Thursday, December 31, 2009

HNY 2010 !

H ours of happy times with friends and family

A bundant time for relaxation

P rosperity

P lenty of love when you need it the most

Y outhful excitement at life’s simple pleasures

N ights of restful slumber (Don’t worry, Be HAPPY!)

E verything you need

W ishing you love and light

Y ears and years of good health

E njoyment and mirth

A ngels to watch over you

R emembrances of a Happy Years!!!!!


Saturday, December 26, 2009

The underground Treasure troves

Roots and tuber crops, due to their high calorific value and carbohydrate content occupy a remarkable position in the food security of the world, particularly in the developing nations. The economically and socially important tropical tuber crops are Cassava, Sweet potato, Yams, Dioscoreas, Aroids which include Elephant foot yam, Taro and Tannia (Amorphophallus, Colocasia or Taro, Xanthosoma or Tannia) and other minor tuber crops namely Chinese potato, Arrow root, Yam bean, Canna etc. In addition to the major tuber crops, there are many rhizomatous types and tuberising species which are grown and used in different parts of India. Some of them are already cultivated, but many others are grown wild as a neglected group. They are often used as food or serve as a source of raw material for the production of alcohol and animal feed.


The countries of Asia-Pacific region account for about 40% of world's total annual production of roots and tubers. Roots and tubers are a major staple in the Pacific islands, the Asian and African countries also use them as animal feed, and in starch-based industries. Increasing demands of cassava and sweet potato in non-food and organized market sectors are closely linked with increased production. There are considerable differences in the agro-climatic conditions suitable for the production for the different root and tuber crops. In fact, these crops remained neglected in terms of scientific input until the establishment of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria, and the International Potato Center (CIP) in Peru.

Consumption & Utilisation

In the developing countries (with the exception of China and Brazil), relatively small amounts (less than 20%) are fed to livestock and the rest is consumed as food. The consumption of root and tuber crops as food in developed countries is considerably smaller than it is in developing countries, but their use as animal feeds is relatively higher. They are staple foods in many parts of the tropics. These are also an important source of animal feed and industrial products. On a global basis, approximately 45% of root and tuber crop production is consumed as food, with the remainder used as animal feed or for industrial processing for products such as starch, distilled spirits, and a range of minor products.

In terms of contribution to calorie supply, the importance of root, tubers and derived products crops (all production included and converted into primary product equivalent) is small, compared to the contribution of cereals. The contribution of root and tuber crops to the world supply of calories is only 5% compared to 48% for cereals and 46% for other food. In Africa, root and tuber crops contribute 14% to the calorie supply as compared to 51% for cereals and 37% for other food, while in South America roots and tubers contribute 5% and in Asia only 4% to the calorie supply. Many tropical tuber crops are used in the preparation of stimulants, tonics, carminatives and expectorants. The tuber crops are rich in dietary fibres and carotenoids viz. carotene and anthocyanin.

Importance of Root and Tuber Crops

Among the tuber crops, Cassava is the most important one in the tropics and it ranks fourth, after rice, sugarcane and maize, as a source of calories for human consumption. It is a major carbohydrate food for about 500 m people in the world, and in Africa, it is the most important source of calories in the human diet. Cassava is cultivated in 16mha, spread over the continents of South America, Africa and Asia, producing 158mt of tubers. The average productivity in the world is 10.88t/ha and that in India is 27.42t/ha from an area of 0.24mha. However in sweet potato, average productivity in India is only 8-9t/ha as against the world average of 16t/ha. Area under tuber crops in India is 4 lakh ha under cassava and sweet potato besides approximately 2 lakh ha under elephant foot yam, Colocasia, Xanthosoma etc.

Research & Development

The CGIAR Institutes, mainly IITA, Ibadan, CIAT and CIP, Peru has made stupendous accomplishments in root and tuber research. Of major concern is the scarcity of germplasm collections and the greater lack of breeding programs. In India also Central Tuber Crops Research Institute (CTRI), Thiruvananthapuram is striving to promote R&D in tuber crops. Some other institutes like, RAU, Bihar, OUAT, Bhubaneshawar and BCKV, Mohanpur has made considerable contribution towards the development of root and tuber crops.


The crop has gained importance as a cheap source of carbohydrate, mainly for human consumption. Its importance in tropical agriculture is due to its drought tolerance, wide flexibility to adverse soil, nutrient and management conditions including time of harvest. As cassava has no definite harvest time farmers can have a staggered harvest, which provides security against famine. Cassava can be profitably cultivated throughout the year. Cassava roots are perishable with a shelf life of only a few days. The presence of hydrocyanic glucosides (HCN) in all plant parts presents some problems in marketing cassava. Other postharvest problems with cassava include proper handling and storage of cuttings under frost-free conditions. Even though cassava flour can be used as a partial substitute for wheat flour in the production of bread, market economics restrict this process to countries where wheat is an import commodity. Apart from its role as a staple/subsidiary food, during the past few decades there has been growing recognition of the value of cassava roots as a low cost energy source for livestock and as a raw material for industrial starch and fuel alcohol.

Sweet Potato

The tuber is an important source of carbohydrate. The yellow flesh varieties are rich in carotene. Sweet potato is a short duration crop, adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions. It exhibits no strict seasonality making it suitable as a combination crop with other crops. The major sweet potato growing states in India are Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In China, where approximately 85% of global sweet potato production is grown, multiple uses of the crop (e.g., as animal feed as well as processing of the roots into starch, noodles, and alcohol), have helped to diversify markets for what was once mostly a directly-consumed food crop.


Yams are cultivated in every tropical country, but their large-scale cultivation is restricted mainly to West Africa, South-East Asia including China and Japan. Yams are eaten mostly as boiled, baked or fried. Yam production is also significantly influenced by day length. In India, traditionally yams are grown in homesteads. Yams are usually baked or boiled and mashed. Unless the production expenses are reduced, little potential exists for commercial processing of yams into items like that of potato chips or french fries.


Aroids comprise several species under the family Araceae that are cultivated for food in most of the tropical and subtropical parts of the world. Important aroids cultivated in India are taro, tannia, giant taro/ alocasia and elephant foot yam. Aroids are short-statured perennial plants, grown as annuals. They store starches in large corms at or below the sod surface. Corms which contain 25 to 35% starch, are plagued by the presence of an acrid factor, which causes itchiness and considerable inflammation of tissues. The potential for expansion of these markets is considered to be very limited, as the acceptability is poor among the masses. Colocasia tubers are also good source of protein, minerals like phosphorus and iron. Elephant foot yam is basically an underground stem tuber and is gaining popularity due to its yield potential and culinary properties. These are crops having high yield potential and starch value and they are yet to be properly explored.

