Nehru was wrong. Why only poor, why can't the rich be also asked to sacrifice for the sake of country's development?
Political leaders only expect the poor tribals to make a sacrifice for the sake of country's development. The rich are allowed to enjoy the fruits of development. They should not make any sacrifice !
In the midst of a highly polarized and surcharged political debate on the controversial land bill, the NDA government is reportedly planning to use quotes from Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi speeches to justify the need to displace farmers, tribals and poor for the sake of development. That underlying argument is: the poor must sacrifice for the sake of the country’s progress.
Soon after India attained Independence, Nehru had laid the foundation stone for the Hirakud dam over the Mahanadi river in 1948. Speaking on the occasion, Nehru had said: “If you have to suffer, you should do so in the interest of the country.”
I don’t agree. After all, why should it be always the poor who have to make a sacrifice for the sake of development? When was the last time you heard of any sacrifice being made by the middle class or for that matter the rich for the sake of country’s economic development? Does it not mean that the burden of development is solely borne by the poor while the rich eat the fruits and that without any remorse or guilt about the destruction wrought on the livelihood security of millions of underprivileged? Many generations have been lost in the continuing struggle by the displaced for getting their legitimate dues.
What probably Nehru did not visualize was that many of those who were displaced in 1948 by the Hirakud dam have still not been rehabilitated 68 years later. According to a study, some of those displaced were uprooted twice again to make way for some other development activities. Even a large number of those ousted from Bhakra dam, Tehri dam and Pong dam – the ‘modern temples’ as Nehru would call them -- have not been rehabilitated so far. I am not against the big dams or similar industrial projects, but how can the State and the society remain a mute spectator to the plight and suffering of those who were forcibly displaced? Why should they not be compensated and rehabilitated on a priority?
A 2011 study by the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, had pegged the number of displaced by dams, mines, industrial projects, wildlife sanctuaries/national parks at 50 million over the past 50 years. Several other estimates show that only a third of those displaced have been adequately rehabilitated so far.
Not only big dams and industrial corridors, land for railway tracks, roads, highways and electricity lines too have displaced farmers. Such is the callous attitude that the District Session Judge in Una in Himachal Pradesh recently had to order attachment of the Jan Shatabadi train to force Indian Railway to cough up the compensation amount to farmers whose land was acquired way back in 1998. All across the country, there are umpteen such examples where an indifferent State continues to harangue and harass the poor for their legitimate dues.
While the popular narrative conveniently blames farmers for coming in the way of country’s economic growth process, the government will never dare to acquire even a portion of the vast stretches of a golf course. You will see how the rich will force the government to retreat. Ask the government employees to forgo even one single installment of the Dearness Allowance in a year to help the government in balancing its fiscal act and you will see the employees resort to mass protest. At a time when the country needs investments, and is scouting for FDI, will it ever be possible to appeal to the government employees to forgo the 7th Pay Commission Award? And why not?
Corporate India has been given a mammoth subsidy – categorized as tax concessions – to the tune of Rs 42-lakh crore since 2004-05. I sometimes wonder why can’t India Inc be asked to pay taxes (and not seek exemptions) to help the government in putting that money into the hands of farmers, and for rural development activities. Isn’t it the duty of the rich and the well-to-do to also make a sacrifice for the sake of country’s development? At least, India Inc can be asked to pay Rs 5.9-lakh crore in exempted taxes this financial year so as to wipe out the country’s worrying fiscal deficit of Rs 5.25 lakh crore. This money can be then used for country’s development.
Nehru was wrong. It’s not only farmers and tribals who must sacrifice for the sake of development.
ABPLive.in http://goo.gl/tGk6cR April 25, 2015
How farmers have been deliberately kept impoverished. They carry the burden of providing cheaper food to you and me.
New Delhi is in a state of shock. A 41-year-old farmer Gajendra Singh from Dausa in Rajasthan has brought farmer suicides right to its doorsteps. What was earlier a distant problem, far away from the seat of political power, is now staring at them in a discomforting close-up. So much so that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi was forced to acknowledge that he is shattered and disappointed, and in a subsequent tweet wrote: “At no point must the hardworking farmer think he is alone. We are all together in creating a better tomorrow for the farmers of India.”
In the past 6 weeks, in the aftermath of unseasonal rains, a little over 150 farmers have taken to gallows in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and in Maharashtra. While all these suicides were tragic and should have shaken up the administration, but I didn’t see the kind of shock and awe that we see now for any of those farmer suicides that happened outside New Delhi. In fact, all out efforts by State Governments are to deny that these farmers had even committed suicide because of a lingering crisis on the farming front.
While the politicians are battling it out in and outside parliament, blaming the other party for ignoring the farmers, the fact remains that both the major political parties have blood on their hands. Farmer suicides are not a recent phenomenon. In the past 20 years, almost 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide. On an average about 14 to 15,000 farmers are taking their own lives in a year, with two farmers dying every hour. Those who were committing suicide, and it does require tremendous courage to take your own life, were actually trying to make a political statement with their death. They failed to shake up the callous and insensitive system even by their death.
Soon after Gajendra Singh hanged himself at Jantar Mantar I find the TV channels have swung into action re-enacting scenes from the film Peepli Live. They are in Gajendra Singh’s village in Rajasthan, talking to each and sundry and telling us why he preferred to wear a particular kind of colourful pagri and so on. Every channel is now holding panel discussions calling spokespersons from different political parties who simply are using the media platform to say how white his shirt is by listing the number of steps taken to help farmers. There is hardly an effort to make a serious attempt to track down the fundamental reasons behind this serial death dance. I am getting calls from newspapers who are asking me which areas their reporters should go to. A new face, a new name but the story will remain the same.
If I were to point to the primary and the most significant reason behind the continuing farmer suicides over the past two decades, I would narrow it down to the declining farm incomes. The 2014 report of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) tells us that the average monthly income that a farm family derives from farming activities is a paltry Rs 3,078. To make the ends meet, a farm family has to work in some other non-agricultural activities, including MNREGA. That makes for an average of Rs 6,000 per family per month. No wonder, 58 per cent farmers go to bed hungry, and 76 per cent want to quit agriculture if given a choice.
To look deeper, a colleague has meticulously done a comparative analysis. In 1970, the minimum support price for wheat was Rs 76 per quintal. Forty five years later, in 2015, wheat procurement price is Rs 1450 per quintal. In other words, in 45 years, wheat price has been raised by approximately 19 times. Let’s compare this increase in wheat prices for farmers with the increase in salaries for different sections. The average salary of central government employees has risen by 110 to 120 times; of school teachers by 280 to 320 times; of college/university teachers by 150 to 170 times; and of mid to high class corporate sector employees by 350 to 1000 times. In the same period, school fees have increased by 200 to 300 times; medical treatment cost has gone up again by 200 to 300 per cent; and average house rent in cities has risen by 350 times.
Farmer therefore is being made to pay the penalty for keeping food prices low. This year also, the wheat price has been raised by Rs 50 per quintal only so as to keep food inflation under control. Similarly, rice price for farmer has been raised also by Rs 50 per quintal. This increase comes to a paltry 3.2 per cent. Meanwhile the government employees have got a second installment of DA, a jump of 6 per cent. The employees will soon get the 7thPay Commission where the salary of the lowest employee – a chaprasi – is being demanded at Rs 26,000 per month.
If I were to go by the lowest rate of salary increase seen in the past 45 years, the wheat price for a farmer should have been raised by 100 times. This means, against Rs 1450 per quintal now, what farmers should have legitimately been paid should be 100 times of Rs 76 per quintal that he was given in 1970. This comes to Rs 7,600 per quintal. That is his due whether we like it or not. Now don’t get panicky. I do not want food inflation to go through the roof. All I am suggesting is that instead of putting the entire burden on the poor farmer, the way out should be to pay farmer a higher price and then subsidise the produce for the consumers. It is done in Japan, and it’s also done in other rich countries.
Unless the farm incomes are raised significantly, I don’t see anything working in favour of a farmer. To say that farmers need to raise crop productivity and utilize every drop of water is simply a way to sell newer technologies. Neither will loading farmers with more credit help them to be out of the debt trap. A farmer does not need credit, he needs income. We have deliberately deprived him of a reasonably good income over the years. Successive governments have deliberately kept him poor. #
Fair World Project: “Small-Scale Farmers Cool the Planet.” A 17-minute documentary highlighting the role of industrial agriculture in climate change while expounding on how small farmers are combating the climate crisis through regenerative organic agriculture.
–Food, Farming and Climate Change: It’s Bigger than Everything Else
by Ryan Zynn – Fair World Project, April 2015
Photo Credit: Dennis Jarvis. Location: Vietnam
Record-breaking heat waves, long-term drought, “100-year floods” in consecutive years, and increasingly extreme superstorms are becoming the new normal. The planet is now facing an unprecedented era of accelerating and intensifying global climate change, with negative impacts already being widely felt. While global climate change will impact nearly everyone and everything, the greatest impact is already being felt by farmers and anyone who eats food.
When we think of climate change and global warming, visions of coal-fired power plants and solar panels come to mind. Policy discussions and personal action usually revolve around hybrid cars, energy-efficient homes and debates about the latest technological solutions. However, the global agriculture system is at the heart of both the problem and the solution.
Industrial agriculture is a key driver in the generation of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, heavy machinery, monocultures, land change, deforestation, refrigeration, waste and transportation are all part of a food system that generates significant emissions and contributes greatly to global climate change. Industrial agricultural practices, from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) to synthetic fertilizer-intensive corn and soy monocultures, genetically modified to tolerate huge amounts of herbicide, not only contribute considerable amounts of GHGs, but also underpin an inequitable and unhealthy global food system. Modern conventional agriculture is a fossil fuel-based, energy-intensive industry that is aligned with biotech, trade and energy interests, versus farmer and consumers priorities.
Farms and farmers are in the crosshairs of climate change. Though farmers have seen negative impacts related to climate change for decades, these impacts have been exacerbated in recent years. Even relatively small temperature increases are having significant impacts on farming, including accelerated desertification and salinization of arable land, increased presence of pests, crop losses due to high temperatures and flooding, and, paradoxically, increased clean water scarcity.
While many people may be familiar with the term “peak oil” to describe the diminishing supply of petroleum, few are familiar or prepared for “peak coffee.” Farmers and scientists now openly discuss the notion of “endangered crops,” including everything from cocoa and wine grapes to salmon and peanuts. The emergence of super-charged pests related to climate change, like the “La Roya” coffee fungus in Central America, is threatening not only our morning cup of joe, but the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of small-scale farmers. The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) has detailed how much of Ivory Coast and Ghana, the two largest cocoa-producing countries in the world, will be too hot to grow cocoa by 2030. The average cocoa farmer’s plot in Ghana is five hectares, and farmers there are very reliant on income from cocoa sales.
