The deep water crisis

http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/the-deep-water-crisis/article4960717.ece

P. Sainath

A few thousand drilling rigs roll into parched states each year and drill over a thousand feet to extract scarce groundwater for the farm.
The Hindu A few thousand drilling rigs roll into parched states each year and drill over a thousand feet to extract scarce groundwater for the farm.

Hard-working rig-operators are providing a real response to a very real demand from farmers, but with grave consequences for groundwater supplies

No other town can boast as deep a connection with the rest of the country as this little one in Tamil Nadu. Machines from here have struck great depths in most Indian States (and in many African countries as well). Tiruchengode is the nation’s borewell rig capital and thousands of machines and operators from here go down as much as 1,400 feet on any day, most months of the year. The monsoon has paused their activity in States like Maharashtra where they have picked up a great deal of business in recent years. But there are parts of the country where they’re still drilling for water.

The water-crisis in Maharashtra — which only gets highlighted in summer — saw many thousands of borewells drilled in just the Marathwada region in the first three months of this year. The truck-mounted borewell rig was omnipresent in the fields. And the borewell itself was a major source of debt, if not of water, in the rural districts. Most of the rigs we saw rumbling along the roads turned out to be from Tamil Nadu. (Some were from Andhra Pradesh). “They seem mostly to be from a single town,” a senior geologist of the government of Maharashtra had then told The Hindu. That town, it turned out, was Tiruchengode in Namakkal district of Tamil Nadu.

“I stayed four months this year in a village close to Nanded in Maharashtra,” C. Vaiyapuri of Sree Balamurugan Borewells told me in Tiruchengode. He is a dynamic, hard-working rig-operator. In four months, this single operator sank about 500 borewells in Maharashtra, mostly in water-stressed Marathwada. “You can do up to 1,300 feet a day,” he says, “if the soil is ‘loose formation’ and so easier to drill. Which means you can sink even four a day if the wells are under 300 feet. If it’s ‘hard formation,’ you won’t go past 1,000 feet in a day.”

Each truck-mounted rig is supported by a second large vehicle ferrying both equipment and men. The whole team could be up to 20 people. A manager, two drillers, two assistants, two drivers, a cook and 12 manual labourers. The workers bring another pan-Indian dimension to Tiruchengode’s reach. The rig operators of Tamil Nadu have agents and brokers in every State. The workers are mostly from Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh. Just a handful is from Tamil Nadu. The standard pay is Rs. 200 a day plus three meals for work that could last many months in the year.

It’s hard work, and the rate varies according to how tough the job is. In some of the harder surfaces of Andhra, you can’t go beyond 80 feet in an hour. That fetches Rs.75 per foot. So drilling a 1,000 feet a day brings in Rs. 75,000. In the “loose formation” soil where Vaiyapuri says you can go as low as 120 feet in an hour, the rate drops to Rs. 56 a foot. But you can reach 1,300 feet, or almost Rs.73,000 a day. Even if you’re on the job for just 200 days (it’s often much more), that would total close to Rs.15 million.

How many rigs are there in Tiruchengode town and taluk? Not more than 5,000, says T.T. Paranthaman, Managing Director of PRD, a major drilling rigs concern. Nearly 7,000, estimates N.P. Velu, president of the Tiruchengode Lorry Owners Association, and a rig owner himself. Up to 20,000, insist other operators. All three estimates could be right — at different levels. An industry veteran says: “A lot of the owners and rigs are here. But many rigs are registered in other States, perhaps for tax purposes.”

Meanwhile, rig operators are returning from places as far off as rural Rajasthan. One had even sunk borewells in Jammu. There are two or three months in a year when the rigs take a break for servicing. That’s mostly when the rains have set in.

The average borewell depths vary in different States, says Mr. Velu. “In Karnataka, the average is now close to 1,400 feet. Not very much less in Tamil Nadu. It all started with a drought in the 1970s.” Sensing an opportunity in this sector, groups of farmers and workers engaged in sinking wells, pooled resources and bought a few rigs. (Even today, over a third of the rigs here are owned by such groups).

“At that time, the depths at which we hit water was no more than 100-200 feet,” says Mr. Velu. “Maximum 300. The greatest increase in depths to which the wells are sunk has come in the last five years.”

The story of this town’s rig operators throws up a serious dilemma. They have brought jobs and prosperity to Tiruchengode and nearby regions. Among them are those once illiterate workers who banded together in the late 1970s to buy their rigs and work their way out of poverty. (This entire belt of Tamil Nadu, including Coimbatore, Karur and Tirupur, has an impressive history of entrepreneurship from below). The rig operators also respond to a real demand from farmers across the country. A demand driven by despair.

