This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Children in Rural India Have Democracy, But Need Food

As the world waits to see if the youth-led revolt in Egypt will lead ultimately to a democratic form of government there, the world's most populous democracy, India, is struggling with the mismatch between its agricultural policies, soaring food prices, and a constantly growing population. As the NY Times reports today, the focus on growth in the "glamor" industries has left agriculture behind.
Four decades after the Green Revolution seemed to be solving India’s food problems, nearly half of Indian children age 5 or younger are malnourished. And soaringfood prices, a problem around the world, are especially acute in India.
Western investors may take eager note of India’s economic growth rate of nearly 9 percent a year. But that statistic rings hollow in India’s vast rural areas. Agriculture employs more than half the population, but it accounts for only 15 percent of the economy — and it has grown an average of only about 3 percent in recent years.
Critics say Indian policy makers have failed to follow up on the country’s investments in agricultural technology of the 1960s and ’70s, as they focused on more glamorous, urban industries like information technology, financial services and construction.
There is no agribusiness of the type known in the United States, with highly mechanized farms growing thousands of acres of food crops, because Indian laws and customs bar corporations from farming land directly for food crops. The laws also make it difficult to assemble large land holdings.
Yet even as India’s farming still depends on manual labor and the age-old vicissitudes of nature, demand for food has continued to rise — because of a growing population and rising incomes, especially in the middle and upper classes.
Clinging to traditional agricultural practices may seem attractive to many, in order especially to maintain the historical culture of rural India. The problem is that population growth has essentially thrown that model under the bus, and new ways of becoming agriculturally more productive seem inevitable if India is to survive. This will be, in many ways, as revolutionary as the changes taking place in Egypt.

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