Children of the soil try to save the earth

Article and Image Courtesy: India Today
Date: 31st October, 2011
Chandigarh-based activists Radhika and Rishi Miranhshah.

Two decades ago, Rishi Miranhshah – a student from Chandigarh – read The One Straw Revolution, an internationally acclaimed book by Japanese author Masanobu Fukuoka. The literary masterpiece on the alternative food movement influenced him so much that he gave up an established career in Canada and returned to India six years ago with his wife Radhika Malhotra Miranhshah for exploring the possibilities of enriching the earth.
The young couple has now taken the initiative to spread agroecological knowledge in developing sustainable farming through books.

Earlier, Rishi – a professional translator – did several odd jobs in India and abroad to sustain himself and his wife. But a deep ambition to spend the rest of his life working with the earth continued to haunt him.

After completing his education, he practiced law at the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Chandigarh. But, he did not like the profession and started learning French in the city. He met Radhika there and they got married. Soon, he switched over to teaching French at Punjabi University in Patiala which he later quit to shift to Vancouver in Canada. He established himself as a professional translator and worked primarily for the ministry of health, British Columbia.

But The One Straw Revolution – which he had read in 1992 – prodded him to understand natural farming. The book has been translated from Japanese into many languages, including English.

It highlights the fact that man’s improved techniques appear necessary because they have upset the natural balance. The land has now become a slave to these techniques.

The couple realised that farmers in Punjab – who have been practicing modern agricultural techniques – needed Fukuoka’s wisdom for posterity.

With an aim to offer their own humble contribution to the efforts towards healing and enriching the earth, the couple came back to India about six years ago.

For the sake of convenience, Rishi began translating the Japanese master’s book into Punjabi a year ago and Radhika started exploring the means to ensure that the book reached the readers.

She was concerned that though a lot of valuable books were published worldwide, only a few reached those who could read only Punjabi. The farmers in Punjab – and elsewhere too – paid a heavy price for their lack of knowledge of English.

When they started exploring avenues for publishing the book, there were few takers. Several people in the publishing industry told them the book was not economically viable and they would not be able to publish it.

Finally, Radhika took charge and decided to set up her own publishing hub, Worthwords Books, to bring out Kakh Ton Kranti – the translated version of the masterpiece. The book – also “the founding document of the alternative food movement” which rolled out in the native language – has recently started generating interest among the farmers in Punjab.

Rishi and Radhika believe that a “civilisational” onslaught has been leading many forms of life towards extinction. People would not be able to understand it till they get this knowledge in their own words and language. The onslaught has been depriving people of natural resources.

The couple has also taken a pledge to publish books only on ecology, farming, gardening and spirituality on a not- for- profit basis. These books would be in Indian languages with the primary thrust on translating important works from other languages into Punjabi.

Rishi and Radhika have been witnessing that an idea which germinated about two decades ago is finally taking roots. They have Fukuoka holding their hand and leading their way through the vast green expanse – “the fields of joy, of laughter, of birdsong and of truth.

Transgenic Cotton Harbours Hidden Dangers

Emilio Godoy
IPS, Oct 20 2011

MEXICO CITY – Wild cotton in Mexico has been contaminated with genetically modified material, posing a risk to biodiversity, experts say.

This worrying conclusion was reached by six scientists at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO) in a research study published this month in Molecular Ecology, an international journal.

In their article “Recent long-distance transgene flow into wild populations conforms to historical patterns of gene flow in cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) at its centre of origin”, the experts showed that cotton genes and transgenes can be transferred between populations thousands of kilometres apart by seed dispersal.

They also found that varieties of Mexican wild cotton that harbour transgenes (genes from one species introduced artificially into another) undergo rapid evolution, with unpredictable consequences.

“The genetic diversity of wild populations is very high, and that of cultivated cotton is very low. Gene flow can reduce the differentiation between populations, but we have no idea what impact that might have,” the head of the research project, Ana Wegier of UNAM’s Ecology Institute and the National Institute of Forestry, Agriculture and Livestock Research (INIFAP) told IPS.

