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

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

RTNews, 25 May 2015

Reuters / Amit Dave

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

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

Screenshot from RTD video

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

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

Screenshot from RTD video

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

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

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

Screenshot from RTD video

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

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

Screenshot from RTD video

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

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

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

Screenshot from RTD video

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

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

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

Categories: Ecological News

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

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

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

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

Save our annadatas

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

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

Photo source [screenshot]: ‘Vandana Shiva on small family farmers and their right to seeds’: – Development and Peace


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust

Categories: Ecological News

How farmers continue to subsidise consumers and the industry.

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

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

सोच बदलने का समय  Dainik Jagran, May 16, 2015

गांवों की ओर भी देखें हमारे हुक्मरान Nai Dunia, May 16, 2015

Categories: Ecological News

Science Versus Baseless Claims

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

By M. A. Sobhan, ubinig – 15 May 2015


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

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

Eggplant in waterlogged land !

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

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

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

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

Eggplant and the use of pesticide

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

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

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

(2) Growing grafted seedling;

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

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

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

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

(7) placing sex pheromone

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

Undermining the risks of Btbrinjal

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Categories: Ecological News

Organic farming is an idea whose time has come

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

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

While US forced to import organic foods on consumer preference, India is pushing for GM crops

Ground Reality - Sat, 05/09/2015 - 14:42

While Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar is known to be aggressively pushing for more State Governments granting permission to hold field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops, the United States is being forced by growing consumer demand to import more of organic foods.
According to trade data compiled by the US Organic Trade Association and the Pennsylvania State University, the rising demand for organic foods has pushed the import bill for corn and soybean, the two most important GM crops being cultivated in America. Although corn and soybean go primarily into cattle and poultry feed, consumers are increasingly wanting milk and food products to be free of GM ingredients.
While import of soybean from India has more than doubled to $ 73.8 million in 2014, import of organic corn into US from Romania has risen from $545,000 in 2013 to more than $ 11.6 million in 2014, just in a gap of one year.
Most imports of organic corn and soybean into US is from Romania, Turkey, Netherlands, Canada, Argentina and India.
In India, 4 State Governments – Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Punjab – have allowed field trials of GM crops. Pressure is mounting on other State Governments to fall in line. The biotech industry led by the Association of Biotec Led Enterprises (ABLE) has reportedly written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to expedite the regulatory process for clearing the field trials.
Sales of foods free of synthetic chemicals and GM ingredients in the US have reached $ 35.9 billion in 2014, Bloomberg reports. It shows an annual increase of 11 per cent, which is indicative of the rising preference for organically produced foods. Led by the White House where the First lady Michelle Obama grows only organic food in the sprawling gardens and is also known to serve organic food to guests, the consumer preference for safe and healthy foods in the US is growing rapidly.
Since most of the GM crops have led to the doubling in the application of chemical herbicides like Glysophate – whose use has increased to over 283.5 million pounds in 2012 – and has also led to the emergence of superweeds in some 60 million acres of crop land, there are questions being asked on the need to promote GM crops which exacerbate environmental damages. More so with WHO classifying Glysophate as a probable carcinogen, public opinion as seen in grocery sales data is indicates a gradual shifting to safe foods grown without the use of chemicals and GM.
While the export of soymeal from India to US has shown an increase, India’s soymeal exports for feed purposes are down to a 26-year low with Iran and Japan shifting to cheaper supplies from China, Brazil and Argentina.  This is worrying considering that India had dominated the soymeal market all these years. It was primarily because of the resistance from the Soybean Processor Association of India (SOPA) that former Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh during his tenure had opposed research trials of GM Soybean. The industry had claimed that importers preference for Indian Soymeal would be lost once contamination from GM crops becomes obvious.
This is also true for exports of commodities like rice, including basmati, for which GM crops are being readied. Allowing GM rice field trials, even if its cultivation was excluded from the biodiversity rich hotspots including in Orissa where it is believed to have originated, would not be able to curtail contamination. One the genie is out, it is out. Considering that rice and corn shipments detected with GM ingredients have been sent back by some countries in the recent past, India’s rice exports too could face a formidable challenge. India is at present the biggest exporter of rice. 
At a time when no GM crop is known to increase crop productivity, utmost caution has to be adopted before the country is opened up for field trails. India cannot allow its agricultural commodity exports to suffer. Research can easily be conducted under contained conditions, and it is open secret that the push for field trials (in large areas) is primarily for seed production interests. #
While US forced to import organic foods on consumer preference, India is pushing for GM May 8, 2015. 
Categories: Ecological News

Agriculture Crisis in India, as I see it.

Ground Reality - Mon, 05/04/2015 - 12:08

On April 22, 2015, Ravish Kumar of NDTV India invited me for a walk the talk at a farm in Karnal. We dwelled upon various aspects of Indian agriculture, what ails the farming sector and what could be the possible solutions. I hope you find this useful.

The same day, I also did an hour-long interview with journalist S P Singh for his show Daleel on the popular Punjabi TV channel -- PTC News. Please look at both the shows and let me have your feedback.
Categories: Ecological News

Private Sector alone cannot be expected to create jobs.

Ground Reality - Mon, 05/04/2015 - 08:32

 The long queue of job seekers - AFP photo
Despite racing ahead in economic growth, surpassing China’s slowing economy; India is unable to keep pace when it comes to creating jobs. A survey by Labour Bureau shows that job growth has declined in the third quarter of 2014-15.
During the quarter October-December 2014, only 1.17 lakh jobs were created in eight key sectors of the economy. A careful perusal shows that job growth has been steadily on the decline in the first three quarters of the year. From 1.82 lakh jobs created in April-June, it came down to 1.58 lakh jobs in July-September; and further slid to 1.17 lakh jobs in October-December 2014.
Total jobs created in the first three quarters of 2014-15 therefore add to 4.57 lakh. At this rate, even if take the highest figure of job creation in 2014 for the first quarter of 2014 as the likely jobs to be created in the fourth quarter January-March 2015, the total jobs created would be somewhere around 5.40 lakh. India needs to create about 1.2 crore jobs every year to cater to the needs of the aspiring workforce waiting to enter the job market every year.
The dismally low job growth is being witnessed at a time when economic growth has been revised upwards for 2014-15 fiscal. The government has pegged economic growth for 2014-15 fiscal at 7.4 per cent.

The declining rate of job creation at a time when the economic growth has been on an upswing defies the academic assumption that the higher the growth more will be the employment generation. Recall the period when Dr Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister in 2004. Between 2004 and 2009, India’s GDP grew at a stupendous rate of over 8 per cent, and clocked 9.3 per cent at its best. Going by the general economic prescription, the high growth rate should have created a large number of jobs.
It didn’t happen. On the contrary, India witnessed a jobless growth when its GDP was galloping ahead. A Planning Commission study shows that 140 million people left agriculture in the period 2005-09. Those quitting agriculture are generally believed to be entering the manufacturing sector. But even in the manufacturing sector, 53 million jobs were lost.
The question that crops up is where the 140 million who quit agriculture, and the 53 million who were shunted out of the manufacturing sector, finally go to? The only plausible answer is they joined the ever-growing army of daily wage workers in the cities or became landless farm workers. 
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. This establishes the argument that more and more people are joining the daily wage worker class, whether on the farm or in the cities.
If providing more and more workforce with jobs that are akin to daily wagers (dehari mazdoor); what becomes obvious is that the fruits of economic growth are simply not benefitting the common man. It is time to rethink and revisit the economic growth model to see where an economically-secure employment environment can be created. When I look around I am baffled to find that millions of jobs in the formal sector are lying vacant, and in fact such vacancies are growing every month. Government as well as public sector institutions are being starved to death in the process. Appointments in place of those who are retiring are not being filled.
Almost all universities and government colleges have anything between 40 to 60 per cent of the jobs lying vacant. In schools, both primary and secondary, over 5 lakh jobs as per a conservative estimate are lying vacant. Add to this the jobs required in hospitals, police, postal services, and other government institutions, several million employment vacancies exist.
Filling these jobs will also raise GDP besides making these dying institutes functional. I fail to understand why are government bodies/institutes as well as public sector undertakings deliberately and systematically being killed. This cannot continue like this anymore. Job creation cannot be left to private sector alone. 
Where are the jobs? May 3, 2015.
Categories: Ecological News

