Category Archives: Economy

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 In secretive England such records are out of date or confined to abstruse medical journals, giving the public to assume that all is well.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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A Bandra housing society avoids food waste

A link to this news from Zoru Bhathena’s Facebook page was followed up; it led to Midday article about 28 families of Agasti Building  in Bandra  who were prompted by the outbreaks of fire at the Deonar and Chembur dumping ground last year to take up the zero waste campaign and turn their waste into compost, using it to grow their own organic food.

The plot of land the society has set aside to grown vegetables with its compost 

“Toxic fumes enveloped our area when the fires broke out. Afterwards, we decided on better waste management to avoid repeat of such a scenario,” said Vidya Vaidya, a resident.

Four compost tumblers were installed in Agasti Building and 28 bins to collect wet garbage distributed among residents. A plot of land has been set aside on the premises to use the compost made to grow organic vegetables. These will be distributed free among residents.

CK Narula, an elderly resident of the building, initiated the zero waste campaign in the society. He explained: “The waste bins are separated into two layers. The second later will collect the waste extract. Residents will have to rotate the garbage in the two layers frequently to air the bin. The waste will take 20-25 days to turn into compost, after which resident can use it to grow plants.”

Residents of Agasti building, Bandra Reclamation, inaugurate their compost kit. Pics/Datta Kumbhar

Bandra H/west officer Sharad Ughade said although the concept of zero waste management is not alien to the city – civic hospitals, ward offices and educational institutions have already adopted it – it’s the first time that a housing society has pooled in its own money to start such an initiative. He said if the housing society produced compost in excess of its needs, the BMC would use it in civic hospitals.

Residents in the adjoining Anand Sagar Building have set aside a 1,500-sqft land on its premises to grow vegetables. Once we start making compost, we will make use of the plot,” said Najmudin Bookwala, secretary of Anand Sagar Building.

The Bandra Reclamation Residents Association, the BMC, NGO Street Mukti Sanghatana and Bandra Reclamation Area Volunteers Organisation supported this initiative. It aims to pave the way for zero waste management campaigns for other housing societies. 

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There is a very interesting article about Bandra’s zero garbage campaign here: http://www.afternoondc.in/city-news/bandra-gears-up-for-zero-garbage-project/article_179030

And earlier an article about avoiding food waste in two UK workplaces was posted on a different website: https://ourbirmingham.wordpress.com/2017/03/31/no-food-waste-in-these-london-and-birmingham-venues/

 

 

 

 

Solar power forges ahead in India – but is there any movement on hydrogen fuelled transport – road, rail or water?

British readers were impressed by the news about solar power generated on Indian railway station rooftops and arrays, which was posted on another website. The blog opened:

Saurabh Mahapatra is a young solar enthusiast from India who has reported on emerging solar power markets in several countries. On the Clean Technica website, he records that in  February’s union budget Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced that 7,000 railway stations will be fed with solar power as part of the Indian Railways’ mission to implement 1,000 megawatts of solar power capacity”.

Some readers also expressed an interest in ‘stand-alone, ‘off-grid’ solar generation and use in villages. In some places this was limited to solar lanterns in the home, some PV solar power generating electricity and solar street lighting.

A search revealed news of action in Dharnai, a small village of 2400 people. Located near Bodh Gaya in Bihar’s Jehanabad district, it didn’t have access to electricity. But a few years ago, with the help of Greenpeace, the villagers installed a solar-powered micro-grid, which provides 24×7 electricity to more than 450 households and 50 commercial establishments.

The village has since then been running a website ‘Dharnai Live motivating other villages and asking the government to adapt similar renewable methods; see https://yourstory.com/2015/12/dharnai-bihar-solar/ We would like to know how this was funded.

In British and Indian cities however, traffic congestion is causing problems and damaging health. Leading medical authorities estimate that air pollution is a factor in a huge number of chronic ill-health and premature death.

There is growing interest in cleaner forms of transport, electric cars and hydrogen-fuelled buses, boats and now trains – see a hydrogen chronology on a sister website.