Harvesting & Marketing

The production, harvest and marketing of root and tuber crops are generally labor intensive. The sheer bulk of root and tuber crops, compared to cereals, is an even bigger problem than is their underground harvest. The processing of traditional consumable products from these crops may also require high labor inputs. Root and tuber crops share some similarities from a market perspective at the farm level. For instance, much of root and tuber crop production is consumed on-the-farm, or at distances that are relatively closer to production.

Post harvest management

All of the root and tuber crops have the distinct disadvantage, following harvest, of limited storability, and are fairly perishable if the conditions are not suitable. This characteristic of root and tuber crops predetermines the need for post-harvest treatment of these crops to preclude very large post-harvest losses.

Export avenues

Trade enquiries show that there is considerable demand, of about a lakh tonnes of cassava chips, for exports to the South East Asian countries. There is a need for series of studies be initiated to assess afresh the export potential from traditional and non-traditional areas, export demand of tuber crop-based products, policy issues relating to growth of exports, extension of technologies to non -traditional areas and linkages with APEDA for expertise and training in the area of exports of tuber crops. The lack of a clear export policy had hampered Indian interests, outpricing its products from the global marketplace and the price factor had been playing a crucial role in the cassava chips export scenario.

Major roadblocks

One of the persisting problems with root and tuber crops is its unrealized yield potential that could only be attained through yet-to-be-developed technologies. In the case of root and tuber crops, the potential for yield is considerably higher than the actual yield. Both biophysical i.e., diseases, insect pests, low-yielding cultivars, poor crop husbandry and socio-economical; scarce land, shortage of labor, shift in food habit linked with urbanization constraints are adversely affecting production of root and tuber crops.

The way-ahead

The potential of the roots and tubers being processed into snack foods depends on economics and public acceptance. Unless the costs of production can be reduced dramatically through mechanization and selection of earlier maturing clones, the future is not bright. Both obstacles are not insurmountable. However, a decided commitment to research and development must be made for this to happen. Some of the indicated changes will likely be driven by consumption demands and production opportunities as a result of technology yet-to-be-developed for root and tuber crops. Some of these technologies will no doubt entail food processing technologies and expanded feed markets, as well as current and new industrial uses for the harvested products of root and tuber crops.

The Year that went by…..

This last year’s journey forward for India was rife with hopes and speculations as the general elections were round the corner. When many parties paid the price and leaders got grounded in the elections for ignoring agriculture, the Congress could harvest the rewards for its pro agriculture stance, esp. with the loan waiver scheme.

The union budget which was presented right after the election results on July 6, 2009 by the Finance Minister, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, also attached great significance to agriculture. Proposing direct transfer of fertilizer subsidy to farmers, nutrient based subsidy regime for fertilisers and National Food Security Act (NFSA) were some of the highlights of the budget. FM also proposed of increasing agricultural credit flow for the year 2009-10 to Rs 3,25,000 crore, the payment of an additional subvention of 1% to farmers who repay their short term loans on schedule, and special attention to farmers who had taken loans from private money lenders and who have not been covered by the earlier loan waiver scheme. An allocation of Rs 39,100 crore was provided in the budget for NREGS, a whopping increase of 144%. The budgetary allocations were increased by 75% over the last year for Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP).

The drought and floods that rocked the Indian coasts during 2009, also deeply impacted the crop fields. The government pegged the rice output at 71.65 mt for 2009-10 kharif season, a steep reduction from the 2008-09 kharif season’s 84.5 million tonnes. The decline in farm output pushed the prices of essential food items north. The index of primary articles showed food reaching a 10-year high of 19.95 per cent during the first week of December.

Another significant event that took place last year was the GEAC’s approval to introduction of Bt Brinjal. Though the actual introduction may take some time, it is higly unlikely that it will miss the boat. When approved, Bt Brinjal will become the first GM food crop to be cultivated in India and also the first GM brinjal to be approved anywhere else in the world. This will open the gates for many other GM food crops that are in various stages of trials.

Last year also witnessed the collective strength of farmers and their clout in policy decisions. The Center’s FRP of Rs 129.84 per quintal measured much lower than the SAP announced by the UP government which amounted to Rs 160-170 a quintal. It was not a surprise when the farmers united by the opposition took to Rallies and Dharnas. So a clarification soon ensued when the Parliament passed a Bill that introduces the new sugarcane price regime, after the government allayed concerns of the Opposition that states would not be required to pay the difference between Central and State Advised Price to farmers.

Next in line to follow was the signing of FTA with ASEAN countries. The tariff reduction of certain farm products can be deleterious to the farming community. So the new year will be crucial as to see how the treaty will affect India’s farming community.

As the economic recession stormed the entire world, India and to more extent India’s rural lands were unscathed in this flurry of economic inactivity. So did the industry on which the rural folks dependent the most. The agri input industry thrived exceedingly well when compared to the exigencies that the Indian agri scene went by.

Climate change is not a possibilty but a real threat, the signs of which are apparent from the untimely rains, drought, flood and declining crop productivity. The Copenhagen Climate Conference 2009 therefore was critical. Although no legally binding commitments for reducing CO2 emissions were made in the Copenhagen Accord, atleast the document recognized that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of the present and that actions should be taken to keep any temperature increases to below 2°C.

The last year in many ways was an eye opener to our policy makers. The fact that we are not prepared enough to face food crunch and the absence of a permanent disaster management strategy has been quite evident. Our persistent ineptness to cope with the sudden changes in the farming situations and the archaic policies that we fervently follow has started to affect our country. So the year 2010 may be a year when we can see many policy changes that will be designed to quell our fears or atleast to create an illusion of security.

COP 15 : Nothing to cope for agriculture

Amidst buzzing expectations, rallying protestors, leaked emails and draft Danish texts, the much awaited 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) took place at Bella Center in Copenhagen from the 7th to the 18th of December, 2009. The Conference with participants from 192 countries representing governments, business community and civil society was aimed to evolve a successor to Kyoto protocol the first phase of which expires in 2012.

