Arsenic eyes rice nutrients

Author(s): Biplab Das

Date: Aug 15, 2012
The heavy metal can disrupt amino acid synthesis in the grain

CIATCIATARSENIC accumulation in rice is something that is largely unexplored. A study has now found that the heavy metal can disrupt amino acid synthesis in the grain, a staple diet for many. This can reduce the levels of essential and non-essential amino acids found mainly in rice which are essential for a healthy life.

Essential amino acids like lysine, phenylealanine, histidine and methionine not only improve digestion, stimulate hormonal release and enhance memory, they are also the building blocks of all proteins. Deficiency of glutamic acid, a non-essential amino acid, has been linked to Parkinson’s disease.

For the study, researchers from India and the UK analysed arsenic and amino acid contents in 16 rice genotypes grown in arsenic-contaminated soils in West Bengal. They chose three regions—Chinsurah in Hooghly district, Purbosthali in Bardhaman district and Birnagar in Nadia district. They found that the levels of arsenic in groundwater of the three sites were 17, 27 and 53 microgramme/litre (mg/l) respectively. The concentrations of arsenic in soil varied from 10.4 mg/l in Chinsurah to 12.6 mg/l in Purbosthali and 15.5 mg/l in Birnagar. The acceptable limit for arsenic in groundwater, according to WHO, is 50 mg/l and the permissible limit of soil arsenic as set by the European Union is 20 mg/kg soil.

The rice genotypes were then divided into two categories based on the arsenic accumulation behaviour—low arsenic accumulating rice genotypes (LAARGs) and high arsenic accumulating rice genotypes (HAARGs).

The researchers found that the levels of essential and non-essential amino acid differed significantly in HAARGs and LAARGs. In most of the genotypes the levels of amino acids reduced significantly as the arsenic concentration rose. The researchers say this is due to the heavy metal altering the degradation of the proteins and subsequently leading to inhibition of amino acid synthesis. The levels of essential and non-essential amino acids in rice were the highest in Chinsurah.

They also found rice varieties that resisted arsenic accumulation in areas with high levels of the heavy metal in soil and vice-versa. The study will be published in the October 1 issue of Environment International.

The findings can act as a guide to identifying rice varieties suitable for growing so that the grain has minimum arsenic concentration and highest levels of required amino acids, says Rudro Deo Tripathi, scientist at National Botanical Research Institute.

Sustainable Agriculture with Low Cost Technologies (SALoCT)

A full report on the outcomes of the three year project on “Sustainable Agriculture with Low Cost Technologies (SALoCT)” run by Ramakrishna Mission, West Bengal.

– Multi-purpose and multi-functional liquid organic products
– Higher yield and higher income than chemical farming
– Less labour, less water, less weeds and less investment
– Better quality produces
– Ideal for resource poor farmers

No GM crops in West Bengal: Mamata

Kolkata, Mar 12: On a day when the Budget session of the Indian parliament opened, West Bengal Mamata Banerjee told a group of youths, representing various colleges in the city, that she will never allow Genetically Modified (GM) crops in the state.

he youths who called on her at her residence on Monday reminded the Chief Minister about the impending danger that the food, farming and environment of the state faces from the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India bill, 2011 which is expected to be tabled in the current parliament session.

The youths presented Banerjee with a bouquet of vegetables and urged her to write to the Central government to stop the BRAI bill from being tabled in the current form.

The BRAI Bill, 2011 was listed for introduction both during the monsoon and winter session of last year but had to be stopped because of the opposition inside and outside the parliament.

The bill is expected to create a single window clearance system that will lower the bar for the approval of genetically modified crops which are in a controversy around the world owing to the potential dangers they pose to human health, environment and livelihoods dependent on farming.

Congratulating the CM on her government’s decision to ban GM seeds in West Bengal, the youths highlighted the fact that current BRAI Bill proposes to override the state governmen’s decision making power on matters related to GM crops.

We believe that our Chief Minister will stand on the side of the people of the state and formally write to the central govt to scrap BRAI said Natasha Upadhyay, a student of Jadavpur University and a member of the youth team who met the CM at her residence on Monday.

The youths also carried banners which said ‘Didi mein hein dum karein BRAI khatam’.

The state governments of Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala have already written to the Central government for the withdrawal of the BRAI bill in its current form given its inadequacies and demanded consultations with all stakeholders before any such proposals are formulated.

The Bill has been widely criticized for its undemocratic nature and promotional approach it has towards GM crops instead of taking a precautionary one.

