Friday, December 17, 2010

India urgently needs a new Green Revolution

Agriculture has an importance in India out of all proportion to its 15 percent contribution to Gross Domestic Product, which nevertheless absorbs at least 40 percent of the workforce (not to mention the centuries of rural tradition lying behind it). Everybody talks about the role of globalization and software in opening up the Indian economy in the last two decades but would economic takeoff have been possible without the Green Revolution?

But the Green Revolution has since run out of steam with India losing its self-sufficiency in food (apart from rice and wheat) since 2005 (India was a net food exporter until then). If nearly half the population is needed for less than a fifth of output, a second Green Revolution to snap India out of primitive subsistence agriculture would seem to be urgent. Or is it — might it not be that India deliberately tolerates the inefficiencies of an overmanned agriculture in order to keep them down on the farm as a lesser evil to swamping already overcrowded cities?

Last month the Herald put these questions to the Agriculture Ministry’s Mukesh Khullar in his office in Krishi Bhavan (the Ministry building) in the heart of New Delhi.

Khullar did not hesitate in replying that a new Green Revolution cannot be postponed despite any possible social disruption — with food security a global issue, India owed it to both itself and the world to realize its full economic potential and dramatically raise productivity. Everything else was simply growing too fast — the economy, the population (which could reach 1.5 billion people within the next generation) and demand for more and better food from that population. Even a totally successful second Green Revolution could not avert the need to increase food imports from countries like Argentina because of the explosive growth of demand at every level. In particular, an agriculture based on a vegetarian culture is not used to producing proteins and here Argentina could come in very handy (this year’s intensified imports of soy oil from here has been joined by an incipient interest in lentils).

Yet even without a new Green Revolution or economies of scale, Indian agriculture is not to be despised. Its total grain harvest of 260 million tons almost trebles Argentina’s on only around 25 percent more land while its cattle population of 282 million head vastly outnumbers ours (not in quality though) — India is the world’s third-largest producer of agricultural commodities (number one in rice, tea and milk). This does not necessarily establish Indian agriculture as more efficient but rather goes to show that with ample sun and monsoon rain, India is naturally far more fertile than even the fabled pampas — apart from the structural bottlenecks, the main barrier to India being the world’s food basket is that it already houses a sixth of the world. India and Argentina are very different in agricultural as well as other aspects but the two countries could learn much from each other, says the Foreign Ministry’s Dammu Ravi (Joint Secretary Latam & Caribbean Division).

Even without maximizing agricultural potential with a new Green Revolution, only two percent of the food being produced now is processed and that is the key to improving efficiency while keeping them down on the farm in Kullar’s view — bring in food-processing companies (whether multinationals or local agri-businesses) to produce at source, offering them free land and tax holidays in areas of high rural unemployment with the short-term aim of creating 10 million jobs.

Some experts think that the potential for food processing is so huge that agriculture could return to being a third of the economy despite such rapid growth in the two other sectors (especially services) — agri-business has clocked 20 percent growth per annum in recent years and there are hopes of trebling its volume by 2015. Even riddled with poverty, inefficiency and substandard yields, Indian agriculture could still be a vibrant player in globalization. Because of the immense cultural and political importance of the rural world, agri-business is a priority for the government and perhaps more deregulation work awaits here than in the rest of the economy.

Khullar does not only look to food-processing industries and agri-business to integrate rural communities into a globalized world — various services could be extended to villages with investment in education, human resources and new skills. There is an enthusiasm for introducing professional management into farming like the rest of the economy, turning farmers into shareholders — this actually seems to appeal more to the peasant mentality than co-operatives. Khullar feels that the ancient traditions can be overcome far more rapidly with modern communications — television and telephones make a huge difference. The new communications technology will also make it easier to educate people in villages, instead of forcing them to urbanize.

Credit and infrastructure are also crucial — India has already been successful in providing electricity generation and Indian ingenuity is starting to come up with new ways of making agriculture more water-efficient, such as micro-irrigation and techniques of harvesting rice without the traditional flooding. All these policies need to be implemented in not only an intelligent but also region-specific way with regard to the available technologies.

Yet in these days of worldwide concern about climate change, India cannot simply let rip with agricultural development — some very strange things have been happening in Indian weather recently such as droughts in lushly green Bihar and Assam and downpours in arid Rajasthan. Thus the concept of sustainable agriculture was at the heart of the Biennial Agro Technology & Business Fair held last week in Chandigarh, ensuring that agro-chemicals and fertilizers are placed under ecological stewardship.

The net result of all these changes would not be to shrink rural population or overcrowd the cities but to reduce pure farmers to around 10 percent of the population with the rest in related activities — those with skills would continue to migrate but there should be no need to force anybody to leave. This transformation would require 20-25 years in Khullar’s opinion.

