Thursday, April 24, 2008

Philippines and Thailand: population, agriculture, and economics

Philippine population control advocates gaze enviously at Thailand's 0.663% population growth rate (2007 est.) and sigh wistfully at our own 1.728%. (2007 est.) And for emphasis, they point to Thailand's strong economy and agricultural output. "See how Thailand has overtaken us because they have a modern family planning program? We're even importing rice from Thailand now!"

In the realm of logic fallacies, this is called post hoc ergo propter hoc. Just because Thailand's population growth rate is lower does not automatically translate into a stronger economy and greater agricultural output. Comparisons of economic and agricultural figures for both countries will show why things are they way they are.

Thailand has a total cropland of 18,000,000 hectares as opposed to our own 10,050,000 hectares (1999 estimates). Thailand has nearly double the agricultural land that we do. Thailand's average annual fertilizer use is 1,802,000 metric tons, or an intensity of 100 kg/ha; our own fertilizer use is only 742,000 metric tons, or a much lower 74 kg/ha. (Because of this current administration's fertilizer scam, we ended up paying much much more for nonexistent fertilizer anyway.)

Thailand, with a contiguous land area of over 514,000 sq km, is a much larger country than our own archipelagic 300,000 sq km. What's more, they dedicate 27.54% of their land to agriculture whereas we only use 19%. Around 49% of Thailand's labor force is dedicated to agriculture, versus 35% of our own.

Roughly 10.8% of Thailand's GDP comes from agriculture, the rest even split between industry (45.3%) and services (43.8%). Our own breakdown is: 35% agriculture, 15% industry, and 50% services. We are clearly lagging behind in industry although we have roughly the same percentage of the labor force dedicated to that sector (14% and 15%).

But what of Thailand's 0.663% population growth versus our own 1.728%? Thailand's birth rate is 13.57 births/1,000 population, a little less than half that of our own 24.07 births/1,000 population. However, there are more disturbing figures for Thailand: their infant mortality rate is 18.23 deaths/1,000 live births, very close to our own 21.45 deaths/1,000 live births. Moreover, their death rate is 7.17 deaths/1,000 population.

The annotation from the CIA World Fact Book from which these figures are taken has this to say:

Estimates for [Thailand] explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, lower population growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected.

So there's that: the secret behind Thailand's population management "success story."