“What we are seeing is the effect on biodiversity of 15 years of growing transgenic crops under permits,” she said.

In order to boost cotton cultivation, in decline because of the collapse of international prices and the growing dominance of synthetic fibres, in 1996 the Mexican government authorised experimental planting of genetically modified cotton, without paying heed to studies of its biological interactions in the country.

Since 2009, transgenic cotton has been grown on a commercial scale on an area of over 100,000 hectares, producing harvests of 500,000 tonnes, according to the Mexican agriculture ministry.

Cottonseed is used mainly for oil and meal for animal feed, and transport of animal feed products might explain how transgenic seeds arrived in wild cotton populations.

The six authors collected 336 plants from 36 populations between 2002 and 2008. They also analysed seeds from three Mexican locations, the U.S. states of Texas and Virginia, and from Argentina, Brazil, India and Egypt. Of the 270 samples analysed, 66 were positive for transgenes.

The scientists found that 1.4 percent of 5,985 permits to plant genetically modified cotton issued by the Mexican authorities between 1996 and the beginning of 2008 fell within the area of distribution of two wild cotton metapopulations, as collections of interacting populations of the same species are called.

A further 4.2 percent of the authorised transgenic crops were within a 300-km radius from three metapopulations. The remaining 94.4 percent were over 300 km away from all wild cotton metapopulations.

As has already happened with native maize, contamination of wild strains could occur with other transgenic crops, which are slowly spreading in this Latin American country.

This concern is shared by 16,000 beekeepers in the southeastern state of Yucatán, where U.S. agribusiness giant Monsanto has a pilot plantation of genetically modified soy covering 30,000 hectares.

Monsanto’s soy has been genetically modified to confer resistance to an herbicide, glyphosate, which is sprayed on the crop to kill off non-resistant weeds.

“In the soyfields, the bees turn very aggressive and instead of returning to the hive, they die on the way back, as the glyphosate applied to the crops damages their intestines,” the local coordinator of the National Union of Autonomous Regional Campesino Organisations, Pablo Duarte, told IPS.

“Our fear is that not only will the bees die, but we will not be able to sell our honey,” he said.

In Mexico, some 45,000 beekeepers collect approximately 56,000 tons of honey a year. Their main market is the European Union, followed by the United States and Canada.

But the EU Court of Justice has already banned the sale of honey containing pollen contaminated by unauthorised transgenes.

The first plots of genetically modified soy were evaluated in 2008. Currently 60,000 hectares of Mexican soil are producing transgenic soy.

The government received 110 applications to grow transgenic maize on an experimental basis, and 11 applications since 2009 for pilot-scale projects, the stage before commercial cultivation. The agriculture ministry authorised 67 experimental fields covering 70 hectares in the north of the country, and at least 12 experimental transgenic wheat fields.

The 2005 Biosecurity Law for Genetically Modified Organisms states that the centres of origin of seeds must be defined before any permission can be given for transgenic crops.

The environmental watchdog Greenpeace reported the presence of transgenic maize in six out of Mexico’s 32 states, as well as imports of genetically modified seeds of this staple food, which is profoundly symbolic in Mesoamerican cultures from central Mexico to Costa Rica.

“Each case needs to be analysed separately, to the highest scientific standards,” said Wegier, who is also a member of the Union of Socially Committed Scientists (UCCS) and is currently working on the genetics of avocados and green tomatoes.

“So far, decisions have been made without the benefit of scientific research done in Mexico, but now we have the opportunity to take decisions based on the precautionary principle (that activities that present an uncertain potential for significant harm should be avoided until they are proved to be harmless),” said the head of research.

Although seed migration out of fields of genetically modified crops may be low, the study warns that once a single or a few transgenic individuals are dispersed into particular wild populations, they produce pollen that may fertilise local wild plants.