Punjab's procurement muddle

Ground Reality - Wed, 04/29/2015 - 10:53

A Punjab farmer takes nap lying over the heaps of wheat bags he has brought to a mandi 
Everything seems to be going wrong for Punjab farmers. After unseasonal rains, hailstorm and strong winds in the past two months had left farmers battered, they didn’t realize that the worst was still to come. Unable to sell the rain-soaked wheat, and waiting endlessly for buyers in the mandis, their patience now seem to be running out.
First they protested in the mandis. Then they moved out to block trains and squat on the highways.  On Monday, seven trains were reportedly cancelled and at least four were terminated at Beas in Amritsar. The blockade affected super fast trains like Amritsar-New Delhi Shatabadi and Shane-e-Punjab trains. At several places, farmers blocked the highways to express their anger against the slow pace of procurement.
While the Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal once again promised to lift every grain of wheat that farmers bring to the mandis, Congress leaders Amarinder Singh and Pratap Singh Bajwa did the round of mandisto assuage farmers’ anger. Politics apart, what I find intriguing is how could Punjab falter on wheat procurement when it knew what was coming. The fault lines run deeper than the despair that I see on the faces of farmers.
Punjab has been procuring wheat and rice for several years now, and one would expect a well-oiled machinery to be in place. It was in the fag end of March that the State Food and Civil Supplies Minister Adaish Pratap Singh Kairon had announced that despite the rain damage Punjab expected to procure 140 lakh tones of wheat, against 129.35 lakh tones procured last year. Five State agencies – Pungrain, Markfed, Punsup, Punjab State Warehousing Corporation and Punjab Agro Industries – along with Food Corporation of India (FCI) were to start procurement operations beginning April 1 from 1,770 purchase centres.
Although the Centre had imposed quality cuts, considering that the rain-soaked wheat was damaged, shriveled and had lost its luster, the State government had assured to lift the entire stock that farmers would bring to the mandis. In reality, this did not happen because the procurement agencies were reluctant to buy wheat that did not conform to the specifications. Official claims notwithstanding, the fact remains no agency is keen to procure wheat stocks that they would find it difficult to store and dispose off at a later stage. The Centre had made it clear that the inferior quality wheat procured by the State government would have to be consumed in the public distribution system within the State. The State procurement agencies are therefore in a fix.  
At the same time I don’t understand why the State government failed to stock the gunny bags much in advance. While the grain markets were overflowing with wheat, at least 300 rail wagons carrying jute bags were stranded because of labour problems. To compound the problem, transport unions too are reportedly dilly-dallying on moving the wheat bags out of the mandis. As a result, while huge quantity of wheat is flowing into the mandisevery day, the grain markets are already choked. According to reports, 7.7 lakh bags of wheat lie in Khanna mandi alone, Asia’s biggest mandi.
Finding no space, farmers are dumping their stocks outside the mandis at many a places and waiting for their turn to sell. Even the small mandis are overflowing with grain.
I recall that during the time Surjit Singh Barnala was the Union Agriculture Minister in Morarji Desai’s government in 1977-78, a similar situation had developed in case of paddy. While Barnala had then relaxed the moisture norms from the existing 14 per cent to 18 per cent, no problems were encountered in procuring the moisture-laden paddy stocks. Since wheat is a lot hardier crop than paddy, I fail to understand why the State procurement agencies are not able to lift the wheat stocks.
Talking to farmers and senior officials, I am told the blame would rest primarily with the State Food and Civil Supplies department as well as the Punjab Mandi board. Food Minister Kairon has to explain why timely availability of jute bags was not ensured, and also his inability to tackle the transport union’s failure to life the stocks. At the same time, there are numerous reports of corrupt dealings with farmers being given kacchi parchi (receipts) and paid a distress price. I have been shown receipts which are blank. Rampant exploitation of farmers can only be witnessed if you visit any of the mandis.  
Despite such a vast network of purchase centres, I don’t find covered sheds erected in most mandis.There can be no excuse given the fact that the Punjab Mandi Board collects a lot of revenue from taxes. The mandiinfrastructure is awfully inadequate. Blaming the Centre and the Centre in turn blaming the State government is not the answer. If after five decades of Green Revolution, Punjab is faltering on procurement, the fault lines run deeper than what is visible. #  
Categories: Ecological News

Nehru was wrong. Why only poor, why can't the rich be also asked to sacrifice for the sake of country's development?

Ground Reality - Sat, 04/25/2015 - 10:32

Political leaders only expect the poor tribals to make a sacrifice for the sake of country's development. The rich are allowed to enjoy the fruits of development. They should not make any sacrifice !
In the midst of a highly polarized and surcharged political debate on the controversial land bill, the NDA government is reportedly planning to use quotes from Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi speeches to justify the need to displace farmers, tribals and poor for the sake of development. That underlying argument is: the poor must sacrifice for the sake of the country’s progress.
Soon after India attained Independence, Nehru had laid the foundation stone for the Hirakud dam over the Mahanadi river in 1948. Speaking on the occasion, Nehru had said: “If you have to suffer, you should do so in the interest of the country.”
I don’t agree. After all, why should it be always the poor who have to make a sacrifice for the sake of development? When was the last time you heard of any sacrifice being made by the middle class or for that matter the rich for the sake of country’s economic development? Does it not mean that the burden of development is solely borne by the poor while the rich eat the fruits and that without any remorse or guilt about the destruction wrought on the livelihood security of millions of underprivileged? Many generations have been lost in the continuing struggle by the displaced for getting their legitimate dues.
What probably Nehru did not visualize was that many of those who were displaced in 1948 by the Hirakud dam have still not been rehabilitated 68 years later. According to a study, some of those displaced were uprooted twice again to make way for some other development activities. Even a large number of those ousted from Bhakra dam, Tehri dam and Pong dam – the ‘modern temples’ as Nehru would call them -- have not been rehabilitated so far. I am not against the big dams or similar industrial projects, but how can the State and the society remain a mute spectator to the plight and suffering of those who were forcibly displaced? Why should they not be compensated and rehabilitated on a priority?
A 2011 study by the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, had pegged the number of displaced by dams, mines, industrial projects, wildlife sanctuaries/national parks at 50 million over the past 50 years. Several other estimates show that only a third of those displaced have been adequately rehabilitated so far.
Not only big dams and industrial corridors, land for railway tracks, roads, highways and electricity lines too have displaced farmers. Such is the callous attitude that the District Session Judge in Una in Himachal Pradesh recently had to order attachment of the Jan Shatabadi train to force Indian Railway to cough up the compensation amount to farmers whose land was acquired way back in 1998. All across the country, there are umpteen such examples where an indifferent State continues to harangue and harass the poor for their legitimate dues.
While the popular narrative conveniently blames farmers for coming in the way of country’s economic growth process, the government will never dare to acquire even a portion of the vast stretches of a golf course. You will see how the rich will force the government to retreat. Ask the government employees to forgo even one single installment of the Dearness Allowance in a year to help the government in balancing its fiscal act and you will see the employees resort to mass protest. At a time when the country needs investments, and is scouting for FDI, will it ever be possible to appeal to the government employees to forgo the 7th Pay Commission Award? And why not? 
Corporate India has been given a mammoth subsidy – categorized as tax concessions – to the tune of Rs 42-lakh crore since 2004-05. I sometimes wonder why can’t India Inc be asked to pay taxes (and not seek exemptions) to help the government in putting that money into the hands of farmers, and for rural development activities. Isn’t it the duty of the rich and the well-to-do to also make a sacrifice for the sake of country’s development? At least, India Inc can be asked to pay Rs 5.9-lakh crore in exempted taxes this financial year so as to wipe out the country’s worrying fiscal deficit of Rs 5.25 lakh crore. This money can be then used for country’s development. 

