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

Reports of Mass Murder on Mediterranean Smuggler’s Boat

Boat sailed from Libya with 750 migrants aboard and arrived in Italy with 569 More

Video New Thailand Hotline Targets Misbehaving Monks

Officials say move aims to restore country’s image of Buddhism, tarnished by recent high profile scandals such as opulent lifestyle, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as child sex abuse More

Study: Dust from Sahara Helped Form Bahama Islands

What does the Sahara have in common with a Caribbean island? Quite a lot, researchers say 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.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7305
JPY
USD
101.53
GBP
USD
0.5830
CAD
USD
1.0656
INR
USD
60.075

Rates may not be current.