The Impacts of Reforms to the Public Distribution System in India’s Chhattisgarh on Food Security

Author(s) Prasad Krishnamurthy, Vikram Pathania, and Sharad Tandon, Economic Research Report No. ERR-164, United States Department of Agriculture, 34 pp | March 2014

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The Indian State of Chhattisgarh implemented a number of well-publicized reforms to improve distribution of subsidized food grains, many of which have been incorporated into the recently passed National Food Security Act. ERS researchers show that food aid consumption in the State increased in response to these reforms, and that the increase in food aid helped improve food security in the State.

The report can be downloaded here:
http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-report/err164.aspx#.UyQeF84eUSo

The Secret Suicide Pact: Farmer Suicides in Chhattisgarh


Tehelka Magazine, May 26, 2012 

Vidarbha claims an occasional burst of attention, but unknown to most, Chhattisgarh has become India’s largest farmer graveyard, writes 
SHRIYA MOHAN

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Loss beyond words Hemram Yadav’s children refuse to reveal why their father killed himself in 2006
PHOTOS: VIJAY PANDEY

CHHATTISGARH HAS for long been in the national eye for its Naxal threat. But few know of its other grave crisis that has been kept carefully under wraps – that its farmers have been silently killing themselves for nearly a decade now. Five states — Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — account for just a third of the country’s population but twothirds of the India’s farmers’ suicides. The number of farmers who have committed suicide in India between 1997 and 2007 now stands at a staggering 1,82,936 according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a wing of the Union home ministry. When Chhattisgarh became an independent state in 2001, for the first time NCRB compiled data for it separately, recording an alarming 1,452 farmer suicides in the state in that year. For every one lakh people, seven farmers killed themselves. In comparison, Maharashtra saw four farmer suicides for every one lakh of its population in the same year. To offer an even better comparison, take Maharashtra’s farmer suicide capital, Vidarbha, with 1.5 lakh fewer people and roughly the size of Chhattisgarh. While Vidarbha saw the most farmer suicides in 2006, with 1,065 farmers killing themselves, Chhattisgarh saw 1,483 the same year and 1,593 the next year. Yet, while Vidarbha’s suicides made national headlines, Chhattisgarh is in denial till date.

If you calculate farmer suicides as a percentage of the total population of a state, Chhattisgarh has ranked the highest in the country for six years in a row. But what hits home the hardest is that while India’s national average for farmer suicides is 14 per one lakh people, Chhattisgarh’s Mahasamund district alone is a staggering 83!

When TEHELKA traveled to the suicide- hit areas in Chhattisgarh’s Mahasamund district, it was puzzling to find that the families listed in NCRB’s data were not willing to disclose any information about their deceased family members. In Ghodari Village, Mahasamund, Santosh Nishad’s house is dark and empty, but for his father, Bahadur Singh, who is partially paralysed. Nishad’s wife is a daily wage labourer and was yet to return from work. His three children have all dropped out of school to work as wage labourers to keep themselves alive. It’s been a year since Nishad was found sprawled near his field, an empty bottle of insecticide by his side.

TOP THREE FARMER SUICIDE RATES PER 1 LAKH PEOPLE
Year
Maharashtra
Andhra Pradesh
Chhattisgarh
2001
3.65
1.98
6.97
2002
3.76
2.46
5.83
2003
3.84
2.31
4.93
2004
4.10
3.39
6.33
2005
3.82
3.13
6.29
2006
4.28
3.24
6.49
( Prepared by Dr Yuvraj Gajpal based on data from the National Crime Records Bureau )

“Please leave us alone and don’t ask me about my dead son. I don’t know why he died. How can I say what was in his head?” comes an automatic reaction as Bahadur Singh sees us. The anger is sharp, but justified. “We haven’t gotten any relief from the government. We don’t have a ration card or Below Poverty Line (BPL) card and are struggling to buy food grains from the market to feed our hungry stomachs. Why should I speak to you when nothing here changes for us?” he says. Five years ago, Santosh sold most of his land bit by bit for his father’s medical treatment and today his family is left with just half an acre. According to his family, he was in no debt. But neighbours say his crops failed around the time he died. The reason for Santosh’s death, like most others, is listed in police records as ‘Economic difficulty’. Is this a farmer suicide then?