Nehru was wrong. It’s not only farmers and tribals who must sacrifice for the sake of development. April 25, 2015
Categories: Ecological News

How farmers have been deliberately kept impoverished. They carry the burden of providing cheaper food to you and me.

Ground Reality - Fri, 04/24/2015 - 08:00

New Delhi is in a state of shock. A 41-year-old farmer Gajendra Singh from Dausa in Rajasthan has brought farmer suicides right to its doorsteps. What was earlier a distant problem, far away from the seat of political power, is now staring at them in a discomforting close-up. So much so that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi was forced to acknowledge that he is shattered and disappointed, and in a subsequent tweet wrote: “At no point must the hardworking farmer think he is alone. We are all together in creating a better tomorrow for the farmers of India.”
In the past 6 weeks, in the aftermath of unseasonal rains, a little over 150 farmers have taken to gallows in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and in Maharashtra. While all these suicides were tragic and should have shaken up the administration, but I didn’t see the kind of shock and awe that we see now for any of those farmer suicides that happened outside New Delhi. In fact, all out efforts by State Governments are to deny that these farmers had even committed suicide because of a lingering crisis on the farming front.
While the politicians are battling it out in and outside parliament, blaming the other party for ignoring the farmers, the fact remains that both the major political parties have blood on their hands. Farmer suicides are not a recent phenomenon. In the past 20 years, almost 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide. On an average about 14 to 15,000 farmers are taking their own lives in a year, with two farmers dying every hour. Those who were committing suicide, and it does require tremendous courage to take your own life, were actually trying to make a political statement with their death. They failed to shake up the callous and insensitive system even by their death.
Soon after Gajendra Singh hanged himself at Jantar Mantar I find the TV channels have swung into action re-enacting scenes from the film Peepli Live. They are in Gajendra Singh’s village in Rajasthan, talking to each and sundry and telling us why he preferred to wear a particular kind of colourful pagri and so on. Every channel is now holding panel discussions calling spokespersons from different political parties who simply are using the media platform to say how white his shirt is by listing the number of steps taken to help farmers. There is hardly an effort to make a serious attempt to track down the fundamental reasons behind this serial death dance.  I am getting calls from newspapers who are asking me which areas their reporters should go to. A new face, a new name but the story will remain the same.
If I were to point to the primary and the most significant reason behind the continuing farmer suicides over the past two decades, I would narrow it down to the declining farm incomes. The 2014 report of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) tells us that the average monthly income that a farm family derives from farming activities is a paltry Rs 3,078. To make the ends meet, a farm family has to work in some other non-agricultural activities, including MNREGA. That makes for an average of Rs 6,000 per family per month. No wonder, 58 per cent farmers go to bed hungry, and 76 per cent want to quit agriculture if given a choice.
To look deeper, a colleague has meticulously done a comparative analysis. In 1970, the minimum support price for wheat was Rs 76 per quintal. Forty five years later, in 2015, wheat procurement price is Rs 1450 per quintal. In other words, in 45 years, wheat price has been raised by approximately 19 times. Let’s compare this increase in wheat prices for farmers with the increase in salaries for different sections. The average salary of central government employees has risen by 110 to 120 times; of school teachers by 280 to 320 times; of college/university teachers by 150 to 170 times; and of mid to high class corporate sector employees by 350 to 1000 times. In the same period, school fees have increased by 200 to 300 times; medical treatment cost has gone up again by 200 to 300 per cent; and average house rent in cities has risen by 350 times.
Farmer therefore is being made to pay the penalty for keeping food prices low. This year also, the wheat price has been raised by Rs 50 per quintal only so as to keep food inflation under control. Similarly, rice price for farmer has been raised also by Rs 50 per quintal. This increase comes to a paltry 3.2 per cent. Meanwhile the government employees have got a second installment of DA, a jump of 6 per cent. The employees will soon get the 7thPay Commission where the salary of the lowest employee – a chaprasi – is being demanded at Rs 26,000 per month.
If I were to go by the lowest rate of salary increase seen in the past 45 years, the wheat price for a farmer should have been raised by 100 times. This means, against Rs 1450 per quintal now, what farmers should have legitimately been paid should be 100 times of Rs 76 per quintal that he was given in 1970. This comes to Rs 7,600 per quintal. That is his due whether we like it or not. Now don’t get panicky. I do not want food inflation to go through the roof. All I am suggesting is that instead of putting the entire burden on the poor farmer, the way out should be to pay farmer a higher price and then subsidise the produce for the consumers. It is done in Japan, and it’s also done in other rich countries.
Unless the farm incomes are raised significantly, I don’t see anything working in favour of a farmer. To say that farmers need to raise crop productivity and utilize every drop of water is simply a way to sell newer technologies. Neither will loading farmers with more credit help them to be out of the debt trap. A farmer does not need credit, he needs income. We have deliberately deprived him of a reasonably good income over the years. Successive governments have deliberately kept him poor. #
Categories: Ecological News

Small Scale Farmers Cool the Planet

Navdanya Diary - Fri, 04/24/2015 - 03:23

Fair World Project: “Small-Scale Farmers Cool the Planet.” A 17-minute documentary highlighting the role of industrial agriculture in climate change while expounding on how small farmers are combating the climate crisis through regenerative organic agriculture.

Food, Farming and Climate Change: It’s Bigger than Everything Else

by Ryan Zynn – Fair World Project, April 2015

Photo Credit: Dennis Jarvis. Location: Vietnam


Record-breaking heat waves, long-term drought, “100-year floods” in consecutive years, and increasingly extreme superstorms are becoming the new normal. The planet is now facing an unprecedented era of accelerating and intensifying global climate change, with negative impacts already being widely felt. While global climate change will impact nearly everyone and everything, the greatest impact is already being felt by farmers and anyone who eats food.

When we think of climate change and global warming, visions of coal-fired power plants and solar panels come to mind. Policy discussions and personal action usually revolve around hybrid cars, energy-efficient homes and debates about the latest technological solutions. However, the global agriculture system is at the heart of both the problem and the solution.

Industrial agriculture is a key driver in the generation of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, heavy machinery, monocultures, land change, deforestation, refrigeration, waste and transportation are all part of a food system that generates significant emissions and contributes greatly to global climate change. Industrial agricultural practices, from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) to synthetic fertilizer-intensive corn and soy monocultures, genetically modified to tolerate huge amounts of herbicide, not only contribute considerable amounts of GHGs, but also underpin an inequitable and unhealthy global food system. Modern conventional agriculture is a fossil fuel-based, energy-intensive industry that is aligned with biotech, trade and energy interests, versus farmer and consumers priorities.

Farms and farmers are in the crosshairs of climate change. Though farmers have seen negative impacts related to climate change for decades, these impacts have been exacerbated in recent years. Even relatively small temperature increases are having significant impacts on farming, including accelerated desertification and salinization of arable land, increased presence of pests, crop losses due to high temperatures and flooding, and, paradoxically, increased clean water scarcity.

While many people may be familiar with the term “peak oil” to describe the diminishing supply of petroleum, few are familiar or prepared for “peak coffee.” Farmers and scientists now openly discuss the notion of “endangered crops,” including everything from cocoa and wine grapes to salmon and peanuts. The emergence of super-charged pests related to climate change, like the “La Roya” coffee fungus in Central America, is threatening not only our morning cup of joe, but the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of small-scale farmers. The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) has detailed how much of Ivory Coast and Ghana, the two largest cocoa-producing countries in the world, will be too hot to grow cocoa by 2030. The average cocoa farmer’s plot in Ghana is five hectares, and farmers there are very reliant on income from cocoa sales.

Compared to large-scale industrial farms, small-scale agroecological farms not only use fewer fossil fuel-based fertilizer inputs and emit less GHGs, including methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide (CO2), but they also have the potential to actually reverse climate change by sequestering CO2 from the air into the soil year after year. According to the Rodale Institute, small-scale farmers and pastoralists could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available, safe and inexpensive agroecological management practices that emphasize diversity, traditional knowledge, agroforestry, landscape complexity, and water and soil management techniques, including cover cropping, composting and water harvesting.

