Category Archives: Health

“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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Antibiotic and antifungal drug residues in water sources around Hyderabad

 

Visitors from seven countries selected news from Devinder Sharma as the top post this week. He had written about Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, believing that he 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.

Last week we received news about a major study published in the scientific journal Infection. It found “excessively high” levels of antibiotic and antifungal drug residue in water sources in and around a major drug production hub in the Indian city of Hyderabad, as well as high levels of bacteria and fungi resistant to those drugs.

It pointed out that the presence of drug residues in the natural environment allows the microbes living there to build up resistance to the ingredients in the medicines that are supposed to kill them.

In this report the issue of industrial pollution from pharmaceutical companies was considered as it affects consumers of their medicines – a serious issue as resistance could leads to the deaths of many.

A detailed account of the every day impact on local people who are using those water sources  is given in a report by Changing Markets, an organisation with a mission to expose irresponsible corporate practices and drive change towards a more sustainable economy. The report opens by saying that a 2015 report from the Indian Government estimates that the number of contaminated waterways has more than doubled in the past five years and that half the country’s rivers are now polluted. An extract relating to the pollution of water by pharmaceutical companies in Hyderabad follows:

“The social and environmental costs of the development of Hyderabad’s bulk drug industry are plain to see in the neighbourhoods and villages surrounding the industrial areas, and have been well-documented over a period of decades.

“Inhabitants living and working in the vicinity of drug manufacturing units in Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam, and other locations have borne the brunt of this. It has affected their livelihoods in the form of livestock deaths and decreased agricultural yields and damaged their health, with reported impacts ranging from higher abortion rates to birth defects and stunted growth in children, as well as greater incidence of skin diseases.

“However, the response from both the central government and the state authorities has been woefully inadequate, not to say complicit, and over the years, irresponsible drug manufacturers have enjoyed free rein to continue pumping vast quantities of untreated or inadequately treated pharmaceutical waste into the environment”.

Read the full report here: http://changingmarkets.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Impacts-of-pharmaceutical-pollution-on-communities-and-environment-in-India-WEB-light.pdf

 

 

 

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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/

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Long-term exposure to OP insecticides puts farmers at high risk of diabetes

Richard Bruce, who has suffered severely for many years following exposure to pesticides in the course of his work, sends news of research by a team from Madurai Kamaraj University, published in Genome Biology and is generously accessible to all readers. The paper may be accessed here.

Megha Prakash, in an article in ‘Down to Earth’, highlights the case of a 12-year-old boy reported from Mysuru, Karnataka. In 2011 the boy had eaten tomatoes from a field without washing them only a few hours earlier. Krishnan Swaminathan, an endocrinologist and president of the Coimbatore-based Kovai Medical Centre and Hospital, says that it was due to this impact of the chemical on the body’s insulin function that he first thought there could be a link between OP exposure and diabetes.

Researchers from Madurai Kamaraj University draw blood samples of village residents to test for diabetes (ARUL / MADURAI KAMARAJ UNIVERSITY)  

The observations in this and other cases mentioned in the article formed the premise of a study, conducted by a team from the Madurai Kamaraj University, to investigate the high prevalence of diabetes being reported from rural areas. Previous studies had shown a high prevalence of diabetes in rural Tamil Nadu, but this is the first one to link pesticide exposure to the disease.

Megha Prakash writes: “The researchers surveyed 3,080 people from seven villages in Thirupparan-kundram block of Madurai district. Participants were above the age of 35 years. Almost 55% of them were from the farming community and were, hence, more likely to be exposed to OPs. Based on the blood test results, it was found that the prevalence of diabetes among the farming community was three times higher (18.3 per cent) than that in the non-farming community (6.2 per cent), despite the low level of typical risk factors such as obesity, high cholesterol and physical inactivity”.

Source of graphic: International Diabetes Federation, Ministry of Home Affairs, research papers

To read more about the action of this pesticide on the human body – and on mice – click here.

After countries started regulating or banning DDT in the 1970s due to its effects on the environment, OP insecticides came to account for 40% of the global pesticide market.

Ganesan Velmurugan, the lead researcher filed a Right to Information request against some of the state’s agricultural universities which listed these banned pesticides on their websites and even recommended their use.

But the response to his queries was not satisfactory. Kalpana Ramasamy, assistant professor at Agriculture College and Research Institute of the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University told Down To Earth that though agriculture universities are now recommending green-labelled pesticides (a green label means “slightly toxic”) to farmers, a complete ban will not be successful until an alternative to OP pesticides is found.

Prakash continues: “In India, pesticide use is regulated by the Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee (CIBRC) and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). As of October 20, 2015, the CIBRC has completely banned two OP pesticides and regulated the use of four others. Of the four are methyl parathion, which is banned for use on fruits and vegetables, and monocrotophos, which is banned for use on vegetables”.

The study’s authors insist on the importance of spreading awareness about the effects of OP insecticides, especially in an agrarian country like India. “One must educate farmers about measures such as washing and soaking vegetables before use and wearing appropriate gear before spraying the pesticide. If awareness is not created now, in the next 10 years, the burden of this problem will be immense,” says Swaminathan.

But has effective protective clothing at last been designed? In one of many allegations,  sheep dip insecticide was alleged to contain chemicals which attacked the rubber in gloves making them porous. The effect was to render the protective clothing useless. Current advertisements say these suits only ‘reduce’ risk

Our informant Richard Bruce comments; “Of course OPs have been known to change blood sugar levels for a very long time but this confirms the diabetes link. Diabetes is rising in the general population in Britain because we are all exposed to these poisons in our food and environment.