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Industry-sponsored study tours are a malpractice.

Ground Reality - Fri, 08/22/2014 - 18:04
In the mid-1980s I was working with the Indian Express. As the Agriculture Correspondent for the newspaper I had followed keenly the claims Pepsico was making to re-enter India. In the garb of bringing a 2nd Horticultural Revolution in the trouble-torn Punjab, Pepsi had its eyes set on the vast Indian market for its beverages. The studies and reports Pepsico had presented were not so convincing. In my columns I had repeatedly questioned the claims.

Pepsico was certainly not happy with my reports. I was contacted by a senior Punjab bureaucrat who wanted me to sit across with the Country Director of Pepsico to know the other side. As a journalist this is what I am supposed to do. So I readily agreed. The three of us met for a cup of tea and after a lot of discussions, Pepsico invited me and my wife for a fortnight visit to the US to see for myself the remarkable research that was being conducted on agriculture. I was also told that Pepsico would be keen to take me to Venezuela to show me the success they have achieved in potato cultivation. When I just smiled and said "thank you" (and perhaps sensing that I may not take it as an unethical practice), I was told they were also taking a senior bureaucrat (who incidentally was responsible for the development sector, and was not very enthused with Pepsico's proposals) to the US.

Well, the bureaucrat did visit Pepsico's headquarters (he had sought permission from the Punjab Govt to attend a family marriage in the US) and once he returned he became a die hard champion for Pepsico.

Pepsico did subsequently make an entry into Punjab in the late 1980's. But all I know is that after some 30 years, in 2014, when I look back there is no trace of the 2nd Horticultural Revolution the soft drink giant had promised.

This incident came to my mind the moment I read the news report After GM trials ban, BJP, Sena MPs heading for Monsanto-funded study tour (Business Standard. Aug 22, 2014. http://bit.ly/1q095qc). The news report said: "A group of members of Parliament from BJP and Shiv Sena are heading to the US on a week long study tour sponsored by global seed giant, Monsanto. The group departs on Saturday."  It also quoted a Monsanto spokesperson who admitted that this is in line with industry practice. The visit would cost approximately $ 6,000 per head for food, accommodation and travel which would be entirely borne by Monsanto. Considering there are no free lunches, you can just imagine the kind of indirect return the company was expecting for this visit.

Within hours of the news report appearing the social media went berserk. The BJP responded by saying that none of its members would be part of the junket.

Nevertheless, the fact remains this is not the first time industry has sponsored such study junkets. And also Monsanto is not the only company to have done so. This is a usual lobbying practice adopted by Big Business and somehow the media is game with it. Monsanto itself has taken in the past scores of journalists, farmer leaders, scientists, and officials of the Department of Biotechnology on study tours. It will be interesting to know how many such junkets have been organised by Monsanto in the past, and to know who all went and what did they write when they came back. No wonder you see a very spirited defense of the controversial genetically modified (GM) crops that are under consideration for commercial approval.

This also reminds me of a news report that has appeared in the national daily The Hindu some years back. A group of visiting scientists (for an International Science Congress in New Delhi) had gone and met the then Chief Justice of India inviting him and some senor judges on an 'educational tour' of the US to understand the virtues of GM technology. I later found out that judges from some 20 countries including India, South Africa, Brazil, and Egypt had traveled to an institute named after Albert Einstein. The basic objective of such education trips for the judges was to expose them to 'the great potential of GM crops' so that they don't easily admit legal cases that would be filed in due course of time.

This malpractice must stop. Already enough damage has been done by manipulating the public discourse by such sponsored visits. Just like the Prime Minister Narendra Modi has put an end to the malpractice of carrying an entourage of journalists on his visits abroad, and has also directed ruling party MPs to take his permission before travelling abroad on sch junkets/study tours, it is high time the Indian media too on its own announced putting an end to this malpractice. Media can't be standing on the high moral ground without first setting up an example.

Why only MP's it is time the government also stops agricultural scientists, economists, sociologists, and also bar officials of the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Science & Technology as well as the Ministry of Environment & Forests from such sponsored studies. This is a corrupt practice and it must be put to an end. #
Categories: Ecological News

U.S. wildfires grow while budget to fight them is depleted

Green Blog - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 18:22
Wildfires have been blazing on all summer, and the latest of them is occurring in Oregon, near the Columbia River Gorge. Owners of 140 homes have already evacuated, and despite the efforts of 400 firefighters, the flames have continued to spread over five square miles. Meanwhile in northern Idaho, another brushfire has burned across 64 square miles and destroyed five structures. But efforts to combat the blazes may be fruitless, because the money to fight them is running out.

Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, said Aug. 5 that the U.S. Forest Service's annual budget for fighting wildfires is rapidly dwindling; in fact, it may run out by the end of the month. The fires, on the other hand, will keep burning. He suggested they were in the midst of a catch-22, as when the Forest Service's funding runs dry, it will need to dip into other projects designed to help prevent future wildfires, in order to put out the ones currently blazing. Specifically, about $400-500 million will be taken away from such projects, putting the future in jeopardy in terms of further disasters.

Vilsack, who is lobbying for an extra $615 million for the Forest Service to fight wildfires this year and next, remarked, "When we begin to run out of money, we have to dip into the very programs that will reduce the risk of these wildfires over [a longer period of] time." And those accounts aren't the only ones that suffer; in the past, they have also had to draw from other programs not related to wildfires. Such a transfer occurred in 2012, when the funding for road repairs in Arkansas' Ouachita National Forest was instead used to contend with fires throughout the U.S.

The fire in Idaho, called the Big Cougar Fire, is only 15 percent contained, and 200 more structures in its path risk becoming damaged or destroyed unless firefighters can contain it further. Resources are being used while there's still funding for them, and include four helicopters, four fire engines, and three dozers. Isolated thunderstorms are expected, but those are unpredictable; rain could help quell the flames, but lightning could spark an entirely new blaze.

One of the reasons the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture are so hot and bothered over the depletion of yearly wildfire money is due to the likelihood that there will be many more fires. In the past, a depletion of funding by the end of August might have been manageable, but global warming has changed that. Wildfires are now likely to occur much later in the year than August.

"The really amazing thing is that we don't just see an increase in one or two regions," said Philip Dennison, a geographer at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. "We're seeing it almost everywhere - in the mountain regions, in the Southwest... That tells us that something bigger is going on, and that thing appears to be climate change."

This increases the risk for firefighters as well - even more reason why sufficient funding is necessary. Robert Bonnie, undersecretary for natural resources with the Department of Agriculture, explained, "Fire behavior is more extreme now. We're seeing larger fires. We're seeing fires where we have more houses and people. That makes them more dangerous and more difficult to fight."

The money isn't there because the Republican controlled Congress isn't doing anything to put it there, according to a report by U.S. News. A bill to overhaul the way wildfire fighting is funded was introduced by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho - and then promptly abandoned by him. Simpson gave no explanation why.

Vicki Minor, executive director of the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, a nonprofit group that helps families of firefighters killed in the line of duty, said, "Because of these fires, we lose our watersheds, we lose our hunting ranges, we lose our homes. These fire seasons are not going away, and for them to not fund wildfires... I'm just disgusted with them."
Categories: Ecological News

Four years later: Gulf still reeling from effects of BP oil spill

Green Blog - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 18:07
On August 4, scientists from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium released their annual measurement from the Gulf of Mexico's dead zone - in part, the product of the infamous 2010 BP oil spill. The results were troubling. The area of oxygen deprivation in the sensitive ecosystem has been estimated at 5,008 square miles this year.

Though the current exacerbation of the issue is due to nitrogen and phosphorous pollution - the product of fertilizer runoff and wastewater discharges from treatment plants - the dead zone's creation is largely owed to the spill that poisoned the Gulf four years ago, flooding it with 170 million gallons of oil.

In particular, the Gulf's coral community is suffering, according to a new study by scientists at Penn State University in State College, Pa. Using 3D seismic data from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and identifying 488 habitats within a 25-mile radius of the original spill site, they found that coral life there shows extensive lingering damage from the spill, suggesting that the disaster's footprint is much more severe than initially thought.

"This study very clearly shows that multiple coral communities, up to 13.7 miles from the spill site and at depths over 5,905 feet, were impacted by the spill," said Charles Fisher, co-author of the study and professor of biology at Penn State. "One of the keys to coral's usefulness as an indicator species is that the coral skeleton retains evidence of damage long after the oil that originally caused the damage is gone."

Jane Lubchenco, an Oregon State University marine biologist and director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, remarked, "The BP oil spill could have been much worse, but the caution is that we still don't fully know the true extent of the damage. But there were likely acute impacts before the oil disappeared, and in fact, some of the oil that did come ashore continues to be suspended in the environment."

Lead researcher of the Penn State study, Helen White, said most experts had previously linked coral damage to the oil spill, but added, "Now we can say it was definitely connected to the spill." The paper the scientists published elaborated, reading, "Coral colonies are vital oases for marine life in the chilly ocean depths. The injured and dying coral today has bare skeleton, loose tissue, and is covered in heavy mucus and brown fluffy material."

And experts have spotted yet another piece of the spill's aftermath, which is its effect on insects, many of which play a vital role in maintaining the integrity of the ecosystem. Louisiana State University entomologist Linda Hooper-Bui said the real damage to bugs was likely done when Hurricane Isaac hit in 2012 and stirred up oil that had lain dormant on the ocean floor. This, said Hooper-Bui, affects the insects and spiders living in the marsh grasses nearby, some of which form the base of the area's food chain.

Michael Blum, director of the Tulane/Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research, said, "During the spill, we were asking how long it would take to recover, and the prevailing notion was that we were looking at relatively short recovery times when focusing on coastal marsh and coastal ecosystems." Essentially, that it would "rebound in one to three years and in five years there'd be no indications of the spill. But four years on, there's still a pretty distinct signature of a response to the oil."

Samantha Joye, a University of Georgia marine biologist, added that it could be a long time before scientists really have a handle on the ripple effect of the spill; the coral degradation, decline in insect population, and continuing growth of the dead zone are merely several aspects of the issue that have recently come to light. She said, "The long-term ecosystem impacts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are only beginning to be realized. Some areas have recovered well, but others remain significantly impacted. And the problem with this is that the [effects] are so heterogenerously distributed that long-term, system-scale monitoring is required to truly quantify the impacts."
Categories: Ecological News

"The Sixth Extinction" or how humanity, perching on tree limb, saws it off

Green Blog - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 17:41
Since humans evolved from apes and climbed down from the trees we have altered nature through our activity. This is especially so since the rise of capitalism and its ruthless, destructive global exploitation of nature.

In her book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert clearly and passionately describes how human destruction of ecological systems is today causing the sixth great mass extinction of biological species, including possibly the human species itself. In the words of scientist Paul Ehrlich, "In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches."

Over its 4.5 billion years of existence, the Earth has evolved through many geologic periods. We are now in a new one - what is called the Anthropocene, or human caused, era. Dutch chemist Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize winning scientist who helped discover ozone depleting compounds, developed the term.