Today a reader sent news from the Railway Gazette that Alstom has completed the first tests of its Coradia iLint trainsets where hydrogen fuel cells replace the diesel powertrains used in a conventional Lint.

Throughout the rest of the year the iLint trains will undergo more rigorous testing at Salzgitter, up to the trains’ approved maximum speed of 140 km/h at the Velim test ring in the Czech Republic.

Alstom says it intends to support the use of wind power to produce hydrogen for fuel cell applications hydrogen production in future.

News on any hydrogen-related developments in India, or elsewhere, from the range of visitors to the site (left), would be welcomed.

 

 

 

 

A decent minimum income for food producers

Just as in England, many organisations ostensibly concerned with the prosperity of farmers hold endless conferences. Analyst Devinder Sharma notes that in India the Niti Ayog, NABARD, Agricultural Universities, Research institutes, public sector units, and everyone even remotely concerned with agriculture are now talking about ways to double farmers’ income. He comments sardonically:

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“While the number of seminars/conferences on doubling the farmers’ income have doubled in the past few months, farmers are increasingly sinking into a cycle of deprivation”.

The arguments invariably revolve around the same principles — increasing crop productivity, expanding irrigation, crop insurance and strengthening the electronic national agricultural market platform (e-NAM). And in both countries those who talk of allowing markets to provide higher farm incomes are the ones who get assured salary packets every month – in England some are even paid from a levy on farmers. 

In both countries the rate of suicide amongst farmers is high – see the pitiful picture in Sharma’s latest post:

“A 58-year-old farmer of Chikkamsihosur village in Haveri district in Karnataka climbed up a transformer on the outskirt of his village a few days back to get himself electrocuted. Depressed over the failure of his crop for two consecutive years he was constantly being harassed by moneylenders. He carried an outstanding debt of only Rs 3-lakh”.

In an order issued by India’s Supreme Court in 1991 a set of six criteria for working out a minimum wage was laid out: children’s education, medical requirement, minimum recreation and provision for old age and marriage, should constitute 25% of the wage. Further, it stipulated the minimum wage to include a dearness allowance compensating for inflation

Using the same criteria that the Supreme Court had laid down in 1991, and also following the same decent living norms prescribed by the Indian Labour Conference, 1957, a few economists, researchers, and agricultural activists came together for a workshop in Hyderabad in December 2016 to work out an income security model for farmers. This was followed by another workshop in Kerala in the first week of January attended by ten economists and policy researchers. They aimed to ascertain the payment that farmers deserve for the ecosystem services they protect while undertaking crop cultivation. Led by the United Nations, measuring ecosystem services is now becoming a global norm in computing what is called the green economy.

Farmers and many civil society organizations have been demanding the implementation of Swaminathan Committee report which proposed 50% profit over the cost of production.

Only 6% of Indian farmers get the benefit of the minimum support price – there is no mechanism to support the remaining 94% of farmers. A Cornish farmer explained to the writer that, similarly, British supermarkets discriminate. They have devised a system of aligned or dedicated suppliers – currently only 20% of UK dairy farmers – who supply liquid milk through a processor and get paid a little more for their milk; this is often less than a penny a litre because of all the rules which go with the contract. The headline price is the one the supplier gets if all the boxes are ticked – which is rare.

Sharma’s idea of providing farmers with an assured income package every month includes the 94% of the farming community who have been suffering silently all these years. MSP certainly will remain as one of the ways to provide a guaranteed income to farmers. But we have to work out other ways to provide assured income to rest of the farming community. The estimates based on the minimum prescribed living standards show that the farmers suffer a huge economic loss for providing cheaper food. When the lowest government employees are assured monthly pay of Rs 18,000 per month, and the non-agricultural workers with a daily wage of Rs 351, the state cannot leave the country’s food producers with meagre incomes that push them into a debt spiral forcing them to leave farming or commit suicide.

