Monitoring system for fertilisers fails to gather steam

Monitoring system for fertilisers fails to gather steam
Unfamiliarity with system, unwillingness to share information seen as drawbacks
Shaikh Zoaib Saleem / New Delhi Apr 29, 2012, 00:10 IST

The ambitious mobile-based fertiliser monitoring system (mFMS), aimed at tracking the movement of fertilisers up to the retail level, does not seem to be popular among end users—the dealers and retailers. Just about 10,000 of the 170,000 registered on the system are responding to it.

Officials close to the project told Business Standard the number of responses was indeed small, something industry players also agreed with.


“The response was up to 1,000 in November, when the pilot of the mFMS was being run. The number has now reached somewhere around ten thousand,” said an official. After the pilot projects in November, the final tracking system was launched in January.

The official added the reasons for the slow growth were primarily unfamiliarity with the system and unwillingness to share information. “Many of the retailers do not respond to the system regularly, citing various reasons, when all it takes is just a little time. We have also incorporated many of the upgradations suggested by the industry in the application used for the system,” he said.

However, the irony is even among the small number of respondents, the majority of updates were through computers, not mobiles, defeating the very purpose of the mobile-based system. Currently, the system can be updated by both mobile phones, as well as computers.

Experts say the system cannot be implemented, unless some field officers are deployed to monitor the implementation and, at a later stage, retailers are mandatorily made to update the system. The government has constituted a sub-group, with members from the government and the industry, to test and monitor the system.

Government officials said most responses were coming from the cooperatives.

Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative (Iffco), which has about 45,000 retailers registered on the system, told Business Standard the response rate for it had touched 15 per cent. Iffco also said due to operational difficulties, the system was not working in remote areas, and this had been communicated to the National Informatics Centre (NIC). “We have asked the NIC not to release the final version of the application, as it is a difficult task to copy the software to the mobile phones of all retailers,” Iffco said.

Zuari Industries, a manufacturer of farm products, said the majority (about 80 per cent) of its dealers was responding to the system, and the company was not facing any problem with the current system. According to the mFMS database, Zuari has over 3,800 registered dealers on the system.

The system is aimed at tracking the movement of fertilisers to the farthest point possible–the retailers. The tracking gained importance after various reports of leakages and unavailability of fertilisers came to light. It was also scheduled to be used for the direct transfer of subsidy to retailers, as an intermediate step in the direct transfer of subsidy to farmers. However, after the industry voiced its concern, this aspect of the mFMS was put on the backburner.


BKS & ASHA welcome Gujarat Govt’s decision

project sunshine rapid appraisal rpt-ASHA-feb2012 finalAhmedabad/New Delhi, 26th April 2012: The Gujarat government’s cabinet decision yesterday to withdraw controversial American MNC Monsanto’s proprietary seed from ongoing government projects was welcomed by Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) and Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA). BKS state President Maganbhai Patel, Kapil Shah of Jatan and Prabhakar Kelkar, National President of BKS organized a press conference in Ahmedabad today, thanking the government for its decision, having protested and campaigned against the unscientific, controversial and unsustainable aspects of Project Sunshine for several seasons now. Earlier, a Cabinet Sub-Committee has recommended the withdrawal of Monsanto’s seed from government projects.

The seeds of Monsanto, under the brand name “Prabal”, a double-cross hybrid of Maize, were being distributed to more than half a million tribal farmers of Gujarat since the inception of Project SunShine under Vanbandhu Kalyan Yojana in 2008. This project came under great criticism not only from within the state but also at a national level by various agencies including farmers’ organizations, tribal organizations and leaders, organic farming promoters, ecologists and scientists. It is estimated that the Gujarat Govt has procured seeds from Monsanto worth of 500 million rupees in the last four years, to be distributed in turn to poor tribal farmers, thereby providing ready markets for this controversial corporation seen by many as anti-farmer. It is not clear whether proper bidding and other transparent procedures were followed or not while favoring Monsanto in this project, apart from several questions on the scientificity of proprietary hybrid seed being chosen to be distributed to resource-poor, vulnerable farmers.