“Since transgenes are inserted within the nuclear genome, they can be dispersed both via pollen or seed,” the document says.

Genetically modified organisms “are going to contaminate all the varieties we have, and then we will have to depend on seeds from the big companies,” Duarte warned.

“If we lose our native seeds, we won’t have seeds to plant. That’s why we are asking the government to stop the sowing of transgenic maize and soy,” he said. (END)

India to redraft Food Security Bill

The redrafted Bill will keep the option open for supplying more than three kgs of subsidised foodgrains in case of increased output

Submitted on 10/31/2011 – 11:48:31 AM

New Delhi: The government has decided to redraft the National Food Security Bill to keep the option open for supplying more than three kilograms of subsidised foodgrains to general households in case of increased output.

Food Minister KV Thomas told media persons that after receiving public comments and views of state governments on the draft Food Bill, the Centre has decided to make some changes while finalising the Bill.

In the present form of draft Food Bill, the Food Ministry has proposed that the government will supply 3 kilograms of rice and wheat per person per month, falling under general households’ category at a price not exceeding 50 per cent of the Minimum Support Price (MSP).

The draft National Food Security Bill seeks to provide a legal entitlement to subsidised food grains to 75 per cent of the country’s rural population and 50 per cent of urban India.

The Minister said, the government has decided to remove the condition of extending benefits to general households only in states where the Public Distribution System, PDS, is modernised.

Thomas said, the cash-handout of 1,000 rupees per month for six months to pregnant and lactating women will be extended to the entire country instead of 52 districts.
—iGovernment Bureau

Farmers, suicides and politics of a lesser God

Shankkar Aiyar, senior journalist on sabbatical, specialises in the politics of economics

Last week, the Government of India unveiled a New Manufacturing Policy to promote industrial growth and employment. The policy promises the creation of seven new industrial townships and employment to over 100 million people.  Last week, the Government of India also declared that food prices had gone up by 11.54 per cent and that every hour two farmers commit suicide and between 2004 and 2010, over 120,000 farmers committed suicide.

You would think that the optics of the crisis would prompt the Government to come up with a new agricultural policy. But that wasn’t the case. Mind you, this is the second policy to promote industry in five years—the last one called the SEZ policy also promised a revolution—but there hasn’t been one for agriculture since C Subramaniam ushered in the Green Revolution. The dark irony is that the manufacturing policy, stuck in an ego-terrestrial ministerial war, was cleared by a GoM headed by the agriculture minister.

Consider the arithmetic of economics to appreciate the venality of politics. It is no secret that 60 per cent of the workforce, that is six of 10 workers, is dependent on agriculture and has to make do with barely a sixth of the national income. It is also known that 41.8 per cent of the rural population, or around 350 million of the 834 million people in rural India, live below the poverty line. And this is primarily because far too many people live off the land that is producing far too little. This low output is also the cause of high food price inflation—now averaging 14.8 per cent for five years.

Now look at the algebra of politics. The headcount of farmers affected by low yield incomes and the mass of consumers impacted by food price inflation would together constitute the largest political constituency for any party. It should be by now obvious that the focus of policy should be to improve the yield per acre of farmers. Policy, after all, is the instrument of negotiation in politics. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that a higher yield on the same acreage would enhance incomes and bridge the gap between demand and availability that has caused the politically incendiary inflation.

Successive governments have aspired to achieve the success of China in industrial growth, but have ironically failed to recognise the success of China in improving yields. The best Indian farmers from Punjab produce 3,300 kg of rice per hectare while the Chinese produce 6,566 kg per hectare. Assuming a price of `20 per kg of rice, the income of an Indian farmer from one hectare is `66,000 while that of the Chinese farmer is Rs 131,320. Indeed, the average yield in India is just about 2,130 kg per hectare giving an income of `42,600. Worse, yields in states like Bihar are as low as 1,500 kg per hectare, delivering a per hectare income of just Rs 30,000. Now imagine if the Bihari farmer could be helped to increase his yield to the Chinese levels, his income would quadruple fromRs 30,000 per hectare to Rs 131,320. Sure the yield follows engineering of necessary conditions, but that is exactly why we need a new agricultural policy.