As Sharma writes, the time has come to look beyond crop productivity, contract farming and privatization of marketing structures as the way forward to give farmers a fair income.

Read the article here: Ground Reality at 2/22/2017 09:54:00 PM

 

 

 

Devinder Sharma visits Kadar tribal people in Kerala

Bringing back memories of CHS co-founder Winin Pereira’s visits to live with and learn from adivasis in Alonde, Devinder Sharma writes about his recent journey:

Deep in the forests of Vazhachal-Sholayar in the Western Ghats, I met Maya. She is a tribal belonging to the Kadar tribe. Faced with extinction, there are only about 1400 Kadar in the world, of which about 850 live in the tribal settlements in Thrissur district in Kerala (about 150-200 kms from Kochi in Kerala).

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They depend on forest resources for their sustenance. Home to hornbills, elephants and over 200 animal species, the Vazhachal-Sholayar forests are rich in resources for the Kadar tribes to bank upon. Since the Kadar tribes have not been traditionally into agriculture, the maintenance and conservation of forest resources is vital to them. Maya, along with a few more, had camped on the big rocks on the banks of a rivulet.

To learn more about them, Usha Soolapani and Sridhar R from Thanal in Thiruvanthapuram and I decided to walk up the rocks to meet some of them camping there. With just bare necessities, which includes a few aluminum utensils, a few clothes and a couple of bed sheets, Maya has been camping here for about two months. A frail puppy was tied outside the makeshift tent. The condition of the tent can be seen in the accompanying picture.  Usha and Sridhar did the talking being able to converse in Malayalam as well as Tamil. Maya told us that the entire family gets out into the forests to search and collect some tubers which are used in cosmetics, along with honey and a couple of minor produce. Sridhar Radhakrishnan tells me this tuber plant is called Manjakoova in Malayalam. It is an Yellow Arrowroot. She gets about Rs 100/kg for the cut and dried root tubers. You can see a picture of it in her hand.

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It is heartening to know that WWF-India had earlier initiated a dialogue with the Forest Department to set up a simple honey filtration unit for the Kadar communities. A benefit sharing mechanism from honey sale through the Forest Development Agency was also worked out. I am not aware of how this mechanism works. Since the Kadar have immense knowledge about ethnobotany I see an immense potential of documenting the traditional knowledge of some of the lesser known properties of the plant species found abundantly in these forests. It will be good to know of the benefits in monetary terms, if any.

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When they move to inside of the evergreen forest they put their essentials on a machan (platform) so that it escapes the eyes of wild animals. I asked Maya if she was content with her living conditions. She said yes and when I suggested why doesn’t she move to the nearby town she flatly refused. She told us that she and her family were very happy with what they are doing.

(Winin Pereira would have applauded her)

But perhaps the next generations will look at it differently. Her four children are in a school for tribals. I only hope the next generation helps to improve the lifestyle, and helps to strengthen the bonding with nature, using modern technology and expertise while at the same time making an economic transformation.

(And debated these points with Devinder)

But I only hope the next generation does not push for a complete abandonment of the tribal culture.

(Both would agree on this) 

Posted by Devinder Sharma to Ground Reality

 

 

 

Is Bt cotton ‘terrific’ Sir Richard? Or a failing costly, weed and pest infested monoculture?

sirrichardrobertsSir Richard John Roberts is an  English  biochemist  and molecular biologist living in America. Though his expertise is in medical research, the Times of India reports that he has expressed great admiration for BT cotton grown in India, describing it as “terrific”. Addressing the media after a lecture at Amity University on Wednesday evening, Roberts said that green outfits must admit that they were wrong in “spreading lies” around the issue.

Roberts is a part of a global campaign, “Support Precision Agriculture”. He called upon farmers and religious leaders to form a ‘grand movement’ to support the GM cause.

He is said to have ‘launched a tirade’ against Greenpeace, which has been running anti-GM crops campaigns, saying that it was interested only in raising funds which they were getting from the campaign – and has Monsanto no interest in profits?

