Category Archives: Food security

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 In secretive England such records are out of date or confined to abstruse medical journals, giving the public to assume that all is well.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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Anil Dave would have steered country’s environment to a safer haven

When Devinder Sharma saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter expressing his sincere condolences on the sudden passing of Environment Minister Anil Dave, he records that it took a few minutes for the tragic news to sink in.

He writes about their interaction on personal and issue-based matters and continues, “When I learnt that he had actually suffered a heart stroke, I couldn’t believe my ears. After all, he was my “junior” and going by the bypass medical history, he should have under normal circumstances lived for another 15 years or so or perhaps longer”. . .

Sharma recalls: “I met him first time when he was planning to launch the annual “Narmada Samagra” drawing environmentalists, politicians, policy makers, NGOs, and concerned citizens to save the mighty Narmada River. I was in fact introduced to him one fine day by my friends. We sat down for lunch and he shared with me what he proposed to achieve from “Narmada Samagra”.

He even told me: “You may think it is a government show but all I can tell you there are good people in the government who too want to protect the rivers,” I still recall his words, and could see through the deep commitment . . . ”On a number of occasions I found he would often speak with a lot of respect for some of the well-known environmentalists. “Sad, in this race to attain a higher GDP, we are mercilessly killing the environment, cutting down the trees, polluting the rivers ….”

I specifically recall when once I gave him a call, and told him I was in the city. At his insistence, I drove to ‘Nadi Ka Ghar’ where he greeted me and then we got into discussing a wide array of subjects – from rivers, to deforestation and to non-chemical agriculture. “I am telling the Chief Minister to ban chemical farming around Narmada. All these chemicals – fertiliser and pesticides — eventually flow into the river,” he told me. He wanted a massive plantation drive along the river banks, and I am glad Madhya Pradesh has undertaken that exercise.

Dr Deepak Pental (second from left) with fellow scientists at a GM mustard trial field in Jaunti village of North West Delhi.

Sharma records that Dave had been under severe political pressure to approve genetically modified mustard and had told him that given a choice he would never approve GM Mustard, adding, “I suggested to him to resign rather that give in to pressures”. He continued:

“For a man who in his heart only revered nature, it wasn’t easy to take a call on GM Mustard. As Tarun Vijay wrote: “He was to take a final decision on an application for an indigenously-developed GM crop of mustard. Everyone who knew him was sure that he would ban it in India.”  On that fateful day, after witnessing a civil society protest outside his office during the day, and later inviting a six-member team for discussions in his office, he met the Prime Minister at his residence late in the evening. As the Prime Minister had tweeted, acknowledging he had long discussions around policy issues with Anil Dave the fateful night, it is quite obvious that the contentious issue of GM Mustard approval too must have been discussed.

“A few hours later he complained of pain in the chest and was rushed to the hospital”.

Read the whole article here: http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.co.uk/

A game-changer for Uttar Pradesh farmers?

Devinder Sharma thinks Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is on the right track to revive UP agriculture. CHS founder Winin Pereira, who wrote about ‘breaking the cycle of debt and dependency’ might well have agreed with Sharma.

The minister has decided to scrap outstanding loans of small and marginal farmers up to a maximum limit of Rs 1-lakh each and at the same time expand wheat procurement operations. He aims to purchase 80 lakh tonnes of wheat at the minimum support price and 5,000 purchase centres are being set up. Uttar Pradesh is likely to reinvigorate farming by ensuring an assured price to farmers.

The state government will also strike Rs 5,630-crore of bank default, saving 7 lakh farmers from having their assets put up for auction.

Sharma believes that the political courage to write-off such a huge amount, including loans taken from nationalized banks, has to be applauded – but the State Bank of India chairperson Arundhati Bhattacharya has already lamented that farm loan waiver destroys ‘credit discipline’ making farmers habitual defaulters.

“This smacks of double standards”, Sharma comments. The entire farm loan waiver that UP has provided is less than the bad debt of just one big steel company — Jindal Steel & Power, which owes Rs 44,140-crore. Bhushan Steel too has a bad debt of Rs 44,478-crore. These two big industries are among the steel companies, which together are seeking a loan waiver of Rs 1.5 lakh crore.

In another article in the Orissa Post, Sharma quotes, the Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramaniam is on record as saying that writing-off of bad loans of the corporate sector makes economic sense. “This is how capitalism works,” he said. ”If this is true”, Sharma adds, “I don’t know why capitalism doesn’t work the same way for farmers”.

There is now pressure on the newly-elected government in Punjab for a farm loan waiver of approximately Rs 36,000-crore. Maharashtra has been demanding Rs 30,500-crore for farm loan write-off. Considering that more than 3.18 lakh farmers have committed suicide across the country in the past 21 years, and roughly 70% of these suicides are related to mounting indebtedness.

 

Sharma considers that UP’s farm loan waiver will turn out to be a game changer and also expanding the procurement system would transform Indian agriculture. A network of mandis exists in Punjab, Haryana and to some extent in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu but every year farmers from western UP carry truckloads of wheat to be sold in the neighbouring border districts of Haryana – ample indication that wheat farmers in UP were not able to sell locally at the support price.

