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Climate change provides the right opportunity to reorient agriculture. Stanford study on integrated farming in China shows the way forward.

Ground Reality - 15 hours 19 min ago
With farmers quitting agriculture, farm suicides becoming a global phenomenon, I sometimes wonder why intensive agriculture is not being replaced with safer agro-ecological methods of farming, which are sustainable in the long run and economically viable. The moment I mention this, I face a strong wall of opposition. “This is like romanticizing agriculture,” I am often told. “In the absence of technological progress the country cannot meet the future challenges of feeding the nation,” goes another refrain. This is however not true.  
Stanford University in collaboration with the China Agriculture University has in a path-breaking study compared the prevailing farming systems with the alternative approaches. The study conducted for three years between 2009 and 2012, and spread over 153 locations in the intensively-farmed regions of Eastern and Southern China has conclusively established what I have been suggesting for long. An integrated soil-crop system (ISSM) involving crop selection, method of planting, time of sowing and nutrient management produces higher yields with a significant drop in environmental damages.
“If we can combine much higher yields with much lower environmental consequences in China, there is a real hope that those challenges can be met around the world,” said Stanford biology Professor Peter Vitousek who led the exhaustive study. The integrated approach, applied in case of wheat, corn and rice achieved 97 to 99 per cent of the highest yields with no wastage of chemical nitrogen and a significant drop in the greenhouse gas emissions. More importantly, the farm incomes have risen without causing any environmental and health damages. In a paper published in Nature (Sept 3, 2014) the authors claim that even if the farmers were to achieve 80 per cent of the crop yields (on the same land area as in 2012) in the year 2030, China would be able to provide enough food for its human and animal populations, and at the same time reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent and reduce nitrogen losses by 50 per cent.
Stanford University believes that the technology can be applied in other areas of the world, where the yields can be improved without causing any economic hardship to farmers as well as any further destruction to the environment. 
The Stanford study comes at a time when Andhra Pradesh (and now parts of Telengana) is already witnessing what is perhaps the world’s largest agro-ecological farming transformation. While the climate-change impact that the Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA) leads to is still to be studies, but what is clearly evident is a sharp decline in environmental pollution arising from the use and abuse of chemical pesticides. Spread over 36-lakh acres across AP and Telengana, some 20 lakh farmers are adopting non-pesticides management practices. This integrated and community-based approach began from a tiny non-descript village Punnukula in Khammam district way back in 1999.
Like in the Stanford study, crop yields under CMSA in Andhra Pradesh are very high with accompanying decline in environmental damages. The soil health has improved, groundwater table has stabilized, insect attack has come down and the resulting clean and safe environment has reduced the health costs for the farming communities. By simply stopping the use of chemical pesticides, some villages which had mortgaged the entire farm land, have been able to recover it and at the same time pay back the entire interest. . On top of it, CMSA regions have not witnessed any farm suicides
Let’s be clear. The integrated approach that is being followed in China and in Andhra Pradesh is also a technological development. The only difference being this integrated-soil and nutrient-technology is not branded by multinational corporations and is not backed by financial institutions and banks. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi stresses on the need to provide soil-health cards to farmers, integrating it with low-external input sustainable agriculture (LEISA) practices as demonstrated in AP can bring about a rapid switch-over from chemical agriculture. 
The Indian Council of agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Ministry of Agriculture need to shift the research focus from the so-called cutting-edge technologies, which come with a high environmental cost, to the time-tested sustainable farming practices that were in vogue. Agriculture universities must follow a dual approach of lab-to-land and also the reverse pathway from land-to-lab.
This reminds me of yet another simple method of farming perfected in China that helps raise farm yields enormously. In a front page dispatch, and in the midst of the raging GM crop debate, The New York Times had called it a ‘stunning’ simple technique. Scientists at the Oregon State University in America and the Yunnan Agricultural University in China were able to demonstrate that by shifting from monoculture to more diverse cropping systems, farmers were able to double the yields of rice without spending a single penny on buying expensive fungicides to control the deadly rice blast disease.
This large experiment covered 100,000 acres and involved tens of thousands of farmers. Scientists had asked farmers to plant two varieties of rice in their fields – one susceptible to rice blast disease and the other variety being resistant. This was compared with the performance of a monoculture plot. The results were astounding.
At a time when the global debate is on promoting mitigation strategies for farmers to escape the fury of climate change, the Stanford University experiment in China provides an alternative route to instead reduce the contribution of agriculture in raising global temperatures. I have often emphasized that the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, which accounts for 25 per cent of the total emissions, is to change the existing cropping systems to more ecologically sustainable farm practices. The Stanford study has shown that it is scientifically possible to do so. Instead of pushing risky GM crops, agricultural universities need to shift the research focus to integrated farming systems.
I see no reason why we can’t have an agriculture which does not devastate soil health, which does not contaminate the ground water, which does not lead to drying of water aquifers, which does not cause environmental pollution, which does not create super weeds and super bugs, which does not contaminate the food chain, which does not lead to global warming and which also does not force farmers to commit suicide. It is certainly possible. All it needs is a political will. # 
Categories: Ecological News

Farmers need an alternative to Bt cotton: Experts

Navdanya Diary - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 14:09

The Times of India, 28 September 2014

Photo: Sebastian D’Souza/AFP


AURANGABAD: Cotton farmers in Marathwada should explore options beyond Bt cotton seeds as the costs of cultivating the genetically modified variety were higher, but with no added productivity, profitability or sustainability, said agriculture department officials and other experts.

“Bt cotton has been cultivated on a large area in Marathwada. But due to diminishing profit margins, farmers should plan to evolve other straight varieties (desi cotton) of seed that would help reduce cultivation costs and increase the profitability and sustainability of the crop,” vice-chancellor of Vasantrao Naik Marathwada Krishi Vidyapeeth (VNMKV) B Venkateswarlu said at a workshop organized under the All India Co-ordinated Cotton Improvement Project in Devgaon village, Paithan taluka. About 60% of the farmers in Paithan taluka have already turned their backs on the Bt cotton seed variety that they had used for years.

“Next year, the farmers can use cotton seeds of the desi variety produced on their farms this season. It is important to increase the availability of seeds of this variety,” Venkateswarlu added.

Director of the Cotton Research Station, Nanded, under the aegis of the VNMKV, Dattaprasad Waskar said, “Ever since farmers took up the cultivation of the Bt cotton seed, input costs in the form of fertilizers and pesticides have gone up manifold and the crop is not longer sustainable – more so in the dry zone of Vidarbha and Marathwada.”

Waskar, while making a demonstration on farmer Deepak Joshi’s farm in Devgaon, said, “Compared to other states, Bt cotton yield continues to be the lowest in Maharashtra, whereas the cost of cultivation has been rising steadily. In fact, the cost of cultivation in the state is the highest in the world. So there is an urgent need to review the performance of Bt cotton.”

Joint director of agriculture, Aurangabad, J J Jadhav said, “In view of Bt cotton failing to live up to its promise of high yields and reduced pesticide use, farmers now appear ready to return to desi seed varieties.

To encourage farmers to adopt alternate methods, a demonstration was conducted that director of Extension Education B B Bhosle, district superintending agricultural officer Panditrao Lonare, scientists, officers of agricultural department and farmers of Jai Jawan Jai Kisan group of Devgaon attended.

“Bt cotton has proved to be a bitter experience for farmers who were not cautioned that the technology is premised on the availability of irrigation facilities almost absent in the region. The drought is now compounding the problem,” said Jadhav.

Cotton specialist at the Cotton Research Station, Nanded, K S Baig said, “Universities are developing more varieties suited to different cotton growing districts. The process is long drawn one and no miracle can be expected soon. But that should not deter researchers from working for the benefit of the farmers who suffer huge losses every year due to failure of the crop which is largely dependent on rains.”

Baig described the desi variety as having similar fibre properties compared to hybrid cotton, but cultivated at a lower cost.

He said the cotton produce from the desi variety of seed could fetch the same price in the market as that from Bt cotton.


Categories: Ecological News

Transcript: Vandana Shiva & the Anti-GMO Debate

Navdanya Diary - Thu, 09/25/2014 - 23:23

The Take Away, 24 September 2014

Vandana Shiva attends ‘Che Tempo Che Fa’ Italian Tv Show held at Rai Studios on May 23, 2010 in Milan, Italy. (Stefania D’Alessandro/Getty)


Click Play to listen:

On September 23, 2014, Takeaway Host John Hockenberry sat down to interview anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva. A transcript of their conversation appears below.

John Hockenberry [JH]: Vandana Shiva is an author, environmental activist and the charismatic founder of Navdanya, a movement of 500,000 seed keepers and organic farmers in India. She gives rousing speeches about corporate agribusiness destroying traditional farms, but she often makes additional frightening claims that GMOs cause farmer suicides, malnutrition, and toxic contamination. Monsanto and its scientists have made billions, she says, while millions of people have suffered.

Vandana Shiva [VS]: Forty percent of greenhouse gases are coming from an industrialized agriculture and globalized agriculture. One-hundred percent of the emissions could be absorbed into the soil by doing ecological agriculture which is the future, not just because it rejuvenates the soil. It’s a climate solution, and good soils with ecological systems, robust with the billions of microorganisms working with us, can produce two times more food, especially if we intensify biodiversity. That’s my work in India through Navdana.

We are doubling food production per acre we are doubling nutrition production which is the most significant issue so it’s a solution to hunger and poverty and malnutrition, but more important when farmers have seed sovereignty, when farmers do organic farming and are not blowing up money on patented seed royalties, expenditure on pesticides and fertilizers, they actually can increase income tenfold. Our members, who are small farmers, have done that.

JH: Monsanto says that it is in fact working on the front lines of increasing food security in the world by doubling food production using its technological techniques. What do you say to that?

VS: Well sadly, [that idea] does very well in advertisements, but not on the ground. The technology of genetic engineering, which made Monsanto a seed giant before it was just a chemical giant, that had brought us dioxins and that had brought us the toxins, that genetic technology is not a breeding technology. It takes existing plants that have been bred by farmers through selection or cross breeding or hybrids, and then it introduces it, through shooting with a gene gun, a gene that doesn’t belong to that plant.

And so far the majority of that application have been two traits. One is called BT toxin where BT is Bacillus thuringiensis, pulling a gene out of a soil organism to now produce a pesticide inside a plant. The approval for BT crops in the United States is for a pesticide, it’s not for food crops. The second family is herbicide tolerant crops where Roundup can be sprayed on plants and the plants survive, but everything else dies. Now not only have these not increased yields, they are actually leading to a decline in yields where superpests and superweeds are now overtaking agriculture.

JH: What do you make of the success on cotton production in India that is a result directly of genetically engineered seeds?

VS: Unfortunately, that too is not true. The Cotton Research Institute of India, which is the premiere institute, has done studies.

JH: But the World Trade administration says that India is one of the biggest producers of cotton, and that was never the case even 10 years ago.

VS: No, that’s not true. India was the biggest producer of cotton. Through history we domesticated cotton. We got freedom through Gandhi spinning cotton. We lost cotton through the colonialism when cotton based on slavery shifted to the U.S. Then during the civil war cotton production moved back to India. During the 10 years, pre-GMOs, was 10 years when the U.S. was subsidizing cotton up to $4 billion a year.

This was the subject of the collapse of the Cancun meetings of the World Trade Organization because the Africans said you are killing us with these subsidies. These subsidies became the issue of dispute in the WTO. Brazil won the case against the U.S. and as long as the subsidies were in place a lot of dumping was taking place, which meant that countries like India couldn’t export. When it’s the subsidy factor and the trade factor that was changed, India could start exporting again.

JH: So the success…

VS: The success is actually the removal of the subsidy distortions.

JH: Nothing to do with the GMOs…

VS: Nothing to do with the GMOs at all. And where we have increased cotton production is because we have increased acreage. And it’s the same story with the green revolution. India produced more rice and wheat, but we increased acreage of rice and wheat, and have had debates with the Borlaug Foundations that we have shown that the land and irrigation explain the increase in production. The idea of miracle seeds and chemicals and now miracle GMOs is covering up the real roots of where production increases.

JH: Let’s talk about golden rice. You say that golden rice is actually causing deaths whereas people claim that golden rice would in fact provide vitamin A to individuals who need it and reduce blindness.

VS: I have never said golden rice is causing deaths, for two reasons: It doesn’t exist so how can it do anything? It’s just a promise for the future. And second, we have never said that the risks of genetic engineering is about killing people. It’s about causing harm. And causing harm is very different.

Golden rice—my critique of golden rice is twofold. First, that it promotes the monocultures that are at the heart of the malnutrition problem, because if you grow diversity, you don’t have deficiency problems in minerals, trace elements, and micronutrients.

Second, if you grow by diversity, and you compare the Vitamin A production of the amaranth, the coriander leaves that we use daily in our food, the curry leaves—they have much richer production of Vitamin A, so just give every woman a kitchen garden, and you’ve solved the Vitamin A problem.

JH: But that doesn’t mean that golden rice wouldn’t have some benefit.

VS: No, it doesn’t have benefit if it’s 100 percent, 300 percent less productive in Vitamin A, and your better alternatives are available. Then, you don’t really need golden rice, particularly when the spread of golden rice, within a chemical agriculture model, is going to destroy the sources of Vitamin A that people could have for free.

JH: So golden rice would actually destroy agricultural production if it was allowed to be used.

VS: Exactly, but I would add the next miracle they’re trying to come up with is the so-called GMO banana, trying to provide iron to women who have iron deficiency anemia in India, and produce Vitamin A for the Ugandans. And they’ve already rushed trials in the United States with 12 young students—12 students eating three bananas is going to be a scientific study to impose genetically modified bananas.

For India, on iron, we’ve shown that 7,000 percent more iron we can have through biodiversity. We’ve also found that the GMO banana is bio-pirated, which means the yellowness has been taken through theft from Micronesia. This, to me, is one of the biggest outrages of the false promise of genetic engineering. That at the end of the day, it’s bent on stealing the biological heritage of the third world, their knowledge, and then selling it as an invention.

If Monsanto takes soya bean, which is an East Asian crop, puts one toxic gene into it and says I’ve invented the seed, that is not creation; it is not invention.

JH: Toxic gene?

VS: Yeah –

JH: A toxic gene?

VS: Yeah, BT is a toxic gene.

JH: Toxic to pests.

VS: No. Now, in the soil organism, the original gene is only toxic to the caterpillar family of pests, it’s not toxic to other species; not toxic to humans, to animals. But in the plant, it is now already made toxic, and that’s the difference, and there’s enough science to show that it is not substantially equivalent.

JH: But doesn’t that result in the reduced use of chemical pesticides?

VS: Sadly –

JH: It has in India.

VS: No, it’s not true. Because after the BT cotton, where a pesticide-producing gene has been added to the plant, we have more pests in cotton than ever before. Pests that were never caught [in the] past: The aphids, the jassids, the Mealybugs, the army bugs.

JH: But the question is — there’s less pesticide use –

VS: No.

JH: — in cotton production in India, as a result of the BT cotton –

VS: If you have 300 percent more pests, you’re going to have more pesticide use. And the one pest which it was supposed to control, which is called the bollworm, which came to India from the hybrid cotton from America—the bollworm has become pink [and the] bollworm has become resistant, so now Monsanto has Bollgard II, the second generation of two toxic genes. The resistance has made the pest it was targeting evolve resistance and [in the] meantime, in six that were never pests have become pests for which more pesticide is being sprayed.

JH: I understand what you’re saying. You may be right that the pests are increasing and eventually it will change, but right now, pesticide use is actually down.

VS: I don’t think national data is what one looks at. You look at the particular fields where the BT cotton was grown [and] you talk to the farmers, are they using less or more pesticide?

JH: They’re saying they use less.