Several efforts were put in by various groups and individuals against this project, through letter campaigns, rapid appraisal visits, public debates and personal meetings with policy makers. Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, the largest farmers’ organization in Gujarat, has also been demanding withdrawal of Monsanto and its ‘Prabal’ seed from such government support. This proprietary hybrid seems to have been selected against the opinions of agricultural scientists. There has been increasing opposition in the state since the past couple of years against such encroachment of MNCs in State’s agriculture. In February 2012, ASHA (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture) released a Rapid Appraisal Report visiting tribal farmers of project villages and pointed out to several problems and flaws in the project. The last Assembly Session witnessed a debate and questions being raised on Monsanto’s seed. It appears that finally, the government has sought opinion of State Agriculture Universities, which gave their scientific opinion against these seeds for distribution to tribal farmers.

Four reputed scientists having enormous experience of working with maize and agricultural universities including two past Vice Chancellors were requested to opine about selection of ‘Prabal’ for distribution through government project.

All of them have opined about it in writing and have voiced strong views against the inclusion of this proprietary brand..

Dr. M. C. Varshneya, Former Vice C hancellor of Anand Agriculture University said, “Prabal variety of maize  was selected by tribal department without consulting Research Scientists.
1. Prabal is suitable only for deep soils.
2. Prabal needs more water than other varieties.
3. Heavy doses of fertilizers are needed for Prabal.
4. Prabal is not suitable for Godhra (where the maize Research Station is located) conditions where shallow soils and rainfed crop is taken”.

He adds, “ Inspite of candid opinion of University Scientists, Prabal seed was distributed to the farmers. Rather to say it was pushed on farmers without caring for technical suitability of the variety for that area.” As per his view SAU was not given a fair chance to supply its seeds. Showing his helplessness he says “Nothing could be done to stop the Monsanto released variety Prabal from entering in Gujarat.”

A well known maize breeder Dr. S. N. Goyal (awarded by the state government for his remarkable work) who worked as a Research Scientist for Maize at Anand Agricultural University for 12 years (from 1994 to 2006), and during whose tenue some of the most popular maize varieties in Gujarat were released, opined that, “My considered opinion about “Prabal” hybrid is, being a late-in-maturity, yellow-coloured and dent-type seed, “Prabal” is unsuitable for majority of maize growing areas of Gujarat. He described the following seven reasons for his view.

1.     Majority of maize growing areas, especially eastern part is rain-fed for where early maturity varieties are recommended and grown. Late maturity hybrids grown under rain-fed condition may not set seeds and chances of crop failure will be high which may lead to farmer’s distress.

2.     To overcome the risk of total crop failure in rain-fed area, farmers grow maize with other crops as an inter-crop which is not possible with “Prabal” Hybrid which is meant only for sole cropping.

3.     “Prabal” hybrid requires high inputs involving more expenditure which is not desirable under rain-fed condition, especially for resource poor farmers.

4.     Considering the AAU report, despite of high dosage of NPK application to “Prabal” hybrid, marginal depletion in NPK and Zinc level have been observed in maize fields, which will result in soil deterioration in the long run.

5.     Storability of “Prabal” Grain / seed, which is dent type is less compared to flint type, which may lead to food insecurity for tribal families.

6.     “Prabal” hybrid is double cross hybrid. Double cross hybrids are less uniform and unattractive as compared to single cross hybrid. Double cross hybrid has high cost of seed production. Now-a-days, only single cross hybrids are developed and released. Using double cross is considered as an age old technology in the scientific forums. Double cross hybrid technology is rejected in USA also. World over, including at ICAR and SAUs in India, single cross hybrids are developed.

7.     Economic survey of “Prabal” growing hybrids in Gujarat revealed that financial gain is achieved only to 25% to 30% sample farmers in Dahod, Panchamahal and Vadodara and 40-50% in Sabarkantha and Banaskantha district, where as in rest of the area, it had no significant impact on economy.