The issues that were on board to be discussed were the quantum of emissions that can be allowed for each country. To keep the warming below the 2°C, scientists recommended cuts of 25-40% by 2020(relative to 1990 levels). Developed economies such as US and UK which has grown on carbon rich economy, should logically agree for deepest cuts. Although the carbon foot print per person in developing economies is comparatively less, they cannot also shy away from their obligation of proper cuts. Another issue that was discussed was the one regarding the financial assistance to poorer nations to cope with climate change. Poorest countries which cannot afford to evolve with climate change need help financially and technologically. The EU proposal of $100 bn a year was tabled even though the estimates range up to $ 600 bn a year.

After two weeks of deliberations and regular walk outs, an agreement was reached which was widely publicized as a ‘political accord’. The ‘accord’ rife with ambiguities was drafted by the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa on December 18. The accord was "recognized", but not "agreed upon". The document recognized that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of the present and that actions should be taken to keep any temperature increases to below 2°C and support for a US$ 30 billion fund over the next three years for the developing countries. It also includes aims to create medium-term financial mechanism that will be able to provide US$100 billion dollars every year to the developing countries from the year 2020. A very specious part of the deal was the inclusion of a commitment from the BASIC countries, all of which are rapidly growing emitters, to allow “international consultations and analysis under clearly defined guidelines” of their voluntary national actions. Further, the document is not legally binding and does not contain any legally binding commitments for reducing CO2 emissions not even for the greatest emitters. Although the Heads of States participating in the conference were cautious enough to use words like ‘pleased’ and ‘meaningful’, the futility of the whole exercise was widely evident from their cautious words and measured optimism.

The accord, as of now, is only a draft and has to be adopted by consensus by the 193 members of the UNFCCC to come into effect. If adopted, it will form the mandate to continue the negotiating process into next year and finalise a legally-binding international treaty -- something that was originally planned to happen in Copenhagen itself.

What it holds for agriculture is significant. By now, it is evident that climate change is not a possibility but a real threat, the signs of which are apparent from the untimely rains, drought, flood and declining crop productivity. With the changing climate, the crops will be facing newer challenges. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded in its most recent assessment that “At lower latitudes, especially in seasonally dry and tropical regions, crop productivity is projected to decrease for even small local temperature increases (1-2°C), which would increase the risk of hunger. So even when the countries at the conference are complacent of their 2°C agreement, their implications on the subsistence farmers are abysmally grave.

A warmer globe means a threat to low lying areas. They can be inundated. Sea water can intrude and invade the farming space. So anticipating a drier, saltier and wetter climate, we will be in need of more of varieties that can tackle these situations. The scientific communities who are sensitized with the issue are already on that path.

As far as the farming community all over the world is concerned, this accord was disappointing. In pursuit of economic development, the heads of state have denied the poorest of the poor their right to survive.

- Anjana Nair-

The Unstoppable Food Price Rise

India is the country, where governments both at the Centre and in at least one state have been voted out over soaring food prices. While the government reviews the pricing of cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables in the light of food inflation crossing 20 per cent fuelling overall inflation the statistics on wholesale prices present a grim picture. But for hundreds of millions of Indians across the country, the steep climb in food expenditure has been a harsh daily experience for some months now. According to official data, the prices of rice and wheat have increased by 11.75 per cent and 12.6 per cent, respectively, on a year-on-on year basis.

Spurred by the soaring prices of essential food items like pulses, potato and other vegetables, the annual rate of increase in the prices of food items soared to 19.95 per cent the highest in more than a decade as supply shortages hit hard. Food inflation stood at 19.05 per cent at the end of November. There are food items where the government has no such intervening role; and their price trends tell a more compelling story. Thus the price of bajra has gone up by 27 per cent, and that of dals by 60-70 per cent. The story applies to vegetables as well. There is also the strange case of sugar, which is sold at regulated prices by the government in open markets as well as through the PDS. Over the past year, its price has gone up by 125 per cent in wholesale markets across the country. The same story applies to the diets of non-vegetarian Indians. Mutton price has risen by 33 per cent this year. In the poultry sector, the price of chicken has gone up by 29 per cent, while egg price has doubled. The price of fresh water fish is up by 76 per cent.

But Mr Sharad Pawar is in no mood to accept the neglect from Govt’s side and laments that the soaring price is a global phenomenon, the government is making determined efforts to contain the prices of food grains and essential commodities, unprecedented rise in prices of essential commodities have created a serious difficulty for people. He also added that one of the reasons for rising prices can be attributed to this year's climatic conditions, but added we are confident that the policies of the government will ensure that rise in certain essential food commodities will definitely be brought under control, which warrants more intervention by the state governments in the market.

Some in the government view the current price rise as seasonal, mostly affecting fruits and vegetables, and feel that when the new crop arrives in January and February, rates will ease up. Others are less sanguine. They argue that while drought was undoubtedly a factor, ineffective action against hoarders remains a major stumbling block. Food prices are not going to come down anytime soon as the government expects the supply-side constraints to continue in the short-term due to a drop in summer farm output on account of poor monsoon and floods in some parts of the country, the finance ministry said in its mid-term review but hoped to stem spiralling prices through imports.

A parliamentary committee has pulled up the finance ministry for its failure to intervene timely and squarely to address price rise with due seriousness. The committee recommended that a comprehensive food pricing management policy be formulated not only to provide the much needed relief to consumers but also an antidote for the growing economic imbalance in the country. In its analysis of the causes behind the price rise, the committee noted wide variation between wholesale and retail prices in commodities like rice, pulses, potato and onion suggesting artificial shortage and spiking of prices by intermediaries.

Economists feel that in the face of soaring food prices the immediate objective of the RBI will be to curb inflationary expectations by adopting tight monetary policy. RBI Governor D Subarao recently said “If food price inflation persists for long, they can fuel inflationary expectations and the monetary policy will have to take a view on this.” The government has already asked states to ensure that the nation-wide public distribution system delivers foodgrain at controlled rates to the poor. It may follow this up with open market sales at lower prices for the middle class.

Rise in prices of primary articles of consumption of the common man that has been occurring in the recent times is indeed a cause of concern, and this needs to be attended to on an urgent basis. The government can augment supply through imports, it expressed doubt that this option may not be available for certain commodities such as pulses, available only in limited quantities in the international market.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Millets for Climate Change

Millets often referred as miracle crops/grains, are major food sources in arid and semi-arid regions of the world, and feature in the traditional cuisines. They are also considered as the lifeline for the dry and rainfed tracts. They are put to multiple uses as food, feed and fodder, besides being the raw material for industries. Millets are some of the oldest of cultivated crops and the staple foods for millions, particularly in undeveloped and developing nations of Africa and Asia.