A few of the problems recorded on our database: 1998 – 2017

1998

gm-coverOn 2.12.98 the Times of India reported that the farmers’ organisation Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) said it would file cases against Monsanto India & Maycho, the Central & State governments, under the Union Seed Act for allowing Monsanto to conduct field trials of cotton in the country.

See the references given in Science, Agriculture and the Politics of Policy: The Case of Biotechnology By Ian Scoones, cover right. 

2001

In July 2001 a national convention on biotechnology organised by the Andhra Pradesh Coalition For Diversity, Deccan Development Society in Hyderabad, was addressed by Devinder Sharma who was one of the first to record the development of resistance to the chemicals used on Bt cotton to control the American bollworm.

2002

In 2002 Ashish Kothari of Kalpavriksh wrote letters to chief ministers of four states to stay the introduction of the crop till its safety is established. In the letters he attached a Xinhua news report, of which we have a copy, citing a study by the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences, under the Chinese Government’s State Environment Protection Administration.

The study had the following major conclusions:

1. In Bt Cotton fields compared to conventional cotton, there was a marked decrease in the diversity of insects, and a higher incidence of pests;

2. In Bt Cotton fields, there was a decline in the population of the natural enemies of the bollworm (the major pest that Bt Cotton is supposed to safeguard the crop against);

3. In Bt Cotton fields, populations of pests other than bollworm (above left) had increased, and some would likely become major problems for the cotton, against which Bt Cotton may have no resistance;

4. Bollworm was likely to develop resistance to Bt Cotton within 8-10 years of beginning the planting, thereby affecting the long-term sustainability of the production process.  

In the following years these problems have persisted and become greater

2005

The Hindu Businessline reported that the Andhra Pradesh Government had decided to move the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) against Mahyco-Monsanto Biotechnology Company on the “exorbitant” royalty being collected by it for Bt cotton. The State Agriculture Minister, Mr N. Raghuveera Reddy explained that, in the last three years, cotton farmers in Andhra Pradesh bought Bt seeds worth Rs. 130 crore. “Of this, Rs.78 crore went to Monsanto (as royalty),” he said. “The seed grower gets less than Rs. 250 for 750 gm. The farmer is asked to pay Rs. 1,850 for 450 gm. This is not reasonable. Royalty should be calculated in a scientific manner”.

The Business Standard reported that the Nagpur-based Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) found Bt cotton becomes ineffective in its resistance to bollworms after 110 days.

2008

Eureka Alert, a one-stop science news distribution service, recorded the University of Arizona’s report of the first documented case of weed resistance in biotech cotton in America.

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Source: Ian Heap, director of the International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds, based in Corvallis, Oregon.

2013

The May issue of Nature recorded that glyphosate-resistant weeds have now been found in 18 countries worldwide, with significant impacts in Brazil, Australia, Argentina and Paraguay. Since the late 1990s, US farmers had widely adopted GM cotton engineered to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate, which is marketed as Roundup by Monsanto in St Louis, Missouri. The herbicide–crop combination worked spectacularly well — until it didn’t. In 2004, herbicide-resistant amaranth was found in one county in Georgia; by 2011, it had spread to 76. “It got to the point where some farmers were losing half their cotton fields to the weed,” says Holder. Twenty-four glyphosate-resistant weed species have been identified since Roundup-tolerant crops were introduced in 1996.

2015

The Hindu newspaper reported KRRS’s request for the State government to ensure that Bt cotton companies pay compensation to farmers whose crops were destroyed by corn earworm across the State.

2016

In June the Times of India published news that the Nagpur-based Central Institute of Cotton Research had reported a ‘major dip’ in the demand for genetically modified Bt cotton seeds that kharif season and a sharp increase in use of local varieties of cotton seeds instead of Bt in the northern states: 72,280 hectares of indigenous varieties of cotton were being grown in northern states, against about 3,000 hectares last year.

