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Hunger Hides: Here and There

Alka Singhal

GIS Development
[email protected]

Action is required to identify solutions for meeting future world food needs while reducing poverty and protecting the environment.

A millennium free from hunger- this is the theme for World Food Day 2000 to be observed on October 16 as per the announcement of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). In the present world, around 800 million people worldwide are suffering from hunger. According to FAO, the number of people was reduced by eight million per year during the first half of 1990s. If this trend continues, nearly 700 million people will suffer from chronic hunger in the year 2015. The number of malnourished children was 160 million in 1995 which will decline by only 15% as it is estimated to be 135 million in 2020. As per the estimate of the International Food Policy Research Institute, although the number of malnourished children in the developing world as a whole declined from 204 million in 1970 to 167 million in 1995, the actual number of malnourished children is still rising in many countries. Hunger and micronutrient deficiencies decrease children’s learning capacity by up to 10% and cost developing countries up to $128 billions in productivity losses alone.

The world’s population has crossed 6 billion in 1999 and despite a small slowdown in the growth rate, it continues to grow by 80 million annually. Feeding them would require about 30 million tonnes of additional grains annually or 71,000 tons per day. In a World Bank assessment, against researcher’s expectation of grain yields of 1.5 to 1.7%, yields between 1990 and 1995 rose only by 1%. According to International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the world farmers will have to produce 40 percent more grains in 2020. Increases in cultivated areas are expected to contribute only one-fifth of the global cereal production needed to meet the demand. Higher crop yields will be required to fulfill the necessary production increase.

Sustainable Food and Nutrition
Sustainable food and nutritional security should ensure that every individual has physical, economic, social and environmental access to a balanced diet that includes the necessary macro and micro-nutrients, safe drinking water, sanitation, environmental hygiene, primary health care, and education so as to lead a healthy and productive life. The principal operational implications of the above mission statement are the following:

  • Physically, the demand of food and its security will involve a transition from chemical and machinery-intensive to knowledge and labour-intensive farming technologies. There is a necessity for providing accurate, comprehensive and concise knowledge resources for agriculture. Also it requires better seeds, soil management and other improved practices.
  • Economically, food and nutritional security require the promotion of sustainable livelihoods through multiple income-earning opportunities, such as agroprocessing and agribusiness. There is a need to concentrate on the production of cash crops.
  • Socially, food and nutrition requires addressing gender, class, and ethnic discrimination against marginalised sector of society, who consequently tend to be the most food and nutritionally insecure.
  • Ecologically and environmentally, food and nutritional security involve attention to soil health care, water harvesting management, and the conservation of biodiversity, as well as to sanitation, environmental hygiene, primary health care, and education. Management of land with sustainable agricultural practices would help in protecting the environment.

Hunger Hides: Here and There

‘Sustaining’ – the meaning varies
The glimpse of the IFPRI estimates show some facts evident for the imbalance of agricultural growth in the developing countries and developed countries. The growth of farmers’ yields is slowing in both the developed and developing countries from the heyday of the Green Revolution in the 1970s. The appraisal also states that about 98 per cent increase in world population between 1995 and 2020 will occur in the developing countries. The absolute population increase will be largest in Asia (1.1 billion) and the relative increase will be highest in Sub-Saharan Africa (80 per cent). By 2020, the developing countries as a group are forecast to demand twice as much cereals and meat products as developed countries, but at the same time, a person of developing country will consume less than half the amount of cereals consumed by a person of developed country and slightly more than one-third of the meat products.

The crisis will be more as the cereal production in the developing world will not keep pace with the demand. About 60 per cent of the developing world’s net cereal imports in 2020 will come from the United States. Special mention has been given in the estimate of IFPRI as Sub-Saharan Africa will be the only region where the number of malnourished children is forecast to increase and South Asia will remain the “hot spots” of child malnutrition and food security. The above statements show that the meaning of ‘sustainable development’ varies from one country to another as the parameters of development are different.

