argue the number one food security issue is household food security. This is a major issue for the development community and, as Mr. Desai said, there are half a billion people in Asia alone who are undernourished. So let's talk for a moment about household food security. The major cause is a lack of income. People lack income because they are living in poverty. They don't have access to the resources from which to generate income. These, I'm sure, are facts that you know. Women and children are more badly affected by poverty than are men. Most of poverty is found in rural areas. In excess of 70% of poverty in Asia is in rural areas, and some will say to you, “Well, there's terrible poverty in the urban areas of the large mega-cities, we see.” That is true. Most of that comes from rural areas that have migrated to those urban areas looking for jobs. So poverty alleviation efforts, I claim, we need to look very hard at the rural areas for that.

Let's look at the number of people--I'm just going to give you a few numbers--the number of people living on less than a dollar a day. This graph is divided according to World Bank regions, so on the left we have East Asia and Pacific, which is one of our regions and then the middle right is South Asia, so those are the two that we are interested in and you can see that the number of people living on less than a dollar day is perhaps a little bit short of 1 billion people in the region which we might call Asia, South Asia and East Asia put together. Those are 1990 figures. The 1998 figures, you can see that we are getting a little bit better in East Asia, a little bit worse in South Asia. If we look at it as a share, we get very different numbers. We find as a share of the total population that sub-Saharan Africa is by far the worse. South Asia is still very bad and most have been improving over the years, over the '90s. So the challenge of persistent poverty, we find there's malnourishment, despite the fact that we observe over a long period falling commodity prices. Poverty is down from 29% globally to 24%, but that still means that we have 1.2 billion people living on less than $1 a day. Most of the poor live in rural areas, and they will do so for another generation. The rural share will not drop below 50% before 2035, and other 35 years, 34 years.

As people who know about development, you will know about the World Food Summit that was held in 1996. This graph shows you the gap between those who are nourished and those that are undernourished, and you can see as we go out towards 2015, relative to the World Food Summit that was set, the gap is getting wider. I'm afraid we're not winning. The gain, just looking at a pie chart of undernourishment--this I thought was extremely illustrative in that it shows China and India in Asia almost make up half of the undernourishment by region. So, if we are interested in making a difference in the nourishment of people, I would suggest that those two countries should command the majority of our attention. Other Asian Pacific areas make up another big quadrant, so Asia in general is really the area where we find most of the poor, undernourished, underfed people.

So, I would just throw out a few ideas now of what might be priorities for the development community to assist with food security. Firstly, we need to encourage good policy by governments. We need a stable economy; we need competitive markets that enable food security to happen. We need to promote agriculture, agricultural trade and investment and we need to do this so that we'll benefit all people, including the poor. There are some developments that possibly leave the poor out, and Mr. Desai raised a very important issue on biotechnology and property rights issues and whether this, in fact, is reaching the poor. We need to strengthen agricultural research and strengthen agricultural education and education in general. We have to put into the hands of rural people--we have to provide them the same education as we see in urban areas so that they have the option of moving away from survival on the land to other income-earning opportunities. Finally, we need to improve the food assistance safety nets in countries. Most developing countries, especially in Asia, do not have social safety nets; do not have any social welfare system. We need to put in place; we need to think about what we can put in place that will target the poor, especially targeting the vulnerable, who are the women and the children. Thank you.

Brian Halweil

Our next speaker is Roy Prosterman. He's President of the Rural Development Institute (RDI), a Seattle-based organization working on land reform and land rights. He's also a professor at the University of Washington School of Law. For more than 30 years, he's conducted field research, provided technical assistance in over 30 developing countries. The work has focused on drafting legislation that secures land rights for the rural landless. The work of Prosterman and his group has brought land ownership or owner-like rights to more than 400 million of the world's rural poor. Professor Prosterman has been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize. Mr. Prosterman.

Roy Prosterman

Thank you very much. I've been told that I should try to keep this to about ten minutes, so I'm going to deal with some highlights I've done over the years, village field work in most of the major Asian societies where hunger is an issue currently. The Rural Development Institute is very active in the three most populous Asian societies--China, India and Indonesia--among others. I am always struck by the fact, when I go to the villages, that very small farmers can feed themselves. They can farm with sufficient intensity. They can apply labor for which often there is a zero opportunity cost. There is no other place to apply the labor in such a way that even from a holding of a hectare--two and a half acres--or less, they can feed their family and create a surplus sufficient to buy a motorcycle, a color television set, build a brick house, put decent furniture into it. We saw precisely this happen, of course, in a series of major land reforms supported with foreign aid; I might say, from the developed countries, foreign aid which is now sadly lacking in amount. But we supported, very successfully, land reforms in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, which essentially ended hunger in the rural sectors of those countries. One of the best measures, perhaps, because it's an absolute end result, is the death of infants and children. Are they surviving or are they dying? The evidence is that 60 to 70% of infant deaths can be attributed directly or substantially to lack of nutrition.