Compared to large-scale industrial farms, small-scale agroecological farms not only use fewer fossil fuel-based fertilizer inputs and emit less GHGs, including methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide (CO2), but they also have the potential to actually reverse climate change by sequestering CO2 from the air into the soil year after year. According to the Rodale Institute, small-scale farmers and pastoralists could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available, safe and inexpensive agroecological management practices that emphasize diversity, traditional knowledge, agroforestry, landscape complexity, and water and soil management techniques, including cover cropping, composting and water harvesting.
Importantly, agroecology can not only sequester upwards of 7,000 pounds of CO2 per acre per year, but it can actually boosts crop yields. In fact, recent studies by GRAIN (www.grain.org) demonstrate that small-scale farmers already feed the majority of the world with less than a quarter of all farmland. Addressing climate change on the farm can not only tackle the challenging task of agriculture-generated GHGs, but it can also produce more food with fewer fossil fuels. In other words, as the ETC Group (www.etcgoup.org) has highlighted, industrial agriculture uses 70% of the world’s agricultural resources to produce just 30% of the global food supply, while small-scale farmers provide 70% of the global food supply while using only 30% of agricultural resources.
Small-scale farmers are especially critical to confronting the food and farming crisis at the root of climate change. Small-scale farms are demonstrably more resilient in the face of severe climatic events, weathering major storms much more effectively than large-scale industrial farms. Small-scale, agroecological farmers in particular have faired comparatively better after major hurricanes and storms. According to Food First executive Eric Holt-Gimenez, following Hurricane Mitch in 1998, a large-scale study on 180 communities of smallholder farms in Nicaragua demonstrated that farming plots cropped using simple agroecological methods, including rock bunds or dikes, green manure, crop rotation, the incorporation of stubble, ditches, terraces, barriers, mulch, legumes and trees, plowing parallel to the slope, live fences and zero-tillage, had on average 40% more topsoil, higher field moisture and fewer economic losses than control plots on conventional farms. Moreover, on average, the agroecological plots lost 18% less arable land to landslides and experienced 69% less erosion, compared to conventional farms.
Photo Credit: La Voix del Amerique. Location: Chad
In addition to their adaptability and resilience in the face of climate change, small-scale farmers play many other critical roles, from feeding their local communities to providing ecological services to the global community. As described by UC Berkeley Professor of Agroecology Miguel Altieri, small-scale farms act as biodiversity reservoirs. Compared to large-scale industrial monoculture operations, which plant just one variety of one crop, small-scale farmers often cultivate dozens, if not hundreds, of varieties and species used for food, fiber, fodder, fuel and medicine. It is not uncommon for small-scale farmers to plant a healthy genetic diversity of crops adapted to local conditions and well-suited for climatic variability and pest resistance. Agricultural biodiversity not only nourishes local farming communities and hedges against market and weather fluctuations, but it also fosters critical habitat for other flora and fauna. Farmer knowledge and social capital are crucial common denominators for vibrant and functional farming communities. Without the traditional knowledge of farmers, there is little hope to address climate change on the farm in a meaningful way.
While small-scale farmers are by and large more productive than large-scale farmers and play key roles in confronting climate change, we are losing them in many places, while large-scale farms are getting bigger and gaining more political and economic influence. Small-scale farmers and pastoralists are increasingly endangered and vulnerable to unfair trade agreements, collapsing financial markets, the export-oriented cash crops that global agriculture fuels, land grabs, the expansion of speculation within the food market, and the privatization of genetic resources, among other threats. Current prevailing policies and practices in trade, land use, energy use and patent law favor large-scale agribusinesses that contribute to climate change, while making it more difficult for small-scale sustainable farmers to stay on the land where they are able to produce food for the world and mitigate climate change. Without safeguards and support, we are putting both the global food supply and combating the climate crisis at risk.
Fair trade and climate change
Fair trade is often characterized as a “trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade.” Fair trade principles include long-term direct trading relationships, payment of fair prices and wages, no child, forced or otherwise exploited labor, workplace non-discrimination, gender equity, and freedom of association, among others. But fair trade is proving to be more than its original mandate, as it relates to climate change. Fair trade premiums — the additional sums of money beyond the fair trade price that are paid to producers for social, environmental and economic development projects — are proving to be effective vehicles for addressing climate change at the local level.
For example, COOCAFE, a coffee cooperative in Costa Rica, used its fair trade premiums to greatly reduce the amount of water used to wash coffee beans, allowing for other farmers to plant shade trees around their crops, which is good for both the quality of their crops and the environment. In Sri Lanka, the Serendipol fair trade organic coconut project uses its fair trade premium to provide free compost to all member farmers. In Uganda, tea farmers are reproducing drought-resistant varieties for distribution to other growers.
Beyond fair trade premiums, strong fair trade farmer organizations are critical vehicles for fortifying local farming communities through farmer exchange, education and advocacy. Fair trade farmer networks are integral for advancing agrocecology and social justice in the Global South.
Moving from despair to action
Author and activist Rebecca Solnit famously said of climate change that “It’s bigger than everything else.” Climate change is at the intersection of many social and environmental justice issues, and it is forcing us to question every aspect of our society and economy, including how we produce and distribute our food. The stakes are certainly high — and the window of opportunity is quickly closing.
Facing down climate change is both a challenge and an opportunity. Recreating a political economy that fosters and safeguards small-scale farmers is critical to addressing not only climate change but hunger and inequality as well. There are no policy “silver bullets” per se, but reforming the trade, subsidy and financial sectors is a good start. While we cannot buy our way out of the climate crisis with market alternatives alone, harnessing consumers’ purchasing power does make a difference. Committed fair trade brands, partnering with small-scale family farmers, are leading the transition to a just and climate-friendly economy — and purchasing from these brands deepens the impact of fair trade on local communities.
Last, but not least, taking small, yet impactful steps at home can have huge positive benefits. Simple actions, like home composting and gardening, can not only reduce one’s carbon footprint and feed one’s family, but can also directly connect one with the global movement of small-scale farmers addressing global climate change.
Here are some ways to take action:
1) Support Fair World Project’s Climate Policy Platform. FWP is coordinating a global effort to restructure local, national and international policy in favor of small-scale agroecological farmers. Visit www.fairworldproject.org/platform for more information.
2) Plant a seed. Personal action does have an impact and can connect one to the greater global movement. Visit www.fairworldproject.org/seed for more information.
3) Support fair trade committed brands. Committed fair trade brands are spearheading climate change adaptation, mitigation and reversal efforts on the ground. www.fairworldproject.org/get-involved/mission-driven-brands/ for more information.
The Asian Age, 22 April 2015
In living soil lies the solution to climate change… Yet it is the soil itself that is being forgotten and buried under a borrowed paradigm of ‘cementification is progress’.
At this fragile moment of human evolution, Mother Earth Day, April 22, 2015, offers us a moment to reflect on the state of the Earth and the human condition, as well as an opportunity to renew our pact as members of the Earth family — Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam.
Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam is a worldview from which flow paradigms, policies, practices, as well as vision and values.
Science is reaffirming the worldview of life as an interconnected web. From soil to plants, from insects to animals, life is a food web. The Taittiriya Upanishad recognised this thousand years ago with the verse, “Everything is food; everything is something else’s food”.
The Upanishad also says that growing and giving good food in abundance is the highest dharma, and growing and giving bad food is the highest form of adharma. That is why growing and eating organic food without violence to the soil is our sacred duty. And growing and eating food with chemicals, pesticides, genetically modified organisms or junk food violates ecological ethics, our cultural ethics and the laws of health and nutrition.
Our farmers are in distress. Farmers committing suicide is a symptom of an exploitative agriculture which extracts fertility from the soil and wealth from farmers. Globalisation and neo-liberal policies, which put the rights of corporations above nature and people’s rights, are at the root of the farmers’ distress.
Since 1995, nearly 300,000 farmers have committed suicide. In Vidarbha, it is because of the greed of Monsanto, an agricultural biotechnology corporation which increased seed costs by more than 70,000 per cent and forced cotton farmers to commit suicide. In West Bengal, it is the greed of Pepsi. The potato farmer receives only Rs 0.20 per kg for potatoes for which the consumer pays Rs 200 in the form of Lays chips. The consumer also pays with their health through diseases linked to junk food.
This year climate chaos has added to the farmers’ distress with rain and hailstorms at harvest time destroying crops and, with it, farmers’ livelihoods.
More than 100 farmers have committed suicide in Uttar Pradesh because of crop damage last month.
A deep concept of Indian civilisation is “rta” — the path of dharma, the way that maintains the right order based on right livelihood. From rta flows ritu — the stable pattern of our seasons and climate. When we adopt policies and lifestyles that are in violation of the laws of the Earth based on anrita (the creation of disorder), it often results in ritu asantulan (climate disorder).
In my book Soil, not Oil (2007), I have assessed that more than 40 per cent of greenhouse gases that lead to climate change are contributed by industrial, globalised agriculture. These chemical monocultures are also more prone to failure due to extended droughts, intense floods and untimely rains.
On the other hand, organic farming reduces emissions and also makes agriculture more resilient to climate change. Navdanya’s research has shown that organic farming has increased carbon absorption by 55 per cent. International studies show that with two tonne per hectare of soil organic carbon, we can remove 10 gigatonne of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which can reduce atmospheric pollution to 350 parts per million.
A one per cent increase in soil organic matter can increase soil water holding capacity by 100,000 litres per hectare, five per cent can increase it to 800,000 litres. This is our insurance against climate change, both when there is drought and too little rain, and when there are floods and excess rain. On the other hand, cement and concrete increases the runoff of water, aggravating floods and drought. We witnessed this in Uttarakhand floods in 2013 and in the Kashmir disaster in 2014.
In living soil lies the solution to climate change, both through mitigation and adaptation. Yet, it is the soil itself that is being forgotten and buried under a borrowed paradigm of “cementification is progress”.
Our Mother Earth is being sacrificed for short-term growth based on the greed of a few.
Some 4,000 years ago our ancient Vedas had guided us, “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Care for it, and it will grow our food, our fuel, our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it, and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.”
The Land Acquisition Bill reduces land to a commodity, violating our cultural ethics of sacred soil, which has sustained us over millennia. It is blind to the ecological functions and services that living soil contributes. On a global scale, the destruction of these services has been assessed as amounting to $20 trillion annually.
The Isha Upanishad clearly says that this universe is sacred and for the benefit of all, anyone taking more than their share is a thief. Mahatma Gandhi distilled this wisdom in his famous quote, “The Earth has enough for everyone’s needs, but not for some people’s greed”.
Those who support the Land Acquisition Bill are proposing that our small farmers should disappear, giving way to corporate farming based on chemicals and GMOs.
United Nations studies and Navdanya’s work have shown that small farmers produce more food than large industrial farms. Nutrition per acre can be doubled and rural incomes increased 10-fold through organic farming.
