Category Archives: Agriculture

Araku coffee

The Financial Times reported this week that subsistence coffee farmers in the Araku region of Andhra Pradesh set up The Small and Marginal Tribal Farmers Mutually-Aided Co-operative Society in 2006 to process the coffee grown through the Naandi Foundation, a Hyderabad-based philanthropic organisation, which gave technical support with cultivation and marketed the farmers’ produce overseas.

Their coffee is grown bio-dynamically, requiring no costly fertilisers or agrochemicals; farmers enrich the soil through mulching, using leaves, fallen fruits and other freely available organic matter. They use inexpensive, herbal soil additives to enhance soil fertility and fight pests. It is produced using techniques similar to those in wine making and the variants which draw their flavours from the soil in which they are grown enjoy a guaranteed price as ‘speciality’ coffee.

Tribal people in the Araku region – Bagathas, Valmikis, Kondus and Poorjas – traditionally relied largely on collecting forest produce. The government has created a special developmental and funding plan for locals. The Times of India explains that in such ‘agency areas’, tribal people can use as much government land as much as they can till.

Amy Kazmin (FT) writes: “Ten years ago, the residents of Kabada Boddaput — in southeastern India’s remote Araku valley — were impoverished subsistence farmers, living in mud huts and eating the millet, yams, pumpkin and greens they grew on their one- to five-acre plots. Cash was scarce and emergencies meant borrowing from friends and family — debts that might take years to repay. ‘It was a very terrible situation,’ recalls Sanyasi Gullela, a farmer. ‘There were not enough clothes and no money for cattle.’ “ Daily life has improved, with the increase in income used to improve homes, buy more clothes and nutritious food.

The Times of India reports that four prominent businessman have taken up the cause of  marketing Araku coffee and this is now being profitably sold as a “speciality” coffee to ‘select’ roasters and traders from Japan, Korea, and Europe. These ‘high-end’ buyers — who taste and rate each lot before purchasing — are willing to pay up to Rs700 per kg for the best of the beans.

It is economic heresy to wish that most of the coffee could be enjoyed in the huge number of coffee houses in India – including 400 outlets of The Indian Coffee House,chain run by worker co-operative societies – and only the surplus exported.

 

 

 

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Professor Moseley’s recent rebuttal of the decades-long assertions that GMOs will solve the problem of world hunger

On July 3rd this year, William G. Moseley, Professor and Chair of Geography, and Director of the African Studies Program, at Macalester College in Minnesota, published a paper in the Geographical Review with the title: ‘A Risky Solution for the Wrong Problem: Why GMOs won’t Feed the Hungry of the World’.

His basic thesis is that GMO technology is so expensive that it is inaccessible to the poorest of the poor for whom food insecurity is the great issue.

He opens: “There’s a standard setup that many food-policy experts use to frame the global hunger problem and its solution. It typically goes like this. We have a global population of 7.5 billion today of which nearly a billion suffer from chronic hunger. With a projected world population of approximately 10 billion by 2050, we simply have to produce more food to meet demand and feed the hungry. As such, we must use all available technologies, including genetically modified organisms (GMOs), to achieve this end (Pinstrup-Andersen and Schiøler 2003; Collier 2008; Juma 2011).

Moseley reminds us that Amartya Sen showed the policy community that though plenty of food might be available on the market, poor people might not have access to that food because of limited incomes (1981).

He adds that geographer William Dando was also making similar points around the same time, based on archival research, showing that food was often available on the market during famines, and even being exported (1980).

A Cambridge reader sent a link to an appraisal of Moseley’s paper by Charles Benbrook (Hygeia Analytics), who elaborates on Moseley’s next point, adding more detail:

“How many times have we read both in science journals and the media that GE breakthrough X or Y can increase production of Z crop by so much, or overcome some well-known problem limiting crop yields (e.g. drought, saline soils, Black Sigatoka, wheat viral disease, lack of N, etc etc). All of these widely-exaggerated claims are based on a huge assumption – that all other constraints to yield will be simultaneously overcome to support the promised, much higher crop yields after adoption of some GE-based genetic or production-input technology.

“No one told the farmer that the new seeds will be super-charged for production under ideal conditions and when ample soil nutrients and water are available, but will be vulnerable and weak in responding to drought and a host of pest and disease problems that live in the neighborhood and must be dealt with, year in and year out.