Importantly, agroecology can not only sequester upwards of 7,000 pounds of CO2 per acre per year, but it can actually boosts crop yields. In fact, recent studies by GRAIN ( demonstrate that small-scale farmers already feed the majority of the world with less than a quarter of all farmland. Addressing climate change on the farm can not only tackle the challenging task of agriculture-generated GHGs, but it can also produce more food with fewer fossil fuels. In other words, as the ETC Group ( has highlighted, industrial agriculture uses 70% of the world’s agricultural resources to produce just 30% of the global food supply, while small-scale farmers provide 70% of the global food supply while using only 30% of agricultural resources.

Small-scale farmers are especially critical to confronting the food and farming crisis at the root of climate change. Small-scale farms are demonstrably more resilient in the face of severe climatic events, weathering major storms much more effectively than large-scale industrial farms. Small-scale, agroecological farmers in particular have faired comparatively better after major hurricanes and storms. According to Food First executive Eric Holt-Gimenez, following Hurricane Mitch in 1998, a large-scale study on 180 communities of smallholder farms in Nicaragua demonstrated that farming plots cropped using simple agroecological methods, including rock bunds or dikes, green manure, crop rotation, the incorporation of stubble, ditches, terraces, barriers, mulch, legumes and trees, plowing parallel to the slope, live fences and zero-tillage, had on average 40% more topsoil, higher field moisture and fewer economic losses than control plots on conventional farms. Moreover, on average, the agroecological plots lost 18% less arable land to landslides and experienced 69% less erosion, compared to conventional farms.

Photo Credit: La Voix del Amerique. Location: Chad

In addition to their adaptability and resilience in the face of climate change, small-scale farmers play many other critical roles, from feeding their local communities to providing ecological services to the global community. As described by UC Berkeley Professor of Agroecology Miguel Altieri, small-scale farms act as biodiversity reservoirs. Compared to large-scale industrial monoculture operations, which plant just one variety of one crop, small-scale farmers often cultivate dozens, if not hundreds, of varieties and species used for food, fiber, fodder, fuel and medicine. It is not uncommon for small-scale farmers to plant a healthy genetic diversity of crops adapted to local conditions and well-suited for climatic variability and pest resistance. Agricultural biodiversity not only nourishes local farming communities and hedges against market and weather fluctuations, but it also fosters critical habitat for other flora and fauna. Farmer knowledge and social capital are crucial common denominators for vibrant and functional farming communities. Without the traditional knowledge of farmers, there is little hope to address climate change on the farm in a meaningful way.

While small-scale farmers are by and large more productive than large-scale farmers and play key roles in confronting climate change, we are losing them in many places, while large-scale farms are getting bigger and gaining more political and economic influence. Small-scale farmers and pastoralists are increasingly endangered and vulnerable to unfair trade agreements, collapsing financial markets, the export-oriented cash crops that global agriculture fuels, land grabs, the expansion of speculation within the food market, and the privatization of genetic resources, among other threats. Current prevailing policies and practices in trade, land use, energy use and patent law favor large-scale agribusinesses that contribute to climate change, while making it more difficult for small-scale sustainable farmers to stay on the land where they are able to produce food for the world and mitigate climate change. Without safeguards and support, we are putting both the global food supply and combating the climate crisis at risk.

Fair trade and climate change
Fair trade is often characterized as a “trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade.” Fair trade principles include long-term direct trading relationships, payment of fair prices and wages, no child, forced or otherwise exploited labor, workplace non-discrimination, gender equity, and freedom of association, among others. But fair trade is proving to be more than its original mandate, as it relates to climate change. Fair trade premiums — the additional sums of money beyond the fair trade price that are paid to producers for social, environmental and economic development projects — are proving to be effective vehicles for addressing climate change at the local level.

For example, COOCAFE, a coffee cooperative in Costa Rica, used its fair trade premiums to greatly reduce the amount of water used to wash coffee beans, allowing for other farmers to plant shade trees around their crops, which is good for both the quality of their crops and the environment. In Sri Lanka, the Serendipol fair trade organic coconut project uses its fair trade premium to provide free compost to all member farmers. In Uganda, tea farmers are reproducing drought-resistant varieties for distribution to other growers.

Beyond fair trade premiums, strong fair trade farmer organizations are critical vehicles for fortifying local farming communities through farmer exchange, education and advocacy. Fair trade farmer networks are integral for advancing agrocecology and social justice in the Global South.

Moving from despair to action
Author and activist Rebecca Solnit famously said of climate change that “It’s bigger than everything else.” Climate change is at the intersection of many social and environmental justice issues, and it is forcing us to question every aspect of our society and economy, including how we produce and distribute our food. The stakes are certainly high — and the window of opportunity is quickly closing.

Facing down climate change is both a challenge and an opportunity. Recreating a political economy that fosters and safeguards small-scale farmers is critical to addressing not only climate change but hunger and inequality as well. There are no policy “silver bullets” per se, but reforming the trade, subsidy and financial sectors is a good start. While we cannot buy our way out of the climate crisis with market alternatives alone, harnessing consumers’ purchasing power does make a difference. Committed fair trade brands, partnering with small-scale family farmers, are leading the transition to a just and climate-friendly economy — and purchasing from these brands deepens the impact of fair trade on local communities.

Last, but not least, taking small, yet impactful steps at home can have huge positive benefits. Simple actions, like home composting and gardening, can not only reduce one’s carbon footprint and feed one’s family, but can also directly connect one with the global movement of small-scale farmers addressing global climate change.

Here are some ways to take action:

1) Support Fair World Project’s Climate Policy Platform. FWP is coordinating a global effort to restructure local, national and international policy in favor of small-scale agroecological farmers. Visit for more information.

2) Plant a seed. Personal action does have an impact and can connect one to the greater global movement. Visit for more information.

3) Support fair trade committed brands. Committed fair trade brands are spearheading climate change adaptation, mitigation and reversal efforts on the ground. for more information.


Categories: Ecological News

Mere desh ki dharti…

Navdanya Diary - Thu, 04/23/2015 - 03:00

The Asian Age, 22 April 2015

Photo Source: (Becket films: – screenshot)


In living soil lies the solution to climate change… Yet it is the soil itself that is being forgotten and buried under a borrowed paradigm of ‘cementification is progress’.

At this fragile moment of human evolution, Mother Earth Day, April 22, 2015, offers us a moment to reflect on the state of the Earth and the human condition, as well as an opportunity to renew our pact as members of the Earth family — Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam.

Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam is a worldview from which flow paradigms, policies, practices, as well as vision and values.

Science is reaffirming the worldview of life as an interconnected web. From soil to plants, from insects to animals, life is a food web. The Taittiriya Upanishad recognised this thousand years ago with the verse, “Everything is food; everything is something else’s food”.

The Upanishad also says that growing and giving good food in abundance is the highest dharma, and growing and giving bad food is the highest form of adharma. That is why growing and eating organic food without violence to the soil is our sacred duty. And growing and eating food with chemicals, pesticides, genetically modified organisms or junk food violates ecological ethics, our cultural ethics and the laws of health and nutrition.

Our farmers are in distress. Farmers committing suicide is a symptom of an exploitative agriculture which extracts fertility from the soil and wealth from farmers. Globalisation and neo-liberal policies, which put the rights of corporations above nature and people’s rights, are at the root of the farmers’ distress.

Since 1995, nearly 300,000 farmers have committed suicide. In Vidarbha, it is because of the greed of Monsanto, an agricultural biotechnology corporation which increased seed costs by more than 70,000 per cent and forced cotton farmers to commit suicide. In West Bengal, it is the greed of Pepsi. The potato farmer receives only Rs 0.20 per kg for potatoes for which the consumer pays Rs 200 in the form of Lays chips. The consumer also pays with their health through diseases linked to junk food.

This year climate chaos has added to the farmers’ distress with rain and hailstorms at harvest time destroying crops and, with it, farmers’ livelihoods.

More than 100 farmers have committed suicide in Uttar Pradesh because of crop damage last month.