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The Deccan Chronicle reported that the pink bollworm has been cited in thousands of hectares of cotton crop in Guntur and some parts of Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh. The state government also decided to issue notices to the seed companies ‘as per Seed Act 1966’. Bt cotton crops in Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Karnataka also had bollworm attacks. Maharashtra and Karnataka also issued notices to the seed manufacturing companies.

The International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) in its 75th plenary meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan, demanded that the country revert to traditional varieties of cotton and conventional methods of insect control to improve crop productivity (Dawn newspaper)

“Bt cotton is a total failure in Pakistan as it has created new bugs and insects which were never seen in the past. First the government imposed a ban on the introduction of Bt cotton in Pakistan in 2005, but later allowed it after different interests, including seed companies in connivance with agriculture ministries and departments, launched the propaganda that Bt cotton will control all worms except the Army worm and sucking pests”, said Ali Muhammad of Lodhran district, who has been growing cotton since 1980s.

Endnote:

Ashish Kothari said: “Please note that many of these fears that environmentalists have been raising, were dismissed by the corporate sector and by some scientists as being speculative and unwarranted. These fears can no longer be dismissed so lightly, we hope”.

In September 2016, The Hindustan Times reported that there are potential conflicts of interest: most of the scientists who serve as regulators are developing GM crops and several officials who sit on India’s biotech regulator, which is preparing to take a decision on genetically modified mustard, are also associated with global organisations that lobby for GM crops.

 

 

 

Tigers and Tribals in India

Sharad Vats asks: “Who needs more conservation; Tiger or the Tribes of India? “

He explains that the government is trying to protect an endangered species and is considering the relocation of some tribal villages to give the tiger a safe area in which to live.

tiger

In April it was reported that for the first time in this century, the global tiger population in the wild has grown to 3,890 in April 2016 from 3,200 in 2010 – an increase of almost 22%.

Baigas have been the biggest conservators of the forest for centuries

The tribes in question are the Baigas (below), who – like the tigers – have lived for centuries in the forested districts of Mandla and Balaghat, which house Kanha National Park. Baigas practice shifting cultivation, which the government feels drives deforestation. But Sharad thinks that it is the development strategy of the nation which leads to deforestation. He explains that during his recent visit to the area via Nagpur he saw expansion of National Highway 7 cutting few thousand trees and asserts that this expansion of roads network, and small Tehsils like Baihar, Paraswada, Birsa is accounting for more deforestation than are the tribals.

baigas

In 2005, Sunita Narain, appointed chair of a Tiger Task Force reviewing the management of tiger reserves in the country, pointed out: “the British stripped the forests of Ratnagiri in coastal Maharashtra to make ships and railway lines and independent India sold its forests for a pittance to the pulp and paper industry. This was the extractive phase. Sharad adds: “Mining is destroying forests at a much faster rate than tribals could destroy in 200 years – but they would not do so. Their wants and desires are few, dependent on the forest for their livelihood and so seeing the need to preserve them”.

The Forest Act 2006 was passed following massive national demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands of people. Sharad singles out Ekta Parishad which organized some of those walks and demonstrations.

He continues: “But an ad hoc shifting is not a solution. One must do it scientifically, strategically, with their sanctions and without sufferance. Not easy to do, but possible for sure. Also, if a master plan is made to shift only some crucial villages and not all then it is fine. One must remember that Baigas have been the biggest conservators of the forest for centuries. Making a forest bereft of them could actually put the forest at risk, and this the administration and forest department realizes well”.

Sunita points out that these tribal lands are rich in natural resources — minerals, forests, diverse wild plant, insect & animal species – and are the source of water that irrigates farms, that villagers and city-dwellers drink. Her recommendation is that policies to build green, enterprising futures from the use of forests – which provide fish, firewood, fodder, building materials and raw material for industry – are needed.

Sharad Vats ends, “For me Tiger and Tribes are both integral to each other. None can be sent to another planet to survive, they must co-exist”.

And Sunita says that “the answer, untested across the world, lies in our abilities to use the environment so that forests and people can coexist”.