龙8娱乐app下载报道Farms are shrinking and farmers are aging. That鈥檚 a good thing for global food security._龙8娱乐app下载官网资讯

Can world food production keep pace with population growth? Three trends in agricultural demographics raise concerns:

  • Small farms in developing countries are getting smaller.
  • Farmers in the developed world are getting older.
  • Young people, particularly men, are leaving rural areas and farming futures for better-paying jobs in cities and nonagricultural sectors.

Why? Because smaller farms are likely to yield less, and older farmers are likely to produce less, according to some. A pipeline drained of next-generation farmers implies a future without enough agricultural producers. Coupled with climate change, regional conflict, and inefficiencies in the food system, these demographic shifts could spell disaster for millions. Indeed, the UN鈥檚 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) forecasts that fully 1.2 billion people (more than 11 percent of the world鈥檚 population) will go hungry in 2050 if current income disparities widen, further threatening food security and stratifying societies into haves and have-nots.

But while that dire outcome is certainly possible, it鈥檚 not the only way to interpret the evidence. For many economists, the changing nature of farms and farmers is as likely to be a source of resilience for, as opposed to pressure on, the global food supply. Here鈥檚 how they see key trends affecting food security.

Shrinking farms

Small farms account for most of the world鈥檚 570 million farms: fully 84 percent are smaller than two hectares, and 72 percent are smaller than one hectare, according to the FAO. The vast majority are thought to be subsistence operations, producing food but not contributing to agricultural production. Worldwide, their land accounts for only 12 percent of farmland, but that figure disguises their preponderance in East Asia and the Pacific (excluding China), South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, where smallholders manage upwards of 40 percent of farmland.

The success of these smallholders is crucial to the survival of literally billions of people. And the shrinking size of their plots鈥攁 trend that鈥檚 persisted throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Latin America since 1960鈥攚ould seem to jeopardize their success. In China, home to 200 million smallholders, average plot size has shrunk to just over half a hectare, or about the size of a soccer field, although efforts to consolidate farms there have begun in earnest.

In China, home to 200 million smallholders, average plot size has shrunk to just over half a hectare, or about the size of a soccer field.

Still, the data show that in much of the world, smallholders are doing better than subsisting and are no longer in danger of starving. Stunting, wasting, and micronutrient deficiencies still affect unacceptable numbers of children, but daily per-person caloric intake, a standard litmus test of food security, has steadily risen overall, from 2,753 in 2005 to 2,904 in 2016, according to the FAO. Currently, 21 percent of people in the world鈥檚 76 low- and lower-middle-income countries face food insecurity, but that is expected to drop to just 10 percent by 2028鈥攁n astounding 50 percent reduction.

How can this be? Because rising GDP from productivity off the farm means that many smallholders no longer need to depend on the farm for sustenance.

This is particularly evident in South and Southeast Asia, according to Steve Wiggins, a senior economist at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) who has studied rural populations there since 1972. Urbanization, industrialization, and manufacturing jobs have given many smallholders and their families enough surplus capital, he says, to buy not just more of the food they need, but other products and services as well. With more money going around, rural economies have grown, adding jobs not only for people who supply farmers, or who transport, store, or process their crops, but also for masons, carpenters, pipe-fitters . . . even wedding caterers.

And when rural economies are no longer dependent solely on agriculture, he points out, 鈥渋t doesn鈥檛 matter if the farm is only half a hectare: with a bit of capital, education, and entrepreneurship, smallholders can make a good living.鈥 Wiggins believes that, for much of Asia, the end of mass poverty is in sight. 鈥淚t鈥檚 the Great Asian Miracle,鈥 he says.

Glimmers of hope

That miracle hasn鈥檛 yet extended to sub-Saharan Africa, however, where food insecurity is worsening. Of the 821 million undernourished people in the world in 2017, 237 million lived in sub-Saharan Africa鈥33 million more than in 2015. That鈥檚 particularly worrisome, says Lorenzo Giovanni Bell霉, senior economist and head of the Global Perspectives Studies team at the FAO, because most of the world鈥檚 population growth is expected to take place in the region. The population of Niger is projected to grow four-fold by 2050; Uganda鈥檚 population is expected to almost triple.