VS: No, they’re using more. Our studies show they’re using more.

JH: Alright, well, that’s sort of the hazy sort of stats –

VS: Yes.

JH: Who says, who says.

VS: Yes.

JH: And that’s part of what’s frustrating about this debate. Why is Monsanto directly responsible and answerable for the suicides of Indian farmers?

VS: You know, I have a very plain logic to this. If you say you own something, then you own the impacts of that something. You’re selling a seed where you’re collecting royalty in the name of technology fees and technology trade –

JH: Right.

VS: –because India doesn’t allow patenting. And you’re collecting that, and that is shooting up the price.

JH: So the price pushes the farmers –

VS: Into debt.

JH: — into insolvency, the insolvency causes the suicides.

VS: Exactly.

JH: Why do the stats show that farmers are no more likely to commit suicide in India these days than other professions?

VS: No that’s not true and again -

JH: Actually that is true.

VS: No, no, what you need to look at is the pockets. I’m trained as a physicist, if you’re looking at a phenomena and you’re looking at the processes, you look at where those process is taking place. If most of the suicides are in the cotton area, then you look at the processes in the cotton belt. You don’t shoot up to national averages.

So I think we just need to be far more specific. I mean you take WTO subsidy data on exports and you don’t talk about subsidies. You talk national averages, you don’t talk about what’s happening to the farmers in Maharaj. I think good science is about specificity.

JH: What public health issue is directly relatable to GMO crops?

VS: That’s what we’re demanding be studied!

JH: You, you, can say there is no public health fatality, malady -

VS: We’ve never said it would be about fatality. We do say–

JH: But what is the claim of public health risk from GMOs that you can point to?

VS: You have a system in this country where you can say substantial equivalence—pretend a genetically modified food is the same as a non-genetically modified food. And then it comes to ownership, you say no we’ve made it for the first time, it’s an invention. That’s ontological schizophrenia.

You can’t have the same thing as novel when it comes to ownership and natural when it comes to shedding responsibility.

JH: That’s the sovereignty issue. That’s not the public health issue. Can I just ask you–

VS: No, but I think there’s a public health issue in the fact that the American public is finally saying we need to know what we eat. We need labeling laws, a simple democratic law of saying I know what’s in my food. Why are millions and millions of dollars being poured to kill the labeling initiatives or sue states like Vermont? Why has democracy to be sacrificed?

JH: Monsanto says that the laws that exist now are perfectly adequate to determine which are GMOs and which are GMO free foods in the United States. What do you say to that?

VS: Well I trust the American public to know better about what’s in the interests for the American public than Monsanto’s judgment. Afterall, democracy means Monsanto doesn’t decide, the people do.

JH: Why can you double food production faster than companies like Monsanto using technological means to increase food production?

VS: For one, they use technological means without looking at the overall context of what happens to the soil, what happens to the biodiversity, what happens to the pollinators. We can double food production because we work with biodiversity, we work with the soil, we work with the pollinators. There are six times more pollinators on the Navdanya farm than in the forest next door.

JH: But you wouldn’t deny the increase in agricultural production over the last 20 years has something to do with the technology.

VS: For me, technology is a tool and you look at what the tools do. In the case of agriculture, a tool is a very small component. The soil fertility decides how much you’ll get, whether you have irrigation or not that decides how much output you have. The potential of the seed decides. The biodiversity intensification decides. The reason our systems produce more is we intensify biodiversity. And the more biodiversity there is, the more nutrition per acre there is. The industrial system which is called the use of technology actually kills—destroys—biodiversity, has destroyed the fertility of soils, that intensive agriculture that’s producing less food per acre is producing more commodities per acre.

But commodities are going to drive cars as biofuels, they’re going to torture animal as animal feed. That’s not a food system. The first issue about industrial agriculture is it is destroying the planet. The second issue is that it’s giving us nutritionally empty commodities with no micronutrients, no trace elements and that’s why we have so many new diseases, which also need to be looked at much more. The impact of toxics need to be looked at much more. The third aspect is the fact that industrial agriculture, which uses 10 times more input than it produces food and also uses 10 times more finances than it can earn for the farmer—it’s a negative economy. Farmers trapped in this negative economy is the reason family farms have disappeared, is the reason our small peasants are being pushed off the land, when there are systems of farming that can give meaningful viable livelihoods that protect the livelihood of farmers.

JH: That’s very persuasive. But I fear that you’re conflating the debate over industrial agriculture, which is a legitimate debate, with the debate over GMOs, which is a fundamentally different discussion.

VS: It’s not a different discussion and I think it is time to not let it be treated as independent of the industrial agriculture system. GMOs are part of the industrial agriculture system.

JH: Well, no, it’s –

VS: GMOs don’t exist in and of themselves.

JH: No, no, I understand that. But mass scale agriculture is different from genetically modified corn.

VS: No, no, genetically modified corn requires a conversion to industrial agriculture, which is why we will solve this problem of fruitless debate when we realize that the gene doesn’t exist independent of the plant. And a GMO doesn’t exist independent of an agriculture system.


T.J. Raphael

Categories: Ecological News

Debunking Popular Myths about GE Crops Portrayed in the Media

Navdanya Diary - Sun, 09/21/2014 - 00:16

By Debbie Barker, International Programs Director
Center for Food Safety, 19 September 2014


Response to The New Yorker “Seeds of Doubt” Article, August 25, 2014

Scientific Review & Contributions: Bill Freese; Doug Gurian-Sherman, Ph.D; Martha Crouch, Ph.D

The recent article, “Seeds of Doubt,” in the August 25, 2014 issue of The New Yorker by Michael Specter echoes common myths about genetically engineered (GE) crops and omits legitimate scientific critiques of the technology. The resulting article fails to deliver the high level of integrity and journalism that is expected of The New Yorker.

Biotechnology corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising and marketing each year. Monsanto, one of the leading biotech companies, spends from $87 million to $120 million annually on advertising, much of it focused on GE crop technology. The industry spends millions more on lobbying, opposing ballot initiatives to label GE foods, and further promotional activities. Such massive spending has effectively framed a favorable narrative about GE crops and foods in several major media outlets, including The New Yorker.

The frame of this particular article presents Vandana Shiva, Ph.D., as the leader of an international movement in opposition to GE crops at the expense of science-based solutions to feed the world’s poor. However, it is the failure of this technology— not Luddite fear mongering—that has prompted scientists, academics, policymakers, governments and regular people to question the biotech industry.

Rather than fully examining important scientific literature on genetic engineering, the author reasserts some of the most common—and most debunked—myths about the technology. Here are a few of the myths that The New Yorker perpetuated:

Myth: Genetically Engineered (GE) Crops are a Solution to Hunger and Malnutrition—After spending hundreds of millions of dollars and over 30 years of research, the promises that GE crops would feed the world and provide enhanced nutrition have failed.

Myth: GE Crops Use Fewer and Safer Chemicals—Instead, GE crops have increased overall usage of pesticides by hundreds of millions of pounds, and next generation GE crops will further increase pesticide usage of even stronger, more toxic herbicides such as 2,4-D and dicamba.

Myth: GE Crops Increase Yields—Research has demonstrated that herbicide-resistant corn and soybeans in the U.S. have shown no yield increases. Yield increases seen in Bt crops, including The New Yorker article’s citation of yield increases for Bt cotton in India, are primarily due to conventional breeding or other factors, not genetic engineering.

Major studies affirm that inexpensive agroecological farming methods can increase yields as much or more than industrial agriculture systems while also reducing use of chemicals and water, and improving social and economic well- being.

These myths are debunked in further detail below and some of the great successes of ecological farming are highlighted.

Myth: GE Crops Are a Solution to Hunger and MalnutritionThe New Yorker article cites golden rice as an example of a GE crop that could alleviate malnutrition in poor countries. For at least two decades, biotech proponents have promoted golden rice—engineered to have high levels of carotenoids, which are precursors of vitamin A—as the solution to blindness due to vitamin A deficiency.

However, golden rice is not on the market because a host of intellectual property issues and technical problems have inhibited its development for over a decade. Only a few months ago, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)—charged with research, analysis, and testing of golden rice—released a report revealing that the “average yield [of GE golden rice] was unfortunately lower than that from comparable local varieties already preferred by farmers.” IRRI also stated: “It has not yet been determined whether daily consumption of golden rice does improve the vitamin A status of people who are vitamin A deficient and could therefore reduce related conditions such as night blindness.”

Golden rice is not an anomaly. In early 2000, based on work carried out as a post-doctoral fellow at Monsanto, African plant pathologist Florence Wambugu directed a project to develop a virus- resistant GE sweet potato to be grown in Kenya. New Scientist reported on the project: “In Africa [GE] food could almost literally weed out poverty.” Forbes magazine reported, “While the West debates the ethics of genetically modified food, Florence Wambugu is using it to feed her country.” However, these articles were published a few years before field trials were even completed. The results of the failed field trials were quietly published in 2004. Kenya’s Daily Nation reported: “Trials to develop a virus resistant sweet potato through biotechnology have failed.”

Around the same time, breeders in Uganda and Mozambique successfully developed disease-resistant sweet potatoes with high beta-carotene content using conventional breeding, and which also had much higher productivity.

Similarly, the biotech industry touted that cassava, one of the most important starch crops in Africa, was enriched with greatly increased protein content using genetic engineering. However, the research article claiming the elevated protein was later retracted when it was found that the purported increased protein did not exist.

But, as with sweet potato and many other crops, non- GE breeding is making progress toward improving cassava for many traits, from yield and nutritional enhancement to drought tolerance. Several of these improved varieties are already being grown by farmers in Africa. Yet these successes are not often reported.

Myth: GE Crops Use Fewer and Safer Chemicals— Over 99 percent of GE crop acres are either: 1) herbicide-resistant (HR) crops that withstand repeated broad spectrum dousing of one or more herbicides to kill weeds without harming the crop; and/or 2) insect-resistant, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) crops that produce toxins in their tissues that kill target pests.

Over five of every six acres of GE crops planted in the world today (85 percent) are herbicide-resistant; nearly all of them are Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn, soybeans, cotton, alfalfa, canola and sugar beets. The active ingredient in Roundup, the company’s flagship herbicide, is glyphosate. Roundup Ready crops have had several negative environmental impacts. A recent, peer-reviewed assessment based on pesticide data from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that Roundup Ready crops have resulted in 527 million pounds more herbicides being sprayed in the U.S. than would likely have been the case without these crops (based on figures from 1996 to 2011).

The enormous use of glyphosate with Roundup Ready crops has also generated an epidemic of glyphosate-resistant weeds, sometimes referred to as “super weeds.” Virtually unknown prior to Roundup Ready crops, these weeds now infest over 60 million acres of cropland in the U.S., an area the size of Wyoming, and represent one of the major challenges facing North (and South) American farmers. The rapid rate of Roundup resistant weeds contradicts the claims of the biotech industry that resistance would not be a problem. In its submission to the USDA for approval of the first GE soy crop, Monsanto stated, “…glyphosate is considered to be an herbicide with low risk for weed resistance.” It also claimed that several university scientists agreed “that it is highly unlikely that weed resistance to glyphosate will become a problem as a result of the commercialization of glyphosate-tolerant soybeans.”19

Next Generation of GE Crops—Stronger Chemicals

The New Yorker article omits that in response to the weed epidemic, biotech companies are now seeking approval for new GE crops that are resistant to older, toxic herbicides such as 2,4-D, developed in the 1940s. Dow AgroSciences is seeking USDA approval of corn and soybeans resistant to 2,4-D, which is linked to increased rates of immune system cancer, Parkinson’s disease and other health problems. Likewise, Monsanto is planning to seek approval for transgenic, dicamba-resistant soybeans, corn, and cotton. Dicamba has been tentatively linked to increased rates of colon and lung cancer in farmers by the National Cancer Institute.

Although advertised as the solution to glyphosate- resistant weeds, USDA projects that 2,4-D-resistant corn and soybeans will lead to a two- to seven-fold increase, from 26 million pounds per year currently to 176 million pounds per year. In addition to the health concerns raised by next-generation GE crops, USDA and weed scientists agree that weed resistance to 2,4-D would rapidly occur. Further, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) risk assessment of 2,4-D resistant crops identifies numerous potential risks to the environment as well as economic impacts to farmers from 2,4-D drift, which can damage sensitive crops.

Myth: GE Crops Increase Yields—Biotech corporations claim that GE crops result in higher yields and thus are an important tool for feeding the world and raising farmer incomes. An important precursor to discussing yield data is to note that the majority of today’s GE crops are not grown for humans but are instead cultivated for livestock feed and ethanol for cars.

Regarding yield, a landmark report, Failure to Yield, by Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman, found that herbicide- resistant (GE) corn and soybeans have shown no yield increase in the U.S.28 This report and a major peer-reviewed research paper also show that since GE corn was introduced in 1996, the majority of increased corn productivity was due to conventional breeding and improved cultivation. Data from Europe suggests that productivity increases of corn have been about as high as in the U.S. without using genetic engineering.

Contrary to The New Yorker article’s claims, most of the increases in cotton yield in India are from sources other than genetic engineering. According to the primary cotton scientist of the Indian Central Institute for Cotton Research, K.R. Kranthi, almost all of the 59 percent yield increase in cotton between 2002 and 2011/12 occurred by 2005, when only about 5.6 percent of cotton acres were Bt varieties. Kranthi attributes most cotton yield increases in India during this period to the introduction of hybrid cotton, increased irrigation and other factors unrelated to Bt. In fact, between 2007/08 and 2011/12, when Bt cotton acreage went from 67 percent to 92 percent of India’s cotton acreage, cotton yields steadily fell. This is a far different scenario than The New Yorker article’s suggestion that Bt cotton was responsible for a 150 percent increase in cotton yield in India.

The Way Forward—Agroecological Farming Successes

The author of The New Yorker article is apparently unfamiliar with, or failed to include, information about the increasing body of research demonstrating that a variety of agroecological methods outperform GE and conventional crops in generating higher yields while reducing chemical and water usage.

GE crops require costly seeds, chemicals, and synthetic fertilizers that farmers in food insecure regions can ill afford, along with significant water resources not available in many developing countries. Further, GE crops perpetuate an industrial agriculture system that is responsible for at least 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The emerging consensus among scientists and international development experts is that solutions to hunger must work with local resources and be viable, inexpensive, low-input, and resilient, especially in times of climate change.

Research coordinated by the Department of Biological Sciences and Centre for the Environment and Society at the University of Essex has shown that agroecological methods on 286 farms in 57 poor countries covering 37 million hectares (3 percent of the cultivated are in developing countries) have increased the average crop yield by 79 percent. All crops had water use efficiency gains, carbon sequestration, and reduced pesticide use.

Further, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) is an authoritative source for the best way forward to address developing country agricultural issues. Funded by the United Nations and the World Bank, IAASTD was an exhaustive, four-year effort that engaged some 400 experts from multiple disciplines. IAASTD concluded that GE crops have little potential to alleviate hunger and poverty, and instead recommended agroecological approaches as the best means to achieve food security. And, in the U.S. corn belt, long-term research has shown that using agroecological farming can reduce fertilizer and herbicide use by over 90 percent, while increasing yields and maintaining or increasing profits.

There are several other issues in the article that were incorrectly represented, but these are too numerous to address in a concise response. One can come to different conclusions about proper risk assessment and regulation for genetic engineering, among other topics, but it is not scientifically justified to simply dismiss concerns and legitimate critiques.

If we are serious about feeding the hungry, raising standards of living, and protecting ecosystems for future food security we need honest, robust discussion. Instead of spending the majority of resources on high-cost technologies, we need to redirect substantial means toward food and farm systems that are sensitive to the complexities of local ecosystems, and incorporate broad criteria such as socio-economic policies, cultural histories, resource conservation, and social equity.