A legal assessment of the report released by environmental organization Greenpeace last month highlighted the fundamental flaws in BRAI Bill as its provisions do not conform with several principles which form the core of Indian and international environmental jurisprudence like absolute liability for hazardous and dangerous activities, polluter pays principle, precautionary principle, onus of proof on those who want to change the status quo, effective public participation in environmental decision making and access to biosafety information.

BRAI bill is nothing but an effort by the Central govt to circumvent the massive opposition that GM crops are facing in our country from all section of the society and also from state governments said Rajesh Krishnan, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner, Greenpeace India.

He said: It is a pity that instead of focusing on promoting socially and ecologically sustainable farming our union government is gambling with the food safety and food security through such risky technologies like GM crops.(IBNS)

Farmers’ suicide on rise in Bengal; parties blame each other

by Manogya Loiwal

January 04, 2012

Farmers’ suicides have come back to haunt the West Bengal government. Unable to handle the rising inflation, several farmers have committed suicide recently.

In some parts the agriculture produce is being set ablaze due to lack of basic storage facilities, pointing at the abysmal condition in the state.

However, despite the crisis the state government has turned a blind eye to the farmers’ problems. Food and Supplies Minister Jyotipriyo Mullick said the recent suicide in the state was not due to falling crops but due to mental depression among the farmers. He claimed the farmers in Bengal were rich enough to buy high and mighty of Kolkata.

“Farmers should not been shown in bad light… that they are very poor. Farmers in Burdwan have 100 bigha of land. They can keep Buddhadeb and Pradip in their pockets,” Mullick said.

Farmers cite lack of storage facility

But when Headlines Today travelled to Burdwan — one of the worst hit areas of state — the farmers had something else to say. Facing a crisis due to infrastructure mismanagement on part of the state authorities, the farmers said they were unable to get even the minimum cost for their produce as most part of it got wasted due to lack of enough cold storage facility in the area.

“If the government will make some provisions to export the crop then the farmers’ suicide can be reduced. If government does not take proper action, more people will commit suicide,” warned a farmer.

Another farmer said, “The farmers have no other source of income. The state government is not doing anything at all.”

“If the farmers will not make any profit by selling their crops then it is definitely going to take a toll on them as a result of which more and more farmers will commit suicide,” said yet another farmer.

Rising farmer suicides in West Bengal appalling: Left

The frequency of incidents of farmers committing suicides is “unimaginable” in West Bengal, State Left Front chairman Biman Bose said here on Friday.

“The government had fixed a target of 20 lakh metric tonnes for procurement of paddy from peasants in the State. According to reports, it has only collected 2 lakh metric tonnes so far,” Mr. Bose, who is also the State secretary of the CPI(M), told journalists.

Stating that paddy procurement was “meagre,” compared to that of other States, Mr. Bose said: “farmers are being driven to distress sales and are not being able to repay their loans. The way farmers’ suicides are taking place in Bengal, it is unimaginable. The figure has now gone up to 12 (suicides since the Trinamool Congress-led Government came to power in the State).”

Congratulating the efforts of the four peasant organisations affiliated to the Left parties, which organised an agricultural strike in the rural areas on January 4, Mr. Bose urged the government to initiate measures that would ensure that farmers got fair prices for their produce.

He said farmers were not even receiving the minimum support price that had been declared by the Centre. The Centre had announced a minimum support price of Rs.1,080 a quintal of paddy. However, farmers were claiming that they were being paid far less.  Mr. Bose was critical of the manner in which “the environment has been vitiated in educational institutions” across the State since the Trinamool Congress came to power.

PepsiCo to make Bengal hub for new products

PepsiCo India Executive Director (Agriculture) Vivek Bharati said the company would soon expand its farming operation in the state to more than 10,000 farmers. “We are developing special potato seeds in the US which will be brought to West Bengal. This special variety will increase the life of the potato,” he said.
KOLKATA: PepsiCo India will make its food plant at Sankrail near Kolkata a hub for making newer products as it expands its portfolio of health and nutritious food.

“We plan to make this plant as a global benchmark,” PepsiCo India Holdings CEO (Foods) Varun Berry said. “We have already invested more than 450 crore in the state, including the plant, cold storage and distribution infrastructure,” he added.

The US food and beverages maker has just completed fresh investments of 170 crore in the Sankrail unit to more than double its installed capacity to 51,000 tonnes per annum.