If you gather the data for principal Asian societies today, looking first at the land reformed societies--it's very interesting. Japan now has an infant mortality rate under 4 per 1,000 live births, considerably lower than that, indeed, in the U.S. or most of Western Europe. But not only Japan, South Korea is at 11 per 1,000 live births, essentially at Western European and U.S. levels. Taiwan is at 7 per 1,000 live births. Vietnam is not too far behind, about where the U.S. was in the late '50s or early '60s. They're at 31 per 1,000 live births. China also has had major land reform, including decollectivization. It was the first of the centrally planned economies to decollectivize completely in the early '80s, with consequences I'll talk about in a moment. But you contrast with that the infant mortality rates, let's say, in South Asia, in countries which unfortunately have not addressed the issue of land and access to land and security on the land. Bangladesh is 82 per 1,000. Pakistan, 91 per 1,000, and India, 72 per 1,000. Even the lowest of those, India, has an infant mortality rate largely hunger related, which is 2.5 times that of China, which is the highest among the land-reformed societies.

For the farmers that we have visited in the villages who have produced sufficient food even on half a hectare, even on less than that, to feed themselves and to make at least a materially minimally sufficient life for the household, all share one characteristic in common. That is that they all have ownership or owner-like rights with respect to the land that they farm. Putting it another way, there is no landlord or landlord-like figure in the picture for them. Another way to look at it is simply to look at yields and land, of course, is the really scarce input through most of Asia. Capital is also scarce. Labor is generally plentiful. You look at the intensity of production on land in terms of the last three years of average grain yields, first in the land reformed societies, South Korea at 6.5 tons of grain per hectare, Japan at 6 tons of grain per hectare, Taiwan at 5.25 tons of grain per hectare, and China at 4.85 tons per hectare. Contrast that with the production in the societies where land tenure remains a severe issue. Pakistan, just over two tons per hectare was the lowest of the figures I have just been giving. India at 2.2 tons per hectare. Bangladesh at 2.7 tons per hectare. The Philippines, by the way, another country that has ignored the issue, at 2 and a third tons per hectare, and interestingly, North Korea, the People's Democratic Republic of Korea, where land remains collectivized, at 2.25 tons per hectare. Which leads me to briefly note that there are really two different kinds of land reform which are needed in Asia, depending on history and circumstances. One is decollectivization, making it possible for farmers to leave their collective with their share of land and farm individually. When we talk to Chinese farmers after they had broken up the collectives in the early '80s--we talked with them in '87 and '88, initially, after about five years of experience with decollectivization--overall productivity had gone up by then nearly 60% per hectare. Farmers described to us their family nutrition. Before, under the collective, a bowl of thin rice gruel at each meal. Afterwards, now, farming land essentially of their own--although there are some tenure issues I'll mention in a moment--they would say to us: “We can have rice, not just gruel. We can eat as many bowls as we want and, indeed, we have meat twice a week or three times a week, whereas previously meat was reserved for times like the Chinese New Year.”

But China didn't go all the way at that point. Farmers still had insecure rights to their individual farms because the local cadre could shift them around on new pieces of land in the name of readjustment for demographic change and in 80% of Chinese villages, that happened every three to five years. Now China's going the next major step, implementing a 1998 land-management law, which gives farmers not full, private ownership in a Western sense, but what the farmers regard as very adequate rights: 30-year use rights embodied in formal, written contracts. China has now gotten those formal contracts to 60% of its population, 60% of 200 million agricultural households, one of the largest administrative development tasks in history, about which, by the way, not a word has been written anywhere in the Western press. It simply seems that these issues are not regarded as ones of sufficient interest, but it is a program having a huge impact.The other kind of land reform is the more traditional land reform in developing countries, where landlords or plantation owners have some, at least, of their land redistributed to those who are completely landless or those who are tenant farmers.

