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Chapter 4, para 4.1 talks about "changes toward less labour intensive practices" but important to recognise that this often results in changes in cropping pattern. For example, in the Delta of Egypt farmers are being encouraged to conserve water by growing less rice. There is supposed to be a quota on how much area can be sown to paddy. Despite this there are large areas of so called "illegal" paddy. Most farmers in this area are in fact part time and and paddy is the ideal crop which requires minimum attention from planting to harvest so that they can work off farm,
The same situation is noticeable in South-East and South Asia where farmers are often being encouraged to grow non-paddy crops in order to save water, but often with rather limited success.
Further to Charlotte Goemans interesting contribution, as well as leasing of agricultural equipment hire-purchase can also be a way of creating decent rural employment for rural youth. While the tractor may provide security for the loan, some additional guarantee is normally required which may be met by the family. There are great advantages in getting youth involved in small contract work in areas where casual labour has become scarcer due to urban drift. Such youth are motivated and prepared to work long hours. Farmers therefore get their land prepared at reasonable cost and contractor services can also cover other operations including harvesting and threshing.
Such hire-purchase schemes can be valuable in providing a 'market' for youth labour. The problem with vocational training is that often there is only a weak or non-existent rural market for anything half-way 'decent'. In this situation vocational training becomes a very much two-edged weapon and can in fact speed-up the process or urban drift. Any agricultural or fishery college certificate is all too often used as the passport for a job in the city.
My comment relates to around page 11 of the zero draft where there is a discussion of "pull" and "push" factors in off-farm employment.
UN studies some 20 years ago in Sri Lanka showed that about two-thirds of farm family income was derived off-farm. Where farmers have small land-holdings it is obviously the only way to support a family.
The fact that people who are perceived as "farmers" have other more important interests often seems to be not adequately appreciated in development planning. Initiatives such as Systems of Rice Intensification (SRI) always expect intensification in order to get better production and allow water saving.
In situations where the "farmer" is only on the farm for planting and harvest he may well not be interested in increasing his labour input, and certainly not in saving water. Similarly he will not be interested in moving into non-paddy crops. Paddy is the best crop for such part-time farmers.
This situation you see clearly in many areas of South and East Asia and also in Egypt, in the delta, where extension staff moan about the large areas of 'illegal' paddy cultivation, in situations where many farms are only around 0.5 ha with a family of 7.
No easy solution, just something that needs to be considered in planning. Ultimately land consolidation through sale or renting would allow the return of full-time farmers.
Under Question 4 (creation of synergies or conflicts) provision of services such as drinking water and/or sanitation can be extremely beneficial in group formation and social engineering. Often development work in watershed rehabilitation or forest management takes place against a fairly consistent background of past failure. Communities are therefore sceptical and may be slow or unenthusiastic in participating. Provision of drinking water as a component of a wider forest or watershed community development project - particularly early on in a project - can have a strongly catalytic effect on community participation and hence the success in achieving the development objective. For that reason investment in drinking water provision should always be considered as a component in a wider development effort - not to be considered as a self standing programme - which may look splendid but effectively uses up all the catalyst without any catalytic effect.
Sumit Karn's interesting comments from Nepal stirred me up to write myself. He talks of "trying to integrate crop, livestock and nutrition for sunergistic effect" Very correct and crucially important for Nepal where livestock are really about the only resource for improving fertility. It is many years (unfortunately) since I have been in Nepal, but I hope the good work by H.R. Stennett on watershed management (Report FAO-FO-NEP/85/008) - for which he was received the B.R.Sen Award - has born fruit and not - as so often happens - been quietly forgotten. His work included underplanting of paddy with fodder species so as to get more forage in the stubble after the paddy had been harvested. The main problem was the cultural change and social discipline involved in getting all the famers to undertake the same practices and to share equitably the improve feed for their livestock.
Many thanks for an interesting discussion and comments,
Best regards, John Weatherhogg
One major change which I think could help in the future is the way in which agricultural commodity prices have become linked to cost of oil. The long-term trend in commodity prices until recently was always in decline. As a result - in general - urban dwellers got their food at relatively cheap prices and commercial food production was a mug's game defended as being "a way of life". Now (at last) there is therefore a change in the economic balance between urban and rural in the latter's favour. This should provide better prospects for rural youth to stay in agriculture and to sustain family farming.
One observation and a suggestion.
Observation is that in most cases that I have seen agricultural education (for farmers' sons/rural youth or whatever) generally only helps to unstick youngsters from the land and off into the wide world. It is sufficient for them to get a certificate showing that they have been trained in tractor maintenance for them to have a chance of finding a job as a mechanic. The certificates given at the end of such courses are therefore all too often their passport to the city.
Suggestion derives from an experience many years ago when I came acros a youngster of 19 operating a County twin engine in tandem, 4-wheel drive tractor, as a contractor. It was impressive to see such a youngster in charge of such a relatively large piece of equipment. He had the equipment on hire-purchase agreement, presumably with the agreement guaranteed by his parents.
This is a model that I have often thought ideal for employment of rural youth. I have come across similar arrangements in Thailand with paddy threshing machines on the back of pick-ups. It has several important advantages:
- Youngsters have plenty of energy and are likely to use machinery for longer hours and therefore with greater efficiency.
- It provides an "attractive" job - i.e. with a certain prestige - not like cultivating ground with a hoe.
- It provides cultivation or other services to farmers at a fair price.
- It can provide a link with training and a career for the younster.
- It can provide a very good supplementary income to a young farmer.
- The hire-purchase agreement can be tied to or guaranteed by the training institute (if they are brave enough!!)
- Urbanisation, industrialisation. Vietnam will follow the model of Japan and South Korea. In agriculture problem of structural change and increased mechanisation.
- The first scenario (Land of the Golden Mekong) seems most likely to me, although I am not convinced that they will want to integrate as the scenario describes.
- Vietnamese are generally industrious and pragmatic. Therefore (with luck) not likely to get involved in the more extreme scenarios. Biggest potential problem will be risk of conflict between China and USA and their allies – perhaps due to tensions over China/Taiwan or Japan relations. This would be a threat on a global scale.