Related posts:

Seeds of Truth – A response to The New Yorker

Peliti Statement about Dr. Vandana Shiva’s Work on Food Security


Categories: Ecological News

The misplaced emphasis on hi-tech agriculture. Repeating the same mistake again and again.

Ground Reality - Sat, 09/20/2014 - 12:09
This news report set me thinking. "The Netherlands is working with India to set up 10 centres of excellence across the country with an aim to raise agriculture output and introduce modern farm technologies and techniques," The Economic Times reported (Sept 15, 2014. This is not the first time I am reading such a news report. In fact, most times when the discussions veer around to agriculture the emphasis is invariably on enhancing crop productivity. 
Whether it is farmer suicides or food inflation, the way out suggested is often in increasing investments in improved technology to increase crop productivity and thereby improve farm incomes. Raising crop productivity will bring down the cost of production and thereby reduce food prices. 
This is half the story. 
Take the case of Punjab. A year after it launched with much fanfare the Rs 500-crore plan to diversify from paddy to maize and vegetables, the plan has misfired. "Farmers have not taken to diversification. They want to be assured of fixed returns. Farmers could take to growing hybrid maize with a yield of eight quintals per acre, but want minimum support price (MSP) for the same," G S Kalkat, chairman of the Punjab Farmers' Commission was quoted as saying in The Tribune (Sept 20, 2014). This is not the first time that Punjab farmers have spurned every move to diversify from wheat and paddy crop rotation, but what is significant is that the policy makers have not learnt any lesson. It is not improved technology that is hampering crop diversification but the failure to provide an assured income that is keeping the farmers away.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands has already set up three centres of excellence, one each in Kerala, Maharashtra and Punjab. Monsanto too has signed an MoU with Punjab Government to set up three centres of excellence for the promotion of cotton, vegetables and maize. A number of other centres of excellence are coming up in other States too. 
What amuses me is that while Netherlands is pushing improved crop technology (read costly equipment and other farm inputs) in India, its own agriculture back home is surviving on massive farm subsidies. Let me make it very clear. The Netherlands is a global leader in agriculture not because of its sophisticated technology and high crop productivity but because of the massive farm support it provides to its farmers. Between 2000-02 as the reference period, the subsidies being paid to European farmers became an entitlement. Accordingly, Dutch farmers were paid a subsidy of Euro 1299 per hectare every year. This figure may have changed now but tells you how Dutch farmers have been a continuous beneficiary of direct income support. 
In the European Union, as per the financial plan for 2013, the agricultural budget stood at roughly 40 per cent of the total budget, with an allocation for agriculture close to Euro 60 billion ($78 billion). This is a whole lot of money for a sector which does not even employ 5 per cent of the population. 
As per farmers in the Netherlands received a total of Euro 739,214,572 as direct income support between 1997 and 2012. The question therefore is that if Indian farmers were to raise crop productivity, which they can easily do even without the improved technology from the Netherlands, who will pay them the corresponding subsidies to keep them alive? 
But that's not the question that worries Indian policy makers. They are more keen to bail out the Dutch companies, which are find it difficult to survive in The Netherlands. Lutz Ribbe, a member of the EU's agricultural commission and the conservation director the environmental organisation Euronatur had this to say: "The Netherlands, for example has reached its limits. The farmers' income aren't right anymore; the environment is collapsing. The big companies, which can't develop anymore, are leaving the Netherlands and are being welcomed with open arms in eastern Europe." (, it goes much beyond eastern Europe. The Dutch companies are also finding markets outside Europe, and India continues to be world's biggest dustbin. 
I give you another example, this time from Denmark. Some years back I wrote in one of my articles: "If you are wondering as to why Indian pea producers are unable to competitively bid for processed foods in the global market, let us see how Denmark, for instance, manipulates the market and that too by truly following the WTO norms. Danish pea farmers do not benefit from price subsidies. Danish split pea processing companies do not benefit from processing and marketing aids. Danish pre-cooked split pea exporters do not benefit from export refunds. So obviously, you will think that they are very efficient producers and of course very competitive. But hold on.
Since pea farmers do not have to recover their full production costs from the sale price of the peas supplied to processing companies, the price at which pea is supplied to processing companies is substantially reduced. As a consequence, the price at which pre-cooked split peas is offered for sale is substantially below the prices that Indian pulse growers can offer. The provision of direct payments thus enables Danish suppliers of pre-cooked split pea to capture markets, which they would never have been able to supply in the absence of the aid payments.Let me make it very clear. The comparative advantage that is cited by developed countries is actually built on agricultural subsidies. Withdraw the agricultural subsidies, there is no comparative advantage left for most of the crops, and I repeat, for most of the crops. That is why the mainline economists do not compare the cost of production of agricultural commodities but look invariably at the supply chain management." (Read my article: Hold economists accountable too. IndiaTogether. April 5, 2005. 
Agriculture is not simply a play of technology. It requires supporting policies to make it click. Even the Green Revolution wouldn't have been successful if the Indian government had not provided two critical policy planks. Assured price to farmers through the mechanism of MSP and the assured marketing of the surplus produce by setting up a procurement structure is what made high-yielding varieties perform and deliver. The rest is history. 
Categories: Ecological News

Peliti Statement about Dr. Vandana Shiva’s Work on Food Security

Navdanya Diary - Wed, 09/17/2014 - 18:47

Peliti, 17 September 2014

Source [Greek - English]:

The application of scientific findings in the agricultural systems, through promoting agro-ecology in order to achieve food security, has been the aim of Dr. Vandana Shiva’s work during the last decades. Four hundred scientists have been working for the UN for over six years and say that “we must look to small holder traditional farming to deliver food security in Third World countries through agro-ecological systems which are sustainable. Governments must invest in these systems. This is the clear evidence.”( International Assessment of Agriculture, Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development -IAASTD).

Dr. Shiva is also promoting seed saving by farmers and free seed exchange for non-patented seeds. This is what science dictates. Otherwise there is no evolution and adaptation to the changing climatic conditions.

Unfortunately various industrial lobbies are promoting unscientific strategies by imposing chemical industrial agriculture everywhere on the planet along with the seeds that have to be bought every year (for annual crops) so as to create oligopoly, raise the prices and have more profits.. They deprive nations and farmers of the choice for using the type of agriculture that suits them best. Within this context, they are also gunning for Dr. Vandana Shiva, using well planned Public Relations strategies.

Dr. Shiva promotes agro-ecology and regenerative agriculture, the type of farming that restores the health of the soil and as a consequence the health of humankind.

Our association supports Dr. Vandana Shiva’s work all over the planet for seed freedom, the rights of small scale farmers and earth democracy. We are happy to co-operate with her and her team towards our common goal of food security on the planet. Science dictates that food security can be achieved through agroecological tools and freedom of non- patented seeds. Let’s give farmers and consumers a choice of the type of agriculture that they prefer.

(Peliti is a greek seed savers organization that has been working for the last 20 years against the loss of biodiversity in the food sector, promoting the regeneration of the seeds that are not covered by intellectual property rights or patents.,


Categories: Ecological News

Kashmir floods: Don't blame the climate. It's a man-made disaster

Ground Reality - Sun, 09/14/2014 - 18:49

Kashmir valley looked like an ocean, says Indian Air Force officials. Pic from 
No one cares for warnings anymore. In our madness to achieve a high economic growth, natural disasters come in handy. After the death toll has been estimated, the floods have receded and the city slowly limps back to normalcy, it's again business as usual. Wait for Srinagar to return back to normalcy, and the same people who were hit by the unprecedented tragedy, will be back to their normal routine recklessly exploiting the fragile environment.

I saw this happening when Mumbai was hit with flash floods in 2005. While 5,000 people were killed across Maharashtra, the deluge of Mumbai, the financial capital of India, donned the headlines. Many blamed the 18-km long Mithi river, which runs through densely populated and industrial areas of Mumbai and carries the overflow discharges of Powai and Vihar lakes to the Arabian Sea at Mahim Creek, responsible for the floods. Even the Mithi River Development Authority (MRDA) acknowledges: "The Mithi river used to serve as an important storm water drain but has been reduced to a sewer over the years."  
Before Mumbai, Hyderabad was hit by devastating floods in 2000. In 2009, again Hyderabad (and Kunool city) faced the fury of incessant rains flooding large parts of the city.  But interestingly, in 2000, the Geological Survey of India admitted "the August 2000 flood of Hyderabad cannot be considered as a result of the Nature's fury. It starkly exposes the deficiencies in planning of urban habitats in growing cities. Paradoxically, when Hyderabad was lashed by 24 cm of rain in 24 hours in August 2000, the adjacent districts of Mahabubnagar and Nalgonda were under the grip of drought-like or dry weather conditions due to scanty rainfall." (Read the full report here: August 2000 Flood in Hyderabad city. Causative factors and suggestions to avoid recurrence. 
Just to give you an idea of how unplanned urbanisation is taking a heavy toll. The Geological Survey report states, and I quote: "One such blatant violation of the urban development norms is conversion of a water tank known as Masab Tank, situated at the southern foothill limit of Banjara Hills, into currently a thickly populated residential-cum-commercial area. Further, the downstream side of the tank has been totally converted to residential areas such as Vijaya Nagar colony and Shanti Nagar ..Thus the active channels of streams that existed on the downstream side of these areas and colonies have disappeared." In the absence of any natural drainage, flooding is natural.  
Bangalore, New Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati ,... the story is same everywhere. 
It is however very convenient to shift the blame to climate change. At a time when people have become so used to climate aberrations, and have begun to club everything under the broader head of climate change, that I find the blame game shifting to reasons beyond your immediate control to be escapism and self-defeating. If the temperature goes up, blame it on climate; if the rains are late, blame it on climate, if the heat season prolongs, blame it on climate. In fact, Climate Change has been accepted as something beyond our control. Like for all the ills in our society we blame the politicians, similarly for all the development-induced disasters we don't want to take the blame on ourselves. Why blame yourself when you can easily pass on the buck. 
In case of Hyderabad, let's not forget the city had faced a major flood disaster about 100 years back, in 1908, when Musi river had gone on a rampage. Some reports say 15,000 were killed in the flood fury. In case of Srinagar also, the city had faced a big flood in 1893 itself. You'll agree we can't blame the climate change for those disasters.

After the Uttarakhand disaster of July 2013, which again was blamed on Climate Change by many experts, I had thought that the nation would sit back and draw some lessons. But nothing like that happened. In fact, the moment you raise the issue of unplanned urbanisation, a chorus rises accusing you of being anti-development. This is a class of people who remain unmoved by the catastrophic consequences of epic disasters like the Himalayan Tsunami that struck Uttarakhand and Kashmir. They are only interested in exploiting the natural resources to the hilt. As long as they make money, who cares if thousands (and millions who survive) have to pay the consequences with their lives.
In an aptly titled report: A threat everyone knew, but refuses to believe (The Tribune. Sept 14, 2014, the authors say: "The bowl-shaped lay of the land in Srinagar is such that once the Jhelum waters breach, there is nowhere for the floodwater to drain. this is a well-known fact that everyone has chosen to ignore." In an accompanying report, The Tribune states that the State Government officials admit that 50 per cent lakes, ponds and the wetlands in Srinagar have been converted into residential and commercial places. Wular lake, Asia's largest freshwater lake in Bandipora district, has shrunk by 87.58 sq kms. The famed Dal lake in Srinagar has shrunk to 12 sq kms (from 24 sq kms) and rapid siltation has reduced the average depth to 3 mts. The 165-kms long Jhelum river was pushed to the brink, and it obviously was waiting to retaliate one day.  
While the two environmental disasters of epic proportion had struck India in quick succession I had thought that the people in power would wake up to all that was going wrong. I had thought that the media, business and industry, the intelligentsia and the planners would be burning a lot of midnight oil, and at the same time holding wide ranging public hearings on how to minimise the environmental damage in the years to come. But on the contrary I hear the media relentlessly blaming the Ministry of Environment and Forests for blocking clearance to industrial projects. Such is the tirade against anything linked to environment that those who stand up to warn are accused of holding India's growth story. Kashmir paid for ignoring the repeated warnings. But the bigger question still remains. Will the government learn from the past mistakes and make appropriate corrections?  
Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has said when it comes to environmental clearances his Ministry's green light is always on. Reports of pending decisions to withdraw the provisions of allowing tribals to have their say before an industrial project is approved, dilution of the Indian Wildlife Act provisions, dumping of Madhav Gadgil report on Western Ghats are some of the steps that needs to be immediately reconsidered. Instead of protecting the environment to ensure that the disasters of Uttarakhand and Kashmir are not repeated, the powers that be need to understand that no amount of industrial growth can succeed in isolation. Environment is not a price that has to be paid for industrial growth. Environment is a pre-requisite for any development paradigm. Economy cannot grow on a dead planet. 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had assured from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Aug 15 that industrial growth has to come with 'Zero Effect', which means without any accompanying environmental destruction. If this does not happen, and is glossed over, let's be very clear: what happened at Srinagar will not be an isolated event. Every city will sooner or later have to meet the same fate. #       
1. Playing with ecosystems. Deccan Herald. Sept 23, 2014

2. Climate, Catastrophe, Kashmir. Orissa Post. Sept 19, 2014
Categories: Ecological News

Safety in Diversity

Navdanya Diary - Fri, 09/12/2014 - 00:50

by Dr. Vandana Shiva – The Asian Age, 10 September 2014


“Human activities have led to the floods in Kashmir. Human action is needed to prevent such disasters. We cannot be mute spectators while India’s paradise on earth becomes ‘Paradise Lost’.

We are faced with two crises on a planetary scale — climate change and species extinction. Our current modes of production and consumption, starting with the Industrial Revolution and aggravated by the advent of industrial agriculture, have contributed to both.

