Case Studies in Asia
Mao’s agricultural experiments
Year: Mid 1900s
Type: Problem / Impacts
During Mao’s rule of china, the country began slowly to fall into famine. This was largely due to a combination of factors including: overpopulation, political instability, poor communication, disorganized transportation and natural disasters. Mao experimented into a style of agriculture called “collectivized agriculture” which encompassed many factors most of which were derived from a similar practice by the Soviets – which failed miserably. Collectivized agriculture required farmers to “collect” into groups of around 100-300 and cease their private organization and thus become wholly controlled by the State.
Requirements of Collectivized Agriculture included:
- Increased seeding density; where seedlings were planted extremely close together. The reasoning behind this was because the same species would not compete against each other. This was compared to plants in nature where species will dominate another species. The ratio of seeds once this practice was adopted was 10 times more. It undoubtedly failed.
- Plowing deeper; where farmers were made to plow to depths of 4 to 5 feet to encourage better root growth. However this backfired when the nutrient rich topsoil was inadvertently removed as well, leading to poor growth.
- Removing Birds; the communes attempted to control outside factors such as birds and insects. However when they heavily targetted birds, they soon discovered that the insect problem was even greater than before due to the disruption in the natural food chain. This allowed the insects to grow beyond what was normally possible in the ecosystem.
- Halting the use of chemical fertilizers
- Uncultivating land; where approximately one third of land was to be left uncultivated.
These “experiments” in agricultural production proved to be a costly failure. Lives in the order of tens of millions were ultimately lost due to the famine which lead to malnutrition. Food production fell 30% from a strong 2 million tons to a meagre 1.4 million tons. Unfortunately other countries all over the world such as Cambodia, Ethiopia, Somalia and North Korea adapted similar practices and failed to reap the benefits.
What needs to be learnt from this is for the benefit of future agricultural endeavors for countries worldwide. It shows that that looking back into the past allows for current practices to not go where past practices failed and ultimately lead to a better quality in farming. In addition it provides a snapshot of government idealogies. It was the stubborness of the government and gross mismanagement that lead to such a disaster.It is therefore important to realize that often it is not only the individual choices we make but also societies influence that can have severe impacts on people.
"In Japan, generally the diet is very healthy. This has been attributed to a low consumption of foods that are unbalanced in nutrients. The traditional diet is rich and diverse in nutrients. However, recent research has shown that there is an excess in sodium intake. What we think people need, is to read more about what they eat and their nutritional intake. We should educate ourselves and not fall into the trap of believing whatever the media tells us."
A lot of what you will have heard about “malnutrition” is to do with lack of nutrition however in Japan quite the opposite is proving to be what’s becoming a very serious issue. The overconsumption of salt according to the National Cancer Centre Research Institute in Kashiwa can lead to up to twice the risk of stomach cancer in normal men. Although the most affected were men, the percentage of women surveyed with stomach cancer due to salt intake was around 50% of the men. The current diet in japan is too high in sodium intake, it has been noted that individuals who moved to other countries with a less salty diet were affected a lot less by stomach cancer.
What this information tells us is in certain areas not enough information is being released or discovered by the general public. The government needs to actively engage to reduce the incidence and raise awareness of sodium intake. People also need to realize that their diet is unbalanced and need to counter this by changing it. More importantly it teaches us a lesson about awareness and education. The global community needs to learn from this case study and educate people not only on the deficiencies of nutrients but also excesses.
Stunted Growth of Tibet’s children
Country: China; Tibet region
Year: 2001 - Current
Type: Impact / Problem
Tibet is a region of China whose malnutrition problem is quite severe stemming from poverty. Although its GDP per capita is now exceeding 1000 us dollars per capita, if it was to placed as an independent country it would be placed in the bottom 20 poorest countries in the world. According to a study published in the February 1 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, American and Tibetan doctors from the Public Health Institute in South Carolina, the University of California and the Tibet Medical Research Institute in Lhasa have noted that approximately 56% of children in the region suffer from stunted growth as well as a host of other problems directly relating to malnutrition. Poverty leads to a lack of funds to purchase foods rich in a specific nutrient e.g. meat which provides protein. Often a diet will be rich only in starch. Lack of very important micronutrients such as iodine and calcium can lead to stunted bone growth and even mental retardation.
The Tibet Daily, claims “We have become a society of adequate food and clothing and have started marching towards one of relative comfort. This is a fantastic historical advance”. However this is far from the truth, with such a large population suffering from malnutrition, one has only to realize that something is seriously wrong. To fix the problem we need to target the main cause of the malnutrition: poverty. The chinese government needs to encourage and increase economic growth in the area, bringing affluence to this region of China will allow it to escape from malnutrition like many other parts of China.
Chinese Famine of 1958-1961. (n.d.). Overpopulation.com. Retrieved March 15, 2008, from http://www.overpopulation.com/faq/famine/chinese-famine-of-1958-1961/
Salty diet raises men's stomach cancer risk. (2004, January 8). Virtual Medical Centre. Retrieved March 15, 2008, from http://www.virtualcancercentre.com/news.asp?artid=677
Purlife.com (2003) Cancer of the Stomach http://www.purlife.com/Stomach.htm
Eckholm, E. (2001, February 1). Study Links Malnutrition to Stunted Growth of TIbet's Children. New York Times.