Another retired senior plant breeder and former Research Scientist for forage crops at State Agricultural University Dr. J. P. Yadavendra, told that, “The crop varieties are developed and released as per regional requirements and specific agro-ecological niches.  Any crop variety/hybrid which has not been tested in a particular environment and disseminated for general cultivation among farmers poses a great danger in the long run. To safeguard the farmers’ interest, there should be an honest follow up of the official guidelines set up for the purpose by the state agricultural universities.  In case of cross-pollinated crops, the contamination of the well-adapted local cultivars may lead to the loss of valuable existing gene pool. In my opinion, the popularization of Prabal maize hybrid amongst the tribal farmers of Dahod and Panchmahal districts of Gujarat has been done without considering the proper procedures and opinion of the cultivators.” It is important to note that he is working in tribal areas of six states of India through an NGO called Gramin Vikas Trust.

Padmashree Dr. M. H. Mehta, Former Vice chancellor of Gujarat Agricultural University opined that, “ We do not seem to have given enough back up and large scale extension support to promising new maize varieties of Agri. University in Gujarat. Instead there seems a stronger support and preference to the varieties of multinational company. I have watched the organic model of Bihar where through a state level lead up & the package of eco-friendly agri. bio inputs, excellent yields of vegetables could be achieved in some of the poorest & backward districts. Low input cost, eco-friendly technology is the most appropriate for tribal people. It is time to adopt such a model for Gujarat farmers.”

Multinational seed companies including Monsanto are encroaching upon Indian agricultural fields by using government funds. At least four other states began spending public money to buy such seeds in the name of farmer/tribal/rural welfare, emulating the Project Sunshine model and serious opposition has been mounted against this in the other states too, with Odisha dropping this support after piloting it for one season.

“Gujarat’s Project Sunshine is a classic case of how Agri-MNCs like Monsanto bypass scientific opinion and administrative procedures and promote their unscientific and risky products. It is also a matter of investigation whether proper bidding was done to buy these seeds or not. It is the same companies like Monsanto that also promote GM crops and sell patented technology. Even as genetically modified maize is knocking on the door, pushed by corporations like Monsanto, ready ground is being created for this controversial technology by replacing public varieties through various questionable practices.”, said ASHA.

BKS appreciates the Gujarat Government’s move and strongly demands withdrawal of such seeds & projects in all states of India. At the same time, it warned the state government to be extra cautious to ensure that the same seed does not take back door entry. It is high time to set up a non-corrupt, transparent, efficient and scientific system so that such case never occurs in future

Gujarat Govt should ban Monsanto and GM crop trials in the state

Various groups in Gujarat and elsewhere in the country are now demanding a ban on Monsanto and various GM crop trials allowed in the state of Gujarat. This was in the context of Gujarat Government’s decision to withdraw this controversial agri-business corporation’s proprietary seed from government projects in the state. Monsanto’s seeds worth crores of rupees have been distributed without proper scientific basis and by bypassing proper administrative procedures. The Press Release added that “Monsanto is the company along with other corporations trying to introduce GM crops including Bt Brinjal, Roundup Ready Bt maize and so on. This company already controls around 93% of India’s cotton seed through its proprietary Bollgard technology when it comes to GM cotton. It is also being proceeded against by the National Biodiversity Authority for violations in Bt brinjal development, while being investigated by Indian biosafety regulators for violations in its GM maize trials”.

The Gujarat government decision to withdraw Monsanto from Project Sunshine is significant in the context of GM crop trials also. Last year, Rajasthan government had annulled agreements that it made for seed-related R&D with Monsanto and other corporations while Odisha did not pursue a Public Private Parntership programme initiated in the state after one season.

In India, at least eight states including Bihar, Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Orissa, Kerala and Karnataka have decided not to allow any GM crop trials, while Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have also said NO to such trials. Some of them have declared their desire to remain totally GM free. Only three states have allowed trials of this controversial and hazardous technology: Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Gujarat. In Gujarat, NOC by state govt was given to about 10 “events”, all of which have proprietary right of MNCs. It was also found that this was done without the legally obligated institutions in place for monitoring and supervision. It is also worth noting that illegal planting of GM crops has been recorded in the past without any liability being fixed.

Why Gujarat Should Ban GM Crop Trials

There are various important reasons to ban such trials in Gujarat as mentioned below:

1.     The very need of Bt Maize, HT Maize and HT cotton has not been assessed or decided by scientists and farmers and there are safer alternatives available with SAUs. Need assessment and assessment of alternatives is not governing GM crop trials-related decisions.