 

CHHATTISGARH ON THE RISE
Year
Suicides
2001
1452
2002
1238
2003
1066
2004
1395
2005
1412
2006
1483
2007
1593

P. Sainath, award-winning development journalist and author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought, says “Several factors get discounted while tabulating farmer suicides. For instance, women farmers are considered just ‘farmers’ wives’ (by custom, land is almost never in their names). This classification enables governments to exclude countless women farmer suicides.” Other categories commonly excluded from the calculations are those farmers owning land in a family member’s name and those who farm on leased land. All these factors make the numbers reflect only a small ratio of the actual numbers.

According to Sanket Thakur, an agricultural scientist in Chhattisgarh, the core problems of Chhattisgarh is irrigation. Paddy, the main crop, needs a fair amount of water and only a fourth of agricultural land is irrigated. 75 per cent of farmers are small and marginal ones who own less than five acres of land. The uneven rainfall and the unaffordability of irrigation, fertilisers and pesticides combine to make many farmers unable to sustain themselves agriculturally. “They consider poor productivity their destiny,” says Thakur, explaining that six quintals of rice per acre is considered normal in Chhattisgarh, when states like Punjab grow four times that on a regular basis.

WHEN THE SP of Mahasamund, Anand Chabre was asked to comment on the issue, he said, “I haven’t heard of farmer suicides in this area. There might be suicides, but not specific to farmers.” DN Tewari, the Vice Chairman, State Planning Commission, Chhattisgarh is furious. “Why would a farmer here commit suicide? Chhattisgarh produces a surplus of everything. Not a single farmer is in debt!” he says. When quizzed about the NCRB data, Tewari says, “Probably the NCRB has taken the information from some unreliable source. I even wrote a letter to them asking them to revisit us and look at the situation in a new light. I told them, ‘When we are supplying rice and pulses to the world, why would people here be committing suicide?’”

When Vidarbha saw 1,065 farmer suicides in 2006, Chhattisgarh saw 1,483 the same year

So what then explains the horrific figures? Visiting a few more families on the list gave similar responses to Nishad’s. So TEHELKA decided to explore and understand an average farmer’s life in Mahasamund. Shatruhan, a 40-year-old farmer lives with his wife and five children in Baaghbara. Shatruhan had sowed paddy and pulses (urad dal) in the seven acres of land he had. When one of his daughters was to be married last year, he sold three acres of his pulse fields for Rs 2.5 lakhs. “The dal we grew was only for our consumption. There was nothing left to sell. Now, we don’t eat dal anymore because we can’t afford to buy it in the market,” says Shatruhan. Shatruhan’s story resonates with other food-producing farmers who suffer major nutritional losses when they sell their land. Shatruhan has four more children to be married off. What happens after he sells all his land?

Next door, Bhagirath, a daily wage labourer has just taken a Rs 50,000 loan to get his daughter married. Landless for generations, Bhagirath’s family members work for Rs 40 a day, ploughing fields or working on construction sites in nearby areas. Every year, he cultivates paddy on two acres of leased land. The landowner extracts eight quintals of the produce as fee for the leased land, leaving barely four quintals for Bhagirath to feed his family of six for a few months. And if the weather gods decide to toy with his fate, farmers like Bhagirath often become indebted to the landowner and have to pay their cumulative debts in either cash or grains over the following years. Bhagirath’s total family income in a year amounts to a little under Rs 30,000. “No one lends Rs 50,000 in a lump sum because I have no collateral, so I borrow small amounts from several money lenders at an interest of 5 percent per month,” he says seriously.

Every year Bhagirath takes to repay his loan, the interest itself is what he earns all year

FOR A MOMENT you don’t know how to react. That is an interest of 60 per cent per annum! For every year he takes to pay his loan, the interest alone is Rs 30,000 — what his family earns in an entire year. It doesn’t take much to realise he can never pull himself out of debt. The next year he will be trying to find a whole new set of moneylenders to repay his loans. But how far can he run? Bhagirath and Shatruhan display the spectrum of Chhattisgarh’s farmers – the land owner who is selling his only asset to sustain himself, and the landless farmer, who is debt- ridden and crumbling under pressure.

