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

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap 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.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7768
JPY
USD
108.84
GBP
USD
0.6124
CAD
USD
1.0999
INR
USD
61.042

Rates may not be current.