Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published March 29, 2011, 08:14 AM

Feeding a growing world

This winter, I spoke on behalf of Iowa State University Extension Service. Part of my talk was about demographics in China and India.

This winter, I spoke on behalf of Iowa State University Extension Service. Part of my talk was about demographics in China and India.

We have heard much about China, but I have read that in the next 15 years, India will surpass China in population. Remember, for years China has been willing to adopt out girls and has held each family to only one child unless they were willing to pay a tax on the other child. In China, boys are favored over girls. So, in the countryside, boys outnumber girls by 170 percent and in the cities, by nearly 70 percent. I also have read that in as few as five years, India would become a major corn importer.

India is losing arable land to industrialization. While the Indian population tends to be vegetarian, the meat of choice is poultry. Poultry demand is said to be growing by 12 to 13 percent annually.

Furthermore, economic growth is helping to increase and diversify India’s food demand. India is amongst the largest world importers of vegetable oils, chickpeas and dried peas.

Consumptive demand of grains is growing yearly, with India’s economic growth estimated this year at 7 percent. India grows only about 20 million metric tons of corn.

With a population estimated at nearly 1 billion people, self-sufficiency for protein can’t be sustained with only 20 million metric tons of corn.

The U.S. currently produces more than 335 million metric tons of corn and has a population a quarter the size of India. You have 1.1 billion people living on a land mass the size of the U.S. and all living east of the Mississippi. Interestingly, the western half of China is mountainous and/or arid. So, the population there lives in the other half, and that is like taking the U.S. population and moving them east of the Mississippi and taking that number times five.

Back to India. Though the national GDP is rising, nearly 410 million people still live on $1.25 or less per day. I think many Americans spend that without even a thought. About 75 percent of India’s population lives in rural areas and needs more buying power. India is trying to improve itself by building better infrastructure. Doing this, the government is employing many citizens and putting more wages in people’s pockets. As incomes rise, so does the demand for protein and better diets besides rice. Chicken is seeing this demand.

A major portion of the Indian population is farmers, and each farmer, on average, farms one hectare or less. Compared with the rest of the population, the farm sector has been slow to grow with the times since 1990. Annual farm sector growth has been estimated at 2.9 percent since 2000. Agriculture’s share of the GDP has slipped from 29 percent in 1990 to 22 percent in 2000 and 16 percent in 2008. India needs to improve storage practices and facilities for storing corn..

The US Grains Council anticipates that within seven years, India may turn net importer for corn. Continued growth will push this country to become more efficient and progressive to address the pressures of food demand by the population. Perhaps the government will address policy changes and partner with local industries to utilize biotech corn, which also will open the door to more corn imports. When this occurs, India will become a net importer of corn.

There has been talk that China will lift the VAT tax on corn imports, and if it does, U.S. corn immediately will become more cost-efficient for importers.