If thousands of farmers in Chhattisgarh are committing suicide every year, how come no one is talking about it? Shubhranshu Choudhary, a freelance journalist writing actively on the issue says, “As Chhattisgarh’s local media cannot do without revenue from government advertisements, journalists are discouraged from taking positions critical of the state. The hopelessness of the situation also can be seen by the lack of farmers’ movements, unlike Vidarbha’s shetkari sanghatans, which have active farmer leaders.” The NCRB is a month away from releasing its 2008 figures of farmer suicides, which, experts say, will keep rising if the state refuses to acknowledge the seriousness of the crisis.

Bob Dylan once sang, “How many deaths does it take to be known that too many people have died?” An apt question for Chhattisgarh.

(With inputs from Shubhranshu Choudhary)

WRITER’S EMAIL
shriya@tehelka.com

Chhattisgarh: Farmers threaten mass suicide against drop in foodgrain MSP

 

Source: Bhaskar News   |   Last Updated 19:01(13/12/11)

Raipur: The farmers in large numbers are gearing up to take part in a rally, on December 16, against the alleged policies of the Raman Singh’s government. The farmers in the region seek a hike in the minimum support price of the food grains that were lowered by the government recently. The protest rally will be organised at the Gandhi ground in the area.

There will be more than 20,000 farmers who will participate in the protest rally against the government policies. The chief minister Raman Singh has also urged the Centre to either increase the minimum support price(MSP) for foodgrains or give boost to farmers in the country, to provide them relief from the inflation. The chief minister also acknowledged that the investment required for farming has gone up while considering inflation. But the government has not taken any step for the relief of the farmers.

The head of the protest rally, Jageshwar Prasad, has also threatened mass suicide of farmers, in case the government fails to meet their demands.

Organic rice cultivation transforming lives of Damoh farmers


The longer organic variety of rice versus HYV variety. Photo: Mahim Pratap Singh
The HinduThe longer organic variety of rice versus HYV variety. Photo: Mahim Pratap Singh

Till last year, Shiv Singh, a landless labourer from the Pinarayi village of Damoh district knew of only one survival strategy-migrating to Delhi to earn his living as a construction worker.

This year, with the Rs. 8,000 he had saved from his Delhi earnings, Shiv took a 3-acre piece of land on lease and grew rice on it. The harvest in September fetched him Rs.55,000 besides enough rice for his family to last for a year.

But, unlike most success stories, his is not an isolated case.

Several villages of Damoh, which was last in news for being the hub of farmer suicides earlier this year, are witnessing a small, quiet, yet successful green revolution-of the organic kind.

Farming has not been a successful proposition in this very backward district of the parched Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh since the late 1980s due to a rapidly receding water table and scarce rainfall.

Last December and this January, Damoh witnessed the first of the several farmer suicides across Madhya Pradesh when large tracts of pulses crop perished owing to frost bite.

But over the last year and a half, over 1200 farmers of 32 villages of the Tendukheda block of Damoh, have taken to farming rice organically. Most of them are small and marginal farmers; some, like Shiv Singh, are even landless labourers.

Helped by Gramin Vikas Samiti, a local pro-organic farming organization, and People’s Science Institute, a Dehradun based non-profit, these farmers together cultivated rice on a total of over 1500 acres.

The trend started with just four farmers of Beldhana village and has now spread to other villages like Ajitpur, Hardua, Harrai etc.

The farmers in these villages shunned the High Yielding Varieties and the “progressive”, high-input, fertilizer-pesticide dominated farming practices often advocated by the government and took to completely traditional methods along with a set of cultivation practices collectively called System of Rice Intensification (SRI), initially developed in the early 1980s by a French priest in Madagascar.

The results have been more than encouraging.

While the average rice yield in Bundelkhand is around 17-20 quintal/hectare, these villages recorded average yields of at least 75-80 quintal per hectare this season. While the lowest yield in these 32 villages was 44 quintals/hectare, the maximum yield stood at 115 quintals/hectare.

Even agriculture scientists, who usually advocate modern and scientific farming over traditional practices, agree.