Crutzen observed human activity has so altered Earth that it constitutes a new geologic age. Humans have transformed land surfaces, soil, rivers, oceans, and most importantly, have altered the atmosphere through a combination of greenhouse gas emission and deforestation.

"Because of these (human caused) emissions," Crutzen said, global climate is likely to "depart significantly from natural behavior for many millennia to come."

In popular language, Kolbert recounts how scientists came to understand extinction and discovered five previous mass extinction events. These include the end-Ordovician extinction caused by an ice age; the end-Permian extinction or Great Dying, which emptied the Earth of 96 percent of species; and the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction about 65 million years ago that did in the dinosaurs.

A sixth extinction is occurring before our eyes. Species are dying at a rate 1,000 times faster than pre-human habitation. "It is estimated that one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all freshwater mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion," writes Kolbert.

Kolbert documents pioneering scientific research of the current disappearance of species. She trudges through jungles in Panama with scientists studying the mass disappearance of amphibians, in particular the Panamanian golden frog. What's crashing frog populations is fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which spread worldwide. Scientists speculate the fungus migrated through international shipping.

Kolbert accompanies scientists to caves in upstate New York and Vermont in search of what are killing millions of bats. Up to 90 percent of brown bats have succumbed to a cold loving fungus accidentally imported from Europe. The fungus is spreading and causing mass die offs of other varieties of bats.

The author then introduces us to scientists researching the effect of climate change on flora and how slight changes in global temperature can make life inhospitable to plant species.

To illustrate global warming's "equally evil twin," or ocean acidification, we visit Castello Aragonese, a tiny island the product of volcanic activity in the Tyrrhenian Sea near Naples. Underwater vents around the island emit 100 percent carbon dioxide gas, which dissolves in the water.

Scientists clearly see the effects of C02. Approaching the vents, life disappears. This mimics macro changes in the world's oceans. Atmospheric greenhouse gases exchange with ocean water that cover 70 percent of the Earth's surface. Historically, about one third of all greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, have been dissolved into the vast oceans raising the acidification level.

Atmospheric C02 concentration levels are higher than at anytime in the last 800,000 years. By the end of the century the oceans are projected to be 150 percent more acidic than at the beginning of the industrial revolution. Acidification levels are reaching a "tipping point" where conditions will become inhospitable to most forms of life. Already coral reefs are disappearing.

Kolbert discusses what's called the "New Pangaea." Pangaea is the original global land expanse, when all the present day continents were connected and a single fauna and flora evolved. Plate tectonics caused the landmasses to separate into the present day continents. Fauna and flora evolved separately into unique species.

"Invasive species" are nothing new. Beginning with modern human migration out of Africa, the continents have been exchanging fauna and flora. Many scientists speculate modern humans drove to extinction other archaic human species that existed simultaneously including the Neanderthals, which apparently we Homo sapiens also mated with. With modern trade and transport, species are being exchanged worldwide at an accelerating rate leading to the "New Pangaea."

Kolbert helps us understand that unless we act now, the human species can also be a victim of the sixth extinction. At the very least humanity will deal with the effects of climate change far into the future and many biological species will disappear. Large parts of the human family, mainly the poorest and those living in the most ecologically fragile and vulnerable regions are facing an existential threat by drought and rising sea levels.

Reading the book, one is struck by the ability of humans to grasp their situation and act to change it. Climate awareness is growing and with it action to halt the discharge of greenhouse gas emissions. Also growing is awareness that the capitalist exploitative system and its drive for profits is incompatible with sustainability.

Humanity faces its biggest collective challenge - its very existence. We must not only deal with the impact of the climate crisis on nature and society today, we must be about winning a sustainable society for the future. We must face it with the "fierce urgency of tomorrow."

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert. Henry Holt and Company, 2014, 336 pp (hardcover).
Categories: Ecological News

Is Big Business in India thriving on Crony Capitalism?

Ground Reality - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 15:51
Wikipedia defines Crony Capitalism as a "term describing an economy in which success in business depends on close relationship between business people and government officials. It may be exhibited by favoritism in the distribution of legal permits, government grants, special tax breaks and so forth. Crony capitalism is believed to arise when political cronyism spills in to the business world; self-servicing friendship and family ties between businessmen and the government influence the economy and society to the extent that it corrupts public-serving economic and political ideals." Why I thought of bringing this up is because I find a number of articles appearing in newspapers which actually are (if you read between the lines) trying to defend crony capitalism.

I was taken by surprise when Economic Times in an editorial What is wrong with Crony Capitalism ( Aug 13, 2014) concluded: "As India evolves and acquires institutional maturity, it is imperative to shed cronyism from the process of selecting those to accord State support. But it is too early to rid the system of State support altogether." A few days later Swaminathan Aiyar writing in the Times of India (Aug 17, 2014) under the caption: Corruption? protection rackets more than crony capitalism (http://bit.ly/1t9WuzZ) lists 30 riches families and gives them a certificate of not being a beneficiary of State monopolies. Accordingly, these richest barons are a product of competitive business practices.

These 30 richest families listed are: Mukesh Ambani (Reliance Industries Ltd); Azim Premji (Wipro); Sunil Mittal (Bharti Airtel); Dilip Shanghvi (Sun Pharma); Anil Aggarwal (Sterlite); Shiv Nadar (HCL); Anil Ambani (Reliance Power and Communications); Kumar Birla (Grasim); Uday Kotak (Kotak Bank); Choksi-Dani-Vakil (Asian Paints); Gautam Adani (Adani Enterprises); KP Singh (DLF); VC Burman (Dabur); Keshub Mahindra (Mahindra & Mahindra): Adi Godrej (Godrej Industries); DB Gupta (Lupin); Rahul Bajaj (Bajaj Auto); Brijmohan Munjal (Hero): Subhash Chandra (ZEE): Naveen Jindal (Jindal Steel and Power); Vijay Mallya (United Spirits); Sajjan Jindal (JSW Steel); YK Hamied (Cipla); Pankaj Patel (Cadila); Kalanithi Maran (SUN TV); VC Sehgal (Motherson Sumi); Reddy family (Dr Reddy’s Labs); BK Parekh (Pidilite): BM Bangur (Shree Cement); and Sudhir Mehta (Torrent).

Read through the list and I am sure you will be able to immediately find out how many of them have been and still remain a beneficiary of State largesse. In fact, some of them have been the beneficiary of 'crony socialism' accumulating wealth during that period, and subsequently strengthening business after the economy was thrown open in 1991. It doesn't therefore matter whether we live in a socialist era or a capitalist, big business knows how to thrive.

But what pains me is the dexterity with which some loud speakers for the free market economy (includes some big names from the economic fraternity) have gone to defend 'crony capitalism' against protectionism or 'crony socialism'. It's more or less like the advertisements we often see on TV: "Meri kameez teri kameez se zaida safed" (my shirt is whiter than yours). Just because economic liberalisation is generally accused to be leading to massive corruption by a handful of big businesses does not mean that you have to stoop so low to defend it by saying that it's better for the economy than protectionism. A crime is a crime, and it doesn't matter during whose regime it was committed. Similarly, a crook is a crook whether he was active during socialist era or is pro-actively exploiting the resources (both natural as well as financial) during the times of market economy.

This is contrary to what the Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan warned the other day. Delivering a lecture in Mumbai, Rajan said: "One of the greatest dangers to the developing countries is the middle income trap, where crony capitalism creates oligarchies that slows down growth. If the debate during elections is any pointer, this is a very real concern of the public in India today." (Crony capitalism is a big threat to countries like India, RBI chief Raghuram Rajan sayshttp://bit.ly/1rhPDIi). 

Whatever one might say, the fact remains big business thrives on State largesse. Whether it is in the form of natural resources like land, water, forests, minerals being made available to them at a throwaway price or tax concessions in one form or the other. The moment State withdraws the unwanted support, you'll hear the same bunch of economists who defend crony capitalism, raise the chorus of policy paralysis. The moment you hear the war cry policy paralysis just be sure big business is not getting a free ride. So when Tata's don't get land at a price that only seeks 0.1 per cent interest (for his Nano factory), or when Laxmi N Mittal doesn't get Rs 1250-crore loan from Punjab Government to invest in Bathinda refinery and that too at an interest of 0.1 per cent, which in other words means practically at zero interest, they cry hoarse. But tell me, isn't this a classic example of crony capitalism? Does this government grant and tax breaks not fall in the definition of crony capitalism?

The line between what is called incentive and what falls in the broader category of crony capitalism is very thin indeed. As the Times of India further writes: "The governor's warning against crony capitalism and oligarchies is a reiteration of his statements four days before the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008. In a speech at the Bombay Chamber, Rajan had highlighted that India had the highest number of billionaires per trillion dollars of GDP after Russia. While excluding NR Narayana Murthy, Azim Premji, and Ratan Tata as 'deservedly respected', Rajan had said "three factors — land, natural resources, and government contracts or licenses — are the predominant sources of the wealth of our billionaires. And all of these factors come from the government."

Even the three that he had exempted -- NR Narayana Murthy, Azim Premji and Ratan Tata -- have been beneficiary of massive doles from the government. I have already talked of Ratan Tata's Nano car project to give you an idea, but the IT czars are no exception. The other day I read a news report wherein Punjab Govt had welcomes Infosys to set up a unit in Mohali. Very right, nothing wrong with it. But offering Infosys campus in Mohali 50 acres of land is nothing but crony capitalism. Why does Infosys need 50 acres?

Mohali campus is not the only example. A report in Live Mint tells us that Infosys has the largest number of hospitality rooms in the country. With roughly 15,000 rooms constructed, it beats Taj and Sheraton. (Infosys: India's biggest hospitality firm? http://bit.ly/1t9EasS). On top of it, IT sector does not pay any I-T tax. A sector which is slush with money is not paying taxes. That's the reason while the IT sector thrives merrily on tax payers money, the rising stocks has accumulated private wealth into the hands of a few of top honchos who manage the IT sector. Basically it is public money that creates more wealth for a few. This is a classic example of privatising the profits, and socialising the costs. Remove the tax exemptions, and make IT sector pay for the land resources and you'll see the stock value coming down.

Since 2004-05 the government has started clubbing the tax concessions that it provides every year under the head Revenue Foregone. These exemptions were given to boost industrial production, enhance exports, and to create employment. In the past 9 years, Rs 36.5 lakh crore has been given as tax exemptions. In 2014-15 Revenue Foregone is Rs 5.73 lakh crore which is more than the fiscal deficit. P Sainath has very lucidly brought out what could have been accomplished from the kind of tax sops given knowingly to India Inc (P Sainath on Corporate bail out. http://bit.ly/1nv4w6k). Accordingly, every day for the past 9 years, India inc has received tax concessions to the tune of Rs 1,100-crores.

Yes, State support is very important for any industry. But when it continues indefinitely, it crosses into the category of crony capitalism. Raghuram Rajan is very right when he says "three factors — land, natural resources, and government contracts or licenses — are the predominant sources of the wealth of our billionaires. And all of these factors come from the government." 