And unless countries in the region begin to mechanize their agriculture and develop manufacturing sectors or other activities that can create jobs and diversify rural incomes, the rural economies of sub-Saharan Africa will collapse, spurring massive waves of migration. 鈥淧eople don鈥檛 stay where they starve,鈥 Bell霉 says. 鈥淚f better earning opportunities don鈥檛 materialize either in rural areas or in cities, people will migrate abroad.鈥 The waves of both voluntary and 鈥渄istress鈥 migration that have already reached Europe 鈥渕ay be the tip of the iceberg,鈥 he adds, unless agriculture investments and social protection schemes can be implemented.

Ishmael Sunga, an economist and the CEO of the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU), agrees with Bell霉. 鈥淭he system at the moment is unsustainable,鈥 he says. Not only are individual holdings ever smaller, fragmented, and geographically dispersed, but budgetary constraints coupled with ongoing conflict in many of these countries have thwarted investment in the basic infrastructure鈥攚ater, schools, health clinics, roads, rail, electricity, and communication networks鈥攕o crucial to facilitating commerce between rural and urban populations. 鈥淓ven if you could grow your yields,鈥 he continues, 鈥渨hy would you, when structural issues would prevent you from getting your produce to market?鈥 As Sunga sees it, without connectivity鈥攕ocial, economic, geographical鈥擜frican smallholders are isolated and 鈥渇ood for vultures.鈥

Yet Wiggins, for one, remains hopeful, having overlooked the seeds of economic productivity in Bangladesh after the famine of 1974 and underestimated the impact of the private sector on economic growth in Thailand in the mid-1980s. He cites studies conducted in contemporary rural Tanzania that reveal slow but steady growth in village prosperity since the early 1990s as smallholders contract with outside traders, invest in their land, boost their productivity, and spread their earnings around. Researchers describe the economic growth that one new road catalyzed in a remote corner of Tanzania, where traders contracted with villagers to grow sesame seeds for export to India; now the village has new roofs. In a coffee-growing area, they recount how smallholders are grubbing out coffee bushes to grow carrots, onions, and other produce for urban markets because they pay better than coffee export markets.

鈥淥nce there鈥檚 access to the wider economy, the miracle begins,鈥 Wiggins concludes. 鈥淲hat happened in Thailand isn鈥檛 yet true in Tanzania, but I think in 20 years鈥 time we鈥檒l be pinching ourselves.鈥

Labor-saving devices

Meanwhile, back in the world鈥檚 breadbasket countries, farmers are old鈥攏early 60, on average鈥攁nd getting older. But agro-economists aren鈥檛 worried, because the nature of large-scale farming has matured along with the farmer. It鈥檚 no longer backbreaking work, thanks to remarkable advances in equipment for tilling, planting, transplanting, and harvesting. Indeed, the mechanization and automation of farming鈥攑articularly auto-guidance systems, which steer agricultural vehicles by satellite鈥攅xplain why the average age of the farmer continues to rise along with yields. 鈥淪eventy-year-old farmers are still farming because they can,鈥 says Jim MacDonald, chief of the Structure, Technology, and Productivity branch at USDA鈥檚 Economic Research Service. 鈥淭hey鈥檙e sometimes the first adopters of new technologies, because they can see the benefits in terms of reduced physical and mental stress.鈥

Perhaps because age connotes experience, some argue that maintaining the stupendous yields of the world鈥檚 mega-farms鈥攁nywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 hectares鈥攊n the U.S., Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Oceania will depend on retaining the industry鈥檚 most seasoned players. Commercial farming at scale is a complex operation that requires not just agricultural expertise, but knowledge of global markets; not just people-management skills, but inventory-management skills. Principal operators must be able to negotiate with vendors, hire and manage service providers, comply with regulators, and be responsive to shareholders and landlords. As Dan Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center at UC Davis puts it, 鈥淐ommercial farming has never been a business for beginners.鈥