“So, a farmer in Mali buys the new GE corn seed capable of tripling her corn yield, based on careful and rigorous field trails touted by the seed company (and all too often, Gates Foundation funded agronomists). But no one told her she would have to find a way to add 80 units of nitrogen per acre, or that to produce 3-X higher yields, the crop will need three-times the water, with no significant periods of drought, especially during key steps in pollination and ear formation.

“And last and most important – no one told her that if she bypassed spending the extra money for the potentially higher-yielding, GE seeds, and instead spent it on proven agroecological methods to overcome her most important yield constraints, whether they be worn out soils, nasty weeds, or drought, that she would be more likely to end the season with a bigger crop than possible in most years out of 10, had she planted the GE seeds, as well as having more profit left to support her family”.

 

 

 

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Professor Moseley’s recent rebuttal of the decades-long assertions that GMOs will solve the problem of world hunger – 2

Moseley reminds readers that the policy of food self-sufficiency of the previous era, of producing as much food within the borders of your country as possible, fell out of fashion as it was thought to be costly and inefficient. Global food prices were relatively low and stable in the 1980s and 1990s. Countries might produce some of their own food, but also trade for what they needed by exporting commodities.

This all began to change in the mid-2000s, and especially after 2007—2008, when food prices jumped globally by 50%, continuing to 2011-2012 (below). These price shocks created social unrest in some cases, and political leaders began once again to push for higher food production (Moseley and others 2010).

Only one section of the crowd protesting in Morocco (2011)

Moseley asks: will the use of GM seeds improve access to food by the poorest of the poor, either by improving their incomes or helping them produce more of their own food?

He answers: “Sadly, no. The most widely used GM crops today are controlled by corporate interests and their cost tends to put them out of reach of the truly poor. New seeds must also be repurchased every one to three years, making this a recurring expense”.

Whilst agreeing that  there are potential benefits associated with GM crops, and that GM crops may make sense as a strategy for wealthier farmers to increase yields and production, he refers to growing concerns about gene escape from herbicide-resistant crops to other crops and weeds (Chapman and Burke 2006) which have led many farmers in the North to question the efficacy of GM crops (Hakim 2016).

Pesticide resistance also was predicted in 1999 and has been observed in recent years

In 1999 the BBC reported that results of research at the University of Arizona, into the breeding cycle of the pink bollworm moth, a common pest of cotton, suggested that the bollworm could rapidly become resistant to the insecticide produced within a GM cotton plant called “Bt cotton”, developed by Monsanto.

Following several reports of infestation in earlier years, this month India’s Business Standard reported that GM cotton crops have come under severe pest attacks; a substantial area from whitefly attack in Punjab and Haryana and the pink bollworm in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.

Moseley believes that agroecological approaches which help the poorest farmers to improve production and avoid unnecessary financial risk may hold some promise. They may be able to improve yields and manage pest problems through improved intercropping and agroforestry combinations, as well as more tightly integrated crop and livestock systems.

Though, as he acknowledges, these practices have long existed within traditional farming systems in the tropics, he believes that there is enormous potential for scientists to collaborate with local people to make improvements to these techniques.

Funding for work in this area has been limited, as agroecological approaches are unlikely to generate a financial return to justify or even recoup such investment and the returns in terms of human and environmental health are not quantified in their cost-benefit calculations.

But people’s research still goes ahead as part of their daily life, undeterred by lack of funding, see earlier work by Winin Pereira. In this early book (right), he says, in similar vein to Moseley, “Revitalising peoples’ science . . . its preservation and restoration appears to be the only way to rebuild a sustainable society”.

Recent reporting from Devinder Sharma relates many initiatives in different parts of the country. He wrote about the work of Ishwarappa Bankar of Hire Yadachi village of Haveri district in Karnataka (left), who has created a seed bank of traditional millet strains at his home.

Another memorable account comes from Fran Wilde (Action Village India), who forwarded an account of women’s collective farming in Kerala to us recently. Devinder Sharma and his friend and colleague from Kerala confirmed the success of this cheering initiative.

 

 

 

 

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Protect and develop India’s traditional knowledge, genetic resources, seeds and medicines

As the latest news of the applications to plant GM mustard in India is published, Winin Pereira’s writings were scanned for his views on the subject of genetically modified crops. Far more attention was given to genetic screening of embryos and research into genetic manipulation of human beings.

As an ethically motivated scientist, he would certainly have denounced this money/profit-centred exhortation – tempered by a sop to bee lovers – issued by Bhagirath Choudhary, Founder Director at South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC), New Delhi Area, India. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/allow-high-yielding-gm-mustard-now-bhagirath-choudhary?trk=mp-reader-card 

The following extracts from his writings have an indirect bearing on the subject.