What we've seen in recent work in both Indonesia and India is that you don't even have to get a full-size--quote, “full-size”--farm of a hectare or half a hectare. Even with a few hundred square meters as a garden plot, you can put a house on it, so you don't have to live in the landlord's house and be tied to work for him for 60 cents a day instead of a dollar a day, and you can produce enough grain or vegetables, either to sell in the market or to consume yourself on a parcel typically of about 300 to 400 square meters, 4,000 square feet--that's about 1/10th of an acre. You can meet 30 to 50% of the nutritional needs of a family of four if you intensively farm with high motivation that kind of small, owned parcel and I suspect that the direction of land reform as we move into the new century is going to reflect, increasingly, that kind of redistribution which will involve small amounts of land so that it can be done mandatorily, to be sure, but essentially as an eminent domain proceeding, not as a confiscation proceeding in which a reasonable price is paid for the land. That's affordable in India. It's affordable in Indonesia, in Bangladesh and Pakistan. It could go very far indeed towards making people not only nutritionally self-sufficient, but giving them dignity and empowerment, as well, which is one of the key results of land reform. Thank you.

Brian Halweil

Our final panelist is Jaimie Cloud. Miss Cloud is the Founder and the Director of the Sustainability Education Center at the American Forum for Global Education in New York City. The mission of the Center is to promote the concept and the process of sustainability in educational environments through collaborative programs, research, professional development and materials dissemination. Miss Cloud has written several curricula materials on sustainability, most recently and most relevantly, “From Global Hunger to Sustainable Food Systems.” Miss Cloud.

Jaimie Cloud

Okay, so as the formal educator in the group, let's review. I have to do that. What is the essential question for tonight? Can Asia feed itself? Okay, that's the essential question. What do we need to know in order to address that question? I've decided to address four areas. Is anybody feeding themselves on this planet? Is any country or any region feeding themselves? Why are people hungry? What are the rules? What do we need to know in order to solve the problems? And what might some of the options be, given those first three areas. So let's look for a moment at, “Is anybody feeding themselves in this world?” Now, first of all I would like to ask any of you who can see this, if you'll see, the lightest colors are the least amount of hunger on the map and then as it gets darker and darker you have a higher percentage of global hunger. So first of all, what's missing? And now you can answer this question. I'm not going to always answer my own questions. What's missing?

Inaudible comment from the Audience

Jaimie Cloud

Yes, what's going on in the North, there? The answer is “comparable data not available.” Do not think that there are not hungry people in that northern part of the map. We could not find a map anywhere. We just published a book. If any of you have a map of the real hunger statistics in the North, please give it to us. We checked every source. I find it very interesting that we couldn't find it anywhere and we know where to look. But obviously, if anyone here has one, tell me later. So we don't really know, but we do know that hunger is on the rise in the U.S. and in many, many northern countries, so let's be clear about that. And then you can see clearly in other areas, hopefully, that other than the North, which we really can't determine, there's a problem of hunger everywhere. It's not only in Asia. Okay?

Now, let's review again in terms of what the reasons for hunger are. Can any of you give me some of the reasons that you think, whether you've heard it here or you already came knowing what the reasons were, what are some of the reasons for why people are hungry?

Answer from Audience

Distribution

Jaimie Cloud

Poor distribution. Okay. What else?

Answer from Audience

Population.

Jaimie Cloud

Population. That's a myth. Actually, there's absolutely no correlation between population and hunger, so that's one of the myths. There are a lot of myths. That's why I like to ask this question right up front. And there's all kinds of data that I can help with on all of the myths. There are lots of them. I have it with me, so afterwards, if you need details--but as they go through and look at population, in almost every country where there's hunger, there's no correlation. For every country that's very highly populated and hungry, you can find five or six more that have a lot of people and they're not as--their statistics are much better in terms of hunger. What are some other reasons?

Answer from Audience

Political Agendas

Jaimie Cloud

Political agendas, uh-huh. What else?

Answer from Audience

Water scarcity

Jaimie Cloud

Water scarcity. Yes, ma'am, uh-huh. What else?

Answer from Audience

War and conflict.

Jaimie Cloud War and conflict never helps. Okay, what else?

Answer from Audience

Lack of money.

Jaimie Cloud

Lack of money, right. Poverty. Malcolm mentioned that. All of those are true, and again, there are a lot of myths. It's not true--nobody said there's just not enough food produced on the planet. That's great, because a lot of people used to say, “Well, there just isn't enough food to go around.” We all know now obviously that's not true. So, unfair distribution, that's correct. A lot of times, countries are cash cropping and doing monoculture for export and not diversifying their crops, not leaving enough income to--and that's where the redistribution doesn't happen in a country. So they might be good for the GDP, but the money is not staying in the countries and the land is not being used for diversified crops to feed the people. So we have to ask ourselves, “Where's that money going?” We will do that in a minute.