Sorghum/Jowar, Pearlmillet/ Bajra are given the status of major millets and other millets, often referred as minor millets are Finger millets, Kodo millets, proso millet and many more. They are grown with limited water resources and usually without any fertilizers or other inputs by a multitude of small farmers in many countries. Therefore, and because they are mostly consumed by disadvantaged groups, they are often referred to as "coarse grains" or "poor people's crops". They are not usually traded in the international markets or even in local markets in many countries. The farmers seldom, therefore, have an assured market in the case of surplus production.

The spatial distribution of millets either as a primary crop or as allied crops largely depends on the growing habitat and the amount of rainfall the region receives. The millets are the hardest grains and can sustain and flourish even in the most adverse agro-climates with poorest quality soil, minimum or, almost nil water, most adverse weather variations and lastly, the miniscule care and management practices.

Millets can be cultivated throughout the year, whereas wheat and paddy are seasonal crops. It is learnt that minor millets such as sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, foxtail millet, etc can grow without irrigation and are nutritious than rice.

Forgotten Grains

The millets exhibit unimaginable levels of inter and intra specific diversity, a lot of which we have lost and very few were recorded and documented at centres like, ICRISAT and NRC Sorghum. After the green revolution, top priority was accorded to rice and wheat. Hundreds of high-yield varieties were introduced by agricultural research centres. But at the same time, there was not much of an opportunity to grow crops like millets. Crops like sugarcane, paddy and wheat require more water. To fulfill this demand, underground water was exploited.

In the four decades between 1966 and 2006, while the total production of rice more than doubled (125%), from 38mt to nearly 86mt, and the output of wheat jumped threefold (285%), from just over 18mt to 70mt, the total production of all kinds of millets has actually come down by 2.4%— from almost 18.5mt to below 18mt. This decline in the production of millets can be largely attributed to the fall in the cultivated area, from over 36mha half-a-century ago to just over 21mha at present. Over the last 40 years, over 40% of the areas that were under millet cultivation is now being used to grow other crops.

Fighting the cause for Climate Change

If the temperature rises, the crop pattern and the farming system will be affected badly. Millets are climate change compliant crops and many of these crops can fix carbon in the soils thereby becoming agents of carbon.

Millets are highly energy and resource efficient crops, as with the least utilization of inputs it yields considerably by virtue of its acclimatization, structural and physiological adaptability, and drought and disease-pest evading mechanisms. Indian agriculture with more dependence on monsoon and seasonal rains, could well readopt the forgotten crops to regain the dominance over the coarse grains and reorient the agricultural prosperity in the state with the available resources.

Threat to Wheat and Rice

Climate change portends less rain, more heat, reduced water availability and increased malnutrition. It is important to note that, once we cross the ceiling of two degree celsius temperature rise, wheat may disappear from our farming system.

Wheat is an extremely thermal sensitive crop and it can’t withstand this temperature rise. Similarly, rice is the most consumed grain in the world and the demand is increasing over the years. But current paddy cultivation methods are affecting the environment. Most farmers follow paddy farming in the standing water system. But methane gas emanating from inundated rice fields is a greenhouse gas. If these two crops disappear from the farming sector, then which are the crops that will fill the gap?

Millets are the answer. Millets can be cultivated throughout the year, whereas wheat and paddy are seasonal crops. Millets are capable of growing under drought conditions; they can withstand higher heat regimes. Millets like Kodo millet, Proso millet, Little millet, Finger millet, Barnyard millet and Pearl millet grow under non-irrigated fields and also in low rainfall area with 200 to 500 mm. They can still provide a good yield under water scarcity.

Food security issues

One more problem that could occur in the near future is food insecurity. Wheat and rice may give only food security, but millets give multiple securities like food, fodder, health, nutrition, and livelihood. More over, millets attract neither pest nor disease. Therefore, their need for pesticides is nil.

Increasing malnutrition has become a major problem for the government. Millets can be used to meet this demand, as they are a storehouse of nutrients.

The Neglect

Policy neglect, lack or, very few research attention limited to the dry tracts, MSP and subsidies, Irrigation facilities creation and the phenomenon of Green revolution has robbed the significance of these precious, but not much precarious grains. The government policy of thrusting rice and wheat on all states through the PDS killed millet cultivation. The output declined from 18.41mt in 1966 to 17.97mt in 2006, a fall of over 2%. On the other hand, wheat production went up from 18.1mt to 69.73mt in the period, an increase of 284%. Rice production rose 125% during the period.

Millet-based bio diverse cropping systems can come as a solution to this agrarian crisis as it liberates farming from water intensive cropping such as rich or wheat to a nature commodity controlled farming system.

Helping hands

Some NGOs’ and Government bodies have initiated commendable programs to save these grains. The Millet Network of India (MINI), is one among such organizations working for the cause of promoting the millets in the Indian diets. According to P V Satheesh, Convenor, Millet Network of India (MINI), millet farming systems offer food security apart from fodder, health and nutritional security. "We are persuading the Centre to allocate at least 40% of its food security budget to millet-based farming and food systems," he said.

The NGO is also trying to create “parliamentarians of millets” with participation from the policy makers, NGOs and other stake holders.

Millet Network of India is an alliance consisting of more than 65 institutions, scientists, farmers, civil society groups representing over 15 states. The organisation has sought priority to millets as part of the Food Security Act. “We are seeking recognition of millets as a climate change compliant crop and promotion of its cultivation and consumption,” says P V Satheesh.

Grains of Health

Millets, namely jowar, bajra, ragi, foxtail millet, little millet, and kodo millet not only require less water to grow but are also super cereals with more nutrients than other food grains. These crops are still the principal sources of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals for millions of the poorest people. The protein content in millet is very close to that of wheat; both provide about 11% protein by weight. Millets are also rich in B vitamins, especially niacin, B6 and folic acid, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. Millets also have more fibre than rice and wheat. Some varieties have as much as 50 times more fibre than rice. A bowl of halwa made of finger millets or ragi is 30 times rich in calcium than a bowl of rice.

If a farmer grows millets, he gets a large quantity of fodder, besides the nutritious crop. The fodder helps him feed animals, which give enough farmyard manure, thus leading to a fall in use of chemical fertilisers. So, the crop is a bulwark against drought and debt, not to speak of malnutrition.

Millet days ahead

The new opportunities provided by climate change issues including drought and the National Food Security Act must be fully seized upon by governments to rejuvenate farming systems as well as livelihoods in the dry land areas by offering pride of place for millet based farming systems. These can be the best possible solution against malnutrition in the country, if included in PDS, so as to create a huge market for millet farmers acting more as an incentive. Government can also include millets into the National Food Security Act in the backdrop of the unprecedented drought and looming climate change crisis.