  • The traditional agricultural systems, not dependent on these factors, survived for millennia till they were displaced by this transitory “modernisation”. A change in the climate and the depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer could cause major reductions in food production, since the extremely narrow genetic base from which high-yielding varieties are derived could result in widespread crop losses.
  • The high susceptibility of the new varieties to pest attacks is another factor contributing to insecurity. At the same time, the creativity which produced the tens of thousands of different traditional crop varieties adapted to numerous ecological niches is being destroyed by TNC producers of special seeds.
  • While the West claims that the available land and other resources will be inadequate to provide food for rising populations, it encourages the use of food in a most inefficient manner: many grains directly edible by humans are now being redirected to cattle, pigs and poultry to obtain expensive milk, meat and eggs.
  • India at present grows sufficient food to provide all its people with adequate basic nourishment, yet about one third of the population living below the poverty line do not get sufficient to eat.
  • The godowns are overflowing, but the people cannot afford to buy the stored food. The grain merely goes to maintain a population of rats and other pests, including the population of synthetic pesticide manufacturers.

Correct and full information, for instance, about food products, their real nutritional value in relation to their cost, the nature of the additives used, genetic modifications, if any), about pesticides (their health and environmental effects), about medicines (side-effects, alternatives) and so on, has to be wrung out of the system, instead of being given as a matter of right. But if people were fully informed, the sales of most such products would certainly drop drastically.

The ancestral rights of the indigenous peoples to control over their lands and other resources are being viciously destroyed for Western hamburgers, toilet paper and paperbacks. The exercise of such rights often involves the commercialising of these activities and the co-option of indigenous peoples into the mainstream.

The Western predators need to be reminded about the rights of the indigenes. They have the right to special measures to control, develop and protect their sciences, technologies and cultural manifestations, including human and other genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs and visual and performing arts.

Next: relevant to the fourth bullet point, a summary of ‘A Risky Solution for the Wrong Problem: Why GMOs won’t Feed the Hungry of the World’ – William G. Moseley,  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gere.12259/full: Copyright © 2017 by the American Geographical Society of New York. First published: 3 July 2017Full publication historyDOI: 10.1111/gere.12259  View/save citation

The Warli tribals of Maharashtra: a progressive culture to be emulated – 2

In ‘Celebrating People’s Knowledge, Winin Pereira and co-author Subhash Sule, quote Gandhi’s words: “Every man must be his own scientist and every village a science academy” Anyone has the right – and everyone needs to exercise the right – to be a “scientist” or “technologist”, to question the origin of phenomena, to develop new theories and technologies or to modify old ones”.

Synthetic fertilisers

In the rice paddies

Warli farmers tried out synthetic fertilisers but soon abandoned them They said that the fertilisers damaged the soil and that larger amounts were required each year. In consequence, they use very little, and then not every year.

Careful use of material resources 

Adivasis see no value in the possession of an increasing quantity of material products or in a lifestyle that stresses comfort even at the cost of the environment and justice. Those possessing more wealth than others are expected to distribute their excess among the rest of their community.The awareness of their interdependence on other forms of life makes their approach to solutions eco-friendly; resources are used with restraint, pollution is minimised. Basically this is an acknowledgement of their awareness of the need to be frugal and sparing in their use of materials and resources which are necessary for their survival. 

Traditional technologies

The development of traditional technologies is limited to those which do not produce unemployment or pollute the environment. There is no unnecessary processing of raw materials; the minimum quantity is used and in processing there is no waste, or if there are remnants unused for the basic need, they are used for other essential purposes. A few of the examples given:

  • Wood resistant to termites, such as teak, is used for house construction, thus eliminating the need to use dangerous pesticides.
  • Timber resistant to the attacks of teredos (shipworms) is used for constructing boats, avoiding the need for coating the wood with highly poisonous chemicals like tributyltin, with the boat also having a longer life.
  • The use of banana leaves as dinner plates, making washing up unnecessary and the ‘plates’ themselves serving as food for cows, which in turn produce milk.
  • Where banana plants do not grow, plates made of dry leaves of several other trees [ banyan or breadfruit] or even wooden cups and plates have been used.

Medicinal research 

These isolated groups use a range of plants for medicinal and other purposes, having done a lot of research over time. Over 9500 wild plant species have been recorded as used by bhagats (right) and other tribals for various requirements, of which over 7500 are used for medicinal purposes. In the case of herbal medicines, cures will only be researched for the specific diseases which occur in the traditional scientist’s habitat. S/he cannot test out herbs without patients who need treatment. The scientist is most likely to use the plants growing locally. Only if these fail will s/he look further afield. This could explain the different species used even by neighbouring communities for the same disease.