PepsiCo is planning further investments on newer lines as it will soon receive an additional 1.7 acre from the West Bengal government. The firm plans to source almost 30% of its products from this plant, which currently manufactures snacks brands Lay’s, Kurkure, Cheetos and Kurkure Desi Beats.

PepsiCo will also expand its farming footprint in West Bengal. The state, where 8,500 farmers grow potatoes for PepsiCo, is the largest potato sourcing hub for the company, followed by Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

PepsiCo India Executive Director (Agriculture) Vivek Bharati said the company would soon expand its farming operation in the state to more than 10,000 farmers. “We are developing special potato seeds in the US which will be brought to West Bengal. This special variety will increase the life of the potato,” he said.

Hands-off and hug advice Stay off firms, give land to poor: Panel

Calcutta, June 15: A panel has recommended that the state government play no role in land acquisition for private industry other than setting up a minimum-price regulator.

The panel also mooted an “own land, own home” scheme which gives Mamata Banerjee an option to chisel her version of Operation Barga that defined the Left Front’s debut in the late 1970s.

Private investors should buy the entire land directly from owners at prevailing market rates, according to one of 31 recommendations submitted by the two-member group to the chief minister today.

However, it appears to have left some room for manoeuvre on multi-crop land, saying that such agricultural plots should not be acquired “to the extent possible”. The leeway mirrors the ground situation in Bengal where most of the land is fertile; agriculture department officials said more than one crop a year is cultivated in over 65 per cent of the 1.7 crore acres tilled in Bengal.

A market regulator has been proposed to set the minimum price at which private investors should directly buy land. If land is acquired for a state-run project, the government should “provide an alternative source of livelihood” to land-losers, according to a recommendation.

The panel, appointed by the Mamata Banerjee government, is headed by Debabrata Bandopadhyay, a retired IAS officer who drafted in 1978 the Left Front’s Operation Barga that gave bargadars (sharecroppers) legal protection against eviction by landlords. The panel includes lawyer Soumendranath Basu.

The “Barga parallel” in today’s recommendations is a scheme to give 6.5 cottahs to each landless and homeless family in rural Bengal. The state has 5.5 lakh such families, excluding those in urban centres.

The panel felt that the proposed scheme — Nijo Bhumi, Nijo Griha (own land, own home) — should be implemented over five years at a cost of Rs 1,500 crore. The question of funds will rise if and when the cash-starved government decides to accept the recommendation.

“If implemented, it will immensely benefit those who have neither land nor home,” Bandopadhyay said.

The tenor of today’s recommendations, which need to be approved by the cabinet to become policy and can undergo modifications if the chief minister so decides, echoes the government’s extreme reluctance to get involved in land acquisition.

The hands-off recommendation on acquisition for private industries is at variance with the initial formula mooted by the UPA government at the Centre in the land rehabilitation bill that is yet to be passed by Parliament. As the most influential UPA ally, Mamata had earlier objected to any government role in land acquisition for private industry.

The UPA draft had suggested a government role in acquiring 30 per cent of the land after the private investor had bought 70 per cent and if the state is convinced that a public purpose is being served. But the Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council had recommended 100 per cent purchase by the government, following which land can be handed over to investors, to avoid exploitation of land-owners and other stakeholders such as labourers and tenants.

Explaining the panel’s rationale for advising against a government role, Bandopadhyay said: “A private industry will help the private player make profit. That is the entity’s primary objective in setting up the industry. The government should not have to acquire land for such a venture.”

He added that factors like brokerage must be accounted for by the entity while buying land, though the “market regulator” would fix the base price for such purchases.

The 20 sections of the 56-page report list recommendations on a land acquisition policy, rehabilitation, land records scrutiny and a farming policy.

The panel has said procurement of agricultural land that yields more than one crop a year should be avoided to “the extent possible”. “Fertile, agricultural land that yields two crops or more annually should not be procured for setting up industry to the extent possible,” Bandopadhyay said.

The government, the group said, should acquire land only for its own projects. The rehabilitation policy should be drawn up keeping in mind that land is not just property for the owner but also his primary source of livelihood.

“The government, when it has to acquire land, should ensure alternative means of livelihood,” said Bandopadhyay. However, he did not specify whether the panel meant jobs or facilities such as shops through which income can be earned.

Earlier this month, Mamata had promised a government job to one member of each family from which land is taken, besides an annuity payment, when 6,000 acres would be acquired for building embankments along the Aila-ravaged Sundarbans.