“These are miraculous results, considering the low rice productivity found in most of Madhya Pradesh and the extremely low productivity found in Bundelkhand,” says Dr. Sanjay Vaishyampayan, Senior Scientist, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Damoh, which comes under the Jawaharlal Nehru Agriculture University, Jabalpur.

“Moreover, these farmers used very less seed, 2.5 kg/acre compared to 40kg/acre required in non-traditional methods. They also saved on pesticide and fertilizer costs as they only used organic manure,” says Dr. Sanjay.

The farmers used traditional varieties of rice like Lochai, Ganjakali, Kesar etc which they found in the neighbourhood homes of Gond adivasis.

Along with that, they used organic manure prepared from household ingredients like cow dung and urine, lemon juice, banana pulp, milk and curd etc which were all mixed together in specific quantities and kept under a lid in an earthen pot (matka) for about 15 days.

“Earlier, most farmers of our village were hesitant so we used these techniques on a small part of our lands. Last year I cultivated half an acre. After seeing the good yield, I have brought two acres under this system,” says Moolchand of Ajitpur village, who owns four acres.

The plant thus grown is 6 feet long compared to the 3.5 feet long HYV variety and has over 300 grains compared to about 100 grains in the latter.

“This is entirely the result of the hard work of these farmers, we only suugested them to take to organic farming and use other SRI which involves planting less seeds, planting them in rows spaced 10 inches from each other and using organic manure,” says Govind Yadav of Gramin Vikas Samiti.

The new methods have also made lives simpler for women, who used to toil hard, standing for hours in ankle-deep water taking out the weed. That task (taking out the weed) is now done by the menfolk with the help of a locally made de-weeder, which costs about Rs.1000.

The farmers don’t want to form a cooperative yet, but they are seriously thinking about setting up a seed bank of traditional varieties, “which are so hard to find these days”.

The little success story of these farmers is like a ray of hope in Madhya Pradesh where rice productivity is far from satisfactory, especially since the high-productivity areas split to form Chhattisgarh.

Revamping PDS: a tale of two States

http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/other-states/article2350323.ece
Tired of its own inefficiency in plugging leaks and ensuring timely delivery of ration, the Madhya Pradesh government has decided to take the privatisation route to improve its ailing Public Distribution System.

The new system is being put in place by a corporate consortium led by HCL Infosystems with Edenred India Private Ltd ― a subsidiary of corporate meal voucher provider and multinational hospitality giant Accor ― and Virgo Softech Pvt. Ltd, an Indore-based IT firm as the other two members.

HCL will put in place a system to computerise the PDS apparatus and register beneficiaries to be linked with UID, while Edenred will print and provide the food coupons.

Virgo Softech will provide the IT manpower and enrolment teams for door to door registration, biographic and biometric data capturing.

With this, Madhya Pradesh will become the first State in the country to link its PDS to the UID with private participation on such a massive scale.

The State government’s move needs to be seen in the context of the larger national picture to scrap the existing Targeted Public Distribution System altogether and replace it with food coupons or cash transfers. The UPA government’s Chief Economic Advisor Kaushik Basu has vociferously advocated the deregulation of the PDS and moving to cash transfers or food coupons.

Interestingly in Madhya Pradesh’s case, HCL infosystems has provided highly inflated figures about the scope and coverage of the project on its website.

According to HCL, the contract would involve setting p an efficient food distribution system with “over 10 million expected transactions per month at Rs. 10.98 (per transaction per family) spread over 78 months”.

Based on these figures, the government ought to be paying the consortium Rs. 131.76 crore per year and over Rs.850 crore for the entire 78-month duration.

However, Dipali Rastogi, Commissioner, Food and Civil Supplies department corrects the figures provided by HCL thus.

“The total cost of implementation for a period of sixty months (not 78) comes to Rs. 454 crore or Rs.98 crore a month but we will be saving Rs. 420 crore by eliminating duplicate ration cards. So the cost to the government is next to nil. What HCL write on their website is their call,” says Ms. Rastogi.

But why privatise?

“Look, plugging leakages and rooting out corruption has proved to be beyond our core-competency. If we can have someone else provide these services on our behalf in a better and cost-effective manner, where is the problem? I admit it is a brave step, but necessary nonetheless,” says Ms. Rastogi.

However, the fact that UID can cure the problem of beneficiaries being left out of the PDS net is contested.

