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Ecological News

Stupidity and Intelligence: Science, GMOs and Our Food

Navdanya Diary - Wed, 07/01/2015 - 23:41
How industrial-scale farming is actually becoming anti-science.

By Dr Vandana Shiva – Common Dreams, 29 June 2015

The intelligence of both human farmers and the natural world itself, writes Dr. Shiva, “is being thwarted by the false construction of the living Earth as dead matter, to be exploited limitlessly for human control, domination and greed.” (Photo: fossen_42/flickr/cc)

Source: http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/06/29/stupidity-and-intelligence-science-gmos-and-our-food

“Science” is derived from the scire – “to know”.

Each of us should know what we are eating, how it was produced, what impact it has on our health.

The knowledge we need for growing food is knowledge of biodiversity and living seed, of living soil and the soil food web, of interaction between different species in the agroecosystem and of different seasons. Farmers have been the experts in these fields, as have ecological scientists who study the evolution of microorganisms, plants and animals, the ecological web and the soil food web.

In industrial agriculture the knowledge of living systems is totally missing since industrial agriculture was externally driven by using war chemicals as inputs for agriculture. Soil was defined as an empty container for holding synthetic fertilizers, plants were defined as machines running on external inputs. This meant substituting the ecological functions and services that nature and farmers can provide through renewal of soil fertility, pest and weed control, and seed improvement. But it also implied ignorance of the destruction of the functions by the toxic chemicals applied to agriculture.

This complex knowledge of interacting, self-organizing, self-maintaining, self-renewing and self-evolving systems that farmers have had is now being confirmed through the latest in ecology. At the agricultural systems level, agroecology, not the mechanistic and blind paradigm of industrial agriculture, is the truly scientific approach to food production.

At the level of organisms, epigenetics and the new knowledge that cells are in constant communication with each other is leading to the emergence of a new paradigm of life as communication and intelligence. Living systems are not dead matter, assembled like a machine.

Yet in recent times only one kind of knowledge, the Mechanistic Reductionist paradigm based on seeing the world as a machine, and reduction of a system its parts, has been elevated to the status of science.

The emerging sciences of complexity and connectedness expose the oceans of ignorance in which the mechanistic fundamentalism is steeped. Because living systems are self-organized complexity—and not machines— knowledge of a small fragmented part in isolation of its relationships with the rest of the system, translates into not-knowing.

This epistemic violence is now being combined with the violence of corporate interests to viciously attack all scientific traditions, including those that have evolved from within Western Science and transcended the mechanistic world view.

Industrial-scale farming, in this way, is actually becoming anti-science.

No where is this more evident than in how reductionism has  been used to colonise the seed. Seed is self organized intelligence – it reproduces, it multiplies, and it constantly evolves. Farmers, specially women, have combined their intelligence with the intelligence of the seed, and through breeding as co-creation, they have domesticated wild plants, increased diversity to adapt to diverse climates and cultures. Additionally, they have improved both nutrition and taste as well as increased resilience, which is the evolutionary potential of the seed. Seeds have been improved on the basis of ecological and social criteria.

The rhetoric for taking over food systems and seed supply is always based on “Improved Seed.” But what is not mentioned is that industrial seeds are only “improved” in the context of higher dependence on chemicals, and more control by corporations.

The latest in the anti-scientific discourse of industrial agriculture is by reducing everything to “GMOs.”

Genetic Engineering is used to redefine seed as a corporate “invention” to claim patents and collect royalties. Farmers suicides in the cotton belt of India are directly related to the extraction of super-profits from farmers as royalty. And this is illegal since Monsanto never had a patent on Bt cotton.

It is claimed the GMOs will increase food production but the technology does not increase yields.

It is claimed that genetic engineering is a precise technology. This is false for four primary reasons. First, genetic engineering is based on the false assumption that one gene gives rise to one trait. Second, it is so imprecise that antibiotic resistance marker genes have to be added to even know if the gene was actually introduced in the cell of the plant and genes from virulent viruses have to be added to promote the trait being introduced. Third, because the genes come from unrelated organisms, and include bacterial and viral genes, there are unknown impacts on the organism and the ecosystem in which it is introduced. This is why there are multidisciplinary sciences involved in Biosafety, and an international UN law to regulate GMOs for their Biosafety impact called the Cartagena Protocol to the Convention on the Conservation of Biodiversity.

Fourth, the anti-scientific claim that GMOs are accurate and selection and conventional breeding are inaccurate ignores the intelligence of plants and of farmers which is at play in evolution. In fact, the emergence of antibiotic resistance indicates the intelligence of bacteria to evolve under the pressure  of antibiotics. Bacteria, as intelligent beings, are remaking themselves in response to antibiotics. The emergence of superpests resistant to Bt toxin in plants, and superweeds resistant to Roundup with the spread of Roundup Ready GMOs indicates the intelligence of insects and plants to remake themselves under the pressure of toxins associated with GMOs which are designed to kill them. But it is precisely on the denial of intelligence of humans and other species that the edifice of mechanistic reductionism is based.

“Intelligence” is based on the Latin inter legere – “to choose”. From the slime mold and bacteria, to plants and animals, including humans, intelligence is the choice we make to evolve in order to respond to changing contexts. Life is a cognitive system, with communication constantly taking place in a network on non-separable patterns of relationship. Living beings innovate all the time to deal with environmental challenges that face them. As evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin says, “The characteristic of a living object is that it reacts to external stimuli rather than being passively propelled by them. An organisms life is constant mid-course corrections.”

As a species, we as humans are falling behind the slime mold and bacteria to make an intelligent response to the environmental threats we face. And our intelligence is being thwarted by the false construction of the living Earth as dead matter, to be exploited limitlessly for human control, domination and greed.

The mid-course correction we need is to move beyond the mechanistic paradigm, and beyond exploitation which is manipulating not just living organisms, but knowledge itself.

It is claimed that the Bt toxin in GMOs degrades, but it has been found to survive in the blood of pregnant women and fetuses. It is claimed that Roundup and Roundup Ready crops are safe for humans because humans do not have the shikimate pathway. This is outright violence against science. Ninety percent of the genetic information in our body is not human but bacterial. Out of the 600 trillion cells in our body only 6 trillion are human, the rest are bacterial. And bacteria have the shikimate pathway. The bacteria in our gut are being killed by Roundup leading to serious disease epidemics, from increasing intestinal disorders to neurological problems such as the increase in occurrence of autism and Alzheimers. The soil, the gut and our brain are one interconnected biome – violence to one part triggers violence in the entire inter-related system. The US Centers for Disease Control data shows that on current trends one in two children in the US could be autistic in a few decades. It is not an intelligent species that destroys its own future because of a distorted and manipulated definition of science.

As Einstein had observed: “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

 

                          
Categories: Ecological News

What needs to be done in boosting domestic production of pulses

Ground Reality - Tue, 06/30/2015 - 13:12


As dal prices go on an upswing, a harried government is trying to focus on increasing domestic production. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi called upon farmers to grow more pulses to reduce the dependence on imports, he was not only voicing concern over the rising import bill, but also wanting the country to become self-sufficient in pulses production.
Prime Minister is right. All efforts to increase production of pulses in the past few years have not borne fruit to the extent desired. Although domestic production had reached a high of 19.25 million tonnes in 2013-14, falling to 17.38 million tonnes the next year in 2014-15, but still India’s import of pulses continues to hover around 4 million tonnes. This is primarily the reason why the trade finds it convenient to raise prices at every given opportunity.
In the past one year, a 64 per cent hike in the prices of pulses has been observed with most common pulses available at a price exceeding Rs 100/kg in the retail market. Much of this jump in prices has been seen in the past 3-4 weeks after reports of an impending drought in kharifbecame more pronounced. To add fuel to the fire, the statement by Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, assuring the nation that the government will import large quantities of pulses to meet any shortfall expected in the markets, is expected to send international prices soaring.
The same mistake was earlier committed by the former Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar.  Some years back when he publicly stated that India will import sugar to offset domestic shortfall in production, international prices had swung to a record high. Consequently, the import bill on sugar grew. This is also true for India’s import of chemical fertilizers. India’s demand for fertilizer is instrumental in keeping international prices high on an expectation of increased imports. In fact, how much will be India’s fertilizer import is something that has been monitored by the global trade very meticulously.
Ever since the weather forecast indicated an overall fall of 12 per cent in monsoon rains, prices of pulses – both nationally and internationally – have gone up drastically. According to reports, the future prices of tur from Myanmar had gone up from $ 800/tonne to $ 1150/tonne. Similarly, the futures prices for chanain Australia swung from $ 550/tonne in March t $ 775 tonne in June. Much of India’s imports are from Canada, Australia, Myanmar, Russia and Ukraine.
Although the government has raised the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of some of the important kharif pulses, price alone may not be enough to raise production in the long run. While the price of tur and urad have been raised by Rs 275 and of moong by Rs 250 per quintal, the idea being to give a message to farmers to shift more area towards pulses, I have always felt that unless the government launches an assured procurement programme for pulses, there is little hope. What has been achieved in wheat and rice is what exactly needs to be done in case of pulses.
Augmenting production of oilseeds and pulses in 60,000 villages, with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) holding 6,000 crop demonstrations over the years, is certainly welcome. But what is required is a two-pronged approach if the government is anywhere serious in boosting domestic production of pulses:  
1.   1.  Pulses attract zero per cent import duty at present. As long as import tariffs are not raised substantially, imports will continue to act a dampener against any move to raise production. The Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices had recommended raising the import tariffs to 10 per cent, and the Ministry of Agriculture had been toying to hike it to 20-30 per cent. It is high time the import tariffs are raised substantially.

2.    2. The hike in import tariffs has to be accompanied by a nationwide programme to ensure procurement of pulses by the State agencies. What deters farmers from undertaking cultivation of pulses is the volatility in market prices and the lack of an assured market. If only the State governments were to step in and purchase every grain of legume that flows into the markets, India will witness an unprecedented jump in pulses production. #
      *What needs to be done in boosting domestic production of pulses. ABPNewsTV. June 29, 2015      https://twitter.com/abpnewstv/status/615482660715016192/photo/1
Categories: Ecological News