The panel has suggested a provision for bank loans for sharecroppers willing to buy land from owners. “Sharecroppers who want to buy land from the owner should have access to bank loan facilities,”Bandopadhyay said.

The recommendations on the farming policy included provisions like a ban on use of genetically modified seeds for preserving food security and restrictions on excessive use of fertilisers for retaining the fertility of farmland.

Left Front urges Singur farmers to accept rehab package

Indo-Asian News Service Singur, September 15, 2008

Starting an aggressive campaign in Singur for the Tata Motors’ Nano plant, West Bengal’s ruling Left Front on Monday urged the farmers to accept the government’s latest rehabilitation package which is designed to help those “wanting to continue cultivation”.

Addressing a rally in Singur, Left Front leaders urged the opposition to stop its “obstructionist agitations”, which they said was harming the interests of the state.

LF chairman Biman Bose said the state government wanted to implement its industrialisation programme for creating fresh job opportunities for the unemployed youth.

Giving details of the package advertised on Sunday by the government for those whose land has been acquired for the Tata project, he said: “It has been formulated in an effort to help those who want to continue farming. They can buy land elsewhere and cultivate. The rest of the money they can invest. A member of their family will also be provided jobs”.

Tata Motors’ plans to roll out the world’s cheapest car Nano from Singur has taken a hit with the opposition Trinamool Congress led-farmers’ body holding sustained protests ever since the project was announced in May 2006.

Earlier this month, the company suspended operations at the plant and said it was considering moving out of the state after some of its workers were manhandled and threatened by the protesters, who laid a siege on the factory since Aug 24.

Stressing the importance of the Nano plant, Bose – also state secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) – said the car was targeted not only at the Indian market but also abroad.

“It’s the world’s cheapest car. They are doing a lot of bookings abroad. When the car is sold outside, there will be prosperity here and also elsewhere in West Bengal. Plenty of direct and indirect employment will be created.”

Taking on those ridiculing the Communists for going all out in support of an industrialist’s project, he said: “I’m surprised. How can these people say this? We are supporting the Tatas as they want to set up industries here. The government does not have the resources to do so. The centre also has not helped the state, except in the modernization of IISCO.”

Launching an assault on the opposition, the CPI-M politburo member said: “They never took part in the all-party meetings called to discuss the various issues. Recently, five rounds of discussions have taken place. The latest compensation package was also discussed with the opposition.”

Alleging that the opposition was misleading Singur farmers, Bose said: “Industrial projects come in a flow. So if one industrialist faces trouble, the others also have doubts in their minds”.

Bose instructed the Left Front leaders of Hooghly district – under which Singur comes – to directly talk to the farmers who have not taken compensation cheques for their land acquired for the project.

He also referred to the death of farmer Sushen Santra, saying he committed suicide as he apprehended dark days ahead after Tata Motors suspended operations on Sep 2.

“He was afraid of what will happen to his family as three of his sons had got employment in the project.”

Other LF leaders, including Forward Bloc’s state secretary Ashok Ghosh and Communist Party of India state secretary Manju Kumar Majumdar, also spoke at the rally.

A total of 997.11 acres was acquired for the project, but the opposition has demanded that the government return 400 acres taken ‘forcibly’ from ‘unwilling farmers’ who were yet to take the compensation cheques for the land.

An agreement was signed Sep 7 according to which land would be provided to those who had not taken compensation cheques.

The government later said it could identify only 70 acres, and came out with the package that also assured jobs for one member from each family of landlosers besides announcing a 50 percent additional amount of the price originally offered for the land acquired.

In the case of absentee landlords, the compensation has been offered to the sharecroppers registered for that particular plot, while unregistered sharecroppers and agricultural labourers would get wages for 300 days.

Those who have not taken the compensation cheques so far, have been promised a further 10 percent of the land price if they collect the cheques before Sep 22.

"King" Bt cotton stumbles…

On March 9th India celebrated the fact that, according to the latest figures released by Forbes magazine, more billionaires call it home than any other Asian nation, a honor held by Japan for the last two decades.

Being Indian that made me happy, but only so much. March also saw a spate of farmer suicides across the country, something that has been going on for a while in the nation’s rural villages, some worse affected than the others. In India, unfortunately, one becomes immune to the harsh disparities between the rich and the poor, but this contrast was a little too stark for me. The rich had just got richer and more numerous while desperate debt-ridden farmers were killing themselves by drinking the pesticides meant for their crops.