The solution to poverty, the agrarian crisis, the health and malnutrition crisis is the same — care for the soil and care for our farmers who care for the soil and our health.
An economic system that violates the Earth’s rights also violates human rights because we are inseparable from the Earth. We are members of Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam. We need a new pact with the Earth as members of the Earth family, a pact to create a new non-violent economy and Earth democracy in which the contributions and rights of the last species and the last person to the creative gifts of the earth are taken into account.
The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust
My daughter, studying in the US, recently shifted to a new flat in the suburbs of Los Angeles. I went to Google maps on the internet, and after a few minutes of tracking, was able to locate her house on the map. The picture of the building where the flat was located was in front of me. Looking at the locality, the surroundings and the landscape around, I became confident that she’s living in a decent and safe locality.
Why I am narrating this is to explain how technology has made it possible for us to even spot a house thousands of miles away and also counts the number of trees. Forest cover is being determined by satellite images. Crop estimates are being prepared using remote sensing data. But when it comes to assessing crop losses that farmers suffer from weather anomalies, the insurance companies backtrack. If a farmer’s crop is completely destroyed, the crop damage that the insurance companies offer to compensate him is the average loss in 70 per cent of the block.
This primitive insurance system prevails at a time when unseasonal rains, hailstorm and strong winds have caused extensive damage to the standing crops. With crop damage extending to over 11 million hectares in 14 States, crop losses have already dealt a severe blow to farmers. With rains continuing to dampen farmer hopes, and with nearly 200 farmers committing suicide, many of them dying from shock, an effective crop insurance scheme could have minimized the blow. If your car gets a hit, you can claim the damage. If your house is burnt down the insurance company will pay compensation irrespective of whether other houses in the colonies suffered or not. Why then an average in a block is taken as a measure for crop losses suffered by a farmer in a village is something I have never been able to understand. It is simply the failure of the government to make it obligatory for the insurance companies to provide per unit coverage to farmers that has left the farming community hapless. Insurance companies will obviously resist, but the government must ensure that they are made to deliver. Crop loss assessment must shift per unit basis, insuring each and every farmer.
But for nearly three decades, I have watched with dismay the reluctance on the part of successive governments to provide for any meaningful crop insurance plan for farmers. The comprehensive crop insurance scheme that the Ministry of Agriculture has now prepared – called, the National Crop Income Insurance Scheme (NCIIS) – and expected to be soon piloted in 50 districts across the country, is unlikely to provide any succor to the beleaguered farming community facing crop losses. What shocks me is that even after three decades, all that the government has managed to come up with is a shoddy proposal, a rehash of an earlier failed Farm Income Insurance Scheme introduced in 2003, and withdrawn in 2004.
As the name suggests, the scheme is designed to provide insurance against fall in prices as well as drop in crop yields. In case of yield losses from natural calamities, a disease attack or otherwise, it still follows the primitive methodology of basing the compensation on 70 per cent of the average loss in a district. This only shows that the planners haven’t learnt anything from the technological improvements. The NCIIS draft does illustrate 4 probable scenarios and the compensation that a farmer will get in each of these. For instance, if a farmer’s yield is 4 tonnes/hect and indemnity being 70 per cent, the compensation would be worked out based on 2.8 tonnes only.
The guaranteed income that the farmers will get under the new insurance scheme would be to a maximum of 20 per cent of the price fall (against the Minimum Support Price) that a farmer suffers. It is based on a threshold yield, the average yield for past 7 years in a district. In other words, if the wheat MSP is Rs 1450 per quintal, and the farmer gets only Rs 900 by selling it openly in the market, the assured price that the farmer will get is Rs 900 plus 20 per cent of the gap between market price and MSP. Against Rs 1450, a farmer under the new insurance scheme can expect a maximum of Rs 1110 per quintal. This is distress price. If a distress price is all that the government assures it will provide to farmers, I think the message is clearly on the wall. Farmers must quit agriculture.
The only good news on this front that I can share is Madhya Pradesh chief minister’s promise of setting up a State Crop Insurance scheme wherein farmers will be insured on per unit basis, and not on block averages. I hope more and more chief ministers understand the need for a crop insurance that is effective and meaningful.
Govt lets down farmers yet again. Hindustan Times, Chandigarh.April 20, 2015.
Five popular chemical pesticides – Glyphosate, Parathion, Malathion, Diazinon and Tetrachlorvinphos – that the research arm of the World Health Organisation (WHO) categorized as ‘probable or possible carcinogenic’ are widely used in India.
While the report has triggered a massive debate in Europe and America on the need to regulate or ban these pesticides, it has been simply glossed over by policy makers, scientists and environmentalists in India. For a country which spends more time discussing pedestrian issues, health and environment are far away from national concerns.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) at Lyon, in France, has categorized the most popularly used herbicide Glyphosate, which comes branded as Roundup, as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’. Two of the pesticides – Tetrachlorvinphos and Parathion – have been classified in the 2B category and rates as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’ while three other chemicals – Malathion, Diazinon and Glyphosate – as ‘probably carcinogenic’ and put in the category 2A. These are all organophosphates.
In India, while Roundup is the most popular used herbicide, Methyl Parathion, Malathion and Diazinon too are widely used in agriculture. Tetrachlorvinphos is approved for flies and ticks. Interestingly, many of the chemicals are approved for restricted use, knowing very well there is no way to check its actual application. Take for instance Methyl Parathion. Its use is banned for fruits and vegetables, and also for crops where honeybees are acting as pollinators. How can the Central Insecticides Board expect farmers to make a distinction between honeybee pollinating crops and other when applying Methyl Parathion?
Similarly, Diazinon is banned for use in agriculture except for household purposes. Is there any way to police the farmers after they have purchased the chemical from the market? How will you know, given the educational standard of Indian farmers, whether they read the fine print on the pesticides container and apply accordingly? Take Methyl Parathion use in fruits and vegetables. It is officially banned, but it is widely known that traders dip certain vegetables in Methyl Parathion solution as it provides shine to the veggies.
The pesticides registration process therefore is a sham. Since it escapes public scrutiny, I haven’t seen the working of the Central Insecticides Board ever come under the scanner of the investigating agencies. Some 860 pesticides are registered for use in India. As many as 67 pesticides banned in other countries, are being used in India.
There is a strong lobby in favour of chemical pesticides, and every time environmentalists question the need for some of these pesticides on health and environment grounds, a court case is often slapped. So much so that film star Aamir Khan too was served legal notices after his show on pesticides in Satyamev Jayate. Nevertheless, I still remember a study published by Dr David Pimental of the Cornell University in the late 1970s wherein he estimated that 99.9 per cent of the pesticides go into the environment and only 0.1 per cent of the pesticides hit the target pests. I had always wondered why this study was never taken seriously by agricultural scientists knowing very well how toxic these chemicals are.
The International Rice Research Institute, in Manila, the Philippines, too showed in early 2000 that pesticides on rice in Asia were ‘a waste of time and effort’. The IRRI study showed how farmers in Central Luzon province of the Philippines, and in Vietnam, Bangladesh and India were producing a bumper rice harvest without using chemical pesticides. Even this report was never taken seriously by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the umbrella organization for farm research in the country. And when I hear Ajay Vir Jakhar, president of the Bharat Krishak Samaj say that pesticides use in wheat has gone up by 300 per cent, a crop which is generally considered to be hardy not requiring much application of chemical pesticides, it clearly shows how ruthlessly harmful pesticides are being promoted.
Genetically modified (GM) crops have further pushed the application of chemical herbicides through the spread of herbicide-tolerant crops. It is primarily for this reason that the global market for pesticide is expected to grow from $ 197.9 billion in 2014 to $ 207.9 billion in 2015 and soar to $257.7 billion in 2019 (see the industry report: https://www.reportbuyer.com/product/170499/). The WHO report should therefore be used as a loud warning, and immediate corrective steps are called for. We can ignore the warning at our own peril.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a higher relief package for farmers. At the same time he has directed banks to restructure agricultural loans and also asked insurance companies to proactively settle the claims. “Helping farmers at this time of distress is the govt’s responsibility,” the prime minister assured the nation, stating that a team of central ministers were sent to the affected areas to assess the crop damage.
This is certainly a welcome step. But once the rains are over, the relief is distributed, and the nation’s attention shifts to how much is the loss in crop production and the resulting impact on food inflation, farmers will once again be forgotten. This has been the travesty of farming all these years, and it is primarily for the deliberate neglect and apathy that agriculture continues to bleed. In the past 20 years, close to 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide, 2 farmers every hour, and I am not sure how many more sacrifices are required before the nation sits back and takes notice.
Let’s be clear. The spate of farmer suicides in the wake of continuing spell of unseasonal rains is simply a reflection or a symptom of how fragile the farm economy is. Even a small aberration in weather – unseasonal rains, high winds, dry weather and drought – multiplies the risk factor for the farmers to a level that it becomes unmanageable. Many farmers, who died in the past one month, died of heart attack, unable to bear the shock of seeing their healthy crop lying flat. Livelihood security therefore for any farming family hangs by a slender thread.
How fragile is the farm economy has been talked about very often, but little understood. It is generally believed that a reasonably good relief package at times of a calamity is enough to bring back the farmers economy. What is not know is that any natural calamities like heavy rains, floods and drought push back the farmer’s subsistence economy at least by three years.
To understand it a little more clearly I looked at the latest kharif and rabi reports of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP). Since farmers have been demanding a higher minimum support price (MSP) for wheat and paddy, and knowing that the Centre has already conveyed to the Supreme Court its inability to raise farm prices by 50 per cent as ‘it will distort market prices’ a careful perusal of the cost and income estimates by the CACP tells us why farmers are killing themselves. Unless the government makes a determined effort to provide farmers with a guaranteed monthly income package I don’t see any hope of reviving the sinking farm economy.
Let us look at the costs and the return from the cultivation of some of the major crops of the region. The CACP is government’s own organization which works out the MSP for farmers. Its calculations therefore are more accurate than any other study or survey. In its latest reports, CACP has calculated the average cost and returns for the period 2010-11 and 2012-13. Now hold your breath. Accordingly, the net return for wheat on all India basis stands at Rs 14,260 per hectare. For Mustard, the return is Rs 14,960; and for gram Rs 7,479.
Since most suicides happened in Uttar Pradesh, I looked at the cost and price calculations for wheat-rice cropping pattern that most farmers would follow. For wheat, the average net return or income that a farmer gets from one hectare is Rs 10,758. Since wheat is a 6-month crop, the average income a wheat farmer can expect from cultivating one hectare comes to a paltry Rs 1793. With such a low return from wheat cultivation, there would always be a possibility for a UP farmer to take to suicides. Let’s now look at his annual income. If he is cultivating rice, the net returns have been computed at Rs 4311 only. Add the returns for both wheat and paddy it comes to Rs 15,669 or Rs 1306 per month.