Overproduction in some places and not enough production in others. Again, the distribution problem. Waste is a huge problem, waste in every aspect. Waste in certain kinds of agricultural practices, waste in production, waste in consumption. The statistics here in New York City--and a lot of my colleagues who work in this field are here, so they can correct me if I'm wrong--but I believe that the amount of food waste just in New York City alone could feed the amount of hungry and homeless people that are here in this city. If you just looked at the numbers, that's crazy. Just by not wasting, that's something. You also mentioned war. Also, I would give some credit to some of our neoclassical economic assumptions, and we're going to talk a little bit about that. What's going on there that needs to be evolved? Of course, we all know that economics is not a science. You know that, right? It's a set of assumptions that's constantly changing and evolving. Some people think it's a science. I always have to tell people about that. So I'm just going to--since there are all kinds of reasons for hunger, I'm going to just look at two of them tonight: the unfair distribution and the neoclassical economics.

Is anybody here familiar with the concept of the ecological footprint? The ecological footprint, I know this looks daunting, but let me explain what it is. An ecological footprint is the measure of how much space your lifestyle takes up, how much physical space your lifestyle takes up. That's in terms of biological capacity sources and sinks--how much land you need for all the things you eat, for all your transportation needs, for your housing, your furniture, everything about your lifestyle. I've got these statistics because I was here with a distinguished panel. I won't go through all of these, but in a nutshell, if you divided up the planet just among human beings--forget about sharing it with the rest of the species, which you know we have to do--and everyone were to get exactly the same amount of space on the planet for sources and sinks, we'd all end up with about 4.5 acres to work with. Sources and sinks. It doesn't mean you'd live on 4.5 acres, but you'd have that to work with. It's a good amount.

Most U.S. Americans use 27 acres, and most people in the two-thirds world use less than 0.5, sometimes up to 1 or 1.5 acres. So in terms of distribution, there's a major problem worldwide, and this is the footprint of nations. I actually have Asian footprints. In the U.S., food makes up about 20% of our ecological footprint. It's different in every country, so I can't say that in every Asian country 20% of the footprint is food, and they didn't have--this is done at Redefining Progress. You can find wonderful, wonderful statistics there, and this ecological footprint is the invention of Mathis Wackernagel who is the director of indicators there at Redefining Progress. So you can see--now this is all done in hectares. Let me pull up the Asian one. You see that I've ticked off two countries here: Indonesia and Malaysia. There are, globally, nine countries so far who are not exceeding their ecological capacity. In other words, all but nine countries on this planet are using more than they have in their own countries to use. Now, that's all told in terms of their ecological footprint, including their food footprint. Now, what do I mean by that? I mean they're borrowing from somebody else, and when you're in a world on borrowed time, borrowed money and borrowed land, where are you borrowing from? In some cases, those that are not exceeding their biological capacity, it just means that there's more land than people. It doesn't necessarily mean that they're living any more responsibly. It just means they haven't hit their capacity yet, so you have to look at their consumption patterns and all the rest.

So in terms of distribution, you can see here, some countries don't have any. Poor Hong Kong doesn't have any ecological capacity. So whether any region of the world can actually feed itself without the support of any other country in the world, there are some questions about that globally. The Northeast of the United States cannot support the Northeast of the United States. We cannot support ourselves right now. We don't grow grain anymore. We could over time if we actually wanted to do that, but we have to look--this is a global set of global systems, so feeding people in a particular region and people being able to feed themselves is connected to so many other systems globally and regionally, so that's something to think about in terms of unfair distribution. Whenever we talk about population, we always talk about consumption because you can see, relatively speaking, the U.S. has a small population but is using more than our fair share of resources.

The next thing that I wanted to talk about is the neoclassical economic system and I am going to go quickly. The first thing I want to talk about is the market. There are some problems with relying on just the market to solve our problems globally. That's the invisible hand. That's the market, that beautiful market that's so elegant and works so well, except for two things. There are two market failures according to the ecological economists who are evolving our economic system to include the ecological system as the big banana within which the economic system is a subsystem. The two market failures are the fact that the market was not designed to take care of public goods--the common good, in other words--and it was not designed to take care of externalities. We do not include all the costs of doing business in the price you pay at the store. Most of the costs of doing business are externalized. Who pays for those costs? Somebody's paying for them. It's not the person at the store and it's not the manufacturer, it's the rest of society, so we have to look at that.