A deep concept of Indian civilisation is “rta” — the path of dharma, the way that maintains the right order based on right livelihood. From rta flows ritu — the stable pattern of our seasons and climate. When we adopt policies and lifestyles that are in violation of the laws of the Earth based on anrita (the creation of disorder), it often results in ritu asantulan (climate disorder).

In my book Soil, not Oil (2007), I have assessed that more than 40 per cent of greenhouse gases that lead to climate change are contributed by industrial, globalised agriculture. These chemical monocultures are also more prone to failure due to extended droughts, intense floods and untimely rains.

On the other hand, organic farming reduces emissions and also makes agriculture more resilient to climate change. Navdanya’s research has shown that organic farming has increased carbon absorption by 55 per cent. International studies show that with two tonne per hectare of soil organic carbon, we can remove 10 gigatonne of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which can reduce atmospheric pollution to 350 parts per million.

A one per cent increase in soil organic matter can increase soil water holding capacity by 100,000 litres per hectare, five per cent can increase it to 800,000 litres. This is our insurance against climate change, both when there is drought and too little rain, and when there are floods and excess rain. On the other hand, cement and concrete increases the runoff of water, aggravating floods and drought. We witnessed this in Uttarakhand floods in 2013 and in the Kashmir disaster in 2014.

In living soil lies the solution to climate change, both through mitigation and adaptation. Yet, it is the soil itself that is being forgotten and buried under a borrowed paradigm of “cementification is progress”.

Our Mother Earth is being sacrificed for short-term growth based on the greed of a few.

Some 4,000 years ago our ancient Vedas had guided us, “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Care for it, and it will grow our food, our fuel, our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it, and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.”

The Land Acquisition Bill reduces land to a commodity, violating our cultural ethics of sacred soil, which has sustained us over millennia. It is blind to the ecological functions and services that living soil contributes. On a global scale, the destruction of these services has been assessed as amounting to $20 trillion annually.

The Isha Upanishad clearly says that this universe is sacred and for the benefit of all, anyone taking more than their share is a thief. Mahatma Gandhi distilled this wisdom in his famous quote, “The Earth has enough for everyone’s needs, but not for some people’s greed”.

Those who support the Land Acquisition Bill are proposing that our small farmers should disappear, giving way to corporate farming based on chemicals and GMOs.

United Nations studies and Navdanya’s work have shown that small farmers produce more food than large industrial farms. Nutrition per acre can be doubled and rural incomes increased 10-fold through organic farming.

The solution to poverty, the agrarian crisis, the health and malnutrition crisis is the same — care for the soil and care for our farmers who care for the soil and our health.

An economic system that violates the Earth’s rights also violates human rights because we are inseparable from the Earth. We are members of Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam. We need a new pact with the Earth as members of the Earth family, a pact to create a new non-violent economy and Earth democracy in which the contributions and rights of the last species and the last person to the creative gifts of the earth are taken into account.

The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust

Categories: Ecological News

How long will we continue to have a primitive form of crop insurance?

Ground Reality - Mon, 04/20/2015 - 15:52

My daughter, studying in the US, recently shifted to a new flat in the suburbs of Los Angeles.  I went to Google maps on the internet, and after a few minutes of tracking, was able to locate her house on the map. The picture of the building where the flat was located was in front of me. Looking at the locality, the surroundings and the landscape around, I became confident that she’s living in a decent and safe locality.
Why I am narrating this is to explain how technology has made it possible for us to even spot a house thousands of miles away and also counts the number of trees. Forest cover is being determined by satellite images. Crop estimates are being prepared using remote sensing data. But when it comes to assessing crop losses that farmers suffer from weather anomalies, the insurance companies backtrack. If a farmer’s crop is completely destroyed, the crop damage that the insurance companies offer to compensate him is the average loss in 70 per cent of the block.
This primitive insurance system prevails at a time when unseasonal rains, hailstorm and strong winds have caused extensive damage to the standing crops. With crop damage extending to over 11 million hectares in 14 States, crop losses have already dealt a severe blow to farmers. With rains continuing to dampen farmer hopes, and with nearly 200 farmers committing suicide, many of them dying from shock, an effective crop insurance scheme could have minimized the blow. If your car gets a hit, you can claim the damage. If your house is burnt down the insurance company will pay compensation irrespective of whether other houses in the colonies suffered or not. Why then an average in a block is taken as a measure for crop losses suffered by a farmer in a village is something I have never been able to understand. It is simply the failure of the government to make it obligatory for the insurance companies to provide per unit coverage to farmers that has left the farming community hapless. Insurance companies will obviously resist, but the government must ensure that they are made to deliver. Crop loss assessment must shift per unit basis, insuring each and every farmer.
But for nearly three decades, I have watched with dismay the reluctance on the part of successive governments to provide for any meaningful crop insurance plan for farmers. The comprehensive crop insurance scheme that the Ministry of Agriculture has now prepared – called, the National Crop Income Insurance Scheme (NCIIS) – and expected to be soon piloted in 50 districts across the country, is unlikely to provide any succor to the beleaguered farming community facing crop losses. What shocks me is that even after three decades, all that the government has managed to come up with is a shoddy proposal, a rehash of an earlier failed Farm Income Insurance Scheme introduced in 2003, and withdrawn in 2004.
As the name suggests, the scheme is designed to provide insurance against fall in prices as well as drop in crop yields. In case of yield losses from natural calamities, a disease attack or otherwise, it still follows the primitive methodology of basing the compensation on 70 per cent of the average loss in a district. This only shows that the planners haven’t learnt anything from the technological improvements.  The NCIIS draft does illustrate 4 probable scenarios and the compensation that a farmer will get in each of these. For instance, if a farmer’s yield is 4 tonnes/hect and indemnity being 70 per cent, the compensation would be worked out based on 2.8 tonnes only.
The guaranteed income that the farmers will get under the new insurance scheme would be to a maximum of 20 per cent of the price fall (against the Minimum Support Price) that a farmer suffers. It is based on a threshold yield, the average yield for past 7 years in a district. In other words, if the wheat MSP is Rs 1450 per quintal, and the farmer gets only Rs 900 by selling it openly in the market, the assured price that the farmer will get is Rs 900 plus 20 per cent of the gap between market price and MSP. Against Rs 1450, a farmer under the new insurance scheme can expect a maximum of Rs 1110 per quintal. This is distress price. If a distress price is all that the government assures it will provide to farmers, I think the message is clearly on the wall. Farmers must quit agriculture. 
The only good news on this front that I can share is Madhya Pradesh chief minister’s promise of setting up a State Crop Insurance scheme wherein farmers will be insured on per unit basis, and not on block averages. I hope more and more chief ministers understand the need for a crop insurance that is effective and meaningful. 
Govt lets down farmers yet again. Hindustan Times, Chandigarh.April 20, 2015. 
Categories: Ecological News