No wonder, the economic wealth of 56 families in India is equal to that of 600 million. 
Categories: Ecological News

No one wants to be a farmer anymore. It's only a matter of time before farmer as a species goes extinct

Ground Reality - Tue, 08/12/2014 - 10:26

Farming is wilting everywhere. It's only a matter of time before farmer as a species goes extinct -- AP pic
Some years back, the celebrated Indian President Abdul Kalam was addressing students at an annual event organised by K Govindacharya's Bhartiya Swabhiman Andolan at Gulbarga in Karnataka. He exhorted students to work hard, educated themselves to become doctors, engineers, civil servants, scientists, economists and entrepreneurs. After he had ended his talk, a young student got up and asked why he didn't say that they should also become farmers.

Abdul Kalam was floored. Whatever be his long winding answer, the young student had actually punctured his argument, and at the same time brought out the great bias towards farming.

This incident came to my mind when I was reading this moving essay by a farmer from the United States. Bren Smith, a shellfish and seaweed farmer writes in the New York Times (Aug 9, 2014) Don't Let Your Children Grow up to be Farmers (http://nyti.ms/VeffqD): "The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much-celebrated small -scale farmer isn't making a living. After the tools are put away, we head out to second and third jobs to keep our farms afloat." Accordingly, 91 per cent of all farm households in the US rely on multiple sources of income. This is happening in a country where the Farm Bill 2014 makes a provision for $ 962 billion of federal subsidy support for agriculture for the next 10 years.

Ironically, the stark reality remains hidden in the Year of Family Farms.

Farmers are a dying breed. Writing in the Newsweek magazine (April 10, 2014), Max Kutner says: "For decades, farmers across the country have been dying by suicide at higher rates than the general population. The exact numbers are hard to determine, mainly because suicide by farmers are under-reported (they may get mislabeled as hunting or tractor accidents, advocates for prevention say) and because the exact definition of a farmer is elusive." (Death on the Farm http://www.newsweek.com/death-farm-248127).

Well, what is happening in America is not an isolated development, farmers are dying across the globe.

When some weeks back I said on a prominent TV channel that on an average 2,80,000 people living in rural areas every year have been committing suicide for the past decade in China, the nation was shocked. A lot of concerned viewers called me up and wrote to me wanting to know more about the death on the Chinese farm. According to news report, nearly 80 per cent of the rural people who take their own lives in China are victims of farm land grab. In India, almost 300,000 farmers have ended their live since 1995. Again, like in the US, farm suicides are also under-reported in India with some States now trying to hide them by shifting these deaths to some other categories. Even in Europe, which provides massive subsidy support under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the serial death dance continues unabated. In France, 500 suicides have been reported in a year. In Ireland, in UK, in Russia, and in Australia farmers are a dying breed.

In India, although we keep on saying that agriculture is the mainstay on the economy, in reality it isn't. Employing some 52 per cent of the population, the share of agriculture in country's GDP has been progressively on the decline. It is less than 14 per cent now. I have been saying for long that small farmers have to get into multiple of jobs to keep their chulas burning. Some studies point out to roughly 58 per cent farmers relying on the rural employment guarantee programme (MNREGA), which provides for 100 days guaranteed employment. Still worse, the people who feed the country actually sleep hungry. More than 60 per cent go to bed hungry every night. Nothing can be a worse illustration of the great tragedy on the farm.

It's not because of any unexplained natural calamity or a virus that the farms across the globe are first being hit by recession, and then depression. It is part of global economic design to move farmers out of agriculture, and by doing so to shift food production into the hands of heavily subsidised and environmentally-destructive agribusiness companies. It is generally believed that for any country to grow economically, the share of agriculture in the GDP must be brought down. In US, agriculture is only 4 per cent of its GDP. In India, it is less than 14 per cent now. By the end of 2020, I am sure it would be somewhere in the range of 10 per cent. Small scale agriculture is therefore being deliberately stifled.

In my understanding, the unwritten economic prescription is to make farming non-viable so that farmers are left with no other choice but to quit. In a quest to keep food prices low, the economic paradigm support large agribusiness conglomerates. The demise of the farmer therefore is predetermined. It's only a matter of time before the farmer as a species goes extinct.

Further reading:

1. Displacing Farmers: India will have 400 million Agricultural Refugees
http://www.globalresearch.ca/displacing-farmers-india-will-have-400-million-agricultural-refugees/6127

2. France and India: The Beautiful farms are all but dying.
http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.in/2010/07/france-and-india-beautiful-farms-are.html
   
Categories: Ecological News

WTO: Livelihood security of 600 million farmers is more important than creating jobs in the rich and developed countries

Ground Reality - Mon, 08/11/2014 - 18:20
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is absolutely right. What India had signed at the Bali WTO Ministerial in Dec 2013 would have surely compromised the future of India’s 600 million farmers.
The then Commerce Minister Anand Sharma definitely knew what was at stake. Despite calling the Prime Minister’s statement as ‘incorrect and false’ the fact remains that he deliberately mortgaged poor farmers’ interest.* He had agreed to an interim protection of four years for the Minimum Support Price (MSP) that farmers get. The reason was simple. India wanted to ensure that the Bali Ministerial succeeds even if it means destroying the livelihood of farmers. I don't know how could UPA think of destroying a majority of 600 million farm livelihoods just to keep the Bali WTO Ministerial afloat? How does India gain by help creating jobs in the rich countries at the cost of its poor millions?  
Anand Sharma knew that numerous US farm groups had written to the US Trade Representative Michael Froman as well as the US Agricultural Secretary Thomas Vilsack objecting to linking food aid with price support programs. Not finding anything wrong in legitimate domestic food aid programs, 30 farm commodity export groups had however expressed concern at the “price support programs, which have more to do with boosting farm incomes and increasing production than feeding the poor.”
These US farm commodity export groups, which ironically receive monumental federal support every year, had questioned the need to provide any relaxation in current discipline even on a temporary basis. Accordingly, such an exemption will result in more subsidy outgo and result in further damage to US trade interests. Against this, it's very clear that the Bali Ministerial had failed to find a permanent solution to India’s price support for farmers. If a the tough stand was taken by India at the Bali Ministerial, the present crisis would not have erupted.
By refusing to ratify the protocol for amendments of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) by July 31 unless linked to a permanent guarantee for stockholding of foodgrains and an assured income for farmers, India has demonstrated a shift in power equation since the days of the Uruguay Round of the World Trade Organisation. Not only protecting its food security concerns, and the livelihood security of 600 million farmers, India’s decisive position will hopefully herald a new era in trade diplomacy.
The way Prime Minister Narendra Modi remained defiant despite the last minute efforts of the visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry gives me hope. This is the first time an Indian Prime Minister has stood like a solid rock behind his team of negotiators. Quite a departure from what we have witnessed in the past 20 years of trade negotiations. We have seen India’s successive trade minister make the right noises, dominate the global media space, but in the final hours sign on the dotted line. India had always behaved like a mouse that roared.
If only at the Bali WTO Ministerial in December, the then Commerce Minister Anand Sharma had refused to accept the ‘Peace Clause’ – that gives India a four-year reprieve from being dragged into the dispute panel for violation of the WTO farm subsidy obligations – the entire trade dimensions would have changed for better. India needed a permanent solution that allows for its sovereign and gigantic role to feed the hungry millions. Not realizing that food security for any developed country, and that includes the United States, has always taken precedence over the trade benefits, India had failed to stand up.
The US has never been worried about torpedoing the trade negotiations. It has stalled decision making in some 30 instances, always keeping its national interests supreme. It has refused, for instance, to do away with cotton subsidies all these years. 
Capitulating voices within the country had added on to the fears that a tough stand will isolate India. These economists had more or less blamed India for making a mountain out of a mole-hill. As if sacrificing the livelihood security of 600 million farmers, almost double the population of US is a mole-hill, wrong statistics were flaunted. Some even went to the extent of saying that Indian farmers were the highest paid in the world by wrongly comparing fob prices with procurement prices and thereby ignoring the massive subsidies US/EU farmers get. Unlike in America, Indian agriculture has become economically non-viable with close to 300,000 farmers committing suicide in the past 15 years. 
What the WTO had wanted was the minimum support price that farmers are paid be either dismantled or capped at 10 per cent of the total value of the produce. As per the WTO pricing calculations, worked out in 1986-88, the present rice procurement price of Rs 1,360 per quintal would need to be reduced to about Rs 600 a quintal. All that India wanted was revision of the outdated pricing formula to a more realistic base period of 2010-12. This wasn’t however acceptable to the US, EU, Australia and Japan.
Reducing the MSP by roughly 50 per cent to meet WTO obligations or by agreeing to dismantle the procurement prices would have brought the farmers onto the streets. The political ramification for any present government would have been disastrous. 
While India has rightly slammed the door, it has kept a window open for negotiations. When WTO meets again in September after the recess, the real test for India’s trade diplomacy will come into focus. This will be the time to asset on the need for a ‘food security box’ for developing and least developing countries. On the lines of the green box, amber box and blue box, which provide protection to agricultural subsidies in the developed countries, the ‘food security box’ should provide protection to each country to feed its hungry population and at the same time ensure that small farmers are adequately protected against the tyranny of the markets. There can be no compromise on the state’s sovereign role in feeding its poor. India cannot afford to forgo the policy space to maintain food self-sufficiency. # 
*Did the UPA mislead the country on Bali pact? in Mint Aug 11, 2014. http://www.livemint.com/Politics/V580QjRAitbDuqD1tl4TlM/Did-the-UPA-mislead-the-country-on-Bali-pact.html 
Categories: Ecological News

67 Years after Independence, Indian farmers have disappeared from the economic radar screen -- My interview

Ground Reality - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 10:09

Indian farmers continue to toll against all odds. (pic from web) 