Information about medicine used by Gujarati tribes living in the Satlasana forests is recorded here: https://www.rroij.com/open-access/folk-herbal-medicines-used-by-the-tribalsinsatlasana-forest-area-mehsana-district-gujarat-india.php?aid=33919

Most of the activity in this study was carried out by adivasis who conduct research while carrying on their normal occupations, in their fields and homes, mainly using locally available resources. The researchers do not require formal recognition for their work and are happy to see the use of their shared inventions without expectations of any rewards for their efforts. The free dissemination of knowledge is an essential characteristic of the traditional system.

 

 

 

“The push for GM mustard is coming from the commercial food industry, not from the kitchens of ordinary Indian homes”

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As the Indian government considers approving the commercial cultivation of GM mustard, the Hindu reports that an alliance of biologists and activists have warned that such a move would be ill-advised.

A threat to seed diversity

Kavitha Kuruganti, convener of the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), said that GM mustard threatened the seed diversity of indigenous mustard.

She told a panel here at Anna University: “The push for GM is coming from the commercial food industry, not from the kitchens of ordinary Indian homes”.

India can produce all mustard needed

She added that India produces sufficient mustard to meet its consumption requirements and the claim that GM mustard will reduce dependence on mustard oil imports is baseless.

Implications for health and safety of its consumers

Dr. Sultan Ahmed Ismail, a soil biologist, said that herbicides sprayed on the crop to kill weeds were potentially carcinogenic.

Live Law, a legal news portal, ‘set to redefine the standards of legal journalism in India’ reports that – in a letter addressed to the Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate – Public Interest Advocate Prashant Bhushan has set out his opposition to the commercial release of GM Mustard, one of several grounds being that the government itself admits that there’s no evidence that GM mustard will increase yields.

These organisations are amongst over 100 organisations representing farmer unions, trade unions, civil society groups, and political parties, who are urging the government not to release GM mustard.

They say the farmers’ problem is not the production of mustard but the unfair market prices.

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For more information there are links on our 2016 mailing on this subject.

 

 

 

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Farmers have been subsidising the nation

So says Devinder Sharma, in India’s APN News, a respected and widely watched news channel:

“The economic crisis farmers are facing is compounded by the denial of a rightful income to farmers for their produce. To keep food inflation under control it is the farmers who have paid the price. What we don’t realize is that it is the farmers who have been subsidising the nation all these years.

“Farmers are in distress throughout the country, be it in Karnataka, Punjab, Maharashtra or UP. Why has the situation reached these extreme levels and what can be done to reverse this trend?

“The Economic Survey 2016 had clearly pointed to the severity of the prevailing agrarian crisis. Accordingly, the average annual income of a farm family in 17 states of India is a paltry Rs 20,000. This means that the average monthly income for a farm household in these 17 states is less than Rs 1,700.

Most of us who live in cities have a monthly mobile bill exceeding this

I shudder to think how farmers survive with such meagre income . . . I thought this revelation alone should have shocked the country and forced policy planners to undertake immediate steps to address the grave tragedy. But unfortunately, nothing of that sort happened.

And, as in UK: “Our planners can’t think beyond what is prescribed in textbooks. Increasing crop productivity, expanding irrigation and reducing the cost of production as the way forward . . .” (see next week’s post here)

There is a high rate of suicide in the farming communities of India and UK, compared with other occupational groups.  Over the past 21 years, India’s National Crime Record Bureau reports that more than 3.18 lakh farmers have committed suicide. In secretive England such records are out of date or confined to abstruse medical journals, giving the public to assume that all is well.

Sharma emphasises that the burden food producers carry is not one of low productivity but the lack of a fair price providing an assured farm income and this is true in both countries.

Farmers from the southern state of Tamil Nadu display skulls, who they claim are the remains of Tamil farmers who have committed suicide, during a protest demanding a drought-relief package from the federal government, in New Delhi, India March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

http://english.alarabiya.net/en/variety/2017/03/23/Why-Indian-farmers-brought-human-skulls-to-this-protest-.html

In both countries already affluent middlemen in retail, packaging and transport or speculating in food futures have prospered while those who actually work and produce food – in particular fresh milk, fruit and vegetables – are denied a fair price covering production and living costs.

 

 

 

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