Now, you will say that the average in Punjab would be much higher than the national average. The CACP works out the average net return in Punjab for wheat at Rs 18,701 per hectare. For Bihar, where there are no regulated APMC markets, average farmer’s return is Rs 9,986, about half of what Punjab farmers get.
In the case of kharif crops, the CACP estimates are for the period 2009-10 to 2011-12. The net return for paddy for the country has been computed at a low of Rs 4,500 per hectare. For cotton, another major crop, the net returns are to the tune of Rs 15, 689; and for ragi millet it is actually negative. Looking at the State-wise average costs, the net returns for paddy for Punjab is Rs 17, 651. For Haryana, it is Rs 17,960 per hectare, and for Andhra Pradesh Rs 6,483. Paddy farmers in Bihar and Assam get a negative return, which means they cultivate losses. The loss per hectare in Assam is Rs 3361 and in Bihar Rs 266.
Since the general cropping pattern that Punjab and Haryana farmers follow in a year is also wheat followed by paddy, let us look at the combined returns for cultivating these two crops. Wheat provides the Punjab farmers with an average return of Rs 18,701 per hectare. Add to it the net return from paddy, Rs 17,651, the total a farmer earns from cultivating wheat and paddy in a year comes to Rs 36,352 from a hectare. For a month, the average a farming family in Punjab earns from one hectare is Rs 3,029. Yes, you got it right. It is Rs 3,029 per month.
If this is the average for Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, which is considered to be the country’s food bowl, I shudder to think of the plight of farmers elsewhere in the country. This is primarily the reason why farmers are committing suicide, and also why a majority wants to quit agriculture if given a choice. The desperate need therefore is to set up a National Farmers Income Commission with the mandate to work out an assured monthly package for farmers depending on his crop productivity and also the geographical location of the farm. If a chaprasi can get a minimum monthly salary of Rs 15,000: and a safai karamchari in UP is paid Rs 18,500 as basic salary, why should the annadata not be get an assured monthly package. Why should the farmers alone bear the cost of keeping food prices low for the middle class? #
Suicidal apathy. Orissa Post. April 16, 2015
Why relief packages and loan waivers won't enough to stem farm suicides. IndiaTogether. April 13, 2015
जाना पहचाना संकट. Dainik Jagran, April 11, 2015
GMWatch, 21 March 2015
The Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), which is distributing Bt brinjal saplings, must cease this cruel experiment at the expense of Bangladeshi farmers. The chief promoter of the failed GM Bt brinjal, BARI director general Rafiqul Islam Mondol, should resign.
Bt brinjal was found to be toxic in Mahyco’s (subsidiary of Monsanto) own tests.
New Age (Bangladesh), March 21, 2015
The cultivation of genetically engineered Bt Brinjal in the country’s several districts has cost the farmers their fortunes again this year as the plants have either died out prematurely or fruited very insignificantly compared to the locally available varieties, reports United News of Bangladesh.
Spot visits to 12 Bt Brinjal fields in Manikganj, Narsingdi and Comilla over the last one month hardly found any living or properly fruiting plant on those fields.
BARI Bt Brinjal 2 (Bt-Nayantara) and BARI Bt Brinjal 3 (Bt-Kajla) were cultivated by four farmers at Pouli village in Manikganj Sadar under the supervision of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI). The fields belonging to Afzal Hossain and Md Mannaf have turned out to be an ultimate upset as each of the two fields appears half-barren as one looks at.
‘We’ve removed most of the plants after those had died about 15 days ago. The officers (BARI officials) told us to do so to prevent the spread of the disease. Despite that the rest of the plants are dying out in numbers every day,’ Mannaf’s wife Lovely Begum said.
Although only a few of the Bt Brinjal plants have died so far in two other fields cultivated by Boltu Miah and Abul Hossain, who are brothers, of the same village, the fruiting of the plants is nowhere near the satisfactory level, said Lal Chand, father of the two brothers.
The two Bt Brinjal varieties were also cultivated by three farmers at Dhanua village in Shibpur upazila of Narsingdi. All of them ended up miserably.
Md Abul Hayat, who is respected as a successful farmer in the locality, said, ‘Most of the saplings (of Bt Brinjal) have died. The plants are prone to diseases. The officials said it’s due to bacterial attack and prompted by irrigation and soil-type.’
‘If irrigation and soil-type had been a problem, why the local brinjal plants on my other field had not been affected?’ he questioned pointing to a brinjal field beside his Bt Brinjal one.
‘One can’t believe that just one month ago, the plants on my field (Bt Brinjal) were most good looking ones among all the brinjal fields in Shibpur. They (officials) came to my field and took photos and videos of the plants at that time,’ Hayat noted.
The sight of the Bt Brinjal field of Md Alamgir of neighbouring Baghab village in the upazila was more pathetic. ‘Many of the saplings had died at an earlier stage… one month into the planting. The officials replaced the dead plants with fresh ones but those have died too,’ he said.
Harun Mirza, Dilip Kumar Das and Mohammad Ali of Burichong upazila in Comilla planted BARI Bt Brinjal 1 (Bt-Uttara) and BARI Bt Brinjal 4 (Bt-ISD 006) on about 18-20 decimal plots. All the three claimed that around 150-200 of the 500-700 saplings that were provided to them died earlier within one month’s of the planting.
The fresh plants that replaced the dead plants also could not survive, while the most of the rest are also dying out, they added.
Mohammad Ali of Nimsar village in the upazila also showed several plants of BARI Bt Brinjal 4 variety that were affected by Brinjal Fruit and Shoot Borer (BFSB) insects. ‘We were told that these brinjal varieties are resistant to Phol of Doga Chidrokari Poka (BFSB), but the plants on my field have come under its attack,’ he said while showing an affected plant.
Meanwhile, farmers in Sherpur, Mymensingh, Rangpur, Dinajpur, Rajshahi, Pabna, Jessore, Gazipur and Tangail districts shared similar experiences with this UNB correspondent when they were contacted over phone.
At least 25-150 of the Bt Brinjal plants died on each of the Bt Brinjal fields in these districts. The dead plants also include some of BARI Bt Brinjal 5 variety that was cultivated in Dinajpur.
Md Haminur Rahman and Md Mobarak Hossain of Sherpur Sadar upazila said they have harvested 8-10 maunds of Bt Brinjal three months since the planting. It is less than half the amount that could by this timeframe be harvested from a local brinjal field of the same size, they noted.
Ramzan Ali of Jhikargachha upazila in Jessore said most of the Bt Brinjal plants in his field had died.
Asked about the dying of Bt Brinjal plants in the districts mentioned above, BARI director general Rafiqul Islam Mondol said, ‘We didn’t claim that the Bt Brinjal plants will not be affected by diseases. Our claim was that Bt Brinjal is resistant to BFSB.’
Asked about the BFSB infestation in at least one Bt Brinjal field in Comilla, he said, ‘I don’t have any such information. One or two non-Bt plants can be mistakenly grouped with the Bt plants in that field.’
by George Monbiot — The Guardian, 25 March 2015
Imagine a wonderful world, a planet on which there was no threat of climate breakdown, no loss of freshwater, no antibiotic resistance, no obesity crisis, no terrorism, no war. Surely, then, we would be out of major danger? Sorry. Even if everything else were miraculously fixed, we’re finished if we don’t address an issue considered so marginal and irrelevant that you can go for months without seeing it in a newspaper.
It’s literally and – it seems – metaphorically, beneath us. To judge by its absence from the media, most journalists consider it unworthy of consideration. But all human life depends on it. We knew this long ago, but somehow it has been forgotten. As a Sanskrit text written in about 1500BC noted: “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.”
The issue hasn’t changed, but we have. Landowners around the world are now engaged in an orgy of soil destruction so intense that, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world on average has just 60 more years of growing crops. Even in Britain, which is spared the tropical downpours that so quickly strip exposed soil from the land, Farmers Weekly reports, we have “only 100 harvests left”.
To keep up with global food demand, the UN estimates, 6m hectares (14.8m acres) of new farmland will be needed every year. Instead, 12m hectares a year are lost through soil degradation. We wreck it, then move on, trashing rainforests and other precious habitats as we go. Soil is an almost magical substance, a living system that transforms the materials it encounters, making them available to plants. That handful the Vedic master showed his disciples contains more micro-organisms than all the people who have ever lived on Earth. Yet we treat it like, well, dirt.
The techniques that were supposed to feed the world threaten us with starvation. A paper just published in the journal Anthropocene analyses the undisturbed sediments in an 11th-century French lake. It reveals that the intensification of farming over the past century has increased the rate of soil erosion sixtyfold.
Another paper, by researchers in the UK, shows that soil in allotments – the small patches in towns and cities that people cultivate by hand – contains a third more organic carbon than agricultural soil and 25% more nitrogen. This is one of the reasons why allotment holders produce between four and 11 times more food per hectare than do farmers.
Whenever I mention this issue, people ask: “But surely farmers have an interest in looking after their soil?” They do, and there are many excellent cultivators who seek to keep their soil on the land. There are also some terrible farmers, often absentees, who allow contractors to rip their fields to shreds for the sake of a quick profit. Even the good ones are hampered by an economic and political system that could scarcely be better designed to frustrate them.
This is the International Year of Soils, but you wouldn’t know it. In January, the Westminster government published a new set of soil standards, marginally better than those they replaced, but wholly unmatched to the scale of the problem. There are no penalities for compromising our survival except a partial withholding of public subsidies. Yet even this pathetic guidance is considered intolerable by the National Farmers’ Union, which greeted them with bitter complaints. Sometimes the NFU seems to me to exist to champion bad practice and block any possibility of positive change.
Few sights are as gruesome as the glee with which the NFU celebrated the death last year of the European soil framework directive, the only measure with the potential to arrest our soil-erosion crisis. The NFU, supported by successive British governments, fought for eight years to destroy it, then crowed like a shedful of cockerels when it won. Looking back on this episode, we will see it as a parable of our times.
Soon after that, the business minister, Matthew Hancock, announced that he was putting “business in charge of driving reform”: trade associations would be able “to review enforcement of regulation in their sectors.” The NFU was one the first two bodies granted this privilege. Hancock explained that this “is all part of our unambiguously pro-business agenda to increase the financial security of the British people.” But it doesn’t increase our security, financial or otherwise. It undermines it.
The government’s deregulation bill, which has now almost completed its passage through parliament, will force regulators – including those charged with protecting the fabric of the land – to “have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth”. But short-term growth at the expense of public protection compromises long-term survival. This “unambiguously pro-business agenda” is deregulating us to death.
There’s no longer even an appetite for studying the problem. Just one university – Aberdeen – now offers a degree in soil science. All the rest have been closed down.
This is what topples civilisations. War and pestilence might kill large numbers of people, but in most cases the population recovers. But lose the soil and everything goes with it.