If no action is taken to reduce greenhouse gases, we could experience a catastrophic 4°C increase in temperatures by the end of the century.
But climate change is not just about global warming. It is leading to intensification of droughts, floods, cyclones and other extreme weather events, as we are witnessing in Jammu and Kashmir where more than 200 lives have been lost.
Never having exceeded 280 ppm (part per million) until the Industrial Revolution, current carbon dioxide (CO2) levels are at 395 ppm. Nitrous oxide (N20) and methane are greenhouse gases like CO2, only more potent. According to a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) report, N20 has roughly 300 times the global warming potential of CO2, while methane is roughly 20 times stronger. N2O and methane emissions have increased dramatically due to industrial agriculture. N2O is emitted through the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers, and methane is emitted from livestock farms that produce dairy, meat and eggs.
The UN Leipzig Conference on Plant Genetic Resources in 1995 assessed that 75 per cent of the world’s biodiversity had disappeared in agriculture because of the Green Revolution and industrial farming. The disappearance of pollinators and beneficial soil organisms is another dimension of biodiversity erosion due to industrial agriculture.
Climate change, agriculture and biodiversity are intimately connected. The spread of monocultures and increasing use of chemical fertilisers, combined with the destruction of habitats, have contributed to the loss of biodiversity which would have helped sequester greenhouse gases.
Chemical monocultures, more vulnerable to failure in the context of an unstable climate, is hardly a system we can rely on for food in times of uncertainty. Adapting to unpredictable climate change requires diversity at every level and biodiverse systems are not just more resilient to climate change, they are more productive in terms of nutrition per acre.
It is not that humanity was unaware of — and did not take steps to avert — the climate and biodiversity crises. At the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 1992, the international community signed two legally binding agreements — the UNFCC and the UN Convention on the Conservation of Biodiversity. Both treaties were shaped by knowledge from the emerging ecological sciences and the growing ecology movements. One was a scientific response to the ecological impact of pollution due to the use of fossil fuels, the other a scientific response to the erosion of biodiversity due to the spread of industrial, chemical monocultures, as well as genetic pollution caused by genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Article 19.3 of the Convention on the Conservation of Biological Diversity provides for parties to consider the need for, and modalities of, a protocol setting out procedures for the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from biotechnology that may have an adverse effect on biodiversity and its components. This led to the implementation of the Biosafety Protocol.
Biosafety scientifically assesses the impact of GMOs on the environment, public health and socio-economic conditions, insuring social and ecological sustainability of agriculture and food systems. Agroecology-based systems conserve biodiversity, increase health and nutrition per acre, provide food security and increase climate resilience.
But since 1992, the big polluters — the fossil fuel industry and the agrichemical industry (which is now also the biotechnology industry) — have done everything possible to subvert the legally binding, science-based, international environmental treaties on climate change and biodiversity. But their attacks on ecological science stand on unscientific grounds and are irresponsible because they push us closer to disaster and prevent a change in spite of scientific evidence showing we have better alternatives that work.
We must move away from industrial, chemical-intensive agriculture and a centralised, global commodity-based food system that contributes to emissions. In place of biodiversity destroying industrial monocultures, including those based on GMO seeds, we need a shift to agroecological practices that conserve biodiversity and ensure biosafety. A transition to biodiversity-intensive, ecologically-intensive agriculture addresses both the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis simultaneously, while also addressing the food crisis. Even though industrial agriculture is a major contributor to climate change and more vulnerable to it, there is an attempt by the biotechnology industry to use the climate crisis as an opportunity to further push GMOs and deepen their monopoly on seeds through biopiracy-based patents on climate resilient seeds that were bred by farmers over generations. But, as Einstein said, “We cannot solve a problem with the same mindset that created it.” Centralised, monoculture-based, fossil fuel intensive systems, including GMO agriculture, are not flexible. They cannot adapt and evolve. We need flexibility, resilience and adaptation to a changed reality. This resilience comes from diversity. This diversity of knowledge, economics and politics is what I call Earth Democracy.
Kashmir faces a tragedy this year like Uttarakhand did last year. When rainfall in one day is five-six times more than normal, it is an extreme event. This is what climate change is all about. It has cost lives, has washed away villages, farms, roads, bridges. Human activities have created disasters like the flood in Kashmir. Human action is needed to prevent such climate disasters. We cannot sit as mute spectators while India’s paradise on earth becomes “Paradise Lost”.

The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust


Categories: Ecological News

The Poverty Game. World Bank, Asian Development Bank and India's Planning Commission comes out with three magical figures.

Ground Reality - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 17:20

Does it really matter if these children earn an equivalent of $ 1.51 or $ 1.25 or less than that per day? Picture Ankesh Kothari (from web)
The magicians are out on the stage. The challenge before them is to compute poverty. performing the vanishing trick, and that too without any compassion, they perform the statistical jugglery. Leading the pack is the World Bank. In its latest poverty vanishing trick the World Bank revisits its Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) index, and in one stroke it reduces India’s poverty from over 402 million in 2005 to a very impressive 98 million in 2010.
On the other hand, the Asian Development Bank has revised its poverty line to $ 1.51 per person (from the existing $1.25), and India's poverty in 2010 rises to 584 million or 47.7 per cent of the population. The gap between 584 million and 98 million is so huge that one is forced to dismiss both the estimates as unreal.
Here comes the third magician. An expert committee under Prof C Rangarajan, a former economic advisor to the Prime Minister, submitted its report to India's Planning Commission in July this year. By revising the poverty line to Rs 32 in rural areas and Rs 47 in urban areas, Rangarajan committee actually added another 93.7 million thereby raising the number of total poor to 363 million or 29.5 per cent of the population. 
So now we have three estimates: 98 million, 363 million and 584 million.
Isn’t this shocking? While not many Indians will believe that Rangarajan committee’s estimates are anywhere near the reality, and in fact is a gross underestimation of the extent of poverty in India, the World Bank’s latest estimates only shows that poverty does not require Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targets to be achieved or any real effort to combat poverty and squalor. All it needs is a few economists who can play around with statistics. These economists can perform the vanishing trick much better than the Indian rope trick.
According to the World Bank’s latest estimates, global poverty has come down overnight from 1.2 billion to 571 million.
The earlier poverty line figure in India was Rs 27 for rural areas and Rs 33 for urban areas as computed by the Tendulkar committee a year back. This had raised a storm over the faulty and impractical estimates necessitating the setting up of yet another committee under C Rangarajan. And if the recommendations of the Rangarajan committee are to be believed, it tells us that there is something dubiously wrong with the way India is trying to deliberately keep poverty low. In all fairness, the new poverty line is nothing but a starvation line. It only tells us how many people need emergency food aid.
World Bank’s projections are still worse. In order to justify economic liberalization, it has been trying to fiddle around with social indicators as well as the poverty line to establish that the market mantrais working. World Bank’s chief economist Kaushik Basu defends the exercise by saying: “In case a dollar in Ghana can buy three times what it can but in the United States, then a person who earns 1,000 dollar each month in Ghana is said to earn 3,000 in terms of PPP-adjusted dollars”. But the reality is that even in the United States, despite being a privatized economy, hunger has shattered 25 years record. A record 49 million people, one in seven, depend upon food coupons to meet their daily food needs. One in four lives in poverty in America.
The World Bank is wrong. In case of India, with or without the new PPP index of the World Bank, I would like to know what can a poor with a daily income of Rs 47 in urban areas buy three times more than what he can buy in America with the same money. It therefore tells us that economists are no different from the famed Indian magicians. They too can perform the vanishing magic trick with alacrity. 
Global empirical evidence is now emerging challenging the World Bank's deliberate underestimation of poverty. Recent studies (ECLAC 2002, 2011) have conclusively shown that in Latin America for instance actual poverty rates are twice than what the World Bank had projected. More recently, on April 11, 2014, a study by the University of Bristol published in the Journal of Sociology concludes that the World Bank is painting a 'rosy' picture by keeping poverty too low due to its narrow definition. Dr Christopher Deeming of the Bristol University's School of Geographical Sciences is quoted as saying: "Our findings suggest that the current international poverty line of a dollar a day seriously underestimates global poverty."
In India too, the entire effort of policy planners as well as the numerous expert committees constituted over time to estimate poverty have simply tried to brush the realities under the carpet. While Rangarajan Committee tabulates a new poverty line, way back in 2007, Arjun Sengupta committee report had estimated that 77 per cent of the population or 834 million people were unable to spend more than Rs 20 a day. But more recently, the consumer expenditure data presented by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) 2011-12 paints before us the grim realities.
Accordingly, if you are spending more than Rs 2,886 per month in the rural areas and Rs 6,383 in the urban areas you are part of the top 5 per cent of the country’s population. In other words, those spending more than Rs 6383 in urban areas are in the same category as Mukesh Ambani, Ratan Tata, Nandan Nilekani et al. For the rest 95 per cent, roughly 118-crore people, life in any case remains tough. With or without the growth trajectory, their life hasn’t changed. In fact, with the aggressive pitching by the corporate-controlled media, the growing social divide is getting completely ignored. Poor have simply disappeared from the economic radar screen.  
Another estimate exposes the glaring inequalities. The economic wealth of 56 people is equal to the economic wealth of 600 million people. No wonder when we take averages like the rising average income, it hides the rapidly growing inequalities. The mainline economic thinking is that the 600 million would benefit from a trickle-down impact. Now with the number of absolute poor being reduced with a magic stroke, the World Bank will succeed in painting a rosy picture by brushing the poor under the carpet in one single sweep hides the truth. With the passage of time, these unchallenged statistics will be repeatedly used and get accepted over time.
Unless the World Bank makes an immediate correction, all projections of removing 'extreme poverty' by 2030 would be as farcical as the new poverty estimates are. But I doubt if there would be an international uproar forcing the World Bank to redraw the poverty line. At this rate, in the next five years when the World Bank will revise its PPP index, poverty in India on paper will disappear. The poor in India will one day suddenly wake up to find themselves bracketed with those living in opulence. That’s the power of statistical jugglery. #

Painting a rosy picture, Deccan Herald, Sept 9, 2014.

गरीबी पर आंकड़ों का खेल Dainik Jagran, Sept 6, 2014
Categories: Ecological News

100 Days performance: When markets begin to dictate economic agenda

Ground Reality - Thu, 09/04/2014 - 13:09
I am sure you noticed it. The first 100 days of the performance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government has turned into a big marketing event. This is probably the first time that some of the big media houses had employed marketing agencies to conduct nationwide surveys. The results were splashed on the front pages, and TV channels not only dissected the survey report throughout the day but also held panel discussions.
In a way, 100 Days performance, which was more or less a journalistic exercise all these years, has now been upgraded by the markets. Like the Father’s Day, Mother’s day or Valentine Day, I’ll not be surprised if 100 Days also becomes a once-in-five-year marketing ritual. Rating agencies can now find another opportunity for garnering more business.
Once the markets takeover, it is the voice of the big business that resonates. Backed by the rising stock markets, the completion of 100 days of Modi government became a perfect event for the markets to appreciate, exhort and provoke the Prime Minister to push for more investments. With respondents being drawn from different genders, age groups and socio-economic strata, as the different surveys would explain, the common thread that ran through all the surveys that I came across was the need to push for more of the same i.e. reduce subsidies, provide more sops/incentives for industry, and make land acquisitions easy and cheap.  
Nothing else mattered.
In fact, the entire thrust of the 100 days marketing exercise, also evident from some of the columns that appeared in mainline newspapers, was to primarily pressurize the Prime Minister to go in for what is called the big ticket reforms. I am not sure how much weight the media blitz would have on Narendra Modi’s thinking and approach in future, but what is evident so far is that he is taking very calculated steps. The emphasis on constructing toilets and asking MPs/MLAs to use the MPLAD funds to fund its construction in schools, public places as well as for every household across the country is something that does not enthuse the markets. Nor did his strong position at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) by refusing to sign on the Trade Facilitation Treaty unless a permanent solution to protect India’s food security is found, was palatable to pro-market apologists. And I liked when he said “this decision may invite some media criticism in international and national press, but India will not compromise the livelihood security of its farmers” In my understanding that was a powerful statement for the international trading community, something that has never been said and done by the previous Prime Ministers. 
Participating in several TV discussions to evaluate the 100 days performance, I had particularly highlighted the decisive role the Prime Minister Office has now begun to play. The discipline and work culture that is being demonstrated by his Cabinet colleagues has percolated to the government machinery. This is no less an achievement that the bureaucrats and officials now come in time and do not fritter away the public exchequer like the way it was being done all these years. A strong work culture when it spreads to the State governments will certainly make a difference. I am looking for the day when the bureaucracy welcomes you with a smile and attends immediately to your queries.
What comes out very clearly is the real desire to use his mandate to bring about a difference, but it cannot be at the cost of social and environmental upheavals. Containing food inflation for instance is a top priority for the government, but it does not mean punishing farmers for producing more. In the garb of keeping inflation low, the Food & Agriculture ministry has clamped down on the procurement prices blaming it for the rise on food prices. This year, while the government employees are getting 107 per cent DA allowance, farmers are penalized by almost freezing the procurement prices at the last year level.
On top of it, Food Ministry has directed the State governments not to provide a bonus over the procurement prices, and if they still do the Centre will withdraw from making procurement. In a way, this dictat goes against the election promise of providing farmers with a higher procurement price.
The taciturn approval for GM crops, and the restructuring of the public distribution system too needs to be revisited. The government cannot have a double approach of opposing WTO rules in the name of protecting farmers, and at the same time go in for autonomous liberalization as proposed by the markets. Removing procurement would spell a death-knell for farmers, and the government appears keen to do so. This is primarily because the same set of economic advisors that the Congress had in its 10 year of misrule are now back, advising the Madi government. I have always said that the people who were responsible for the crisis cannot be expected to provide a solution to emerge free from the same crisis.
From the ramparts of the Red Fort, the Prime Minister had made a commitment which needs to be applauded. While wanting India t turn into a manufacturing hub, he had spelled out that he was in favour of “Zero Defect, Zero Effect” meaning that no destruction of the environment would be allowed. But the way Ministry of Environment & Forests has gone about clearing pending projects, and also rejecting the Madhav Gadgil report to keep the ecologically-sensitive western Ghats free of mining and other harmful industries. At the same time the efforts to dilute the National Green Tribunal Act, the Forests Rights Act and the Land Acquisition laws shows that ‘zero effect’ is being openly impinged upon.
The markets would never raise these concerns. The reason is obvious. They consider environmental norms to be coming in the way of speedier industrial development. That is why you will hardly find the mainline media talking about these social and environmental impacts that the country has to be careful about. It is in this connection that I am vary at the way marketing agencies has taken over the entire debate on the performance of the Modi government. I am sure the Prime Minister would ensure that development has to be pro-people, pro-gender and pro-environment. There can be no compromise here. #
Categories: Ecological News

Seeds of Slavery

Navdanya Diary - Sun, 08/31/2014 - 13:35

by Dr. Vandana Shiva – The Asian Age, 29 August 2014

Photo Source:


“The branding exercise that resulted in ‘One Agriculture-One Science’ is a failure in itself. For ‘experts’ to believe that different climates, ecosystems and cultures can be prescribed ‘one’ solution is laughable”.

On July 22, 2014, an international partnership across India, Africa and the US launched the “One Agriculture-One Science: A Global Education Consortium” initiative aimed at revitalising global agricultural education, capacity building and technology transfer.

This was made possible with the collaboration of Hyderabad-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and some top universities from all these continents.

“One Agriculture-One Science” is a consortium of agricultural education institutes, research organisations and other related agencies specifically focusing on addressing changes required for agricultural education to better contribute and more effectively impact development goals, particularly the attainment of food and nutritional security along with sustainable agricultural production in developing countries.

Though it’s being promoted as a new and innovative step, it is, in fact, a repeat of how the Green Revolution was launched in the 1960s. “Green Revolution” is the name given to chemical agriculture, based on seeds adapted to chemicals and not to the local ecosystem.

During the 1960s, the US land-grant universities were involved in training our scientists in the “monoculture of the mind”, the US’ department of agriculture and US Agency for International Development (USAID) were involved in pushing the Green Revolution and in all this the World Bank-governed Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) centres played a key role. They were, in fact, created to launch the “Green Revolution”.

CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre) in Mexico was created to introduce the Green Revolution in maize and wheat. International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines was established to spread the Green Revolution in rice. Hyderabad’s ICRISAT was established later, to specialise in semi-arid crops.

The only difference between the 1960s and today is that big money and big agriculture are directly pushing a monoculture to create monopolies for profits through the ownership of seeds and sales of chemicals. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) was launched by Bill Gates. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation now owns 500,000 shares in Monsanto. This indicates that philanthropy and business merge when big money meets big agriculture. Monsanto is not just the biggest seed corporation today, it has also bought the biggest climate data corporation called Climate Corp, and a soil data corporation named Solum. The objective is to overwhelm farmers with big data and make them dependent on Monsanto for every aspect of farming: seed, soil, climate data — all of which become commodities that Monsanto sells and farmers have to pay for. But big data is not knowledge that comes from experience, interconnectedness and participation; big data from one corporation is “information obesity” and a means of exercising control.

Locking 42 African universities, which work in diverse ecosystems, into “One Agriculture-One Science”, is a recipe for impoverishing and enslaving Africa.

There are three major reasons why this grand announcement will aggravate instead of solve problems in agriculture.
The branding exercise that resulted in “One Agriculture-One Science” is a failure in itself. For “experts” to believe that different climates, different ecosystems and different cultures can be prescribed “one” solution is laughable. Either they are not aware that the rainfall in Cherrapunji is different from the rainfall in Oaxaca, Mexico, that it’s hotter in Maharashtra than in Oregon, or they simply don’t care whether a farmer’s crop fails or succeeds as long as they have extracted every last dollar, rupee or rand from him/her.