“UID can, at the most, address the problem of duplication of cards. But misclassification of families in the “BPL census” has little to do with identity fraud or “duplication”. Misclassification can occur when the criteria used for identification of BPL families are incorrect,” says development economist Reetika Khera.

“As for food coupons, they can be an important “last mile” authentication measure. However, the Bihar experience shows how this accountability measure can be undermined. For instance, in many cases, the coupons never reached card holders, they went straight into the hands of dealers; or dealers “charged” two months worth of coupons, while distributing only one month’s grains. The accountability measures can only work along with other safeguards, most importantly a good vigilance system, which in turn depends on political will,” says Ms. Khera.

According to UIDAI chairperson Nandan Nilekani the UID card will be voluntary but the MP government is going to make UID mandatory for PDS beneficiaries.

Chhattisgarh

While the Madhya Pradesh government has set an example of sorts by privatising the bulk of its PDS service, neighbouring Chhattisgarh achieved its much celebrated PDS revamp for a mere Rs. 4 crore.

How?

“We had our entire beneficiary database digitised by the National Informatics Centre (NIC). For better monitoring, we put in place a system of doorstep delivery of ration at the fair price shop and intimated people of it by SMS alerts. We also set up a dedicated call centre to receive complaints and grievances. Finally, we brought the supply chain under online monitoring to plug leakages,” says Rajeev Jaiswal, Joint Director, Chhattisgarh food and civil supplies department.

And why did Chhattisgarh decide to skip UID and food coupons?

“Look, the system that is in place is not faulty, its implementation is. We thought messing with the existing system would create a new set of problems. For instance, old or disabled people often have neighbours or relatives bring them their ration. That is not possible with the UID or food coupons. As for bogus cards, we eliminated over 2.5 lakh bogus cards through door-to-door physical verification,” says Mr. Jaiswal.

New hope for NREGA from Chhattisgarh

NEW DELHI: The national rural employment guarantee has so far been more about promises and less about implementation but a remote pocket in Chhattisgarh might provide a ray of hope. A group of students from JNU and DU who have been tracking the scheme’s implementation say they see tangible improvement at grassroots.

The findings of their latest survey carried out earlier this month in 19 worksites of Batauli block in Surguja district show noticeable improvement in distribution of job cards, levels of employment, payment of minimum wages and the quality of works. The last survey was in June 2006.

Investigations show that labourers received 95% of their wage payments. “Even 5% leakage is unacceptable. But we must remember that during the earlier survey, the corruption level was much higher. Often more than 50% of the wages was lost in systemic leakages,” says economist Jean Dreze, who organised and participated in the survey. There is a flip side though. As per NREGA, labourers are entitled to wages within 15 days of work. But the survey showed that in most villages, payments were still delayed up to three months. At almost 70% of worksites, wages were not paid on time. Many labourers can buy a meal only after getting their daily wage, which means payment alone is not enough, it has to be on time. At some places, even work applications were refused. In Govindpur and Jharganwa, work began four months behind schedule.

Yet, Nan Sai, 45, of Govindpur gram panchayat says the scheme has made life easier for tribals like him. “Earlier, during summer, men and women had to go looking for jobs in other villages. With the rozgar guarantee scheme, we are getting jobs near home,” he says over phone. The NREGA stipulates that as far as possible, the scheme must be within a 5-km radius from the village of workers.

The NREGA was launched in 200 districts in February 2006 and has been extended to 330 districts this year. Union ministry of rural development’s statistics show that between February 2006 and February 2007, the scheme generated 73.3 crore person-days of employment. As much as 42% of those employed were women. The total expenditure during the period was Rs 6,758 crore of which Rs 4,527 crore or 67% was spent on wages. The scheme’s budget for 2007-08 was raised to Rs 12,000 crore.

Local activist Gangabhai Paikra of Chhattisgarh Kisan Mazdoor Andolan says the scheme’s relative success in Surguja has generated a degree of self-confidence among the villagers. “During a recent Jan Sunvai (public hearing), unlike in the past, people openly spoke up against the sarpanch,” he says.
Ritu Sain, deputy development commissioner of Surguja, says that regular field visits and stringent monitoring has helped bring about the change.