The same process, though, implies grave consequences for groundwater supplies. Rampant exploitation of that resource has seen the water table plummet across the country. The Collector of Osmanabad in Marathwada said this March that the water table in his district (where the rigs had been active) was five metres below its five-year average. If 10,000 rigs from just one part of Tamil Nadu are sinking a 1,000 feet a day on average across India — that’s 10 million feet. Doing this even for just 200 days a year would make that 2 billion feet. That’s a lot of drilling. Even with high failure rates, that’s a lot of groundwater being sucked out.

The Tiruchengode rig operators did not choose this path of development for the country and can’t be faulted for that. They did not impose the regime of unchecked groundwater exploitation that prevails. And though they are the major force, there are also other operators in the country. Further, rigs have other uses too, but the great demand is for borewells. And the explosion of those signals disaster. (The groundwater accounts for two-thirds of irrigation water and over four-fifths of drinking water in India). The much-needed social control of this process won’t happen in the present water regime.

Why are there so few many machines at work in your own neighbourhood, I asked one Tiruchengode veteran. “There’s not so much water here, now,” he said. “We’re hitting 1,400 feet in nearby Erode town.”

(psainath@gmail.com)

National Food Security Ordinance: Anything But Expensive

http://www.epw.in/web-exclusives/national-food-security-ordinance-anything-expensive.html

Vol – XLVIII No. 30, July 27, 2013 | Dipa Sinha

While critics have overblown the cost estimates of the National Food Security Ordinance, the ordinance itself is a missed opportunity. What is needed is a more comprehensive Act which incorporates measures such as procurement, storage and distribution through a decentralised, strengthened and universal public distribution system, among others and a strong grievance redressal and monitoring mechanism.

Dipa Sinha (dipasinha@gmail.com) is an activist with the Right to Food campaign.

With the promulgation of the National Food Security Ordinance (NFSO) last week, there have been many shrill voices warning the nation about the high costs of its provisions. The media, especially the TV news channels, have been continuously flashing figures on how expensive, and therefore harmful to the Indian economy the food bill will be. The most popular figures seem to be 3% of the GDP annually as estimated by the economist Surjit Bhalla (Indian Express, 6 July 2013) and Rs. 6 lakh crores over the next three years as estimated by Ashok Gulati, the Chairperson of the Commission of Agriculture Costs and Prices (CACP) (The Economic Times, 4 July 2013). It is necessary to understand how these figures have been arrived at, based on extremely dodgy assumptions. Further, there is a need to look beyond this superficial discussion and investigate how far this ordinance will go in addressing people’s hunger and malnutrition.

Surjit Bhalla uses an erroneous method to arrive at this estimate of Rs. 3 lakh crore per year. He assumes the actual consumption and outreach of PDS as reported by people in the NSS survey to be the current provision of the government and adjusts it to the proposed coverage and lower prices under the ordinance. So, he argues that according to National Sample Survey (NSS), 44% of the people get access to Public Distribution System (PDS) at an average of 2.1 kgs per head[1]. To expand this to 67% coverage and 5 kgs per head at lower issue prices as proposed by the ordinance, the food subsidy of 2011-12 (Rs. 72000 crores) has to be increased 4.3 times. The implicit assumption here is that the present level of leakages as reflected in the NSS will remain the same even after the ordinance is rolled out and further, that the government will allocate resources taking into account leakages. His calculations do not take into account the fact that the allocation of foodgrains under the Act will in fact go up only by 2 mn tonnes from 60 mn tonnes to 62 mn tonnes or that the current allocations are at three different issue prices for the Above the Poverty Line (APL), Below Poverty ine (BPL) and Antyodaya Anna Yojana(AAY) populations; or that currently the allocations are at the scale of 35kgs per household per month or even that the expenditure of many state governments on food subsidy will now go down as they will be getting grains cheaper from the central government. By using statistics to one’s own convenience without clearly mentioning the assumptions being made, such a method of estimating the food subsidy is only misleading.

Overblown Costs

By challenging readers to counter his calculations Bhalla tries to convince them that there can be nothing wrong with it. In fact the counter-question to be posed to Bhalla is how he proposes the Rs. 314,000 crores will be put to use. Food subsidy is the difference between the economic cost and issue price; which is currently around Rs. 20 per kg. To spend Rs. 314,000 crores the government will have to procure 157 mn tonnes of foodgrains, which is even more than the total marketable surplus of cereals produced in the country. Is he by any chance imagining that the NFSO will nationalise the foodgrains market? That would be too far-fetched for even someone like Bhalla!