Being a largely agricultural country, India has one solution, and this could be adopted in any country with minor changes. It seems that our local millets could yet provide the best answer to the global problem.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The flawed policy on Sugarcane pricing

Sugarcane, the political crop of country is again back in news for all the wrong reasons, with sugarcane farmers in UP on the warpath against the state advised price (SAP) and centre’s Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP) for their produce.

The Centre’s insistence that the FRP, which it announced recently replacing the statutory minimum price (SMP), is almost 15% more than the earlier price and is just a floor price, and that millers are free to pay more than the FRP has failed to assuage the farmers. The Centre has already conveyed that sugar mills in the state will have to pay more than the announced rate of Rs 160-170 a quintal to the farmers. The Central Government has made a steep reduction in the price of sugarcane for the coming season. The State Governments used to announce a SAP of sugarcane which was higher than the Minimum Statutory Price (MSP) declared by the Centre. Last year the MSP was Rs 108 per quintal while the SAP was Rs 160-180 per quintal. Now the Centre has banned the practice of declaring Advisory Price. It has provided that the State Government will have to itself pay the difference between the lower Statutory Price and the higher Advisory price. This will put an end to the practice of state governments announcing a higher Advisory price since they do not have such financial muscle. The centre has announced a price of Rs 130 per quintal for this season against Rs 108 for the previous year. But this increase is deceptive. The Centre has fixed an FRP of Rs 129.84 a quintal for sugarcane for the 2009-10 season (October September), while UP has announced an SAP of Rs 160-170 a quintal. However, the prices indicated by the mills were above the FRP and SAP, this was much below the farmers’ demand of Rs 280 per quintal. Sugar mills have not started crushing this season for lack of supply as farmers are demanding much higher.

The persisting tussle between millers and growers has kept sugar supply tighter than even anticipated and jacked up consumers prices to Rs 35/kg. By January, unless big imports are made, sugar prices are projected to hit Rs 40/kg. UP sugar mills that produce almost 40 per cent of the country's total sugar are yet to start crushing operations that have already begun in states like Maharashra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. And, on top of it, the state government is disallowing them to process imported raw sugar. Sugarcane output in UP is expected drop marginally to 40 lakh tonnes in the 2009-10 sugar year on the back of a 17% acreage drop. Sugarcane farmers, especially in UP, will suffer huge losses by the Ordinance brought by the Centre.

The government should withdraw the Ordinance and consider it only after holding consultations with everyone. The pricing issue of cane should be brought to a earliest timely solution, since the delay in crushing of mature cane will result in loss of sucrose content and thereby, loss of recovery at a time when the country requires higher output. Hence, an all party acceptable price should soon to be decided. Early harvesting of matured cane will allow farmers to prepare field for wheat sowing which is likely to start by the end of December. Farmers have been reeling under the cut in sugarcane prices on the pretext of ‘fair and remunerative pricing’ and feeling threatened by the proposal to ban Khandsari/ Gur/ Jaggery production. There is some doubt concerning Pawar’s intentions while the sugar mills don’t want such low prices for the sugarcane, as it will result in farmers leaving the crop. A Cabinet note to amend rule 7 of the Sugarcane Control Order (SCO) is being revived to ensure total regulation of the gur industry’s use of sugarcane. This would mean that the Centre will once again (after 2007) acquire the power to predetermine the use of sugarcane by different industries.

Interestingly, no specific slab has been fixed for this mutually agreeable price, which will not be constant but would vary from place to place depending on the recovery of the crop. It would be up to the millers to work out what price they are capable of giving along with the farmers who have to agree to providing cane at that price.

The biggest loser in this imbroglio has been the common man, who, after reeling under the impact of an unprecedented rise in sugar prices, was hoping for some respite once the new crop was crushed. Sugar prices, which have already moved up by a whopping 87% since January, have again started rising because of the delay in crushing and low inventories with mills.

UN Food Summit; No where to Go

With more than 1 billion people going hungry, the Food and Agriculture Organisation had called the Food summit on November 16-18 in Rome, hoping to win firm pledges by world leaders to spend $44 billion a year to help poor nations feed themselves. The World Summit on Food Security comes a year after major rises in food prices caused chaos in many developing countries. Food shortages and malnutrition rose to the top of the political agenda since a spike in food prices since last years parked riots in around 60 countries, mainly blamed to speculation and hoarding. Alongside the whole world is getting the heat of global warming in the form of wide variability in weather condition, drought, flood, cyclones etc., affecting food production and lastly adding to the woes of food and nutritional security. There has been a 12-13 per cent decline in crop output this kharif season due to long dry spells in some parts of the country and floods in some other areas. This year, the output of all major crops has gone down, including principal crops such as foodgrain, fibres and oilseeds and to some extent sugarcane, except cotton in India.

But a final draft declaration includes only a general commitment to pump more money into agricultural development, and makes no mention of a proposal to eliminate hunger by 2025. Even in the very first opening day of the summit many critics, mainly from the African nations described the Food Summit as wasteful and ineffective. The meeting was branded a failure within a couple of hours of its start after the 192 participating countries unanimously rebuffed the United Nations' appeal for commitments of billions of dollars in yearly aid to develop agriculture in poor nations. None of the leaders of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations attended except for Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

FAO in its publication observed that the financial crisis has its origin far from the agricultural sector and far from the developing countries, where its most devastating effects on the poorest segments of the population are being felt.

According to FAO, the number of hungry people rose to 1.02 billion people, more than at any other time in history and up 100 million from last year. A child dies of malnutrition every six seconds despite the fact that the world produces more than enough food for everybody; cereals crops in 2009 are expected to be the second largest ever, after a record 2008.

As per the Indian stand the climate change and its adverse impact on foodgrains production, and food security in particular, would be aggressively taken up at the summit. Our agriculture minister would raise the issue of limitations of technology on increasing foodgrain production given the availability of land and water.

FAO had hoped to keep the momentum going and that leaders would commit to raising the percentage of official aid spent on agriculture to 17% back to the 1980 level from 5% now. That would amount to roughly $44 billion annually, instead of the $7.9 billion that is being spent now.

A comprehensive spectrum of measures to combat a scourge gravely exacerbated by climate change and population growth is needed. This includes food aid, safety nets, social protection, increased investments in agricultural development, better market access, and fairer trade for smallholder farmers, especially women.