Agriculture varies according to water availability. For example, in the desert of India the khejri trees, and in the desert of Africa the baobab, are critical to ecological and food security. In the rainforest ecosystems of the Western Ghats, the spice gardens mimic the multi-tier structure of a forest. In the high altitudes of the Himalayas, we grow crops like amaranth and buckwheat that cannot grow in the hot plains.

The “one agriculture” push by big corporations ignores the findings of all UN agencies, including the International Assessment of Agriculture, Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), whose team of 400 scientists have been working for over six years and say that “we must look to small holder traditional farming to deliver food security in Third World countries through agro-ecological systems which are sustainable. Governments must invest in these systems. This is the clear evidence.”

“One Agriculture-One Science” is ignoring the evidence of failure of Green Revolution chemical monocultures and the success of diverse agro-ecological systems in addressing hunger while protecting the planet.
In the five decades since the Green Revolution, science has taught us the value of diversity to ensure sustainability, increase in food production and resilience.

Diversity creates abundance in our agriculture systems and benefits the quality of our food systems, and thereby, our health.

“One Agriculture-One Science” is a call against diversity and will further erode the ecological foundations of agriculture, leaving the world’s food systems at the mercy of billionaires and big corporations.

While farmers have bred hundreds of thousands of varieties of food, the Green Revolution has reduced the agriculture and food base to a handful of globally traded commodities. Genetic engineering has further narrowed the commercially planted crops to four — corn, soya, cotton, canola and two traits, Bt and HT (herbicide tolerant).
Indian farmers evolved 200,000 kinds of rice, they evolved thousands of varieties wheat and pulses and oilseeds. They evolved thousands of varieties of brinjal, banana and mangoes.

The new mega monoculture has no place for the diverse knowledge of our diverse culture. It is top-down, driven by “experts”, who have no knowledge of diversity and no respect for the knowledge of farmers.

To them the best response comes from Jose Maria Arguedas, a Quechua poet from the Andes:

They say that we not know anything.
That we are backwardness
That our head needs changing for a better one
They say that some learned men are saying this about us
These academics who reproduce themselves
In our own lives
What is there on the banks of these rivers, Doctor?
Take out your binoculars
And your spectacles
Look if you can
Five hundred flowers
From five hundred different types of potato
Grow on the terraces
Above abysses
That your eyes don’t reach
Those five hundred flowers
Are my brain
My flesh

The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust


Categories: Ecological News

Bhoomi 2014

Navdanya Diary - Sat, 08/30/2014 - 16:37

Navdanya in collaboration with India International Centre invites you to another year of participation in Navdanya’s annual festival Bhoomi, based on Annapurna: Feeding the World, on the 1st of October, 2014 at the India International Centre.

The Right to Food is the natural right of all beings born on this planet. The Right to food is also being recognised as a human right. And Annapurna is a metaphor of the abundant and eternally renewable capacity of the Earth to provide food for all the living beings sharing this planet, provided we do not violate her sanctity by poisoning her. For the Right to Food inherently means the right to access safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food. Viewed in this perspective, Annapurna becomes the symbol of Food Security, Food Safety and Food Sovereignty and Feeding the World is an act embedded in sustainability, integrity and equity, honouring the contributions of our small farmers and women.

This year’s edition of Bhoomi will bring to you the voices of people who are deeply committed to ensuring the Right to Food through praxis, reflection as well as cultural expression. They will share with you how agro-ecology and a reconnection to our food and its source can indeed Feed the World nurturing, affordable and relishing food.

Aptly named Abundant Earth, the dinner which will follow the day’s event is a tribute to Earth’s carrying, nurturing and sustaining capacity as reflected by the diversity of our table.

Webpage with more details/Registration:

Seed Freedom Calendar Event:

Facebook Event:

Organiser Name: Navdanya in collaboration with India International Centre

Organiser email:

Organiser Website:

Organiser Facebook Page:


Categories: Ecological News

Farmers are heading towards extinction.

Ground Reality - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 18:13

Some years ago, former President APJ Abdul Kalam was addressing students at an annual event organised by K Govindacharya’s Bhartiya Swabhiman Andolan at Gulbarga in Karnataka. He exhorted students to work hard, educate themselves to become doctors, engineers, civil servants, scientists, economists and entrepreneurs. After he had ended his talk, a young student got up and asked why he didn’t say they should also become farmers.Abdul Kalam was floored. Whatever be his long winding answer, the young student had actually punctured his argument, and at the same time brought out the great bias towards farming.This incident came to my mind when I was reading a moving essay by a farmer from the United States. Bren Smith, a shellfish and seaweed farmer writes in The New York Times, “The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much-celebrated small-scale farmer isn’t making a living. After the tools are put away, we head out to second and third jobs to keep our farms afloat.” Accordingly, 91 per cent of all farm households in the US rely on multiple sources of income. No farmer wants his children to take up farming in North America.This is happening in a country where the Farm Bill 2014 makes a provision for $962 billion of federal subsidy support for agriculture for the next 10 years. In Europe, the situation is equally alarming. Despite 40 per cent of the European annual budget being devoted to agriculture, one farmer quits agriculture every minute. In Canada, the National Farmers Union has in a study shown that while the 70-odd agribusiness companies are raking in profits, farmers are the only segment of the food chain incurring losses. As I have been saying for long, more than 80 per cent of the agricultural subsidies in America and Europe actually go to agribusiness corporations.Farmers are a dying breed. Writing in Newsweek magazine, Max Kutner says: “For decades, farmers across America have been dying by suicide at higher rates than the general population. The exact numbers are hard to determine, mainly because suicides by farmers are under-reported (they may get mislabelled as hunting or tractor accidents, advocates for prevention say) and because the exact definition of a farmer is elusive.” Well, what is happening in America is not an isolated development; farmers are dying across the globe.According to news report, nearly 80 per cent of the 2,80,000 rural people who take their own lives every year in China are victims of farm land acquisition. In India, almost 300,000 farmers have ended their lives since 1995. Again, like in the US, farmer suicides are also under-reported in India with some states now trying to hide them by shifting these deaths to some other categories. Even in Europe, which provides massive subsidy support under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the serial death dance continues unabated. In France, 500 suicides have been reported in a year. In Ireland, UK, Russia, and Australia farmers, are a dying breed.In India, although we keep on saying that agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, in reality it isn’t. Employing some 52 per cent of the population, the share of agriculture in the country’s GDP has been progressively on the decline. It is less than 14 per cent now. I have been saying for long that small farmers have to get into multiple jobs to keep their chulas burning. Such is the pathetic state of Indian agriculture that some studies point to roughly 58 per cent farmers relying on MNREGA, which provides 100 days guaranteed employment.Still worse, the people who feed the country actually sleep hungry themselves. More than 60 per cent go to bed hungry every night. Nothing can be a worse illustration of the great tragedy on the farm.It’s not because of any unexplained natural calamity or the attack of a virus that the farms across the globe are dying. It is part of a global economic design to move farmers out of agriculture, and by doing so to shift food production into the hands of heavily subsidised and environmentally destructive agribusiness companies. It is generally believed that for any country to grow economically, the share of agriculture in the GDP must be brought down. In US, agriculture is only 4 per cent of its GDP. In India, it is less than 14 per cent now. By the end of 2020, I am sure it would be brought down to less than 10 per cent. Small scale agriculture is, therefore, deliberately being strangulated.Such is the plight of Indian agriculture that in six years — from 2007 to 2012 — 3.2 crore farmers have abandoned farming and moved into the cities looking for menial jobs. According to census 2011, every day 2,500 farmers quit agriculture. Some other studies have shown that roughly 50,000 people migrate from a village (and that includes farmers) into a town/city every day. As per a NSSO study, 42 per cent farmers want to quit if given an alternative.In Punjab, which is the frontline agricultural state in the country, 98 per cent rural households are under debt. Studies have shown that the average outstanding debt per household is about Rs4.5 lakh per year which accounts for 96 per cent of the yearly income. If farming is in such a terrible state in Punjab, the state of affairs in the rest of the country can be well imagined.In my understanding, the unwritten economic prescription is to make farming non-viable so that farmers are left with no other choice but to quit. In a quest to keep food prices low, which comes in very handy to freeze the minimum support price for farmers the predominant economic thinking supports large agribusiness conglomerates. This is being made much easier by the growing demand for amending the newly enacted land acquisition law. More and more land will now pass on into the hands of industry and real estate, forcing farmers to do menial jobs in the cities. The demise of the farmer therefore is predetermined. It’s only a matter of time before the farmer as a species goes extinct. That is why Abdul Kalam doesn’t talk of the pride in farming anymore. (this article is an expanded version of one of my earlier blog posts). #Source1. Nothing to plough back, DNA Mumbai. Aug 27, 2014. त्रासदी की शिकार कृषि Dainik Jagran Aug 25 214. …
Categories: Ecological News

Seeds of Truth – A response to The New Yorker

Navdanya Diary - Tue, 08/26/2014 - 19:37

by Dr. Vandana Shiva –, 26 August 2014

Photo by Sander de Kraker


(A response to the article ‘Seeds of Doubt’ by Michael Specter in The New Yorker)

I am glad that the future of food is being discussed, and thought about, on farms, in homes, on TV, online and in magazines, especially of The New Yorker’s caliber. The New Yorker has held its content and readership in high regard for so long. The challenge of feeding a growing population with the added obstacle of climate change is an important issue. Specter’s piece, however, is poor journalism. I wonder why a journalist who has been Bureau Chief in Moscow for The New York Times and Bureau Chief in New York for the Washington Post, and clearly is an experienced reporter, would submit such a misleading piece. Or why The New Yorker would allow it to be published as honest reporting, with so many fraudulent assertions and deliberate attempts to skew reality. ‘Seeds of Doubt’ contains many lies and inaccuracies that range from the mundane (we never met in a café but in the lobby of my hotel where I had just arrived from India to attend a High Level Round Table for the post 2015 SDGs of the UN) to grave fallacies that affect people’s lives. The piece has now become fodder for the social media supporting the Biotech Industry. Could it be that rather than serious journalism, the article was intended as a means to strengthen the biotechnology industry’s push to ‘engage consumers’? Although creative license is part of the art of writing, Michael Specter cleverly takes it to another level, by assuming a very clear position without spelling it out.

Specter’s piece starts with inaccurate information, by design.

“Early this spring, the Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva led an unusual pilgrimage across southern Europe. Beginning in Greece, with the international Pan-Hellenic Exchange of Local Seed Varieties Festival, which celebrated the virtues of traditional agriculture, Shiva and an entourage of followers crossed the Adriatic and travelled by bus up the boot of Italy, to Florence, where she spoke at the Seed, Food and Earth Democracy Festival. After a short planning meeting in Genoa, the caravan rolled on to the South of France, ending in Le Mas d’Azil, just in time to celebrate International Days of the Seed.”

On April 26th, 2014, at the Deutsches Theater Berlin, one of Germany’s most renowned state theatres. I gave a keynote speech for a conference on the relation of democracy and war in times of scarce resources and climate change. From Berlin I flew into Florence for a Seed Festival organized by the Government of the Region of Tuscany, Italy, The Botanical garden of Florence (the oldest in Europe), Banca Etica and Navdanya. I was joined by a caravan of seed savers, and we carried on to Le Mas d’Azil where we had a conference of all the European seed movements.

It would be convenient in the narrative that Specter attempts to weave, to make this exercise look like a joyride of ‘unscientific people on a “pilgrimage”’. Writing about the European governments, universities and movements accurately would not suit Specter’s intention because the strong resistance (including from governments) to GMOs in Europe is based on science.

My education doesn’t suit his narrative either: a Ph.D. on the ‘Hidden Variables and Non-locality in Quantum Theory’. Specter has reduced my M.Sc. Honors in Physics to a B.Sc. for convenience. Mr. Specter and the Biotech Industry (and The New Yorker, by association) would like to identify the millions of people opposing GMOs as unscientific, romantic, outliers. My education is obviously a thorn in their side.

When I asked if she had ever worked as a physicist, she suggested that I search for the answer on Google. I found nothing, and she doesn’t list any such position in her biography.”

Specter has twisted my words, to make it seem like I was avoiding his question. I had directed him to my official website since for the past few months I have repeatedly been asked about my education. The Wikipedia page about me has been altered to make it look like I have never studied science. The Biotech Industry would like to erase my academic credentials. I have failed to see how it makes me more or less capable of the work I do on evolving and ecological paradigm of science. I consciously made a decision to dedicate my life to protect the Earth, its ecosystems and communities. Quantum theory taught me the four principles that have guided my work: everything is interconnected, everything is potential, everything is indeterminate, and there is no excluded middle. Every intellectual breakthrough I have made over the last 40 years has been to move from a mechanistic paradigm to an ecological one. I had the choice to continue my studies in the foundations of Quantum Theory at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) or to take up a research position in interdisciplinary studies on science policy at IIM, Bangalore. I chose the latter because I wanted a deeper understanding of the relationships between science and society.

This was my email response to Specter, copied to the editor of The New Yorker, David Remnick:

A tight schedule must have kept Specter from mentioning Africa in his piece, although he intended to, given that a considerable amount of the world’s poor are also in Africa and must be fed. But Africa might not have needed addressing, probably because the Biotech Industry is happy with the progress they are making in deploying GMO cotton and banana in Africa. In the US, six-week human trials of these bio-fortified bananas are happening as I write this. And what are these bananas? They are bananas into which they have put a gene found in another variety of banana that has elevated levels of Beta-Carotene. They could have just used the banana with higher Beta-Carotene if the intent was to alleviate Vitamin A Deficiency, but there’s no money in that.

Specter calls me a Brahmin, which is inaccurate and a deliberate castist aspersion, insinuating falsely, elitism.Shiva’ is not a Brahmin caste name. My parents consciously adopted a caste-less name as part of their involvement in the Indian Independence Movement that included a fight against the caste system. But this is inconvenient to Specter’s narrative.

Specter’s gift for half-truths is evidenced when he says:

“Shiva said last year that Bt-cotton-seed costs had risen by eight thousand per cent in India since 2002. In fact, the prices of modified seeds, which are regulated by the government, have fallen steadily.”

“Bt-cotton-seed costs had risen by eight thousand per cent in India since 2002” is incorrect. I did not say that. The cost of cotton seed after the 2002 approval of Bt-cotton, when compared to the price of cotton seed before Monsanto entered the market in 1998, has increased exponentially. The percentage was used in reference to this increase. I was a little conservative when I said “8000%”, since I didn’t maximize the number for effect. I’m not predisposed to hyperbole. I am grateful to Specter for pointing this out. I’ll redo the math now.

Monsanto entered the Indian market illegally in 1998, we sued them on 6th Jan in 1999. Before Monsanto’s entry to the market, local seeds cost farmers between ₨5 and ₨10 per kg. After Bt Cotton was allowed into the market Monsanto started to strengthen its monopoly through (i) ‘Seed Replacement’, in which Monsanto would swap out farmers seeds with their own, claiming superiority of their ‘product’, and (ii) ‘Licensing Agreements’ with the 60 companies that were providing seeds in the Indian market at the time. Monsanto ensured a monopoly on cotton seeds in India and priced the seeds at ₨1,600 for a package of 450 gms (₨3555.55 per kg, out of which the royalty component was ₨1,200). ₨3555.55 is approximately 711 times ₨5, the pre-Bt price. The correct percentage increase would be 71,111%. It is this dramatic price increase that I always talk about.

The reduction of prices that Specter mentions was because the State of Andhra Pradesh and I took the issue to the Monopoly and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (India’s Anti-Trust Court) and Monsanto was ordered, by the MRTP Court and the Andhra Pradesh Government, to reduce the price of its seed. Monsanto did not willfully reduce its prices, nor was an “Invisible Hand” at work. He quotes the Farmers Rights Clause in Indian law from the Plant Variety Protection and Farmers Rights Act, deliberately misnaming a clause as an act, misleading anyone who might want to do some research of their own, as many readers of The New Yorker do.

