Category Archives: Economy

Field Inspection and Scientific Evaluation Committee, set up by PMO, takes a firm stand

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A reader draws attention to news in the Hindu Businessline.

As the pink bollworm that eats away cotton bolls has become resistant to Monsanto’s second generation biotechnology protection Bollgard-II., farmers have turned to its third generation herbicide-tolerant (HT) cotton as weeds are proliferating. This technology incorporates the herbicide glyphosate, which over time has led to the development of herbicide resistant ‘superweeds’ (eg amaranth, ‘pigweed’, below left) in several countries (USA, 2013).

HT cotton has not received the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee’s permission for commercial use as – according to a Times of India report – Monsanto had withdrawn from the trials midway so the approval process was not completed.

Livemint, a financial daily, reports that the Field Inspection and Scientific Evaluation Committee, (FISEC) set up by the Prime Minister’s Office under the department of biotechnology collected 13,361 leaf and seed samples and found 15% prevalence of unapproved HT cotton in major states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

In a bid to curb widespread and illegal use, the Telangana government has put severe restrictions on the use of glyphosate in the State. It has asked the pesticide dealers not to sell the herbicide, which is used in HT cotton crops, without a recommendation slip from the relevant Agriculture Extension Officer and a  Government Order has warned that any violations will be dealt with severely.

Andhra Pradesh, which is also a major cotton growing State, filed cases against two cottonseed firms after raids on some farmers’ fields tested positive for HT cotton. The Telangana government too said it won’t allow the illegal Bt to be grown.

With reports of HT crops emanating from different parts of the country, a Central team visited both the States last year. C Parthasarathi, Principal Secretary (Agriculture), Govt of Telangana, said:

“We have noticed that some cottonseed companies are producing and selling the HT cottonseed to innocent farmers in the current season. We have issued orders calling for restrictive usage of glyphosate in agricultural and horticultural crops in general and cotton in particular to curb the spread of HT cotton”.

 

 

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Natural farming is the future: Professor Devinder Sharma

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Andhra Pradesh shows the way.

Sharma writes:

The evidence is all there. With soil fertility declining; excessive mining of groundwater sucking aquifers dry; and chemical inputs, including pesticides, becoming extremely pervasive in environment, the entire food chain has been contaminated.

As soils become sick, and erosion takes a heavy toll leading to more desertification, crop productivity is stagnating thereby resulting in more chemicals being pumped to produce the same harvest. A former Director General of Indian Council for Agricultural Research had rightly said: “In 1980s, farmers used to produce 50Kg of wheat by using 1 kg of fertilisers. Now farmers are producing only 8 Kg by using 1 kg of fertiliser”.

The warning of an ‘Ecological Armageddon’

As farmlands become more toxic, and with modern agriculture becoming a major contributor to Greenhouse Gas Emissions leading to climate aberrations, a startling study has gone unnoticed. A study by the University of Sussex finds that three quarters of flying insects in a nature reserve in Germany have vanished in past 25 years. While the alarming decline in population of honeybees had raised international concerns, that 75% of the insect population has disappeared -even inside a nature reserve – raises the warning of an ‘ecological Armageddon’.

This is happening at a time when not only in Maharashtra, Punjab, Gujarat, and Andhra Pradesh in India, the dreaded bollworm pests on cotton have become resistant to genetically modified cotton in America too. From Carolina to Texas, bollworm insects have renewed their attack on cotton.

The Green Revolution has already run out of steam, leaving behind a trail of misery, the catastrophic consequences manifest in the form of farm suicides. With input costs growing, and farmgate prices remaining almost stagnant, if not declining, farmer’s income is swiftly on the downward slide.

In America, hundreds of dairy farms have closed down in the past 4 years. In Europe, many farms would be unprofitable if European subsidies were to be removed. In France, farmers’ mutual insurance association (MSA) believes that in 2016 “a majority of farmers earned less than Euro 350 a month”.

In India, the government’s own Economic Survey 2016 records that the average income of a farming family in 17 states, which means nearly half the country, has been computed at a paltry Rs 20,000 a year. Another study by Niti Aayog tells that real farm incomes have remained virtually stagnated in the five year period, 2011 to 2016.