Why India does not need GM Mustard

Ground Reality - Sat, 06/27/2015 - 12:29

A child in a mustard field - pic from web
Comes winter, and I crave for sarson ka saag. As far as I can remember, even when I got my first job, my mother would send me a container full of saag that would last me for a week or so. I could eat saagwith every meal, or at least once a day, a habit that I have not given up since I was a child. But why am I sharing this insight into my culinary taste and preference is because I fear I may soon have to give up on one of my favourite foods.
With the Ministry of Environment & Forests reportedly considering granting a commercial approval to genetically-modified (GM) mustard, I certainly wouldn’t like to take a risk anymore. Knowing the health risks associated with GM foods, I would like to keep away. I am sure millions of north Indians, who are known to have a taste for makki ki roti and sarson ka saag, too would be greatly disappointed. After all, there is no desperate reason to genetically modify a food crop that has traditionally been a part of the daily cousine. Moreover, there is no way to segregate the GM mustard from normal mustard that I can be sure what I am eating is not genetically modified.
Five years after the Ministry of Environment & Forests had in 2010 imposed a moratorium on Bt brinjal, which if approved would have been the first food crop in India to be genetically modified, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the nodal agency that grants approvals, is getting ready to give a green signal to Delhi University’s GM Mustard variety DMH-11. The claim is that this GM Mustard gives 20-25 per cent higher yield, and also improves the quality of mustard oil. It is time to examine the veracity of these claims.
Claims notwithstanding, it is also time to first understand how easily our food is being tampered in the name of increasing crop productivity. The fact of the matter is that there is no GM crop so far across the globe that increases productivity. Even in GM Mustard, the increase in yield that is being claimed, is simply because of the hybrid variety in which the three alien genes have been inserted. Which means if you grow one of the popular mustard hybrids already available in the market, you will hardly have any yield advantage.
It is being repeatedly said that India imports edible oils worth Rs 60,000-crore every year, and therefore with an increased productivity of GM Mustard, the import bill will be reduced. For those who do not know the real situation, this looks to be a worthwhile proposition. But what is not known is that the huge imports are not because of any shortage of technology or because farmers are unable to produce more. It is simply because successive governments have allowed import duties to be drastically cut from the applicable rate of 300 per cent to almost zero now. As a result, India has been inundated with cheaper imports.
It was in 1985 that the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi decided to launch an Oilseeds Technology Mission to raise the productivity of oilseed crops, including mustard, so as to reduce the import bill. In 1985, India was importing approximately Rs 15,000-crore of edible oils, which was roughly 50 per cent of our domestic requirement. This was the third biggest import bill –after petrol and fertilizers – that Rajiv Gandhi was keen to curb. The result was that ten years after the launch of the Oilseeds Mission, in 1993-94, India became almost self-sufficient in edible oils. With only 3 per cent imports, 97 per cent of edible oils began to be produced within the country.
The cut in import tariffs was not as much from WTO directive but more because of autonomous liberalisation. As per WTO norms, India’s import tariffs for edible oils are bound at 300 per cent. But for reasons that do not kmake any economic sense, India’s import tariffs have been gradually brought down to almost zero. With cheaper imports coming in, farmers stopped cultivating oilseeds and also much of the processing infrastructure for oilseeds lies redundant. The best way to increase oilseeds production therefore is to raise the import tariffs and provide enabling environment to farmers. They will do the rest.
Mustard is one of the many oilseeds crops that are grown in India. Over the years, its productivity and production has been on an upswing. In 2010-11, a record mustard production of 81.8 lakh tonnes was harvested.  From 9.04 quintals per hectare in 1990-91, average mustard yield has increased to 12.62 quintals in 2013-14, with Gujarat recording 16.95 quintals per hectare. There is no shortage of mustard in the country. Mustard yields can still be increased further if farmers are paid a remunerative price and an adequate mandi infrastructure is created to procure the harvest every year. Since almost 70 per cent of the mustard crop is cultivated in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, the problem farmer’s face is that of over-production and lack of buyers. In Rajasthan particularly, the central agency Nafed has been pressed into service time and again to procure mustard when prices crash at times of an unmanageable glut. 
Mustard oil is one of the healthiest of the edible oils available. It contains one of the lowest levels of saturated fatty acids. But the problem mustard oil faces as far as quality is concerned is its large scale contamination with cheaper cottonseed and palm oils. To provide pungency, some popular brands, add a solution of red chilies. Improving the quality of mustard oil therefore does not require genetic modification but a clean-up in the processing industry and checking unethical trade practices. It needs a crackdown on the oilseeds trade to ensure that quality oil is made available. 
Increasing production of oilseed crops like mustard therefore requires adequate policy initiatives. Raising import tariffs to ensure that cheaper edible oil does not flood the market, and providing an economic price for the produce can bring back self-sufficiency in edible oils. There is no reason why India should be spending Rs 60,000-crores on importing edible oils that can be produced within the country. Since oilseeds are a crop of the drylands, encouraging oilseeds production will benefit the domestic farmers living in the harsh environs. Even the Shanta Kumar committee has in its report on ‘Restructuring FCI’ dwelt on this issue and recommended trade policies to be in tune with country’s food self-sufficiency. There appears to be no plausible reason why GEAC should be so keen to push another unwanted, unhealthy and environmentally damaging GM crop. #
1. Conspiracy Against Mustard. DNA Mumbai, June 26, 2015http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/column-conspiracy-against-mustard-2098894
2. सेहत पर एक और खतरा, Dainik Jagran, June 27, 2015http://www.jagran.com/editorial/apnibaat-another-threat-to-health-12526858.html
Categories: Ecological News

Deconstructing Indian cotton: weather, yields, and suicides

Navdanya Diary - Mon, 06/22/2015 - 02:05

RESEARCH

Environmental Science Europe – Published 17 June 2015

Source: http://www.enveurope.com/content/27/1/12

Andrew Paul Gutierrez12*, Luigi Ponti23, Hans R Herren4, Johann Baumgärtner24 and Peter E Kenmore2

Author Affiliations

1 College of Natural Resources, University of California, Berkeley, 94720-3114, CA, USA

2 Center for the Analysis of Sustainable Agricultural Systems (CASAS NGO), Kensington, CA, USA

3 Agenzia nazionale per le nuove tecnologie, l’energia e lo sviluppo economico sostenibile (ENEA), Centro Ricerche Casaccia, Via Anguillarese 301, Rome, 00123, Italy

4 The Millennium Institute, Washington, DC, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

Environmental Sciences Europe 2015, 27:12 doi:10.1186/s12302-015-0043-8

The electronic version of this article is the complete one and can be found online at: http://www.enveurope.com/content/27/1/12

Received: 31 October 2014 Accepted: 22 April 2015 Published: 17 June 2015

© 2015 Gutierrez et al.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited.

Abstract Background

Cotton with coevolving pests has been grown in India more than 5000 years. Hybrid cotton was introduced in the 1970s with increases in fertilizer and in insecticide use against pink bollworm that caused outbreaks of bollworm. Hybrid Bt cotton, introduced in 2002 to control bollworm and other lepidopteran pests, is grown on more than 90 % of the cotton area. Despite initial declines, year 2013 insecticide use is at 2000 levels, yields plateaued nationally, and farmer suicides increased in some areas. Biological modeling of the pre-1970s cotton/pink bollworm system was used to examine the need for Bt cotton, conditions for its economic viability, and linkage to farmer suicides.

Results

Yields in rainfed cotton depend on timing, distribution, and quantity of monsoon rains. Pink bollworm causes damage in irrigated cotton, but not in rainfed cotton unless infested from irrigated fields. Use of Bt cotton seed and insecticide in rainfed cotton is questionable.

Conclusions

Bt cotton may be economic in irrigated cotton, whereas costs of Bt seed and insecticide increase the risk of farmer bankruptcy in low-yield rainfed cotton. Inability to use saved seed and inadequate agronomic information trap cotton farmers on biotechnology and insecticide treadmills. Annual suicide rates in rainfed areas are inversely related to farm size and yield, and directly related to increases in Bt cotton adoption (i.e., costs). High-density short-season cottons could increase yields and reduce input costs in irrigated and rainfed cotton. Policy makers need holistic analysis before new technologies are implemented in agricultural development.

Keywords:

Ecological disruption; Bt cotton; Weather; Yields; Suicides; Bio-economics; Physiologically based demographic models; GIS; Climate change

Read more: http://www.enveurope.com/content/27/1/12                           
Categories: Ecological News

“Laudato Si” – A 21st century Manifesto for Earth Democracy

Navdanya Diary - Sat, 06/20/2015 - 19:20

by Dr Vandana Shiva – L’Huffington Post Italia, 19 June 2015

Source [Italian]: http://www.huffingtonpost.it/vandana-shiva/la-laudato-si-manifesto-del-21-secolo-terra_b_7620852.html

Most reports of Pope Francis’s Encyclical in the press before the formal launch yesterday reduced this path breaking document with 246 paras on the contemporary ecological crisis and human crisis to the 4 paras on climate change (para 23-26). But Laudato Si is much wider and much deeper.
It is first of all a call for a change in consciousness and a world view from the dominant paradigm of the domination over nature and its destruction, to one where we see the Earth as our Mother, as our common home.

The ‘Laudato Si’ opens with St Francis’ prayer- “Praise be to you my Lord, through our sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruits with coloured flowers and herbs”.
This resonates so deeply with the Indian philosophy of Vasudhaiv Kutumkan, the Earth Family.
It resonates with the contemporary movement for the Rights of Mother Earth.
It resonates with cultures and faiths across the world. The encyclical is an invitation to “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of the planet” (paragraph 14) and this includes biodiversity, air, water, oceans.
It is clear that “to prorect our common home we need to bring the whole family together” (13). The Encyclical goes on to say “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods which God has endowed her with. We have come to see ourselves as her lord and masters, entitledto plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the soil, in the water, in the air, and in all forms of life” (2).

Soil is referred to frequently, including in the contributions of soil and land degradation and deforestation to climate change. And the Pope reminds us that “we have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the Earth”. (Gen 2:7). Navdanya’s manifesto Terra Viva released at the Expo in the Year of Soils is a celebration of Soil as as the basis of our lives, of “humus” as the root of “human”. We are the soil.

The ‘Laudato Si’ is very critical of the privatization of water, and the idea that life forms are just mines of genes useful to business.
“It is not enough to think of different species merely as potential ‘resources’ to be exploited, while overlooking the fact they have value in themselves ” (33). The intrinsic worth of all beings and all biodiversity is the ethics on which Navdanya is founded. That is why we say there should be “No patents on Seed” and “No patents on Life”.
The ‘Laudato Si’ is cautious on the question of GMOs, but does point to the threats to small farmers. And it indicates that through Biotechnology and knowledge related to DNA a handful of interests are controlling the fate of the Earth and humanity. “It is extremely risky for a small part of humanity to have control” (104).

Everything that will shape our freedom and survival is addressed in the encyclical- “Our freedom fades when it is handed over to the blind forces of the unconscious, of immediate needs, of self-interest, and of violence” (105). Among the blind forces of the unconscious are the idea of infinite unlimited growth, of technological fundamentalism without precaution, assessment and responsibity, of anthropocentrism. “The technological mind see nature as an insensate order, as a cold body of facts, as a mere ‘given’, an object of utility, as raw material to be hammered out into useful shape. The intrinsic dignity of the world is thus compromised” (115).

Nature is not dead matter, She is alive. And when we destroy nature, she can destroy us.
Our greed, our arrogance is blinding us to this basic reality that women, small farmers, indigenous cultures have understood. Diverse movements will be empowered by the encyclical. The only ones who are threatened are those who would like to continue to try and establish their empire over the entire planet and the earth’s resources, privatizing the commons, pushing free trade agreements like TTP and TTIP, destroying democracy and people’s rights, and destroying the earth that sustains us.

And stupidly and recklessly, they call this destruction “economy”. But economy is derived from “Oikos”, our home, and refers to management of our common home, the theme of the Encyclical. The selfish and narrow minded who have commented that the Pope should not interfere in the economy have deliberately forgotten, or distorted, what the economy is. The encyclical helps us remember that it is about love and care, not exploitation, greed and destruction. It observes that the “Degree of human intervention often in the service of business interests and consumerism is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, and ever more limited and grey” (34).

It is by bringing beauty, true wellbeing and the joy of living in harmony with nature to the centre of human concern that the encyclical awakens our deeper humanity and consciousness. Being human is not worshiping the “god of money” or tools of technology or the myth of progress defined as the conquest of nature and people. Being human is to be deeply aware of all beings who share this beautiful and precious home with us.

The ‘Laudato Si’ is based on integral ecology-the interconnectedness of ecology, society and economy. This is the interconnectedness we tried to explore in “Terra Viva”.