Ashok Gulati on the other hand inflates his estimates by including “the investment in agriculture that will be needed to stabilise production, the investment that would be needed in storage and the investment that would be needed in transportation through railways”. The question to ask here would be whether these costs can all be attributed to the NFSO. “Food subsidy” only includes the cost to the exchequer on account of procuring foodgrains at minimum support prices, storing and transporting the grains and then selling them at a subsidised price to the consumers.

It is only fair that when we are comparing how much higher the food subsidy will be as a result of the NFSO, only these aspects are included in the Ordinance being taken into account. Moreover, is Gulati suggesting that the government (or he) does not think it is necessary to invest in agriculture and the only reason to do it would be to provide for the NFSO. The public investment in agriculture has stagnated since the 1990s leading to stagnation in the agrarian economy and this needs to be corrected to protect the lives and livelihoods of majority of our rural population and to ensure that we remain food sufficient and do not become import dependent like in the 1960s. This is a goal in itself whether we have a PDS or not. An expanded and reformed PDS can only contribute to revitalising agriculture by increasing decentralised procurement (which by the way will also reduce transportation costs) and including newer crops such as pulses and oilseeds.

The NFSO in fact is only a very small step towards ensuring food security. It is a myth that it is very expensive and that it will result in food shortages in the open market. The current food subsidy is around Rs. 90,000 crores. With an average subsidy of Rs. 20 per kg; the food bill will cost about Rs. 1,24,000 crores (for 62 mn tonnes). This is around 1.2% of the GDP and not 3% as projected by media reports. The other figure that is repeatedly quoted by the media is that food subsidy was only Rs. 25,000 crores 10 years back and it has been constantly increasing at a rapid rate. The reality is that as seen in the figure below from the Economic Survey of 2013 over the last 10 years the food subsidy has hovered around 1% of GDP. Interestingly, the percentage of households accessing foodgrains from the PDS has gone up from 28% in 2004-05 to 39% in 2009-10 and 44% by 2011-12 despite the expenditure remaining constant at less than 1% of GDP. This has also been accompanied by steep reduction in leakages in the PDS. In fact it is the improvement in efficiency of PDS which has been ignored by Bhalla’s calculation. But that also explains why the NFSO can still deliver subsidised foodgrains to 67% of the population without much additional costs if the PDS is made efficient.

Source: Economic Survey, 2013

This unfortunate discussion around the cost of the NFSO has only served to divert the attention away from the real issues. Similar attempts were made to derail the NREGA when it was being passed, with one estimate stating the Act will cost up to Rs. 2,08,000 crores a year. After it was passed, the expenditure on NREGA has been less than Rs. 40,000 crores a year.

So, how far does the NFSO go in addressing hunger and malnutrition? Is it indeed the “gamechanger” that it is being made out to be?

One of the positive aspects of the NFSO is that it presents the opportunity to move the PDS away from the current APL-BPL system (linked to the poverty line) which is fraught with problems of identification and ensuing exclusion of many poor to one where only the rich are identified and excluded and the rest are covered with uniform. The NFSO proposes to do this by covering 67% of the population at uniform prices of Rs. 3 for rice, Rs. 2 for wheat and Re. 1 for millets; while excluding the rest. The 67% is to be divided across the states based on their level of development. So states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan can expect to cover 80% or more of their rural population under the PDS. Such an expansion, if accompanied by some reforms, can be expected to go a long way in strengthening the PDS in these states. In fact, the NFSO can also be expected to contribute to lowering of leakages in the PDS. Recent studies based on NSS data and field surveys have shown that the extent of leakages in the PDS have been going down in many states. The PDS is functioning better in states where the BPL coverage has been expanded, where issues prices have been decreased and reforms in PDS have been initiated (Drèze and Khera, 2011; Himanshu, 2011; Khera, 2011; Sen and Himanshu, 2011) which is precisely what the NFSO aims to do.

Concerns with the NFSO

However, there are problems with the way in which the PDS entitlements have been currently defined. While the principle of excluding the rich and covering the rest is a sound one (of course, it would be even better if the PDS is universalised) the ordinance does not specify the identification criteria for exclusion. Moreover, a cut-off (75% for rural areas and 50% for urban areas) is prescribed at the national level but there is no clarity on what the percentages will be in each state. There is once again the danger of some poor being left out arbitrarily. What can be hoped is that the state governments take this opportunity to universalise coverage, at least in the poorest districts, by using state funds. The NFSO also provides only a limited quantity of 5kgs per head per month and restricts itself to cereals; where the minimum basket should have included pulses and oils. By doing so, the extremely inadequate diets of the poor could have been addressed to some extent.