Now, globalisation ensures that this disaster is reproduced everywhere. In its early stages, globalisation enhances resilience: people are no longer dependent on the vagaries of local production. But as it proceeds, spreading the same destructive processes to all corners of the Earth, it undermines resilience, as it threatens to bring down systems everywhere.
Almost all other issues are superficial by comparison. What appear to be great crises are slight and evanescent when held up against the steady trickling away of our subsistence.
The avoidance of this issue is perhaps the greatest social silence of all. Our insulation from the forces of nature has encouraged a belief in the dematerialisation of our lives, as if we no longer subsist on food and water, but on bits and bytes. This is a belief that can be entertained only by people who have never experienced serious hardship, and who are therefore unaware of the contingency of existence.
It’s not as if we are short of solutions. While it now seems that ploughing of any kind is incompatible with the protection of the soil, there are plenty of means of farming without it. Independently, in several parts of the world, farmers have been experimenting with zero-tillage (also known as conservation agriculture), often with extraordinary results.
There are dozens of ways of doing it: we need never see bare soil again. But in the UK, as in most rich nations, we have scarcely begun to experiment with the technique, despite the best efforts of the magazine Practical Farm Ideas.
Even better are some of the methods that fall under the heading of permaculture – working with complex natural systems rather than seeking to simplify or replace them. Pioneers such as Sepp Holzer and Geoff Lawton have achieved remarkable yields of fruit and vegetables in places that seemed unfarmable: 1,100m above sea level in the Austrian alps, for example, or in the salt-shrivelled Jordanian desert.
But, though every year our government spends £450m on agricultural research and development – much of it on techniques that wreck our soils – there is no mention of permaculture either on the websites of the two main funding bodies (NERC and BBSRC) or in any other department.
The macho commitment to destructive short-termism appears to resist all evidence and all logic. Never mind life on Earth; we’ll plough on regardless.
• A fully referenced version of this article can be found at Monbiot.com
There is trouble on the farm front. With untimely rains accompanied by hailstorm and strong winds showing no signs of relenting, further deepening the prevailing agrarian crisis; and with the spate of farmer suicides on the rise, agriculture faces its worst ever crisis. While the rising number of farmer suicides is only a reflection of how fragile the agrarian economy is, the entire focus is on providing adequate relief and compensation to farmers who suffered crop losses.
In this bargain, the real issues confronting farming are once again being sidelined. Once the rains are over, the relief is distributed, and the nation’s attention shifts to how much is the loss in crop production and the resulting impact on food inflation, farmers will once again be forgotten. This has been the travesty of farming all these years, and it is primarily for the deliberate neglect and apathy that agriculture continues to bleed.
The intention is very clear. With the Centre conveying to the Supreme Court its inability in providing farmers with 50 per cent profit over the cost of cultivation, farmers are being left in the lurch. They are expected to fend for themselves, and face the vagaries of the markets once the Government begins to withdraw the minimum support price (MSP) for wheat and paddy. Economic Survey 2015 has made this amply clear.
Farmers have reasons to feel betrayed. After a high-pitch election campaign a year earlier when the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi time and again promised to enhance the Minimum Support Price (MSP) by 50 per cent if his party comes into power, the government has simply backtracked on its promise. But soon after coming into power, the government raised the MSP for paddy and wheat by a paltry Rs 50 per quintal, which translates into an increase of 3.6 per cent, not enough to offset the additional burden of inflation at that time.
The farmers’ anger is quite justified. Despite being at the bottom of the pyramid, Indian farmers have not failed the nation. While they continue to produce a bumper harvest year after year, they are made to pay the price for keeping food prices low for consumers. A per the latest estimates of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) a famer family on an average earns only Rs 3,078 from farming operations. According to another survey, nearly 58 per cent of the farmers go to bed hungry. Another survey by Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) shows that 62 per cent farmers want to quit agriculture.
On top of it, basmati rice and cotton witnessed a crash in its prices. While basmati rice production had doubled in Punjab and Haryana, an alarming dip in prices was observed. Disappointed farmers sold basmati at prices ranging between Rs 1600-2400 per quintal, against a price of Rs 3,261 to Rs 6,085 they got last year. In cotton too, prices slumped from an average of Rs 4,400 to Rs 5,200 per quintal last year to around Rs 3,000 this year, prompting the government to direct the Cotton Corporation of India to step in to buy at the procurement price of Rs 3,750 per quintal.
In Maharashtra alone, the downtrend in cotton and soybean prices had resulted in a loss of Rs 12,000-crores for farmers.
In case of sugarcane the situation is no better. In fact, reports of cane farmers committing suicide due to delayed payments have poured in recently from Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Despite the sugar sector decontrol coming into effect, the fact remains that the mills have still to clear cane price arrears of Rs 12,300-crore.
Appearing before a Supreme Court bench of Justices S J Mukhopadhaya and N V Ramana, the additional solicitor general Maninder Singh however said: Prescribing an increase of at least 50 per cent on cost may distort the market. A mechanical linkage between MSP and cost of production may be counter-productive in some cases.” He told the court that the pricing policy seeks to achieve the objective of fair and remunerative prices and is not an income policy. While the Court is still to deliver its verdict, in simple words, the government has expressed its inability to hike the MSP.
At a time when the industry has managed to even wrest out of cost accounting procedures in many important sectors like coal, natural gas and automobile, and therefore can arbitrarily fix any price for their products, I find it amusing to know that providing a higher price to farmers will distort the markets. Considering that only 6 per cent India’s 60-crore farmers get the benefit of MSP, and the remaining 94 per cent is in any case dependent on the vagaries of markets, which shows the markets are only exploiting the farmers. If the markets had provided farmers with an economic price, I am sure 94 per cent of the farming community would have been a happy lot by now.
The question of an ‘income policy’ for farmers therefore assumes importance in the wake of the serial death dance that continues to be enacted on the farms. Over 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide in the past 17 years. Moreover, with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) breathing down the neck, and demanding freezing of MSP for farmers, it looks difficult whether the government will have the political courage to defy WTO. Given these circumstances, the best option is to start looking for a guaranteed monthly income for farmers, which benefits the entire farming community unlike the pricing policy through a system of providing MSP for wheat and rice farmers.
The real big bang in economic reforms would therefore be when the government constitutes a National Farmers Income Commission that works out a minimum assured monthly income that a farming family must get. Incorporating crop harvest and also basing the calculations on the geographical location of the farm, the Commission should be directed to provide a real time estimate of the farm income for various categories of farmers. If a chaprasi in the government can get a minimum basic salary of Rs 15,000 per month, I see no reason why the farmers should be deprived of his legitimate due. #
Farmers urgently need help. April 9, 2015. DNA Mumbai.
खाली हैं अन्न उपजाने वाले हाथ April 9, 2015, Amar Ujala.
by Dr. Vandana Shiva – MindBodyGreen, 2 April 2015
For the past four decades I have dedicated my life to the defense of biodiversity, and the integrity and well-being of all species, including all humans. For the past three decades I have been working in the service of seed freedom, and through it contributing to Earth Democracy for the well-being of all.
I started Navdanya, a network of seed keepers and organic producers, in 1987 when I first heard corporations speak of their plans to genetically modify every seed, patent seeds, and impose patents on life laws, globally. A patent is granted for an invention. Patents on seed transform our highest sacred duties of sharing and saving seed into “intellectual property crimes.”
I am inspired by the sanctity of life, the sacredness of seed. How can corporations claim to be the creators and inventors of life on Earth when all they have the capacity of doing is to introduce toxic genes into the cells of plants by means of gene guns and plant cancers?
Navdanya means “nine seeds” (symbolizing protection of biological and cultural diversity). Navdanya also means “new gift.” We see our work as reclaiming the gift of the commons, of saving and sharing seeds.
Whatever happens to seed affects the web of life.
When seed is living and regenerative and diverse, it feeds the pollinators, the soil organisms, and the animals, including humans.
When seed is nonrenewable, bred for chemicals, or genetically engineered with toxic Bt genes, or Roundup Ready genes, diversity disappears.
Chemicals kill pollinators and soil organisms. Seventy-five percent of the bees on the planet have disappeared. According to scientists, bees and pollinators contribute more than 159 billion euros annually to agriculture. Chemically farmed soils, sprayed with herbicides and pesticides, kill the beneficial organisms that create soil fertility and protect plants. More than 50 years ago, Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring to wake us up to the ecological destruction caused by pesticides. Organic seeds and organic farming do not just protect human health. They protect the Health and Well-being of all.
With industrial seeds and industrial agriculture, the diversity of plants and crops disappears. Humanity has had 8,500 species of foodstuffs available to consume, and each species has evolved, creating further diversity. India had 200,000 rice varieties before the Green Revolution. This diversity has been replaced by monocultures.
Today India grows eight globally traded commodities. The fastest expansion in acreage is for genetically engineered corn and soy, because they are patented and corporations can collect royalties from farmers. When seed freedom disappears and farmers become dependent on GMO seeds, they in effect become seed slaves. More than 284,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide since seed monopolies were established in India in 1995. Gandhi spun cotton for our freedom. Today, GMO Bt cotton has enslaved our farmers in debt and pushed them to suicide. Ninety-five percent of cotton seed is now controlled by Monsanto.
Biodiversity and cultural diversity go hand-in-hand. When culture is eroded, biodiversity is eroded. When control over seed becomes big business, diversity disappears ever faster.
Diversity is a product of care, connection, and cultural pride. The mango breeders wanted to give us the best taste, the best quality. So they evolved the diversity of the delicious dasheri, langra, alphonso …
The tribes and peasants who gave us rice diversity wanted to develop a rice for lactating mothers, a rice for babies, a rice for old people. They wanted to have rices that survive droughts and floods and cyclones, so they evolved climate-resilient rices. In the Himalaya, different rices are needed for different altitudes and different slopes. The intimacy and care that go with belonging to a place and a community allows diversity to flourish. Conserving and growing diversity comes as naturally as breathing.
Greed cannot deal with care; it promotes carelessness. Greed drives control, and control is facilitated through uniformity and monocultures. You cannot control diversity, you can only co-evolve and co-create with it. A will to control becomes a will to destroy diversity, through what I have called the Monoculture of the Mind. And the expansion of corporate control over seed and plants is the main reason for the disappearance of diversity in our fields and in our food.
Corporations first controlled agriculture through the chemical inputs for the Green Revolution. External chemical inputs demand uniformity and lead to monocultures. In an ecological system wheat and mustard and chana (chickpeas) grow in a mixture. An internal input, self-organizing system is based on diversity and cooperation. When ecological inputs are replaced with external inputs, diversity becomes a problem, and monocultures become an imperative, since chemically fertilized crops start competing with one another, and because these crops require different external inputs. This is how the Green Revolution destroyed the rich diversity of our rice and wheat.