Is it possible for an economic transformation which owes so much to the private sector to modernize agriculture without affecting property rights, the Herald asked? This was a tricky question, Khullar agreed — this involved not only questioning the efficiency of smallholder production but also the quantity of land left idle by rich landlords in states like Bihar. But one thing is clear in Khullar’s mind — change is both urgent and possible but he draws the line at modernization at the cost of social disruption.

Perhaps agriculture is as good an example as any of India’s knack for turning its problems into opportunities.

Horticulture : A Key to All Round Growth of Agriculture

Horticulture is perhaps the most profitable venture of all farming activities as it provides ample employment opportunities and scope to raise the income of the farming community. It also has tremendous potential to push the overall agriculture growth to more than the targetted 4 per cent.

The climatic conditions prevailing in our country are favourable for a large number of horticulture crops such as fruits, vegetables, roots and tuber crops, ornamental, medicinal and aromatic plants. Production of horticultural crops has witnessed a significant improvement over the years, of the 11 per cent of the total cropped area, horticulture accounts for about 28 per cent of agriculture GDP in India.

India ranks second in the global production of fruits and vegetables next to China. It’s share in the World fruit and vegetable production is about 9.2 per cent and 9.24 per cent respectively. India is the largest producer of mango, banana, sapota and acid lime and has the highest productivity of grapes per unit area in the World. Despite this, India’s share in fruits and vegetables trade in the World is very low.

The Government has taken many initiatives to boost horticulture sector in the country. These include National Horticulture Mission (NHM), National Horticulture Board, Technology Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture in North-East and Himalayan States and financial assistance to private sector and Government agencies to set up post-harvest infrastructure such as warehouses and cold storages etc.

At present, 371 districts in 18 States and 3 Union Territories are covered under the National Horticulture Mission. Apart from States and Union Territories, 13 National Level Agencies have been included for providing support to the developmental efforts which require inputs at the national level.

The total approved outlay for the National Horticulture Mission for the 11th Plan is Rs. 8809 crore. Out of this, an amount of Rs. 3200 crore has been spent during first 3 years of the Plan. NHM is a centrally sponsored scheme in which the Centre’s contribution is 85 per cent and the remaining 15 per cent is met by State Governments. Production of planting material, vegetable seed, seed infrastructure in public and private sector, establishment of new gardens in farmers’ land, rejuvenation/replacement of senile plantation, technology dissemination through front line demonstrations, post-harvest management etc., are covered under the scheme.

From 2010-11 the National Horticulture Mission guidelines have been revised to accommodate new interventions such as High Density Plantations, mushroom cultivation, horticulture mechanisation, and certification of good agricultural practices. Cost norms of some of the activities like setting up of nurseries, area expansion and protected cultivation have been enhanced to provide better incentives to the farmers adopting improved technologies. The cost norms and assistance for post-harvest management have been enhanced and new components introduced to encourage private sector participation in creating NHM infrastructure.

States have also been advised to ensure holistic development of horticulture sector by convergence of schemes implemented by other Government Departments. At the national level, efforts are being made to ensure convergence by dovetailing the resources of the concerned Departments viz. ICAR for research, Ministry of Food Processing Industries for coordinated development of Agri Export Zone (AEZ) for horticultural crops and Department of Rural Development with Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme and also for providing road connectivity to the crop clusters in the NHM districts. At the level of the Ministry of Agriculture, convergence is ensured with the scheme on micro-irrigation, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna (RKVY) and Watershed Development Programmes.

During 2005-09, 2192 new nurseries have been set up. Additional area of about 16.57 lakh hectares was brought under new gardens of various horticultural crops. 2.78 lakh hectare of old and senile orchards was rejuvenated to enhance productivity. An area of 1.37 lakh hectare was covered under organic farming. Integrated Nutrient Management (INM) and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) were adopted in 7.48 lakh hectare apart from setting up of 66 disease forecasting units, 78 bio-control laboratories, 98 plant health clinics and 67 leaf/tissue analysis laboratories.

Funds have been provided for setting up of 1093 pack houses, 285 cold storage units, 14 refrigerated vans and 264 mobile/primary processing units, under post harvest management. Nine wholesale markets and 163 rural markets have been set up to ensure proper handling and marketing of agricultural produce. Apart from this, 7.74 lakh farmers have been trained under various horticultural activities.

As per mid-term evaluation study conducted by the National Productivity Council during 2007-08, area under horticultural crops increased by 12.4 per cent. According to the study, availability of planting material has also improved substantially in almost all the States. In addition, 190 million man days employment opportunities have been generated and organic farming has been gaining popularity.