Previous food summits and meetings have been long on rhetoric and short on concrete action, and whatever promises were made have gone largely unfulfilled. In 2000, world leaders subscribed to the UN Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of hungry people by 2015, and this Food Summit will reaffirm commitment to that target. Even UN officials acknowledge that aim will not be met anytime soon, with some pointing to mid-2040 at the earliest.

The argument is that there is enough availability of foodgrain and food in the world. However, it is skewed. Promoting investments and infrastructure development in agriculture sector should also be taken to the forefront. There is a need to step up investments in agriculture with the dual purpose of stimulating sustainable productivity increases to expand supply and of exploiting the potential of agriculture for contributing to economic development and poverty alleviation in the least developed countries.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bt Brinjal- The Indian Chapter

India’s biotechnology regulator Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), on October 14th gave its green signal to the environmental release of Bt brinjal, the first genetically modified food crop to be allowed in the country. With this, a debate has gripped the entire nation of whether or not to allow GM food crops as this could be a precedent for many other such crops.

Though GEAC has put its stamp on the crop, the final decision rests with the Union Environment Minister, Mr. Jairam Ramesh who has explicitly averred that the matter will be treated with no urgency and only after public deliberations will a final decision arise. However, apart from environment minister Jairam Ramesh’s nod, commercial cultivation of the genetically modified vegetable will require approvals from the ministries of agriculture and health and family welfare.

Currently, Bt cotton is the only genetically modified crop allowed for commercial cultivation and its introduction was prompted by its pests becoming increasingly resistant to pesticides. The commercial cultivation of Bt cotton has reportedly increased cotton yield from 308kg per hectare in 2001 to 508kg per hectare in 2006. The success of Bt cotton in India has in fact raised hopes for Bt brinjal as well. Although brinjal may not transform India’s fortune as was the case with Bt cotton, it might as well clear the deck for many such similar interventions.

The most prominent thing that irks the supporters as well as its critics is the absence of a labeling mechanism for foods in India. This will deprive the consumers to make an informed choice about the foods they consume. More over the labs in the country are not at present capable of identifying GM products, and there is also a big question hovering of who will regulate these products. Whether it will be the Ministry of Food, or will it be Health; Environment or Science and Technology or is there any other separate ministry to be formed in the future to look into the GM matters. Without a clear agreement on these issues, a decision cannot be arrived on this matter. But the time granted should be used constructively to assess the impact of the Bt Brinjal on the Socio – Economic tapestry of Indian Agriculture.

The ethical angle is going to be another major issue which is going to consume lot of newsprint in the coming months. Though scientific definitions may not delineate GM Brinjal as a vegetable with animal traits, to strict vegetarians willful mixing of bacterial genes may raise serious religious and sensitive issues. Cotton per se never faced this problem as cotton is not a food crop. Though sixty percent of the Cotton plant biomass is indirectly or directly linked to our food system, e.g. Cotton seed oil in our vanspati ghee or cotton leaves as fodder to goats and sheep, we have not yet been exposed to direct GM food crop like GM soybean or GM maize. Approval of GM Brinjal will open floodgates to most of them.

If the advisories of the companies are to be trusted, the transgenic vegetables are as safe as any vegetable available in the market, while Anti GM protesters paint a picture of a very gory world of Seed Corporations ruling the world. So where is the truth, may be somewhere in between. What can the Government do to inform the public, can we ask for every GM food be labeled like our green and red dotted foodstuffs? If after a period of 20 years, GM food is found to be dangerous, something like the discovery of toxicity of DDT after almost fifty years of indiscriminate use, will the mega corps pay for the clean up of whatever extent possible?

One obvious and unwanted fall out of this controversies are the misconceptions created in an uninitiated mind about the amazing science of biotechnology. This branch of genetic sciences has the capacity to change the world. We would definitely not have looked at a biotech Brinjal with suspicion, which produces insulin, or Vitamins, for example, instead of Bt Toxin. Valuable time and resources are being frittered out in search of finding a soybean which resists an herbicide rather than a soybean with double protein content. Maybe a corporation will not find it profitable but it could have gained a little more goodwill. Maybe government can take these initiatives and put forward legislatures to this effect.

- Anjana Nair-

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Talks beyond Copenhagen

The threat of climate change that led to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) at Rio, is perceived differently by different countries. Unsustainable consumption patterns of the rich industrialised nations are responsible for the threat of climate change. Only 25% of the global population lives in these countries, but they emit more than 70% of the total global CO2 emissions and consume 75 to 80% of many of the other resources of the world. The richer world accounts for over 50% of carbon emissions and China brings the proportion to over 70%. In contrast, India accounts for less than 5% of global emissions. In per capita terms, the disparities are also large: an Indian citizen emits less than 0.25 tonnes of Carbon per year whereas a citizen of the USA, for example, emits more than 5.5 tonnes.

Another theme of Indian analysts has been the lack of reliability of GHG emission estimates, particularly of methane. According to initial estimates, large emissions of methane from paddy fields were ascribed to developing countries. However, the empirical basis of these estimates was questioned; subsequently experimental measurements by Indian researchers showed these doubts to be well-founded. Many Scientists and policymakers belonging to developing Nations argue that emissions by poor who live on the margin of subsistence should be considered a basic human right and should not be counted when ascribing responsibilities for emission reduction.

These facts have delayed any sort of effective international agreement on how to deal with the problem. In the case of the Montreal Protocol covering ozone-depleting substances, there was a wide consensus and effective action was mobilised quickly. Thus, an understanding of perceptions and positions of different countries makes it easier to explore possibilities of effective action.

Even in recently released IFPRI report, it’s clearly elucidated that agriculture is extremely vulnerable to climate change, because farming is so weather-dependent and small-scale farmers in developing countries will suffer the most. During the same phase, we are witnessing unsounding price rise, with substantial reduction on production fronts and weather aberration in the form of late or, almost failed rains/ monsoon, flood and deluge in rainfed and dry areas. Lastly, the study has called for an additional annual investment of $7 billion in agricultural productivity to help farmers adapt to climate change.

India’s perceptions on the problem of climate change and sustainable development; the kind of negotiating positions that follow from these perceptions; the policies India has undertaken so far and finally India’s possibilities for action that can help contain the threat of climate change.

Minister of state for environment and forests, Jairam Ramesh scotched speculation that India was softening its stand by allowing international verification of its steps for climate change mitigation or by agreeing to international commitment for quantified cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. India has always opposed the “full stop” word from its climate change talks.