Starting with the First Five Year Plan, successive governments have fuelled the ambition for industrial supremacy with policy and funds. Governments have also — as a consequence — under-spent on agriculture, ignoring the need for a deep and robust rural economy for industry to thrive on. Ergo, industry — despite dozens of attempts to create policy to promote growth and employment—has consistently drifted at around 20 to 24 per cent of GDP. Thanks to this myopia, industry has grown at an average of 6 per cent between 1950 and 2010. Worse, agriculture which hosts the majority of the populace has struggled, growing at an average of less than 2.8 per cent for 60 years, regardless of the party in power.

Indeed, even in the new India Story, while overall GDP has grown at over 8.6 per cent between 2004 and 2011, agriculture has despite record tonnage grown only at 2.8 per cent. And this growth too comes not because of any great jump in yield per acre, but because of the stupendous hike of over 50 per cent in the procurement prices of wheat and rice. The hike in support prices was both an economic and political necessity. However, it is not a formula for revival.  

The UPA could argue that it has ramped up credit, pushed insurance, waived off loans and hiked MSP. Fact is, all of these are flyover solutions that reflect the regime’s piecemeal approach. Also as Kirit Parekh proved in a paper in 2003, increase in MSP leads to a decline in overall GDP and increase in aggregate price index. And as a study by economist S Mahendra Dev in 2010 shows, resources better deployed as public investments in agriculture help increase yields, improve farm profitability, food security and poverty reduction.

Despite the loan waiver and higher credit allocation, two-thirds of farmers are outside formal credit system, leading to dependence on loan sharks. Investment in irrigation, which is the most critical input for yield, has been negligible. Wouldn’t the `40,000 crore spend on NREGA — which in Uttar Pradesh are apparently used to buy toys — better deployed on completing irrigation projects? Should not a water-stressed India invest in drip technology from Israel?
India’s best produce is 2,802 kg of wheat per hectare, while farmers in France produce 7,100 kg per hectare. What stops the government—like in 1966—to import paddy seeds from China or better wheat seeds from France?

For seven years, the formula-obsessed UPA has sought votes from the poor and plaudits from the elite. The economics of politics demands focus on agriculture. The plaudits that it thirsts for, will follow once it gets the algorithm of growth right.

After a long time a very good article in Indian Express especially on related to Agriculture. Mr. Aiyar has focussed on Macro issues which are very serious for India in short and long term. The article clearly say there is Bharth and India still emerging and with a wide gap between Rural and Urban.  By K.G. Sudheendra 

Sri Aiyar’s article is timely and incisive.While he deftly touched upon many a principal malaise affecting Indian Agriculture like lack of public investment, institutional credit, especially since the beginning of neo-liberal economy from 1991, he has mysteriously been silent on efficacy of land reforms to enhance both the yield as well as income of landless, marginal and small farmers of our country. Unfortunately, many tend to forget that foundation of economic, agriculture growth in China was laid by the giant strides taken by China in areas like land reforms after the success of revolution in 1949. Similarly, the contribution of French Revolution of 1789 in breaking the shackles of feudalism ushered in new democratic revolution in France. India’s miserable track record in areas of land reforms except in states like West Bengal, Kerala, Tripura, Jammu and Kashmir speaks volumes about India’s failed attempt to jack up yield as well as income of farmers. Even, the 5th and final report  By RANA MITRA 

I am working in NABARD, Our Association(All India NABARD Employees Association) is fighting for the same cause. In fact the association is knocking the doors of MPs for funds which will create move developmental work in the field of Agri and Rural Development  By K Balakrishnan 

