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

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

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

I saw this happening when Mumbai was hit with flash floods in 2005. While 5,000 people were killed across Maharashtra, the deluge of Mumbai, the financial capital of India, donned the headlines. Many blamed the 18-km long Mithi river, which runs through densely populated and industrial areas of Mumbai and carries the overflow discharges of Powai and Vihar lakes to the Arabian Sea at Mahim Creek, responsible for the floods. Even the Mithi River Development Authority (MRDA) acknowledges: "The Mithi river used to serve as an important storm water drain but has been reduced to a sewer over the years."  
Before Mumbai, Hyderabad was hit by devastating floods in 2000. In 2009, again Hyderabad (and Kunool city) faced the fury of incessant rains flooding large parts of the city.  But interestingly, in 2000, the Geological Survey of India admitted "the August 2000 flood of Hyderabad cannot be considered as a result of the Nature's fury. It starkly exposes the deficiencies in planning of urban habitats in growing cities. Paradoxically, when Hyderabad was lashed by 24 cm of rain in 24 hours in August 2000, the adjacent districts of Mahabubnagar and Nalgonda were under the grip of drought-like or dry weather conditions due to scanty rainfall." (Read the full report here: August 2000 Flood in Hyderabad city. Causative factors and suggestions to avoid recurrence. http://www.portal.gsi.gov.in/gsiDoc/pub/cs_hydflood_aug00.pdf). 
Just to give you an idea of how unplanned urbanisation is taking a heavy toll. The Geological Survey report states, and I quote: "One such blatant violation of the urban development norms is conversion of a water tank known as Masab Tank, situated at the southern foothill limit of Banjara Hills, into currently a thickly populated residential-cum-commercial area. Further, the downstream side of the tank has been totally converted to residential areas such as Vijaya Nagar colony and Shanti Nagar ..Thus the active channels of streams that existed on the downstream side of these areas and colonies have disappeared." In the absence of any natural drainage, flooding is natural.  
Bangalore, New Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati ,... the story is same everywhere. 
It is however very convenient to shift the blame to climate change. At a time when people have become so used to climate aberrations, and have begun to club everything under the broader head of climate change, that I find the blame game shifting to reasons beyond your immediate control to be escapism and self-defeating. If the temperature goes up, blame it on climate; if the rains are late, blame it on climate, if the heat season prolongs, blame it on climate. In fact, Climate Change has been accepted as something beyond our control. Like for all the ills in our society we blame the politicians, similarly for all the development-induced disasters we don't want to take the blame on ourselves. Why blame yourself when you can easily pass on the buck. 
In case of Hyderabad, let's not forget the city had faced a major flood disaster about 100 years back, in 1908, when Musi river had gone on a rampage. Some reports say 15,000 were killed in the flood fury. In case of Srinagar also, the city had faced a big flood in 1893 itself. You'll agree we can't blame the climate change for those disasters.