Under the new component of Terminal Market Complex (TMC), which envisages a hub and spoke model for the development of markets under PPP, one TMC has been approved for Patna in Bihar during the current financial year with NHM subsidy of Rs. 33 crore. Three such TMCs have also been approved in Maharashtra, Orissa and Tamil Nadu.

The projected production of horticultural crops during 2009-10 has gone up to 226.87 million tonnes. It includes 73.53 million tonne of fruits and 136.19 million tonne of vegetables from an area of about 21 million hectares. The growth rate in horticulture production between 2004-05 and 2008-09 has been to the tune of 7.2 per cent.

Cultivation of horticultural crops is now increasingly becoming an option to improve livelihood security, enhance employment generation, to attain food and nutritional security, and increase income through value addition. Cost of horticulture products being less than half of those in other parts of the World due to relatively cheap and skilled manpower, Indian farmers are in an advantageous position to exploit the untapped potential.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

US promises not so (ever) green revolution

Mr Obama’s stupendous Indian visit during Diwali had caught the limelight of the whole world for almost a month. But here, the issue is: what does US President Barack Obama's visit connote for agriculture in India? US President expressed that US and India can accelerate cooperation in agriculture and it is the US to learn lessons from India in irrigation systems and low-cost farm machinery. He also interacted through video conferencing with a group of farmers and villagers of Kanpura village of Ajmer in Rajasthan, at the agriculture and food security expo organized by CII. Mr Obama appreciated ICAR, the apex public organization looking after the affairs of agriculture in the country and its work for the farming community.

The Obama regime has maintained continuity with the preceding Bush regime in the basic thrust of USA’s relations with India in agriculture. And keeping this in mind well in advance of the Obama visit, a meeting of the “U.S.-India Agriculture Dialogue Steering Committee” took place in New Delhi with high level experts from both the sides. The Committee reportedly met to identify areas of cooperation for working groups on “Strategic Cooperation” in agriculture and food security; food processing; farm-to-market linkages and agricultural extension; and crop and weather forecasting. The present set of negotiations are only aimed at operationalising the India-US MOU for Cooperation in Agriculture and Food Security, which was signed shrouded in the veil of secrecy well in advance of the Obama visit.

It is only to take forward the vision that brought into existence the India-US Knowledge Initiatives in Agriculture (KIA). But have such initiatives ever led to anything worthwhile? We have already witnessed the debacle of KIA, which had come to an end on 31 March 2010, and all set to get a three-year extension as the Agriculture Ministry had taken up the issue with the US authorities after the five-year-old initiative ended in March. This is despite the Parliament Standing Committee on Agriculture asking the Agriculture Ministry to review the implementation and achievements of the initiative. Very little came out of that agreement and President Obama is likely to re-energise the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture. Since the agreement is facing un-surmountable hurdles because of the inability of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) to pay for staff travels and technologies being imported, it is likely that the U.S. would push through more collaboration in agricultural scientific research through the US-India Strategic Dialogue.

The joint statement from the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Us President Obama suggests that the agenda is far-reaching and open-ended. The collaboration will, it is claimed,

(i) develop, test, and replicate transformative technologies to extend food security as part of an Evergreen Revolution,

(ii) be in the areas of weather and crop forecasting system, improvement in the food processing and crop productivity, and optimum uses of natural resources like water and

(iii) enhance the agricultural value chain and strengthen market institutions to reduce post-harvest crop losses.

While collaboration in farm research will pave the way for the entry of US agribusiness multinationals, especially companies like Monsanto and Du Pont, the thrust of the US talks is going to be an opening of the food retail and insurance sector. A few weeks back, President Obama had expressed hope that India would allow FDI in big retail. Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar, too, has been pushing for FDI in a big way and Ministry for Commerce had even set up a small committee to prepare the ground for its entry.

But if the supermarkets were so efficient and provided dynamism, then why is the US providing a massive subsidy for agriculture? After all, the world’s biggest retail giant Wal-Mart is based in America and it should have helped American farmers to become economically viable. But it did not happen. American farmers have instead been bailed out by the government, providing a subsidy of Rs. 12.50 lakh crore between 1995 and 2009, and this includes direct income support. India is, therefore, importing a failed economic model, which would only help the economic recovery of America, and not serve any cause of the beleaguered Indian farmers and the agricultural situation.

Food Management in India

Alien models won't work

- Neehar Ranjan Pandey

In a recently released paper titled "The Economics of Foodgrain Management in India" the chief economic adviser in ministry of finance, Prof Kaushik Basu, has made certain interesting observations. He has been particularly harsh, and rightly so, on the procurement and delivery aspect of the government's foodgrain policy.

It has been pointed out that during the past one year or so, in spite of our food stock continuing to be massive, food prices have been high, meaning thereby that our foodgrain procurement and distribution policy is flawed and has failed to serve farmers and consumers both.