On the occasion of the 67th Independence, Aug 15, 2014, the Hindi magazine Yathawat interviewed me on the state of Indian agriculture. In this short and crisp interview, I was asked to track the historical backdrop and to look at the present and future agricultural policies and approaches.  
Q: When India got its Independence in 1947, how did its agriculture look like? 
India got its Independence in 1947 in the backdrop of Bengal Famine. The famine happened in 1943 taking a massive human toll. Some estimates point to 3 million people perishing in the famine. But Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s work tells us that there was no shortfall in food production in 1943. It was only because the private trade had diverted the food that millions of people were left starving. In 1947, when India got Independence, agriculture was in a pathetic state, a fallout of the neglect and wanton destruction of agriculture during the days of the British Raj. With more than 80 per cent population engaged in subsistence farming, Independent India was a hungry nation.
Q: What prompted Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri to give the slogan of "Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan" in 1965? Was it a reflection of the grave crisis afflicting farmers and farming, and of course the threat India faced from across the borders. 
When Lal Bahadur Shashtri took over a Prime Minister in 1964 India was a food importing country. It depended on food imports from North America under the PL-480 scheme. Not many people know that 1965, the year when India went to war with Pakistan, was also a drought year. In 1965 India had imported 10 million tonnes of wheat under PL-480. Knowing how precarious the food situation was, and knowing the extent of prevailing hunger, Lal Bahadur Shashtri had urged the nation to fast for a day. I know many people who have continued to fast on Monday’s since then. It was primarily because Lal Bahadur Shashtri understood the role that soldiers and farmers play in maintaining national security thereby preserving national sovereignty that he gave the slogan ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’
Q: Green Revolution came in the late 1970s. What led to that ..
For almost 20 years after Independence in 1947 India had remained a food importing country. In fact, after the 10 million tonnes food import in 1965, the next year 1966 also turned to be a drought year in which India imported 11 million tonnes of foodgrains. That was the biggest food import at that time in history. before that, it was not that the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru did not make any serious efforts to improve food production. He launched various community development programmes but could not achieve the desired results. On Aug 15, 1955 he had shared his frustration with the nation when he said from the rampart of Red Fort: “It is very humiliating for any country to import food. So everything else can wait but not agriculture.’
After the premature death of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri in Jan 1966, Mrs Indira Gandhi took over. But before Shashtri died he had annoyed the then American President Lyndon Johnson when he had told an American journalist, in reply to a question, that the war in Vietnam “was an act of aggression’. This sentence had annoyed Johnson who had stopped food exports to India under what is known as ‘stop-go policy’. India was then in such a precarious situation that even the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations had to make an appeal to US to allow food exports to India. Food would come directly from the ship to the hungry mouths. India was then called as a country living in a ‘ship-to-mouth’ existence.
Mrs Indira Gandhi sowed the foundation of ‘Green Revolution’ in 1966 when she allowed the seeds of dwarf and high-yielding varieties of wheat from CIMMYT in Mexico. India imported 18,000 tonnes of wheat seed from Mexico, adapted them to Indian conditions, and as per an earlier demarcated programme, distributed these seed to farmers in Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh where irrigation was available. The first wheat harvest after cultivating high-yielding seeds in 1967 was five tonnes more than the previous. This was a record increase at that time and was termed ‘wheat revolution’ by Mrs Gandhi.
Q: Green Revolution increased production in wheat and rice. Besides high-yielding varieties, there must be something else too?
The quantum jump in the wheat production was followed by rice two years later. India received high-yielding varieties of rice from the International Rice Research Institute in Manila, in 1968. These rice varieties were adapted to the Indian conditions and distributed to farmers in Punjab, western Uttar Pradesh and also in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Rice also recorded an increase in productivity and production. The term ‘Green Revolution’ was later coined by an American scientist, William Gaud.
Green Revolution turned the country self-sufficient in wheat and rice, and by early 1970s India stopped importing food under PL-480.
Since the days of Green Revolution, Indian agriculture has grown manifold. There has been an all around development in crop production not only in wheat and rice but also in coarse cereals, maize, cotton, sugarcane etc. Improved technology was packaged well with right policy decisions. The setting up of Food Corporation of India and Agricultural Prices Commission in 1965-66 were the two major planks of what Dr M S Swaminathan calls as the ‘famine-avoidance’ strategy.
Q: How come after Green Revolution turned the corners, farmers are committing suicide on a large scale?
By the mid-1980s, the environmental impact of intensive farming systems that used chemical fertilizers, chemical pesticides and groundwater had begun to emerge. These are called the 2nd Generation Environmental Impacts. But instead of encouraging farmers to adopt sustainable practices to thwart the negative impact of intensive agriculture, farm scientists tried to address this by encouraging more Green Revolution. In other words they asked farmers to apply more chemicals. This deteriorated the natural resource base. At the same time, the policy support for agriculture declined. Reduction in public sector investment in agriculture, failure to encourage sustainable farming practices, and unremunerative prices for agricultural produce were among the factors that turned agriculture into a losing proposition. The damage was more pronounced in cash crops like cotton. Farm suicides began as a trickle around 1987 or so and since then have taken a toll of nearly 3 lakh farmers in the past 17 years.
Q: What is behind the terrible agrarian crisis that India faces? 
Farm suicides are the outcome of the continued neglect and apathy of the farm sector. Besides the policy makers, a significant role is also played by agriculture scientists and economists. They cannot simply absolve themselves from the terrible agrarian crisis that have prevailed for almost two decades now.
Q: Is it because India does not have a clear cut understanding and focus on how to prop up agriculture? Is it because of a wrong direction coming from international institutions? 
About 20 years after the Green Revolution began, and somewhere in the early 1990s, the global economic thinking shifted to shrinking agriculture and boosting industry. World Bank/IMF and the international financial institutions began to propose that economic growth can only take place when fewer people are left in agriculture. In 1996, the World Development Report of the World Bank suggested moving 400 million people, equally to twice the combined population of UK, France and Germany, from the rural to the urban areas in India in the next 20 years, by the year 2015.
Meanwhile, the emergence of World Trade Organisation in 1995, also shifted the focus to trade. The mainline economic thinking shifted to reducing support for agriculture and importing highly subsidized cheaper food from the developed countries. Subsequently, the World Bank and Multinational Corporations have been pushing for land acquisitions, contract farming, creation of super markets or in other words paving the way for corporate agriculture. In other words, the neglect of small scale agriculture is part of a design. It is part of a pre-planned economic strategy that is being imposed. 
In a country where 52 per cent of the 1.27 billion people are directly or indirectly engaged in agriculture, the thrust of the economic growth paradigm is to push farmers out of agriculture. Since the younger lot among farmer’s don’t know anything except farming, the World Bank had suggested a network of training schools across the country to train them to become industrial workers. That is being done. In other words, farmers have now become a burden on the country. The common thinking is the sooner the country is able to offload farmers,  the better it will be.
Q: Every year the government announces support for agriculture in its annual budgets. You think that is enough? 
In 2013-14, farmers produced a record harvest of 264.4 million tonnes of foodgrains. Production of oilseeds reached a record high of 34.5 million tonnes, a jump of 4.8 per cent. Maize production increased by 8.52 per cent to reach a level of 24.2 million tones. Pulses production reached an all-time high of 19.6 million tones, an increase of 7.10 per cent over the previous year. Cotton production too touched a record high. With such record production, the nation should remain indebted to the virile and hardworking farmers. But last year, in 2013-14, when farm production recorded a quantum jump, agriculture received Rs 19,307-crore from the annual budget kitty, which is less than 1 per cent of the total budget outlay. This year, only Rs 22,652-crore has been provided for agriculture and cooperation departments. Again the outlay for agriculture remains less than 1 per cent of the total budget. In all fairness, the apathy towards agriculture continues.
Q: Is the neglect continuing? 
The neglect of agriculture has become more pronounced since economic liberalization was introduced in 1991. I recall the then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh famous budget speech when he showered all the bounties on industry and in the next paragraph said that agriculture remains the mainstay of the economy. But since agriculture is a State subject, he left it to the State Governments to provide the much need impetus to farming. But what he forgot to say was that industry too is a State subject and should have been left to the State governments. The bias therefore was clearly visible.
Although agriculture grew at an impressive rate of 4.1 per cent in the Eleventh Plan period (2007-8 and 2011-12) it received a dismal financial support of Rs 1 lakh crore. For a sector which directly and indirectly employs 60-crore people, Rs 1 lakh crore outlay for five years is simply peanuts. In the 12 Plan period (2012-13 to 2017-18) agriculture is projected to receive Rs 1.5 lakh crore. Compare this with the Rs 5.73 lakh crore tax exemptions showered on the industry in 2014-15 alone. Since 2004-05, Industry has received tax concessions (computed under ‘revenue foregone’ in the budget documents) to the tune of Rs 36.5-lakh crores or Rs 1,100 crore per day for the past 9 years. It’s therefore a matter of priorities. In fact, as I have been saying for long, farmers have disappeared from the economic radar screen.
Despite the neglect, the fact remains whatever India has been able to achieve in economic and military terms is primarily because of food self-sufficiency built so assiduously over the past five decades. But the tragedy is that the country is deliberately destroying the agricultural foundations, and pushing it back to the days of 'ship-to-mouth’ existence. Over the past few years, India is busy adopted the same economic policies that were existing at the time of Bengal Famine. #

Categories: Ecological News

Why do we need GM crops?

Ground Reality - Tue, 08/05/2014 - 12:50
Gilles-Eric Serilani  is a professor at the University of Caen in Normandy in France. Two years back, in 2012, he published a research paper that created a scientific uproar across the globe. In this landmark study, he fed rats for two years, which is the normal lifespan of rats, with genetically modified corn treated with a popular weed killer Roundup. The result was shocking. These rats developed mammary tumours, much bigger in size than what we normally see, and also liver and kidney diseases.
This was the first time a study had been conducted on rats for their full lifespan, which corresponds to about 80 years in human life. Normally, scientific feeding trials are conducted for 90 days, like in India, which corresponds to about 20 years of human life.
The path-breaking study was vociferously contested by pro-GM scientists. All kinds of charges were framed against Dr Seralini so much so that he was even accused of tampering with the results. This study was subsequently withdrawn by the scientific journal which first published it. But the catch here is that it was retracted only after a Monsanto person joined the top editorial team. Nevertheless, the study has since then been republished by another scientific journal Environment Science Europe.
At a time when studies now show that the harmful impact of chemical pesticides are passed on from generation to generation, I have never understood how could the regulatory bodies feel satisfied with feeding trials lasting for only 90 days in rats, which means about 20 years in a human life. A more recent study now tells us that your kidney problem can be related to the pesticide exposure your grandmother had. 


In a study: https://news.wsu.edu/2014/07/24/pesticide-linked-to-three-generations-of-disease/#.U-C5lKOJWRM researchers say ancestral exposures to the pesticide methoxychlor may lead to adult onset kidney disease, ovarian disease and obesity in future generations. Michael Skinner, Washington State Uinversity professor and founder of the Center for Reproductive Biology at the University, and his colleagues document their findings in a paper published online in PLOS ONE (http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0102091). The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