In integral ecology, sustainability and social justice are inseparable. As the encyclical states- “…a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (49). This for me is Earth Democracy.

Related Articles / Posts

-

Pope Francis: A new ecological Paradigm is necessary

by Manlio Masucci, 17 June 2015

Encyclical Letter “Laudato Si’” of The Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home

 

                          
Categories: Ecological News

Soil, papered over

Navdanya Diary - Fri, 06/19/2015 - 15:54

By Dr Vandana Shiva – The Asian Age, 17 june 2015

Photo Source: https://vimeo.com/103764529
(BecketFilms: http://vandanashivamovie.com/ – screenshot)

Source: http://www.asianage.com/columnists/soil-papered-over-179

The rhetoric for taking over food systems and seed supply is always based on ‘improved seed’. But industrial seeds are only ‘improved’ in the context of higher dependence on chemicals, and more control by corporations

Science” is derived from the word scire — “to know”. Each of us should know what we are eating, how it was produced and what impact it will have on our health.

The knowledge we need for growing food is the knowledge of biodiversity and living seed, of living soil and the soil food web, of interaction between different species in the agro-ecosystem and of different seasons. Farmers have been the experts in these fields, as have ecological scientists who study the evolution of micro-organisms, plants and animals, the ecological web and the soil food web.

In industrial agriculture, the knowledge of living systems is totally missing, since industrial agriculture was externally driven by using war chemicals as inputs. Soil was defined as an empty container for holding synthetic fertilisers and plants were defined as machines running on external inputs. This meant substituting the ecological functions and services that nature and farmers can provide through renewal of soil fertility, pest and weed control, and seed improvement. But it also implied ignorance of the destruction of the functions by the toxic chemicals applied to agriculture.

This complex knowledge of interacting, self-organising, self-maintaining, self-renewing and self-evolving systems that farmers have had is now being confirmed through the latest in ecology. At the agricultural systems level, agro-ecology, not the mechanistic and blind paradigm of industrial agriculture is the truly scientific approach to food production.

At the level of organisms, epigenetics and the new knowledge that cells are in constant communication with each other is leading to the emergence of a new paradigm of life as communication and intelligence. Living systems are not dead matter, assembled like a machine.

Yet, in recent times, only one kind of knowledge, the mechanistic reductionist paradigm, based on seeing the world as a machine and reduction of a system its parts, has been elevated to the status of science.

The emerging sciences of complexity and connectedness expose the oceans of ignorance in which the mechanistic fundamentalism is steeped. Because living systems are not machines, they are a self-organised complexity, knowledge of a small, fragmented part in isolation of its relationships with the rest of the system translates into not knowing.

This epistemic violence is now being combined with the violence of corporate interests to viciously attack all scientific traditions, including those that have evolved from within Western science and transcended the mechanistic worldview.

It is actually becoming anti-science.

Nowhere is this more evident than in how reductionism has been used to colonise the seed. Seed is self-organised intelligence — it reproduces, it multiplies, it constantly evolves. Farmers, especially women, have combined their intelligence with the intelligence of the seed, and through breeding as co-creation they have domesticated wild plants, increased diversity to adapt to diverse climates and cultures, they have improved nutrition and taste, they have increased resilience, which is the evolutionary potential of the seed. Seeds have been improved on the basis of ecological and social criteria.

The rhetoric for taking over food systems and seed supply is always based on “improved seed”. But what is not mentioned is that industrial seeds are only “improved” in the context of higher dependence on chemicals, and more control by corporations.

The latest in the anti-scientific discourse of industrial agriculture is about reducing everything to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Genetic engineering is used to redefine seed as a corporate “invention” to claim patents and collect royalties. Farmers’ suicides in the cotton belt of India are directly related to the extraction of super-profits from farmers as royalty. And this is illegal since Monsanto never had a patent on Bt cotton.

It is claimed the GMOs will increase food production but the technology does not increase yields.

It is claimed that genetic engineering is a precise technology. This is false for four reasons.

First, genetic engineering is based on the false assumption that one gene gives rise to one trait.

Second, it is so imprecise that antibiotic-resistance-marker genes have to be added to even know if the gene was actually introduced in the cell of the plant and genes from virulent viruses have to be added to promote the trait being introduced.

Third, because the genes come from unrelated organisms and include bacterial and viral genes, there are unknown impacts on the organism and the ecosystem in which it is introduced. This is why there are multidisciplinary sciences involved in biosafety, and an international UN law to regulate GMOs for their biosafety impact, called the Cartagena protocol to the Convention on the Conservation of Biodiversity.

Fourth, the anti-scientific claim that GMOs are accurate and selection and conventional breeding are inaccurate ignores the intelligence of plants and of farmers which is at play in evolution.

In fact, the emergence of antibiotic resistance indicates the intelligence of bacteria to evolve under the pressure of antibiotics. Bacteria, as intelligent beings, are remaking themselves in response to antibiotics. The emergence of superpests resistant to Bt. toxin in plants, and superweeds resistant to Roundup with the spread of Roundup Ready GMOs indicates the intelligence of insects and plants to remake themselves under the pressure of toxins associated with GMOs which are designed to kill them. But it is precisely on the denial of intelligence of humans and other species that the edifice of mechanistic reductionism is based.

“Intelligence” is based on the Latin word inter legere which means “to choose”. From the slime mould and bacteria, to plants and animals, including humans, intelligence is the choice we make in order to respond to changing contexts. Life is a cognitive system with communication constantly taking place in a network on non-separable patterns of relationship. Living beings innovate all the time to deal with environmental challenges that face them. As American evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin says, “The characteristic of a living object is that it reacts to external stimuli rather than being passively propelled by them. An organism’s life is constant midcourse corrections.”

Humans as a species, are falling behind slime mould and bacteria to make an intelligent response to the environmental threats we face. And our intelligence is being thwarted by the false construction of the living Earth as dead matter, to be exploited limitlessly for human control, domination and greed.

The mid-course correction we need is to move beyond the mechanistic paradigm, and beyond exploitation which is manipulating not just living organisms, but knowledge itself.

It is claimed that the Bt toxin in GMOs degrades, but it has been found to survive in the blood of pregnant women and foetuses. It is claimed that Round-up and Round-up ready crops are safe for humans because humans do not have the shikimate pathway — a seven step metabolic route used by bacteria, fungi, algae, parasites and plants for the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids.

This is outright violence against science. Ninety per cent of the genetic information in our body is not human but bacterial. Out of the 600 trillion cells in our body only six trillion are human, the rest are bacterial. And bacteria have the shikimate pathway. The bacteria in our gut are being killed by Round-up leading to serious disease epidemics, from increasing intestinal disorders to neurological problems such as the increase in occurrence of autism and alzheimer’s.

The US Centre for Disease Control data shows that on current trends one in two children in the US will be autistic in a few decades. It is not an intelligent species that destroys its own future because of a distorted and manipulated definition of science.

As Einstein had observed, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity and I’m not sure about the universe.”

The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust

                          
Categories: Ecological News

Impending drought: farmers too need an economic bailout package

Ground Reality - Fri, 06/19/2015 - 15:30


It has been a bad year for agriculture. Deficient monsoon in Kharif 2014, followed by unseasonal rains, hailstorms and strong winds in the months of March-April 2015 had left the farmers battered. Accompanied by a crash in global prices of wheat, rice, cotton, soybean and maize and the refusal by the government to provide a higher domestic price to farmers had left the farmers in a lurch.
As if this is not enough, ominous signs stare ahead. With the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) predicting a significant shortfall of 12 per cent in monsoon rains for the second year in a row, stopping short of pointing to a drought year ahead, the misery, suffering and the severe blow it is likely to inflict on the livelihood security of over 600 million farmers is in itself frightening.
The Third Advance Estimates of Production of Foodgrains for the Agricultural year 2014-15 shows a drastic fall of 13.92 million tonnes in foodgrains production, slumping from a high of 265.04 million tonnes harvested a year earlier in 2013/14 to an expected 251.52 million tonnes. This surely is a significant decline in production pulling down the agricultural growth rate in the bargain to a low of 0.2 per cent. Statistics apart, what is often ignored is the hit the farmers’ household economy receives in the process.
With comfortable stocks of wheat, rice and sugar in the kitty there is no undue reason for alarm. Food inflation in staple foods can easily be kept under check with strategic food management. It’s only in the case of vegetables that the government will have to ensure that market sentiments are not able to exploit the crisis situation.
Erratic weather is one part of the story. What is often glossed over is the fact that farmers have suffered a double whammy with not only the weather gods playing truant but also the crop prices declining sharply. First, the global crash in prices of agricultural commodities had resulted in a sharp fall in the prices of cotton, basmati rice, soybean and milk. This was followed by the refusal of the government to pay a higher minimum support price (MSP) to farmers, keeping the hike to Rs 50 per quintal only, and at the same time withdrawing the bonus of Rs 150 or more that was being paid in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. 
In an affidavit before the Supreme Court, the government has acknowledged that it is not possible to pay a higher price since it will distort the markets. RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan too had warned against a rise in food inflation shifting the blame on the expected hike in MSP for rice and wheat in the months to come. In other words, farmers are being penalized for keeping food inflation under control.
The bigger challenge therefore is to rescue farmers. If you recall, in the aftermath of 2008-09 global economic meltdown, the government was quick to provide an economic bailout package of Rs 3 lakh crore to the industry. I see no reason why at a time when international agricultural commodity prices have crashed, followed by an autonomous regime of maintaining artificially low domestic prices, the burden of keeping food cheaper for the consumers has to be borne entirely by the hapless farming community.
It is high time the government provides an economic bailout package of at least Rs 1.5 lakh crore to farmers. This should be relatively easy now considering that almost all farmers have a bank account now under the jan dhan yojna. This has to be accompanied by more public sector investments in agriculture. In the 12thFive year Plan, the total investment for agriculture, which benefits 600 million farmers, was a paltry Rs 1.5 lakh crore. Compare this with the subsidy for the new and swanky T-3 airport terminal in New Delhi, which stood at Rs 1.62 lakh crore. The budget for MNREGA is higher than the total outlay for agriculture.  
Somehow it is not being understood by policy makers that if the farmers have more money in their hands, they drive faster the wheels of the economy. Effectively, this also translates into what the Prime Minister Narendra Modi often calls for: Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas. 
Categories: Ecological News