All pesticides listed by WHO as 'cancer causing' are used widely in India

Ground Reality - Thu, 04/16/2015 - 08:38


Five popular chemical pesticides – Glyphosate, Parathion, Malathion, Diazinon and Tetrachlorvinphos – that the research arm of the World Health Organisation (WHO) categorized as ‘probable or possible carcinogenic’ are widely used in India.
While the report has triggered a massive debate in Europe and America on the need to regulate or ban these pesticides, it has been simply glossed over by policy makers, scientists and environmentalists in India. For a country which spends more time discussing pedestrian issues, health and environment are far away from national concerns.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) at Lyon, in France, has categorized the most popularly used herbicide Glyphosate, which comes branded as Roundup, as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’.  Two of the pesticides – Tetrachlorvinphos and Parathion – have been classified in the 2B category and rates as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’ while three other chemicals – Malathion, Diazinon and Glyphosate – as ‘probably carcinogenic’ and put in the category 2A. These are all organophosphates. 
In India, while Roundup is the most popular used herbicide, Methyl Parathion, Malathion and Diazinon too are widely used in agriculture. Tetrachlorvinphos is approved for flies and ticks. Interestingly, many of the chemicals are approved for restricted use, knowing very well there is no way to check its actual application. Take for instance Methyl Parathion. Its use is banned for fruits and vegetables, and also for crops where honeybees are acting as pollinators. How can the Central Insecticides Board expect farmers to make a distinction between honeybee pollinating crops and other when applying Methyl Parathion?
Similarly, Diazinon is banned for use in agriculture except for household purposes. Is there any way to police the farmers after they have purchased the chemical from the market? How will you know, given the educational standard of Indian farmers, whether they read the fine print on the pesticides container and apply accordingly? Take Methyl Parathion use in fruits and vegetables. It is officially banned, but it is widely known that traders dip certain vegetables in Methyl Parathion solution as it provides shine to the veggies.
The pesticides registration process therefore is a sham. Since it escapes public scrutiny, I haven’t seen the working of the Central Insecticides Board ever come under the scanner of the investigating agencies. Some 860 pesticides are registered for use in India. As many as 67 pesticides banned in other countries, are being used in India.
There is a strong lobby in favour of chemical pesticides, and every time environmentalists question the need for some of these pesticides on health and environment grounds, a court case is often slapped. So much so that film star Aamir Khan too was served legal notices after his show on pesticides in Satyamev Jayate. Nevertheless, I still remember a study published by Dr David Pimental of the Cornell University in the late 1970s wherein he estimated that 99.9 per cent of the pesticides go into the environment and only 0.1 per cent of the pesticides hit the target pests. I had always wondered why this study was never taken seriously by agricultural scientists knowing very well how toxic these chemicals are.
The International Rice Research Institute, in Manila, the Philippines, too showed in early 2000 that pesticides on rice in Asia were ‘a waste of time and effort’. The IRRI study showed how farmers in Central Luzon province of the Philippines, and in Vietnam, Bangladesh and India were producing a bumper rice harvest without using chemical pesticides. Even this report was never taken seriously by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the umbrella organization for farm research in the country. And when I hear Ajay Vir Jakhar, president of the Bharat Krishak Samaj say that pesticides use in wheat has gone up by 300 per cent, a crop which is generally considered to be hardy not requiring much application of chemical pesticides, it clearly shows how ruthlessly harmful pesticides are being promoted. 
Genetically modified (GM) crops have further pushed the application of chemical herbicides through the spread of herbicide-tolerant crops. It is primarily for this reason that the global market for pesticide is expected to grow from $ 197.9 billion in 2014 to $ 207.9 billion in 2015 and soar to $257.7 billion in 2019 (see the industry report: The WHO report should therefore be used as a loud warning, and immediate corrective steps are called for. We can ignore the warning at our own peril.
Categories: Ecological News

Killing farming by simply keeping the farm incomes low.

Ground Reality - Tue, 04/14/2015 - 10:42

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a higher relief package for farmers. At the same time he has directed banks to restructure agricultural loans and also asked insurance companies to proactively settle the claims. “Helping farmers at this time of distress is the govt’s responsibility,” the prime minister assured the nation, stating that a team of central ministers were sent to the affected areas to assess the crop damage.
This is certainly a welcome step. But once the rains are over, the relief is distributed, and the nation’s attention shifts to how much is the loss in crop production and the resulting impact on food inflation, farmers will once again be forgotten.  This has been the travesty of farming all these years, and it is primarily for the deliberate neglect and apathy that agriculture continues to bleed.  In the past 20 years, close to 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide, 2 farmers every hour, and I am not sure how many more sacrifices are required before the nation sits back and takes notice.
Let’s be clear. The spate of farmer suicides in the wake of continuing spell of unseasonal rains is simply a reflection or a symptom of how fragile the farm economy is. Even a small aberration in weather – unseasonal rains, high winds, dry weather and drought – multiplies the risk factor for the farmers to a level that it becomes unmanageable.  Many farmers, who died in the past one month, died of heart attack, unable to bear the shock of seeing their healthy crop lying flat. Livelihood security therefore for any farming family hangs by a slender thread.
How fragile is the farm economy has been talked about very often, but little understood. It is generally believed that a reasonably good relief package at times of a calamity is enough to bring back the farmers economy. What is not know is that any natural calamities like heavy rains, floods and drought push back the farmer’s subsistence economy at least by three years.
To understand it a little more clearly I looked at the latest kharif and rabi reports of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP). Since farmers have been demanding a higher minimum support price (MSP) for wheat and paddy, and knowing that the Centre has already conveyed to the Supreme Court its inability to raise farm prices by 50 per cent as ‘it will distort market prices’ a careful perusal of the cost and income estimates by the CACP tells us why farmers are killing themselves. Unless the government makes a determined effort to provide farmers with a guaranteed monthly income package I don’t see any hope of reviving the sinking farm economy.
Let us look at the costs and the return from the cultivation of some of the major crops of the region. The CACP is government’s own organization which works out the MSP for farmers. Its calculations therefore are more accurate than any other study or survey. In its latest reports, CACP has calculated the average cost and returns for the period 2010-11 and 2012-13. Now hold your breath. Accordingly, the net return for wheat on all India basis stands at Rs 14,260 per hectare. For Mustard, the return is Rs 14,960; and for gram Rs 7,479.
Since most suicides happened in Uttar Pradesh, I looked at the cost and price calculations for wheat-rice cropping pattern that most farmers would follow. For wheat, the average net return or income that a farmer gets from one hectare is Rs 10,758. Since wheat is a 6-month crop, the average income a wheat farmer can expect from cultivating one hectare comes to a paltry Rs 1793. With such a low return from wheat cultivation, there would always be a possibility for a UP farmer to take to suicides. Let’s now look at his annual income. If he is cultivating rice, the net returns have been computed at Rs 4311 only. Add the returns for both wheat and paddy it comes to Rs 15,669 or Rs 1306 per month.
Now, you will say that the average in Punjab would be much higher than the national average. The CACP works out the average net return in Punjab for wheat at Rs 18,701 per hectare. For Bihar, where there are no regulated APMC markets, average farmer’s return is Rs 9,986, about half of what Punjab farmers get.
In the case of kharif crops, the CACP estimates are for the period 2009-10 to 2011-12. The net return for paddy for the country has been computed at a low of Rs 4,500 per hectare. For cotton, another major crop, the net returns are to the tune of Rs 15, 689; and for ragi millet it is actually negative. Looking at the State-wise average costs, the net returns for paddy for Punjab is Rs 17, 651. For Haryana, it is Rs 17,960 per hectare, and for Andhra Pradesh Rs 6,483. Paddy farmers in Bihar and Assam get a negative return, which means they cultivate losses. The loss per hectare in Assam is Rs 3361 and in Bihar Rs 266.   
Since the general cropping pattern that Punjab and Haryana farmers follow in a year is also wheat followed by paddy, let us look at the combined returns for cultivating these two crops. Wheat provides the Punjab farmers with an average return of Rs 18,701 per hectare. Add to it the net return from paddy, Rs 17,651, the total a farmer earns from cultivating wheat and paddy in a year comes to Rs 36,352 from a hectare. For a month, the average a farming family in Punjab earns from one hectare is Rs 3,029. Yes, you got it right. It is Rs 3,029 per month.
If this is the average for Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, which is considered to be the country’s food bowl, I shudder to think of the plight of farmers elsewhere in the country. This is primarily the reason why farmers are committing suicide, and also why a majority wants to quit agriculture if given a choice. The desperate need therefore is to set up a National Farmers Income Commission with the mandate to work out an assured monthly package for farmers depending on his crop productivity and also the geographical location of the farm. If a chaprasi can get a minimum monthly salary of Rs 15,000: and a safai karamchari in UP is paid Rs 18,500 as basic salary, why should the annadata not be get an assured monthly package. Why should the farmers alone bear the cost of keeping food prices low for the middle class? #

Suicidal apathy. Orissa Post. April 16, 2015 

Why relief packages and loan waivers won't enough to stem farm suicides. IndiaTogether. April 13, 2015

जाना पहचाना संकट. Dainik Jagran, April 11, 2015
Categories: Ecological News

GM Bt brinjal fails for second year in Bangladesh

Navdanya Diary - Sat, 04/11/2015 - 02:58

GMWatch, 21 March 2015

GM plants either died out prematurely or fruited insignificantly compared to the locally available varieties


The Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), which is distributing Bt brinjal saplings, must cease this cruel experiment at the expense of Bangladeshi farmers. The chief promoter of the failed GM Bt brinjal, BARI director general Rafiqul Islam Mondol, should resign.