The other thing we need to look at is--how are we measuring? What are the indicators we're using to measure success? We see--does anybody remember very quickly what the GDP measures? What does the GDP measure, gross domestic product?

Inaudible Answer from the Audience

Jaimie Cloud

Sorry? Goods and services. Economic activity. Is it good activity or bad activity, or do you know from the GDP?

Inaudible Answer from the Audience

Jaimie Cloud

Right. It's not qualified. The GDP just measures activity. Oil spills, disasters, crime, all good for the GDP, because it generates--you need more locks, you need more security guards, anything that increases economic activity is good for the GDP, not necessarily good for us. And you can see here that this is the gross domestic product versus the genuine progress indicator. The GDP goes up. If you include volunteer labor, cost of crime, family breakdown, underemployment, ozone depletion or the loss of old growth forests in your measurements, the indicators are different. Since I have to wrap up here pretty soon, there are three other wonderful indicators, alternative indicators to the GDP that you should keep your eyes on: the index for sustainable economic welfare, the measure of economic welfare, and then there's another one, the economic aspects of welfare. If you deduct half of the advertising cost, deduct pollution control costs, deduct an estimate of air pollution damage, health costs and natural resource depletion, you can see how it's different. GDP goes up, all those things go down. So, again, you just want to think about, what are the indicators? How are we measuring success or poverty and where is it going?

Lastly, I just wanted to explain something about the rules. You have to know what you're working with, what the rules are. If you want to develop a sustainable plan for the future, you need to know what the rules are. This is from The Natural Step. It's a scientific framework, and it helps us to “prescind”--this is a wonderful word. You should write it down. “Prescind”: P-R-E-S-C-I-N-D. It means, “to be able to focus on something while at the same time keeping the big picture in mind.” This is what we always have to do in this world. We live in a world of systems, interdependent systems and unless you understand system dynamics, you cannot solve any problem. You cannot solve a problem here and create three more over there without eventually messing up the problem you just solved.

So these are just some of the rules and I'll end with this. Very quickly, you cannot take out from the earth's crust more than the earth's ability to reabsorb it. I'm going to paraphrase for you. The second one is that we cannot create human compounds that cannot be broken down by nature. If they don't come from nature and they don't appear in nature, it's very difficult for nature to break them down and they just pile up. The physical basis of productivity, we have to leave enough ecosystem services--enough green space, basically--to produce all the things we need to live on this planet. And we have to have justice and equity, not only for the moral and ethical reasons you'd think, but because without equity you cannot have sustainability. If people have to eat their seeds to survive and with that kind of footprint disparity, you cannot have sustainability. If everybody wants to live like the U.S., American, we'd need four planets and we have one. I think I'll end there. Thank you.

Brian Halweil

Thank you very much, Ms. Cloud. I just wanted to quickly open up the room for questions and discussion and I might say, because it's been longest since Mr. Desai's presentation, if there were questions specifically for him, if I could ask if those might come first.

Question and Answer Session

Question from the Audience

Mr. Desai, you said that most of the increases or decreases of world hunger or in Asia happened in the 1980s as opposed to the 1990s. Can you give an explanation as to why you think that was?

Nitin Desai

Part of the explanation is productivity growth in agriculture was more substantial in the '80s than in the '90s. There is some evidence for the slowing down of the green revolution in Asia during the '90s. This is one possible explanation. Second, I think there possibly has been a significant stagnation of rural incomes during this period in Asia which could have had an impact. And it's very likely that, although we don't know enough, that maybe some new problems of urban poverty and urban malnutrition are coming in with the demographic changes which have been taking place in Asia. I don't have a full answer as to why this is true, but my guess is most probably because of the slowing down of the cereal production growth during this period in Asia. As I said, for the first time in the year 2000, we actually had a decline in per capita food production. Not because of weather, just simply straightforward--the trend line basically declined.

Question from the Audience

Jaimie, in light of what Roy Prosterman described about a plot, I think in China, how can you say that family size or population is irrelevant to hunger?

