Dual Challenge

Threat of continued dependence on food imports referred to above is the result of a dual challenge: the first is the direct out-come of demographic factors while the second is related to the inadequacy of food production based on certain patterns in agricultural  growth in the past, as outlined below:

Demographic Factors

A common feature of almost all the developing countries is large-scale underemployment and unemployment, widespread malnutrition, hunger and high rate of infant mortality. Such conditions obviously have direct impact on environmental pollution and degradation leading to rural-urban migration causing massive unemployment problem especially among the educated youth in the urban centres. All efforts at holding back the surplus of agricultural labour within the agriculture sector have so far failed. No breakthrough to bring about perceptible improvement in the quality of life among the lowest income groups whether in rural or urban areas of the Third World is in sight.

Rural-Urban Migration

According to the studies carried out by individual researchers and international agencies, deepest concern is shown at the worsening employment situation especially in those developing countries which have large population. As the root-cause of poverty and unemployment lies in the rural-urban migration, the public policy for resolving the employment issue in practically all these countries has totally failed. The present crisis-like situation calls for a reexamination of a whole range of policy issues regarding farm mechanisation, enhancement of productivity especially of the small farmer and an appropriate urban growth and development policy within the overall macroeconomic frame-work for development in a longer-term perspective.

Decentralisation of the planning and programme implementation has been the weakest link in the development planning for job-creation of practically all such countries of the Third World as are large in size. The need for establishing effective machinery for administration at the grassroots level is considered to be a prerequisite for healthy change.

Selective Farm Mechanisation

Selective mechanisation means one that does not reduce the demand for labour per unit of land. Although opinions differ as to whether the overall impact of mechanisation taking into account both its “direct and indirect effects” has been labour-replacing or not, there is no denying the fact that it failed to extend its positive influence to the small farmer especially in countries like Pakistan where large majority of landholdings are small in size, Experts believe that, to benefit the small farmer, mechanization should encompass the use of hand- and animal-operated tools and implements together with motorised equipment. The latter must be used to perform all those operations that cannot be done by other means and to improve the timeliness of the farm operations, reduce human effort as far as possible and thereby improve the quality of operations. It is believed that it is not the concept of mechanisation as such that is at fault but its planning and execution requires much to be desired. It is, therefore, emphasised that a judicious selection and application of mechanized equipment is needed which should be in keeping with the requirements of various operations to be performed on the farm.

Productivity and Rural Development — Related Factors

Experts point out numerous factors which have been responsible for food shortages in the lowest-income households in the developing countries. Some of the major constraints are: small farmers’ low productivity trap; inadequate institutional setup at the grass-roots; inaccessibility of small farmer to modern agricultural inputs and agricultural credit; and so on. To overcome these constraints, a “sequential approach” to rural development and revolutionising; agriculture has been recommended together with the establishment of proper organization and participation of people at the    grassroots level. All these important subjects are taken up in the later part of this article which deals with critical issues confronting Pakistan’s future development.

Three Alternative Scenarios

To assess the magnitude of the problems of population expansion and food availability confronting the Third-World countries, three different scenarios have been constructed under auspices of UN agencies. Summary results under each could provide a broad idea about the global background against which the future strategy of the lowest-income countries can be designed and implemented. Three scenarios constructed on the basis of three sets of alternative basic assumptions regarding the rate of population growth corresponding with production of foodgrains provide a broad order of magnitude of the problem.

Alternative One is the base-case assuming the continuation of more or less the past trends. As against the annual average increase in population of slightly under one percent for the developed countries, a 2.6 percent increase is assumed for the Third-World countries, without any major shift in strategy for food and agricultural development. Alternative Two is an optimistic view regarding the success of various population and agricultural policies and their implementation in the less developed countries. It is assumed that a striking breakthrough is attained and a major shift witnessed in strategy with most favourable implications on food and agricultural production. Rate of population increase in developing countries is assumed for this scenario to be less than 2 percent per annum yielding a total increase of 75 percent in 30 years. The Alternative Three is considered as relatively more realistic than the first two as the underlying assumption for population growth is 2.2 per cent per annum yielding a total of 92 percent over 30 years. In other words, the total population in the low-income countries estimated as 2.3 billion out of the total world population of 5.8 billion (say 40 percent) around the year 2000, would rise above 3.6 billion level (or 45 percent) in the total world population of just over 8 billion by the year 2025. This also corresponds with the projection of population used in various World Bank reports.

Under each of the three scenarios with alternative underlying assumptions, a food gap for the developing world which must be met through imports seems inevitable. This would mean that under the base-case scenario, the food gap, around 50 million tons at present, is expected to be doubted to rise above 300 million tons by the year 2025. Even with the most optimistic assumption as under Alternative Two, the food gap is expected to be no less than what it was in the early 70s, i.e. around 40 million tons. Under the more realistic assumption of the Alternative Three, the food gap is likely to increase by 50 percent of its existing level. In other words, the developing countries must provide for the import of about 75 million tons annually to give a minimum nutritional intake for the poorest among poor.


Source: Poverty Alleviation in Pakistan: Present Scenario and Future Strategy, Mohibul Haq Sahibzada. Republished with permission. 

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