According to the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) there are more than 7,000 APMC regulated mandis in the country. If markets have to be provided at a radius of 5 kms from every village, India would need 42,000. Such a vast network, if constructed, could prevent distress sales and ensure income security for farmers. If UP takes the lead, it will emerge as a trendsetter and create a new model for agriculture.

An economically attractive agriculture is the first step to stop rural to urban migration. And that’s what Yogi Adityanath has said his aim is – to stop migration from rural areas – and that was a cause near to the heart of CHS’ founder.  

Summarised from Devinder Sharma’s article in Ground Reality 4/15/2017. See also http://www.orissapost.com/epaper/110417/p8.htm

 

 

 

Learning from the past: A new protocol for agricultural education and research in India

Extracts from an article written by Michael Gordon Jackson, 16th March 2017 and highlighted in James Robertson’s newsletter

M.G. Jackson is a former Professor of Agriculture and sometime Director of Research at the G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar, Uttarakhand, India. For an elaboration of the agenda described in this note see the newly released book Tending Our Land: A New Story by M. G. Jackson and Nyla Coelho (below left). INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) Belagavi chapter released the book ‘Tending our land- a new story’ written by Dr. M. G. Jackson and Nyla Coelho on Wednesday 30th November 2016 at Bharatesh Education Trust.

Extracts (bullet points added)

After independence, the government of the USA largely took over this role of introducing chemical agriculture in the country. By the early 1960s large numbers of our countrymen were trained in the science and practice of chemical agriculture, and traditional knowledge was on the wane. In 1965 crop failures threatened large-scale famine, and we adopted chemical agriculture without reservation as the only way to ensure food security. Farmer scientists gave way to professional institutional scientists.

We are now in a position to formulate a broad vision of the way forward in securing food security, and the welfare of village communities and the nation. First, farmers, farm families and village communities must be re-empowered to take the responsibility for realising this agenda. They must realise that they themselves are better scientists and teachers than the professional, career scientists who spend all their time in the classroom, the laboratory and the experiment station. And we need to realise it too. Only if we accept this fact of history, can we move on to realising our objective of sustainable agriculture, continuing food security and rural and national welfare.

Given this change in outlook by everyone concerned (farmers, professional scientists, teachers, extension workers, administrators and politicians), the practical measures that need to be taken fall logically into place. It must become the objective of all establishment personnel to work with farmers, not as advisors, but as facilitators of the process of farmer re-empowerment. This will involve encouraging them to identify the causes of their present plight, visualise remedies and assisting them in implementing these remedies. This activity will amount to transformative learning exercises for farmers since they too have been brainwashed into adopting the chemical agricultural paradigm.

In the course of such exercises, they may be encouraged to recall traditional practices and to examine them for their possible value as remedies. If these practices make sense, then farmers need to pursue them again. Many innovative ideas will inevitably be generated. They need to be helped to articulate their understanding of the rationale for these traditional practices and for new innovations. In facilitating such discussions we ourselves will learn along with them. Both men and women need to be included in these discussions (the term ‘farmers’ is gender neutral), as well as village residents pursuing non-farming livelihoods, and landless families. At least one adult member from every household in the village should participate in these discussions.

At the same time, farmers, farm families and village communities need to re-empower themselves as teachers of village youth. Training in agriculture needs to follow the traditional apprenticeship pattern. Such training needs to be integrated with a more comprehensive education that fits young people for participation in the larger national and international communities on an equal footing with urban-reared young people. A pre-requisite for such an educational curriculum is the replacement of contemporary mechanistic science by the science of living systems as the rationale for all subjects. The village community itself needs to design, implement and oversee such an educational programme. If this is done effectively at school and senior secondary levels, university curricula will then fall in line. We need to help organise and then facilitate discussions aimed at bringing about such change. Adolescent boys and girls (grades 9 to 12) should participate in these discussions. The appropriate place for these discussions is the gram sabha. Gram sabhas should be the policy-formulating bodies, while the gram panchayats are the administering bodies.

To facilitate all these initiatives Government laws and policies will need to be overhauled fundamentally. Examples here are:

  • the return of reserved forests to village community ownership and use,
  • the discontinuance of all flood irrigation projects (in favour of local water self-sufficiency),
  • closing all fertiliser and pesticide factories (natural farming does not use any of these),
  • the discontinuance of government subsidies on electricity and chemicals,
  • transferring responsibility for community food security,  to the extent possible, to village communities themselves,
  • the curtailing of MNCs dealing in farm inputs, including machinery (natural farming is human and animal power intensive),
  • long-distance transport of food ((local and seasonal vegetables and fruits are more healthful; petroleum use is curtailed).

And so forth. The over-arching rationale for such changes in laws and policies is the natural farming paradigm.

Read the full article here: http://www.ecologise.in/2017/03/16/learning-past-new-protocol-agricultural-education-research-india/

Copies of the book may be obtained from any of the following:

Peoples Books 5, High Street Camp, Belgavi 590001, Karnataka, India, Phone: +91-831-2460991/9343413193, Email: childrenstalim@gmail.com

 Earthcare Books 10 Middleton Street, Kolkata 700071, West Bengal, India, Phone: +91-33-22296551/22276190 Email:  earthecarebooks@gmail.com, Website: http://www.earthcarebooks.com

 

 

 

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/

 

 

 

 

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:

india-seminar

“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

 

 

 

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.

resistant-weeds3

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.

bollworm2

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.