Jaimie Cloud

There is no evidence that--for every Bangladesh, for example, which is densely populated and hungry--we find Nigeria, Brazil or Bolivia, where abundant food resources coexist with hunger. So again, it's not the only issue. There's enough food in the world for the population of the world we have. So it's not about, there are too many people and not enough food. That's just not the problem and it's not that we're not producing enough food. So in certain places, the population can put a strain on it, but there's no evidence that that's the problem. In the future, it could be a problem, but not right now.

Brian Halweil

Professor Prosterman, maybe you might like to add something.

Roy Prosterman

Just this thought, that perhaps this is a place where action is possible. The head of the Indian Family Planning Program once told me development is the best contraceptive and if you look at the countries that have succeeded in family planning, succeeded in reducing population growth to 1% or less per year, they are all, or virtually all, countries that have carried out grassroots development. The land reform societies that I referred to are all also societies that drastically cut their rural birthrates in the wake of land reform, first because land ownership gives old age security with less need for multiple kids to provide that security. Secondly, because it leads to better nourished, better-fed kids who don't die in infancy and childhood, so you no longer need insurance births, so there is an important link between these key rural reforms and success in family planning.

Brian Halweil

So the relationship is much more complex. At times the presence of malnutrition may actually encourage additional childbearing.

Jaimie Cloud

And it's also connected to consumption patterns. Again, you can have low population with extremely high consumption patterns and still have hungry people, such as in this country.

Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya

Hi, my name is Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya. I'm a public health physician. I'm always disturbed at talks like this, because during my whole training I would sit and watch how we would analyze, how we would “prescind,” as you used the term, and I wonder how we can strategize to do things from within to extend to what is without ourselves. By that, I mean that it has to start at home. There's an expression that says that change starts within our own selves and within our own home before we can extend out into the world. I wonder how many of us here in our privileged places would be willing to give up what we have in order for others to receive. Now, I know we all do that on some level if we're working in public health or in various parts of society, but I think creating those changes is very difficult and I'm wondering if you have actually thought about what we can actually do at home, specifically examples such as when we go to conferences and waste ourselves. I've gone to a lot of hotels where we waste food. To eat everything on our plate is considered to be rude, so we have to waste food. We leave the lights on in our hotel rooms. We waste resources. We take cabs instead of carpooling. These kind of things are waste and we are propagating waste in everything that we do in the corporate and nonprofit world. What kind of strategies do you see us trying to do at home so that we can extend out into the world?

Jaimie Cloud

Who are you addressing?

Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya

Anybody.

Malcolm Bale

I'm sure everybody on the panel has a view on that and I'm going to give my answer, which looks at a rather larger level than yours and speak about U.S. foreign aid. If you look at the--apparently there are a lot of people who aren't very interested in giving very much, but in the U.S., when you look at foreign aid, there's a very interesting difference between what people think they're giving in the U.S. and what they're actually giving. Surveys have shown that the U.S. population thinks that a just amount that the U.S. should be giving for developing countries for official development assistance is somewhere around 5%. The U.S. in fact gives something like 0.1%. If the U.S. gives about $12 billion in official development assistance a year, whereas people think it should be maybe ten times that amount, they don't realize they're giving that little. Just to give you an idea of what $12 billion looks like, the U.S. at the same time gives in direct payments $28 billion to about 150,000 U.S. farmers.

Jaimie Cloud

My colleagues here in the city who work on this issue would say as much as possible by regionally, by seasonally. It reduces the transportation costs, in encourages integrated, smaller farms. We want to maintain, especially in this region--we lose about 1,000 small farms a year, just in New York State alone, and you lose a lot when you lose a small farm, and so they would say, “Find out what grows here. If it grows here, eat it.”

Nitin Desai

First, I think changes in attitudes do have to take place, as the very sharp change in attitude to tobacco, which has come about in one generation, basically. It is a very sharp change in attitude to tobacco. Big changes in attitudes in certain other areas of diet. Much more attention--I believe people pay attention to recycling in many countries, not simply because the municipality insists that you do, but out of a genuine sense of concern. So things are changing. Yes, the changes are sharpest when people sense a threat to their own health or to their immediate community. Can we make them start doing the same things for a broader community, which is the world as a whole?

I think in some ways what is happening and what has happened over the past 150 years does mark some sense of moral progression. It started with the abolition of slavery. People said slavery is wrong, not just in their own country, but wherever it was and we're ready to give up things for it. Now, I think we have progressed. People do accept an obligation to help children in distress, to help people in situations of famine, to help innocent victims of war. There is a sense in which there is a moral progression of the human race and I have always felt that the most important role of the United Nations is to find and make it possible for people to come together in such expressions of shared concern, shared values, and I believe that we have managed to move the envelope. There's not going to be a dramatic change. It's not going to happen overnight, but I do sense that there is some forward movement, and perhaps for the first time in history we really actually think of ourselves as one community at the global level. It's just never happened before.