The NFSO is also very limited in its entitlements for children, who ideally should have been central to a food security act. Child malnutrition levels in India are extremely high and it is well known that interventions to address malnutrition must focus on children under two years of age, pregnant and lactating women and adolescent girls. While the NFSO converts the existing schemes for mid day meal and take home rations in schools and anganwadi centres into legal entitlements, this is not accompanied by essential interventions for treatment of malnourished children, provision of calorie-dense local foods, growth monitoring, and nutrition and health education and so on. Addressing malnutrition would also require other complementary interventions such as access to basic health care, sanitation and drinking water.

The NFSO introduces a limited but extremely critical entitlement for women in the form of maternity entitlements for all pregnant women. By doing this, for the first time we recognise the right of children under six months to breastfeeding and that most women in our country are in fact ‘working’ women. However, once again the ordinance fails us by not going far enough – maternity entitlements are wage compensation for women to be able to stay home for rest and exclusive breastfeeding. They should therefore have been linked to minimum wages. But, the ordinance at least makes a beginning by including this very important entitlement.

The Congress is now in a hurry to implement the ordinance and reap electoral benefits. Such hurry without working out proper identification criteria and mechanisms can derail the entire process. On the other hand, many state governments over the last few years have moved many steps forward in improving their PDS – these states can now take advantage of the additional resources to universalise coverage and even provide other items such as pulses and oils if they are not already doing so.

In many ways the NFSO is a missed opportunity. A comprehensive Act which includes procurement, storage and distribution through a decentralised, strengthened and universal PDS, universal nutrition services for children, special provisions such as community kitchens in urban areas, provision of cooked meals for the destitute persons, social security pensions for the aged and strong grievance redressal and monitoring mechanism is the need of the hour[2]. One can only hope that when the ordinance is debated in the Parliament amendments towards strengthening its provisions as introduced by the Left and some regional parties are discussed and passed.

 

References:

Bhalla, Surjit (2013): Manmonia’s FSB: 3% of GDP, Indian Express, 6 July 2013

Drèze, Jean and Reetika Khera (2011): PDS leakages: the plot thickens, The Hindu, 12 August 2011

Himanshu (2011): A revived PDS is visible now, Livemint, 16 August 2011

Khera, Reetika (2011): Revival of the Public Distribution System: Evidence and Explanations, Economic and Political Weekly, Volume 46 Issue 44

Sen, Abhijit and Himanshu (2011): Why Not a Universal Food Security Legislation?, Economic and Political Weekly, Volume 46 Issue 12

 


[1] 2.1 kg per head is the average consumption from PDS for the entire population and not just the 44% who are accessing PDS.

[2] See www.righttofoodindia.org for the Right to Food Campaign’s demands in relation to the Food Security Act. It covers all of these aspects.

Accept expert panel report on GM crops: forum

Gargi Parsai

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/accept-expert-panel-report-on-gm-crops-forum/article4950675.ece

The report is a strong indictment of regulatory affairs: Coalition

Welcoming the recommendations of the Technical Expert Committee () on Genetically Modified crops, the Coalition for a GM-free India has urged the government to accept the report and “not come in the way of delivery of justice.”

The panel, set up by the Supreme Court in a Public Interest Litigation, has recommended in its final report that it would not be advisable to conduct any field trials in Bt transgenic crops till gaps in regulatory system are addressed.

“The report is a strong indictment of the state of regulatory affairs with regard to modern biotechnology in the country. We urge that the Central government to take the report seriously and act on it in the interests of food safety, security, and sovereignty as well as protection of environment and farm livelihoods,” the Coalition said in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

However, the Association of Biotech Led Enterprise – Agriculture Group (ABLE AG) that represents the industry has termed the document — though an improvement over the interim report that called for a 10-year moratorium on field trials of Bt transgenic in all food crops (those used directly for human consumption) — as “regressive and a troubled treatise” that promises to push Indian agriculture into an archaic age.

“The industry believes the TEC report, besides being incomplete, is also anti-science and anti-research and will severely dent the future of country’s farmers besides destroying the domestic private and public sector research. While improving the testing programmes is a continuous process, we do not believe that testing should be stopped in the interim,’’ said Ram Kaundinya, Chairman, ABLE AG in a press statement.

The report submitted to the Supreme Court has not been signed by R.S. Paroda, the representative of Agriculture Ministry who was inducted after the submission of the interim report last year.