Hunger in India
In this year, we have got the billionth baby. Are we proud of this fact? Just have a second thought. The country’s grocery list for 2030 will need to feed 1.3 billion people, the population is growing at the rate of 1.8 per cent per year. And to supply food for all India has to produce food ‘at an accelerated pace’ adding four to five million tonnes of foodgrain alone every year. But the production of the nutritionally superior grains such as coarse cereals and pulses has been extremely uneven over the last several years. It must have an adverse implication for the country’s nutritional security. One-third of the population living below the poverty line is afflicted with wide-spread protein deficiency and malnutrition. Coarse cereals and pulses are known cheap sources of protein for the common man, but for 1990s, the per capita availability of both declined consistently. From 1989-’90 to 1998-’99, while the overall annual growth rate of foodgrains production was low at 1.8 per cent, equal to population growth and that of pulses was even lower at 1.2 per cent only. The production of coarse grains did not grow at all (-0.5 per cent). The situation might be deteriorated further because of shrinkage of arable and depletion of natural resources, none of which is conducive to agricultural development.

Action is required to identify solutions for meeting future world food needs while reducing poverty and protecting the environment. This has created a window of opportunity for providing the needed knowledge resources for agriculture. The accurate evaluation and estimation, sufficient or latest information is required for timely solutions for increased productivity. One of the basic information that is not available is the cultivated area that could keep the planners well-informed of the further harvest, and prepared for food crisis in advance. Management of land with sustainable agricultural practices and methods admixed with modern techniques would help in increasing productivity and to combat with the hunger problem.

Thinking in the track of GIS
The latest decades witnessed revolutionary changes in the approaches related to spatial problems because of incredible progress in automation and computer technology especially with the introduction of modern Geographic Information System (GIS). The availability of powerful computers, sensors, and controller technology, and the installation of GPS for agricultural equipment has provided new ways to measure and manage variability within production fields. It is a powerful tool for sorting, retrieving, analysing and integrating spatial and non-spatial geographic data apart from drawing any kind of maps. The development of spatial statistical techniques has been accelerated parallel to this rapid growth of GIS technologies and there is a need to integrate the GIS and spatial statistical techniques in the field of agriculture.

In today’s competitive market, obtaining the optimum crop yield is critical to the success of farming. Yield mapping systems can help farmers identify spatial variations in yield and net returns. Determining the factors that influence yield requires information such as soil maps, topography, and periodic field observations of the growth and status throughout the year. Remote sensing has been advanced as a technology that can help fill in the gaps and enable farmers to better realize the potential of “precision farming” which means knowing and responding to the specific conditions of the field. This crop insights will review the concepts of remote sensing and the potential for remote sensing tools to improve crop management.


Hunger Hides: Here and There

GIS at recent agricultural development
Where the image is bright: Today’s farmer in the developed countries has a new set of technological tools that include global positioning system (GPS) receivers, satellite imagery, aerial photography and laptop computers. GIS software can help in integrating data and can help in using these tools in a variety of precision agriculture applications for recording and analysing agronomy variables, obtaining information on crops and soils and also can help in making decisions on where to apply chemicals or pesticides. Innovative farmers are steadily expanding their knowledge and adoption of precision farming technologies. Many precision practices, including collecting and mapping spatial data on crop yields and soil properties, and controlling and recording the applications of various inputs are becoming very common. Other precision practices, including recording field data on crop development, crop health, soil nutrient status and pest levels are also gaining widespread use.

In the rice fields of California, the vast cultivated area is precision levelled by laser controlled earth movers and sowing is done by an airplane at the rate of an acre in minute. At the time of harvest, a combine equipped with a stipper-header collects 250 tonnes of rice per day.

