Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Poverty kaput, and Rice news

All the news from the US is about politics...oh yes, and a famous TV actress who got upset that someone noticed she sexually abused her sister, and who is going to sue the blogger who actually quoted her actual words from her book.

And the foreign news is about the same.

So to put things into perspective, read this article (via Instapundit).

Dartmouth economics professor Douglas Irwin has an excellent op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal — “The Ultimate Global Antipoverty Program,” with the subtitle “Extreme poverty fell to 15% in 2011, from 36% in 1990. Credit goes to the spread of capitalism.” Here’s an excerpt:
The World Bank reported on Oct. 9 that the share of the world population living in extreme poverty had fallen to 15% in 2011 from 36% in 1990. Earlier this year, the International Labor Office reported that the number of workers in the world earning less than $1.25 a day has fallen to 375 million 2013 from 811 million in 1991.
Such stunning news seems to have escaped public notice, but it means something extraordinary: The past 25 years have witnessed the greatest reduction in global poverty in the history of the world.
To what should this be attributed? Official organizations noting the trend have tended to waffle, but let’s be blunt: The credit goes to the spread of capitalism. Over the past few decades, developing countries have embraced economic-policy reforms that have cleared the way for private enterprise.
I've seen this first hand, and it's ignored for the "ain't it awful" stories of the day.

The World bank report on the Philippines 

The proportion of households living below the official poverty line has declined slowly and unevenly from 59 percent in 1961 to below 39 percent in 1991 and around 36 percent in 1994. Urban poverty stood at around 23 percent in 1991 and rural poverty at 53 percent (by World Bank staff calculations). Food poverty (or those living below subsistence) was around 20 percent of households in 1991, but 32 percent of rural households while only 12 percent of urban households. Two-thirds of the poor are engaged in the agriculture, fishery, and forestry sectors and have an elementary school education or less. However, the depth of poverty is relatively small (with the poverty gap index only 17 percent in 1991, having fallen by 40 percent since 1961), and income disparities among the poor have declined noticeably.
if you wonder why "food poverty" is higher in rural areas, it is because often the farmers sell most of their crop for money (for school fees, clothing, etc) at harvest time, and then run out of their personal stash of rice. So "hunger season" is right before the harvest.

What helps is often those who work overseas will send money that is used by the extended family for school fees and small luxuries. And land reform has helped: We own only a small amount of land per person in our family, and the rest is now owned by the local farmers whose families traditionally worked the land.

The problem? Many of them have been able to educate their kids, who prefer to work in Manila or in factory jobs or overseas than to work in the fields for minimum wages. So we often hire farmers from the Visayas, which is not as "affluent" as we are, to farm our fields.

Mechanization has lessened the work. A large rototiller called a handplow helps prepare the fields, and although the seedlings are still planted by hand and the harvest is still by hand, once the rice is cut, we have a thresher to separate the grain from the stalks. The grain is then dried, usually in the sun. So you have to drive slowly on the roads because of the rice drying there. But if it rains, more rice is lost, or you have to pay someone to dry it for you. We lost part of a harvest this way when it took too long for the local rice mill to dry our crop. The rice was edible, but we are a gourmet rice grower so we had to sell a lot of it for regular rice consumption.

So three years ago we bought a small rice mill and a small rice drier, and placed them on the top of a hill where we had the chicken farm.

Then we were hit by the typhoon last year (not Yolanda: a smaller class 4 that hit Luzon and got crowded out of the headlines by the larger typhoon in the south). That destroyed the chicken farm and much of our big crop, but the buildings for the drier did okay.

We get two harvests a year here, and there is irrigation. The main harvest rarely needs irrigation, so you make a larger profit, but the winter harvest requires irrigation so is smaller and less profit due to irrigation fees.

Places like Viet Nam get three harvests a year, so their rice is cheaper than ours. The trick is to flood the fields and plant partly grown seedling as soon as the harvest is done, so the growing season is shorter.

Whereas here, the main crop is planted as seedlings, but the "second harvest" is often just grown from seeds that are thrown out into the furrows by hand. Less labor intensive since it is a "spare" harvest.


Our cook is taking the day off to help harvest her family's rice fields.

Joy has made us organic, which has increased our expenses, but not improved our yields (and alas a lot of our competition cheats a bit to lower the cost so we are being harmed by the competition).

The latest initiative here is to lower methane emissions caused by wet rice fields. You keep slowly running water in the rice paddies to keep down weed growth. But the rotting weeds emit methane, a green house gas.


another article explains.

Alternate wetting and drying is an agricultural practice whereby farmers allow their rice paddies to dry until the water table is below the soil surface before irrigating again. Compared with maintaining paddies in a continuously flooded state, this practice can lower water use by 25 per cent, and reduce energy use for pumping the irrigation water.
AWD also reduces methane emissions from rice production by 50 per cent or more because periodically aerobic soil conditions inhibit methane-producing soil bacteria.
One reason for China's success is lowering greenhouse gas emissions was that they implemented this practice (making me laugh at the naive westerners who didn't even mention this when they praised China's green policies).

Which brings me to another old story that hit the papers: Arsenic in your rice cereal.

duh. This is an older NYTimes article on the problem.

If the fields are flooded in the traditional paddy method, she has found, the rice handily takes up arsenic. But if the water is reduced in an effort to limit arsenic, the plant instead absorbs cadmium — also a dangerous element.
“It’s almost either-or, day-and-night as to whether we see arsenic or cadmium in the rice,” said Dr. Guerinot, a molecular geneticist and professor of biology at Dartmouth College.
The levels of arsenic and cadmium at the study site are not high enough to provoke alarm, she emphasized. Still, it is dawning on scientists like her that rice, one of the most widely consumed foods in the world, is also one of nature’s great scavengers of metallic compounds.
Consumers have already become alarmed over reports of rice-borne arsenic in everything from cereal bars to baby food. Some food manufacturers have stepped up screening for arsenic in their products, and agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration now recommend that people eat a variety of grains to “minimize potential adverse health consequences from eating an excess of any one food.”
But it’s not just arsenic and cadmium, which are present in soil both as naturally occurring elements and as industrial byproducts. Recent studies have shown that rice is custom-built to pull a number of metals from the soil, among them mercury and even tungsten. The findings have led to a new push by scientists and growers to make the grain less susceptible to metal contamination.
The highest levels often occur in brown rice, because elements like arsenic accumulate in bran and husk, which are polished off in the processing of white rice. The Department of Agriculture estimates that on average arsenic levels are 10 times as high in rice bran as in polished rice.

So Organic brown rice has it's own problems.

But the good news: Philippine rice is arsenic free.

The samples were analyzed using an inductively coupled plasma-optical emission spectrometer (ICP-OES),and their arsenic levels were below the ICP-OES detection limit of 15 parts per billion (ppb).  
The Philippines has not yet set a maximum limit of arsenic in rice. Australia and New Zealand (1000 ppb total arsenic in cereals) and China (150 ppb inorganic arsenic for rice and rice products) have set limits.  
The global “normal” range for arsenic concentration in rice is 80-200 ppb. A study by Yamily Zavala and John Duxbury at Cornell University in New York revealed that arsenic concentrations in rice from the US and Europe were similar (198 ppb), and significantly higher than rice from Asia (70 ppb).
The Cornell study showed that arsenic-contaminated irrigation water, not soil, led to increased grain arsenic concentration. As rice is grown in flooded soils, it absorbs and stores a lot more arsenic compared to other plants through its roots.

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