If this is true with pesticides, shouldn’t longer feeding trials be held in case of GM crops to be doubly sure? Why are the scientists therefore in a hurry to push GM crops to unsuspecting populations?
The argument that I hear in the print media and TV channels is that if we don’t allow GM crop field trails how will we know of the performance of these crops? But what is not being told is that all across the globe it is through field trails that GM contamination has spread in the wild. GM plants carry an alien gene that can escape into nature by wind or by cross-pollination. In America, because of the GM contamination ‘super weeds’ have erupted in 100 million acres requiring more potent chemicals to kill these weeds. ‘Super weeds’ become resistant to all kinds of chemicals and often require hand weeding.
Shouldn’t India therefore first conduct long-term feeding trials of GM seeds before these are tested in crop fields? No one is against scientific testing, but considering that GM genes escape into nature and also in the absence of tight regulatory control, the GM crops do get mixed up and get into the food chain, why can’t Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar first direct the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the nodal inter-ministerial body that approved the GM crops for cultivation, to conduct long-term trials to know the impact on human beings. After all, in a country where combating disease and health disorders remains a challenge why add on to the prevailing crisis?
But the moment you bring up the question of the need for long-term impact on human health, you will find a chorus that is often repeated ad nauseam is that the Americans have been eating GM foods for almost 20 years now and there have been no fatalities. What is however not being told is that since the GM industry does not allow human clinical trials to be conducted how will we ever get to know the health impacts of GM foods. So far there has been only one human clinical trial in which GM created problems for lab rats. After that the GM industry has ensured that no human clinical trials are conducted.
Ever since the first GM crop – a GM tomato – was introduced in the United States in 1994, there has been a remarkable spurt in diseases. There is a 400 per cent increase in allergies; 300 per cent increase in asthma; 1500 per cent increase in autism to name a few diseases. I have been often saying that the US is the sickest nation among the developed countries. There is certainly no evidence of a direct link, but also there is also no evidence that this may not be linked somehow.
And finally, let us look at one of the tall claims of the GM industry. These crops were supposed to reduce the use of chemical pesticides and thereby make environment much cleaner. Washington State University researcher Charles Benbrook has shown that between 1996 and 2011, farmers in US are applying an additional 400 million pounds of pesticides. In 2012, on an average 20 per cent more pesticides were applied by GM farmers as compared to farmers not growing GM crops.
In Latin America, Brazil and Argentina are two major cultivators of GM crops. In Argentina, the application of chemical pesticides has risen from 34 million litres in the mid-1990s when the GM soybean crops were first introduced to more than 317 million litres in 2012, roughly a ten times increase. On an average, Argentine farmers use twice the quantity of pesticides per acre than their American counterparts. In Brazil, which has recently taken over Argentina as far as the spread of GM crops is concerned, pesticides use has gone up by 190 per cent in the past decade. 
In China, which has been promoted as a silver-bullet case, the bubble burst when a 2006 joint study conducted by Cornell University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences showed that  seven years after the introduction of Bt cotton, Chinese farmers were spraying 20 times more pesticides to control pests. Why then do we need GM crops, especially when they don’t even produce more than the existing crop varieties. According to US Department of Agriculture, crop yields of GM soya and corn are lower than the non-GM crop varieties. # (Some portions of this article have appeared elsewhere also)
The Hindi version of this article appeared in Nai Dunia, Aug 5, 2014. किसे है जीएम फसलों की जरूरत?http://naidunia.jagran.com/editorial/expert-comment-who-needs-gm-crops-155245

Also, in Orissa Post, Aug 7, 2014.
No need to rush for GM crops
http://www.orissapost.com/epaper/070814/p8.htm

Categories: Ecological News

GM Crops: Tampering with nature and human health (in Hindi)

Ground Reality - Thu, 07/31/2014 - 20:00
This horrifying picture is of the rats that were fed with Roundup Ready GM corn by Dr Seralini in France. After the feeding trails lasting 2 years, which corresponds to some 80 years of human life, this is what Dr Seralini observed.
डीएनए में छेड़छाड़ कर तैयार किए गए बीजों से उत्पादन में वृद्धि के दावे किए जा रहे हैं। कहा जा रहा है कि इन बीजों से फसल लेने पर कीटनाशकों का उपयोग भी कम करना पड़ता है लेकिन तथ्य कुछ और ही कहानी कहते हैं। उत्पादन में कोई खास इजाफा नहीं हुआ, उल्टे कीटनाशकों का उपयोग बढ़ गया। इन फसलों को खाने से मानव स्वास्थ्य पर क्या असर पड़ेगा, इसका तो कोई प्रमाणिक अध्ययन ही नहीं हुआ है। इन बीजों का धंधा अरबों का जो है।

देविन्दर शर्मा, कृषि विशेषज्ञ

पर्यावरणविदे ने मानव दूध में डीडीटी अवशिष्ट के बारे में हमें बता दिया था। हम यह भी जानते हैं कि डीडीटी कीटनाशक पेंगुइन के रक्त में भी मिला है जिससे पता चलता है कि इस रसायन का खतरनाक स्तर तक उपयोग हो रहा है। इसे स्वीकार करने में हमें चालीस साल लग गए कि डीडीटी एक हानिकारक प्रदूषक है। जब वैश्विक स्तर पर हानिकारक रसायनों को हटाने का प्रयास हो रहा है, तब कई लोग जीएम फसलों के माध्यम से बढ़ते विषाक्त पदार्थों को लेकर मानव स्वास्थ्य और पर्यावरण के प्रति चिंतित हैं। नया अनुमान हमें बताता है कि एक हेक्टेयर में लगे बीटी पौध अपने भीतर ही ४.२ किग्रा. विषाक्त बनाते हैं जो रासायनिक कीटनाशक के औसत इस्तेमाल से १९ गुना है। इससे भी ज्यादा चिंताजनक कनाडा का एक अध्ययन है जिससे पता चलता है कि ९३ फीसदी गर्भवती महिलाओं के रक्त और ८० फीसदी भू्रण में बीटी से सम्बंधित कीटनाशक मौजूद है। कनाडा के इस चौकाने वाले अध्ययन ने वाशिंगटन विश्वविद्यालय में मानव विज्ञान और पर्यावरण विज्ञान के प्रोफेसर डॉ. ग्लेन डेविस स्टोन को यह पूछने के लिए मजबूर कर दिया कि इसका मानव स्वास्थ्य के लिए मतलब क्या है? उत्तर कोई नहीं जानता। वास्तव में लोगों के चिंता का यही वास्तविक कारण है। वैज्ञानिक जीएम प्रौद्योगिकी के संभावित खतरों के बारे में दीर्घकालिक अध्ययन क्यों नहीं करते हैं? आसान-सा तर्क यह दिया जाता है कि अमरीका के लोग पिछले बीस साल से जीएम खाद्य पदार्थ खा रहे हैं और इससे वहां किसी की भी मौत नहीं हुई है। यह नहीं बताया जाता कि जीएम बीजों के कारोबार में लगे व्यापारी इनके दुष्परिणामों के बारे में क्लिनिकल परीक्षण ही नहीं होने देते।
अब अमरीका की भारत पर नजर

अमरीका में जब पहली जीएम फसल के रूप में वर्ष १९९४ में जीएम टमाटर लगाया गया तो इसके बाद वहां रोगों में उल्लेखनीय रूप से बढ़ोतरी हुई। एलर्जी के मामलों में ४०० फीसदी की वृद्धि हुई, अस्थमा में ३०० फीसदी और ऑटिज्म में १५०० फीसदी की बढ़ोतरी हो गई। अमरीका विकसित देशों में सबसे बीमार देश है। बेशक, इसके जीएम से सीधे सम्बन्ध के कोई प्रमाण नहीं हैं लेकिन यह प्रमाण भी तो नहीं है कि कोई सम्बन्ध नहीं है। विकीलीक्स ने खुलासा किया ही था कि वर्ष २००७ में कैसे पेरिस में अमरीकी दूतावास ने वाशिंगटन से जीएम फसलों के विरोध करने पर यूरोपीय संगठन के खिलाफ सैन्य शैली में व्यापारिक युद्ध शुरू करने की अपील की थी। एक साल बाद, २००८ में, अमरीका और स्पेन ने जीएम फसलों की उपयोगिता साबित करने के लिए यूरोप में खाद्य पदार्थों की कीमतें बढ़ाने की साजिश रची थी। यूरोप में अब भी जीएम फसलों की स्वीकारता नहीं है, लिहाजा भारत मुख्य लक्ष्य बना हुआ है। विकीलीक्स ने यह भी खुलासा किया कि तत्कालीन राष्ट्रीय सुरक्षा सलाहकार शिवश्ंाकर मेनन ने भारत में जीएम फसलों के लिए तेजी से रास्ता खोलने की बात की थी। यूरोप की तरह भारत भी जीएम फसलों को नहीं स्वीकारेगा तो अरबों डॉलर का यह उद्योग समाप्त भी हो सकता है। बहुत सारे राज्यों ने जीएम फसलों के जमीनी परीक्षण की इजाजत देने से इनकार कर दिया है। संसद की स्थायी समिति और सुप्रीम कोर्ट द्वारा गठित टेक्नीकल एक्सपर्ट कमेटी की आपत्तियों के बाद यह उद्योग दूसरे चैनलों के माध्यम से दबाव बना रहा है। देश में सत्ता परिवर्तन के बाद जेनेटिक इंजीनियरिंग अप्रेजल कमेटी की ओर से १५ फसलों के खुले परीक्षण की पहल को भी इसी नजरिए से देखा जा सकता है। हालांकि कुछ संगठनों के विरोध के  बाद सरकार ने जीएम फसलों के फील्ड ट्रॉयल  पर रोक लगा दी है।


उत्पादन पर कोई खास असर नहीं

बहरहाल, पहले हमें इस उद्योग के वैज्ञानिक दावों को समझना होगा। जीएम लॉबी का कहना है कि जीएम टेक्नोलॉजी से पैदावार में सुधार करने की काफी संभावना है लेकिन सच्चाई यह है कि अमरीका द्वारा पहली जीएम फसल लाने के बीस साल बाद वहां ऐसी कोई भी जीएम फसल नहीं है जिसमें पैदावार बढ़ गई हो। अमरीका के कृषि विभाग के खुद के अध्ययन से यह पता चला है जीएम मक्का और सोयाबीन की पैदावार पारंपरिक किस्मों की तुलना में घटी है। यहां तक कि भारत में, द सेंट्रल इंस्टीट्यूट ऑफ कॉटन रिसर्च (सीआईसीआर) नागपुर ने स्वीकार किया कि वर्ष २००४-११ के बीच कुल कपास उत्पादन में बीटी का क्षेत्र ५.४ फीसद से ९६ फीसदी हो गया लेकिन पैदावार में वृद्धि के खास संकेत नहीं मिले। इसलिए यह तर्क गलत है कि वर्ष २०५० तक बढ़ती आबादी के लिए खाद्यान्न उत्पादन बढ़ाने के लिए जीएम फसलों की जरूरत है। क्या विश्व में खाद्यान्न की कमी है? यूएसडीए के अनुमानों के अनुसार वर्ष २०१३ में विश्व में १४ अरब लोगों का पेट भर सके, इतना खाद्यान्न का उत्पादन हुआ। दूसरे शब्दों में कहा जाए तो विश्व की आबादी को दोगुना उत्पादन हुआ। असली समस्या करीब ४० फीसदी खराब होने वाले खाद्यान्न को लेकर है। अकेले अमरीका में १६५ अरब डॉलर के खाद्य उत्पाद खराब हो जाते हैं। भारत में जहां रोज २५ करोड़ लोग भूखे सोने को मजबूर हैं। भुखमरी की इस गम्भीर समस्या का खाद्यान्न उत्पादन से कोई सम्बन्ध नहीं है। पिछले साल ८२३ लाख टन खाद्यान्न का सरप्लस था। यह तो तब, जब वर्ष २०१२-१३ में २२० लाख टन खाद्यान्न निर्यात कर दिया गया और इस साल १८० लाख टन खाद्यान्न निर्यात करने की योजना है। कृषि मंत्रालय खाद्यान्न खरीद में कमी और एफसीआई में रखे अनाज का वायदा कारोबार में उपयोग की सोच रहा है। 