Agronomists, crop consultants use GIS to search for crop yield relationships and correlation among agronomic data. They can query the relationship among agronomic variables such as nutrient values and moisture levels to create fertiliser prescription contour maps that are used with variable rate application field equipment to improve yields and increased profits. Agricultural retail outlets such as Growmark, Inc., U.S.A. (recently merged with CountryMark to form Mark II Agronomy) use GIS to help customers determine which fertilizers and agricultural chemicals to buy for their variable rate precision fertilizer machinery. Agricultural chemicals and fertilizer manufacturers use GIS in their Research and Development divisions to explore cutting edge application.

The Foundation for Agronomic Research and the Potash & Phosphate Institute, U.S.A., are coordinating a multi-state, multidisciplinary research and education programme to evaluate site-specific management systems for Midwest corn and soyabean farmers. This programme was initiated in 1995 under a grant from the United Soyabean Board. During the last four years numerous industry and government agency cosponsors, including ESRI, have contributed support to the project, which is an excellent example of how sponsors can forge major research and educational efforts.

Image – where gaining brightness: According to Asian Centre for Research on remote Sensing, Thailand, data from JERS-1, optical and SAR can be used in estimating irrigated paddy cultivated areas in Indonesia. In this area, applying various fusion methods, it was found that combinations of vegetation index, average intensities of SAR, and principal component of optical and SAR can be used in estimating irrigated paddy cultivated areas in Indonesia. In this area, applying various fusion methods, it was found that combinations of vegetation index, average intensities of SAR, and principal component of optical date data fusion from different sources acquired in various stages irrespective to their source could satisfactorily be used in estimating irrigated paddy area under cultivation.

In India the initial success of this technology led to the formulation of crop acreage and production estimation (CAPE) project which was first major project launched under Remote Sensing Application Mission (RSAM) and Department of Space (DOS) in 1986. There is the substantial increase in production of cereals, particularly wheat and rice over the past few years with the advent of new technologies. The advantage of radar remote sensing for rice crop lies in its independence from cloud cover and solar illumination. Sensitivity of SAR to canopy geometry and moisture is promising not only for crop discrimination but also to model crop growth and condition. Thus, in addition to crop acreage, it was feasible to derive information on progress of transplanting, anomaly in crop growth, extent and duration of flooding etc.

Analyses of demand and supply situation and designing of an optimum plan to locate cold stores using satellite remote sensing data and GIS was carried out by the scientists of Agro-Ecology and Management Division, ISRO. The study was done for potato crop in Bardhman district of West Bengal, a leading potato growing area. GIS implementation in finding large cardamom cultivation potential in Sikkim Himalayas were studied by Dr. Saurabh Gupta and Syed Taha Owais. Sikkim grows 90% of the total country’s cardamom. The study area was the Ratachhu watershed. The potential for cardamom cultivation is calculated by using altitude, forest type, aspect, soil depth and soil type. Thus from the above analysis, some measures are suggested and it was also found that GIS based studies have tremendous potential in proper monitoring of cardamom cultivation. Scientists from Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT), Bangalore has studied that how FRLHT is using GIS for Eco-distribution mapping of prioritises medicinal plants of South India.

In this country, ‘agricultural resources information system’ using geomatics technology with public funding to reduce the process of marginalisation of small farmers and risks is required. This will facilitate to evolve ‘small farmer development strategy’ making full use of information technology and bio-technology and ensuring the linkages between research, technology and production on one hand and effectiveness of the delivery system and extension network to carry the benefits of science and technology to the farmers on the other.

If GIS can…
Today’s economic realities have a lot to do with the progress of GIS in the agricultural industry. Agricultural production, marketing and processing technologies and management systems have become more complex over the years. Technologies like GIS and remote sensing are powerful tools for agricultural development but all these require broad expertise and rapid availability of knowledge. The need for information, education programmes and decision support tools is greater now than at any other time in the history. Hence, the factor of increasing complexity of agricultural technologies and management systems has created a need for GIS and remote sensing. Agriculture sector requires sharing of expertise and resources across countries, institutions and departments, more cooperation with the private sector, improved openness and communication on issues of interest to the community, greater awareness of our role in the world, and a willingness to consider new approaches.