Total Recall: How the match is fixed against Indian farmers

Ground Reality - Thu, 06/18/2015 - 14:43

Pic: AFP
After the battering they received from an unexpectedly long spell of unseasonal rains, accompanied by strong winds and hailstorm, Uttar Pradesh farmers have been able to finally harvest their wheat crop. With the crop fields now empty, and with the sowing for the next crop some weeks away, it is time for them to assess the net income, if any.
That the agricultural income has been on a steady decline was never in question. But a detailed look at the net returns from wheat-rice crop rotation from a hectare of land in Uttar Pradesh, as computed by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), is not only shocking but unbelievable. As per the latest estimates, the net return from cultivating wheat in Uttar Pradesh has been worked out at Rs 10, 758. Since wheat is a 6-month crop, sown in October and harvested in April, the per month income for a farm family comes to Rs 1,793. 
With Rs 1,793 or let us say Rs 1,800 per month from wheat cultivation I wonder what kind of livelihood security we are talking about when it comes to farmers. The average monthly bill for a mobile phone for most college students anywhere in India would exceed Rs 1,800.
I looked for more details. If the other crop farmer is growing is rice, the average net return for it has been computed at Rs 4,311. Add for rice and wheat, the total that a small farmer from a hectare earns is Rs 15, 669 or Rs 1,306 per month. With such meager incomes I see no reason why a large number of farmers commit suicide at regular intervals. Those who are not so courageous either sell-off their body organs or prefer to abandon farming and migrate to the cities looking for a menial job as a dehari mazdoor (daily wager worker).
Well, many economists will dismiss the UP farmer as being an inefficient grower. I therefore looked at the costs and price calculations for Punjab farmers who are considered to be progressive, using the latest technologies and also bestowed with 99 per cent assured irrigation. The average net returns from a hectare of wheat have been worked out at Rs 18,701. Since Punjab predominantly follows wheat-rice crop rotation it becomes important to look at the annual computation of costs and prices. 
Now, don’t be surprised. The net returns from wheat-rice cropping pattern in Punjab stand at Rs 36,352 or Rs 3,029 per month. I wonder how a farmer in an economically developed state of Punjab manages to survive.
But still, Indian farmers have not failed the nation. Year after year, and despite being at the bottom of the pyramid, they continue to produce a bumper crop. This year too, they had done remarkably well. In the previois Kharif season coinciding with the monsoon months, they produced a bumper crop of basmati rice, cotton followed by potato. While basmati rice production had doubled in Punjab and Haryana, farmer’s expectation of a higher income were razed to the ground with a crash in the global prices of agricultural commodities. Disappointed farmers sold basmati at prices ranging between Rs 1600-2400 per quintal, against a price of Rs 3,261 to Rs 6,085 they got last year.
In cotton too, prices slumped from an average of Rs 4,400 to Rs 5,200 per quintal last year to around Rs 3,000 this year, prompting the government to direct the Cotton Corporation of India to step in to buy at the procurement price of Rs 3,750 per quintal. Let us not forget that the jump in basmati and cotton production happened as farmers had incurred an additional cost on diesel to run tube wells for irrigation. Punjab and Haryana had recorded a 50 per cent shortfall in monsoon.
Later, potato farmers faced a similar glut forcing them to sell at a throwaway price of Rs 2 per kg.
For years I have seen the farmers toil valiantly in the crop fields, often getting up at midnight to irrigate their fields when electricity connection flows to the tube wells, only to face an unforeseen disaster in the form of low prices. The Minimum Support Price (MSP) that farmers get for wheat and rice, which becomes an assured price for their produce, is being deliberately kept low so as to ensure that food inflation remains in check. Farmers are paid a low price also to enable the industry to get cheap raw material. Take for instance the case of cotton. According to a CACP report in the early 1990s, cotton farmers were deliberately paid 20 per cent low price for two decades so as to keep the textile industry economically viable.
This year, procurement prices for wheat and Rice have been raised by a paltry Rs 50 per quintal, which corresponds to an increase of 3.2 per cent. States like Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan which gave a bonus over and above the MSP have now been debarred from doing so. In fact, the government plans to withdraw MSP in the coming years leaving farmers to face the tyranny of markets.
Compare it with the government employees who have recently been given a second DA installment of 6 per cent at a time when wholesale price index has been officially computed at zero. This step-motherly treatment is the primary reason for the continuing agrarian distress in the country. In other words, farmers are being penalized for keeping food prices low for the indulgent consumers as well as for the industry. I don’t know why farmers alone should bear the burden of keeping the food prices low. After all, they too have to survive.
My colleagues have come out with some startling analysis. They looked at the rise in procurement prices with the rise in incomes of employees in various sectors over a period of 45 years – between 1970 and 2015. In 1970, the wheat procurement price was Rs 76 per quintal. In 2015, wheat procurement was is Rs 1450 per quintal, an increase of about 19 times. In the same period, the average basic salary plus DA of central government employees have risen by 110 to 120 times; of school teachers by 280 to 320 times; of college/university teachers by 150 to 170 times; and of mid to high class corporate sector employees by 350 to 1000 times. In the same period, school fees have increased by 200 to 300 times; medical treatment cost has gone up again by 200 to 300 per cent; and average house rent in cities has risen by 350 times.
This is a telling insight into the deliberate effort over the years to keep the farmers impoverished. But if you think, farmers have suffered unknowingly, you are simply mistaken. Actually, it is part of a global design. The World Bank had directed India way back in 1996 to move 400 million people out of the villages into the cities in the next 20 years, by 2015. Such a massive demographic translocation has also been suggested by academic institutes in the West. For a country to grow economically, the economic prescription is to reduce drastically the dependency on agriculture. Therefore the entire effort is to create such conditions that forces people to abandon farming and migrate to the cities.
To say that agriculture is an economically unviable profession is therefore untrue. If only farmers had received a wheat procurement price of Rs 7,650 per quintal – corresponding to the minimum increase in salaries of central government employees in the same period – agriculture would have been flourishing. India would have witnessed a reverse migration from the cities into the countryside, and farmer’s income would have compared favorably with the best in the industry. This would have provided gainful employment to millions of underemployed and unemployed. For the consumers, food prices could have been subsidized as is done in most of the developed economies.
In the Netherlands, the average farm household income is roughly 265 per cent higher than the average of the country. In US, the average farm household income is about 150 per cent higher than the national average. In India, the average farm family income is the lowest in all categories. It is not because the farmers in those countries are remarkably efficient. They get massive federal support in one form or the other. In India, successive governments have worked to push farmers out of agriculture. If only Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to reverse this trend, it would truly be Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas. #
*Total Recall: How the match is fixed against Indian farmers. CatchNews. May 27, 2015http://www.catchnews.com/pov/total-recall-how-the-match-is-fixed-against-indian-farmers-1432731942.html
Categories: Ecological News

Water and Environmental Justice in India

Navdanya Diary - Fri, 06/12/2015 - 20:12

Environmental and Food Justice – Students Blogs, 9 June 2015

Developed and moderated by Devon G. Peña, Ph.D.

Coca-Cola in India. Artwork by Carlos Latuff for the
International Campaign to Hold Coca-Cola Accountable

Source: http://ejfood.blogspot.it/2015/06/student-blogs-water-and-environmental.html

Moderator’s Note: Here is the first in a series of blog essays prepared by students in my environmental anthropology undergraduate class at the University of Washington taught earlier this 2014-15 academic year. The first in this new series of student authored blogs focuses on water and environmental justice with a specific concern for the impact of the Coca-Cola Company on the “commodification” of thirst in India.

The Indian subcontinent hosts some of Coca-Cola’s largest bottling and beverage manufacturing operations in the world. The plants are notoriously wasteful and consume more than 3 liters of water for each one liter of beverage produced. Most of the liquid exploited is groundwater and the bottling operations have severely impacted farmers and villages in the areas affected by the activities of the transnational corporation.

However, the authors of today’s blog note that the people have organized to successfully fight against this unsustainable industry, resulting in multiple lawsuits and the closure of several Coca-Cola plants.

This essay was edited by Tatiana Kalani Young and Devon G. Peña.

Coca-Cola and the Commodification of Thirst

INDIA STRUGGLES AGAINST CORPORATE ABUSE & EXPLOITATION OF WATER RESOURCES

Zhicheng Liang and Kate Browning with Devon G. Peña | Seattle, WA | June 7, 2015

The Human Body consists of sixty percent water and that same life-force covers at least seventy-one percent of the Earth’s surface (The USGS Water Science School). Water is the essence of life. Yet, so many people in so many countries are squandering this precious resource.

According to Merlin Hearn (2013) “fifty percent of worldwide groundwater is unsuitable for drinking because of pollution…Only about .007% of the water on Earth is accessible for human use”. Hearn continues that because of this high level of polluted water reserves, there are over 250 million cases of water-borne diseases each year, five to ten million of these result in death. By 2025, according to the United Nations campaign, “Water for Life Decade” by 2025, it is estimated that around 1.8 billion people, “will be living…with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions” (UN Water for Life Decade).

Who is responsible for these worsening conditions? How can the world community of nations address the water crisis? Can we trust corporations to change their policies to embrace water as a basic human and environmental right?

[...]

Read full essay: http://ejfood.blogspot.it/2015/06/student-blogs-water-and-environmental.html

 

                          
Categories: Ecological News

It's junk, not food

Ground Reality - Wed, 06/10/2015 - 10:37

A PTI photo
This may shock you. The US President’s Cancer Panel estimates that 41 per cent of all Americans living today will end up suffering from cancer in their lifetime. It is expected that 1 in 2 men and 1 in every 3 women in America will eventually get cancer. The report warns against the pervasive use of chemicals – including, pesticides, insecticides and synthetic ingredients in the processed foods.
In Punjab, a 525-page report prepared by the Department of Health and Family Welfare, too has pointed to the increasing contamination of junk foods with chemicals to be a major cause leading to increasing incidence of cancer. Excessive use and abuse of chemicals, including chemical fertilizer and insecticides and also chemical residues from industry, over the past few decades has turned Punjab into a hotspot of cancer.
Reports of the Centre preparing to file a case against Nestle India to seek damages on behalf of the consumers for selling unsafe Maggi noodles; and also from the Ahmedabad-based Consumer Education Research Centre (CRC) for planning a legal action against the multinational giant for misleading advertisements are therefore more than welcome. Considering that Nestle has spent Rs 445-crores last year alone on advertising and sales promotion, and has spent only 5 per cent of this staggering amount on quality tests shows how casual the company has been towards human health.
Banning of Maggi sales by 17 States so far across the country, and the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) ordering a nationwide recall of nine variants of Maggi from the market should serve as a wake-up call for a massive clean-up act. Not only other noodle brands -- Knorr, Yipee (ITC), 1to3 (Surya), Nissin Cup noodles, Doodles and Ching’s Secret – need to be brought under the scanner but it is time all kinds of processed foods are checked for quality. This has been long overdue and will go a long way in rebuilding consumer confidence.
Processed foods are rich in fats, sugar, salt, preservatives and chemicals posing a serious health hazard. As the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has shown that noodles alone contains about 60 per cent of the salt requirement that a child needs to consume daily. The accumulation of excess salt in children therefore is extremely risky. Studies have now shown that excessive consumption of salt is leading to increasing number of deaths. Worldwide 1.65 million people die from excess sodium consumption.
Along with high intake of sugar and trans fats, childhood obesity is emerging as a huge problem in America with obesity rates among those between 2 and 19 years being as high as 17 per cent. In India, the growing craze for junk foods – these are not foods, but junk – is actually leading to undernutrition and acute malnutrition. There is no denying that many mothers find it convenient to feed children with junk foods, either out of lack of awareness or simple laziness, not knowing that it leads to serious health problems that may arise later. Aided with high profile advertising that misleads them to believe that such products are ‘nutritious’, they fall an easy prey.
A series of investigative reports on hidden hunger by the news web portal Scroll states: “Food is cooked twice at home: rice, roti, dal [mostly masoor since it’s the cheapest], sabzi [mostly potatoes], but never green leafy vegetables or fruit or milk. Meals are interspersed with Maggi, popcorn and a variety of chips, which kill the appetite for a full meal. It isn't just that children like their taste, there is an economic rationale to rely on junk food. A packet of Maggi noodles costs Rs 10 while a meal of rice, dal and vegetables would cost approximately three times that amount.” More consumption of junk foods among children leads to malnutrition and stunted growth. Quoting a CRY study, the report says that 36% children suffer from malnutrition and another 33% are victims of severe acute malnutrition that could lead to abnormalities and even death.
To suggest that if junk foods are not allowed to be sold in the vicinity of the school premises will keep it from the reach of school children is certainly not a plausible solution. I have followed very keenly the campaign “Let’s Move!” launched by the US First lady Michelle Obama on fighting junk food advertisements of sugary breakfast cereals, soft drinks and fast food aimed at school children. Although the US Department of Agriculture has last year phased out advertising from the vending machines, I don’t understand why can’t the US Government ban the production and sales of junk foods? If cigarette smoking can be banned in public places, why can’t junk food sales also banned?
It is also time to take a relook at the colas. A BBC exposure had shown that each bigger container of the cold drink that is served in the cinema halls carries 44 spoons of sugar; the smaller containers carry 23 spoons. The next time you are in a cinema hall be careful about what you drink. It may taste refreshing at that moment but not for your body system. The clean-up act therefore cannot be completed unless the soft drink industry is also brought under the scanner. In fact, the time has come when health warnings like that inscribed on a cigarette pack too needs to be prescribed for some of the processed food products and colas.
A robust food safety system is the crying need. In India, there exists 1 food laboratory for every 88 million people. In China, a food safety lab exists for every 0.2 million people. Infrastructure development does not only mean constructing expressways and highways. It’s time adequate investment is made for food safety with stringent laws that provide for deterring punishment to erring firms. For a company which spends Rs 445-crore on advertising, paying a maximum fine of Rs 10 lakh is a joke. Unless the food safety laws ensure that big players end up coughing out 10 per cent of their annual turnover in penalties, I don’t see the possibility of a strict compliance with food safety laws. #  
Its junk, not food. DNA Mumbai, June 9, 2015http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/column-it-s-junk-not-food-2093675
Categories: Ecological News

