Category Archives: Water

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

 

 

 

 

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Farmers are being denied their rightful income

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Devinder Sharma writes:

For the past two years we have seen news reports and videos of distraught farmers throwing tomato, potato and onions on to the streets.  Farmers are unable to recover even the harvesting and transportation cost in most cases –  a well-established fact.

One example:

Farmers in Erode district in Tamil Nadu are a worried lot. The retail price of cabbage has crashed. Against a price of Rs 12/kg last year, farmers are getting on an average Re 1 per kg. In Chhattisgarh too, tomato prices have crashed leaving farmers in the lurch. Not fetching more than Rs 1 to 2 per kg, farmers have simply abandoned the tomato harvest. The deplorable price they are getting in the market is not even enough to meet the plucking and harvesting cost.

This is primarily because of higher production which enables the middlemen to form cartels and manipulate the prices often to the extent of exploitation.

This is the third year in a row when prices of almost all the agricultural commodities have crashed across the country. While the increase in production has brought cheers to the government, the drop-in prices has added to the misery of farmers.

Enhancing farm incomes has never been on the top of the economic agenda. Even when it comes to Minimum Support Price, the fact remains that only 6% farmers are able to sell at MSP. The remaining 94% farmers are dependent on the exploitative markets.

After 70 years of Independence, the average income of a farm family in 17 States, roughly half the country, is Rs 20,000 a year as the Economic survey 2016 has shown, the primary cause of the agrarian distress that prevails is before us. The 2016 NCRB data for farmer suicides has made this abundantly clear.

Sharma focuses on the reasons for high levels of farmer suicides: “There are of course a number of reasons that have been cited time and again but essentially everything boils down to the failure of the markets to assure a profitable income”.  

He writes that the latest set of farmer suicide statistics compiled by the National Crime Record Bureau is a clear-cut pointer to the fact that much of the agrarian distress is primarily because farmers are unable to realise a remunerative price for his produce.

The general understanding is that suicides are high in India because roughly 60% of the crop lands do not have assured irrigation facilities.

But in Punjab, which has 98% assured irrigation; the NCRB recorded 271 farm suicides in 2016, an increase of 112% over the 2015 suicide toll of 124. In neighbouring Haryana, which has 82% of the cultivable area provided with assured irrigation; the suicide rate has jumped by 54%, from 162 in 2015 to 250 in 2016.

Another reason openly cited and largely agreed by Ministry of Agriculture, Niti Ayog and even the agricultural universities is that farmers are dying because of low crop productivity.

Higher the crop productivity, higher is the net farm income goes the refrain. But Punjab has the highest crop productivity in the world among cereal crops – wheat, rice and maize – and yet there is hardly a day when I don’t find news report of two, three or four farmers committing suicide. Crop productivity is very high in Haryana, often at the 2nd level after Punjab, and yet it seems farm suicides are increasing.

 (Ed: As Ian Potter often reminds farmers, when exhorted to raise milk production, increased quantities on the market will actually be a factor leading to lower returns).

Policy planning is aimed at ensuring that food grain production registers an increase and it is the failure to assure a profitable income into the hands of farmers that has actually accentuated the agrarian crisis. The Minimum Support Price (MSP) that the government announces for 23 agricultural commodities every year is worked out keeping the consumer prices in mind. More often not, the MSP is lower than the cost of production a farmer entails. No wonder, when farmers undertake cultivation, they don’t realise that they are actually cultivating losses.

Sharma proposes the setting up of State Agricultural Prices Commissions, with the mandates to provide a higher income to farmers, similar to that in Karnataka, which ensures procurement of 14 crops at prices that are much higher than the MSP announced by Central Government.

In his book, AGRICULTURE & RURAL DEVELOPMENT: KARNATAKA – 2020 (extracts available), Dr.Sangappa.V. Mamanshetty, who was born in Karnataka, writes “The main objectives of food management are:

  • procurement of food from farmers at remunerative prices,
  • distribution of food to consumers, particularly the vulnerable sections of society,
  • at affordable prices,
  • and maintenance of food buffers for food security and price stability”.

Sharma summarises: “I am in favour of bringing more areas under irrigation as well as increasing crop productivity. But this must be accompanied by enhanced net income”.  

Main sources: 

http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.co.uk/2018/03/a-call-for-making-minimum-support-price.html

http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.co.uk/2018/03/farmers-suicides-statistics-point.html

 

 

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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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Rainwater harvesting in Mumbai

A few days ago, Rashneh Pardiwala emailed: “Glad to inform you that CERE has successfully completed one of the largest rainwater harvesting systems in Mumbai city for Mumbai Police at their Armed Headquarters at Naigaon. The Commissioner of Police inaugurated the project on 3 Oct 2017”.