The official figure for the number of suicides in the past five years is about eleven thousand, and alarming as that is, the real figure, it seems, is much higher, closer to twenty thousand. Last July the Prime Minister toured the worst hit regions and announced a relief package of 37.5 billion rupees ($833 million). Out of this, about 22 billion rupees was to be spent on existing irrigation projects, but nine months later that has yet to happen. So the money meant for the farmers has yet to reach them and they continue to kill themselves in droves

The worst affected are the cotton growers, and the reasons for this are many – crop failure, lower price for their product, low import duty, drought, and lack of irrigation facilities – to name a few. But the main culprit, claim farm activist Kishore Tiwari, and others is a crop known as “Bt cotton.” The state government promoted this genetically modified and pricier (nearly double than the ordinary ones) cotton plant claiming that it would yield better results since it was resistant to pests (the “Bt” in the name refers to this attribute). The idea was that planting Bt cotton would reduce the need for harmful chemical pesticides. But that’s not what happened. Cotton crops were affected by disease every year. This sad state of affairs was pointed out back in 2002, but nothing was done. Hearing the promises of a higher return for their crop, many farmers had taken loans from private moneylenders at steep rates to buy seed and were devastated when the crop failed. But Monsanto, that international agriculture conglomerate that manufactured Bt cotton doubled it’s sales.

What happened next was typical: Panels of experts were set up, fingers pointed and causes explored. But all this was of little relief to the farmers who continue to live in wretched poverty even today, caught between the government, private Shylock-like money lenders, crop failure and drought. In one cotton growing state in Western India, Maharashtra; there was a suicide every six hours. As crops have continued to fail, year after year, farmers have no option but to borrow more money and fall deeper into the debt trap, a vicious circle that many are unable to break out of. In many cases, after they’re gone, their widows and children have no money even for their funerals – and they often inherit the debt.

It’s a desperate situation and no one seems to care. It grabs a headline every once in a while, politicians clash over it, committees are sent to the villages, but in the end, even if relief is allocated, it fails to reach the farmers, or to their widows who are left penniless and with no breadwinner for the family. Critics say that the government has not done enough, and more importantly, that it has contributed to the agrarian crisis by promoting a transgenic crop like Bt cotton, which has proved disastrous for the areas where it was grown.

At the crux of it, it’s the age-old scenario: A multinational company lobbies the government to switch to their technology, in the apparent interest of the masses. But in this case the government, for the vested interests of some, does not do it’s homework, it blindly implements a scheme; crops fail; farmers die; non-government agency advocates howl but – at the end – nothing happens.

The Indian government now reluctantly admits that the Bt cotton crop has failed. And some farmers, those who’ve survived, are giving up on cotton. But there are a variety of serious factors that still need to be looked into – higher prices for the produce and drought being two important ones. The ministry of agriculture on it’s website declares that: “Drought is a condition of moisture deficit sufficient to have an adverse effect on vegetation, animals and man over a sizable area.” It then goes on to add that drought is a management issue and can be avoided, it just fails to mention how this is all to be done. Needless to say, it does not even address the farmers’ issue.

How long this agrarian crisis will continue, is hard to say. The road looks long and hard for many Indian farmers. Even as I write this I wonder how many are contemplating suicide, driven to desperation, neck-deep in dept and abandoned by corrupt government officials. This, I say in sadness, is India too.

Posted by Gopika Kaul at 2:07 PM | Print this article

Farmer suicide stats flawed, says report


NEW DELHI, MAR 24:  The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, in its report (2006-07), has targeted the government for providing “incorrect information” relating to farmers’ suicides across the country. Hitting out at the Centre, the committee has also observed that the schemes for rehabilitation of farmers have been inadequate and the PM’s package for Vidarbha region in Maharashtra has failed to reach the victims.

In its 23rd report, the Committee came down heavily on the government over the official figures on farmers’ suicides. As per official statistics, during the last five years, 11,782 farmers committed suicide. The report, however, says: “The figure provided by the department of agriculture and cooperation does not seem to be correct.” It argued that in Maharashtra alone, the number of cases projected by the department was 142 in 2005. It then pointed out that in the same year, there were reports of nearly 435 suicides in Vidarbha. The Committee asked the Centre to “straighten its records and ask state governments to project the factual position, so that the government and people are aware of the actual position”.

The Committee also criticised the Centre for not being able to bring any relief to the farmers. Targeting the PM’s package for Vidarbha region, the report claimed that the benefits were not reaching the farmers. “This is a glaring example of the inefficiency of the government in ameliorating the conditions of the farmers,” the report said