It also displaced our dalhans (dals) and tilhans (oilseeds), without which our agriculture and diets are incomplete. Millets, which we at Navdanya call Forgotten Foods, were driven out of our farms and off our plates on the totally unscientific criteria of being called inferior grains, even though in health and nutrition terms indigenous rice and wheat varieties are superior in nutrition to the new varieties. Native rices have a low glycemic index, while industrial rice has a high glycemic index. When all that the poor get is this industrial rice, they also get diabetes. India has become the capital of diabetes, a disease that is intimately linked to the disappearance of diversity.
Native wheats have high protein and do not contribute to gluten allergies. That is why we had to fight the biopiracy of an ancient wheat by Monsanto, which wanted to monopolize the market for gluten-free wheat products.
Not only does living, organic seed have more quality, nutrition, and taste, farming systems that are based on biodiversity produce more nutrition and “Health per Acre,” as the Navdanya study has shown. Seed Freedom is the answer to hunger and malnutrition. One billion people today are hungry and two billion are obese because of an agriculture that is out of balance with nature and nature’s ecological processes. Half of humanity is thus denied well-being through food.
With globalization, a more expanded and aggressive assault on the diversity of our crops and foods is taking place. There are three forces driving the disappearance of diversity, and all three are connected to corporate control over seed and food.
The first is the entry of big business into the seed market, and the consequent replacement of local varieties developed by farmers with uniform commercial, industrial hybrids and GMOs, sold by corporations. For example, local farmers traditionally grew different watermelon varieties, and watermelons were seasonal fruits. Today you get only one variety everywhere, all year round, produced from seeds that are commercial hybrids. The same applies to papaya.
The second is globalization-driven long-distance trade. Diversity goes hand-in-hand with local, decentralized food systems. Our mangoes and bananas are as diverse as they are because they are eaten fresh, locally.
Long-distance trade replaces freshness and softness with hardness, so that fruits can travel. I call this breeding rocks, not fruit. Our soft-jacket oranges have disappeared and been replaced with varieties that cannot be peeled. Corporations are advising our government that our bananas and mangoes need to travel longer, and stay longer on shelves. I shudder to think of the dasheri giving way to the hard, tasteless, flavorless “mango” found in global markets, or the little Kerala banana with the daintiest of skins being driven out by the characterless, thick-skinned Cavendish.
The third is industrial processing. When McDonald’s wants potatoes for french fries, only the Russett Burbank will do. Pepsi’s Lay’s potato chips cannot use indigenous potato varieties like the tomri that we grow in the mountains. Ketchup requires tomatoes with pulp, not juice. So the juicy, tasty tomatoes disappear, and hard and tasteless tomatoes replace them. Fortunately, the Italians have continued to grow good and diverse tomatoes since they have pride in their food culture, and have managed to get the Mediterranean diet on the UNESCO heritage list. Similarly, every cuisine in every part of India deserves to be recognized as a cultural heritage. And it is this cultural heritage which supports the biodiversity heritage.
For protecting our biodiversity and food heritage, Navdanya has been making its contributions. But the issue is too important not to be taken up by every citizen in their daily lives. It is too important not to be taken up by spiritual movements. Food begins as seed. The seed is sacred. Food is sacred.
“Annam Brahman” — food is the Creator. We are what we eat. When we are careless with food we are careless with ourselves. Will we wake up only when the last peasant and the last seed disappears? Or will we turn to the sacred duty of protecting our sacred seeds?
Below you can find the trailer for Sacred Seed, a collection of essays on biodiversity:
Adapted from Sacred Seed, © 2014 The Golden Sufi Center
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
GMWatch, 30 March 2015
The “miracle” cure has been “coming soon” for a decade and a half! Jonathan Matthews reports
Charles Margulis of the Centre for Environmental Health has been following the GMO golden rice project for many years and has kept a collection of quotes (listed below), documenting a decade and a half’s worth of failed promises of the crop’s imminent arrival. This has made him wonder whether golden rice should be considered vaporware – something that’s announced with great fanfare to the media and the public but which never actually becomes available.
The most recent fanfare comes from Patrick Moore (right) – now notorious for the interview in which he refused to drink the Roundup herbicide he claims is safe to drink by the quart! – with his Allow Golden Rice Now campaign. The name of the campaign is itself a lie – the “Now” implies that golden rice is already available for use and that it is a proven “cure” for Vitamin A Deficiency, so all we have to do is remove any unnecessary obstacles. But none of this is true.
Despite the cover of TIME magazine proclaiming a decade and a half ago, “This rice could save a million kids a year” and the project having been launched as far back as 1985, golden rice still is not ready, as is clear from the revealing collection of quotes below.
And it’s important to emphasise that this delay is entirely down to over-promising and failure to deliver and not, as the likes of Patrick Moore like to claim, due to pushback from golden rice’s critics. The New York Times reporter Amy Harmon, who has reported sympathetically on golden rice, confirms that she has never seen any convincing evidence activism has significantly delayed the production of Golden Rice.
Meanwhile in the Philippines, one of the main target countries for golden rice, dramatic declines in Vitamin A deficiency have been achieved using already available non-GMO methods. And as the final quote below from UNICEF makes plain, methods of tackling VAD have been available throughout the period in which we have been told to imminently expect the arrival of golden rice.
Imagine if all the multi-million dollar budgets and PR energy that have been lavished on golden rice had gone instead into making these simple proven approaches more widely available. How many children’s lives could have been dramatically improved or saved?
As the World Food Prize winner Hans Herren has lamented, “We already know today that most of the problems that are to be addressed via golden rice and other GMOs can be resolved in a matter of days, with the right political will.”
Finally, this excellent video shows how people in the Philippines are responding critically to golden rice.
Collected by Charles Margulis (@kvetchinguru on Twitter) – edits/additions by GMWatch
“If everything goes well, within two to three years, golden rice varieties will be made available free to farmers earning less than $10,000 a year from the crop.”
“When Golden Rice finally gets a commercial release in 2007, it will come free to all those in the developing countries who earn less than $10,000 a year.”
“Before the second generation of golden rice [the first never emerged] is commercially produced, it must first be approved by the countries where it is to be planted, which could take several more years.”
“Syngenta is making the rice available for free to research centres across Asia, who will, if they are given the go-ahead by their governments, begin field trials – probably within the next five years.”
“Golden rice is likely to be permitted between years 2011 and 2012 should field tests yield positive results.”
“It was supposed to prevent blindness and death from vitamin A deficiency in millions of children. But almost a decade after its invention, golden rice is still stuck in the lab… The first field trial of golden rice in Asia started only this month. Its potential to prevent the ravages of vitamin A deficiency has yet to be tested, and even by the most optimistic projections, no farmer will plant the rice before 2011.”
“Scientists say they have seen the future of genetically modified foods… In a few months, golden rice – normal rice that has been genetically modified to provide vitamin A to counter blindness and other diseases in children in the developing world – will be given to farmers in the Philippines for planting in paddy fields. Thirty years after scientists first revealed they had created the world’s first GM crop, hopes that their potential to ease global malnutrition problems may be realised at last.”
“This article [see quote above] was amended on 13 March 2013. Originally it said that golden rice would be given to farmers in the Philippines “in a few months”. It is still undergoing a registration process and may not be released until next year at the earliest.”
“The first round of MLTs [multi-location field trials] was conducted … in 2012-13 to assess how well this version of Golden Rice would perform in different locations in the Philippines. Preliminary results were mixed… The initial results indicate that more research is needed, with greater focus on increasing yield… the developments described above will result in a delay in the timeline.”
“Golden Rice will only be made broadly available to farmers and consumers if it is: (a) successfully developed into rice varieties that retain the same yield, pest resistance, and grain quality – agronomic and eating traits acceptable to farmers and consumers – as current popular rice varieties; (b) deemed safe and approved by national regulators; and (c) shown to improve vitamin A status under community conditions.”
“Delivery of two high-dose vitamin A capsules a year to children under five prevents vitamin A deficiency.”
Crop damage from unseasonal rains, hailstorm and strong winds has been quite widespread in India, Mar 2015. -- ANI photo
Unseasonal rains, hailstorm and strong winds that appeared in three phases beginning the end of February have already done an extensive damage to the standing crops. With crop damage extending to over 181 lakh hectares in 14 States, crop losses have already dealt a severe blow to farmers. But with more rains expected in the next few days just before the wheat harvesting normally begins, more trouble awaits farmers.
According to preliminary estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have taken the maximum brunt, followed by Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. Crop losses have also been reported from West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana and Uttarakhand.
Public memory is very short. While it is being said that the present spell of unseasonal rains is the worst in the last 25 years, the fact is that unseasonal rains accompanied by hailstorm had also done extensive damage to standing crops in 24 lakh hectares in Madhya Pradesh and 18 lakh hectares in Maharashtra a year earlier, in March 2014.
While 43 farmers had committed suicide in the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh (and adjoining Uttar Pradesh) and another 40 in Marathwada region of Maharashtra last year, the death toll this year from the unseasonal rains in March has exceed 67 in Uttar Pradesh alone. More deaths have been reported from Rajasthan, MP and Maharashtra. But the loss to human lives is no indicator of the severity and extent of the crop damage the country has witnessed. It is the extensive damage to standing wheat, oilseeds, and pulses and in addition the damage to fruits and vegetables from hailstorm that has aggravated the agrarian crisis.
Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi did assure farmers of immediate help and relief when he spoke to them in his radio programme Mann ki Baat on Mar 22, I am reminded of an insensitive remark made last year by the former Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar when he said unusual rains and hailstorms are not uncommon and, therefore, appealed to farmers to show courage. But Pawar was quick to assess the damage accruing to sugar mills from a reduced sugarcane harvest even before the expert teams had visited the affected regions and assessed the crop losses.
What has made the difference this year is that besides the media repeatedly highlighting the extensive damage to standing crops, the NDA is keen to ward off the anti-farmer tag it has earned especially after its failure to provide 50 per cent profit in the minimum support price (MSP) that it had promised before the elections. With the government already under flak for pushing in an anti-farmer land acquisition bill, it swung into action to salvage its popular image of being farmer unfriendly. Aerial surveys were conducted; top ministers travelled to the affected areas; chief ministers were quick to announce a series of measures including deferring interest payments on crop loans, waiver of electricity bills, immediate assessment of crop losses, and came up with promises of a higher compensation package. We will have to wait and watch to know how much of it actually translates for farmers once the weather returns to normal.
In the past we have seen farmers receiving relief cheques of Rs 8, Rs 10, Rs 215, Rs 1305 and so on. Year after year we have read news reports of how farmers who have seen their crops affected by inclement weather had been poorly compensated by indifferent State governments. After months of waiting, when a farmer gets cheque that is not even worth presenting before a bank, it only shows the contempt and cruelty by which the farming class is treated. It is therefore heartening to see this year a lot more seriousness to help the affected farming families. Already, many States have announced a higher relief than what is spelled out under the provisions of the State Disaster Relief Fund.