After the Uttarakhand disaster of July 2013, which again was blamed on Climate Change by many experts, I had thought that the nation would sit back and draw some lessons. But nothing like that happened. In fact, the moment you raise the issue of unplanned urbanisation, a chorus rises accusing you of being anti-development. This is a class of people who remain unmoved by the catastrophic consequences of epic disasters like the Himalayan Tsunami that struck Uttarakhand and Kashmir. They are only interested in exploiting the natural resources to the hilt. As long as they make money, who cares if thousands (and millions who survive) have to pay the consequences with their lives.
In an aptly titled report: A threat everyone knew, but refuses to believe (The Tribune. Sept 14, 2014 http://www.tribuneindia.com/2014/20140914/pers.htm#1), the authors say: "The bowl-shaped lay of the land in Srinagar is such that once the Jhelum waters breach, there is nowhere for the floodwater to drain. this is a well-known fact that everyone has chosen to ignore." In an accompanying report, The Tribune states that the State Government officials admit that 50 per cent lakes, ponds and the wetlands in Srinagar have been converted into residential and commercial places. Wular lake, Asia's largest freshwater lake in Bandipora district, has shrunk by 87.58 sq kms. The famed Dal lake in Srinagar has shrunk to 12 sq kms (from 24 sq kms) and rapid siltation has reduced the average depth to 3 mts. The 165-kms long Jhelum river was pushed to the brink, and it obviously was waiting to retaliate one day.  
While the two environmental disasters of epic proportion had struck India in quick succession I had thought that the people in power would wake up to all that was going wrong. I had thought that the media, business and industry, the intelligentsia and the planners would be burning a lot of midnight oil, and at the same time holding wide ranging public hearings on how to minimise the environmental damage in the years to come. But on the contrary I hear the media relentlessly blaming the Ministry of Environment and Forests for blocking clearance to industrial projects. Such is the tirade against anything linked to environment that those who stand up to warn are accused of holding India's growth story. Kashmir paid for ignoring the repeated warnings. But the bigger question still remains. Will the government learn from the past mistakes and make appropriate corrections?  
Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has said when it comes to environmental clearances his Ministry's green light is always on. Reports of pending decisions to withdraw the provisions of allowing tribals to have their say before an industrial project is approved, dilution of the Indian Wildlife Act provisions, dumping of Madhav Gadgil report on Western Ghats are some of the steps that needs to be immediately reconsidered. Instead of protecting the environment to ensure that the disasters of Uttarakhand and Kashmir are not repeated, the powers that be need to understand that no amount of industrial growth can succeed in isolation. Environment is not a price that has to be paid for industrial growth. Environment is a pre-requisite for any development paradigm. Economy cannot grow on a dead planet. 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had assured from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Aug 15 that industrial growth has to come with 'Zero Effect', which means without any accompanying environmental destruction. If this does not happen, and is glossed over, let's be very clear: what happened at Srinagar will not be an isolated event. Every city will sooner or later have to meet the same fate. #        
Categories: Ecological News

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

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

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

Painting a rosy picture, Deccan Herald, Sept 9, 2014.
http://www.deccanherald.com/content/429821/painting-rosy-picture.html

गरीबी पर आंकड़ों का खेल Dainik Jagran, Sept 6, 2014
http://www.jagran.com/editorial/apnibaat-figures-on-poverty-11609424.html
Categories: Ecological News

100 Days performance: When markets begin to dictate economic agenda

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

Farmers are heading towards extinction.