2.     Open air trials precede biosafety clearance (biosafety testing runs parallel to such open air trials) and these open air trials pose a great risk since this technology is a living, imprecise, unpredictable, irreversible and uncontrollable technology.

3.     Open Air Trials are permitted based on privately-generated safety data and not even independent scientific analysis. This was also stated as an argument against such crops being released by very senior and credible scientists in the country.

4.     All the GM crops trials are sponsored by the seed developer. (No Blinding is done). This may lead to biased results. There is a need to cut off the relations between company and evaluating agency.

5.     There are chances of contamination from novel organism to local germplasm as the facilities and isolation requirements to avoid the contamination are limited and questionable. Moreover, the agri-campuses where such trials take place are also repositeries of valuable germplasm collections.

6.     As per the EPA, there is a need to have State Biosafety Coordination Committee (SBCC) in function, In Gujarat, SBCC is non-functional with different agencies washing off their hands on their responsibility.

7.     There are mounting evidences depicting risks related to transgenic crops including unexpected changes in the organism, ecological and health risks.

8.     Even the export and trade of certain farm products will be at risk (as example of rice in China and basmati rice in India). Field trials have been known to cause enormous damage to trade security in various parts of the world in the past.

9.     The seed owner wants to enjoy IPR restricting the very right of farmer to produce their own seeds. We cannot have such trials until several basic things are made clear.

10.  GM crop trials are disallowed in an overwhelming majority of states in India. Why should Gujarat allow them, and on what additional scientific basis and regulatory capability?




Maganbhai Patel, BKS:  09426394801

Kapil Shah, Jatan:  09427054132

Kavitha Kuruganti, ASHA: 09393001550

Effect of Bt-Transgenic Cotton on Soil Biological Health

Tarafdar Jagadish C.*, Rathore Indira, Shiva Vandana1 Central Arid Zone Research Institute, Jodhpur, Rajasthan-342 003 (India)  1Navadanya, A-60, Hauz Khas, New Delhi 110 016, India  *email:;

Bt cotton are plants that have been genetically modified to express the insecticidal proteins Cry 1 Acfrom subspecies of the bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bt), to control bollworm pest that feed on cotton. There is a persistent environmental concern that transgenic Bt-crops carry genes that have indirect undesirable effect to natural and agroecosystem function. We investigated the effect of Bt-cotton (with Cry 1 Ac gene) on several microbial and biochemical indicators in fields under sub-humid tropical condition. Twenty five fields were selected in the Vidarbha region, India, where Bt-cotton has been growing at least three consecutive years and side by side field of non-transgenic cotton is growing under clay to clay loam soil. Soil from a control (no-crop) treatment was also included from each area to compare the extent of adverse effect of Bt, if any. Samples were analyzed for actinobacteria, fungi and nitrifiers population, biomass carbon (MBC), biomass nitrogen (MBN), biomass phosphorus (MBP) and soil enzyme activities. The result revealed a significant decline in actinobacteria (17%), bacterial (14%) count as well as acid phosphatase (27%), phytase (18%), nitrogenase (23%) and dehydrogenase (12%) activities in Bt cotton compared with non-Bt cotton fields. Fungal and nitrifier counts, and esterase and alkaline phosphatase activities were not affected by the introduction of Bt-cotton in fields. However, significant decline between 8 and 9% in MBC and MBN was noticed.


On NHRC intervention Punjab Government bans use of cancer causing pesticides in Malwa region


New Delhi, April 20th, 2012

Responding to National Human Rights Commission’s directions, the Punjab Government has banned the manufacture, import and use of pesticides which are very injurious to health. It has also withdrawn registration of some such pesticides in addition to restricting use of some other dangerous pesticides. It has also made arrangements for educating farmers on judicious use of pesticides and their healthcare.

These actions, among others, have been taken by the Punjab Government in response to NHRC’s suo motu cognizance of a media report, carried on the 16th August, 2011, alleging that the disease of cancer among farmers in the Malwa region of Punjab is caused by the excessive use of pesticides on the crops and that due to non-availability of the cheap treatment of cancer in the region, about 70-100 cancer patients were going daily by train to Bikaner from Bathinda for free treatment and cheap medicines in the Acharya Tulsi Regional Cancer Trust.

