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Decline in productivity of forest and agriculture

>> Friday, March 26, 2010

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The increasing human population has put tremendous pressure on land for housing, agriculture, farming, pasture development, grazing by cattle and the production of various types of consumer goods through industrialization. For this land has to be acquired by claiming wetlands, mangroves and by large scale deforestation. In Indonesia; about 68000 sq km of land have been allocated for new plantations for the production of palm oil. Here are some more examples of decline in forest productivity due to different reasons.


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1. The total forest area in the world has been estimated to be around 3,869 million hectares. Out of this area about 95% is covered with natural forest and 5% is covered with regenerated forest. The natural forests are being lost or being converted to other uses of land at an alarming rates. For example, about 16.1 million hectares of natural forests were lost during 1990 – 2000.The annual forest loss at the Pan-tropical level has been estimated to be 9.2 million hectares.

2. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, the global loss of forests during the period1990 – 2000 has been around 9.4 million hectares per year.

3. The destruction of forests and grasslands is causing extinction of more than 12% of bird species, 25% of mammal species and about 33% of amphibian species.

4. In spite of increasing awareness about deforestation on global scale during recent years, the total area under forests is declining continuously.
5. About 850 million hectares of forest land is degraded in Asia and Pacific accounting for 24% of the region’s land. It was during 1981 – 1990 that deforestation in Asia and Pacific regions increased from 3.9 million hectares per year against 3.9 million hectares per year during 1981 – 1990.On the global level, the annual forest loss runs at about 12 million hectares per year, mostly in developing countries.

6. The period between 1976–,has been the period of Plantation Forestry. During this period, dense forest cover was destroyed from 46 to 36 million hectares which reduced the livelihood options for forest dependent poor people especially tribal people.

The land denuded of forests, is taken away with the rain water to cause the Siltation of rivers which finally leads to frequent floods. Floods claim large number of lives of humans and cattle every year. Great properties are ruined by devastating floods and great amounts of money are spent on rescue and rehabilitation of people. Thus, the decline in the forest productivity causes great losses to economy.


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Forests are sources of various economically valued products. They provide important services to environment and human beings. Some most important examples are being mentioned here.     
 1. Forests provide timber and significant revenue is derived from harvesting and processing of timber by private and government sectors.
2. Forests provide over 13 million tonnes of fuel wood per year in India alone.
3. Forests provide medicines, gums, resins, alkaloids leaves worth crores of rupees every year.
4. Forests provide other commodities of great economic value like lakh and silk.
5. Forests provide shelter to numerous species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, molluscs, insects and rodents etc.
6. Forests provide job opportunities for about 50 million people in the developing countries.
7. According to recent calculations natural forests store about 430 billion metric tonnes of carbon, which is more than the carbon released by the burning of fossil fuels over the next 70 years or so.
8. Reports suggest that one hectare of mangrove forest offers more than US $ 1,000 to a country.

Causes of decline in Forest Productivity
The world average of per person forest cover is estimated to be one hectare where as in India; it is just 0.10 hectare or so. Forests of India are being destroyed at the rate of 12.5 million hectares per year. If this trend continues, a day may come when we may have to face acute environmental crises in all fronts. We have already studied about all possible reasons of the depletion of the forest cover, and that need not be repeated here in detail. How ever to recall , some important reason behind the depletion of the forest cover are – the explosion of human population, overgrazing by cattle like sheep and goats, mining activities and heavy industrialisation , deforestation along hill slopes and the construction of roads along hillsides. Since forests contribute a lot to the national and local economy up to remarkable extent, loss of forest economy is a serious loss to the national economy.


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Efforts to Recover the Loss of Forest Productivity and to Improve the Economy
There is an increasing awareness regarding the impact of the loss of the Forest Productivity on economy across the world. People are now relying on plantation for the production of industrial wood. Nearly half of the plantation in the world is not more than 15 years old. Asia has become the world leader in terms of plantation as more than 62% of all the forest plantation done by the year  2000 across the globe, has been done in this region alone. Some very important signs of human efforts for raising forest productivity are –

1. The Private Sector Investment in plantation in developing countries has gone up during recent years.
2. The foreign investment in plantation sector has increased considerably.
3. Communities and small landowners are producing trees for selling to private companies and generating income though it is doing a very little good to environment.
4. The timber harvesting has been banned by many countries in order to conserve their forest resources or to check the economic losses due to natural calamities like land slides or floods.
5. Some countries have put restrictions on the export of wood so as to address the problems of national environment and markets.
6. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) Committee on trade and environment and the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests are considering issues pertaining forest trade.

Agricultural Productivity
The rate of production of agricultural goods in a unit period of time is called as Agricultural Productivity.
In more simple terms, the production of flowers, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, millets, tubers, corms, roots, leaves, herbs and other agricultural products in unit period of time(say one season or one year), is called as Agricultural Productivity.

Food is the most important agricultural product. But many other products like natural fibres, flowers, forage (like alfalfa, clover grasses etc.), and many other products are also obtained from agriculture. About 85 major crops are grown in the world. Some important crops are: cereal grains,(e.g. barley, maize, oat etc. millets, rye, sorghum and wheat), roots(sweet potato, cassava etc.), pulses, oil bearing crops, nuts, sugar bearing crops, cocoa beans, coffee, tea etc. Cotton, flex, hemp, jute, sisal etc. produce plant fibres. Some farms provide raw materials for industry: like fibre, natural rubber, castor oil, linseed oil, tobacco etc. These agricultural products support greater part of the world economy. But human activities leading to soil degradation, pollution, encroachment on agricultural lands, wetlands, mangroves etc. have posed seriously bad impacts on agricultural production and economics of the world.