India has insisted that the measures it undertakes, as part of its domestic measures to counter climate change, will not be subject to international verification and reporting, unless it is funded internationally or uses technology received from abroad, like the world’s industrialized counterparts claiming to have taken all efforts to reduce the emission caps and mitigation measures, but denies any the right to be questioned or scrutinized.

There should also be consideration towards the common but differentiated responsibilities of different countries. As such, mitigation by India in two or three decades is neither necessary nor sufficient to arrest global warming and its consequence according to many experts in the field.

The argument that mitigation is not feasible without India's participation is thus political. As a bargaining tactic, the United States Congress refuses to undertake internationally-mandated mitigation obligations unless India accepts them.

There is a need for an equitable and efficient solution to climate change, so that efficiency can be obtained through a system of tradeable emission quotas and equity through equal allocation of global environmental space to all human beings. Therefore, in so far as the impact of human activity on global warming, rains, floods, sea levels and hurricanes in two to three decades is concerned, the die is already cast. So, it is time to act and further the talk on equity and sustainable basis, which should be acceptable to all partners across the globe and economic classes. Negotiations leading up to the climate change conference in Copenhagen in December are deadlocked on the question of similar demands on developing nations.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

SONEPUR FAIR- fair of fairs

Sonepur Mela/ Fair is one of largest cattle fairs of the world. It is a historical and ancient event celebrated every year on bank of pious confluence of Gandak and the Ganges river, on the back drop of Harihar Nath Temple. On Kartik Purnima lakhs of devotees flock to offer prayer at this temple after taking a holy dip in the river. It is one of the biggest and most colorful cattle fairs in the region. During the month-long fair, visitors travel from miles around to view, barter and trade cattle, horses and elephants. Melas or fairs in Bihar are a common sight. The big fairs in Bihar include the melas of Rajgir near Patna, mela in Patna city, the melas in Jahanabad, in Gaya, Buxar and Sasaram in Shahabad, Revelganj in Saran, Bettiah in Champaran, Sitamarhi, Darbhanga and of course the Sonepur mela. Among all these, the Sonepur mela is the most famous and the oldest not only in Bihar but probably the whole of Asia. The Sonepur mela is held here on a sprawling 200 acres of land for a period of 21 days from Govt. side, but continue upto one and half month by the private stakeholders.

Historical Importance: The Sonepur mela has a profound historic grandeur. It was here at Sonepur in 1888, the first meeting of the “Indian Association of Cow Protection” seminar took place. It was here at the Sonepur mela that the freedom fighter Veer Kunwar Singh took the occasion of the assembly to actively recruit and inspire the people for fighting against the British imperialism both before and during the First Indian was of Independence in 1857. The cover of Sonepur mela led to the main launch of the struggle movement against the British in Bihar. The Provincial Congress Committee of Bihar and the Bihar Kisan Sabha also used this mela and the gathering as a recruitment ground. That is why Sonepur mela was considered a political hotbed during the colonial rule by the British and kept a watchful eye. According to the travelogue of a British administrative officer, W W Hynter, in 1919, the Sonepur mela used to be held in over 43 villages in the past. As per sources, the mela venue in the past also used to serve as a prime place for freedom movement. In fact, the fair was for the first time held on the Hajipur side around the 16th century. Later, the mela was shifted to the Sonepur side at the initiative of the then British officials to suppress the freedom movement.

Tracing the Roots: Sonepur mela has its origins during ancient times. This is where Chandragupta Maurya used to buy elephants and horses across the river Ganges from Patliputra (Patna of ancient times). The Sonepur Cattle Fair once used to attract traders from places as distant as Central Asia. Now Sonepur mela is one of the biggest and the world’s greatest fair. It takes place annually, 35 kilometres from Patna, the capital of Bihar. Sonepur mela is held for 21 days in the month of November (from around 5th-6th).

It even has a legendary tale attached to it. Many believe that a struggle took place at this spot in Sonepur between the ruler of Gandharva, Huhu and Indraya muni; ultimately Lord Vishnu helping the weaker latter. That is why there is a vast gathering of devotees gathered at the confluence for the two holy rivers for the blessed dip at the adjacent “Harihar Nath temple” on the full moon day (Kartik Purnima). Many believe that Lord Ram established the temple on his way to Lanka.

The temple of Harihar Nath is believed to have been originally built by Lord Rama, on his way to the court of King Janak to win the hand of Mata Sita. It is further said that Raja Man Singh later got the temple repaired. The Harihar Nath temple, as it stands today, was built by Raja Ram Narain, an influential person during the late Mughal period. Gajendhra Moksha legend is associated with the temple in Sonepur. It involves the story of king Indra Yamuna and the Gandharva chief Huhu, who were turned into an elephant and a crocodile respectively by the curse of great sages Agasthya and Dewala Muni. One day the elephant's leg was bitten by the crocodile. It is said that both of them fought hard for many years with their herds. But ultimately the King Elephant lost his strength and prayed to the Supreme God Vishnu (Hari) to save him. Vishnu heard his prayer and cut down the crocodile with his Chakra. But the touch of the chakra released Huhu from the curse. Vishnu also released Indra Yamuna from his curse and took him to his aboard Vaikuntha.

As per the tradition, lakhs of people assemble at different ghats of Harihar Kshetra at Hajipur and Sonepur on the eve of "Kartik Purnima" and take holy dip at the confluence of the Ganga, the Gandak and the Mehi rivers. The devotees offer "Gangajal" to the Hariharnath temple and this ritual marks the beginning of the Sonepur mela. The locals regard that a dip here at this confluence of the 2 rivers is equivalent to giving away of 100 cows. However, it now attracts people from all geographical and religious diversity from the Punjab and Kashmir to Bhutan and Kerala. During the British Raj, merchants from Afghanistan and Britain used to attend. Originally, the venue of the fair was Hajipur and only the performance of the puja used to take place at the Harihar Nath temple of Sonepur. However, under the rule of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, the venue of the fair got shifted to Sonepur.

Major Attractions: The sprawling mela ground here with the pulsating market has the widest possible range of cattle and commodities. At the Sonepur mela one can buy almost anything. The array of shops sells all sorts of merchandise. Numerous stalls and movable shops/ exhibitions are also set up at the Fair. Temporary shops selling household goods, local and branded clothing and commercial merchandise are also up for sale. You will find a wide variety of goods in these stalls, ranging from garments, to weapons and furniture to toys, eatables, mainly the loca delicacies of Papdi, Khazoor and Halwa, utensils and agricultural implements to jewelry and handicrafts. Not to forget the food lovers, it’s absolutely divine.