These patients were mostly small farmers from the southern districts of Punjab including Bathinda, Faridkot, Moga, Muktsar, Ferozepur, Sangrur and Mansa coming under Malwa region.

On the directions of the Commission two reports were received from the Government of Punjab on 20th September, 2011 and 27th February, 2012.  The first report of the Director Health and Family Welfare of Punjab was not found specific by the Commission to the issues in the media report and it gave directions on 23rd January, 2012 for an overall comprehensive action including banning carcinogenic pesticides, control use of less hazardous pesticides, education of farmers for use of pesticides, regular health check ups of the of farmers in the area and conducting a survey in the area to assess the problem.

In response to this, the second report by the Principal Secretary, Govt. of Punjab, Department of Health and Family Welfare accepted that the consumption of pesticides was on the higher side in Malwa region on account of growing of cotton crop.  However, during the last 4-5 years, the consumption has reduced as the farmers have switched over to BT cotton, which requires only 20% of the pesticides used for earlier cotton varieties.  The farmers are being trained on judicious use of pesticides even as some dangerous pesticides have been banned or their use has been restricted.  As for providing cheap treatment for cancer, the Punjab Government has taken the following steps:-

•       Financial assistance under State Illness Fund through Punjab Nirogi Society is provided to cancer patients belonging to BPL families;
•       A fund of Rs. 20 crores has been made available by the Government of Punjab under the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund for treatment of cancer patients.  An amount of upto Rs. 1.5 lakhs is made available for treatment to every cancer patient;
•       School children suffering from cancer are provided free treatment by Health Department;
•       .Brachytherapy machine for treatment of cancer patients has been installed at Government Medical College and Hospital, Patiala;
•       Radiotherapy machine and cobalt unit have been started at Sri Guru Gobind Singh Medical College, Faridkot;
•       Cobalt source fro the treatment of cancer patients has been installed at Sri Guru Ram Das Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre, Amritsar;
•       Onconet service has been started at Civil Hospital, Bathinda;
•       Regional Cancer Centre, PGI is connected to all districts of Punjab via Tele-Medicine facility;
•       Free travel facility in Punjab Roadways and PRTC Buses is provided for cancer patients for availing treatment;
•       State Government has executed an agreement with Max Health Care to set up Super Specialty Hospital for cancer and Trauma Care in the premises of Civil Hospital, SAS Nagar (Mohali) and setting up of Super Specialty Cancer and Cardiac Hospital in the premises of Civil Hospital, Bathinda.  These hospitals are fully functional.

The Commission has observed that the steps taken by the State Government give some ray of hope to the victims.  If these steps are taken forward in the right earnest they are likely to bear fruits in the future.

Toxic legacy: Nitrate pollution in California could affect 260,000 people

Author(s): Swetha Manian

Issue: Apr 30, 2012

Nitrate contamination has grown worse in agricultural areasTHOUGH nitrogen and nitrates occur naturally, they are at levels that do not harm. But concern is increasing about high concentrations of nitrogen leaching into aquifers from synthetic fertilisers and manure applied to cropland, resulting in nitrate pollution. High-nitrate levels can cause cancer, reproductive disorders and can be lethal for infants.

Now a study has shown how nitrate contamination of groundwater in some of California’s most intensely farmed regions has grown worse in recent decades. The contamination will continue to spread, threatening the drinking water supplies of more than 260,000 people, it says. The team from UC Davis Department of Land, Air and Water Resources analysed groundwater data of Tulare Lake Basin and Salinas Valley of California. They found that more than 90 per cent of the contamination comes from farms, ranches and crops. It says that nitrate in drinking water today came from nitrates introduced decades ago. “Decades from now nitrate in water will be from today’s discharges. Nitrate contamination will be an issue for years to come,” says Thomas Harter, the lead author.

The study which was mandated by legislation in the state in 2008 also notes that removing nitrates from groundwater is costly and not feasible. It says the cost of treating drinking water would increase over time as more nitrate percolates. The study thus suggests an approach based on fertiliser management and water treatment systems. Laurel Firestone, co-executive director of Tulare County’s Community Water Centre, suggests a fertiliser fee could help control nitrate contamination.