“This is not surprising given the fact that Dr. Paroda’s very inclusion in the Committee was controversial and objectionable — his organisation receives funding from biotech majors like Monsanto and Mahyco — and this constitutes a clear conflict of interest. It is ironical that even this court-appointed committee has had to face such a conflict of interest situation, given that this has been the case with almost all GM-related issues in India so far,” the Coalition’s letter said.

The TEC’s comments with regard to bio-safety dossiers that were approved by the current biotechnology regulator is a scathing indictment of the failings of the existing regulatory regime, the Coalition noted.

The TEC could not find any compelling reason for India to be the first country, where Bt transgenics are widely consumed in large amounts for any major food crop that is directly used for human consumption.

The TEC has therefore reiterated its recommendation made in the Interim Report that there should be a moratorium on field trials for Bt in food crops, until there is more definitive information from sufficient number of studies as to the long-term safety of Bt in food crops.


  • Industry calls report as regressive, biased and a troubled treatise
  • Report not signed by R.S. Paroda, Agriculture Ministry representative

Farm suicides on the rise: AP

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/Farm-suicides-on-the-rise/articleshow/20836650.cms

TNN | Jun 30, 2013, 12.33 AM IST

MAHBUBNAGAR: Excessive use of chemical pesticides, erratic rainfall, heavy debt burden, and spurious seeds are taking a heavy toll on farmers in the perennially drought-hit Mahbubnagar district.

As many as 20 farmers have committed suicide in the district in the last three months. They have taken the desperate step unable to bear the losses due to frequent crop failures or clear the mounting agricultural debts. Insufficient loan advances by banks and high interest rates collected by private moneylenders too have played their part in the sucides.

District officials refuse to admit the increasing instances of farm suicides, but don’t’ deny that Mahbubnagar district is “vulnerable” thanks to a combination of factors ranging from high consumption of pesticides and fertilisers to unpredictable climatic conditions. The authorities wait the post-mortem reports for disbursal of compensation.

On Saturday a tenant farmer, Venkataiah, 35, from Pervetipally of Upunuthala mandal committed suicide by consuming pesticide. Only a day before, a tribal-farmer, Shankar Naik (50) of Badrigani thanda of Veldhanda mandal, ended his life following crop loss. Last week, P Srisailam of Manganoor village of Bijinapally mandal took the same extreme path.

Srisailam borrowed Rs 4 lakh to cultivate his five acres of land but could not repay the loan as the crop failed.

Mahbubnagar agriculture join director KV Rama Raju blames farm suicides on the indiscriminate use of pesticides. “Farmers here spray pesticides in quantities more than required. They thus not only spend more money on pesticides, but end up in losses or get low yield as excessive spraying of chemicals change the texture of the soil”.

Rama Raju said farmers sowing cotton crop are the most vulnerable of the lot. They invest big amounts on things not needed. “Many farmers do not follow the advice of agricultural extension officers on the optimum use of fertilisers and pesticides,” he added.

The rate of suicide is relatively higher among farmers who grow non-assured crops like cotton than those who go in for crops like paddy and maize. Some crops bring in minimum profits, but the returns are guaranteed.

“Farmers in Mahbubnagar district are vulnerable,” admits district collector M Girija Shankar, though he evades a reply on the exact number of farmers committing suicide in the district.

The district administration has so far distributed Rs 25 lakh as compensation to the families of about 70 farmers who committed suicide, “The situation is grim in case of SC/ST farmers,” he said adding that distribution of compensation is often delayed for technical reasons.

Clinical psychologists point out that farm suicides are mainly a psychological problem. “Such deaths can be prevented or at least minimized if we counsel farmers at frequent intervals,” said Dr M Radha Krishna Rao, senior clinical psychologist.

Last year about 120 farmers committed suicide in the district. Many farmers could not take up cultivation last season as the monsoon played truant in the district even as the groundwater levels plummeted.

“The crop in our five acres dried due to lack of water. We incurred heavy losses. This forced my husband to commit suicide,” said G Yadamma of Govonipally village in Nawapet mandal. Her husband G Pentaiah (43) consumed a pesticide on June 30 finding no means to pay Rs 80,000 he borrowed from a private moneylender.

Half a dozen tribal-farmers committed suicide so far this season. Eraguntla thanda of Bijinapally mandal recorded four suicides. Govind (38), Deshya (30), Mnya (28) and Madhya (35) committed suicide in the last two months in the mandal. Ironically, these farmers could not procure loans from banks and had to approach private moneylenders to raise crops. “Private moneylenders are responsible for the death of my husband,” says Madavath Devli, the widow of Govind.

