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Farmers engaged in agriculture on fertile land which has locational advantages get lower economic returns from agriculture
AK RAMDAS | 15/01/2014 12:00 PM |
There is an urgent need to encourage corporate bodies to invest in building up the infrastructure facilities for storage and exports of food grains
In order to support the Food Security Act, the Ministry of Agriculture has estimated that the essential foodgrains in India, to the extent of 53 million tonnes be maintained as a buffer stock. This is based on the assumption that it is safe to have this divided into three categories. A three month buffer stock, at the rate of 5.1 million tonnes (mt), three months reserve and a strategic reserve of 7.5 mt would be sufficient, as a start, as per Tejinder Singh, a well known foodgrain trade analyst.
Also, we must remember that as fresh supplies are coming in, stored materials are also being despatched continuously for daily consumption. The foodgrains in overflowing godowns are stored, in large quantities, outside under plastic sheets, tarpaulins etc, which are subject to heavy climatic damage, besides being vulnerable to pilferage and act as a regular storehouse for rodents! Any excess inventory of even 13 to 15 mt are estimated to be worth Rs32,500 crore to Rs37,500 crore!
According to information available in the media, as of December 2013, the stock level of foodgrains with the Food Corporation of India (FCI) stood at 45 mt, some 20 million more than required, based on the estimation of 5.1 mt per month. This figure varies from time to time, based on consumption pattern, arrivals and despatches. We must also bear in mind that most state governments have their own food subsidy schemes, and there is no uniformity on a national scale.
Our foodgrains should be sold, on export basis, at the best possible prices in the overseas market, and our own minimum “floor price” rules have no bearing on the purchaser. Fresh supplies to the godown are simply placed on the top of the heap of the lot already in, which causes irreparable damage at the bottom!
Take the question of wheat stocks in the country and the overseas demand pattern, apart from the aggressive activities of our competitors. At this point of time, cold weather conditions in the US, prime and leading grower and exporter, are indicative of shortfall in their supplies.
Indian wheat stocks, as on 1st December, stood at 31 mt, which is the statutory requirement for buffer stock. Agricultural experts estimate a bumper crop this season, amounting to over 95 mt, as wheat acreage in the current rabi season is estimated to be over 302 lakh hectares, thanks to various state schemes in operation. In Madhya Pradesh, the government had announced a bonus of Rs150 per quintal over the minimum supportprice (MSP) and it appears more farmers increased the wheat acreage! The central government had announced a MSP of Rs1,400 per quintal, an increase of Rs50 over the previous year, to encourage production.
As a sequel to the bulging stocks of wheat, export efforts by government authorities, besides private exporters, are bearing fruit. Fortunately, in line with the international market, the government had to reduce the floor price from $300 per tonne to $260 per tonne to push up exports and to literally get rid of the stocks, and to make way for the new crop to come in. Preferred supplies from Black Sea producers were fetching $305 per tonne, while both US and French supplies were quoted at about $ 300 per tonne. However, with the cold wave, there has been interest in the tenders called for by India,prices above the floor price of $260 per tonne has been obtained, such as $282.62 per tonne from Vitol Group, for shipment from Mundhra port, while Al Ghurair of UAE bid $ 283.60 per tonne for shipment from Chennai. India thus plans to export at least two million tonnes of wheat before the new crop starts arriving in April, with hopes to reach four million this fiscal, as there are several tenders on the anvil.
Other items like corn (maize) have also made headway in exports, with orders booked for 350,000 tonnes at $216 per tonne. Iran has increased its purchase of basmati rice and soya meal with other items like sugar picking up.
Our efforts to push up export of foodgrains is imperative; at the same time, there is an urgent need to encourage corporate bodies to invest in building up the infrastructure facilities for storage, but allocating free land or on long term lease, suitable for this purpose, in every state and more importantly near the ports to facilitate exports. Anything that can be done in these areas to prevent loss of foodgrains due to climatic damage would be most beneficial to the country.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)
Bumblebees exposed to a widely-used pesticide produced workers with lower body mass, scientists
Bumblebees could be shrinking because of exposure to a widely-used pesticide, a study suggests.
Experts fear smaller bees will be less effective at foraging for nectar and carrying out their vital task of distributing pollen.
Scientists in the UK conducted laboratory tests which showed how a pyrethroid pesticide stunted the growth of worker bumblebee larvae, causing them to hatch out reduced in size.
Gemma Baron, one of the researchers from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London, said: “We already know that larger bumblebees are more effective at foraging.
“Our result, revealing that this pesticide causes bees to hatch out at a smaller size, is of concern as the size of workers produced in the field is likely to be a key component of colony success, with smaller bees being less efficient at collecting nectar and pollen from flowers.”
Pyrethroid pesticides are commonly used on flowering crops to prevent insect damage.