Research shows that in the coming decades, the business of farming will become even more complex, and succeeding at it will demand ever more educated and agile principals at the helm. 鈥淭hey鈥檒l be more like corporate CEOs than farmers,鈥 says Brett Sciotto, CEO of Aimpoint Research, which over the last year has analyzed industry trends, in-depth surveys back to 2002, psychographic data, and war-gaming exercises to determine who will lead the agricultural industry in 2040. According to the study, 69 percent of tomorrow鈥檚 farmers will have a bachelor鈥檚 degree or higher, and not always in agriculture but in business. Like today鈥檚 CEOs, they will need to heed the demands made by supply-chain partners and consumers鈥攁n accommodation that today鈥檚 fiercely independent farmers resist. 鈥淏eing able to adapt,鈥 Sciotto says, 鈥渕ay be the differentiator as to who succeeds and who doesn鈥檛.鈥

Where age does threaten productivity is in the labor force, economists agree. Farmhands鈥 average age is also rising, as very few young people are going into farm work. Aging workers struggle with 鈥渟toop labor鈥濃攂ending over to pick berries or other ground-hugging produce that must be harvested by hand.

Yet here too, innovation has the potential to make age a nonissue. Sumner points to a plethora of solutions, from high-tech stuff like robot pickers; to low-tech solutions such as having a deeper trench and a higher mound for strawberries, or growing crops in baskets or on tables so that workers can remain upright; to biotech solutions, such as modifying olive-tree genes so that the tree maintains yields but grows only to shrub height.

鈥淲e鈥檙e going to continue to see some gee-whiz tech, not just from engineers but also from plant scientists, economists, and agronomists, all of whom are working together on this,鈥 he says. 鈥淚t鈥檚 a combination that may solve not just for aging labor, but for the ongoing labor shortage.鈥

Urbanization and feminization

If agricultural labor is in short supply worldwide, it鈥檚 in large part because of urbanization. More than 50 percent of the world鈥檚 population now lives in cities, and by 2050, fully 70 percent of us will have moved to one, mostly in search of better prospects for jobs, income, and marriage. In the developing world, men鈥檚 migration from rural villages to urban areas has another effect: it leaves women in charge of the farm, the so-called 鈥渇eminization鈥 of agriculture. (See "Women in Agriculture.鈥)

More than 50 percent of the world鈥檚 population now lives in cities, and by 2050, fully 70 percent of us will have moved to one.

As noted, higher GDP is a tide that eventually lifts all boats. Remittances from high-earning family members can help propel smallholders out of subsistence farming, and modest prosperity, coupled with women-friendly family planning services, has been shown to bring down fertility rates in rural populations. Studies show that as incomes rise, heads of households are more likely to have fewer children and to educate the ones they have to be able to compete for high-paying urban jobs. Urbanization thus ultimately promotes food security by reducing population growth, says Wiggins, who鈥檚 studied the phenomenon throughout the developing world, including in sub-Saharan Africa. He notes that more schooling allows young women to earn a living and gain independence, he says鈥攁nd escape the wood-gathering, water-toting, subsistence living that results in big families and food insecurity.

Even for women who remain in agriculture, industrialization due to urbanization has transformed their earning potential. In Zanzibar, an island off Tanzania where seaweed is the top export, women still do 80 percent of the farming. But thanks to a government training initiative, they also oversee the production and sale of added-value products like soap, lotions, and food, and even conduct tours of their processing facilities for visitors to the island. As a result, the women鈥檚 income has skyrocketed, enabling them to afford to build their own homes, send their children to school, gain business knowledge, and learn English. 鈥淚t just goes to show you the importance of moving farmers鈥攂oth women and men鈥攗p the value chain,鈥 says John Ruane, a senior consultant in agricultural innovation with the Research and Extension Unit of FAO.