And yet more of the same is being pushed as the solution

Despite all the laudable objectives, the world is almost at a tripping point as the International Panel on Climate Change had warned us a few years ago.  ‘Business as usual’ is not the right way forward, we are repeatedly told. But despite warning, there is no policy change that actually keeps environment protection as a non-negotiable.

Even the report of the International Assessment for Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which was ratified during an intergovernmental plenary in Johannesburg, April 7-12, 2008, and had called for a shift towards sustainable agriculture has been lying in limbo ever since.

The more the world tries to change, the more things remain the same. Every disaster is an opportunity. But it invariably ends up as an opportunity for business.

Business leaders from 17 private companies had announced at the 2009 World Economic Forum the launch of a global initiative — New Vision for Agriculture — that sets ambitious targets for increasing food production by 20 percent, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions per ton by 20 percent, and reducing rural poverty by 20 percent every decade.

See video here

The 17 agribusiness giants include Archer Daniels Midland, BASF, Bunge Limited, Cargill, Coca-Cola, DuPont, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Metro AG, Monsanto Company, Nestlé, PepsiCo, SABMiller, Syngenta, Unilever, Wal-Mart, and Yara International.

The rhetoric has been the same and the solutions have remained the same too: more aggressive push for industrial agriculture. Just to illustrate, to ensure that the world does not witness a repeat of the 2008 food crisis — when 37 countries faced food riots — the international community has been swift in proposing a roadmap (not one, but a plethora of similar privates-sector driven blueprints).

In these difficult times, it is heartening to see the Chinese President Xi Jinping acknowledging the ecological crisis the world faces.

Addressing the National Congress of the Communist Party in Beijing last October, he acknowledged that “Any harm we inflict on nature will eventually return to haunt us… this is a reality we have to face,” and then went to specify in more detail his plans to “step up efforts to establish a legal and policy framework … that facilitates green, low-carbon, and circular development,” to “promote afforestation,” “strengthen wetland conservation and restoration” and “take tough steps to stop and punish all activities that damage the environment.” He has called for 21st century to be the beginning of an ‘ecological civilisation’.

Back home, as we get half way through 2018, the script for an ecologically sustainable agriculture, which brings back the smile on the face of farmers, without leaving any scar on the environment, is being rewritten.

Andhra Pradesh has launched a massive programme to promote natural farming.

This programme, Rythu Sadhikara Samstha, aims to bring 5 lakh farmers in all the 13 districts during the period 2017-2022 to adopt natural farming practices (read more here and on their Facebook page). I recently visited a number of villages in Kurnool district to meet some farmers who have moved away from chemical agriculture to natural farming practices.

I was amazed to learn that yields are increasing across all crops

In groundnut, yields have gone up by 35 per cent; Cotton productivity has increased by 11 per cent; Chilli by 34 per cent; brinjal by 69 per cent; and paddy by 10 to 12 per cent. So far, 1.63 lakh farmers have switched to natural farming. If crop productivity can increase without using chemical fertiliser and pesticides; if the net income in the hands of farmers goes up considerably; and if natural farming ushers in a climate resilient agriculture,

I see no reason why other states cannot emulate the pioneering efforts being made by Andhra Pradesh. #

 

Posted 3 hours ago by Devinder Sharma

 

 

 

 

Political action in the rural areas of India and Northern Ireland (UK)

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For many years international agencies have promoted a school of thought that says it is cheaper to import food than to grow it within the country, comments Devinder Sharma (below, right).

In December he told Rediff.com’s Syed Firdaus Ashraf:

“Rural Gujarat has voted against the influential ruling BJP. During the 2014 elections, Prime Minister Narendra D Modi had promised that if elected his government would give 50% profit over the cost of production as recommended by the (M S) Swaminathan committee and rural India voted conclusively for the BJP – but farmers are still waiting for the promise to be delivered”.

“The Reserve Bank of India’s governor used to say that the biggest reforms would be when farmers are moved out from the villages into the cities, because cities are need of cheaper labour. Cheaper labour is required for infrastructure, real estate and highways. In other words, agriculture is being sacrificed to keep economic reforms alive”.