The study, the first to examine the pesticides’ impact across the entire lifecycle of bumblebees, tracked the growth of bee colonies over a four month period.
Researchers exposed half the bees to a pyrethroid while monitoring the size of the colonies as well as weighing individual insects on micro-scales.
They found that worker bees from colonies affected by the pesticides over a prolonged period grew less and were significantly smaller than unexposed bees.
Findings from the study, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc), appear in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
Professor Mark Brown, who led the Royal Holloway group, said: “Bumblebees are essential to our food chain so it’s critical we understand how wild bees might be impacted by the chemicals we are putting into the environment.
“We know we have to protect plants from insect damage but we need to find a balance and ensure we are not harming our bees in the process.”
Currently a Europe-wide moratorium on the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides is in force because of their alleged harmful effect on bees.
As a result, the use of other types of pesticide, including pyrethroids, is likely to increase, say the researchers.
Dr Nigel Raine, another member of the Royal Holloway team who will be speaking at this week’s national Bee Health Conference in London, said: “Our work provides a significant step forward in understanding the detrimental impact of pesticides other than neonicotinoids on wild bees.
“Further studies using colonies placed in the field are essential to understand the full impacts, and conducting such studies needs to be a priority for scientists and governments.”
The scientists sprayed the pesticide on the bees’ pollen feed at the concentration recommended for oilseed rape.
Colony growth and reproductive output were monitored for up to 14 weeks.
January 19, 2014
A day after Parliament approved foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail in December 2012, a newspaper report highlighted how a big retail company was exploiting both the farmers as well as the consumers: the wholesale cash-n-carry Bharti-Walmart enterprise, the report said, was buying baby corn from contract growers in Punjab at Rs. 8 per kg, selling it in wholesale at Rs. 100/kg and finally the consumers were paying Rs. 200/kg. In other words, farmers were getting only 4% of the end price consumers paid.
So to say that private enterprise will save Indian agriculture is all bunkum. Take the case of paddy in Bihar, the only state to have repealed the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act way back in 2006, thereby allowing farmers the freedom to sell their produce to whomsoever they like. Against the procurement price of `1,310 per quintal of paddy that Punjab farmers got this year, Bihar farmers have managed to sell paddy at something around `800-900 per quintal. This is nothing but a distress price/sale, a classic example of the ruthless exploitation by private traders.
Ironically, the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), which is supposed to ensure remunerative prices to farmers, lists Bihar as the top ‘market-friendly’ state as far as agriculture is concerned. Punjab, which has a network of mandis and provides an assured price to farmers, is at the bottom of the chart. At a time when being market-friendly is the new mantra, the CACP is asking Punjab to disband the APMC Act and allow markets to operate freely. In other words, it wants Punjab farmers to go the Bihar way.
So when Rahul Gandhi asked the Congress chief ministers to exempt fruits and vegetables, which have contributed much to raging food inflation, from the APMC Act by January 15, I thought he had gone by what FICCI/CII have been campaigning for. What probably he has never been told is that only about 30% of India’s farmers get the benefit of procurement prices. The rest 70% are in any case dependent on the markets. If the markets were so helpful to these 70% farmers, I am sure by now the farmers in Punjab and Haryana would have demanded the repeal of the APMC Act.
But that hasn’t happened. The APMC Act, despite all its flaws, provides an assured price and market to farmers. It is primarily for this reason that Punjab farmers are refusing to diversify from wheat and rice cultivation in the absence of an assured price mechanism for other crops. This year, Madhya Pradesh is expected to take over Punjab in wheat production. It will manage to achieve this only because farmers have been given a bonus above the procurement price and thankfully have not been left to the mercies of unscrupulous private traders.
I am amused when some economists blame the APMC for the monopolistic market structure that restricts the entry of free trade and competition, thereby denying farmers an economic price for their produce. This is a wrong assumption. Under the APMC Act, farmers bring produce to the designated mandis where private traders are first allowed to make purchases. It’s only when there are no buyers left that the Food Corporation of India (FCI) or the State procurement agencies step in to lift whatever is available at the minimum support price.
This is what irks the private trade. It doesn’t want to pay the minimum support price to farmers. For example, if it can get paddy at `800-900 per quintal in Bihar, why should it shell out `1,310 per quintal in Punjab?
To say that our present market structure does not permit the entry of new players who want to invest in other infrastructure is wrong. In seven years after repealing the APMC Act, Bihar has seen no revolution in agricultural marketing. Farmers have been left in the lurch and the private trade has not made any investments. The clamour to do away with the APMC Act is primarily to pave the way for setting up terminal markets for the big agribusiness companies as well as for multi-brand retail.
Devinder Sharma is a food policy analyst.