Does anybody in the government read these articles?  By Giri 

Mr.Ayair article has a small mistake. The emphasis on industry started from the second five year plan.His argument in favour of agriculture is not only timely but over due for action. UPA II Govt. policies have been designed to garner votes for the Congress party through populist programs like MNERGS. MNERGS is one scheme which has been launched without thought and preparation.  By Niladrinath Mohanty 

Sir, your article is timely, purposeful and puts the bar on Ts and dots on Is. The French example you refer to is laudable. The wheat fields were yielding just about 1800 Kgs per hectare. The Government not only allowed the import of high-yielding seedlings from China but also allowed private sector to do the import for the farmers who paid back the actual cost to the financier but also gave tax cuts to the latter; both are encouraged and jointly enhancing the conditions. Yesterday the French Agriculture Ministry announced to have improved the land fertility and the yield per hectare is projected to reach above 9000 Kgs at the ensuing crop. So much can be said about the Israeli methods too. Until a young and professionally-ambitious will replace Sharad Pawar, no result-oriented solution can be expected. The GoM takes decision ! No farmers are represented even at a consultative level ! May be an agri-Anna has to emerge to make the government to act! Agriculture is described as the back  By RAM FRANCE 

Chemical fertilizers in our water – An analysis of nitrates in the groundwater in Punjab by Greenpeace

Source: India Water Portal

 This study by Greenpeace India Society is an initial investigation into the effects of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer on groundwater pollution in intensive agriculture areas in Punjab. The level of nitrate in drinking water was tested from groundwater artesian wells located within farms and surrounded by crops (mostly rice and wheat rotations).
Nitrate pollution in groundwater is associated with nitrogen loads in the environment. In urban areas, it is associated with sewage and in agriculture areas, with livestock sources and nitrogen fertiliser inputs. Nitrate pollution in drinking water can have serious health impact on humans, especially for babies and children. The most significant potential health effects of drinking water contaminated with nitrate are the blue-baby syndrome (methemoglobinemia) and cancer.

A chemical intensive model of agriculture was introduced in India in the 1960s as part of the Green Revolution. This model and the supporting government policies, such as the chemical fertilizer subsidy policy, provoked indiscriminate use of chemicals. This has not only led to deterioration of the environment but also degraded and contaminated the natural resources base, and is now posing a threat to human health.

Ironically, this intensive farming practice is also not living up to its promise of sustained increase in food production. As a consequence, food production is now affected by diminishing returns and falling dividends in agriculture intensive areas. Application of nitrogen fertilizers compromises future food production by degrading soil fertility, and compromises the health of the farmers and their families by polluting the drinking water they depend on. The situation is alarming as the intensive model of farming has already depleted the groundwater. This region might be suffering from widespread nitrate pollution on its diminishing sources of drinking water.

As a part of the study, groundwater was tested from artesian wells located in farms awayNitrate from other potential sources of nitrate contamination (animals, human sewage), in order to focus on the impact of fertilizer application. Farms located in three districts (Bhatinda, Ludhiana, Mukhtsar) in Punjab where fertilizer consumption is highest were sampled.

As control points, two wells that are also monitored by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) were sampled. These wells are located within the villages, with high pollution probably coming from concentration of human sewage and cattle. The comparable values from these tests and from the reported values by CGWB point to the agreement between the two methodologies.

The investigation in three districts of Punjab shows that 20 percent of all sampled wells have nitrate levels above the safety limit of 50 mg of – nitrate per litre established by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Also, this nitrate pollution is clearly linked with the usage of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers as higher the application of nitrogen (urea) in the adjoining field, the higher the nitrate pollution found in the drinking water from the same farm.

There is an urgent need to shift to an ecofriendly agricultural model, and identify agro-ecological practices that ensure future food security. It is necessary now to acknowledge the pattern of the hazards that is becoming a trend, and address them with research, political will, relevant policy and practices.