कीटनाशकों की बढ़ती खपत

वाशिंगटन स्टेट यूनिवर्सिटी के शोधकर्ता चाल्र्स बेनब्रूक के अनुसार १९९६ से २०११ के बीच अमरीका के खेतों में १८१० लाख लीटर रासायनिक कीटनाशकों का उपयोग किया गया और वर्ष २०१२ में जीएम खेती करने वाले किसानों ने औसतन २० फीसदी अधिक कीटनाशक का प्रयोग किया। नई जीएम जींसों के शामिल किए जाने के कारण अब इसमें ५ प्रतिशत की और वृद्धि होने का अनुमान है। अर्जेंटीना में दो दशक पहले ३४० लाख लीटर रसायनिक कीटनाशकों का उपयोग होता था जो जीएम सोयाबीन के कारण अब बढ़कर ३१७० लाख लीटर हो गया है। अर्जंेटीना के किसान प्रति एकड़ अमरीकी किसानों से लगभग दो गुना कीटनाशक काम ले रहे हैं। ब्राजील में भी जीएम फसल के कारण कीटनाशकों की खपत में १९० प्रतिशत का इजाफा हुआ है। चीन में भी किसान पहले की तुलना में बीस गुना अधिक कीटनाशक काम लेने लगे हैं। भारत भी अछूता नहीं है।  २०१० तक ९० प्रतिशत बीटी कॉटन की खेती होने लगी और ८८०.४ करोड़ रुपए के कीटनाशक का इस्तेमाल किया गया। अधिक चिंता की बात ऐसे खरपतवारों का बढऩा है, जिन्हें नष्ट करना बहुत मुश्किल है। इन्हें सुपर वीड्स कहा जाता है। अमरीका में लगभग १००० लाख एकड़ भूमि इनसे संक्रमित हो चुकी है। इन्हें समाप्त करने के लिए घातक दवाओं का उपयोग हो रहा है। कनाडा में १० लाख एकड़ में सुपर वीड्स फैल चुकी हैं। शोध बताते हैं कि जीएम फसल के चलन के बाद २१ वीड्स ने प्रतिरोधक क्षमता विकसित कर ली है। कीटों में भी यही हो रहा है। भारत में बोलवोर्म नामक कीड़ा प्रतिरोधी बन रहा है। जब न तो जीएम बीजों से उत्पादन ही बढ़ रहा और न ही कीटनाशकों का उपयोग कम हो रहा तो फिर क्यों जीएम फसलों की वकालत की जा रही है। अब जैविक खेती की ओर ध्यान दिए जाने की जरूरत है।

Source: Rajasthan Patrika, July 31 2014.
http://epaper.patrika.com/c/3241805
Categories: Ecological News

You are what you eat. This TED talk by Robyn O'Brian will change your perception about food for ever.

Ground Reality - Thu, 07/31/2014 - 10:59

This is one TED talk that everyone must watch. I am sure once you watch it attentively your entire perception about what you eat will change, and change forever. Here is Robyn O'Brian who tried to learn everything to protect her four children when she learnt that industrially produced food causes a whole lot of health problems. She read everything that was available, and has done amazing research. She talks of safe food, clean food and healthy food. She examines the business model of food companies, the pesticides companies and the GM companies. What she dug out tells you a lot about the food economy. It's time we all knew it. Each one us, as she says can't do everything but everyone can do something. It's your time to do something. Come on, what you do will go a long way in shaping our food economy leading it towards health for all.  
Categories: Ecological News

Genetically modified crops’ field trials put on hold

Navdanya Diary - Thu, 07/31/2014 - 01:42

by Nitin Sethi & Archis Mohan – Business Standard, 30 July 2014

Source: http://www.business-standard.com/article/politics/genetically-modified-crops-field-trials-put-on-hold-114072901116_1.html

Decision marks first successful policy intervention by Swadeshi Jagaran Manch

New DelhiIn a move that marks the first successful policy intervention of Swadeshi Jagaran Manch and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh — both affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — the Narendra Modi-led central government has put field trials of genetically-modified (GM) crops on hold.

Representatives of the two RSS-backed outfits on Tuesday met Environment, Forests & Climate Change Minister Prakash Javadekar and apprised him of their concerns over an approval given to field trials of GM crops. “The minister assured the members of Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM) and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) that the decision (on field trials) had been put on hold,” Ashwani Mahajan, all-India co-convener for SJM, said in a press statement.

Sources in the ministry said Javadekar put on hold the clearance given to GM crops’ field trials by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). They also said the decision was now likely to be put on the back burner.

At a meeting on July 17, its first after the Modi government took charge at the Centre, GEAC had approved field trials of 13 GM crops, including those of mustard, cotton, brinjal, rice and chickpea. At that time, SJM had termed the decision “a betrayal of people’s trust”. GEAC, comprising senior environment ministry and other government officials, besides experts, is the statutory body for recommending approval to any release of genetically-engineered products into the environment. Field trials by companies and researchers in open farms across the country to test their products also fall under its ambit. The agenda for GEAC meet, like in the case of other statutory bodies, is set after informal consultations at the ministerial level. Its recommendations require approval from the environment, forests & climate change minister.

Today, the joint SJM-BKS delegation reminded the minister that Parliament’s standing committee on agriculture had recommended in its report on GM food crops, tabled in Parliament on August 9 last year, “stopping all field trials under any garb” until regulations and oversight were overhauled and made better.

The delegation pointed out that the technical expert committee, appointed by the Supreme Court and comprising eminent scientists, had also advised against any open release of GM crops, including through field trials, until a robust regulatory mechanism was put in place.

The outfits’ representatives requested the minister that no field trials of GM crops be allowed without proper scientific evaluation of their possible long-term impact on human health and soil, as the decision to introduce a ‘foreign gene’ in the environment was irreversible.

They argued there was no scientific study to prove the GM technology increased productivity and told Javadekar GM crops posed a challenge to the issue of India’s food security.

“In India, as in many other parts of the world, a few multinational corporations (principally Monsanto) have a virtual monopoly on the GM technology. If a country’s food production becomes overly dependent on seeds and other inputs from a handful of such companies, will it not compromise its food security,” Mahajan asked.

SJM, Mahajan said, urged the minister not to rely on “biased and manipulated reports of vested interests among industry”. It advised him to institute independent enquiries on the likely impact of GM food crops on soil, human health and health of other species, to ensure no harm was done to the traditional gene pool/biodiversity of the soil, food security and health of the people of India.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto for this year’s Lok Sabha elections had said: “GM foods will not be allowed without full scientific evaluation of their long-term impact on soil and production, and biological impact on consumers.” SJM, which is the RSS’s economic policy arm, has consistently and publicly opposed the introduction of GM food crops in the country.

In the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime, the government had remained divided on the issue. As environment minister, Jairam Ramesh had put a moratorium on one BT brinjal experiment, sparking a debate, while his successor, Jayanthi Natarajan, had strongly opposed all food crop trials and held back clearances given by GEAC, citing an ongoing Supreme Court case.

Manmohan Singh, the then prime minister, and Sharad Pawar, agriculture minister in his government, had advocated for GM crops, pushing for this to be put as the government’s official stance before the Supreme Court. M Veerappa Moily, who took over from Natarajan at the environment ministry, gave his go-ahead to about two dozen field trials of food crops, claiming his predecessor had misread the facts of the Supreme Court case.

According to the ministry’s internal notes, more than 100 crop varieties, including those of cereals, fruit and vegetables, are in various stages of development and testing. The Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill, moved by UPA to hand over control and oversight of the GM technology to the promoting department of biotechnology, lapsed with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha.

SJM had largely welcomed the Modi government’s railway and finance budgets tabled in Parliament earlier this month.

TRIAL & ERROR?

  • Feb 2010: Then environment minister Jairam Ramesh puts commercial release of Monsanto Bt Brinjal on hold; field test of other varieties and crops continue
  • May 2012: In a public-interest suit, Supreme Court sets up expert panel to review issue
  • Aug 2012: Parliament’s standing committee on agriculture demands moratorium on field trials of all GM food crops and a complete policy overhaul
  • Oct 2012: SC’s expert panel suggests a moratorium on GM trials; central government opposes this, puts its nominee in the committee
  • Mar-Jun 2013: The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee recommends trials of some GM food crops but the then minister Jayanthi Natarajan puts the plan on the back burner
  • Jul 2013: SC expert panel’s majority report again advises a moratorium; govt nominee bats for trials
  • Aug 2013: Natarajan writes to PMO opposing trials of GM food crops; then PM Manmohan Singh and the then agriculture minister Sharad Pawar bat for the GM technology
  • Feb 2014: As environment minister, M Veerappa Moily renews lapsed clearances for food crops, promises more
  • Jul 17, 2014: Under Prakash Javadekar, GEAC recommends GM trials for 13 food crop varieties
  • Jul 29, 2014: Swadeshi Jagaran Manch and other RSS affiliates object; Javadekar puts final decision on hold

 

                          
Categories: Ecological News

Surjit Bhalla's flawed economics stands exposed. If you still want to read him, do it at your own peril.

Ground Reality - Tue, 07/29/2014 - 19:55
I admire mainline economists. They have the ability to pick up the facts that suits their analysis. More often than not I find their analysis, when sometimes I try to read such articles, is not only motivated by their ideological thinking, but also statistically backed. And since many in this country are in awe of mainline economist especially those who do the rounds of almost every TV channel, they either don't understand the flawed analysis or are afraid to stand up.

Well-known economists Jagdish Bhagwati is one of them. Sometimes back he had made a comment in The Economist, which had prompted me to write a rejoinder. My response, which is still available on the IndiaTogether news portal (Hold economists responsible too. IndiaTogether April 4, 2005 http://indiatogether.org/subsidies-op-ed), was widely appreciated and circulated. I know the stature Jagdish Bhagwati holds but it is important to puncture their incorrect hypothesis.

Over the years, this neoliberal breed of economists has only got bolder. They now come out with outlandish statements often bordering stupidity, illogical comments and theories which have little or no relevance to the existing realities. In fact, most of what the mainline Indian economists have been parroting has already been discarded by the western economists. And that makes me wonder whether India's mainline economist care to read what is being written now to keep themselves abreast or are simply basking in the glory of the TV glamour.

Take the following articles by some western economists which runs counter to what is being repeatedly said in India. But you will see such analysis will never be incorporated in the public discourse. Nor will the TV anchors make corrections when economists/analysts parrot the same old line. The reason: Journalists don't read.

1) Dani Rodrik has bust the myth that the wealthy and the Corporates do not need the governments. Let the markets operate freely and their wealth will grow. This is rubbish. In this well argued article (A class of its ownhttp://bit.ly/VXjoQr), Dani says: 'The reality is that the stability and openness of the markets that produce their wealth have never depended more on government action'.

2) There is hardly a day when you don't find the economists and business writers drawing attention to the virtues of FDI in retail. They moan the failure of the government not to invite Big Retail into India. They invariably go on repeating the same faulty statistics to justify Big Retail's entry into India. I sometimes wonder why don't these economists even scan the international newspapers to know how the Big Retail is faring in the US/EU. Here is what The Guardian wrote the other day (The death of the American mall. June 19, 2014. http://bit.ly/UPFiF1). If Bid Retail is failing in the US why are we keen to bring a failed economic model to India?