The views expressed by the author are personal
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Jan 19, 2014:
The National Biodiversity Authority has recognised 30 villages in Zaheerabad of Medak district of Andhra Pradesh that grow traditional and fast-disappearing millets as Agricultural Biodiversity Heritage Site (ABHS).
The Andhra Pradesh State Biodiversity Board (APSBB), which finally gave green signal for the rare recognition, has sent its recommendation to the National Biodiversity Board, which has approved the proposal making these villages to become first villages in India to be recognized as ABHS.
“The file is now with the agricultural department. By the end of January we will announce these villages as ABHS with or without their opinion,” a determined APSBB Chairman Dr R Hampaiah says. Thus, the dryland villages in four mandals and the 5,000-strong women farmers of the Deccan Development Society (DDS) that grow only “forgotten millets” without fertilisers or pesticides will join the list of 27 such other sites around that world by February.
“Nowhere in the world 60 different varieties are cultivated in 30,000 acres and the seeds are distributed among women farmers, assuring food safety and saving the environment,” says Dr SN Jadhav, Member Secretary, APSBB.
The 500-year-old banyan tree in Pillamarri tree spread on three acres of land in Mahbubnagar district and the rare forest on Tirumala hills are the other two sites in Andhra Pradesh that have such special recognition.
In fact, a few months ago, three members from the Board—Anisetty Murthy, Ashok Kumar and Hampaiah– had visited the farms to see the amazing agricultural biodiversity that was being conserved and propagated by the women of DDS.
The announcement added vigour to the 15th edition of biodiversity festival in Algole, a small village in Zaheerabad mandal in Medak district, from where a month-long bullock cart caravan yatra begins and tours 70 villages in all the four mandals of the heritage site, encouraging people to adopt forgotten crops.
“We are now trying introduce the concept in 18 other states in the country. The DDS even had its impact in Africa, where women are trying to take back farming from the hands of commercial organisations,” added DDS Director PV Sateesh.
While agriculture in other parts of the country was in doldrums, the sangham farmers were completely self-reliant as far as food, seeds and farming are concerned. When farmers elsewhere were facing the indignity of having to stand in long queues to access government supplied seeds, women of the DDS were staking their claim to the elusive mantle of food sovereignty.
Women of the DDS also succeeded in drawing the attention of the government to the need for including millets in government food programmes like PDS, the mid-day meal scheme and so on; the spate of orders asking for the inclusion of millets in these schemes is a testimony to the extent of success of the women of the DDS.
Some women farmers of the DDS also can handle the latest version of digital camera, the daily narrow cast of the Sangham FM radio and help save bio-diversity by cultivating forgotten millet crops with equal élan. Women camera operators of the Community Media Trust (CMT), probably the only such media house in the country, can handle, shoot, edit and produce short films without any outside help.
The initial toil and success of women was then presented to the outside world through photos and then videos. Then came the launch of the CMT, which has been winning several laurels for its amazing media work over the last decade.
The CMT runs a women’s video collective (WVC) and the first-ever community radio of India called Sangham Radio. While the WVC has been functioning since 1996, the Sangham Radio took up Narrowcasting since 1998 and has been on the air since October 2008, broadcasting two hours every day. Both these outfits are managed entirely by women from farming communities.
Chinna Narsamma, a small farmer who made a film “Community Conquers Hunger”, said that the sanghams were the first group in India to have started 100 days of employment for the poor, which preceded MGNREGA by 20 years.
Through this employment programme which they called summer employment, they brought over 5,000 acres of near fallow lands under cultivation, produced more than a million days of employment in 30 villages in 10 years and started producing over 20 million kg food every year. This was the first step in abandoning hunger in their sanghams.
Zaheerabad Punyamma added that the sanghams started leasing lands and launched collective farming groups on these leased lands and produced additional food for their families.
In two decades, the sanghams have leased more than 1,000 acres of land and produced over half a million kg of food for their groups. Dandu Swaroopamma, a community filmmaker and a member of the DDS Food Sovereignty Trust said that the sanghams have brought over 4,500 acres of cultivable fallows under cultivation and produce nearly a million kg or more food every year.
They have done poverty mapping of their villages and identified over 10,000 families as recipients of their jowar-based millet rations. Each family has received a ration card through which they can draw between 10-25 kg of jowar every month depending on their poverty status. The jowar is sold at 25 per cent of the market price to the identified poor.
Begari Laxmamma, a community filmmaker and a community seed keeper, pointed out that all these villages have their own community seed banks from which any farmer can borrow nearly 50-80 seed varieties. Thousands of women in these villages have their own household seed banks and never depend upon outside seeds. Thus these villages have become seed sovereign.
Thammali Manjula, filmmaker and a coordinator of the Community Food Sovereignty programme, says “Our films have nothing dramatic but depict our lives and it’s about how we conquered hunger.”
J B S Umanadh in Hyderabad