“Shiva also says that Monsanto’s patents prevent poor people from saving seeds. That is not the case in India. The Farmers’ Rights Act of 2001 guarantees every person the right to “save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share, or sell” his seeds. Most farmers, though, even those with tiny fields, choose to buy newly bred seeds each year, whether genetically engineered or not, because they insure better yields and bigger profits.”

I do say Monsanto’s patents prevent poor people from saving seeds. They prevent anyone who is not ‘Monsanto’ from saving or having seeds including researchers and breeders. This is true in most parts of the world. Specter makes it appear as though Indian farmers are protected and have always been, merely by mentioning “The Farmers’ Rights Act of 2001”. I happen to have been a member of the expert group appointed by our Agriculture Ministry to draft that very act. We have worked very hard to make this happen and I am very proud of the fact that India has built Farmers Rights into its laws. But the farmers are not completely protected since Monsanto has found clever ways around the laws, including collecting Royalties renamed as ‘Technology Fees’. This issue has many pending cases in Indian courts.

This section in Specter’s piece is designed to deliberately break the established connections between GMOs, Seed Patents and IPRs, and mislead his readers to echo Monsanto’s attempt to hide the catastrophic implications of a seed monopoly and Bt-Cotton’s failure in India as it tries to enter new markets in Africa proclaiming it’s success in India. Indian farmers can’t choose to buy genetically modified or hybrid varieties. Choosing would require choice, an alternative. Monsanto has systematically dismantled all alternatives for the cotton farmer. Monsanto’s hold on corn, soya and canola is almost as strong as their monopoly on cotton. Approximately $10 billion is collected annually from U.S. farmers by Monsanto, as royalty payments. Monsanto has been sued for $ 2.2 billion by Brazilian farmers for collecting royalty on farm-saved seeds. The seed market is no longer governed by market forces. The element of choice is missing altogether. The farmer can only choose if he has an option.

In its evidence to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, the Monsanto representative admitted that half the price of Monsanto seeds is royalty. My work and the work of movements in India, has prevented Monsanto from having patents on living resources and biological processes. Article 3(J) of our patent clause was used by the Indian Patent Office to reject Monsanto’s broad claim patent application on climate resilient seeds. In other countries that do not share our history, Monsanto uses such patents to sue farmers, such as Percy Schmeiser in Canada (for $200,000) as well as 1,500 other farmers in the US. In the case of Monsanto vs Bowman, Monsanto sued a farmer who had not even purchased seeds from them.

If Specter had really listened, he would have heard what I was actually saying about seed monopolies, even if it was inconvenient to his story. I’m sure that during his research over the last 8 months, he would have come across at least some of these examples of oppression.

“Although India bans genetically modified food crops, Bt cotton, modified to resist the bollworm, is planted widely. Since the nineteen-nineties, Shiva has focused the world’s attention on Maharashtra by referring to the region as India’s “suicide belt,” and saying that Monsanto’s introduction of genetically modified cotton there has caused a “genocide.” There is no place where the battle over the value, safety, ecological impact, and economic implications of genetically engineered products has been fought more fiercely. Shiva says that two hundred and eighty-four thousand Indian farmers have killed themselves because they cannot afford to plant Bt cotton. Earlier this year, she said, “Farmers are dying because Monsanto is making profits—by owning life that it never created but it pretends to create. That is why we need to reclaim the seed. That is why we need to get rid of the G.M.O.s. That is why we need to stop the patenting of life.””

If Specter had actually travelled across the cotton belt in Maharashtra State (surely the Monsanto office could have easily directed him there), he would have heard from his trusted sources that there is a decline in Bt Cotton cultivation in favor of Soy Bean due to failed Bt crops. He would have heard of Datta Chauhan of Bhamb village who swallowed poison on November 5, 2013, because his Bt cotton crop did not survive the heavy rains in July that year. He would have heard of Shankar Raut and Tatyaji Varlu, from Varud village, both who committed suicide due to the failure of their Bt Cotton. Tatyaji Varlu was unable to repay the Rs. 50,000 credit through which he received seeds. Specter could have met and spoken to the family of 7 left behind by Ganesh, in Chikni village, following the repeated failure of his Bt Cotton crop. Ganesh had no option but to buy more Bt Cotton and try his luck multiple times because Bt Cotton was the only cotton seed in the market, brilliantly marketed under multiple brand names through Licensing Arrangements that Monsanto has with Indian companies. Multiple packages, multiple promises but the contents of each of those expensive packets is the same: it’s all Bt. It’s vulnerable to failure because of too much or too little water, reliant on fertilizer, and susceptible to pests without pesticide, all additional costs. The farmer, with a field too small to impress Specter, does not choose Bt Cotton of his free will. That choice is dictated by the system Specter attempts to hail.

Specter and the BioTech twitter brigade have found resonance and are harping on my “confusing a correlation with causation”. Allow me to explain the cause to these scientific and rational people and hopefully help them pull their heads out of the sand.

By destroying the alternative sources of seed, as I explained earlier, a monopoly was established. Promises were made of higher yield and a reduction of pesticide costs to initially woo farmers. With a monopoly, Monsanto increased the price of seeds since it didn’t have to compete in the market. In India, the agents that sell Monsanto seeds also sell the pesticides and fertilizer, on credit. A Bt Cotton farmer starts the cultivation season with debt and completes the cycle with the sale of the crop after multiple applications of fertilizer and pesticide acquired on more credit. As the Bt-toxin was rendered useless, the crop was infested by new pests and yields of Bt Cotton started to decline, more fertilizer and pesticide were purchased and used by the farmers in the hope of a better yield next time around, destroying soil health. Degraded soil led to lower yields and further financial losses to the farmers. Many farmers would plant seed from another brand, not knowing it was the same exact Monsanto seed Bollguard, and that it would not fare any better and would require more fertilizer and pesticide than before, going deeper and deeper into debt. This cycle of high cost seeds and rising chemical requirements is the debt trap, from which the farmers see no escape, and which drives these farmers of the cotton belt to suicide. There is a cause for each and every farmer taking his own life, he is not driven to it by correlation. And the cause is a high cost monopoly system with no alternative. If it were any other product, Monsanto would be liable for false advertising, and a product liability claim due to intentional misrepresentation regarding Bt Cotton. Specter promotes a system of agriculture that fails to deliver on its promises of higher yield and lower costs and propagates exploitation.

Not only does Specter support a system which leaves no alternatives for farmers, he also promotes the force feeding of consumers, with GMOs, including victims of disasters.

In 1999, ten thousand people were killed and millions were left homeless when a cyclone hit India’s eastern coastal state of Orissa. When the U.S. government dispatched grain and soy to help feed the desperate victims, Shiva held a news conference in New Delhi and said that the donation was proof that “the United States has been using the Orissa victims as guinea pigs” for genetically engineered products. She also wrote to the international relief agency Oxfam to say that she hoped it wasn’t planning to send genetically modified foods to feed the starving survivors. When neither the U.S. nor Oxfam altered its plans, she condemned the Indian government for accepting the provisions.

Specter is ill informed about the cyclone in Orissa, or he copied this information from another inaccurate report accusing me of making the cyclone victims starve. The US aid was a blend of corn and soy, not grain. The agency distributing it was C.A.R.E. After the cyclone in 1999 that devastated the east coast of India, Navdanya was involved in the rehabilitation of the victims on the ground in Orissa and has been involved in such efforts each time there has been a calamity in that region. The shipment Specter mentions, under a humanitarian guise, was an attempt to circumvent India’s ban on the import of GMOs. The farmers who received the tainted shipment called it inedible. A nondescript mixture of soy and corn is not food for rice eating peoples. We tested this mixture and found it to be genetically engineered corn and soya. The results were sent to the Health Ministry and the Government ordered an immediate stop to the illegal import of GMOs. The hybrid rice available in the market would not grow in the saline soil left behind by the cyclone. Navdanya provided the farmers with salt-tolerant varieties to allow them to rebuild their livelihoods and for them to have food. The Orissa farmers, later, shared their salt-tolerant seeds with the victims of the tsunami that hit Tamil Nadu in 2004. Monsanto, through its influence in USAID, has used every natural and climate disaster to push its GMO seeds on devastated communities, including Haiti after the earthquake, where farmers protested against this imposition. Monsanto has also taken thousands of patents on climate resilience in traditional seeds and has acquired climate research corporations to exploit the vulnerability of communities in the future. This is not humanitarian from any perspective.

Specter is also supporting the Biotech Industry attack on Governments passing GMO labelling laws in the U.S. Coincidentally, following The New Yorker piece, Michael Specter just wrote another piece questioning GMO labeling in America. The Biotech Industry is now suing the state of Vermont for its labeling laws. The grounds of Monsanto’s suit is that labeling their product would infringe on Monsanto’s first amendment right. Specter’s two articles work very well together. An obvious question is whether Specter set out to do a profile on me at all or whether this was a calculated attempt to attack the burgeoning anti-GMO movement within the US?Both articles were conveniently timed to mislead consumers in the US about legislation in their own country by using fallacies about the situation in India.

“Between 1996, when genetically engineered crops were first planted, and last year, the area they cover has increased a hundredfold—from 1.7 million hectares to a hundred and seventy million. Nearly half of the world’s soybeans and a third of its corn are products of biotechnology. Cotton that has been engineered to repel the devastating bollworm dominates the Indian market, as it does almost everywhere it has been introduced.”

Being the only seed in the market through monopoly would, of course, be domination. The Bt-cotton seed is not dominating markets because it is effective. Bt-cotton has led to the emergence of resistance to Bt in the Bollworm and the emergence of pests that never affected cotton earlier, forcing the increased use of pesticides accompanied by lower yields. Specter quotes acreage but fails to mention that in the US, Round-Up Ready corn and soya are plagued by super-weeds. The only new ‘technologies’ being touted by the Biotech Industry are Bt and Ht (Herbicide Tolerant). Both these ‘technologies’ have failed to deliver on what they promised- the control of pests and weeds. This is because they got the science wrong, the ecological science that allows us to understand pests and weed control, and the evolution of resistance in pests and weeds.

Almost a century and a quarter after The Jungle Book, Specter is stuck in Kipling’s India. He uses imagery of elephants and natives to subtly invoke a fetishized idea of eastern cultures that resonates with a western perspective, a truly romantic one.

“The majority of local farmers travel to the market by bullock cart. Some walk, and a few drive. A week earlier, a local agricultural inspector told me, he had seen a cotton farmer on an elephant and waved to him. The man did not respond, however, because he was too busy talking on his cell phone.”

The third person account of a farmer on an elephant with a mobile phone makes for a lovely visual. What is Specter trying to achieve with this? There is an implication of contradictions here, an idea that milestones in ‘development’, like the cell phone, symbols of modernity, have no place in the same frame as an elephant. If Specter looked around, listened and understood, he would have noticed that the cell phone is a necessity of life in the 21st century, even in India. In fact, India has more mobile phone subscribers than the US. We also have elephants and they do exist together. Elephants cost more than a midsize car, to buy and to keep, especially in a semi-arid area like Aurangabad.

Invoking imagery of a quaint India reveals an ethnographic prejudice that fits right into the strategy of seemingly ‘helping’ India while extracting, like colonizers, capital and natural resources from the colonies. In ways other than the obvious, Specter sounds like an Angrez Sahib (English Sahib) describing the ‘natives’ in 1943, when he notes

“skin the color of burnt molasses and the texture of a well- worn saddle”

One can only hope that he may overcome his disdain of non-white, non-industrial populations, Indian farmers, and farmers in general, because he seems to view them as inferior and incapable of feeding themselves and their growing population even though the Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 70% of global food comes from small farms. It shows the sort of narrow minded thinking that is paraded as reason in a bid to justify the imposition of GMOs to create new sources of royalties. A system of food production that accounts for only 30% of the food people eat cannot be presented as a solution to hunger.

Specter attempts to use the 100-degree heat and dusty roads to distract from the elephant in the room, which incidentally has a farmer riding it, no cell phone, just crippling debt. How are second-hand stories from one village, during a fleeting visit “a scientific study” about the situation across the 3,500,000 hectares of cotton cultivation in Maharashtra State. I have been going to Vidarbha in Maharashtra since 1982 when we launched Samvardhan, the national organic movement, from Gandhi’s ashram in Seva Gram. I have seen, first-hand, a proud region of hard working, productive farmers, growing diverse and multiple crops, reduced to indebtedness and a complete desperation. And Navdanya has been working in this devastated region for the past two decades to create hope and alternatives for the farmers and the widows of those who were driven to suicide. The crisis we witness today is like the crisis created by colonialism. Specter mentions the Great Bengal Famine but only provides partial information.

“In 1943 alone, during the final years of the British Raj, more than two million people died in the Bengal Famine. “By the time we became free of colonial rule, the country was sucked dry,” Suman Sahai told me recently.”

The Bengal Famine was caused by the ongoing war as well as a tax in which the British took 50% of every farmer’s crop. This sort of taxation, in today’s India has taken the form of royalties, especially in cotton. Even before a seed has been planted, money has left the farm and made its way to St. Louis. It can’t be difficult to see the similarity between seed monopolies and colonialism.

The real reason for the Bengal Famine was speculation–as evidenced by Amartya Sen’s extensive work–that drove the prices of food so high that most people could not afford it. It was mostly a man-made famine. The same system of speculation that caused famines, like that of 1943, exists today. It’s now more organized, more lethal and captained by Wall Street. Large Agri-business, armed with near-monopoly power, increase prices beyond market determined increases in costs.

Although, Specter writes about India becoming an exporting nation, he hides the fact that as a result of ‘Free Trade’ India has now become heavily dependent on imports of oil-seeds and pulses—staples for millions of Indians. In the nineties, because of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), prices of tortillas in Mexico City rose sharply while the price of corn, sold by Mexican farmers, went down. Free trade does not imply free-market, and more often than not it means the poor go hungry while profits of corporations, especially in agriculture, increase.

International financial speculation has played a major role in food price increases since the summer of 2007. Specter quotes import and export data many times in his piece. Most of this trade is mandated by trade agreements written by these very corporations. Due to the financial collapse in America, speculators moved from financial products to land and food, which explains the increasing speculation on food and land-grab. This directly affects prices in domestic markets. Many countries are becoming increasingly dependent on food imports. Speculators bet on artificially created scarcity, even while production levels remain high. Based on these predictions, Big Agriculture has been manipulating the markets. Traders keep stocks away from the market in order to stimulate price increases and generate huge profits afterwards.

In Indonesia, in the midst of the soya price hike in January 2008, the company PT Cargill Indonesia was still keeping 13,000 tons of soybeans in its warehouse in Surabaya, waiting for prices to reach record highs. This artificial inflation of prices is a result of profits to be made from financial speculation, and creates hunger when there is actually enough food to feed everyone on the planet. Frederick Kaufman, in his Harpers Magazine article entitled, “How Wall Street starved millions and got away with it”, writes that “imaginary wheat bought anywhere affects real wheat bought everywhere.

Specter would have served The New Yorker and himself well by doing a little more research before narrating the stories from his trip to India. His one-day trip speaking with one farmer and a nameless agricultural inspector is hardly part of scientific reasoning. Specter’s piece is ripe with fabrication. He says he went and met cotton farmers near Aurangabad in:

“late spring, after most of the season’s cotton had been picked.”

For the record, in the Maharashtra state, cotton is a Kharif crop, sown in June or July depending on the monsoon and harvested between the months of November and February. It is unlikely that the farmers would have waited for Mr. Michael Specter to show up this May so that he could catch the tail end of the harvest. As curiously, Specter chose not go to the Vidarbha region with the most Bt-Cotton related farmer suicides.