Bt brinjal was found to be toxic in Mahyco’s (subsidiary of Monsanto) own tests.

Bt brinjal turns out to be ‘upset case’ for farmers

New Age (Bangladesh), March 21, 2015

The cultivation of genetically engineered Bt Brinjal in the country’s several districts has cost the farmers their fortunes again this year as the plants have either died out prematurely or fruited very insignificantly compared to the locally available varieties, reports United News of Bangladesh.

Spot visits to 12 Bt Brinjal fields in Manikganj, Narsingdi and Comilla over the last one month hardly found any living or properly fruiting plant on those fields.

BARI Bt Brinjal 2 (Bt-Nayantara) and BARI Bt Brinjal 3 (Bt-Kajla) were cultivated by four farmers at Pouli village in Manikganj Sadar under the supervision of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI). The fields belonging to Afzal Hossain and Md Mannaf have turned out to be an ultimate upset as each of the two fields appears half-barren as one looks at.

‘We’ve removed most of the plants after those had died about 15 days ago. The officers (BARI officials) told us to do so to prevent the spread of the disease. Despite that the rest of the plants are dying out in numbers every day,’ Mannaf’s wife Lovely Begum said.

Although only a few of the Bt Brinjal plants have died so far in two other fields cultivated by Boltu Miah and Abul Hossain, who are brothers, of the same village, the fruiting of the plants is nowhere near the satisfactory level, said Lal Chand, father of the two brothers.

The two Bt Brinjal varieties were also cultivated by three farmers at Dhanua village in Shibpur upazila of Narsingdi. All of them ended up miserably.

Md Abul Hayat, who is respected as a successful farmer in the locality, said, ‘Most of the saplings (of Bt Brinjal) have died. The plants are prone to diseases. The officials said it’s due to bacterial attack and prompted by irrigation and soil-type.’

‘If irrigation and soil-type had been a problem, why the local brinjal plants on my other field had not been affected?’ he questioned pointing to a brinjal field beside his Bt Brinjal one.

‘One can’t believe that just one month ago, the plants on my field (Bt Brinjal) were most good looking ones among all the brinjal fields in Shibpur. They (officials) came to my field and took photos and videos of the plants at that time,’ Hayat noted.

The sight of the Bt Brinjal field of Md Alamgir of neighbouring Baghab village in the upazila was more pathetic. ‘Many of the saplings had died at an earlier stage… one month into the planting. The officials replaced the dead plants with fresh ones but those have died too,’ he said.

Harun Mirza, Dilip Kumar Das and Mohammad Ali of Burichong upazila in Comilla planted BARI Bt Brinjal 1 (Bt-Uttara) and BARI Bt Brinjal 4 (Bt-ISD 006) on about 18-20 decimal plots. All the three claimed that around 150-200 of the 500-700 saplings that were provided to them died earlier within one month’s of the planting.

The fresh plants that replaced the dead plants also could not survive, while the most of the rest are also dying out, they added.

Mohammad Ali of Nimsar village in the upazila also showed several plants of BARI Bt Brinjal 4 variety that were affected by Brinjal Fruit and Shoot Borer (BFSB) insects. ‘We were told that these brinjal varieties are resistant to Phol of Doga Chidrokari Poka (BFSB), but the plants on my field have come under its attack,’ he said while showing an affected plant.

Meanwhile, farmers in Sherpur, Mymensingh, Rangpur, Dinajpur, Rajshahi, Pabna, Jessore, Gazipur and Tangail districts shared similar experiences with this UNB correspondent when they were contacted over phone.

At least 25-150 of the Bt Brinjal plants died on each of the Bt Brinjal fields in these districts. The dead plants also include some of BARI Bt Brinjal 5 variety that was cultivated in Dinajpur.

Md Haminur Rahman and Md Mobarak Hossain of Sherpur Sadar upazila said they have harvested 8-10 maunds of Bt Brinjal three months since the planting. It is less than half the amount that could by this timeframe be harvested from a local brinjal field of the same size, they noted.

Ramzan Ali of Jhikargachha upazila in Jessore said most of the Bt Brinjal plants in his field had died.

Asked about the dying of Bt Brinjal plants in the districts mentioned above, BARI director general Rafiqul Islam Mondol said, ‘We didn’t claim that the Bt Brinjal plants will not be affected by diseases. Our claim was that Bt Brinjal is resistant to BFSB.’

Asked about the BFSB infestation in at least one Bt Brinjal field in Comilla, he said, ‘I don’t have any such information. One or two non-Bt plants can be mistakenly grouped with the Bt plants in that field.’

Categories: Ecological News

We’re treating soil like dirt. It’s a fatal mistake, as our lives depend on it

Navdanya Diary - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 00:10

by George Monbiot — The Guardian, 25 March 2015

‘While it now seems that ploughing of any kind is incompatible with the protection of the soil, there are plenty of means of farming without it.’ Photograph: Lester Lefkowitz/Corbis


Imagine a wonderful world, a planet on which there was no threat of climate breakdown, no loss of freshwater, no antibiotic resistance, no obesity crisis, no terrorism, no war. Surely, then, we would be out of major danger? Sorry. Even if everything else were miraculously fixed, we’re finished if we don’t address an issue considered so marginal and irrelevant that you can go for months without seeing it in a newspaper.

It’s literally and – it seems – metaphorically, beneath us. To judge by its absence from the media, most journalists consider it unworthy of consideration. But all human life depends on it. We knew this long ago, but somehow it has been forgotten. As a Sanskrit text written in about 1500BC noted: “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.”

The issue hasn’t changed, but we have. Landowners around the world are now engaged in an orgy of soil destruction so intense that, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world on average has just 60 more years of growing crops. Even in Britain, which is spared the tropical downpours that so quickly strip exposed soil from the land, Farmers Weekly reports, we have “only 100 harvests left”.



To keep up with global food demand, the UN estimates, 6m hectares (14.8m acres) of new farmland will be needed every year. Instead, 12m hectares a year are lost through soil degradation. We wreck it, then move on, trashing rainforests and other precious habitats as we go. Soil is an almost magical substance, a living system that transforms the materials it encounters, making them available to plants. That handful the Vedic master showed his disciples contains more micro-organisms than all the people who have ever lived on Earth. Yet we treat it like, well, dirt.

The techniques that were supposed to feed the world threaten us with starvation. A paper just published in the journal Anthropocene analyses the undisturbed sediments in an 11th-century French lake. It reveals that the intensification of farming over the past century has increased the rate of soil erosion sixtyfold.

Another paper, by researchers in the UK, shows that soil in allotments – the small patches in towns and cities that people cultivate by hand – contains a third more organic carbon than agricultural soil and 25% more nitrogen. This is one of the reasons why allotment holders produce between four and 11 times more food per hectare than do farmers.

Whenever I mention this issue, people ask: “But surely farmers have an interest in looking after their soil?” They do, and there are many excellent cultivators who seek to keep their soil on the land. There are also some terrible farmers, often absentees, who allow contractors to rip their fields to shreds for the sake of a quick profit. Even the good ones are hampered by an economic and political system that could scarcely be better designed to frustrate them.

This is the International Year of Soils, but you wouldn’t know it. In January, the Westminster government published a new set of soil standards, marginally better than those they replaced, but wholly unmatched to the scale of the problem. There are no penalities for compromising our survival except a partial withholding of public subsidies. Yet even this pathetic guidance is considered intolerable by the National Farmers’ Union, which greeted them with bitter complaints. Sometimes the NFU seems to me to exist to champion bad practice and block any possibility of positive change.