3) Developing countries are poor because they export raw material. They should add value-added products. This is the general understanding. But read Ricardo Hausmann of the Harvard University (The Real raw Material of Wealth. July 26, 2014. http://bit.ly/UxgYXO) and you are jolted from your sleep. But you will never see Indian mainline economists discussing such analysis. Nor will the policy makers try to understand and understand the argument. They don't have to, because they go on parroting what has been taught to them. "Some ideas are worse than wrong,' he says. How true.

4) For decades, Indian economists have blindly followed the garden path shown by World Bank/IMF. Whether they accept or not, almost every major policy decision in the past 10 years was dictated by the World Bank. A leaked report of the World Bank now puts at rest how damaging and environmentally destructive its policies have been (Leaked World Bank policies 'environmentally disastrous.' July 25, 2014. The Guardian http://bit.ly/1omTcK2).

5) At a time when WTO is facing a standoff, Indian economists are shouting at the top of their voice to force India to withdraw its objections on ignoring the food security concerns. Trade is being linked to more growth. Adair Turner of the UK's Financial Policy Committee of the House of Lords refutes this common refrain. He says: more trade does not lead to more growth. (The trade delusion. July 18, 2014. http://bit.ly/1pAJdNJ).

These are just a few examples.

This brings me to economist Surjit Bhalla's article in the Indian Express (A 'principled' Congress stance at the WTO? July 29, 2014 ). This article exposes his flawed economic thinking. The article in fact borders on absurdity. In his article he presents a chart where he is comparing the international prices of rice and wheat with what the procurement prices Indian farmers are paid. Accordingly, for 2012-14 his chart shows Indian farmers were paid a high price exceeding global prices by 64.4% in rice and 62.9% for wheat. He doesn't even know that wheat and rice production is heavily subsidised in US/EU, and also comes with export subsidies. I tweeted to him, and he responded by saying that international prices are worked out uniformly. I then tweeted him back saying: 'If you don't know, read first. Don't go on defending your wrong analysis.' I attached one of my blog posts that tells you how EU utilises cereal subsidies to dump it in developing/LDC countries. http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.in/2010/03/eu-utilises-domestic-cereal-subsidies.html

Take a look at the $ 35.5 billion subsidies that US has paid to its wheat farmers between 1995-2012. (http://farm.ewg.org/progdetail.php?fips=00000&progcode=wheat). Surjit Bhalla's analysis therefore falls flat on the flawed data that he has produced in justification.  
If you see the enclosed chart, international prices are taken as an average over three years of the FOB price, which in other words is the landing price. There is no mechanism that separates domestic and export subsidies before the FOB is calculated or determined by the trade. Subsidies paid to wheat growers (including the export subsidies) actually enable North America and Europe to dump wheat in the international markets. The price comparison with the procurement prices paid to wheat farmers therefore is completely wrong. In any case, the best comparison should be with the FOB prices that India offers when it exports wheat. The impression that Surjit Bhalla is mischievously trying to convey is that Indian farmers are the highest paid in the world. If what he says is true then shouldn't we would have seen US farmers asking for the price that Indian farmers get? Shouldn't we see an exodus of American farmers keen to migrate to India?   Economists like Surjit Bhalla have been churning out such biased and incorrect analysis to manufacture consent. As I said earlier, these kind of economists first draw their conclusion and then look for data which can support their flawed hypothesis. Well, if you still want to read them you do it at your own peril.   
Categories: Ecological News

Indian Farmer Suicide Testimonials Show Huge GMO Community Damage – Watch YIELD Here!

Navdanya Diary - Mon, 07/28/2014 - 23:08

Sustainable Pulse – 28 July 2014

Source: http://sustainablepulse.com/2014/07/28/indian-farmer-suicide-testimonials-show-huge-gmo-community-damage-watch-yield/#.U9aAqmPCeHh

Commissioned by the 2014 Food Safety and Sustainable Agriculture Forum, YIELD presents testimonies from the cotton farmers in Vidarbha, Maharashtra.

The region has suffered a high number of suicides among the debt-ridden farming community in the wake of the introduction of chemical farming and BT Cotton.

YIELD presents voices of dissent and resilience from within this community, victims of a corporate imperialism that threatens their means of living and future.

 

                          
Categories: Ecological News

Modi and Modified Crops

Navdanya Diary - Sun, 07/27/2014 - 23:59

Economy and Political Weekly, 26 July 2014

Photo: Shaju John

Source: http://www.epw.in/editorials/modi-and-modified-crops.html

Download PDF version

India must stay with the precautionary principle with regard to genetically-modified crops.

By clearing the way for field trials of genetically-modified (GM) food crops, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Environment Ministry has inadvertently laid a political challenge before the Narendra Modi-led government in New Delhi. Will it adhere to its stated objection to GM crops mentioned in its election manifesto, or will it take another of its, by now fabled, “U-turns” and go down the path of its avowed neo-liberal economic policies where the interests of investors, particularly from overseas, take precedence over other concerns?

It is curious that the GEAC has chosen to clear the way for some 15 GM food and other crops to undergo controlled field trials. These include rice, mustard, chickpea, cotton and brinjal. The introduction of GM mustard was strongly opposed several years back and the field trials were cancelled. Bt brinjal was also cleared for trials but withdrawn in the face of objections from the Ministry of Environment and Forests based on the views of farmers at a series of public hearings around India. Despite this, and the fact that the Supreme Court is currently hearing arguments against field trials of GM crops in the absence of adequate regulatory systems, the GEAC has chosen to go ahead. In fact, the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) set up by the Supreme Court to look into this issue has recommended a moratorium on field trials because it believes the regulatory system is inadequate.

As in many other parts of the world, the advent of GM food and other crops to enhance productivity has faced entrenched opposition in India too. The opposition falls into several distinct categories. One camp argues that the technology, which involves introducing a “foreign” gene, is dangerous because once introduced, it is irreversible. In other words, once you have a GM crop, you cannot reverse the process if you find that it is causing harm. These groups have also questioned whether GM technology does, in fact, increase productivity as is claimed by the promoters of the technology. They also point out that the environmental costs might outweigh any benefits that the introduction of such a technology brings.

The other argument revolves around food security. In India, as in many other parts of the world, a few multinational corporations, principally Monsanto, have a virtual monopoly on the GM technology. If a country’s food production becomes overly dependent on seeds and other inputs from a handful of such companies, will it not compromise its food security?

The third argument is about the suitability of GM food crops for a country like India where the majority of farmers own small plots of land. To make them dependent on a technology with high initial costs, and without an assurance that it will guarantee higher yields, is placing them at a great risk. This has already been evident in the spate of farmers’ suicides witnessed in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra in the course of the last decade where farmers fell for the hard-sell of Bt cotton and got entrapped in a debilitating debt cycle due to higher costs without commensurate returns.

And the clinching argument is the absence of adequate regulatory and monitoring mechanisms to ensure that the field trials are conducted following safety protocols and that they do not infect surrounding areas. The record in this regard has been less than satisfactory in India. In fact, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture (PSCA) had called for a ban on field trials precisely for this reason. The basic norm to be followed includes ensuring that there is a 20% non-Bt refuge area around the trial area. Yet, field trials of Bt cotton demonstrated the absence of adequate monitoring of compliance of such rules.

Another important criticism of the entire process of field trials is the absence of an independent authority to assess safety and suitability as well as a liability regime that can fix responsibility for damage. The GEAC tends to rely on data from those very private companies whose products it is supposed to assess. Surely credible field trials needed to assess the safety of GM crops are not possible under these conditions. Finally, labelling and public awareness about GM crops are particularly poor and will allow private companies to mislead people.

In addition to all this, the issue has taken an interesting political turn after the victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the general elections. In its election manifesto, the BJP has expressly stated its opposition to the introduction of GM food crops in India. Among the groups opposing GM crops are the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, both affiliated, like the BJP, with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). How will the Modi government resolve these contradictions?

Politics apart, what is evident is that the question of introducing GM food crops in India is still open for debate on all counts – safety and suitability. In addition, the monopoly control of GM technology in the hands of a few large corporations is reason enough for concern. It is dangerous to allow the spread of GM crops before these concerns are addressed. India needs to tread warily down the GM path.

                          
Categories: Ecological News

Europe will face deadly costs for climate inaction

Green Blog - Mon, 07/21/2014 - 21:12
The warning, issued in a new report by the EU Commission’s Joint Research Center, provides the most compelling evidence for climate action in the European Union. The study (pdf) offers a comprehensive view of the impacts of unrestrained climate change on agriculture, rivers, coasts, tourism, energy, forests, transport infrastructure and human health in Europe.

The authors of the study say their estimates are conservative – as in, they underestimate the negative effects from climate change. The study is based on current population and economic growth levels which is used to make predictions 60 years into the future. But things change, and Europe will look completely different in terms of population levels and economic growth and development just 60 years from now. This means that the consequences of inaction could be much higher. Some impacts such as damages to biodiversity or ecosystem losses cannot be monetised and have therefore been left out from the study's calculations of welfare loss. Abrupt climate change or the consequences of passing climate tipping points (such as the Arctic sea-ice melting) are also not integrated in the analysis.

Despite this, the study paints a grim enough picture.

Over 8,000 square kilometres of forest could burn down if Europe fails to take adequately action against climate change. There will also be extensive damage from floods, which could exceed costs of €10bn every year by 2080. At the same time, coastal damage from rising sea levels will treble and amount to losses of €42 billion. Drought affected areas is expected to increase by sevenfold, and as a result the losses in the agriculture sector is expected to reach around €18 billion. Premature death from heat stress or other climate-related impacts will soar to 200 000 people annually.

All in all, the European Union will lose €190 billion annually in economic losses from unrestrained climate change, which is estimated at a net loss of 1.8% of Europe's total GDP. Southern and south central Europe would be the worst-hit regions and bear 70% of the burden.

If Europe adheres to the current international target of 2 degrees Celsius there will still be consequences, the study notes. But they won’t be as severe. The total bill would be reduced by at least €60 billion, save 23 000 lives from premature deaths, and improve the overall quality of life for Europeans by reducing air pollution.

“No action is clearly the most expensive solution of all,” said Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner for Climate Action, in response to the new study. “Why pay for the damages when we can invest in reducing our climate impacts and becoming a competitive low-carbon economy?”

“Taking action and taking a decision on the 2030 climate and energy framework in October, will bring us just there and make Europe ready for the fight against climate change,” Hedegaard said.

Unfortunately there are EU member states, such as Poland and other eastern states, which are willing to oppose new and tougher climate goals for Europe. So despite this study, and other economic and climate analysis, Europe remains divided on which approach to choose – climate action or business-as-usual.
Categories: Ecological News

At WTO, India bats for small farmers. Back home, it wants them out of agriculture

Ground Reality - Mon, 07/21/2014 - 18:12
Crying foul over spilled milk. That is exactly what India is trying to do at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). I am talking of the reports of India's isolation at the WTO on the paramount issue of food security. After having signed in on the dotted line at the Bali WTO Ministerial in December 2013 to usher in trade facilitation, which the US/EU were very keen on, and without seeking any definite decision on food subsidy, India is now crying hoarse.