We work with the farmers and the widows in Vidarbha to rebuild their lives and give them hope. Farmers that have escaped the debt-trap created by Bt Cotton and it’s ancillary requirements of chemical fertilizers and pesticides have done so through the use of seeds made available through organic farming and community seed banks set up by Navdanya. Through the availability of these seeds and not having to buy pesticides and fertilizers, the net income of these farmers has increased.

Nilesh, a Bt cotton farmer in Chikni village in Yavatmal District, for an acre in 2013-14, spent ₨1,860 for seeds, ₨1,000 for pesticides, ₨1,500 for fertilizer, ₨500 for irrigation. Without adding any other expenses he might have had his expenses amount to ₨4,860 per acre. His yield per acre of 1 quintal (100 kg) that sold for ₨4600 left him with a loss of ₨260 per acre. In contrast, Marotirao Deheka who farms organically in Pimpri village in Yavatmal District spent ₨400 on seeds, ₨750 on irrigation, ₨3,000 on all other costs to a lower total of ₨4,150 per acre. Yet, his yield of 3 quintals, which sold for ₨15000, earned him a net profit of ₨10,850.

The role of “journalist-turned-activist”, or more accurately “pundit,” we now see across the pro-GMO lobby. Take the case of the British “activist”, Mark Lynas, who touts himself as an anti-GMO turned pro-GMO activist. Following his conversion, he has subsequently written extensively in favor of GM crops. But no one in the UK’s anti-GMO movement had ever heard of Mark Lynas – until his much publicized talk in Oxford. Like Specter, Lynas has become one of the strongest, most articulate voices for the GMO movement. The question remains – are these journalists “sponsored” by the GMO movement? Or are they simply writers who believe that GMO crops are good for the world (despite information to the contrary)?

Whatever is the case, it’s undeniable that the pro-GMO lobby is adopting a more sophisticated approach to its propaganda machine. It has turned its story of debt, hunger and suicide into the articulate voices of storytellers, of communicators, of respectable media houses.

Has The New Yorker been influenced by loyalty to its benefactors? Marion Nestle, a dear friend, and Francis Lappe’s (another dear friend) daughter, Anna Lappe, received invitations from Condé Nast to participate in an image clean up for Monsanto. They obviously refused. Please refer to the recent article (August 7, 2014) entitled: Read the Emails in the Hilarious Monsanto/Mo Rocca/Condé Nast Meltdown

For the record, ever since I sued Monsanto in 1999 for its illegal Bt cotton trials in India, I have received death threats, my websites have been hacked and turned into porn sites, the chairman of a girls’ college founded by my grandfather, has been harassed. Actions have been taken to impede Navdanya’s work by attempting to bribe my colleagues to leave – and they have failed. None of these systemic attacks over the last two decades have deterred me from doing my research and activism with responsibility, integrity, and compassion. The concerted PR assault on me for the last two years from Lynas, Specter and an equally vocal Twitter group is a sign that the global outrage against the control over our seed and food, by Monsanto through GMOs, is making the biotech industry panic.

Character assassination has always been a tool used by those who cannot successfully defend their message. Although they think such slander will destroy my career, they don’t understand that I consciously gave up a ‘career’ in 1982 for a life of service. The spirit of service inspired by the truth, conscience and compassion cannot be stopped by threats or media attacks. For me, science has always been about service, not servitude.

My life of science is about creativity and seeing connections, not about mechanistic thought and manipulated facts.

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

- Albert Einstein


Categories: Ecological News

When will Indian agriculture become economically viable?

Ground Reality - Tue, 08/26/2014 - 10:32
Speaking after inaugurating the 166-km-long four-lane-road project at Kaithal in Haryana the other day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to turn farming profitable ushering in prosperity for farmers and at the same time result in overflowing foodgrain godowns.
Coming at a time when agriculture continues to reel under a terrible agrarian crisis, when an estimated 60 per cent farmers go to bed hungry, and at a time when close to 10-lakh farmers abandon agriculture and trudge into the cities looking for menial jobs every year, the promise to make farming economically viable is like a blessing from the heavens. For the 600 million farmers, somehow surviving against all odds, there can be nothing more cheerful. But will this really happen? 
Successive governments have only added on to the farm woes by continuous neglect and apathy. Going by the mainline economic prescription of cutting down drastically the population engaged in agriculture to boost economic growth, the policy thrust has been to push farmers out of agriculture. Creating economic despair, and hand over precious natural resources, including fertile land, for non-farming purposes therefore became an easy route. Perhaps the Prime Minister will see through the folly, and reverse the trend to ensure that the benefits of economic growth are judiciously and equitably distributed. India has the ability to chart out an economic development model that does not add to global warming as well as rampant destruction of natural resources.
This is possible if the policy thrust shifts to encourage sustainable agriculture and thereby in the process gainfully employ 600 million people. I don’t understand the economic rationale of displacing farmers from their meager land holding, and forcing them into the cities to work as daily wager workers or drive auto-rickshaws. Displacing people from their stable jobs in agriculture and re-locating them to the cities to work as labourers in infrastructure projects is no job creation. The challenge is to make agriculture more profitable, and ensure that improved skills are provided to farmers. An economically viable agriculture not only boosts economic growth, removes economic disparities, but also ensures food security. Let’s be very clear: a food importing country can never be economically powerful.
It is in this connection that the Prime Minister deserves all the applause for taking a bold stand by not succumbing to international pressure at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). By refusing to sign on the protocol of amendments to the Trade Facilitation Treaty unless a permanent solution to the vexed problem of providing minimum support price to Indian farmers is resolved, Narendra Modi has sent a strong message. After all, if Japan can impose 738 per cent import tariffs on rice and 328 per cent on sugar – so as to protect its domestic farmers and industry, why can’t India stand firm to protect its farmers as well as its hard-earned food self-sufficiency.
This has to be now translated into policies and actions that can revive domestic agriculture. To understand the political implications of neglecting agriculture let’s revert back to the days when Lal Bahadur Shashtri was the Prime Minister. The year was 1965 when India was hit by a devastating drought. India had imported 10 million tonnes of foodgrains under the PL-480 from North America. But later in the year, in an interview with an American journalist Shashtri was asked: “What did he think about the war in Vietnam?” To which Shashtri replied: “It is an act of aggression.” This small sentence annoyed the then US President Lyndon Johnson.
It is very easy to teach a lesson to a hungry nation. US stopped food exports to India under what is called a ‘stop-go’ policy. So much so that at one stage only food stocks for another week was left. This prompted the then Food Minister C Subramaniam to send an SOS to US president requesting him to divert the ships carrying foodgrains to India otherwise millions would die of hunger. The UN FAO had also appealed to the US President. India thus had rightly earned the epitaph as a country living in a ‘ship-to-mouth’ existence.Mrs Indira Gandhi too had faced the brunt of food diplomacy. Soon after she took over as Prime Minister, at a time when the drought had continued for the 2nd year in 1966, Mrs Gandhi had allowed the import of high-yielding seeds of wheat from Mexico to usher in what is now called as Green Revolution. Agriculture scientist Dr M S Swaminathan, who is hailed as the father of India’s Green Revolution, once told me that the seeds of Green Revolution were actually sown in a car journey that he took with the Prime Minister. During the short car journey Dr Swaminathan recalls   Mrs Gandhi had sought a commitment from him if he could provide an assurance that “India will have a surplus of 10 million tonnes or so in a couple of years because I want the bloody Americans off my back.”
Dr Swaminathan made the commitment. The rest is history.
But a couple of decades after India become self-sufficient in foodgrains, a dangerous complacency has set in. In 2013-14, farmers produced a record harvest of 264.4 million tonnes of foodgrains. Production of oilseeds has reached a record high of 34.5 million tonnes, a jump of 4.8 per cent. Maize production increased by 8.52 per cent to reach a level of 24.2 million tones. Pulses production reached an all-time high of 19.6 million tones, an increase of 7.10 per cent over the previous year. Cotton production too touched a record high.
With such record production, the nation should be indebted to its virile and hardworking farmers. But they are not only being ignored, but penalized. Last year, in 2013-14, when farm production recorded a quantum jump, agriculture received 19,307-crore from the annual budget kitty, which is less than 1 per cent of the total budget outlay.  For 60 per cent population less than 1 per cent of is the resource allocation. In 2014-15, only Rs 22,652-crore has been given to agriculture and cooperation departments. In fact, if you look at the 11th Plan period, the total outlay for agriculture was Rs 1-lakh crore. For the 12thPlan period it was raised to Rs 1.5 lakh crore. Now what miracle can you expect when the governments deliberately starve the most efficient sector of the economy, which incidentally is also the biggest employer?
Just before Mr Atal Bihar Vajpayee took over as Prime Minister for the first time, a closed door meeting was held with some economists to work out the economic pathway for the new NDA government. I remember insisting that NDA would never faces anti-incumbency if it devoted 60 per cent of the annual budget to agriculture, which employs 60 per cent population. This was agreed upon, and was also talked about but in reality agriculture did not even receive 6 per cent of the annual budget. Agriculture in reality is faced with negative terms of trade meaning more money is being taken out from the rural economy than what is being invested.
It is primarily for this reason that the average income of a farming family in India, comprising five persons, has been computed to be less than Rs 2,400 a month. This is less than what a household help receives in a city. No amount of efforts to raise productivity or leaving farmers to face the vagaries of the market economy can help farmers realize a better income. Let’s be very clear, neither future trading nor by allowing big retail like Wal-Mart and Tesco to purchase directly from farmers has helped raise farm incomes even in US and European Union. It is direct income support that has made farming a profitable venture in the developed countries.
I am therefore hoping that the Prime Minister too would spearhead an economic renaissance in Indian agriculture. Mr Modi has a number of times talked of raising the procurement prices. But since procurement prices only benefit 30 per cent farmers, any tinkering in the form of ‘cost plus 50 per cent profit’ will only benefit a section of farmers. It is therefore time to set up a National Farmers Income Commission that aims at providing a monthly guaranteed take-home income package to farmers. This must be linked to production and the location of the farm.
If in the past nine years, the government has shelled out Rs 1,100-crore every day as tax concessions to India Inc, totaling Rs 36-lakh crores, which did not result in increased industrial production nor created additional jobs, I see no reason why even a quarter of it cannot be given to farmers. When I say this I am not being against industry, but at the same time I see no economic justification in why industry should be allowed to replace agriculture. It should in fact be supportive of agriculture. India needs agro-based industries.
Imagine a scenario wherein farming becomes a profitable enterprise, as the Prime Minister said, the boost it will give to the Indian economy would be unprecedented. I only hope the Prime Minister lives his dream. #
Source: The Organiser, Aug 24, 2014
Categories: Ecological News

Gunning for Vandana Shiva

Navdanya Diary - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 18:23

by Louis Project – CounterPunch, 22-24 August 2014 Weekend Edition

Tweeted by @desianwar


Perhaps nothing symbolizes the decline of the New Yorker magazine more than the hatchet job on Vandana Shiva that appears in the latest issue. Written by Michael Specter, the author of “Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress”, the article is a meretricious defense of genetically modified organisms (GMO) relying on one dodgy source after another. This is the same magazine whose reputation was at its apex when Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking articles on DDT appeared in 1962. If DDT was once a symbol of the destructive power of chemicals on the environment, GMO amounts to one of the biggest threats to food production today. It threatens to enrich powerful multinational corporations while turning farmers into indentured servants through the use of patented seeds. Furthermore, it threatens to unleash potentially calamitous results in farmlands through unintended mutations.

Specter represents himself as a defender of science against irrational thinking. Since many activists regard Vandana Shiva as grounded in science, it is essential that he discredit her. For example, he mentions a book jacket that refers to her as “one of India’s leading physicists”. But when he asked her if she ever worked as a physicist, she invited him to “search for the answer on Google”. He asserts that he found nothing and furthermore that no such position was listed in her biography. Not that I would ever take an inflated publicity blurb that seriously to begin with (having read one too many of those for Slavoj Žižek), I wondered what being a physicist would have to do with GMO in the first place. Is a degree in particle physics necessary for understanding the transformation of vast portions of the Gulf of Mexico into a dead zone because of fertilizer-enriched algae?

Specter is a defender of the Green Revolution, a technology-based approach to farming that Norman Borlaug developed in the 1940s and that serves as one of the pillars of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Like Specter, the Gates Foundation sees GMO as the latest and greatest tool for carrying the Green Revolution forward.

To buttress his case for the Green Revolution, Specter calls upon a couple of witnesses to testify. They are a husband and wife team consisting of Raoul Adamchack, the former president of California Certified Organic Farmers, and Pamela Ronald, a professor of plant genetics at UC Davis. Without the Green Revolution, the planet would be “smaller, poorer, and far more agrarian”, according to Adamchack. Hmm. That’s the first time I ever heard “agrarian” used as a swear word but let’s leave that aside for the moment.

Maybe Specter thought that New Yorker magazine readers’ eyes would glaze over the reference to Ronald’s work in “plant genetics”, which could conceivably be conventional in nature, and settle upon her husband’s “organic” credentials. But not mine. I have learned to become a careful reader over the years, especially when it comes to the neoliberal New Yorker magazine. As it turns out, Pamela Ronald is one of the most fanatical supporters of GMO in the USA and hardly a neutral judge on chemistry in agriculture. It is like someone treating Bjorn Lomborg as a disinterested expert on global warming.

Furthermore, Pamela Ronald would be far less credible as a scientific expert than Vandana Shiva in light of her multiple gaffes in peer-reviewed journals. As CounterPunch contributor Jonathan Latham pointed out, she was forced to retract two papers and possibly a third that constituted the core of her pro-GMO research.

A while back Ronald excoriated Mark Bittman for urging that GM food be labeled (in another article in the same issue of the New Yorker, Specter denigrates that demand). She dubbed him “a scourge on science” who “couches his nutty views in reasonable-sounding verbiage”. I think I will stick with Bittman, one of the few reasons to read the New York Times.

Specter assures us that scientists have crossbred plants long before Monsanto came along, so what’s the big deal? He writes, “Nearly all the plants we cultivate—corn, wheat, rice, roses, Christmas trees—have been genetically modified through breeding to last longer, look better, taste sweeter, or grow more vigorously in arid soil.” Leaving aside Christmas trees (taste sweeter?), the other crops are associated with the type of monoculture that has led to one environmental disaster after another. If genetic modification allows corn production to be doubled, what would that mean for a farming system that is groaning under the weight of a crop that is despoiling the ecosphere and hastening the onset of one illness or another through corn syrup, including diabetes?

Next up as a prosecution witness is Mark Lynas, who Specter describes as a repentant ex-opponent of biotechnology. Speaking before the Oxford Farming Conference a while back, he said, “For the record, here and up front, I apologize for having spent several years ripping up G.M. crops. I am also sorry that I . . . assisted in demonizing an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.”

Before his conversion, Lynas was identified by EuropeBio as a leading candidate for a campaign they were mounting in defense of GM crops. This is an industry coalition that includes Monsanto, Bayer, Dow, BASF, Eli Lilly, and Dupont—a rogue’s gallery of biotechnology. Lynas claims that they never made contact with him but at least they figured out that he was their kind of guy. To give you an idea of his other credentials on Green issues, he is a fan of nuclear power. Lyman was a featured interviewee on the British Channel 4’s documentary “What the Green Movement Got Wrong” that aired in 2010. He told Telegraph readers where he was coming from: “The documentary follows me as I visit Chernobyl, site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, and discover that wildlife in the area is thriving, and that the effects of the radioactive contamination on people are much less serious than previously thought.” If this guy is speaking in the name of the Greens, we have to find another color—rapidly.