Storm in Maggi’s cup

Navdanya Diary - Wed, 06/10/2015 - 03:20

By Dr Vandana Shiva – The Asian Age, 8 June 2015

Source: http://www.asianage.com/columnists/storm-maggi-s-cup-732

“Lead-laden Maggi is a wake-up call. It’s a reminder for the government of its role and responsibility in regulating corporations to ensure that public health and safety are not compromised.”

As the controversy over Maggi — Nestlé’s nutritionally empty noodle snack — gains momentum and Nestlé pulls Maggi from shelves in India, Nestlé’s CEO, Paul Bulcke asserted, “The popular snack was safe, passing every independent test ordered by the company.” Independent tests ordered by the company? If Nestlé’s objective was food safety, Maggi noodles would not have lead or the multitude of other industrial ingredients that cannot be considered food. Sadly, that is not the case. Nestlé’s objective, aligned with every global multinational jockeying for position to control more and more of our food market, is profits — even if that means compromising consumers’ health.

The Maggi controversy is a symptom of what happens to our food when global corporations take over. There are three sectors in the food systems where corporations are entering in a big way — seed and food production, distribution of food or trade and processing.

While the laws that govern these aspects of our food system may seem to be written to protect consumers, they become tools for these corporates to expand, often at the cost of local, artisanal alternatives that are safer, tastier and healthier.

At the international level, the World Trade Organisation laws that have forced entry of global corporations into the Indian food system are the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips), the intellectual property laws, agreement on agriculture, and the sanitary and phytosanitary agreement (SPS).

Until corporate globalisation forced India’s food and agriculture policies to change, most of the food in India was processed at the household and cottage level.

In fact, food processing was reserved for the small-scale sector, especially the khadi and village industries for reasons of employment and food safety.

And food processing was largely women’s expertise. Lijjat Papad, Induben’s Khakhra, Navdanya’s Mahila Anna Swaraj are examples that have survived the wave of globalisation.

The junk food industry of the West succeeded in creating a health crisis there. Similarly, it also succeeded in shutting down India’s abundant indigenous small-scale food processing industries.

Artisanal processing is now making a comeback worldwide because of issues of safety, quality and health associated with an industrial food system.

People have started laying an emphasis on the source of their food. However, in India, we seem to be in a time warp. At a time when the world is waking up to local, artisanal food systems, we are destroying our rich heritage, culture and economy of food. Food processing has been de-reserved and special incentives are being given to the food processing industry. A special ministry of food processing has been created to facilitate this transformation from local and artisanal to global and industrial.

Chips made in a local shop like Hot Chips are better than the ones packaged by PepsiCo, which exploits their contract farmers, often paying them as low as 50 paise per kg of their produce. “Vadis” have been replaced by “Nutri Nuggets” — a byproduct of the solvent oil extraction industry. “Bikaneri Bhujia” is not made fresh by 50,000 women in Bikaner anymore; it’s made in factories with chemicals, additives and preservatives because industrial food system has no room for “fresh” food.

The richness and diversity of India’s food culture is amazing. We have to decide whether to become a nation of food diversity, high employment in producing quality food and low risks of food safety? Or should we follow the US and become a “Fast Food Nation”, thoughtlessly stuffing junk into our mouths?

Sadly, the government policies initiated by the United Progressive Alliance government, continuing under the National Democratic Alliance government are giving privileges to the junk food industry.

During the Supreme Court hearings (under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954) on non-permissible additives such as phosphoric acid and anti-freeze in Coca Cola, the lawyer for Coca Cola pulled out a bunch of papers saying the PFA was being replaced by the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, and the PFA will not be applicable. Coca Cola knew because it had a hand in shaping the law which would wipe out all our street foods, small dhabas and all our artisanal processing, and with it destroy millions of livelihoods and lives, and fresh and quality food.

Fresh hot food is always safe. It is the water that is not. And municipalities and governments have failed to ensure clean drinking water to every citizen. The lack of safe water is being used to criminalise and ban our street foods under the pretext of food safety. In Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, street food vendors are guaranteed safe water. Local food is celebrated and not criminalised. And this is what is needed in India — a little more pride in our own food.

Lead-laden Maggi is a wake-up call. Firstly, it’s a reminder for the government of its role and responsibility in regulating corporations to ensure that public health and safety are not compromised. This is important in the present climate of deregulation of actions of large corporations and criminalisation of the daily activities of ordinary citizens, whether it is the sugarcane juice seller or the rajma-chawal stand that provides affordable and safe food to the daily office-goers. It is extremely important that communities that are served by street food rally in their support. Like we have a participatory guarantee system for organic food, we should create a participatory guarantee system for street food, including street “chefs” and those who can vouch for their safety, quality and work with them to get access to clean water and hygienic spaces.

The second reason why the Maggi controversy is an opportunity for India is that it can help our society from becoming a junk food nation. We need to know our food and we need a nationwide movement for food and nutrition literacy. There’s a need to understand that corporations, like Nestlé and Coca Cola do not care for people’s health. In the US, they have joined Monsanto to prevent citizens from having GMO labelling and have sued the state of Vermont for passing a labelling law. The right to know what is in your food is our fundamental right and the duty of the government. The right to know is a pillar of food democracy.

The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust

                          
Categories: Ecological News

If Michelle Obama can do it, why can't Indian celebs be equally responsive.

Ground Reality - Fri, 06/05/2015 - 10:49

Film star Madhuri Dixit in one the ads for Maggi noodles 
US First lady Michelle Obama is a celebrity.  Not only as US President Barack Obama’s wife, she has also successfully carved out a niche for herself in the international arena. With that image, she could have easily earned tonnes of money by endorsing popular brands, including processed foods.Michelle Obama instead focused her energies on fighting junk food ads of sugary breakfast cereals, soft drinks and fast food aimed at school children. Five years after she launched a nationwide campaign called “Let’s Move!” the US Department of Agriculture had last year phased out junk food advertisements from vending machines in schools across the country. Even billboards of Coke and Pepsi were removed from school eateries. The big retail giant Walmart has promised to reduce salt content in its products by 25 per cent and sugar by 10 per cent.Childhood obesity is emerging as a huge problem in America with obesity rates among those between 2 and 19 years being as high as 17 per cent.If Michelle Obama can stand up to fight obesity, which is emerging as the major reason leading to health debacles and even fatalities in the US, I see no reason why Indian celebrities – and that includes film actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit, Priety Zinta, Kareena Kapoor, Ranbir Kapoor and cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli to name a few – are not equally concerned and responsive. I agree it is not possible for stars to check the ingredients used, but at least they know what they are repeatedly endorsing is not healthy.When Madhuri Dixit becomes a brand ambassador for a ‘nutritious’ Magginoodles, she immensely influences the psyche of the modern age mothers. My own neighbor, a young mother, is at ease when she feeds her little son with 2-minute Maggi noodles every other afternoon. She has perhaps reduced the intake after I tried to reason out with her, but still she is comfortable as long as Madhuri Dixit endorses the product. I am sure similar stories abound everywhere, and therefore a celebrity just can’t get away by saying that it is the manufacturer who should be answerable and not the person endorsing it.An insightful news report in the web magazine Scroll.in (http://scroll.in/article/728525/junk-food-is-feeding-a-malnutrition-epidemic-in-delhis-slums) says it all: “Food is cooked twice at home: rice, roti, dal [mostly masoor since it’s the cheapest], sabzi [mostly potatoes], but never green leafy vegetables or fruit or milk. Meals are interspersed with Maggi, popcorn and a variety of chips, which kill the appetite for a full meal. It isn't just that children like their taste, there is an economic rationale to rely on junk food. A packet of Maggi noodles costs Rs 10 while a meal of rice, dal and vegetables would cost approximately three times that amount.” More consumption of junk foods among children leads to malnutrition and stunted growth. Quoting a CRY study, the report says that 36% children suffer from malnutrition and another 33% are victims of severe acute malnutrition that could lead to abnormalities and even death.BBC journalist Jeremy Paxmn (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWLQaz8nhQw) shocked the head of Coke Europe in 2013 when he poured sugar sachtes from typical containers of soft drinks that are served in cinema halls to show how consumers unknowingly gulp extremely high levels of sugar while watching films. Each big container carries sugar equal to 44 sachets and the small container has 23 sachets. Although the cola giants have been promising to reduce sugar content, the fact remains that soft drinks are harmful for health. Michelle Obama is therefore right in wanting the school children to remain away from soft drinks. Her campaign is slowly making an impact. At least obesity levels in children between the age of 2 and 5 are coming down in America.The Maggi controversy has once again brought the focus on celebrity endorsements. I am waiting for the day when more Indian celebrities demonstrate social consciousness like what has been shown by Aamir Khan, Mahesh Bhatt, Shekhar Kapoor and Kangana Ranaut. They can’t remain mere puppets on a financial string. In a country where they are treated like demi gods, they have to take on the bigger role on the lines of Michelle Obama. That’s like a true celebrity.
Categories: Ecological News

India Minister: Climate Change to Blame for 5th Deadliest Heat Wave in World History

Navdanya Diary - Thu, 06/04/2015 - 19:51

By Cole Mellino – EcoWatch, 2 June 2015

The Weather Channel

Source: http://ecowatch.com/2015/06/02/india-heat-wave-climate-change/

The heat wave that has been ravaging India in recent weeks has now killed more than 2,500 people, making it the fifth deadliest on record. “If the death toll reaches more than 2,541, it will become the fourth deadliest heat wave in the world, and the deadliest in India’s history,” says Think Progress.

After the Indian government made an announcement today that the country was entering its first drought in six years, India’s Earth sciences minister blamed climate change for the heat wave and the deficient monsoon rains. “Let us not fool ourselves that there is no connection between the unusual number of deaths from the ongoing heat wave and the certainty of another failed monsoon,” Harsh Vardhan told Reuters. “It’s not just an unusually hot summer, it is climate change,” he said.