Farmers need a fair price: cost of production plus

An article by Lancashire farmer, Kathleen Calvert, issued as a press release by local business, Dugdale Nutrition, stressed: 

“Maintaining viable dairy farms not only protects livelihoods of farming families and others directly involved, it also makes a major contribution to local economies and the future of businesses, jobs, and families in the locality”.

Ruth and Richard Burrows, Devonshire farmers, assembled suppliers representing 3000 others whose livelihoods depend on them and other farmers. A photograph was published (right, faded newsprint, The web of rural ruin, Richard Price, Daily Mail, 23.9.99) with notes giving the names and roles of the people pictured.  Mrs Burrows said: “They are living proof of the importance of the spending power of the farmer and how enormously important agriculture is in terms of the entire economic structure around here. The rural communities of Britain tick over on a system of mutual dependency of which the farm forms the hub. If it goes to the wall, dozens of ancillary trades in both town and countryside suffer”. Read more here.

Farmers organise politically in UK

As talks are under way at Stormont, William Taylor, speaks for Northern Ireland Farm Groups, which represents several food production sectors – now including the National Beef Association – and is concerned about the future of 25,000 SME family farmer businesses.

Northern Ireland Farm Groups’ meeting

A bill, written by Daniel Greenberg, a barrister who specialises in legislation and is Editor of OUP’s Statute Law Review, is to be taken forward.

It proposes that farmgate prices in NI return to farmers a minimum of the cost of production, plus a margin inflation linked, that would give 20,000+ new jobs and prosperity across the province in towns, cities and countryside alike.

Their proposals have been well-received by several parties and unions, and Claire Sugden from Coleraine, Independent (the Justice Minister in the former assembly) told the farm groups that ‘she was of a mind to take legislation on farm gate prices forward’.

Legislation on farmgate prices for Northern Ireland according to the Gosling Report, would return 10-20,000 jobs+, save Stormont £280million+ in welfare costs and bring prosperity back to Northern Ireland. 

In both countries, as Sharma comments, “What farmers need is income, a profit over the cost of production. To keep food inflation in control, successive government have denied farmers their rightful income”.

 

 

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India’s solar energy development – 1

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The Financial Times reports that the winning bid for the third and fourth phase development at Bhadla solar park in Rajasthan – a 500-megawatt solar farm – was one of the lowest prices for solar power ever seen anywhere in the world. The companies — Acme Solar, an Indian developer, and SBG Cleantech, a joint venture whose shareholders include SoftBank of Japan — said they would build the project for a guaranteed price of just Rs2.44 ($0.04) for every unit of electricity they eventually sold – substantially cheaper than coal.

The Bhadla auction confirmed that the country is undergoing a generational shift from coal-fuelled power to solar and wind and placed India at the centre of a global renewables revolution that is driving down the cost of green energy and which represents one of the biggest threats to fossil fuels.

As India is already the world’s third-biggest carbon emitter and plans to electrify even its most remote villages within two years, a rapid expansion in the country’s renewables sector would prove a huge boost for attempts to keep global temperature rises below 2C — the target set by the 2015 Paris climate accords.

Masayoshi Son, founder of SoftBank, has said he plans to invest $20bn in the Indian solar power industry. (The other investors are Taiwan’s Foxconn and Indian company Bharti.)

In 2015, the government of Narendra Modi set ambitious targets for building new renewable power. By 2022, explained the finance minister Arun Jaitley, India would build 175 gigawatts of new renewable power, of which 100 gigawatts would come from solar.

The solar plans alone are equivalent to 25 large nuclear plants

Manoj Kumar Upadhyay, the founder and chairman of Acme, one of a handful of companies competing for solar projects against many established Indian and multinational conglomerates suggests there are good reasons the price of solar power in India is so low.

In addition to its strong and reliable sunlight, the price of Chinese-made solar panels has tumbled in the past few years as a manufacturing boom has created over-supply.  Moreover, India’s notoriously high cost of capital has been reduced by strong government involvement in the solar power sector. At parks like Bhadla, the government acquires the land — removing one of the biggest hurdles in a country where land rights are difficult to negotiate — as well as guaranteeing grid connections and providing payment guarantees should state utilities default.

Six years earlier, India and China had been blamed for “sabotaging” a meaningful deal at the UN climate talks, but Mr Jaitley’s announcement confirmed India was now at the centre of global efforts to develop cheaper renewables and tackle climate change.