Mumbai Police Commissioner Dattatray Padsalgikar inaugurating the rainwater harvesting system last week

Anurag Kamble reported in the Midday newspaper that the police precinct houses 2,335 families of the constabulary, a municipal school and a police hospital. It also serves as a base for three battalions and many special units. There are three large training grounds and national level sportspersons practising at the hockey maidan. Despite this, for the past 15 years, the locality has been receiving less than 15 minutes of municipal water supply each day.

“Every summer, delegations of cops’ families come to us begging for a solution. Also, whenever training camps were held, which happens at regular intervals, we had to arrange for water tankers, as we never had enough drinking water,” said Additional Commissioner (Armed Police) Aswati Dorje. “And, during the monsoon, the ground would get completely waterlogged. We wanted to fix all these problems permanently”.

Then the Centre for Environmental Research and Education (CERE) came to their rescue, suggesting a solution  

“For the past three years, we were working with the Mumbai police to plant 500 native trees in Naigaon, under the Urban Afforestation Project. During one of those visits, we learnt about the acute water shortage and flooding problem in the area. We asked the administration if we could do rainwater harvesting here, and after a survey, gave them a presentation. We received the go-ahead immediately,” said Dr Rashneh Pardiwala, founder and director of CERE. “We got approval in March and literally worked day and night for three-and-a-half months to get the system up and running”.

Dr Rashneh Pardiwala, founder director of CERE, shows where the rainwater harvesting project was installed in Naigaon. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Phase 2: to create a natural reed bed system to treat waste water:

A long-term solution to water scarcity is to recycle grey water from the kitchen. This project component involves treating a part of the grey water from the police residential colonies through an effective and natural Reed Bed System and using the clean treated water to maintain the open grounds. Therefore, this intervention will help

(a) conserve potable water for watering open grounds,

(b) recharge the ground water table, and

(c) reduce wastage of water.

CERE is currently looking for funding for this phase of the project.

Highly recommended: a video about the detail of the project which may be accessed here: http://cere-india.org/rwh-with-the-mumbai-police/

 

 

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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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Update from VRI: Amarpurkashi, Uttar Pradesh – mission accomplished

vri2logoThe first entry about the International Task Force for the Rural Poor was made on this website in 2010, opening, “Australian born Jyoti and Mukat Singh set up the International Task Force for the Rural Poor [INTAF] twenty years ago after seeing that most well-intentioned policies of various governments to uplift the rural poor have either failed or proved ineffective”.

Read about their work on the VRI website.

In addition to routine activities, connected with the school, polytechnic, eye camps and sustainable farming initiatives, VRI took part in a campaign against industrial pollution in and around the village of Amarpurkashi, covered here in 2011. Mill owners had been dumping live ash on the roadside where cyclists and pedestrians walked or rode and many suffered serious burns. Tons of ash from two paper mills were deposited on the banks of the river and by national highway 93, coating buildings and plants in a black dust, harming passersby and residents. As a result of breathing such heavily polluted air, local people developed respiratory problems – in the worst affected areas, as many as 1 in 2 people suffered from asthma.

The stench of chemical effluents polluted the air of the surrounding villages and black dust from the factory chimney blew far and wide. The water table dropped dramatically as the factories used huge amounts of water and all the roadside ponds dried up. The underground water supply was also polluted, causing a rise in the number of people suffering from jaundice and villagers were forced to pay for ever-deeper borings to ensure a clean water supply.

As part of the campaign, VRI’s co-founder, Mukat Singh, and many other local people fasted, an agreement was reached with the Sub-Divisional Magistrate and decisions were made which addressed the problem.

mukat_and_jyoti_2005VRI have now decided it is time to close the volunteering scheme that had run for some 35 years and Jyoti recently visited APK to make sure that this was the right decision. She explains:

“I am glad to say that everything I saw in the project supported it.  Amarpurkashi is no longer a suitable place for volunteers, although visitors will always be welcome.“There is no longer anyone in the project who can guide and help volunteers. This has always been an important part of the scheme.  Volunteers definitely need someone, preferably a woman since most of our volunteers have been women. However, that person has to be able to speak reasonable English and be able to help volunteers with the use of toilets and bathrooms, the food and various customs around eating and so on.  There is no one now who can do that.

“It is also essential that there is something for a volunteer to get involved in while they are in the project.  However, the success of the project means that there is nothing now that a volunteer can do.  The project is fully staffed with local people.  Volunteers have always had difficulties because of the language barrier and significant differences in the way things are done in India”.

She ended by saying that the scheme was closed at exactly the right time and adds that “Fortunately, there are many new projects to be found on the internet where volunteers from abroad can be recruited for specific roles”.

We wish Jyoti and Mukat a peaceful and rewarding retirement.

 

 

 

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”.