"India has made it clear that state-funded welfare schemes for the poor are non-negotiable, and it is willing to take the blame for delaying the WTO's 'trade facilitation' agreement rather than hurt the interests of small farmers," reports the Hindustan Times (India toughens stance on food subsidy at WTO. July 21, 2014. http://bit.ly/1nYi0YC). The news report rightly mentions that developed countries are pressing for early adoption of the trade facilitation agreement, which would give them greater market access but are avoiding discussions on issues such as public stock-holding of cereals for food security.

But this was known even at the time of the Bali WTO Ministerial. The then India's Commerce Minister Anand Sharma had made the right noises in the media but when the final moment came, he readily signed the trade facilitation agreement. All he could wrest in the bargain was a four year 'Peace Clause' for the food subsidy issue that is crucial for not only India's food security but also food self-sufficiency. I think there is first a dire need to bring in an accountability clause in the trade policy for our trade negotiators. Commerce Minister must be held responsible for the lapses he/she makes in trade agreements.

Having said that, I am amused at India's double talk at Geneva. While India is threatening not to ratify the agreement (along with South Africa) in reality it has already made budgetary provisions for facilitating trade. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has provided in his budget for Rs 11,000-crores (or Rs 110,000 million) for development of ports and at the same time announced a single window clearance for imports. So, the threat for not ratifying trade facilitation treaty is in reality an empty threat. For all those who follow the trade diplomacy, the best way to exert pressure is to slow down on implementation of the decision on trade facilitation, which India has failed to do.

On the food subsidy also, I think the noise that India is making at the WTO has nothing to do with the autonomous liberalisation that it is pushing for domestically. Read a news report in the Hindustan Times today (Govt to unleash food reforms to fight subsidies, inflation, July 21, 2014), it says: In an attempt to tackle runaway prices and subsidies, the NDA government has decided to gradually avoid purchasing more grains than are needed to distribute to the poor; while asking states not to offer market distorting cash incentives to farmers." Read it carefully and you realise that India is already going ahead with the WTO take on food subsidy.

1. In a recent directive, the Ram Vilas Paswan-headed food ministry asked states to stick to minimum support price (MSP) announced by the Centre and avoid padding these up with their own sops and cash bonuses.  This is in line with India's WTO commitment at Bali where it has promised not to further increase the MSP support (emphasis are mine). And then the report explains: MSPs are the guaranteed prices at which the state buys produce from farmers. higher MSPs boost farm income but fuel price rise. According to an RBI study, a 10% MSP hike raises short-term wholesale inflation by one per cent.

2. If states breach these norms the Food Corporation of India -- the country's main food security agency -- would not be obliged to acquire grains beyond levels necessary for the public distribution system as well as emergency reserves. Using the threat of not allowing food procurement by FCI makes the decision binding in the months to come.

These are not the only two policy changes that are expected. With the idea of a creating a national market, as spelled out in the Economic Survey 2014), setting up of an organisation over and above the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMC) is aimed at making the APMC mandis redundant. Once the APMC mandis are dismantled, the question of providing a higher procurement price to farmers will be negated. When there are no mandis where will the procurement price be paid? In any case, this kharif season, Govt has raised the MSP for paddy by a mere Rs 50 per quintal (or by 50 paise per 100 kgs), which for all practical purposes is like freezing the MSP.

India can't blame the WTO for what it is unilaterally doing at home. #

Further reading:

1. Bali WTO Minsterial has only postponed the problem relating to India's food security. Dec 19, 2013 http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.in/2013/12/bali-wto-ministerial-has-only-postponed.html

2. Direct cash transfers are aimed at dismantling food procurement, and moving away from food self-sufficiency. Dec 19, 2012. http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.in/2012/12/india-direct-cash-transfers-is-aimed-at.html
Categories: Ecological News

Will Germany really ban fracking?

Green Blog - Sun, 07/20/2014 - 00:34
The German government says it will soon move to ban fracking in the country until 2021, which would make it the latest nation (after France and Bulgaria) to eliminate the destructive natural gas drilling process. In a press briefing, Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Environmental Minister Barbara Hendricks noted that legislation will be drawn up and approved in the final half of the year.

"There won't be fracking of shale gas or coal gas for economic reasons in the foreseeable future," confirmed Hendricks. However, one can read in between the lines and see that there is still room for exploitation by natural gas corporations. Case in point: there are a number of "special circumstances" which would allow fracking to circumvent the legislation. An example is that the law's language states that "unconventional" fracking cannot take place more than 3,000 meters below the surface - but "conventional" fracking can. While this will still effectively prevent fracking from, in most cases, contaminating groundwater, it will not prevent it from triggering small earthquakes.

Political parties including the Green Party have reacted with strong criticism; the chairman of the Greens' parliamentary group, Oliver Krischer, went as far as to call it a "fracking-enabling law," recognizing the distinction between this potentially deceptive proposal and an actual fracking ban - "a regulation that does not allow fracking in Germany and without loopholes that are as big as a barn door."

Hubertus Zdebel of the Left party agreed, noting, "Fracking must be banned in Germany without any exceptions. To say that there is a fracking ban in the paper is window dressing. They want to enforce a regulation which mostly allows fracking under the guise of an alleged ban." Citing estimates obtained from the Federal Institute of Geosciences and Natural Resources, he added, "The planned restrictions will still allow the exploitation of half of all unconventional natural gas deposits in Germany." He also said there are other potential risks associated with allowing deep fracking, including uncontrolled methane gas emissions.

Francisco Szekely, writer for EnergyBiz, remarked that the legislation is likely a play to quell environmentalists' fears while also reducing Germany's dependency upon Russia for gas imports. He said, however, "This decision is not a sustainable solution. The temporary relief of geopolitics should not be achieved at the long-term cost of environmental degradation. To put our economy and our world on a path to sustainability, governments and companies need to focus on doing real good for society and not just doing less harm, as seems to be the case" with this fracking issue.

"With evidence of climate change becoming clearer than ever," he added, Germany should be "thinking carefully before allowing fracking in their territory. Moreover, whatever short-term promise fracking offers is also taking our sense of urgency away from transitioning to more renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power."

So in short, one might conclude, Germany's "fracking ban" may be little more than a smoke-and-mirror tactic. Said Szekely: "To quote Albert Einstein, 'We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.'"
Categories: Ecological News

Bee-killing pesticides and toxic chemicals also kills birds, new study shows

Green Blog - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 17:43
For some time, the bee population has been steadily declining worldwide, and this is most directly attributed to the negative impact of pesticides. Now, there's a lot of buzz around a recent study by Dutch researchers, which has found that the toxic chemicals we use are having a ripple effect farther up the food chain, causing insectivorous birds to rapidly decline in number.

The study was the collaborative effort of researchers with the Radboud University Institute of Water and Wetland Research, the Dutch Center for Field Ornithology, and Birdlife Netherlands. In a joint statement, the researchers declared, "Neonicotinoid insecticides have adverse effects on non-target invertebrate species. Invertebrates constitute a substantial part of the diet of many bird species during the breeding season and are indispensible for raising offspring. In the Netherlands," for example, "local bird population trends were significantly more negative in areas with higher surface-water concentrations of imidacloprid," a type of pesticide.

"At imidacloprid concentrations of more than 20 nanograms per liter, bird populations tended to decline by 3.5 percent on average, annually," they continued. The overall results of the study, they said, shows "that the impact of neonicotinoids on the natural environment is even more substantial than has recently been reported and is reminiscent of the effects of persistent pesticides in the past. Future legislation should take into account the potential cascading effects [of insecticides] on ecosystems."

Neonicotinoids are interesting in that their origins lie with two corporations already strongly linked with outright for-profit environmental destruction: Royal Dutch Shell and Bayer. These insecticides, which are chemically similar to nicotine, were first developed and used in the 1980s by the Shell, and in the 1990s by the German chemical and pharmaceutical company. In 2009, on the specific neonicotinoid called imidacloprid that the Dutch researchers referenced, Bayer made a profit of over one billion alone, according to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

There is, however, a loss occurring, albeit an ecological one, not a financial one. Such was the conclusion of the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, which conducted another recent report on the matter. They explained, "Neonicotinoids persist for months and in some cases years, and environmental concentrations can build up. This effectively increases their toxicity by increasing the duration of exposure of non-target species. The effects of exposure [in wildlife] range from instant and lethal to chronic." Effects could include "altered feeding behavior and reduced food intake [in birds], reduced foraging in bees, and altered tunneling behavior in earthworms."

Dr. David Gibbons, head of the Center for Conservation Science at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, remarked, "This elegant and important study provides worrying evidence of negative impacts of neonicotinoid insecticides on birds. Usage of these pesticides has been particularly high in some parts of the Netherlands. Monitoring of pollution in soils and waterways is urgently required, as is further research into the effects of these insecticides on wildlife."
Categories: Ecological News

UK government admits: air pollution limits won't be met until after 2030

Green Blog - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 17:16
Air pollution has serious health impacts, a recent WHO study concluded that about 7 million people around the world died in 2012 as a result from exposure to air pollution. And it’s expected that 29 000 people die too early as a result of air pollution in the UK alone. Now the UK government has admitted that they don’t expect to meet EU’s legal limits for nitrogen dioxide air pollution in at least three major cities until after 2030 – over 20 years too late and five years later than previously admitted.

The UK was supposed to meet EU’s legal air pollution limits back in 2010 but the progress to reduce the emissions has been slow. The failure to meet the deadline has resulted in legal procedures against the UK which could result in fines of £300m a year. EU Commission lawyers has described the case as “a matter of life and death” and said this would be “perhaps the longest running infringement of EU law in history”.

Judges at the Court of Justice of EU, where the legal case is currently being handled, was told earlier last week by representatives from ClientEarth, a non-profit environmental law organisation, and European Commission lawyers that the UK Government won’t meet nitrogen dioxide limits in London, Birmingham and Leeds until after 2030.

Representatives from the UK Government tried to suppress this information using rules on legal privilege, but later during the proceedings they admitted to it as it became clear that the DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK) had published information in support of this claim the day before on its website.

“It’s bad enough that the government has no intention of complying with these limits in the foreseeable future. It’s even worse that they’re trying to hide behind legal procedural rules to keep this quiet,” Alan Andrews, ClientEarth lawyer, said in a statement. “Another five years of delay means thousands more people will die or be made seriously ill. The UK needs to act now to get deadly diesel vehicles out of our towns and cities.”

Until now, the UK government has maintained it would meet nitrogen dioxide limits by 2025 in London and by 2020 in 15 other zones. But the new admissions means that London is expected to meet the targets five years later than previously acknowledged, and 10 years later for Birmingham and Leeds. The air pollution reduction target has also been delayed and pushed back in many other cities around the UK.

“These air quality rules should already have been met. Government, councils and the London Mayor must make this issue an urgent priority, and end this national scandal,” Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner Jenny Bates said. “Rapid steps to ban the dirtiest vehicles and cut traffic levels must be taken, and road-building plans that will simply add to the problem should be abandoned.”
Categories: Ecological News
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