Over dependence on agriculture

Prof Basu underscores the fact that 15% of the notional income comes from agriculture, while close to 60% of India's labour force lives off agriculture, to claim that we have created special incentives which hold back large segments of the population in agriculture, instead of allowing them to move out to industry and manufacturing. However, this line of reasoning is an over-simplification. People in rural areas are stuck in the agriculture sector, not because the government has provided them with spectacular incentives, but simply for lack of any worthwhile options to do something else. There is little opportunity in villages and small towns due to almost non-existent industrialisation. Given the fact that our cities are also teeming with migrant population, the best possible way to reduce excess dependence of the population on agriculture is to somehow explore possibilities of creating sufficient opportunities in rural and semi-urban areas.

Possibilities of establishing new industries in small towns and villages can only be brightened up, if we are able to provide proper infrastructure, including enough power, to sustain industrial activity. Towards this end, the recently launched National Solar Mission could turn out to be a game changer, provided the proposed 5MW solar power projects are evenly distributed across the country. In this context, in the larger interest of the country, we must shed our preference for a tariff-discount-based regime while sanctioning these projects, and instead, strive to cover the entire rural landscape to provide power all across the country.

Release of foodgrain to poor

While criticism of the government's existing policy to hold and release foodgrain is understandable to an extent, it seems that the true import of the recent popular demand (subsequently endorsed by the Supreme Court) to release the grain, rather than letting it rot, to the poor has not been appreciated. The apprehension that the demand might have an important design aspect to it, a part of this food might be resold to the government through the procurement window at a profit, is largely misplaced. No one is asking the government to supply foodgrain to whosoever comes to collect it. Instead, the demand is to distribute foodgrain to the poorest of poor, even at a nominal cost, which otherwise is rotting in godowns.

Prof Basu is right when he lists "maintenance of buffer to hold down prices during food shortages" and "making sure that the poor and vulnerable have access to food at all times" as the two features of his ideal foodgrain policy. However, if it is so, how can the government of a welfare state be a silent spectator when the poor do not get enough food at affordable rates, while FCI storage facilities are overflowing? Further, it must be kept in mind that the two stated objectives are exclusive to each other: release to hold down prices and feeding the poor must be seen and tackled as two different problems, requiring separate solutions.

It is a fact that while we have steadily procured foodgrain, releasing it when the need arises has left a lot to be desired. Prof Basu recommends buying more when prices are low and selling more when prices are high. While the point is well taken, we have also to remember that the government fixes an MSP not only for the purposes of buying to shore up its buffer, but also to provide protection to an ordinary farmer. If the market rates of foodgrain start falling below a certain level, the farmer can always turn to the government and sell his produce at MSP. Therefore, the food procurement mechanism serves a useful welfare purpose as well. Keeping in view all this, we have to take into account a delicate balance of necessity to create a buffer, protecting farmers' interests and objective to keep prices down to an acceptable level, while formulating a market intervention policy.

In this context, the suggestion offered that a ready set of rules of how and when to release foodgrain, a kind of standard operating procedure (SOP) must be in place needs to be pursued with vigour. If prices are rising, there has to be a rule about automatic release of food, that too in small batches, preferably to each district of the targeted area, rather than rushing to seek approval of cabinet committees. Further, in this context, more private participation should be encouraged, with government's role limited to ensure affordability only.

Release mechanism

However, it is in his views on release mechanism of the foodgrain to poor, one can sense that the chief economic adviser has not appreciated the peculiarity of our country in proper perspective. Prof Basu is of the opinion that the food subsidy should be handed over directly to the poor by way of food coupons to be used as money to buy food from any store. The store owner can take the coupon to any bank and change it back to cash. Since buyers will have right to go to any store they will go to stores that charge the most competitive prices and assured quality. It is also suggested that the government can go one step further and usher in direct cash transfer to the poor.

While the suggested model might work in urban areas, it certainly is unworkable in villages, at least in the current scenario. Well, for starters, where are multiple food stores in rural India which will facilitate choices to rural folk? Further, the question still remains that whether the government can restrict its role in providing food security to the poor and vulnerable by simply handing them over money; or does it also need to ensure availability of food in those areas? Taking the proposal of the chief economist forward, can tomorrow the government say that since it has provided the rural population with medical allowances, it does not have any stakes towards ensuring adequate health care facilities in the villages, and let the market forces take care of their needs?

The pitfall in applying internationally successful schemes in India, without proper adaptation, is that one tends to forget complete absence of the so-called market forces in areas inhabited by very large number of deprived people. The government, at the present level of development, cannot disassociate itself from its commitment to ensure food for all by leaving everything to the market.

