News / Economy

Study: End Fertilizer Subsidies to Fight Hunger

A woman works on a farm in this file photo from near the Tanzanian town of Arusha. Fewer than 10 percent of Tanzanians hold an official title to their land.
A woman works on a farm in this file photo from near the Tanzanian town of Arusha. Fewer than 10 percent of Tanzanians hold an official title to their land.
Subsidizing farmers’ fertilizer is a poor way to fight hunger and should be phased out, according to a new report from a leading agriculture research group.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) is also calling for better protection of poor farmers' land rights.

Making farms more productive

Many developing-country governments around the world have poured money into fertilizer subsidies to make their farms more productive.

“Subsidies are a short-term solution to a long-term problem and they’re not sustainable,” says IFPRI researcher Claudia Ringler, co-author of the new report.

She says fertilizer subsidies do boost food production. Government figures in Malawi, for example, show that country’s landmark program helped triple maize production in the late 2000s.

However, she says the program consumes up to 20 percent of Malawi’s budget. And rising fertilizer prices have forced the government to scale it back.

Ringler says it would be more effective to tackle the big issues in developing-world agriculture.

“There should be much more investment in extension services and rural infrastructure," she says. "There’s just better ways of using scarce government funds than to support one agriculture input.”

Columbia University soil scientist Pedro Sanchez is a World Food Prize winner who helped Malawi develop its subsidy program.

“Fertilizer subsidies have, certainly, their limitations,” he says. “But Malawi would not be what it is right now, a country that has a surplus of maize, without the fertilizer subsidies.”

'Smart subsidies'

Sanchez and Ringler agree that subsidies can contribute to environmental problems. They point to India’s electricity subsidy for farmers who are depleting groundwater to irrigate their crops.

But smart subsidies adjust with the times, Sanchez says.

“I think we need these [subsidies] to kick-start [the economy] and then figure out a way to phase them out as the economy progresses. But the economy has to progress.”

Ringler says developing countries are not the only ones with problematic subsidies.

“We are not saying India should reduce its subsidies and the United States should not do so. This is really a global call for everyone.”

The two agriculture experts note that subsidies can be hard to phase out because they are politically popular in the United States as well as in the developing world.

Land rights

The new IFPRI report also highlights one of the biggest barriers to meeting this century’s hunger challenges: the lack of land rights for developing-world farmers.

Tom Arnold, head the advocacy group Concern Worldwide, points to the situation in Tanzania.

“Although 90 percent of farmers claim ownership of land, the reality is that less than 10 percent of Tanzanians hold an official title to their land.”

IFPRI’s Claudia Ringler says farmers could make their land more productive by investing in irrigation or improving the soil.

“But why would I do that if I don’t have the right, if I’m not sure if this land really belongs to me or if someone might take it away from me tomorrow.”

And Arnold says, in recent years, investors from wealthy countries have been purchasing huge tracts of land in Africa - often displacing poor farmers working there without title - in order to grow biofuels and other crops.

“There’s a general assumption, I think, that the great plains of Africa hold lots of land that’s not used by anybody," Arnold says. "Well, that’s actually not true.”

Official ownership

Concern Worldwide has worked with the Tanzanian government to help small-scale farmers gain official ownership of their land.

“It gave them a whole new status in their community," Arnold says. "But what it gave them particularly was a degree of legal certainty as to their land rights and it would be the basis then for subsequent investment and improvement in the land.”

About 10,000 Tanzanian farmers have received land titles so far - not that many in an agrarian country of 47 million people. But Arnold says it may be a model for a larger program, and for other countries, as well.

You May Like

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: impala from: Europe-Sweden
October 22, 2012 7:13 AM
these official owners should use fertilizers for better quality crops. If they make sound investments like here http://blog.pulawy.com/en/perspektywy-i-inwestycje/nowe-inwestycje-wiekszy-potencjal they will develop their crops to be sufficient to make their ends meet and they will not have to struggle with hunger any more.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8926
JPY
USD
123.71
GBP
USD
0.6358
CAD
USD
1.2364
INR
USD
63.600

Rates may not be current.