In India, high levels of nitrate contamination have been reported from agricultural areas and have been linked to intensive use of fertilisers. A study conducted by Greenpeace India, a non-profit, in November 2009 in Punjab found an average fertiliser application rate of 322 kg nitrogen per hectare, higher than the average rate of 210 kg nitrogen per hectare, set by the Fertiliser Association of India. The Davis study found an application rate of 221 kg nitrogen per hectare in high nitrate area. “While nitrate pollution can stem from many sources, overuse is prevalent mainly in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and coastal peninsula, which comprise 10 per cent of all agricultural area,” says N Raghuram, associate professor at Indraprastha University, New Delhi. He adds, preventing accumulation of reactive nitrogen is the best solution. “Recycling unwanted nitrogen compounds from other sectors towards agriculture could be an option.”

Pesticides worsening water contamination

Apr 11, 2012 – Rashme Sehgal |


Increasing use of pesticides and herbicides in agriculture is playing havoc with the farming community apart from resulting in increased levels of water contamination.

A recent epidemiological study has shown the presence of arsenic, cadmium, chromium and mercury apart from much higher levels of pesticides in the water across Punjab, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

The situation has got exacerbated with the unavailability of rural workers during the peak harvesting and sowing months forcing farmers to use pesticides/herbicides and opt for rapid mechanisation.

Agriculture expert Devinder Sharma warns, “Increased mechanisation and pesticide use has raised investment levels for even small farmers. But since most of these purchases are being done on credit, a crop failure means they are in deep trouble.”

Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar has warned against this trend and had even requested minister of rural development Jairam Ramesh to freeze the MGNREGA rural job scheme during the peak agricultural season to allow farm labour to be available for agricultural work.

The Economic Survey 2012 has also seconded Mr Pawar’s warning that the agricultural crisis has worsened in the last five years which is the time that the MGNREGA has been around.

Umendra Dutta of the Kheti Virasat Mission points out, “Farmers are encouraged to use excessive pesticides instead of farming organically. Herbicides are being used to remove weeds because there is no labour to do the farm work.”

Officials in the Central Water Commission warn of over 100 different pesticides that are presently found in groundwater samples which can take many years to clean up.

Cleaning ground water is a difficult task and a Minister of Environment and Forests survey found that 58 per cent of drinking waters drawn from various hand pumps and wells in Bhopal remains contaminated with organ chlorine pesticides even though the gas leak took place over 25 years ago.

Shortage of farm labour has also resulted in the creation of a National Mission on Farm Mechanisation. `This is strange in a country where large numbers of people are said to be unemployed,’ said Dutta.

Devinder Sharma adds, Rs Travelling across the country, workers will be found sitting idle. There is so much corruption in the Rs 35,000 crore MGNREGA that workers just need to sign to get depressed wages. They do not need to do nay work at all.’

SC refuses to nominate judge to head GMO committee

TNN | Apr 21, 2012, 04.31AM IST


NEW DELHI: Wary of public cynicism, the Supreme Court on Friday spurned repeatedly requests to nominate a retired apex court judge to head the expert committee for recommending rules for bio-safety testing of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO).

A bench of Chief Justice S H Kapadia and Justices A K Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar said the petitioners, Aruna Rodrigues and Gene Campaign, as well as the Union government must come to a consensus on the name of a retired judge to head the committee.

“We do not have a problem with any name agreed to by the parties. But we are not going to name any judge in this kind of a matter in which there are so many conflicting interests. Then, rumours and allegations and counter-allegations will start. We know what happened in this case. With the kind of cynicism in our society, we are not going to give the name of a judge,” the bench said.

While petitioners, through counsel Prashant Bhushan and Sanjay Parekh, had suggested the name of retired apex court judge B Sudershan Reddy, the government through additional solicitor general Harin Raval had come up with the name of Justice Doraiswamy Raju.

Both Parekh and Bhushan attempted to drive home the urgency involved in the matter. They said the rules relating to bio-safety testing of GMOs needed to be framed expeditiously as anything released in the environment during field trials of such organisms could irreversibly contaminate traditional crops.