The minister’s statement reflects the findings of the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change, which has predicted that “India will be hit by frequent freak weather patterns if the planet warms,” according to Reuters. And, of course, India is not alone. Scientists report that extreme weather, including droughts, floods and heat waves, will increase in frequency due to climate change. On the other side of the world in the U.S., cities such as Houston, Texas were inundated by floods last week and Oklahoma City had its wettest month ever with almost five times the amount of rain it normally sees in May. Again, scientists have confirmed that this heavy downpours are increasing because of climate change.

India’s monsoon rains, which are already five days late, are desperately needed. These photos from Twitter capture just how devastating the heat wave has been. Vardhan told Reuters that there is no certainty as to when the rains will arrive. Meanwhile, U.N. climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany this week will set the stage for whether world leaders will be able to finally take meaningful global action to stop climate change by setting targets that will keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

                          
Categories: Ecological News

Those responsible for the agrarian crisis cannot be expected to provide a solution.

Ground Reality - Sat, 05/30/2015 - 11:32
Fifty-three expert committees have submitted reports on farmer suicides in the past few decades and yet the serial death dance continues unabated. Despite so much of expert advice, nearly 3-lakh farmers have committed suicide in past 20 years, which averages to two farmers ending their lives somewhere in the country every hour. This paradoxical situation must an amazing feet that can find an entry into the Guinness Book of World Records.
I am not sure how many more committees will be set up to know why are farmer’s taking their own lives. But in the meanwhile what is becoming clearly evident is that even these experts are beginning to throw up their hands. A brain-storming session organized by Punjab Farmers Commission to find some newer approaches to address the continuing and deepening agrarian crisis failed to come up with any ‘out-of-the-box’ solution. Except for making some routine suggestions, they had nothing new to offer.
This reminds me of a news report a few weeks back which said Maharashtra’s Agriculture Minister Eknath Khadse had in an honest admission accepted that the State Government was clueless about how to put a stop to farmer suicides in Vidharbha and Marathwada regions. Such a feeling of despondency prevails at a time when Niti Ayog has set up a task force on agriculture and has also directed State Governments to constitute similar task forces.
I don’t know what the use of a task force on agriculture is when Niti Ayog vice-chairman, Dr Arvind Panagariya, has in his inaugural piece on the Niti Ayog website, already spelled out his approach to address the continuing agrarian crisis. He wants a sizeable percentage of the farming population to be forced out of agriculture. The roadmap, howsoever faulty it may be, has already been laid out and I wonder what purpose the task force at the Central and numerous others at the State level are therefore expected to achieve.
This is not the first time that an effort is being made to find solutions to the vexed farming crisis. Earlier too, and for several years now, numerous expert committees had been set up by the erstwhile Planning Commission.  At the same time, many State Governments, including Punjab, have brought out Agricultural Policy documents after a series of expert consultations. Also, in preparation for the 12thPlan document, several task force and committees on sustainable agriculture, technology, water, and marketing had given their reports. The agrarian crisis meanwhile has continued to worsen.
I have time and again said that those responsible for the crisis cannot be expected to provide any plausible solutions. Most of the expert committees and panels are dominated by senior bureaucrats, farm scientists, economists and senior agriculture officers who have in one way or the other been part of the system that led to the crisis in the first place. To expect them to provide ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions therefore is like hoping against hope. If 53-expert committees have failed, it is futile to think that 30 more task forces to be set up across the country, both at the State and the Central level, would serve any purpose.
This is exactly what Albert Einstein had warned us about. He said: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” 
He was so right. What is not being admitted is that the prevailing agrarian crisis is the outcome of the same kind of policies and approaches in which unfortunately we are now again trying to look for answers.  These unworkable solutions that are being routinely suggested fall within the contours of the existing agriculture cropping pattern. Some suggest diversification of crops like shifting from wheat to maize; some suggest water conservation as the key to boosting incomes; some other call for market-driven interventions; and finally everyone talks about need for raising crop productivity.
All these options have been tried in US/Europe and China. And still, US/Europe pays massive farm subsidies, exceeding $ 1 billion per day, to sustain farming operations. Withdrawing these subsidies would mean a collapse of the high-tech agriculture in the developed countries. Introducing more sophisticated and expensive machinery in India would simply add to farmer indebtedness. Further, despite a thrust on technology-based solutions like in Punjab, the farm crisis has only acerbated, Every day two farmers are committing suicide somewhere in Punjab, the frontline agricultural State.
For nearly three decades now, India’s rural underbelly has been gradually caving in. Excessive use of chemical fertilisers have turned the verdant lands poisonous, water mining has dried the aquifers leading to the expansion of the desert, and chemical fertilisers and pesticides have played havoc with the environment and human health. With the input prices climbing up year after year and the output prices remaining static, farmers have become a victim of the same economic policies that projected them as country’s heroes. Agriculture has turned not only unsustainable but economically unviable.
With all these technological inputs has the income of farmers gone up? I looked at the costs and price calculations for Punjab farmers who are considered to be progressive, using the latest technologies and also bestowed with 99 per cent assured irrigation. The latest reports of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) works out the average net returns from a hectare of wheat and rice Rs 36,052 or Rs 3,029 per month.
Increasing farm income without selling him a new technology or mechanical equipment requires a different approach in policy planning. It requires two immediate steps: 
1) Time to discard the usual set of experts to look at agriculture. We need people from divergent streams to think and plan differently. The same set of people who were at the helm of the crisis cannot be expected to provide any meaningful suggestions. This also holds true for the Niti Ayong task force. Looking at the composition of the task force, my only worry is that Niti Ayog’s recommendations might only worsen the existing crisis. Albert Einstein was not wrong. 
2) The solution to the complicated and vexed Indian farming crisis does not lie in America or China. It is high time we stop citing the examples from the developed countries, which only ends up importing newer and expensive farm machinery and equipment. The solutions lie in our own backyard. If we look carefully in our own backyard, and search for local solutions meeting the specific needs of an agro-ecological zone, we can have ever- lasting answers to ensuring sustainable food security in the long-term. Technological solutions play an important part, but the bottom line has to be on how to provide an assured monthly income package for farmers. #

समितियों का सिलसिला Dainik Jagran, June 6, 2015
http://www.jagran.com/editorial/apnibaat-continuation-of-committees-12449697.html

Package for Peasants. Orissa Post. June 10, 2015.
http://www.orissapost.com/epaper/100615/p8.htm




Categories: Ecological News

GMO that kills: GM-cotton problems drive Indian farmers to suicide

Navdanya Diary - Tue, 05/26/2015 - 02:37

RTNews, 25 May 2015

Reuters / Amit Dave

Hundreds of thousands of farmers have died in India, after having been allegedly forced to grow GM cotton instead of traditional crops. The seeds are so expensive and demand so much more maintenance that farmers often go bankrupt and kill themselves.

Nationally, in the last 20 years 290,000 farmers have committed suicide – this as per national crimes bureau records,” agricultural scientist Dr. G. V. Ramanjaneyulu of the Center For Sustainable Agriculture told a team from RT’s documentary channel RTD, which traveled to India to learn about the issue.

Screenshot from RTD video

A number of the widows and family members of Indian farmers with whom the journalists have spoken have the same story to share: in order to cultivate the genetically modified cotton, known as Bt cotton, produced by American agricultural biotech giant Monsanto, farmers put themselves into huge debt. However, when the crops did not pay off, they turned to pesticides to solve the problem – by drinking the poison to kill themselves.

READ MORE: World stands up against Monsanto: Over 400 cities protest GMOs

Screenshot from RTD video

My husband took poison. [On discovering him dead], I found papers in his pocket – he had huge debts. He had mortgaged our land, and he killed himself because of those debts,” one widow told RTD.

[He killed himself] with a bottle of pesticide… All because of the loans. He took them for the farm. He told our kids he was bankrupt,” another widow said.

He worked all day, but it was hard to make the field pay,” her daughter added.

Screenshot from RTD video

Farming GM crops in rural India requires irrigation for success. However, since rich farmers often distribute the seeds directly to the poorer ones, many smaller, less educated farmers are not aware of the special conditions Bt cotton requires to be farmed successfully.

Bt cotton has been promoted as something that actually solves problems of Indian farmers who are cultivating cotton. But something that has been promoted as a crisis solution, creates even more problems,” agricultural scientist Kirankumar Vissa said.

Screenshot from RTD video

READ MORE: ‘March Against Monsanto’: Protest against GMO giant to roll in 38 countries this weekend

There are many places where it is not suitable for cultivation. On the seed packages, Bt cotton seed companies say that it is suitable for both irrigated and non-irrigated conditions – this is basically deception of the farmers,” the scientist said, adding that Monsanto also spends huge amounts of money on advertising in India, with paid for publications not always clearly marked as such.

Saying that only Bt cotton is available in India, Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of Organic Consumers Association, says this crop requires many inputs. “It is incredibly expensive; it’s 8,000 percent more expensive than normal cotton seed. But normal cotton seed is largely unavailable to Indian farmers because of Monsanto’s control of the seed market,” she told RTD, adding that India is now the fourth largest producer of genetically modified crops.

Screenshot from RTD video

READ MORE: EU Commission proposes GM opt-out for member states

Most countries have rejected GMOs, but India has accepted them for cotton only. And this has not worked out for the economy, and it has certainly not worked out for the farmers who are growing it,” Alexis says. “Because they have deprived the farmers of the choice of which cotton to grow, they are forcing farmers who cannot irrigate to grow a crop that requires irrigation for success,” she added.

The Monsanto company, addressing the issue of Indian farmer suicides on its website, says “significant research has documented the problem is complex and disproved the claim that GMO crops are the leading cause.” It adds “Research also demonstrates there is no link between Indian farmer suicides and the planting of GMO cotton,” arguing that the problem “started well before the first GM crop was introduced.”

                          
Categories: Ecological News

Modi Govt's 1 year: Is agriculture the weakest link or there is something more to it?

Ground Reality - Mon, 05/25/2015 - 16:30

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government completes one year in office, many believe that the one sector that missed attention and remains the weakest link in the economic growth story is agriculture.