Most importantly, however, by squeezing the rural labor supply, urbanization drives up rural wages鈥攚hich in turn builds rural economies. Higher wages help keep rural youth from migrating to cities and factories; in some parts of rural China, says ODI鈥檚 Wiggins, there is even reverse migration back to villages. Higher labor costs pressure operators to rent or lease machines to close the labor gap; farm equipment boosts yields, potentially boosting profits. Commercially viable farms in turn attract a host of service providers, from tractor mechanics and irrigation-pump technicians to quality seed and fertilizer purveyors.

In this way, urbanization has pulled rural economies out of poverty. 鈥淭wenty years ago in Bangladesh, you could stand under a tree, wave a few dollars, and have dozens of villagers begging you to choose them for your farm work,鈥 Wiggins says. 鈥淣ow, you can鈥檛 find enough workers. The days of rising rural populations and lots of people prepared to work for next to nothing are over.鈥

Who鈥檚 next?

Who will take over the family farm? Not necessarily a family member. At least in the U.S., where upwards of 40 percent of farmland is leased, and 87 percent of landlords are not farmers, only about half of all farmland passes from one relative to another, either through purchase, gift, or inheritance.

Nonfamily succession might be cause for concern, if only because research shows that principal operators who have sons and daughters poised to take over the farm are highly motivated to invest in their land, invest in their business, and do everything they can to secure a future for coming generations. 鈥淭here鈥檚 a strong correlation鈥攁nd we were surprised at how strong鈥攂etween farmers who have family members involved and those who do not,鈥 says Aimpoint鈥檚 Sciotto. 鈥淭hose who have family coming into the business keep their foot on the gas pedal longer, investing and innovating. Whereas those who do not, slow down the pace of adaptation, which leads to the operation becoming less competitive. Having a family member in the chute is a tremendous motivator.鈥

UC Davis鈥檚 Sumner isn鈥檛 concerned about either the rising proportion of nonfarmer landlords or the increase in land transfers and rentals to nonfamily members. 鈥淓verywhere I look, I see farmers doing a better job than they were 40 or 50 years ago in terms of sustaining the land and those who work on it, whoever they may be,鈥 he says. 鈥淚f you鈥檙e known as someone who doesn鈥檛 take care of the land, you鈥檙e out of business.鈥

The shift from family to nonfamily ownership and land transfer has in turn changed the demographics of U.S. farmers: increasingly, they are Hispanic. 鈥淲hile Hispanics make up a significant share of hired labor and contract workers, they are also foremen and managers,鈥 says the USDA鈥檚 MacDonald. 鈥淚 anticipate we鈥檒l see more of them and their children showing up as operators and senior managers in our statistics.鈥

And despite the statistics showing that 33 percent of beginner farmers are age 55 and over, MacDonald sees no diminution in the pipeline of young talent drawn to farming. Many are family members who simply aren鈥檛 visible because they aren鈥檛 listed as principal operators but nonetheless are learning the craft. Many are coming out of agriculture school and going into businesses that serve farmers鈥攑recision-agriculture consultancies, software and data analysis providers, drone operators, and autonomous equipment manufacturers or service technicians鈥攁nd may ultimately use that income to acquire land they will farm themselves. 鈥淭hey see that running a big commercial farm is risky, but that on average, you can make a lot of money,鈥 he says. 鈥淭hat pulls in a lot of young people, not necessarily as operators, but as service providers and consultants. That鈥檚 because there鈥檚 a big question now about who鈥檚 going to make the operating decisions, when so much of the operation depends on high-tech equipment and specialized knowledge.鈥

In short, says MacDonald, 鈥淧eople still enter farming because the incomes earned by commercial farmers match or exceed what people can earn operating other businesses.鈥

Still, agriculture increasingly depends on innovation to solve for the challenges posed by climate change, population growth, and dwindling resources. MacDonald believes the industry could benefit from a greater diversity of people going into it. 鈥淣ew people, with new thinking, are what will make farming more vibrant, more viable,鈥 he says. To that end, he鈥檇 like to see more women and people of color applying to agricultural-degree and land-grant programs, as these are the pathways to getting into large-scale operations and the consultancies that serve them. He adds, 鈥淥ur future food security could well depend on them.鈥

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