Read more: New hope for NREGA from Chhattisgarh – India – The Times of India http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/New_hope_for_NREGA_from_Chhattisgarh/articleshow/2145943.cms#ixzz0vtCqYkNM
NEW DELHI: The national rural employment guarantee has so far been more about promises and less about implementation but a remote pocket in Chhattisgarh might provide a ray of hope. A group of students from JNU and DU who have been tracking the scheme’s implementation say they see tangible improvement at grassroots.

The findings of their latest survey carried out earlier this month in 19 worksites of Batauli block in Surguja district show noticeable improvement in distribution of job cards, levels of employment, payment of minimum wages and the quality of works. The last survey was in June 2006.

Investigations show that labourers received 95% of their wage payments. “Even 5% leakage is unacceptable. But we must remember that during the earlier survey, the corruption level was much higher. Often more than 50% of the wages was lost in systemic leakages,” says economist Jean Dreze, who organised and participated in the survey. There is a flip side though. As per NREGA, labourers are entitled to wages within 15 days of work. But the survey showed that in most villages, payments were still delayed up to three months. At almost 70% of worksites, wages were not paid on time. Many labourers can buy a meal only after getting their daily wage, which means payment alone is not enough, it has to be on time. At some places, even work applications were refused. In Govindpur and Jharganwa, work began four months behind schedule.

Yet, Nan Sai, 45, of Govindpur gram panchayat says the scheme has made life easier for tribals like him. “Earlier, during summer, men and women had to go looking for jobs in other villages. With the rozgar guarantee scheme, we are getting jobs near home,” he says over phone. The NREGA stipulates that as far as possible, the scheme must be within a 5-km radius from the village of workers.

The NREGA was launched in 200 districts in February 2006 and has been extended to 330 districts this year. Union ministry of rural development’s statistics show that between February 2006 and February 2007, the scheme generated 73.3 crore person-days of employment. As much as 42% of those employed were women. The total expenditure during the period was Rs 6,758 crore of which Rs 4,527 crore or 67% was spent on wages. The scheme’s budget for 2007-08 was raised to Rs 12,000 crore.

Local activist Gangabhai Paikra of Chhattisgarh Kisan Mazdoor Andolan says the scheme’s relative success in Surguja has generated a degree of self-confidence among the villagers. “During a recent Jan Sunvai (public hearing), unlike in the past, people openly spoke up against the sarpanch,” he says.
Ritu Sain, deputy development commissioner of Surguja, says that regular field visits and stringent monitoring has helped bring about the change.

Read more: New hope for NREGA from Chhattisgarh – India – The Times of India

1,500 farmers commit mass suicide in India

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Over 1,500 farmers in an Indian state committed suicide after being driven to debt by crop failure, it was reported today.

The agricultural state of Chattisgarh was hit by falling water levels.

“The water level has gone down below 250 feet here. It used to be at 40 feet a few years ago,” Shatrughan Sahu, a villager in one of the districts, told Down To Earth magazine

“Most of the farmers here are indebted and only God can save the ones who do not have a bore well.”

Mr Sahu lives in a district that recorded 206 farmer suicides last year. Police records for the district add that many deaths occur due to debt and economic distress.

In another village nearby, Beturam Sahu, who owned two acres of land was among those who committed suicide. His crop is yet to be harvested, but his son Lakhnu left to take up a job as a manual labourer.

His family must repay a debt of £400 and the crop this year is poor.

“The crop is so bad this year that we will not even be able to save any seeds,” said Lakhnu’s friend Santosh. “There were no rains at all.”

“That’s why Lakhnu left even before harvesting the crop. There is nothing left to harvest in his land this time. He is worried how he will repay these loans.”

Bharatendu Prakash, from the Organic Farming Association of India, told the Press Association: “Farmers’ suicides are increasing due to a vicious circle created by money lenders. They lure farmers to take money but when the crops fail, they are left with no option other than death.”

Mr Prakash added that the government ought to take up the cause of the poor farmers just as they fight for a strong economy.

“Development should be for all. The government blames us for being against development. Forest area is depleting and dams are constructed without proper planning.

All this contributes to dipping water levels. Farmers should be taken into consideration when planning policies,” he said.

This article is from The Belfast Telegraph