Today, a variety of crops are grown through mixed farming methods. These crops are produced for commercial purposes. Farmers in Europe and Mid- Western United States do mixed farming for great productivity. This type of farming is less risky than specialized farming. Thus market price for a particular product may decline sharply. On a mixed farm, losses from one product may often be covered by profits from the other product.

Decline in Agricultural Productivity
Two –third of the world’s agricultural land has been degraded. About 1.2 billion poorest people of the world inhabit those lands. They work hard. Still the agricultural productivity is very low in those areas.The declining land productivity in many cases has forced people to encroach on forests, grasslands and wetlands. These conditions cause further degradation of environment and decline in agricultural productivity.

Climatic variations and human activities are causing droughts, land degradation and desertification. As per reports of United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) -2000a, about 3600 million hectare or 70% of the world’s dry land are degraded. Africa, Asia and small island states are facing serious economic losses due to land degradation caused by declining productivity of land due to climate change.

Agricultural productivity declines considerably due to floods and the climatic change. The degradation of land, Siltation of rivers, pollution of soil from acid rains and industrial wastes are some of the issues that are associated with urbanisation and industrialization that are strong causes of land degradation and decline in agricultural productivity. As per estimates of Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) - 1996, about 1.96 million hectare of land has been degraded by industry and urbanisation. Urbanisation has also caused damages to urban agricultural agriculture on public and private lands. For example about 30% of the Russian Federation’s food is produced on 3 per cent of land in sub urban areas. The United States lost 400 000 hectare of farm land and China has lost up to 5 million hectares of farm land due to urbanisation. All these conditions have put tremendous impact on agriculture and decline in economy.

Most of the biodiversity loss has occurred during 20th century. According to FAO’s reports out of traditionally cultivated 7000 species for food only 120 are being cultivated today. All these declines in agricultural productivity reflect human activities pertaining to carelessness and exploitation.

Causes of Decline in Agricultural Productivity
 Following are the causes of the decline in Agricultural Productivity –
1. With the explosion in human population the agricultural land has gradually been converted into residential and industrial areas.
2. The need of production of more and more food forced people to go for commercial and extensive agriculture. These practices caused serious depletion of nutrients causing loss in the agricultural productivity.
3. The agricultural production was to be boosted up by the application of synthetic chemical fertilizers and crops were protected from pests and diseases by the applications of pesticides and fungicides. All these synthetic chemicals caused permanent losses in the further productivity of agriculture by causing degradation of lands.
4. Vast areas of productive land are destroyed by heavy mining and quarrying.
5.Frequent floods due to Siltation of rivers caused by soil erosion often leads to damage of the top soil at certain places causing serious soil degradation leading further to serious losses of agricultural productivity.
6. Irratic rainfall induced by human activities causes frequent drought conditions that further leads to causing crop failures and damages to the agricultural productivity.
7. The current practice of planting commercial varieties of trees on agricultural land instead of growing food crops is leading to serious losses to agricultural productivity.

Effects of Decline in Agricultural Productivity

  1. The decline in Agricultural Productivity is causing hunger in major parts of the world. The World Food Summit- 1998 set the goal of reducing the number of hungry people up to half. In spite of great improvements in the food production about half million people are still starving across the world. Thus, it has become evident that the Agricultural Productivity has become a driving force for economic and social developments. According to the International Atomic Agency- ‘When agriculture fails sources of income are lost. Social ties are disrupted and as a result, societies become more mobile.’

2. The decline in the productivity of the land under poor farmers created regional disparities. The Green Revolution was launched to enhance food production but only the rich farmers could derive benefits from it. The poor could not afford heavy prices of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Thus they remained hungry and economically backward in comparison to the rich. On the other hand, application of synthetic fertilizers and poisonous pesticides degraded the productivity of soil seriously. Thus the land even under the rich farmers no longer remained productive. These conditions are causing seriously bad impacts on the agricultural production during current times leading to a setback to the national economy. 

3. The agricultural growth created a gap between the rich and the poor states in the post green revolution period after 1980 – 1981.

4. The agriculture growth slowed by 2 per cent a year in the 9th Five Year Plan and the overall income growth was only 5.5 per cent where as the target was 8 per cent.

5. The decline in agricultural productivity is causing distress among farmers.

6. Poor maintenance of irrigation system causes loss of water through wastage and seepage. The scarcity of water affects crop production adversely.

7. Uncontrolled exploitation of ground water has caused serious depletion of water table in many parts of the country. It is leading to a water crisis and the failure of crops. Even after the exploitation of all the irrigation potential, up to 60% of India’s cultivable area is assessed to depend on dry land farming.  

  8. The decline in agricultural productivity has no longer left the agriculture profitable activity far general farmers. Hence, large scale migration of people from rural areas towards cities is increasing day by day. It is further causing urban congestions, expansion of slums and encroachments on government lands.

9. Declining agricultural productivity compounded with natural calamities which is aggravated by human factors is creating acute shortage of food. Many countries have to take loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to import food and to feed its people.

All the factors mentioned above, heavily contribute to hunger and poverty together with causing bad effect on local, regional and national economies. 

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