Brian Halweil

I think there's a question over there, and perhaps since we're getting towards the end, we might take a few questions all at once and then we could respond.

Question from the Audience

I don't want to get into a debate, because the panelists have agreed or decided, I think, beforehand, not to tackle the population relationship, but I want to cite some facts. You talk about Asia, Asia has the most successful population programs and they have shown, the East Asian countries, that they have pursued the policy, along with economic development and population programs. Although we cannot ignore the population facts of life--I'm not saying the relationship is academic--but the facts of life are that we are living in unusual countries and countries have to import food in relation to their population size. If the population size is less, of course they will import less or consume less. The facts cannot be ignored. Not the academic debate whether population growth produces more production of food or less production of food. That's a technology debate, a debate of investment. But we cannot ignore population data and the population history of Asian countries, which have been very successful. Asian countries have had very successful population policies, particularly in the Asian countries. I don't think we should ignore that data or body of literature or body of knowledge which is evident and available. I don't want to debate now, but you cannot ignore that fact that population does make a difference in poverty. The way you define poverty, of course, is a question, because somebody defined poverty as lower levels of infant mortality. Infant mortality is not just a product of food nutrition. Repeated pregnancies can also have a high infant mortality. It's a question of how you relate, but population facts cannot be and, in my opinion, should not be ignored in this kind of a debate.

Brian Halweil

Maybe we'll take a few more questions before--or comments.

Question from the Audience

We've heard from a number of the panelists about looking at women and children as the victims of food insecurity and I just wanted to make the comment that in most of Asia, as well as around the world, women aren't just the victims of food insecurity, but they are the primary producers. In Asia, I believe it's about 60% of the agriculture production is done by women, so they're also the ones responsible for all of the family--primarily for education, for health, for really addressing all the key issues that are ending hunger in their communities. So I just wanted to see if anyone could look at the issue of how to support women, not as victims, but as producers and as the change agents that are making a difference in this issue.

Jaimie Cloud

One of the paradoxes we have on the planet is the hungry farmer. That's all I have to say about that.

Brian Halweil

We can take one more question.

Question from the Audience

Land reform was mentioned from a couple of different angles, and I was wondering, one, with regard to the example of Japan and Taiwan and South Korea, at what stage land reform occurred? Was that a key ingredient in their subsequent economic progress or was it more an aftereffect of economic progress that they'd already made? Separately from that, it sounds very intuitive that land reform would be quite powerful and beneficial to people that are living below the poverty line, but has anyone come up with a reasonably viable model, given the fact that landed interests are so politically powerful that you can turn to a country like India or Pakistan or Bangladesh and say that this is a feasible mechanism for you to implement on a widespread basis?

Brian Halweil

Professor Prosterman, if you'd like to address the land reform question first.

Roy Prosterman

The land reforms in Taiwan and South Korea were carried out at the very start. There are some quite good studies on the initiating effects of the land reform. What you had was the bulk of the population turning from tenant farmers into owner-operators. Income increased fourfold within the first 15 years. Production doubled. Farmers with much greater income not only could feed themselves much better, they also were able to buy a wide range of goods and services, so the stimulation of the whole rural economy ensued, and all of that really happened before there was substantial export growth.

In large societies like China or India, where there's a huge internal market, much of which is too poor to buy most anything that's produced by commerce or industry--China much less so, now, but India and Bangladesh and Pakistan very notably--land reform, I think from past experience, can have a significant transformative impact. I, just very briefly at the end of my comments, talked about the idea of garden plots or microplots and there are new approaches to land reform. Hopefully all the copies haven't been taken, but one of the RDI reports, entitled "A New Vision of Land Reform for the 21st Century," was on the back table. If those are all gone, let me know, and we'll be sure to send a copy to anyone. But there are new approaches to land reform needed, different than the ones that were undertaken, in many respects different from the ones that were undertaken after World War II.

Brian Halweil

Mr. Desai, did you have some closing remarks on these questions?