Few sights are as gruesome as the glee with which the NFU celebrated the death last year of the European soil framework directive, the only measure with the potential to arrest our soil-erosion crisis. The NFU, supported by successive British governments, fought for eight years to destroy it, then crowed like a shedful of cockerels when it won. Looking back on this episode, we will see it as a parable of our times.

Soon after that, the business minister, Matthew Hancock, announced that he was putting “business in charge of driving reform”: trade associations would be able “to review enforcement of regulation in their sectors.” The NFU was one the first two bodies granted this privilege. Hancock explained that this “is all part of our unambiguously pro-business agenda to increase the financial security of the British people.” But it doesn’t increase our security, financial or otherwise. It undermines it.

The government’s deregulation bill, which has now almost completed its passage through parliament, will force regulators – including those charged with protecting the fabric of the land – to “have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth”. But short-term growth at the expense of public protection compromises long-term survival. This “unambiguously pro-business agenda” is deregulating us to death.

There’s no longer even an appetite for studying the problem. Just one university – Aberdeen – now offers a degree in soil science. All the rest have been closed down.

This is what topples civilisations. War and pestilence might kill large numbers of people, but in most cases the population recovers. But lose the soil and everything goes with it.

Now, globalisation ensures that this disaster is reproduced everywhere. In its early stages, globalisation enhances resilience: people are no longer dependent on the vagaries of local production. But as it proceeds, spreading the same destructive processes to all corners of the Earth, it undermines resilience, as it threatens to bring down systems everywhere.

Almost all other issues are superficial by comparison. What appear to be great crises are slight and evanescent when held up against the steady trickling away of our subsistence.

The avoidance of this issue is perhaps the greatest social silence of all. Our insulation from the forces of nature has encouraged a belief in the dematerialisation of our lives, as if we no longer subsist on food and water, but on bits and bytes. This is a belief that can be entertained only by people who have never experienced serious hardship, and who are therefore unaware of the contingency of existence.

It’s not as if we are short of solutions. While it now seems that ploughing of any kind is incompatible with the protection of the soil, there are plenty of means of farming without it. Independently, in several parts of the world, farmers have been experimenting with zero-tillage (also known as conservation agriculture), often with extraordinary results.

There are dozens of ways of doing it: we need never see bare soil again. But in the UK, as in most rich nations, we have scarcely begun to experiment with the technique, despite the best efforts of the magazine Practical Farm Ideas.

Even better are some of the methods that fall under the heading of permaculture – working with complex natural systems rather than seeking to simplify or replace them. Pioneers such as Sepp Holzer and Geoff Lawton have achieved remarkable yields of fruit and vegetables in places that seemed unfarmable: 1,100m above sea level in the Austrian alps, for example, or in the salt-shrivelled Jordanian desert.

But, though every year our government spends £450m on agricultural research and development – much of it on techniques that wreck our soils – there is no mention of permaculture either on the websites of the two main funding bodies (NERC and BBSRC) or in any other department.

The macho commitment to destructive short-termism appears to resist all evidence and all logic. Never mind life on Earth; we’ll plough on regardless.

• A fully referenced version of this article can be found at


Categories: Ecological News

Farmers have become a burden on the country. Their plight is deliberate.

Ground Reality - Thu, 04/09/2015 - 09:38

There is trouble on the farm front. With untimely rains accompanied by hailstorm and strong winds showing no signs of relenting, further deepening the prevailing agrarian crisis; and with the spate of farmer suicides on the rise, agriculture faces its worst ever crisis. While the rising number of farmer suicides is only a reflection of how fragile the agrarian economy is, the entire focus is on providing adequate relief and compensation to farmers who suffered crop losses.  
In this bargain, the real issues confronting farming are once again being sidelined. Once the rains are over, the relief is distributed, and the nation’s attention shifts to how much is the loss in crop production and the resulting impact on food inflation, farmers will once again be forgotten. This has been the travesty of farming all these years, and it is primarily for the deliberate neglect and apathy that agriculture continues to bleed. 

The intention is very clear. With the Centre conveying to the Supreme Court its inability in providing farmers with 50 per cent profit over the cost of cultivation, farmers are being left in the lurch. They are expected to fend for themselves, and face the vagaries of the markets once the Government begins to withdraw the minimum support price (MSP) for wheat and paddy. Economic Survey 2015 has made this amply clear.   
Farmers have reasons to feel betrayed. After a high-pitch election campaign a year earlier when the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi time and again promised to enhance the Minimum Support Price (MSP) by 50 per cent if his party comes into power, the government has simply backtracked on its promise. But soon after coming into power, the government raised the MSP for paddy and wheat by a paltry Rs 50 per quintal, which translates into an increase of 3.6 per cent, not enough to offset the additional burden of inflation at that time.
The farmers’ anger is quite justified. Despite being at the bottom of the pyramid, Indian farmers have not failed the nation. While they continue to produce a bumper harvest year after year, they are made to pay the price for keeping food prices low for consumers. A per the latest estimates of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) a famer family on an average earns only Rs 3,078 from farming operations. According to another survey, nearly 58 per cent of the farmers go to bed hungry. Another survey by Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) shows that 62 per cent farmers want to quit agriculture. 
On top of it, basmati rice and cotton witnessed a crash in its prices. While basmati rice production had doubled in Punjab and Haryana, an alarming dip in prices was observed. Disappointed farmers sold basmati at prices ranging between Rs 1600-2400 per quintal, against a price of Rs 3,261 to Rs 6,085 they got last year. In cotton too, prices slumped from an average of Rs 4,400 to Rs 5,200 per quintal last year to around Rs 3,000 this year, prompting the government to direct the Cotton Corporation of India to step in to buy at the procurement price of Rs 3,750 per quintal.
In Maharashtra alone, the downtrend in cotton and soybean prices had resulted in a loss of Rs 12,000-crores for farmers.
In case of sugarcane the situation is no better. In fact, reports of cane farmers committing suicide due to delayed payments have poured in recently from Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Despite the sugar sector decontrol coming into effect, the fact remains that the mills have still to clear cane price arrears of Rs 12,300-crore.
Appearing before a Supreme Court bench of Justices S J Mukhopadhaya and N V Ramana, the additional solicitor general Maninder Singh however said: Prescribing an increase of at least 50 per cent on cost may distort the market. A mechanical linkage between MSP and cost of production may be counter-productive in some cases.” He told the court that the pricing policy seeks to achieve the objective of fair and remunerative prices and is not an income policy. While the Court is still to deliver its verdict, in simple words, the government has expressed its inability to hike the MSP.
At a time when the industry has managed to even wrest out of cost accounting procedures in many important sectors like coal, natural gas and automobile, and therefore can arbitrarily fix any price for their products, I find it amusing to know that providing a higher price to farmers will distort the markets. Considering that only 6 per cent India’s 60-crore farmers get the benefit of MSP, and the remaining 94 per cent is in any case dependent on the vagaries of markets, which shows the markets are only exploiting the farmers. If the markets had provided farmers with an economic price, I am sure 94 per cent of the farming community would have been a happy lot by now.
The question of an ‘income policy’ for farmers therefore assumes importance in the wake of the serial death dance that continues to be enacted on the farms. Over 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide in the past 17 years.  Moreover, with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) breathing down the neck, and demanding freezing of MSP for farmers, it looks difficult whether the government will have the political courage to defy WTO. Given these circumstances, the best option is to start looking for a guaranteed monthly income for farmers, which benefits the entire farming community unlike the pricing policy through a system of providing MSP for wheat and rice farmers.
The real big bang in economic reforms would therefore be when the government constitutes a National Farmers Income Commission that works out a minimum assured monthly income that a farming family must get. Incorporating crop harvest and also basing the calculations on the geographical location of the farm, the Commission should be directed to provide a real time estimate of the farm income for various categories of farmers. If a chaprasi in the government can get a minimum basic salary of Rs 15,000 per month, I see no reason why the farmers should be deprived of his legitimate due. #

Farmers urgently need help. April 9, 2015. DNA Mumbai.   

खाली हैं अन्न उपजाने वाले हाथ April 9, 2015, Amar Ujala
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