Instead, the key lies in revamping our delivery mechanism. Let us accept that our public distribution system has not lived up to expectations due to variety of reasons. Not only is there a need to revamp it, but we should also explore other possibilities to reach food to the poor. One possible way could be through NREGS: some part of daily wages in respect of BPL population may be given in the form of foodgrain. After all, if the scheme can be trusted to successfully deliver cash to the poor, it can surely be used to deliver foodgrain as well.

Besides, that would also insure at least part of the wages against inflation. For people above poverty line, the need of the hour is a major overhaul of PDS network utilising the coming UID numbers, coupled with enhanced participation of private traders and gradual withdrawal of the government.

Finally, while there can be no denial that there is a need to have more liberalised policy in place, we must remember to adjust theories of economics to explain life, rather than somehow trying to fit real life in to the theory. After all, for about two decades now, the poor are still waiting for that promised fruit of economic prosperity that was supposed to trickle down, to reach them.

(The author is a deputy secretary in the finance ministry. The views are his own.)

Courtesy: TOI, Dated Nov 26, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

MFI in crisis, at the moment
With the sacking of Gurumani, CEO of SKS MicroFinance and the change in guard has become headline for many Business dailies and thw matter is yet to be settled with it going to the court. And many of the clarifications issued on behalf of SKS, but the things are far from the pacification mode and raised the very doubts of orivate sector's participation in the financing, that too at the ground level to the naive and illiterate people. For another jolt as a reverberation of almost the same event, the Andhra Govt vowed to make the days harder for the institutions, due to many fradulant practices and wrongful way of recovery. AP is only considered as the birthplace of MF activities in recent past and then later only the movment has further moved to other parts of Eastern & Southern India, where these agengies almost become moving force for the small and marginal farmers and rural artisans. MFIs might have transformed many a lives but the apprehensions can't be denied on any account, as there is mushrooming of the MFI all throughout, without any Govt watchdog and, exclusive legislation for nailing down the guilty, in case of defaults and fradulent reports. Earlier NGOs did the same and now the practice has been extended to the MFIs but this case may prove to be another stint of mass-suicides, on par with Vidarbha and many other drier tracts of the country.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Chak-de India" style win for the Hockey men's team...

The Semis b/w England vs India started on a good usual note and some good feeling after first GOAL from Indian side, then mum for some time, but the rival team equalled the score just before the half time. Initial 2nd half witnessed continuous 2 goals from the visiting team and the pressure, surmounted the redemption from Indian side. And the Home team pounced back with 2 field goals (all other GOALS (3-England & 1-India, are scored of penalty) within the time interval of last 10 min to end. Thus the levelled scores led to 3-3 by the completion of the stipulated time. Extra time of 15 mins, was unable to yield anything for both the sides. The final decision referred to Penalty Shootout for the possible outcome and lo, it is victorious INDIAN team, backed on the shoulder of Bharat Chhetri and all the penalty shooters, scoring 5/5 against the 4/5 of the rival.

Great performance added with team-work yielded the feat, other than Chhetri's extraordinary game save...

Jai Ho!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

at its low

At last the agrochemical major Dow Agro Sciences (DAS), a subsidiary of Dow Chemical of the US has faced the ire of Agriculture Ministry, with imposition of ban on all its commercial activity, which excluded it from the purchase of pesticides for the next five years for unlawful practice of bribing Indian officials. It bribed the officials to expedite the approval of three of its substandard pesticides. The three pesticides were identified as Dursban 10G, Nurelle-D and Pride, used for controlling of pests of crop like cotton and oilseeds.

But the action followed after a lot of dilly dally by the Agri Ministry, when it is asked by the GoM, looking into the Bhopal Gas tragedy sought to know the status of the show-cause notice. The ministry, in its response, cited the result of the CBI probe into the case, and its recommendation that the firm be blacklisted. In an effort to cover all its flanks, the agriculture ministry had, before issuing the show-cause notice, also sought the views of the law ministry. The later, in its response, asked it to take the registration committee on board. The direct role of ministry in the whole accreditation and certification process should be investigated to look for the bigger fishes, pursuing corrupt and unethical practices by dint of position and government office.

In June, the agriculture ministry issued a show cause notice, asking why Dow should not be blacklisted for having indulged in unethical practices. The ministry also asked the registration committee of Central Insecticide Board and Registration Committee (CIBRC) to review the registration of these three pesticides afresh. Since DAS India has not presented and justified its position to the notice in a meaningful and appropriate reply, the action followed.

The charge sheet was filed on the basis of information furnished by the US authorities to the Indian government in response to a letter rogatory. Is the Indian government and ministry gone so hapless and toeing the US lines that only after action from a foreign soil and influence it gets charged. The US Securities Exchange Commission (SEA) had indicted Dow AgroSciences long ago in 2007 and fined Dow Chemical $325,000 for bribing the officials in India, and charged the company of violations under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for letting its subsidiary use funds for illegal activities.