Farmers, who took up cotton cultivation are the worst hit in the district, said Balu Naik of Kalwakurthy. Many tribals have migrated to other parts of the country leaving their agricultural fields behind. K Krishna Reddy, district president of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, alleged that banks had stopped issuing fresh loans unless farmers clear the old dues. He said the crop insurance compensation for the year 2011 is yet to reach farmers.

Four cotton growing states records 68% of the Farmers Suicides: NCRB 2012 data shows

National Crime Records Bureau Report-2012 shows increasing agrarian crisis in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra

The latest report of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that the total farmers suicides recorded during the year 2012 were 2,84,694 in the last eighteen years. NCRB started documenting the ‘Farmers Suicides’ as a separate category under self employed from 1995 onwards.

Four states Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh which are predominantly growing cotton in rainfed conditions records 68% of the farmers’ suicides. The two major states Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have shown increase of 13% and 17% respectively compared over last year and together account for 46% of the total farmers’ suicides.

Coalition for GM free India Congratulates Indian Govt for stopping the approval of GM crop Field Trials

#GMFieldTrails #GMFreeIndia
Coalition for GM free India Congratulates Indian Govt for stopping the approval of GM crop Field Trials.
Urges it to keep our food and farming free of GMOs

The Coalition for a GM Free India today congratulated the Central govt on responding to the growing scientific evidence and opposition fromstate governments against Genetically Modified (GM) crops and putting a hold on all open field trials approved in March, 2013. According tomedia reports the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has decided to reverse the permissions given by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) in March, 2013, given that there is a case in the Supreme Court on the matter and there is a need for widespread deliberations on a matter of such significance.

Reacting to the this new development Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Convenor, Coalition for a GM free India said, “It is heartening to see that theMinistry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) and the Union Government are finally being responsible to science and responsive to the citizensin the matter of open air experiments of risky GM crops.” He further stated, “One hopes that the government will not be arm twisted to permitopen environmental releases/field trials of GM crops by the powerful biotech seed industry and their promoters within the government”.

Earlier this week GEAC had put out the minutes of March 22nd meeting in the public domain after a delay of almost 2 months . The minutesshowed that the 16 member GEAC has given approvals for almost all the applications that they had received on field trials of GM crops. Thisincludes GM varieties of rice, wheat, maize, cotton and castor. There were 25 applications which included majority of which were forextension of the approvals given last year, and which couldn’t be conducted due to State governments denying permission or refusing to giveNOC for field trials in the respective states. One of the permissions pertained to RoundUp Ready Wheat by Mahyco, with the American seedgiant Monsanto’s proprietary technology.

RR wheat and Monsanto has been embroiled in the latest GM contamination scandal in USA, where RR wheat from field trials done yearsago was found in a farmer’s field in Oregon State. While Monsanto and USDA, which gave permissions for these trials, are still unable to findthe reasons for this contamination, American farmers have been severely impacted with Japan, South Korea, Philippines and the EuropeanUnion banning or restricting imports of wheat owing to threat of GM contamination. A similar contamination had rocked the US in 2006 whenfield trials of herbicide tolerant GM rice, LL rice, of Bayer, had ended up contaminating the rice supply chain. Bayer Crop Science had tofinally settle a class action suit filed by affected farmers for 750 million US dollars. Interestingly the LL rice of Bayer has also been approvedfor field trials by GEAC in the last meeting.

“It is shocking that even after repeated lessons on how field trials can lead to contamination of our food and seed supply GEAC is mindlesslygiving approvals for field trials left right and centre. This, despite published evidence on the impacts of GM crops on human health, ourbiodiversity and farmers livelihoods and repeated statements by state governments denying permission for such open field trials” said ArunaRodrigues, one of the petitioners of the PIL on stopping all environmental releases/field trials of GM crops. The Union of India is therespondent in the case. She further stated that “GEAC seems to be in a hurry to permit field trials disregarding the fact that the SupremeCourt is slated to hear on the final report by the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) it has set up to look into this matter”.

The Technical Expert Committee (TEC) comprising of experts from the fields of molecular biology, toxicology, biodiversity, nutrition scienceetc was set up by Supreme Court., In October 2012, it submitted its interim report highlighting the potential impacts of GM crops and theinadequacy of the existing regulatory system to assess the impacts of GM crops to human health, environment and socio-economic aspectsand to safely conduct field trials. It has recommended a total revamping of the system, pointing to the potential impacts to agro biodiversity,which is critical for further development of crops. It has also recommended against genetic modification of crops like rice for which India is acentre of origin. Besides this, it has also reccomended a 10 year moratorium on any open release/field trials of Bt crops and a moratorium onherbicide tolerant HT crops until an independent assessment is done on its impacts on human health, environment and farm livelihoods.