With close to 60-crore people engaged in agriculture, and considering that this is probably the first time the BJP broke through its image of being an urban-centric party by mustering political support from all across the country in its historic electoral triumph, the continuing neglect of agricultural should not be perceived as an economic oversight. It’s actually designed as part of a well-thought out economic strategy to shift bulk of the population out of agriculture.
Let there be no doubt. Arvind Panagariya in his inaugural piece on the Niti Ayog website wrote: “But in the long run, the potential of agriculture to bring prosperity to a vast population remains limited. In sum, agricultural growth and expansion of good jobs in industry and services can go hand-in-hand to bring rapid elimination of poverty and shared prosperity for all.” This sums it all.  The Narendra Modi government is not neglecting agriculture. It is creating conditions that enable more and more farmers to abandon agriculture.
I am sure you will agree that otherwise no vice-chairman of country’s economic think-tank could have said it so loudly and clearly if he didn’t have the mandate to say so.
Keeping agriculture impoverished therefore is the easiest way to make this happen. Otherwise I see no reason why at a time when the international prices of agricultural commodities are witnessing an unprecedented crash, and when a partial drought in 2014 accompanied by unseasonal rains in the early part of 2015 has left farmers battered and bruised, the Modi government remains unfazed.  Except for providing a relatively higher crop compensation for rain-hit farmers, motivated more by the national TV media suddenly waking up to the agrarian crisis, there is nothing that shows government’s seriousness in tackling the worsening farm crisis. In fact, with El Nino hovering over, there is a possibility of a drought which will further accentuate the farm crisis. 
In a complete U-turn to its electoral promise of providing 50 per cent higher minimum support price (MSP), the government has informed the Supreme Court that it cannot do so considering the impact it will have on market prices. The farm prices have therefore been raised by a paltry Rs 50 per quintal, corresponding to an increase of just 3.6 per cent. At the same time, BJP-ruled States – Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan – have been directed not to provide any bonus over and above the MSP. Moreover, with WTO breathing down its neck, the government may now find it difficult to raise as well as extend the MSP provision for other crops, except for wheat and paddy.
Paying farmers a distress price and then to say that ‘the potential of agriculture to bring prosperity for a vast majority of the population remains limited', is in fact a clever ploy to kill agriculture and move people out to urban areas. If farmers were to be paid an economic price for their harvest there is no reason why agriculture cannot be a prosperous sector. Similalry if Govt employees were not to be paid a fair income package, they too would quit government employment. There is also no denying that children of farmers do have aspirations and would like to buy motorcycles and iPads. Agriculture too can meet these aspirations provided the mainline economic thinking allows farming to prosper.
Not only declining farm incomes, agriculture also is being starved of public investments. At a time when MNREGA outlay is higher than that for agriculture I don’t know how a miracle can be ushered in the rural areas. In the 11th Plan, agriculture received just Rs 1-lakh crore. This is less than the subsidy of Rs 1.62-lakh crore given for the construction of the Terminal-3 of the New Delhi airport. In the 12th Plan, agriculture which employs 60-crore people, received Rs 1.5 lakh crore. With such dismally low public investments, all efforts seem to be somehow to keep the farm sector gasping for breath. As if this is not enough, mainline economists are lobbying for drastically cutting down on social security support under the garb of containing the fiscal deficit. 
I am hoping that the Prime Minister would see through the futility of forcing small farmers to become dehari mazdoors. The challenge is how to revitalize agriculture in a manner that it not only provides gainful employment but also gears up to withstand the challenges of feeding the country in the years to come.I am sure Narendra Modi understands the importance of spreading the gains of economic development far and wide. There is no better pathway than to make agriculture an economically viable proposition. But only if his economic advisors let him do so. #
Is agriculture the weakest link or there is something more to it? ABPLive.in May 25, 2015. http://goo.gl/qDGnQG  
Categories: Ecological News

Save our annadatas

Navdanya Diary - Wed, 05/20/2015 - 20:43

By Dr Vandana Shiva – The Asian Age, 20 May 2015

Photo source [screenshot]: ‘Vandana Shiva on small family farmers and their right to seeds’: https://youtu.be/cUYTu5Dpvs0 – Development and Peace

Source: http://www.asianage.com/columnists/save-our-annadatas-374

“Farmers’ suicides are the result of an economic model seeking to maximise corporate profits. The answer to this is to recognise that small farmers are the backbone of national food security.”

The peasants and farmers of India are the most resilient and independent community I have ever known. They have defended their rights and fought injustice and bounced back after every flood, drought and crop failure.

Why then are they giving up on life today? Why are they committing suicide in such large numbers? Addressing these questions has become a critical survival imperative not only for farmers, but also for all of us who rely on the food they put on our tables.

The epidemic of farmers’ suicides in India started after 1995, when agriculture policies were changed under the pressure of the World Trade Organisation agreements that ushered in the era of corporate globalisation. When Lee Kyung-hae, a South Korean farmer, killed himself at a WTO protest in Cancun, Mexico, in 2003. He wore a sign that read, “WTO kills farmers”.

Corporate globalisation has brought four tectonic shifts to Indian agriculture as well, setting it on the path that’s leading to devastation.

Firstly, corporate globalisation replaced food sovereignty with import dependency. A false idea was generated whereby food security did not mean growing your own food, but, instead, importing it. For this idea to be turned into practice, India dismantled every policy that had ensured justice for our small farmers and guaranteed our food security.

Secondly, another false idea began to take root — that our small farmers are dispensable to the future of India. This, evidence is increasingly showing, could not be further from the truth. Small farmers grow 70 per cent of the world’s food on 25 per cent of the world’s land.

Thirdly, globalisation led to the spread of industrial agriculture which operates in the belief that the ecological processes of nature can be substituted with expensive and toxic chemical inputs. In place of soil organisms, industrial agriculture promotes synthetic fertilisers and in place of biodiversity that maintains a healthy pest-predator balance, it promotes pesticide-producing genetically modified organisms like Bt cotton. In reality, fertilisers have destroyed soil fertility and pesticides have created more pests, as well as spread a cancer epidemic of which Punjab’s “cancer train” is a grim reminder.

Fourthly, corporate globalised agriculture displaced food as nourishment and substituted it with commodities. For example, people always consumed potatoes and corn in its natural form, but today potatoes have become the raw material for Lay’s chips and corn is raw material for animal feed. The acreage under these raw material commodities has risen dramatically, whereas acreage under real food eaten directly by people has dropped significantly.

Since 1995, agriculture has been violently separated from its roots in soil, water and biodiversity. Instead of existing primarily as a source of food for families and communities, agriculture has been artificially and coercively connected to global industry as a source of industrial inputs. These inputs — non-renewable seeds and toxic chemicals — have replaced farmers’ renewable and adaptable seeds and displaced the internal, ecological inputs of the farm ecosystem.

Farmers thus carry a double burden of exploitation. First, they are exploited when they buy expensive seeds and chemicals. Often these seeds and chemicals fail, which compels the farmers to buy more seeds on credit or loan from the companies in the hope that the next non-renewable seed and the next toxic chemical might save them. This is the seed-chemical treadmill that has trapped countless farmers across the country.

Second, farmers are exploited by an industry that buys agriculture produce at cheap rates as raw material. When farmers grow food, they eat the food as well as sell what’s excess in the local market. When farmers grow cotton, sugarcane, potato, corn or soyabean, they cannot eat their produce and must sell their produce to big industries. Industries pay exploitatively low prices, which aren’t enough for farmers to buy the food they can eat.

The epidemic of farmers’ suicides began in the cotton belt where Monsanto, American biotechnology corporation, has monopolised the cottonseed supply with its genetically modified organism Bt cotton. Over the past year, suicides have spread to potato farmers in West Bengal who are growing potatoes for Pepsi Co.

When farmers don’t even receive the minimum support price, they borrow from moneylenders and banks. After being hounded by the banks for repayments that they cannot make, farmers end up taking their lives. In September 2014, many sugarcane farmers committed suicide because the sugar mill owners were unable to pay the farmers.

In spring 2015, due to untimely rains at harvest time and the subsequent destruction of crops, farmers of Bundelkhand and Rajasthan committed suicide. They were unable to survive under an agriculture model that was failing them.

Our farmers must be liberated from seed slavery and dependence on high cost, unreliable and ill-adapted corporate seeds. Farmers must also be liberated from high cost and toxic inputs that are perpetuating the cycle of debt and creating disease. Liberation from poisons in agriculture is liberation from poisons in our food system.

Farmers’ suicides are the direct result of an exploitative economic model seeking to maximise corporate profits at the cost of farmers’ lives. The answer to this is not to call for the end of small farmers, but to give them respect and justice, and recognise that small farmers are the backbone of national food security.

Farmers keep India’s 1.3 billion-strong population fed with their blood, sweat and tears, with their skills and knowledge.

If Indian peasants and small farmers are wiped out no one else can feed India. India’s agriculture and food systems are based on diversity. Imagine your thali with food cooked from GMO corn and soya (the only major crops grown in the US), without spices, without local vegetables, without indigenous edible oils, without desi wheat or rice or millets.

So let every meal become a moment to thank our farmers, our annadatas, for the diversity of food they grow to bring us health, nourishment, taste and culture. Swaraj, sovereignity of our agriculture is not a luxury; it is a survival imperative. And it is in our hands.

The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust

                          
Categories: Ecological News

How farmers continue to subsidise consumers and the industry.

Ground Reality - Tue, 05/19/2015 - 12:31


A poor woman in a village wants to buy a bakri. She desires to be economically independent, and that knowing that she can eke out living, approaches a micro-finance institution (MFI) for a small loan. She needs roughly Rs 7,000 or so which no bank would be willing to provide her.
The MFI operating through a self-help group lends her the money at an interest of 24 per cent to be paid back at weekly intervals. Effectively the interest rate comes to 36 per cent.
On the other hand, industrialist Laxmi Mittal decides to invest in Bathinda petro refinery that the Punjab government is setting up in a joint venture. The cash-starved State government gave him a loan of Rs 1,250-crore at 0.1 per cent rate of interest spread over five years and on top of it gave him a tax holiday of 15 years. Similarly, for Tata’s Nano factor in Gujarat, the State government had given him a loan of several hundred crores to be paid back in 20 years at an interest of 0.1 per cent. Of course there is nothing wrong in extending a helping hand to the industry.
I bet if the poor women in the village had also got a loan for buying a bakri at 0.1 per cent interest, she would have been driving a Nano car at the end of the year !
Some years back, in the early 1990s I read a report of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), the body that determines the minimum support price for agricultural commodities. This report for the kharif season clearly stated that cotton farmers were deliberately paid 20 per cent less price for over 20 years so as to keep the textile industry economically viable. In other words, what we are never told is that actually it is the cotton farmers who had all been subsidizing the textile industry all these years.
A few months back, the cotton prices crashed from Rs 4,500 to Rs 5,200 per quintal to about Rs 3, 200 per quintal. Since the cotton farmers had subsidized the textile industry all these years, I had expected the rich and powerful textile industry to come to the rescues of cotton growers in this hour of need. But it didn’t happen. Farmers were left to count their losses.
These two examples clearly illustrate why and how the rural population, mainly comprising farmers, has been kept impoverished all these years. Not only in case of cotton, farmers across the board have been deliberately paid a low price for their produce either to ensure that the industry gets the raw material at a cheaper price or have been penalized to keep the food prices low for the consumers.
The 2014 report of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) tells us that the average monthly income that a farm family derives from farming activities is a paltry Rs 3,078. To make the ends meet, a farm family has to work in some other non-agricultural activities, including MNREGA. That makes for an average of Rs 6,000 per family per month. No wonder, 58 per cent farmers go to bed hungry, and 76 per cent want to quit agriculture if given a choice.
This year, soon after the NDA government took over in May 2014, the minimum support price for wheat and rice has been increased by just Rs 50 per quintal. Last year, the wheat farmers received a price of Rs 1400 per quintal, this year they are being paid Rs 1450 per quintal, an increase of 3.2 per cent. On the other hand, government employees have been paid two DA installments in the same period which add up to 13 per cent of their salaries.  This low price for farmers is simply to ensure that food inflation is kept in control. But the same principal is not followed when it comes to government employees. They continue to get DA regardless. In other words, it is the farmer who is subsidising the consumers.
It is primarily for this reason that agriculture appears to be a losing proposition. Planners and policy makers therefore advocate farmers to be moved out of agriculture. Forcible land acquisition is being justified in the name of a better economic future for the farmers. I have heard Finance Minister say time and again that he is supporting industry simply because the revenue he gets from the industry is what can be invested in rural areas. Industry has been given tax concessions to the tune of Rs 42-lakh crore in the past ten years, beginning 204-05, so as to prop up industrial growth, manufacturing output and boost job creation. Nothing of the sort has happened.
This skewed economic thinking is leading to policies that push farmers out of agriculture to swarm in to the cities. It is expected that in another 15 years, by 2030, nearly 50 per cent of India’s population would be living in the urban centres. These cities and towns would occupy approximately 2 per cent of the country’s geographical area. To me this is not only economic madness but also speaks volumes about the lack of political and scientific vision. With such a massive translocation of population, living in the cities will be like living in ghettos. Already, 60 per cent of Mumbai’s population comprises slums, and these slums are in 8 per cent of Mumbai. 
Economic approach therefore has to change. It should aim at making the rural areas economically viable. Instead of pushing rural population out of agriculture the thrust should be to provide gainful employment in the countryside. It has to begin with providing the right kind of economic incentives to farmers and other living in the villages. Farmers too are entrepreneurs, and the younger generation in villages too can become start-ups. All they need is policy support. This has to be accompanied by public sector investments in the villages. So far, the effort has been to keep the countryside starved of resources. In the 12th Five-Year plan, only Rs 1.5 lakh crore has been invested in agriculture. This is a pittance considering 60 crore people directly or indirectly survive on farming. How long can India afford to keep farmers impoverished? 