The CBI team investigating the case had earlier found out that Ratan Lal Rajak, a former plant protection advisor to the government, and his aides had been paid $32,000 in cash and jewellery, while their travel and hotel expenses were also picked up by Dow Agro Sciences, and at that time it was being known by the name of DE-Nocil Crop Protection Ltd. It later filed chargesheets against Rajak and a middleman, identified only as Satyabroto Banerjee, in the court of a special judge in Ambala (Haryana) for accepting bribes from Dow Agro. Mr Kevin Aden, the then managing director of Dow Agro, a British citizen was also mentioned in the charge sheet for corrupt deals.

The ban has unearthed many of the truths behind the approval and the licence-permit raj, prevalent in the ministry and Indian government. The jurisprudence observed in this case, is the height of maneuverality, as the company in question instead of responding to the notice, questioned the government’s jurisdiction in seeking action against it. The multinational has even employed stalling tactics, as per an anonymous ministry official, but the company directly refutes the charges leveled for. In many other countries also, Dow Chemicals is facing the ban and penalty for its unscrupulous and unethical activity, like in US fined $2 million by the New York Attorney General for falsely advertising the safety of chlorpyrifos.

Many other corporations and multinationals too have very dubious accounts on many of the fronts for their substandard products, particular the agri inputs, i.e. seeds, pesticides etc. and tried under courts for the cases of fraud and imprudent practice, spreading across the boundaries. Being powerful and wealthy, they have developed strong MNC lobby, in lieu of direct funding to the political parties, developmental and anti-lobbyists groups.

Concerned ministry and government authority should act in a fairly transparent way of all the transactions and accreditation process, so that the large section of the society should not suffer at the cost and misdeeds, of a few. But the big question is where the line should be drawn between corporate responsibility, and the responsibility of other agents, such as the governments of developing countries or the international community? These key issues need to be addressed urgently; otherwise the cases of such corporate bankruptcy and social frauds and bound to be unraveled.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Netafim found Drip Irrigation Jugaad for Indian farms

World largest drip irrigation firm, Netafim has come up with a solution to cater to the drip-irrigation problems of India’s fragmented land. In a country of unique problems, the solutions cannot be conventional. Netafim Irrigation realised this when it pondered over the problem of how to provide drip irrigation to small Indian farms. Six months ago, the wholly owned subsidiary of Israel-based Netafim, the world’s largest micro-irrigation company, indigenised its Family Drip System (FPS) for mainstream farming in India. As a result, drip irrigation is now available for farms that are as small as a quarter acre.

FPS was originally developed for irrigating the backyard gardens in developed countries. Netafim itself had, till then, catered mostly to large farms of a few thousand acres. The budgets for these systems were large, and so was the incremental produce that farmers could get by adopting such systems. But that began to change when Netafim set up its own subsidiary in India in 1997. For the purposes of drip irrigation, India’s farm needs were different from most other countries in two significant ways.
First, even some of the largest farms in India would be considered medium-sized or even small in most developed countries. Most drip irrigation systems that were available in India were for a land-holding of one acre. The small size of the farms immediately translated into a design constraint. Small farmers could not afford the expensive drip irrigation systems.
Second, electricity was not always available to many farms. To irrigate a farm using drip irrigation systems normally requires continuous power supply for three to four hours. Most Indian villages did not have this luxury.
For these reasons, catering to small farmers remained a low priority item for Netafim till an opportunity suddenly presented itself in Jharkhand. This East Indian state is one of the most impoverished states in India where most farm holdings are not just under one acre but also on uneven terrain. The farms are often owned by tribals who live on subsistence farming by growing just one crop when the rains are good. The rest of the year they work as menial labour — often on their own lands which they ‘loan’ out to better-off businessmen.
Netafim took advantage of a state government plan to make agriculture viable for its impoverished tribals. The initiative was partly funded by the state under the Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY) scheme. This scheme is meant for the self-employment of rural poor and the upliftment of tribals. The strategy involves introducing appropriate technologies and skills for irrigating a plot of land large enough for each tribal family to earn enough, but small enough for the husband-wife team to cultivate the plot themselves without depending on outside labour. The size of this plot has been standardised to 25 decimals, or 1,000 square metres — a little less than a quarter of an acre.
The conventional FPS is a pressure compensated system which ensures that the flow of water is equal all over the farm right from the beginning of the pipes to the very end of the pipes, both on low lying portions of the field and on higher levels. This is achieved through valves which clamp down when the water pressure increases (usually close to the source of water supply) and eases up when this pressure decreases (usually at the end of the pipe). A conventional FPS has tap inlet through which the water supply is taken into the system.
This is where Netafim used a little bit of Indian jugaad (improvisation), as water supply is not very regular on Indian farms.
To create water pressure, Netafim decided to befriend gravity. It recommended the setting up of a water tank at a height. This water tank could be filled with water with just 10 minutes of electrical motor power. If there was no electricity, the water could even be put in the tank through a hand pump. Once the tank was full, it could irrigate the field for over three hours.
Thus, when fields were parched last May, the only fields that remained green with a promise of a very rich harvest were those that had this system installed.
As against other systems that would cost at least double, this system cost just Rs. 30,000 of which 50 percent came in by way of a grant from the state government. The farmer had to finance just around Rs. 15,000.