Hundreds of scientists, atleast 20 farmer Unions and more than 500 public-interest organisations had sent letters to the Supreme Courtendorsing the recommendations of the TEC’s interim report.

The Coalition for a GM free India hails this decision by the MoEF to withhold the permissions for field trials across the country. It further requested that the MoEF should inform respective state govt. about its decision. The State Governments should stop giving permissions in the state & if permitted, they should inform project proponents to stop field trials with immediate effect.

The Coalition for a GM free India also urges the Union government not to bow to pressures from multinational seed corporations and stand bythe interests of the citizens of the country. Reiterating the demand to keep our food and farming free from GM crops, it also urged thegovernment to drop the BRAI Bill and instead bring in a regulatory system that would safeguard biosafety from the introduction of riskytechnologies like GM crops.

For more information

Sridhar Radhakrishnan (09995358205)

Kavitha Kuruganthi (09393001550)

Coalition for a GM-Free India is a broad national network of organizations, scientists, farmer unions, consumer groups and individuals committed to keep the food andfarms in India free of Genetically Modified Organisms and to protecting India’s food security and sovereignty.

Coalition for a GM-free India

A-124/6, First Floor, Katwaria Sarai, New Delhi 110 016, Phone/Fax: 011-26517814

Website: www.indiagminfo.org, email : indiagmfree@gmail.com, Follow us on Facebook page – GM Watch India

India’s Food Security Rots in Storage

http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/indias-food-security-rots-in-storage/

By Manipadma Jena 

Paddy stock being salvaged from open space storage in Bhubaneswar as monsoons arrive early this year. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPSPaddy stock being salvaged from open space storage in Bhubaneswar as monsoons arrive early this year. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

BHUBANESWAR, India, Jun 21 2013 (IPS) – Shooing off a quartet of hens that come pecking, 24-year-old Kamala Batra sits guard over a sack of coarse rice spread out on the courtyard. After small black insects slowly crawl away in the sun’s heat, she gathers it to cook for the day’s free midday meal – a pan-India government food security scheme for students.

Batra, a member of the women’s collective that cooks school meals in Kosagumuda village, in the tribal Nabrangpur district of the eastern state Odisha, says government supplies of old and almost inedible food grains under the subsidised public distribution system are not uncommon.

A recent report from the national auditor, tabled in parliament, found that India did not have space to store 33 million tonnes of foodgrain worth 12 billion dollars, which it had bought from farmers for various government food security schemes.

“Thirteen percent of [India’s] gross domestic product (GDP) is wasted every year due to wastage of food grains in the supply chain.” — Dinesh Rai, India’s Warehousing Development and Regulatory Authority.

 

This constituted a 40-percent shortage in storage space, for a total stock of  82 million tonnes that was held by the Food Corporation Of India (FCI) in June last year.

A 1964-born monolith under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, FCI procures, disburses and maintains buffer food grains, mainly rice, wheat and coarse grains, countrywide.

FCI has recently resorted to wheat export to ease the storage problem.

“How will it handle additional quantities that will have to be mandatorily procured when India formalises the National Food Security Bill (NFSB)”, asked food security activist Badal Tah from tribal populated Rayagada distric, which in 2002 saw a national uproar over deaths due to starvation.

Malnourishment and inequitable access to food are unwieldy issues India is currently grappling with as the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) reach closure in 2015.

The NFSB will provide legal entitlement to subsidised food grains to around 67 percent of India’s over-two-billion population. It is likely to cost the exchequer about 21 billion dollars.

Tah is joined by a strong section that says India may well be comfortably placed in regard to the availability of food grains, but its present infrastructure and approach to crop management need structural changes before it can implement the food security law.  The bill has been debated in parliament since December 2011.

Assessing a five-year period from 2007 to 2012, a recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) tabled in parliament in May of this year, severely indicts the FCI for colossal mismanagement in food procurement, storage and evacuation.

While a volley of recent studies reiterates colossal food wastage owing to inadequate and unscientific storage infrastructure, up to 20 percent of India’s population live on 1.25 dollars a day.

A 2013 report from the London-based Institution of Mechanical Researchers, “Global food: waste not, want not”, finds India wastes a quantity of wheat equivalent to the entire production of Australia every year, of which 21 million tonnes perishes every year due to a lack of inadequate storage and distribution.