Earlier, I have watched with dismay the reluctance on the part of successive governments to provide for any meaningful crop insurance plan for farmers. While in urban areas, Insurance companies have appropriate plans to provide cover for every individual, house and automobile, for farmers the crop losses are assessed only at the block level. A farmer at best can get compensation for an average crop loss suffered in a block even if his own loss in his crop field is several times higher. Furthermore, not many farmers actually know that they have been insured, and not many Insurance companies know what the farmer is cultivating. They just pick up the premium from the banks, and disappear to return later at the time of collecting the next premier. This is primarily the reason why farmers have never been enthused to take to crop insurance.
Insurance companies say that it is practically impossible to ascertain the loss per farm. I don’t agree. This is just an apology to avoid adding on to the operational costs. In an age when it is easy to track the movement of every truck carrying foodgrains, I don’t see why the same technology cannot be used for mapping each and every farm in the country. At a time when remote sensing is being used to count the number of trees, it should not be difficult to measure the crop losses in each and every farm or a cluster of farms to begin with. Therefore I have two suggestions to make crop insurance meaningful:
* IFFCO-Tokio General Insurance Company has launched a Barish Bima Yojna in collaboration with Karnataka government. It provides crop insurance coverage to a minimum group of 25 farmers having 100 acres of cultivable land. Although insurance amount was awarded on the basis of the amount of rainfall received, there is a need to improve it further to add yield losses suffered by farmers. A little more effort can succeed in turning this into a comprehensive crop risk insurance model for farmers. And subsequently, using the latest technology, it should be possible to come down to calculate the losses that each individual farmer suffers.
* Dhan Foundation in Tamil Nadu has come up with the concept of Micro-Insurance. Borrowed from the Netherlands where Micro-Insurance has worked very well. Let me illustrate. Mutual crop insurance was done for a major pest called red hairy caterpillar. Farmers were advised to take preventive measures, go in for crop rotation, and at the same time the yield loss was compensated. The premium was roughly 30 per cent of the sum assured. Similarly, ground nut was insured against weather fluctuation. A Mutual Insurance Committee is formed among the villagers, which decides on actual premium and also ascertains crop losses. The committee takes care to ensure proper claim settlement, which has often been completed in one month.
Two prerequisites are absolutely necessary. The first is the need to set up rainfall gauges in each and every village. The second is to enhance the budgetary provision for crop insurance from the existing Rs 3,000-crore. Not providing enough financial support for strengthening crop insurance only shows how low it stands in national priority. #
by Rahul Wadke – The Hindu Business Line, 31 March 2015
At least five large seed companies, including Monsanto, Mahyco and BASF, have started field trials of genetically-modified (GM) crops in Maharashtra, which granted permission earlier this year. The companies are focussing on crops such as rice, corn, chickpea and cotton.
Mahyco, for instance, has started carrying out trials for GM rice in the Konkan region of coastal Maharashtra. The company eventually wants to develop a rice variety which will be tolerant to salinity in the environment. Others such as Monsanto, BASF, Sungro Seeds and a large seed company based out of Andhra Pradesh have either started conducting field trials or are in the process of carrying out the same.
Mahyco, through its group company Sungro, is actively working on developing a GM chickpea ( chana) . Sungro is developing the seeds through a public-private partnership with Assam Agricultural University, which could increase farm production by 20-25 per cent.
Since the permission was granted in January, the company is waiting for the right weather to carry out the trials, according to an industry source.
German chemical company BASF, which also has a plant sciences division, is in the process of carrying out field trials for rice. The company, in a statement to BusinessLine, said “field trials are part of a global research project that aims to significantly increase rice yields.
Through these trials in India, BASF will select the genetically enhanced rice lines which will be best adapted to Indian growing conditions and therefore most suitable for Indian rice farmers.” Monsanto is also carrying out trials for cotton and corn in Maharashtra, as a part of trials nationwide.
The company, in an email statement, said: “We understand that the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee has approved field trials requests of various organisations, including that of Monsanto. State no-objection certificates have also been secured.”(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated April 1, 2015)
In the midst of the widespread damage to standing crops from unseasonal rains, a National Crop Income Insurance Scheme has been introduced on a pilot basis. What is being perceived as a long-term solution to the prevailing agrarian crisis, and is being pushed as an insurance against weather-related disasters as well as provide an assurance against any income shocks will only end up acerbating the crisis.
The cure being suggested is worse than the disease itself.
For nearly 25 years, I have watched with dismay the reluctance on the part of successive governments to provide for any meaningful crop insurance plan for farmers. While in urban areas, Insurance companies have appropriate plans to provide cover for every individual, house and automobile, for farmers the crop losses are assessed only at the block level. A farmer at best can get compensation for an average crop loss suffered in a block even if his own loss in his crop field is several times higher. This is primarily the reason why farmers have never been enthused to take a crop insurance package.
If your car gets a hit, you can claim the damage. If your house is burnt down, the insurance company will pay a compensation irrespective of whether other houses in the colonies suffered or not. Why then an average in a block or a taluka is taken as a measure for crop losses suffered by a farmer in a village is something I have never been able to understand. It is simply the failure of the government to make it obligatory for the insurance companies to provide per unit coverage to farmers that has left the farming community helpless.
So when I first learnt about a new income and crop insurance scheme being introduced, my curiosity was obvious. This scheme – called the National Crop Income Insurance Scheme (NCIIS) – has been launched on a pilot basis in one district in each of the States. As the name suggests, the scheme is designed to provide income security as well as insurance against crop losses suffered from any eventuality. Killing two birds with one stone, isn’t it?
Let’s first look at the insurance against price fluctuation. The scheme is basically an alternative to the Minimum Support Price (MSP) system that prevails, and which the government wants to dismantle. The Economic Survey 2015 makes it explicitly clear that already fruits and vegetables have been withdrawn from the APMC mandis and the next target is to take out wheat and rice from its purview. Fixation of MSP for 24 crops will continue under the new system but the government will withdraw from procurement. For the time being, this scheme is for those areas that don’t get the benefit of MSP.
The guaranteed income at a time of fluctuating prices that the farmers will get under the new insurance scheme would be to a maximum of 20 per cent of the loss a farmer suffers. To work out the guaranteed yield or a threshold yield, the average yield for past 7 years in a district is calculated. In other words, if the wheat MSP is Rs 1450 per quintal, and the farmer gets only Rs 900 by selling it openly in the market, the assured price that the farmer will get is Rs 900 plus 20% of the gap between market price and MSP. Against Rs 1450, a farmer under the new insurance scheme can expect a maximum of Rs 1110 per quintal. The price that a farmer gets would be still lower considering the way a threshold price is calculated.
In case of yield losses from natural calamities, compensation would be based on 70 per cent of the average loss in a district. If a farmer’s yield is 4 tonnes/hectare, and indemnity being 70 per cent, the compensation would be worked out based on 2.8 tonnes only. If the MSP for wheat is Rs 1450, and the average yield is calculated as 2.8 tonnes/hectare, the compensation that a farmer gets will automatically be less than his actual loss. In other words, crop insurance too does not meet farmers per unit losses. If after 25 years of indecision, this is what the government has come up with, only gods can save farmers. #
Source: New Crop Income Insurance Scheme -- a cure worse than the disease.ABPLive. Mar 31, 2015. goo.gl/stlcaX
by Dr. Vandana Shiva – The Asian Age, 24 March 2015
“The cost of the destruction caused by chemical and industrial agriculture in India is more than $1.2 trillion annually. In comparison, India’s GDP in 2011 was $1.1 trillion.”
Does nature have value? As a civilisation that has lasted over a millennia, we would say “yes”. But this is not what some oligarchs and politicians are saying.
If nature has no value, we can cut forests, turn our rivers into drains, our cities into gas chambers and garbage dumps. If nature has no value, we can try and replace its ecological functions with toxic fertilisers, pesticides and chemicals, which lead to cancer and kidney ailments. We can substitute nature’s freely reproducing biodiversity with patented genetically engineered and patented seeds and push our farmers to debt and suicide.
Scientists are now assessing the value of nature, and they estimate that globally the ecological services and functions nature provides are worth more than $33 trillion, almost double the size of the market economy, which is $18 trillion.
We assessed the cost of the social and ecological destruction caused by chemical and industrial agriculture in India to be more than $1.2 trillion annually. Compare this with India’s GDP in 2011, which was $1.1 trillion.
Nature’s economy, even through the narrow view of “worth” that we have become accustomed to, is clearly the bigger economy. Yet, it is not seen to be valuable.
In the original meaning, nature clearly has value. And the highest value we give to nature is it being sacred and inviolable. This is why the sources of our rivers are sacred sites — Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath, Badrinath. That is why species that are vital to the ecology or to health have been declared sacred — tulsi, neem, peepal. And this is why forests rich in biodiversity are sacred groves, or sacred mountains like Niyamgiri — the mountain that upholds the sacred law in Orissa.
In recent times, “value” and “price” have been reduced to their monetary reflections and have been distorted. Thus, sacred rivers like the Ganga and Yamuna, the Mandakini and Alaknanda are no longer seen as the ecological, economic and spiritual lifeline of Indian civilisation. Their value is being reduced to kilowatts of energy, to be extracted by damming rivers, submerging valleys or blasting mountains. While the costs of the ecological and economic destruction are not counted, we have to pay a heavy price in the immediate and long term. Nature reminds us of these costs when it unleashes floods like the Uttarakhand disaster of 2013 which took thousands of lives, destroyed villages, schools, farms, roads and bridges. Yet we still count only the “market value” of electricity generation to justify building of dams and hydroelectric projects.
In 1982, some ecologists were asked by the ministry of environment to look at the impact of limestone mining in Mussoorie’s hills. The extraction of limestone was justified on grounds of providing raw material to the cement, steel and sugar industry. The study showed that the economy being destroyed was much bigger than the mining industry. We assessed the value of limestone in the mountains as an aquifer to provide water to be more than `200 crore. The value of limestone left in the mountains was clearly higher than its value when extracted as raw material for industry.
On the basis of our study, the Supreme Court ordered the closure of the mines in Mussoorie — on grounds that there was a violation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which upholds the right to life of citizens. The court recognised the value of nature and said that when commerce undermines life, it must stop in order to allow life to carry on.
The case of mining of bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills is similar. Niyamgiri is sacred to the tribals and they have resisted its mining by Anil Agarwal of Vedanta for his aluminium empire. Politicians influenced by Vedanta only see his empire, not the forests and biodiversity, not the streams and the prosperous agriculture that the 32 streams support around Niyamgiri. Bauxite mining was stopped by the tribals on the basis of their constitutional rights — the Panchayati Raj Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act and Recognition of Forest Rights Act.
I was a member of the expert group that drafted the Forest Rights Act, which was meant to undo the historic injustice of non-recognition of tribal forest rights. To clear the way for the exploitation of Niyamgiri, the government is planning to amend or do away with laws that protect nature and the rights of people as enshrined in the Constitution.