Download the report here –

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Chemical fertilizers in our water – An analysis of nitrates in the groundwater in Punjab by Greenpeace (2009) 953.75 KB

Corporate Crimes In the Cereal Aisle: How Companies Are Fooling You Into Thinking Their Products Are Healthy

Here’s the tricks that big breakfast barons use to fool you into believing their products are pesticide and GMO-free.

October 26, 2011  |

A trip to the supermarket is an adventure into a tempting and treacherous jungle. The insatiable hunger for a ready-made breakfast that nourishes our bodies and our social conscience has made our morning bowls of cereal a hiding place for corporate charlatans. A new report, Cereal Crimes, by the Cornucopia Institute discloses the toxic truth about “natural” products and unmasks corporate faces like Kellogg’s hiding behind supposedly “family-run” businesses such as Kashi.

When these breakfast barons forage for profit, we eaters are the prey. But what are the laws of this jungle? And how do we avoid being ripped off by products that are hazardous for our health and our environment? Let’s have a look at some of these corporations’ sneaky strategies.

First, there is intentional confusion. With so many different kinds of cereal lining the shelves, figuring out which is the best requires detective work. Many make claims about health, boasting “no trans fats,” “gluten-free,” and “a boost of omega three.” Others play to environmental concerns declaring “earthy harmony,” “nature in balance,” and “sustainable soils.” With the legion of labels, separating wheat from chaff seems impossible, but the report offers one rule of thumb: Don’t confuse organic with “natural.”

Organics, certified and recognizable by the green USDA label, are required by federal law to be produced without toxic inputs and genetically engineered ingredients. “Natural,” on the other hand, is defined by the producers themselves to mislead shoppers and protect shareholders. Cornucopia’s report found that, “When determining their ‘natural’ standards, companies will consider their profitability. Environmental concerns are unlikely to weigh heavily, if at all, in this profitability equation.”


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Maharashtra leads in statistic of shame-Farmers sucides

P. SAINATH, The Hindu, Mumbai, October 29, 2011

Share of Big 5 rose to 66.49 % of all farm suicides in 2010
Click here to view/download table on Farm Suicides: All India totals and numbers for five worst-affected States, 1995-2010

The five States with the largest share of the quarter-of-a-million farm suicides recorded in India over the past 16 years are Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

While the total number of farmers who took their own life in 2010 showed a dip from the preceding year, the share of the Big 5, in fact, rose to 66.49 per cent of all farm suicides in 2010. It was 62 per cent in 2009. Three of the Big 5 States have shown significant increases over 2009: Maharashtra (+269), Karnataka (+303), and Andhra Pradesh (+111). Nationally, the last eight years have seen on average, farmers killing themselves at a rate of one every 30 minutes.

In all, 14 of 28 States reported increases in 2010, while four have recorded declines of five or fewer suicides. The dip in 2010 comes with big falls in Chhattisgarh (-676), Tamil Nadu (-519) and Rajasthan (-461) and significant falls in Madhya Pradesh (-158), Puducherry (-150), and Uttar Pradesh (-108). West Bengal and Gujarat also report declines of 61 and 65. But the overall trend remains dismal.

In 1995, the first time the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) tabulated farm suicide data, the Big 5 accounted for 56.04 per cent of all farm suicides . In 2010, despite a one-year decline, they accounted for 66.49 per cent. Maharashtra’s story is alarming. It saw 20,066 farmers kill themselves between 1995 and 2002. That stands dwarfed by the 30,415 farmers who took their lives in the next eight years. The latter period saw an annual average increase of nearly 1,155 such deaths in the State. This was also the period when money was poured into relief ‘packages’ of the Prime Minister, the Chief Minister, through the loan waiver of 2008, and other measures.

During the very decade in which it reigned without break as the worst State to be a farmer in, Maharashtra rose to the first position among the big States in per capita income. Overall at Rs. 74,027, it is behind only much smaller States like Haryana and Goa. The Union Agriculture Minister is from this State and has held that post for six of those 10 years.