With a bit of help from both local support groups and the state government, the first group of 30 tribals who installed this system went to market with their produce just two months ago, each earning anywhere between Rs. 25,000 to Rs. 40,000 from the first crop. The tribals who grow vegetables with a crop cycle of three months, now earn a steady cash flow, helping them earn more than enough to repay the loans taken for the irrigation system within one or (a maximum of) two crops.
Says Govardhan Munda, a 25-year-old tribal farmer, who now goes about teaching other farmers how to earn cash through this method of farming, “Today, we can earn at least Rs. 25,000 every cropping season. Some of us have even made Rs. 40,000.”
Now that the state of Jharkhand has decided to scale up this experiment to cover 100,000 farms, Netafim’s agronomists are helping the state’s officials to mark out each field with GPS locators, so that the spot can be identified on a GPS grid, and then help the state government couple it with the Unique Identification card (UID) project of the government. “This,” says a state government official, “will reduce the practice of drip irrigation companies claiming that more acres have been covered by drip irrigation than is actually the case, thus becoming eligible for a higher subsidy grant.” The process is likely to be adopted by other states as well.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Mozambique President visited IARI to decode the secrets of Green Revolution

H. E. Mr. Armando Guebuza. The President of Mozambique visited Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi on 1st October 2010. The purpose of his visit was to know about the success of Indian Green revolution and India’s present efforts for the evergreen revolution, as the major problem of Mozambique is poverty, low agricultural productivity and dependence on food import.

The agro-climatic and social conditions are similar in both the countries. The visiting delegation was received by Dr. H.S. Gupta, IARI, Director along with senior officials of the institute. Dr. Gupta has shared the major accomplishments of institute and the present agriculture scenario in the country. The visiting Mozambique President Armando Guebuza and delegation members were highly impressed with Institute‘s achievements.

They desired that their students should be provided an opportunity for higher education and their senior researchers should be provided training in the important areas in agricultural research.

Dr. H.S Gupta agreed for the same and emphasized that higher education in agricultural is very high standard with on-hand on training cheaper as compared to other countries. Dr. Gupta also briefed the delegation about the ways for solving their food and nutrition problem. The country should identify few food crops like rice, wheat, maize and high yielding varieties of these crops from similar agro-climatic can be introduced.

The high yielding varieties should be identified their full package, which include water management, Integrated plant nutrient Management, Integrated pest management, post harvest Management, should be worked out. He emphasized the cultivation of yellow maize, which has high vitamin A content. The delegation was also shown the Institute museum depicting IARI technologies and products. Both the side agreed for active collaboration in higher education, research training and transfer of Agricultural technology.

Indian Tea to get new logo

The existing logo depicting Indian Tea, a lady in black & white carrying a wicker basket of three tea leaves strapped to her head, the 34 year old India Tea logo may soon going to be replaced with a new one, to give it a more contemporary look. Related with the same Jyotiraditya Scindia, Union minister of state for commerce has recently set up a task force to improve the brand image of Indian tea, with a new logo.

The current logo incidentally was introduced as a marketing symbol and is protected under copyright as well as certification trade mark. Mr Scindia already has had a round of discussions with producers, merchant exporters and Tea Board of India. The minister plans to create an umbrella brand for Indian tea, which is more vibrant, youthful, exciting and visually connects the rich heritage of Indian tea. He has asked all the stakeholders of the tea industry to hold brainstorming sessions and come up with suggestions. Tea Board is likely to appoint an advertising agency, which will help the industry to give a shape to this new logo. Adman Piyush Pandey, who was a tea taster in Kolkata before joining Ogilvy & Mather India in 1982, is expected to help the commerce ministry and Tea Board of India in this exercise.

The move to change this age old traditional logo has thrown open a vigorous debate. While a section of the industry feels that the current logo does not visually connect to Indian tea, there are others who feel that the logo, which has become synonymous with Indian tea should not be completely changed, since world markets have come to accept the logo for over three decades. The new logo will have to registered in all the export markets so that it is not be misused by unscrupulous traders.