 

 

 

 

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Increasing waterway cargo: lowering carbon dioxide emissions and curbing road accidents

As Anil Sasi (Indian Express) notes: “Inland waterways are a far more efficient mode of transportation than either road or rail, considering that just a single mid-sized barge has the dry-cargo capacity equivalent to 50 trucks or over 10 railcars. As a consequence, transportation of cargo over inland waterways offers the advantage of both lowering carbon dioxide emissions and curbing the rate of road accidents, where India has the dubious distinction of being among the worst in the world”. 

Since India’s inland waterways are lagging behind other modes of transport, the central government has evolved a policy for the integrated development of inland waterways. The National Waterways Bill was passed on 15th March 2016. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill states that while inland waterways are recognised as a fuel efficient, cost effective and environment friendly mode of transport, it has received far less investment than roads and railways.

  • Cost of transportation by waterways is 30-50 paisa per tonne per km (PTPK), compared to Rs 1 PTPK for rail, and Rs 1.5 PTPK for road
  • Time taken by road from, say, Varanasi to Kolkata is 2 days, a typical road trailer carries six cars. In comparison, a river vessel can carry 300 if it’s a double decker. So, a large vessel can replace 50 trailers on road.

111 rivers across the country have been designated as national waterways, to be developed to enable more movement of goods and passengers. Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari regretted that the waterways had taken a backseat in India, with only 3.5% of trade being done through this mode, compared with 47% in China, 40% in Europe, 44% in Japan and Korea and 35% in Bangladesh.

Though the state-owned Inland Waterways Authority of India has been working on dredging, surveys, channel marking, river conservancy works, construction of terminals and procurement of hardware like dredgers, demonstration barges, and survey launches since 1986, neither the number of cargo vessels nor the amount of cargo moved has shown any improvement except in one case.

One problem, alongside lack of port, wharf and lock maintenance, is that most of the waterways included in the list of new waterways are freshwater rivers, many drying up completely during post monsoon period and it is agreed that the diversion of water for navigation should not be undertaken at the cost of other priorities such as drinking and irrigation, primarily carried out by India’s thirty canals.

The World Bank has noted that goods in India travel by congested road and rail networks, which slows cargo movement, adds to uncertainties, and generally increases the costs of trade logistics which account for as much as 18% of the country’s GDP. Although carrying bulk goods on waterways is cheaper, more reliable and less polluting than transporting them by road or rail, India has yet to develop this cheaper and greener mode of transportation.

Section 3 of its 322 page 2016 report: Consolidated Environmental Impact Assessment Report of National Waterways includes an assessment of inland waterway transport’s impact on climate change, concluding that this is the most efficient and environmental friendly mode of transportation, involving least CO2 generation when compared with rail & road. An estimate of the CO2 emissions from different modes of transportation for the same quantity of cargo for a similar distance is that CO2would be reduced and a net saving of 4.54 million tonnes realised over a period of 30 years (till 2045).

In April it announced a $375 million loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) to help the Inland Waterways Authority of India put in place the  infrastructure and navigation services needed to develop National Waterway 1 as an efficient ‘logistics artery’ for northern India.

The loan will enable the design and development of a new fleet of low-draft barges capable of carrying up to 2000 tonnes of cargo in these shallower depths.

In addition, the project has introduced an innovative ‘assured depth’ contract framework to incentivise minimal dredging by agencies responsible for keeping the fairway open for navigation. These strategies have helped reduce the need for dredging in the navigation channel to only about 1.5 per cent of the river’s annual silt load. Even this limited dredging will only be done using modern, less intrusive technologies such as the water injection dredging method (see Van Oord’s video: https://vimeo.com/90107325, no subtitles). It has the additional advantage of ensuring that sediments remain within the river’s ecosystem.

National Waterway 1 will form part of a larger multi-modal transport network, linking with the Eastern Dedicated Rail Freight Corridor, as well as the area’s network of highways, allowing the region’s manufacturers and agricultural producers to use different modes of transport to reach markets in India and abroad. A successful outcome would encourage a gradual expansion of waterway freight transport in India, reducing transport costs, road accidents and urban air pollution.

 

 

 

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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 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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