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. 

* 

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.

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

 

 

 

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.