Nitin Desai

May I just comment on the population? I think you're right, that you cannot ignore that, but more precisely, to the very first question which was asked. Yes, I think population, the family size, does have an impact on health status and nutrition status, perhaps most immediately by what it does to the intra-family distribution. The more children there are, the chances are--the greater there is likely to be undernourishment, et cetera, amongst children. And certainly, the number of pregnancies has a big effect on a woman's health, so I think it would be completely misleading to say that health and nutrition status do not depend on family size at the household level.

I think the thing we need to avoid is to move from this to a macro argument, to say that densely populated countries are somehow more prone to hunger than others. That I don't think necessarily follows, because applied at the individual household size level, where I think it is very true--it does affect nutrition. The more children there are, the worse off the family is in some real sense. Possibly population growth, as distinct from population density, may be a more significant factor. But I still prefer to think of population policy as part of a framework of health care where you are obliged to provide people with what they want. We have to provide family planning services because women want them, and it doesn't matter if there is a problem of numbers or not. If women want them, we are to provide them. End of story. It has nothing to do with whether it's good or bad. This is the change that we had in Cairo. I just thought I would interject at this point, yes, I agree with you, but it's probably most important at the household level.

Brian Halweil

We're actually running over time and I just wanted to give our other panelists a chance to respond. I'm sure they would all be happy to stay here for questions afterwards, but on the three questions related to women as nutritional gatekeepers, the population issue and also land reform, some closing remarks.

Jaimie Cloud

Just a couple of things on population. I think Under-Secretary Desai, that's exactly what I was trying to say, but he did it so very, very well. On women, it's so true that most of the farmers are women in this world, and it is quite a paradox that we have hungry farmers. It's a strange statistic. When we did our materials we found that out. That, of course, is largely due to the fact that they don't make enough money to buy the crops that they grow, nor do they make enough to buy the crops that they actually need to eat, which is often not the crops they're growing. So how do we help the women? We help them by helping the communities to rethink the cash cropping and so forth. Once there's enough for everyone, then sometimes the excess can certainly be exported and generate additional income. You had asked me a question before about what can we do as individuals, and so for globally, please try and buy food that's fairly traded and other items.

Malcolm Bale

Just a couple of quick answers. On the women issue, you're quite right that women are in large part in large areas of the world the producers of food, but they're not necessarily the consumers. They are first mothers, and as mothers, they inevitable sacrifice for the good of their family. They almost inevitably eat last, and if there's anyone hungry at the family level, it is the mother. So that's just a fact that we notice, and therefore something we may want to address.

On the land issue, there may be some interesting examples from Latin America, which has the worst land distribution of anywhere in the world, and someone asked, “What can we do? What do we do differently?” One of the things we have to address is the reasons for the maldistributed land and one of them in Latin America is land is seen as a store of value. Land is seen as a store of value, because in times of inflation, it maintains its value. So one of the ways is if we stop inflation. It ameliorates the need to hold land in order to protect your wealth, so the large landholders may be more willing to sell than they are during a time of inflation.

Also, we at the World Bank are doing a lot of work on what is called market-driven land reform, where we are putting together a whole series of landless people who individually cannot purchase land, but collectively can go to large landholders who are not using the land. In Latin America you find that a farmer--an owner will be holding huge areas of land, farming a quarter of it, maybe a half of it, but he's holding it for this wealth preservation. So if he's presented with an opportunity to sell it to a group that has some sort of government guarantee, he's more likely to do that. I think the days of taking land over the way it was done in 1970s by eminent domain and then dividing it, with or without compensation--it's difficult to see that happening in this day and age. The other thing -- in fact, I leave from here to go to the airport to go to Brazil to look at what is called “land condominiums.” These are just like a condominium in New York, only they involve land, and it's putting together parcels of land for landless peasants and renting it, as it were, in a block in a condominium arrangement for small--for landless people. This is a pilot, and it involves writing new laws and so on, and that's another idea that may be useful in other parts of the world.

Mahnaz Ispahani

Thank you. Thank you, Brian, for moderating so excellently. Why don't I propose that we take the rest of our questions and thoughts to the Asia Society, where the exhibition is opening and to a reception where we can continue this discussion, which I think has been very provocative and thoughtful. I want to thank Mr. Desai in particular for opening up the conversation and leading us into some of the most important themes, and our panelists and Brian for amplifying on them and disagreeing on some very critical points. On a personal note, I wanted to say that I was very glad to see that women are not invisible in this issue at all, and that I hope we will continue to place them at the center, both--as one of the questioners asked in the audience--not only as victims, but also as the producers of food. Thank you very much.

January 29, 2001
by admin