In August 2010, showing commendable imagination from a 5,000-mile distance, the authorities in Tbilisi invited South African farmers wanting a change of scene to consider an alternative: farming in Georgia. The country has an exuberantly pro-business government, low crime rates, and soil that positively squelches with underexploited potential. Once an agricultural power-house, Georgia now farms less than half of its arable land. It has less than half the number of cows and one-third of the pigs that it had in 1990. Agriculture employs over half the population, yet contributes less than a tenth of GDP. Ridiculously, this fertile country now imports 70 percent of its food. As a result, many of Georgia’s poorest people live in the countryside. Agriculture contributed over 16% of GDP in 2005, but only 8% in 2010.
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Many local farmers are still suspicious. Most of them are subsistence-level producers; nation-wide, the average farm is less than one hectare. Seeing a government that has long paid them little attention suddenly court South Africans has produced mixed feelings. Last year, local farmers demonstrated in the village of Zeghduleti, near Gori, after common pasture that they had long used for grazing was cleared for sale to a foreign investor. After a number of arrests, the farmers were eventually advised to slaughter their cattle or graze them further afield. Georgia’s impatient government has a taste for dramatic change and short-term results. But as farmers know better than most, patience can be a virtue too.
The northwestern states of Punjab and Haryana have been the worst offenders. Haryana, formerly part of Punjab, was created in 1966 and borders Delhi to the north, west, and south. In 1999-2001, these states had very low SRBs of just 775 and 803, respectively. While they have since risen to 836 and 849, the last three SRS reports show a worrying tendency for the SRB rise to have leveled off. A low birth rate is often considered motivation for sex-selective abortion as male children could be more valued when couples have few children but that pattern is definitely not uniform across India. In Punjab, the total fertility rate (TFR — the average number of children a woman would bear in her lifetime in the birth rate of a particular year were to remain unchanged) was 1.9 in 2008 and 2.5 in Haryana. But it was also low in Karnataka (2.0) and Kerala (1.7), states with SRBs in the normal range. And, the two states with the highest TFRs, Bihar (3.9) and Uttar Pradesh (3.8), have low SRBs. Together, those latter two states hold 300 million population, one-fourth of India’s total.