सोच बदलने का समय  Dainik Jagran, May 16, 2015
http://www.jagran.com/editorial/apnibaat-time-to-rethink-12371140.html

गांवों की ओर भी देखें हमारे हुक्मरान Nai Dunia, May 16, 2015
http://naidunia.jagran.com/editorial/expert-comment-our-rulars-should-also-look-towards-villages-368697

Categories: Ecological News

Science Versus Baseless Claims

Navdanya Diary - Tue, 05/19/2015 - 00:43

By M. A. Sobhan, ubinig – 15 May 2015

Source: http://ubinig.org/index.php/home/showAerticle/77/english

Mark Lynas is amusing. He visited the field of ‘Mohammed Rahman’, of Krishnopur, Bangladesh and claimed: “but improved seed genetics can make a contribution in all sorts of ways – It can increase disease resistance and drought tolerance, which are especially important as climate change continues to bite; and it can help tackle hidden malnutrition problems like vitamin A deficiency”. The claim is quite flowery like the title, ‘Why I got converted to GMO food’. Amusingly, the claim is based on insignificant observation in a single farmer’s field of Bt brinjal.

This is an illusive case study done by someone who neither understands egg plant (or brinjal) nor genetics but an apprentice salesman, sensational advertising: once Lynas was opposing GMOs and now he is not. Why? He visited a genetically modified brinjal field in Bangladesh, only one. The cartoon of brinjal showing germinating seedling from sliced fruit on the margin of the New York Times article is really a symbol of the hollowness of the total content of this report.

Eggplant in waterlogged land !

Mark Lynas mentioned, “Mr. Rahman, a smallholder farmer in KIsrishnapur, about 60 miles northwest of the capital, Dhaka, grows eggplant on his meager acre of waterlogged land.” Anybody who knows eggplant and its habit must be surprised that how brinjal/ eggplant can be grown on waterlogged land. Is it aquatic or semi-aquatic plant? No, it prefers well-drained land.

May be Mark Lynas does not know that eggplant (Solanum melongena) is grown on well-drained soil not only in Bangladesh but also across the globe. He might have been trying to introduce a novel attribute of Bt. brinjal for enticing farmers. But that is also not so clearly stated, rather a bunch of confusion has been created altogether.

There are mainly two marked seasons for cultivation of eggplant (or brinjal) in Bangladesh; rabi and kharif. There is no mention of season for cultivation of Bt brinjal in this report. Not even the date of sowing and the dates of harvest of Bt brinjal by Mr. Mohammad Rahman, but formed very basis of all questionable statements and indications.

The fact is that eggplant is grown in area of 74, 711 acres, which is about 15% of total vegetables area of Bangladesh. Its annual production is about 1,91,525 metric tons. At least 15 insect pests and one mite pest attack eggplant in Bangladesh. Among them, eggplant shoot and fruit borer, leaf hopper and epilachna beetle cause major damage. However, none of the insect pests build up populations equally in every season. The incidence and infestation of insect pests predominate in summer season.

Eggplant and the use of pesticide

The use of insecticides for insect control in crops was started in 1957. The adverse impact of the use of pesticides was very soon realized that prompted to shift out of pesticides in favor of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The IPM activity was initiated in Bangladesh in 1981 through the FAO.

The key pests of major crops including eggplant and their IPM practices have been developed and used by the farmers. A combination of methods including the fallowing has been used in order for keeping pest population below economic level:

(1) Cultivation of tolerant eggplant varieties such as ISD 006, BL 114 and BL 095;

(2) Growing grafted seedling;

(3) Growing healthy seedlings raised in plots covered with cloth nets or grown in pest free area;

(4) Practicing adequate field sanitary measures particularly removing the fallen leaves, buds or debris;

(5) Clipping off and destroying the infested shoots and fruits once in a week;

(6)Uundertaking weekly field checking to sort out the presence of insect in the field;

(7) placing sex pheromone

(8) conservation of natural control agents (see IPM World Text Book, University of Minnesota)

Undermining the risks of Btbrinjal

Bt brinjal was created through Agrobacterium mediated transformation. It is known that the transgenic locus is not always stably inherited. Deletion of a transgenic locus and rearrangement of inserted gene can take place. Duplication or amplification of transgenes and epistatic interaction between different loci and/or allelic interaction within a single locus also exists. Furthermore, mitotic/ meiotic recombination is also observed for transgenic loci ( see Zhimin YIN, Wojcicch PLADER, Stefan MALEPSZY.2004 in Transgene inheritance in plants, J. Appl. Genet, 45(2),pp.127-144)

A slight reflection on genetic vulnerability of Bt brinjal as a transgenic plant is necessary to understand the context Mark Lynas is undermining by his personalized advertisement for Btbrinjal.

Mark Lynas has made so many inferences with little basis by visiting a single farmer’s Bt brinjal field without looking at any other farmers field of local varieties of brinjal and has concluded, “improved seed genetics can make a contribution in all sorts of ways: It can increase disease resistance and drought tolerance, which are especially important as climate change continues to bite; and it can help tackle hidden malnutritional problems like vitamin A deficiency.”

The fact is that plants are genetically modified, mainly to be disease and insect resistant, drought resistant or herbicide tolerant and not to ‘make a contribution in all sorts of ways’. Btbrinjal promoters genetically modified the plant to control fruit and shoot borer pests, and which has nothing to do with climate change or malnutrition. With such modifications come some environmental challenges and toxicity. GMOs may be toxic to non-target organisms including bees, butterflies, birds and other organisms. Biodiversity is also put at risk by GMOs. GMOS are generally grown in monoculture. Many indigenous seeds are, no longer grown. Consequently genetic diversity, resilience to climate change and environmental variations is also reduced (see Environmental impact of GMOs ).

Bt brinjal was grown by 20 farmers in different districts of Bangladesh in 2014. There was loss of crop in different scales in 19 other farmers’ fields. The farmers demanded compensation. This year there are reports of crop failure and the fact was covered by local media. (see ‘Btbrinjal turns out to be ‘upset’ case for farmers’.

Such uncritical and baseless claims is responsible for the loss of the farmers who cultivated in good faith. Mark Lynas and his types must take responsibility for doing harm to the people of Bangladesh. We should help farmers to get compensation for the lost crops instead of spreading confusion in favor of Bt brinjal, which in addition has become a potential environmental and health risks of millions across the globe.

——–

This article is a response to: Sunday Review/opinion page of New York Times, ‘How I got Converted to GMO Food’ by Mark Lynas, April 24, 2015

Dr. M. A. Sobhan is  Retired Chief Scientific Officer, Bangladesh Jute Research Institute.

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Categories: Ecological News

Organic farming is an idea whose time has come

Ground Reality - Mon, 05/18/2015 - 17:35




Organic farming is the new buzzword. With Gujarat being the latest entrant, 9 States – Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, Mizoram, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Nagaland – have formulated organic farming policies. In addition, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and Goa are in the process of framing organic farming policies.
Presiding over the formal launch of the Gujarat Organic Farming Policy at Ahmedabad on May 16, I said that organic agriculture is an idea whose time has come. Globally, India is the fastest growing market when it comes to organic foods. Against 11.3 per cent annual growth being seen in the US for organic foods, India is much ahead. According to the India Organic Food Market Forecast and Opportunities: “the organic food market revenues are expected to grow at a combined annual growth rate of about 25 per cent in the period 2014-19.”
Gujarat’s organic farming policy was prepared after an elaborate consultation process involving more than 1,200 people across 7 different locations. This participative process lasting over 8 months included 650 farmers, 130 scientists and 80 women, says Kapil Shah of Jatan, the Baroda-based voluntary society that initiated the policy formulation process. Gujarat has allocated Rs 10-crore in the current fiscal to promote organic farming.
Interestingly, along with organic foods, there is also rapidly growing market for milk of desicows. Rich in minerals, and known to prevent some of the lifestyle diseases like Type-1 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and autism, the demand for A2 milk – as it is called – is growing. At a number of places across the country, small dairies comprising native cow breeds have sprung up. Haryana is among the States that have announced financial support for small dairies of native cow breeds. Rajasthan too is encouraging the shift towards native breeds.
While State Governments are keenly formulating organic farming policies, the desired shift towards enlarging the area under organic farming practices is not keeping pace with the growing demand for organic foods. This is primarily because of the lack of clarity at the political as well as policy planning level. Somehow policy makers are still not convinced whether the country’s food needs in the times to come can be met from non-chemical farming systems.
Strangely, while India is a signatory to the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), I find most policy makers are unaware of its report, released in 2008, which looked at different technological options in the light of climate change, water availability, loss of cultivable lands, existing trends in population growth, and rural/urban food and poverty dynamics. The report categorically states that ‘business as usual’ are not the answer and advocate a shift towards non-chemical farming as the only sustainable way ahead.  
I therefore think there is an urgent need to make IAASTD report a mandatory reading for senior bureaucrats/scientist-administrators. At the same time, non-chemical farming practices will only get a fillip when a suitable subsidy regime is crafted. It is primarily because chemical fertilizers, pesticides and seed are subsidized in a manner that these become cheaper than the organic inputs that farmers are lured towards the chemical-based farming systems. The need now is to provide financial support for organic inputs, including farm-yard manure and natural farming products like panchkavya.
In the quest to increase food production, there has been a complete disregard to eco-system services. With 2ndgeneration environmental impacts now becoming pronounced, ascribing an economic value to eco-system services like maintaining soil fertility needs to be calculated. A healthy soil leads to a health crop, which in turn leads to healthy living. The advantages from preserving and conserving a healthy soil therefore are multifarious and needs economic support to make this viable for the farmers. At the same time, organic farming needs to be backed by research and development. Agricultural Universities must shift the plant breeding approach from the existing thrust on breeding improved crop varieties which are responsive to chemical fertilizers to being responsive to organic resources. This is what I call as organic breeding. 
And finally, the banking system too needs to provide farm credit for organic farming systems and also for keeping native cattle breeds. At a time when consumers demand for organic is on an upswing, national policies have to be in tune with the changing times. Let’s not be caught napping.#
Organic food is an idea whose time has come. ABPLive.in May 18, 2015. goo.gl/qEkbju
Categories: Ecological News
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