FCI itself admits India lost 79 million tonnes, or nine percent of total wheat produced over a four-year period from 2009 to 2013.

“Thirteen percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) is wasted every year due to wastage of food grains in the supply chain,” said Dinesh Rai, a senior official of the federal government’s Warehousing Development and Regulatory Authority.

Aside from food grains, India loses 12 million tonnes of fruits and 21 million tonnes of vegetables every year due to a lack of cold storage facility, according to a 2009 study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

In India’s remote areas, in a bumper harvest year, fast perishable vegetables like tomatoes are sold at dump prices for two rupees, or 25 cents, per kilogramme.

Lack of storage is a major tool in the middleman’s hands to exploit the small farmers.

“We wait for government procurement officials to get the minimum support price (MSP), but they have delayed these last two years,” Raju Jani told IPS from Odisha’s Koraput district.

They are heavily in debt, he said, for things like seeds and fertilisers, “So we give our harvest to the rice miller’s agent for whatever price he offers”.

With storage space shortfall and a go-slow government procurement, farmers are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea – the loan shark and the middleman.

The CAG report has questioned the basis for high a MSP, which is being viewed increasingly as a political sop to voters. According to current rules, if farmers come forth to sell at MSP, the government cannot decline to buy or set a cut-off procurement quantity.

This is yet another reason for excessive procurement of food grains over the last few years. It however benefits the large landholders more, say a section of political observers.

In 2012, it cost the federal government 16 billion dollars to overall handle the grain it bought at MSP, including transportation, storage and other overheads; its subsidised disbursement, in turn, fetched 4.7 billion dollars.

With the food security law, the government would procure much larger quantities for distribution, at subsidised prices of one to three rupees (about 0.02 to 0.05 dollars).

Amid the losses, many NGOs are calling for the reinstitution of  village level grain banks.

“Farmers lost their self reliance, all because of the centralized food production of wheat and paddy. Multi-cropping should be brought back,” Thooran Nambi, of the Tamil Nadu Farmers Association, told IPS from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu State.

He’s in favour of abolishing subsidised food for rural people, saying it should be given during emergencies only, he added.

In its study, the Institute of Mechanical Researchers recommends developed nations transfer their engineering knowledge, technology and design know-how to developing countries.

Meanwhile, “The storage and warehousing sector should get infrastructure status,” Suman Jyoti Khaitan, who heads a policy advocacy group, told IPS. “So that finances are availabe and the private sector can get in, too.”

Turn down the heat : climate extremes, regional impacts, and the case for resilience – full report (English)

ABSTRACT

This report focuses on the risks of climate change to development in Sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia and South Asia. Building on the 2012 report, Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided, this new scientific analysis examines the likely impacts of present day, 2°C and 4°C warming on agricultural production, water resources, and coastal vulnerability for affected populations. It finds many significant climate and development impacts are already being felt in some regions, and in some cases multiple threats of increasing extreme heat waves, sea level rise, more severe storms, droughts and floods are expected to have further severe negative implications for the poorest. Climate related extreme events could push households below the poverty trap threshold. High temperature extremes appear likely to affect yields of rice, wheat, maize and other important crops, adversely affecting food security. Promoting economic growth and the eradication of poverty and inequality will thus be an increasingly challenging task under future climate change. Immediate steps are needed to help countries adapt to the risks already locked in at current levels of 0.8°C warming, but with ambitious global action to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, many of the worst projected climate impacts could still be avoided by holding warming below 2°C.

http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2013/06/14/000445729_20130614145941/Rendered/PDF/784240WP0Full00D0CONF0to0June19090L.pdf

Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in the US Midwest

Abstract

An agroecosystem is constrained by environmental possibility and social choices, mainly in the form of government policies. To be sustainable, an agroecosystem requires production systems that are resilient to natural stressors such as disease, pests, drought, wind and salinity, and to human constructed stressors such as economic cycles and trade barriers. The world is becoming increasingly reliant on concentrated exporting agroecosystems for staple crops, and vulnerable to national and local decisions that affect resilience of these production systems. We chronicle the history of the United States staple crop agroecosystem of the Midwest region to determine whether sustainability is part of its design, or could be a likely outcome of existing policies particularly on innovation and intellectual property. Relative to other food secure and exporting countries (e.g. Western Europe), the US agroecosystem is not exceptional in yields or conservative on environmental impact. This has not been a trade-off for sustainability, as annual fluctuations in maize yield alone dwarf the loss of caloric energy from extreme historic blights. We suggest strategies for innovation that are responsive to more stakeholders and build resilience into industrialized staple crop production.