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

Some years ago, former President APJ Abdul Kalam was addressing students at an annual event organised by K Govindacharya’s Bhartiya Swabhiman Andolan at Gulbarga in Karnataka. He exhorted students to work hard, educate themselves to become doctors, engineers, civil servants, scientists, economists and entrepreneurs. After he had ended his talk, a young student got up and asked why he didn’t say they should also become farmers.Abdul Kalam was floored. Whatever be his long winding answer, the young student had actually punctured his argument, and at the same time brought out the great bias towards farming.This incident came to my mind when I was reading a moving essay by a farmer from the United States. Bren Smith, a shellfish and seaweed farmer writes in The New York Times, “The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much-celebrated small-scale farmer isn’t making a living. After the tools are put away, we head out to second and third jobs to keep our farms afloat.” Accordingly, 91 per cent of all farm households in the US rely on multiple sources of income. No farmer wants his children to take up farming in North America.This is happening in a country where the Farm Bill 2014 makes a provision for $962 billion of federal subsidy support for agriculture for the next 10 years. In Europe, the situation is equally alarming. Despite 40 per cent of the European annual budget being devoted to agriculture, one farmer quits agriculture every minute. In Canada, the National Farmers Union has in a study shown that while the 70-odd agribusiness companies are raking in profits, farmers are the only segment of the food chain incurring losses. As I have been saying for long, more than 80 per cent of the agricultural subsidies in America and Europe actually go to agribusiness corporations.Farmers are a dying breed. Writing in Newsweek magazine, Max Kutner says: “For decades, farmers across America have been dying by suicide at higher rates than the general population. The exact numbers are hard to determine, mainly because suicides by farmers are under-reported (they may get mislabelled as hunting or tractor accidents, advocates for prevention say) and because the exact definition of a farmer is elusive.” Well, what is happening in America is not an isolated development; farmers are dying across the globe.According to news report, nearly 80 per cent of the 2,80,000 rural people who take their own lives every year in China are victims of farm land acquisition. In India, almost 300,000 farmers have ended their lives since 1995. Again, like in the US, farmer suicides are also under-reported in India with some states now trying to hide them by shifting these deaths to some other categories. Even in Europe, which provides massive subsidy support under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the serial death dance continues unabated. In France, 500 suicides have been reported in a year. In Ireland, UK, Russia, and Australia farmers, are a dying breed.In India, although we keep on saying that agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, in reality it isn’t. Employing some 52 per cent of the population, the share of agriculture in the country’s GDP has been progressively on the decline. It is less than 14 per cent now. I have been saying for long that small farmers have to get into multiple jobs to keep their chulas burning. Such is the pathetic state of Indian agriculture that some studies point to roughly 58 per cent farmers relying on MNREGA, which provides 100 days guaranteed employment.Still worse, the people who feed the country actually sleep hungry themselves. More than 60 per cent go to bed hungry every night. Nothing can be a worse illustration of the great tragedy on the farm.It’s not because of any unexplained natural calamity or the attack of a virus that the farms across the globe are dying. It is part of a global economic design to move farmers out of agriculture, and by doing so to shift food production into the hands of heavily subsidised and environmentally destructive agribusiness companies. It is generally believed that for any country to grow economically, the share of agriculture in the GDP must be brought down. In US, agriculture is only 4 per cent of its GDP. In India, it is less than 14 per cent now. By the end of 2020, I am sure it would be brought down to less than 10 per cent. Small scale agriculture is, therefore, deliberately being strangulated.Such is the plight of Indian agriculture that in six years — from 2007 to 2012 — 3.2 crore farmers have abandoned farming and moved into the cities looking for menial jobs. According to census 2011, every day 2,500 farmers quit agriculture. Some other studies have shown that roughly 50,000 people migrate from a village (and that includes farmers) into a town/city every day. As per a NSSO study, 42 per cent farmers want to quit if given an alternative.In Punjab, which is the frontline agricultural state in the country, 98 per cent rural households are under debt. Studies have shown that the average outstanding debt per household is about Rs4.5 lakh per year which accounts for 96 per cent of the yearly income. If farming is in such a terrible state in Punjab, the state of affairs in the rest of the country can be well imagined.In my understanding, the unwritten economic prescription is to make farming non-viable so that farmers are left with no other choice but to quit. In a quest to keep food prices low, which comes in very handy to freeze the minimum support price for farmers the predominant economic thinking supports large agribusiness conglomerates. This is being made much easier by the growing demand for amending the newly enacted land acquisition law. More and more land will now pass on into the hands of industry and real estate, forcing farmers to do menial jobs in the cities. The demise of the farmer therefore is predetermined. It’s only a matter of time before the farmer as a species goes extinct. That is why Abdul Kalam doesn’t talk of the pride in farming anymore. (this article is an expanded version of one of my earlier blog posts). #Source1. Nothing to plough back, DNA Mumbai. Aug 27, 2014.http://epaper.dnaindia.com/story.aspx?id=69990&boxid=19647&ed_date=2014-08-27&ed_code=820009&ed_page=82. त्रासदी की शिकार कृषि Dainik Jagran Aug 25 214. http://www.jagran.com/editorial/apnibaat-agriculture-victim-of-tragedy-11579455.html …
Categories: Ecological News

When will Indian agriculture become economically viable?

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

What going wrong with Indian agriculture?

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

Reisernte in Assam (© picture-alliance/AP)


























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

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

WTO objects

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

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

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

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

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

Agrarian Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

Green Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agriculture refugees

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Agriculture in 'terrible crisis.' http://www.bpb.de/internationales/asien/indien/190207/agriculture-in-terrible-crisis

In German: http://www.bpb.de/internationales/asien/indien/189174/landwirtschaft-in-der-krise


Categories: Ecological News

Industry-sponsored study tours are a malpractice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Big Business in India thriving on Crony Capitalism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Ecological News

Why do we need GM crops?

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


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

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

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

Categories: Ecological News

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

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

देविन्दर शर्मा, कृषि विशेषज्ञ

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

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


उत्पादन पर कोई खास असर नहीं

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

कीटनाशकों की बढ़ती खपत

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

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

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

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

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

Genetically modified crops’ field trials put on hold

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

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

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

Decision marks first successful policy intervention by Swadeshi Jagaran Manch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRIAL & ERROR?

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

 

                          
Categories: Ecological News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are just a few examples.

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

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

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

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

Sustainable Pulse – 28 July 2014

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

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

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

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

 

                          
Categories: Ecological News
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