Specter cannot understand why Shiva is so recalcitrant. Not only does she hold the Gates Foundation in contempt, she dismisses government agencies that are responsible for regulating GM products including the FDA, the EPA and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). When I read this, I wondered if Specter was trying to cover two bases with one article: science and humor. The trust in such agencies was a bigger hoot than any Woody Allen piece I had read there in ages.

As I pointed out in a review of “Food Inc.”, a very fine documentary on industrial farming, USDA boss Tom Vilsack is committed to GMO. I cited the Organic Consumers Organization:

–The biggest biotechnology industry group, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, named Vilsack Governor of the Year. He was also the founder and former chair of the Governor’s Biotechnology Partnership.

–When Vilsack created the Iowa Values Fund, his first poster child of economic development potential was Trans Ova and their pursuit of cloning dairy cows.

–Vilsack was the origin of the seed pre-emption bill in 2005, which many people here in Iowa fought because it took away local government’s possibility of ever having a regulation on seeds- where GE would be grown, having GE-free buffers, banning pharma corn locally, etc. Representative Sandy Greiner, the Republican sponsor of the bill, bragged on the House Floor that Vilsack put her up to it right after his state of the state address.

Specter makes sure to put in a good word for glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsansto’s herbicide Roundup, since it is two hundred and thirty times less toxic than atrazine. It is a little hard to make sense of this since I don’t know what that ratio is meant to prove. For example, arsenic might be two hundred and thirty times less poisonous than cyanide but I don’t have plans to sprinkle either over apple pie any time soon.

One would hope that Scientific American passes Specter’s stringent standards for accuracy. If so, the verdict on glyphosate is guilty as charged. In an article titled “Weed-Whacking Herbicide Proves Deadly to Human Cells”, Crystal Gammon points out:

Until now, most health studies have focused on the safety of glyphosate, rather than the mixture of ingredients found in Roundup. But in the new study, scientists found that Roundup’s inert ingredients amplified the toxic effect on human cells—even at concentrations much more diluted than those used on farms and lawns.

One specific inert ingredient, polyethoxylated tallowamine, or POEA, was more deadly to human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells than the herbicide itself – a finding the researchers call “astonishing.”

“This clearly confirms that the [inert ingredients] in Roundup formulations are not inert,” wrote the study authors from France’s University of Caen. “Moreover, the proprietary mixtures available on the market could cause cell damage and even death [at the] residual levels” found on Roundup-treated crops, such as soybeans, alfalfa and corn, or lawns and gardens.

Once again resorting to dodgy ratios, Specter tries to turn the peasant suicide epidemic in India into an urban legend by assuring readers that it is “comparable” to those in France. If your image of the French countryside is that of a plump, prosperous and happy petite-bourgeoisie smiling at overflowing cornucopias of sunflower seeds and artichokes, then maybe this makes sense. But the truth is that France is suffering as well. Between 2007 and 2009, male farmers were 20 percent more likely to commit suicide than in other professions. Indeed, a farmer killed himself every two days, in nearly all instances because of economic ruin—the same problem that is driving Indian farmers to kill themselves.

In the chapter titled “The Transformation of Surplus Profit into Ground-Rent” in volume 3 of Capital, Karl Marx wrote about problems that continue to this day:

Large-scale industry and industrially pursued large-scale agriculture have the same effect. If they are originally distinguished by the fact that the former lays waste and ruins labour-power and thus the natural power of man, whereas the latter does the same to the natural power of the soil, they link up in the later course of development, since the industrial system applied to agriculture also enervates the workers there, while industry and trade for their part provide agriculture with the means of exhausting the soil.

Every advance in agriculture based on chemicals creates new contradictions that will in turn require a new chemical solution. The answer to the food crisis is not more chemicals but a reorganization of society that eliminates the profit motive and that overcomes the breach between city and countryside, a key demand of the Communist Manifesto. When animals such as cows, chickens and pigs provide the fertilizer for crops—as was the case for millennia—the natural balance will be restored.

The problem with Vandana Shiva is not a lack of scientific clarity. It is rather a lack of political clarity. As is the case with so many environmental activists, the inability to get to the heart of the crisis undermines its ultimate resolution. In India there is no solution for hunger that is possible without the overall solution of the economic problem.

Like Thomas Friedman on one of his frequent junkets to a third world country, Michael Specter visits Maharashtra to get a handle on what the natives are thinking. He visits a dozen farmers in Dhoksal who were supposedly in tune with the globalization that is transforming the world. A local petty official tells Specter that he waved to a cotton farmer riding into town on an elephant but he did not respond because he was too busy talking on his cell phone.

But not all is well in Maharashtra. Every farmer Specter met told him that they knew of a farmer who had taken his or her life. Why? Because there was almost no available credit, no social security, and no meaningful crop-insurance program. One farmer told him: “We want to live better. We want to buy equipment. But when the crop fails we cannot pay.” In other words, there are suicides because of capitalist insecurity, a global epidemic growing worse day by day. Ultimately, the environmental crisis will be resolved when there is a resolution of the capitalist crisis. Eliminating private property and producing for human need rather than private profit is the precondition for health and happiness, notwithstanding the New Yorker magazine’s blatant defense of corporate farming and, more generally, the capitalist system.

Louis Proyect blogs at and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.


Categories: Ecological News

What going wrong with Indian agriculture?

Ground Reality - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 08:27

Reisernte in Assam (© picture-alliance/AP)

It's a paradox. With its grain silos bursting at the seams, and unable to store a massive surplus of wheat and rice, India is looking for every opportunity to export. After exporting 22 million tonnes of rice and wheat in the fiscal year 2013 (April 2012 to March 2013), India is expected to export another 18 million tonnes in 2013-14. In other words, India's food exports will touch a record 40 million tonnes in just two years. By the time the general elections are over in May 2014, another 31 million tonnes of wheat harvest is expected to be purchased by government agencies. This comes in the wake of a bountiful harvest expected this year – a record foodgrain production of over 263 million tonnes. 

Strangely, food exports are being encouraged at a time when close to 250 million Indians, one-fourth of the world's hungry population, somehow struggle to meet their basic food needs. It is primarily to address the growing food insecurity in a nation saddled with huge food reserves that the government has finally enacted the National Food Security Act 2013 making legal provisions for a monthly per capita entitlement of five kilogram of wheat, rice or millets at a highly subsidized price to those living below the poverty line. Even though this is not enough to meet the nutritional requirement of an average household, it will provide some relief to those living in absolute hunger. To meet the food distribution requirements under the new food security law, the government will annually require about 61 million tonnes of food reserves. The Act caters to 67 percent of the population or roughly 830 million people, including the destitute, the old and infirm, as well as the homeless and migrating populations. 

WTO objects

It isn't that India cannot produce enough food to feed its burgeoning population. But what is coming in the way is the international pressure that aims at limiting domestic production and opening the Indian market to cheaper food imports. At the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) held at Bali in Indonesia in December 2013, the United States backed by the European Union had challenged the food security provisions. An agreement was reached wherein India accepted the "Peace Clause" for an interim period of four years. The clause originally provided exemption to those countries that used export subsidies for agriculture beyond the permissible limit. It had expired at the end of 2003, but is being reintroduced to ensure that India's subsidies are not challenged. 

At the heart of the problem is the increasing amount being spent on public stockholding of foodgrains and thereby the rise in administered prices for wheat and rice that is procured from small farmers every year. According to the WTO Agreement on Agriculture, the administered or subsidised price paid to farmers by the government cannot exceed the de minimis level of 10 percent of the total value of the annual production. India, however, has already exceeded the limit in case of rice where the procurement price has shot up to 24 percent from the cut-off period 1986 to 1988.

It is not the food subsidy bill that is actually under the radar, but in reality it is the procurement price system that India administers to its small farmers that is now on the chopping block. If India is forced to limit the rice procurement price at 10 percent of the total value of production, and similarly refrain from increasing the wheat procurement price in the years to come, it will spell a death knell for agriculture already reeling under a terrible distress. Procurement price cushions farmers against the distress price that markets extract at the time of harvest. 

According to the US-based Environment Working Group, America had paid a quarter of a trillion US Dollars (179,7 billion Euros) in subsidy support for agriculture between 1995 and 2009. In the 2014 Farm Bill, these subsidies have been further extended. It provides for nearly 1 trillion US Dollars (718,6 billion Euros) in support for agriculture in the next ten years, including 756 billion US-Dollars (543 billion Euros) for the food aid programmes administered under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programme (SNAP). 

Agricultural subsidies results in massive dumping of foodgrains across the globe thereby dampening farm gate prices, and pushing farmers out of agriculture. In any case, 14 agricultural commodity exports organizations have written to the US Trade Representative lamenting the temporary relief accorded to India under the "Peace Clause" thereby dampening the US export opportunities. In India on the other hand, wheat and rice growers have merely received 9.4 billion US Dollars (6,8 billion Euros) as procurement price in 2012. 

Agrarian Crisis

The effort by WTO to reshape Indian agricultural policies is happening at a time when Indian agriculture itself is faced with a terrible agrarian crisis. What began to be called as Second Generation Environmental Impacts resulting from the intensively-farmed Green Revolution has now blown into a full grown crisis in agriculture sustainability. With soil fertility devastated, underground water table plummeting as a result of relentless water mining, environmental contamination from excessive use and abuse of chemical pesticides, the entire farming equation has gone wrong. 

With agriculture becoming unremunerative over the years, and with the farm incomes steadily declining, a majority of the farmers want to quit farming if given an alternative. A recent survey by the New Delhi based think-tank Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) has shown that 76 percent farmers want to leave agriculture. This is because farming has becoming an economically unviable proposition. According to the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), the average monthly income of a farming family in India stands at a paltry 2,115 Rupees (about 25 Euros). In other words, a majority of the farmers are somehow surviving below the official poverty line. Farmers as a class are certainly at the bottom of the pyramid. 

No wonder, Census 2011 has shown that on an average 2,300 people are quitting farming every day and migrating to the cities looking for a menial job. Ironically, the crisis in agriculture is happening at a time when the country's economy has been on a growth trajectory. In the past decade, India's annual GDP growth had been at an average of 7 percent. Even between 2005 and 2009 when the average rate of growth was 8.3 to 9 percent, a Planning Commission study shows that 140 million people had left agriculture. 

Normally those who abandon farming should be joining the manufacturing sector. But even in the manufacturing sector, 53 million jobs were lost. More recently, CRISIL, a global analytical company has shown in a study that since 2007, over 37 million Indian farmers had abandoned agriculture and migrated into the cities. But in the last two years – between 2012 and 2014 – when economic growth had remained sluggish, an estimated 15 million have returned back to the villages in the absence of job opportunities. 

With roughly 54 percent of the population involved directly and indirectly with farming, and with the share of agriculture in country's GDP dipping to 14 percent, all is not well on the farm front. This is also reflected in the serial death dance on the farm that continues unabated. As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), approximately 300,000 farmers have committed suicide in the past 17 years. Even in the frontline agricultural State of Punjab, the country's food bowl, two farmers on an average are taking the suicide route every day. Nearly 60 percent of the farmers are deep in debt. What is more shocking is that a majority of those who produce food for the country actually go to bed hungry. 

Green Revolution

Nearly half a century after the Green Revolution was launched in 1966 by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, India has emerged out of the throes of a "ship-to-mouth" existence when food aid would come directly from the ships into the hungry mouths. The quantum jump in food production over the years has turned India into a net agricultural exporter. But while the Green Revolution certainly helped the country take care of its food needs, it bypassed the small and marginal farmers. At the same time, while production increased manifold, hunger too grew. 

Technology alone did not turn the tables. It was essentially the two planks of a "famine-avoidance" strategy that sustained increased production. Setting up a Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (then Agricultural Prices Commission) ensured an assured minimum support price for the farmers thereby providing them with an incentive to produce more. At the same time, Food Corporation of India (FCI) was set up to mop up the surplus harvests flowing into the dedicated agricultural markets, which was used for public distribution among the needy across the country through a vast network of ration shops. 

Prior to the Green Revolution, and before the Agricultural Prices Commission was set up, farmers were free to sell their produce to anyone who offered them good prices. It was known to be an exploitative system wherein the trade squeezed the profit margin of farmers at the time of harvest. It was only when procurement prices were introduced that farmers got an assured price for their produce, and that is what encouraged them to produce more. Procurement prices help farmers realise a fair and better price for their produce. 

India's Green Revolution success story owes much to the administration of procurement prices. But the same procurement prices have now become the villain of the story. Pro-reform economists now call it as an "archaic provisions of a socialist era" and are seeking the removal of the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act (APMC) that allows farmers to bring the produce to the designated mandis (markets) where the private trade is first allowed to make purchases. It's only when there are no private buyers left that the FCI or the State procurement agencies step in to lift whatever is available at the minimum support price or procurement price. 

It is therefore not only WTO that is asking India to restrict the reach of the procurement prices within the de minimis level. The Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices itself is on the forefront asking the procurement system, built so assiduously over the decades, to be dismantled. The argument is that farmers should be left free to sell to whomsoever they want thereby encouraging better competition and thereby realize a higher price. Considering that only 30 percent of India's 600 million farmers have access to procurement prices, the markets should have helped the remaining 70 percent farmers to reap a bounty. But that did not happen. In fact, the agrarian crisis is the worst in those areas where markets operate freely. 

Take the case of paddy in Bihar, which is the only State to have repealed the APMC Act way back in 2006. It had therefore allowed farmers the freedom to sell their produce to whosoever they like. Against the procurement price of 1,310 Rupees (15,3 Euros) per quintal (100 kilogram) that Punjab farmers got this year, Bihar farmers have somehow managed to sell paddy at something around 800 to 900 Rupees (9,4 to 10,5 Euros) per quintal. This is nothing but a distress price, a classic example of ruthless exploitation by the private trade. If Punjab too is directed to remove the procurement system, Punjab farmers will go the Bihar way. 

Agriculture refugees

In a quest to move from Green Revolution to the Second Green Revolution, India is on fast track to bring agriculture under corporate control. Amending the existing laws on land acquisition, water resources, seed, fertilizer, pesticides and food processing, the government is in an overdrive to usher in contract farming and encourage organized retail. This is exactly as per the advise of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as well as the international financial institutes. 

The World Bank had in 1996 estimated that the number of people migrating from the rural to the urban areas in India by the year 2015 would be equal to twice the combined population of the United Kingdom, France and Germany, which is 200 million. So the World Bank had predicted that 400 million people would be moving out of rural areas in India. In the subsequent World Development Reports, especially 2008, the Bank had even suggested setting up of a vast network of training institutes where the young farmers could be trained to become industrial workers. It has also been pushing for land rentals in the rural areas enabling the industry to easily acquire farmlands. 

Although the exact estimates are not available, rural areas are on a boil as a result of the protests over land acquisitions. Foreign companies are also being allowed to get into joint collaborations for which large swaths of farmland is being made available. Industrial corridors, real estate projects, express highways, special economic zones are being aggressively pushed without ascertaining how much of farm land must be kept under cultivation for meeting the country's food security needs. 

The crisis therefore is two-fold. While the rural areas are being emptied, moving the population into the urban areas is leading to the collapse of the cities. It is expected that by 2035, roughly 50 percent of India's population will be urban based. Secondly, the population shift from rural areas along with prime farmland being diverted for non-agriculture purposes will create a food deficit thereby leading to an unforeseen crisis on the food security front. But somehow, the agrarian crisis as well as the economic growth paradigm does not pass through rural India. Nor is any political party before the elections 2014 deliberating on the consequences of the growth model sans a sustainable and economically viable agriculture. 

But what is crystal clear is that sooner than later, India will be heading back to the days of a "ship-to-mouth" existence. #

Source: Agriculture in 'terrible crisis.'

In German:

Categories: Ecological News

Industry-sponsored study tours are a malpractice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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