Undoing these acts would amount to perpetrating the historic injustice of colonial law, just as the land “grab” ordinance aims to undo the amendments of the Land Acquisition Act.
It blatantly ignores the contribution of nature through fertile soils, and of our farmers, the foundation of our nation’s economy that provide food security. The social impact assessment and food security assessment in the amended law were aimed at including the full economy in the calculus, not just the super profits of the land grabbers and land speculators. And the consent clause is aimed at ensuring the democratic participation of all stakeholders in land use and economic development of the country.
The dismantling of laws by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government is being justified in the name of growth and development. But this growth and development is only for the oligarchs, not for Indian citizens.
Governments that serve the one per cent are no longer democracies, because a democracy is supposed to be of the people, by the people, for the people. “Growth” that fails to take ecological and social destruction into account is no longer a measure of the health of the economy, but a measure of its sickness. And “development” that threatens nature’s economy and people’s economy, leading to ecological crisis and poverty, is not development; it is mal-development.
We have a duty to protect nature and humanity from the short-term assault of uncontrollable greed, immeasurable irresponsibility and criminal blindness to the worth of nature and people.
The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust
The country hasn’t had to use any fossil fuels so far in 2015, much thanks to heavy rain that has kept the country’s hydroelectric power plants working at full capacity without any interruptions. This accomplishment is no random luck, it’s the result of hard work to reach the country’s goal to become carbon-neutral by 2021, as Costa Rico announced back in 2009.
“We are declaring peace with nature,” Costa Rican ambassador Mario Fernández Silva said in 2010 when his country won the Future Policy award. “We feel a strong sense of responsibility about looking after our wealth of biodiversity. Our attitude is not progressive, it is conservative. Our view is that until we know what we have, it is our duty to protect it.”
Costa Rica has also generated additional electricity from various other renewable energy sources – such as wind, biomass, geothermal and solar energy. Last year, hydropower accounted for 80 percent of the total electricity used while geothermal reached upwards of 10 percent.
Approximately 94 percent of Costa Rica’s energy comes from renewable energy sources. But their energy system is sensitive to climate and weather disruptions due to their hydro power plants being based on so called run-of-the-river systems. They can therefore be hindered because of seasonal changes in water flow or drought – something which is becoming far too common due to climate change.
CleanTechnica reports that Costa Rica are planning to build three new geothermal projects, capable of generating 50-55 MW each, to help diversify their energy portfolio. These new geothermal plants will help Costa Rica to continue to produce clean, renewable energy when the country’s hydropower plants are unable to produce electricity.
It’s worth pointing out that Costa Rica is a small nation with a population of only around 4.8 million people. The country also does not have much heavy and energy-intensive industries, and mainly relies on tourism and agriculture. Despite this, Costa Rica’s accomplishment gives us hope and it should inspire other nations to increase their renewable energy efforts.
Groundwater supplies are quickly diminishing and the report estimates that 20 percent of the world’s aquifers are currently over-exploited. There is an urgent need to manage water more sustainably, the UN report concludes. If we fail to do this, the competition for water will increase and lead to “significant impacts” on both the economy and human well-being. It will also increase the risk of conflicts, the UN report warns.
Safe drinking water supplies will continue to dwindle as long as water pollution continues to be ignored and go unpunished by local authorities, and water use remains wasteful and unregulated, as it unfortunately does in many nations, the UN says in its report. In order to mitigate this water crisis, the UN is urging politicians, communities and industries to rethink its water policies and to make a greater effort to conserve water.
The 55 percent increase in water demand is mainly due to growing demands from manufacturing, thermal electricity generation and domestic use. But due to increasing population numbers and consumption levels, agriculture will also need to substantially increase its food productions to keep up with demand – and this will in turn increase water usage.
“By 2050, agriculture will need to produce 60 percent more food globally, and 100 percent more in developing countries […] global water demand for the manufacturing industry is expected to increase by 400 percent from 2000 to 2050, leading all other sectors, with the bulk of this increase occurring in emerging economies and developing countries,” the UN report said. “Unless the balance between demand and finite supplies is restored, the world will face an increasingly severe global water deficit.”
Considering that current demands for water in the agriculture sector is already unsustainable, this will be a difficult task. The agriculture sector must increase its water use efficiency by reducing water losses in the production process, and to “increase crop productivity with respect to water” availability and demand, the report says.
The UN report also points to two worrying global trends that are converging: climate change and growing economic development in poor developing countries. This convergence will especially “intensify the water insecurity of poor and marginalized people in low income countries.”
“Water resources are a key element in policies to combat poverty, but are sometimes themselves threatened by development,” said UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova. “Water directly influences our future, so we need to change the way we assess, manage and use this resource in the face of ever-rising demand and the over exploitation of our groundwater reserves.”
But this pledge might no longer be a reality.
Energy Minister, Ms Segolene Royal, said last month that it was no longer a high priority to do so. She said that she was not in favour of quitting nuclear power and added that France needs to continue investing in it, particularly in fourth-generation reactors which will consume less nuclear fuel and recycle nuclear waste.
Last year, the lower house of the French parliament voted on a bill that would cap nuclear production at current levels.
But earlier this month the senate, in which the conservative opposition has a majority and which has the power to amend but not block laws, scrapped the cap and removed any reference to 2025.
Royal refused to confirm whether the government would stick with the 2025 deadline, one of President Francois Hollande's key election promises, and enter the new amendments to the text.
All eyes are on France as it prepares to host the crucial COP 21 summit at the end of this year, a summit which many believe to be the last chance to salvage a global deal on combating climate change.
Due to the large share of nuclear energy in France’s electricity mix, its CO2 emissions are among the lowest in Europe.
But France is also standing by its goals on renewable energy generation, which by 2030 should account for 40% of its energy mix. Ms Royal says it’s more important to focus on reaching this goal than to reduce nuclear capacity.
It is possible that France could expect higher electricity demand in 2030 than today. As a part of its green initiative, and as an attempt to combat the big problem of air pollution, France plans a lucrative electric car scheme. Such a scheme, if successful, could dramatically increase electricity usage.
Therefore it does not looks as if France is gearing up to quit nuclear, something Royal herself has been quite clear about.
France is also a key player in nuclear research into a new generation of sodium-cooled nuclear reactors.
These latest announcements put France on an entirely different nuclear path from neighbouring Germany, which wants to free its entire energy sector from nuclear by 2022.
The foundation can and should address the climate crisis, particularly given the threat it poses to food security, public health, human rights, and the development agenda.
The Gates Foundation has made a significant contribution to practical responses to poverty, and Bill Gates has been a long-standing advocate of “creative capitalism” to address global development issues.
To their credit, Bill and Melinda Gates have shown great personal engagement with larger questions about human development, and their foundation has been a significant actor in the fields of agriculture, global health, education, and population.
Bill Gates during a 2013 speech on climate change. Photo: Matthew Rimmer.
Yet it has also been reluctant to address the climate question directly, stating:
"The foundation believes that climate change is a major issue facing all of us, particularly poor people in developing countries, and we applaud the work that others are doing to help find solutions in this area,"
"While we do not fund efforts specifically aimed at reducing carbon emissions, many of our global health and development grants directly address problems that climate change creates or exacerbates."
Sign on climate change at the Gates Foundation. Photo: Matthew Rimmer.
For instance, the foundation highlights its agricultural development initiative, which it says will “help small farmers who live on less than $1 per day adapt to increased drought and flooding through the development of drought and flood resistant crops, improved irrigation efficiency, and other means”.
While this certainly involves indirectly responding to climate change, it doesn’t put the issue of preventing climate change at the heart of the issue.
In his annual letter, Bill Gates noted:
"It is fair to ask whether the progress we’re predicting will be stifled by climate change… The most dramatic problems caused by climate change are more than 15 years away, but the long-term threat is so serious that the world needs to move much more aggressively — right now — to develop energy sources that are cheaper, can deliver on demand, and emit zero carbon dioxide."
This is a somewhat curious statement, given the real and present danger already posed to food security, biodiversity, public health, and human security.
The energy question
Bill Gates has another keen interest: energy security. He has discussed what he sees as the need for an “energy miracle” to remedy the climate:
"To have the kind of reliable energy we expect, and to have it be cheaper and zero carbon, we need to pursue every available path to achieve a really big breakthrough."
He seems to have been interested in nuclear power, carbon capture, and geo-engineering - rather than renewable energy.
For her part, Melinda Gates has been highly critical of climate deniers, emphasising the need for politicians to heed climate science.
The Naomi Klein factor
See video: This Changes Everything - Naomi Klein
In a 2013 article in the Nation, the writer Naomi Klein expressed concerns about the huge fossil fuel holdings of some charities, including the Gates Foundation, and argued that this was inconsistent with public health goals:
"A top priority of the Gates Foundation has been supporting malaria research, a disease intimately linked to climate… Does it really make sense to fight malaria while fueling one of the reasons it may be spreading more ferociously in some areas?"
In her 2014 book, This Changes Everything, she went on to criticise the efforts of green billionaires to save us from climate change. Of Bill Gates and his foundation, she wrote:
"Though he professes great concern about climate change, the Gates Foundation had at least $1.2 billion invested in just two oil giants, BP and ExxonMobil, as of December 2013, and those are only the beginning of his fossil fuel holdings."
Gates has been directly questioned on this issue, both in an interview with a Dutch journalist and during a 2013 appearance on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Q&A program.
See video: Bill Gates on ABC’s Q&A
Klein has also criticised Bill Gates' technocratic approach to the climate crisis, considering him to be overly dismissive of renewable energy:
"When Gates had his climate change epiphany, he too immediately raced to the prospect of a silver-bullet techno-fix in the future - without pausing to consider viable - if economically challenging - responses in the here and now."
Will The Guardian’s campaign succeed?
The Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger has pledged to put climate change at the “front and centre” of the newspaper’s coverage, lending support to the global divestment movement and urging philanthropic trusts like the Gates Foundation and Britain’s Wellcome Trust to follow the example of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
See video: Keep It In The Ground
The Guardian said it recognised that the Gates Foundation has made “a huge contribution to human progress and equality by supporting scientific research and development projects”, but warned that “investments in fossil fuels are putting this progress at great risk, by undermining your long term ambitions.”
The campaign urges the Gates Foundation “to commit now to divesting from the top 200 fossil fuel companies within five years and to immediately freeze any new investments in those companies”. Rusbridger wrote that this would be “a small but crucial step in the economic transition away from a global economy run on fossil fuels”.
Hopefully, the campaign will be successful. Bill and Melinda Gates have certainly shown a willingness in the past to revise their approach, in light of new evidence, and both have been disturbed by the politics of climate denial.
The Gates Foundation can make a stronger contribution to the battle against climate change, especially given how the climate issue cuts across its food security, public health, and human rights aims. This is one way it can do so.