But don’t panic if you’re not in the market for a new animal as there are plenty of other attractions and entertainments on offer at this pulsating festival; visitors can simply browse through the many market stalls or enjoy live music, traditional dancing, storytelling, carnival acts and regional food and drink specialities. Various folk shows, games and jugglers can be seen in the fair. Handicrafts, paintings and pottery not only from famous Madhubani but all over India can be seen here. All varieties of horticulture can be admired; this is a particular feast for the people of Bihar as it’s a major opportunity to enhance their gardens.

Many entertainment programmes are also organized alongside, by the Govt. / district authorities/ Mela Committee and the private persons. 3-4 Circuses, 5 night theatres, local folks and song & dance shows, death well/ Maut ka Kuan, swings and much more can be relished not only by children and teenagers, but also the adults. One can enjoy the mela 24X7, as even the whole night the theatres shows/ are on upto the sun rise. The theatres, Gulab, Shobha, Gulab-Vikas etc are my favourites. The performances are favulous and the dancers are well professionals to the core.

In recent years, government and several companies have started installing their shops to promote their products and services. It even runs health camps for the wellbeing of animals specially elephants. Animal farmers, circus entertainers, traders and individuals come for a bargain. Some come for the sheer entertainment and a family day out that it provides. Alogside, the Mela, Krishi mela is also organized to educate and expose farmers about new and emerging product and services in agriculture. Govt and private players exhibit their products and services to the masses, so the fair is not only animal fair in itself, it means beyond a world for the regular visitors. The Sonepur fair become a very part of life of the local people, either from the town / rural areas.

Another major attraction is the sight of numerous elephants, beautifully decorated for the purpose of sale. The area that attracts all, however, is the one where elephants are lined up for sale. The Sonepur Fair is the only one where such a large number of elephants are sold. These are purchased mainly by forest departments and people involved with logging operations. Apart from elephants, a large number of cattle and horses are also brought to the fair for sale. Nearly all animals can be seen at the Sonepur mela from all breeds of dogs to camels to buffaloes, donkeys, ponies, monkeys, chimps, Persian horses, sheep, rabbits, bears, cats, and guinea pigs. All varieties of birds, poultry and fishes are also available. The Sonepur mela specialises in the sale of every type of bird and animal, big or small.

Organizer : The Mela is administered by Chhapra District Administrator with due support from Vaishali administration and Govt. of Bihar. The promotion of Mela is done by the Tourism Ministry of Bihar. The administration arranges sanitation, drinking water facilities, health and welfare camps for the visitors. The fair is well supported by BIHAR Tourism ministry to give its wide coverage among the foreign tourists and domestic travelers/ fair-goers.

The Magical Feast : Even special arrangements are made for the accommodation at the sandy riverlands/ diara with royal ecstasy made of crop stubbles and other residues following pucca desi format. With the riverside breeze blowing gently at night, make the atmosphere very serene. Open fooding facilities/ restaurant and boating & swimming is encouraged during the evening and night. Its not less than a Brazil/ Australian Beach or, even our own Goa Beach counterpart for the duration.

Coverage: Sonepur Mela gets very wide publicity in media world wide. Foreign news agencies provide good coverage of all the activities. A good number of foreign tourists flock to catch the show and visiting the nearby places of importance like, Vaishali; Mahavir’s Birthplace and Buddha’s too stayed here, Rajgir, Nalanda University ruins, Bodhgaya and many a lot to mention here. During my childhood (early 90’s), when I used to visit the fair, a good number of foreign fair-goers, not less than 4-5k, visits here. But, with the time the changes in administration and the local Govt., things were not at the same as it was earlier. However, recently with the change in command with Mr. Nitish Kumar at the helm, everybody expects the turnaround of BIHAR and the Mela as well.

How to reach Sonepur Mela: Sonepur is 25 kilometers from Patna, the capital city of Bihar and well connected by all the routes of air (Patna), trains/ railways (Hajipur- 5 kms/ Patna- 25kms) and road via Patna/ Chapra the UP and Delhi route. By Air you have to reach Patna airport. By Rail you have to board a rail to Patna or Hajipur station. From Patna or Hajipur you can hire taxi/auto for Sonepur Mela. Many buses are also plying between Patna and Hajipur and Rickshaws / Auto etc are available at the very reasonable rates. It will take just 20 minutes ride to reach the mela and on the way you can catch the small township of HAJIPUR, beautiful bank/ ghats of Gandak river and the more than 150 year old British made Steel bridge.

Air: Take a flight to Patna airport and book in a hotel.

Rail: Alternatively get to Patna Station and stay at one of the below hotels.

Also could go to Hajipur that is the nearest railway station.

From Patna you could hire a taxi (autos, the famous 3 wheeler) from the railway station or board regular plying buses connecting the towns anywhere, that will take you across the Ganges to the Sonepur mela.

Some good hotels include;

Hotel Maurya: South Gandhi, Maidan Patna, Patna, Bihar (5 star)

Samrat International: Fraser Road, Patna, Bihar (3 Star)

Patliputra Ashoka: Beer Chand Patel Path, Patna, Bihar (2 Star)

Chanakya: Bir Chand Patel Path, Patna, Bihar (4 Star)

Kautilya Vihar: Beer Chand Patel Path, Patna (Govt. owned)

Hotel Republic: Exhibition Road, Patna, Bihar (2 Star)

Hotel President: Frazer Road, Patna, Bihar (2 Star)

Or, if you prefer you could check in some smaller hotels in and around the Patna railway station, such as Marwari Awas Griha (Near the D-Lal retail shop near Dak Banglow), Hotel Bhagwat, Station road, Karbighaiya or, many smaller ones at Hajipur/ Sonepur.

Challenges: The Sonepur mela is losing its sheen gradually due to the rapid urbanization, rise of local permanent markets, mall couture, apathetic attitude of the state government and no support from the GoI, particularly the Ministry of Tourism. It can be declared a heritage, seeing its glorious history and bonds with the local populace and fair-goers. The arrival of cattle, particularly, elephants is going poor over the time. The ban on sale of elephants has badly affected the fair. Some relaxation over regulations needed to keep alive the traditional and ancient pomp of the fair in this time of Malls and television. When, people like to stay in and enjoy the dull and moron life. Hopefully, the time you visit the Sonepur fair, it may kindle some of the things, I scribed here. So, overall the fair is a lifetime experience, if you go and visit there with a positive mindset and a good company, one who knows the place well. It will surely prove a treat to your eyes and savour to your heart.

- Abid Hussain-