July 2010, Volume 16, Number 3
Global: ILO, Countries
The ILO estimated that 1.1 billion farmers and workers were employed in agriculture in 2007, 35 percent of the world's 3.2 billion workers. The ILO estimated 18.5 million workers employed as farmers or hired workers in agriculture in industrial countries, about four percent of the industrial country labor force. In Africa, the 192 million people employed in agriculture were almost two-thirds of the labor force.
Kenya. The volcanic ash cloud that closed European airports for six days in April 2010 stranded thousands of passengers and disrupted the flow of goods, with producers of perishable fruits and vegetables among the first to be affected (airport closures after the September 11, 2001 attacks lasted three days). Kenya exports fresh produce and cut flowers worth $3 million a day, and European airport closures quickly filled coolers and led to layoffs. Over 80 percent of the two million pounds of produce that is exported every day from Kenya goes to Europe.
During the Group of 20 meeting in Pittsburgh in September 2009, billions were pledged to help African farmers to increase their productivity. The World Bank will administer the fund and help choose projects to finance, in conjunction with the African Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
Cocoa. About 70 percent of the world's cocoa is produced in Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. During the 1970s and 1980s, Ivory Coast allocated land to whoever planted cocoa, attracting migrants from poorer neighboring countries, and today Ivory Coast's 800,000 cocoa farms have two billion cocoa trees that produce 1.3 million tons of cocoa a year, 40 percent of the world's 3.5 million tons; the summer 2010 price was about $3,500 a ton.
Ivory Coast's liberation president died in 1993. A civil war and attacks on migrants disrupted cocoa production until 2004, but political uncertainty continues. Most cocoa is produced by small farmers who have an average 10 acres; yields average a half ton a hectare. Cocoa trees grow under canopy trees in the rainforest, and often alongside coffee and tropical fruit trees. The Ivory Coast takes about 40 percent of the world price in taxes on cocoa exports, and middlemen take much of the rest.
China. Northern Chinese farmers who planted bioengineered cotton to protect themselves from bollworm learned that the population of mirid bugs exploded as pesticide use declined, requiring more spraying for the new pest. About 95 percent of the cotton planted in China has genes from the Bt bacterium that make a toxin that kills bollworm.
China's southwest is suffering from a severe drought in 2010, forcing 16 million acres to be fallowed and leaving 20 million people without drinking water; the tea crop in Yunnan is expected to be down sharply. Some scientists blame deforestation on extensive plantings of rubber and eucalyptus trees, which require more water than crops. Others blame the Xiaowan dam on the Mekong river; when completed, it will be the second-largest hydroelectric power station in China after the Three Gorges Dam.
India. Insurance companies are forming partnerships with NGOs that have a presence in villages to sell health insurance to farmers and insurance on their cows and equipment. The ruling Congress party has encouraged all "inclusive growth" to help the rural poor, and one means is encouraging private insurance, which also encourages risk-taking among farmers.
Other policies provide aid more directly, including via the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which offers low-income Indians 100 days of guaranteed work and is expected to benefit almost 45 million households in 2010. Wages for work done under the NREGA are paid directly into bank and post office accounts to minimize corruption, giving millions of poor people their first access to a savings account.
Emily Wax, "Spread of insurance to rural areas underscores India's growing prosperity," Washington Post, May 8, 2010.