Now, it is protein packed GM potato

The humble potato, which is consumed as a staple food in many parts of the world and yet considered as a major source of carbohydrate are changing their course. All credit goes to the Delhi based National Institute of Plant Genomic Research (NIPGR) and its team of scientists. The team has developed a genetically modified (GM) potato which they claim is packed with up to 60 per cent more protein than an ordinary tuber. The potato variant created was also found to have increased levels of essential amino acids, notably lysine, tyrosine and sulphur, which are usually limited in potatoes. Apart from that, the newly developed transgenic also had more yield per hectare compared to ordinary potatoes and in field trials, the crops have produced 15 to 25 per cent more potatoes per hectare. The scientists inserted the gene called AmA1 (Amaranth Albumin 1) into seven types of potatoes and then grew the transgenic potatoes over two years. They found that there was a 35-60 per cent increase in total protein content in all varieties of the transgenic potatoes. The researchers carried out tests on rats and rabbits and found that the new crop has no toxic or allergic effects on them.

The findings has been published in the journal ''Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences'', the scientists said these transgenic potatoes will gain much public acceptance than other genetically-modified crops as it uses a gene from another edible crop, the amaranth seed. These potatoes have to be cleared by biotech regulators before introduction for commercialisation. But the need is to develop proper scientific module, public awareness about the whole developmental process and finally the various impact assessment studies for the transgenic, so that it may not end up in the Bt Brinjal like situation.

Is the Bt Brinjal report plagiarism, merely a case of hyper sensitization?

Can it be categorized as a case of plagiarism? As the very person from whose few lines have been excerpted from his published article, can be termed a copy cat. As a person who is the fellow of NAAS, he was invited to express his views and except the historical account and some fact findings, no part of recommendation goes from Dr Kumar’s article or ISSSA’s article. So is it a clear case of hyper sensitization by the media savvy anti-lobbyists.

Bt Brinjal is back in news, surrounding the controversy of plagiarism by Indian Academic Societies. It is learnt that in March 2010 Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had asked the six science academies - the Indian Academy of Sciences, the Indian National Academy of Engineering, the Indian National Science Academy, the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, the National Academy of Medical Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences (India) to give an unbiased scientific assessment on the feasibility of transgenic crops and the proposed regulatory mechanism for GM crops. They submitted the Inter-Academy report on GM crops to Environment minister in September last week, recommending the lifting of the imposed moratorium and limited release of Bt brinjal.

But it turns out that the academies have relied heavily on data generated by US based GM lobby International Service for the Acquisition of Agri- biotech Applications (ISAAA) and an article “Bt Brinjal: A Pioneering Push”, which was published during December 2009 in “Biotech News”, a publication of the Department of Biotechnology written by Dr P Ananda Kumar, Director of Delhi based National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology. The plagiarism allegations against the academies has been leveled by the advocacy group “Coalition for GM Free India”, which dubbed the report as a biased, political position paper. Earlier, science and technology minister Prithviraj Chavan had been alleged to plagiarised from reports by the same ISAAA in a letter to cabinet colleague A. Ramadoss while defending Bt brinjal.

But Dr Kumar defied that being a fellow of the NAAS, one of the academies, he attended the meeting and submitted his inputs for the Inter-academy report upon the GM crops and Bt Brinjal. If the same person has expressed his views at both the places (report and magazine), then the similarity in views are bound to happen. Then what is the wrong in that and where arises the question of plagiarism?

The reason could also be attributed to the fact that at present there are very few experts in the field of genetically modified crops and that’s why majority of the academicians directly depended on those as their very source of reference. But the mere understanding can’t be termed as expertise over the same.

Later on the day, Environment & Forest Minister Mr Jairam Ramesh has thrashed the report, terming it full of absurdity and lack of scientific rigour, which does not give a larger scientific view and focused only on findings of a scientist (Ananda Kumar). Ramesh had imposed moratorium on release of Bt brinjal on February 9 citing lack of consensus among various stakeholders and still of the view that he has not yet heard even a single state asking government in the country wanting its revocation.

A day after it became known that a report by top science academies had recommended an immediate release of Bt brinjal, people opposed to GM crops produced a counter report, authored by David Andow of the Department of Entomology, University of Minnesota, United States with diametrically opposite conclusions. It was released by Aruna Rodrigues, the lead petitioner in the Supreme Court case seeking a ban on genetically modified crops. Rodrigues claimed that Andow was an acknowledged international expert on the environmental risks of genetically engineered crop plants. This report finds faults with the clearance granted to Bt brinjal by the GEAC in October last year. The report by the American scientist says that the expert committee, on whose recommendation GEAC had given its clearance, had relied on dubious scientific assumptions and had either ignored or inadequately evaluated environmental concerns. Today, It has almost become business of many of the so called no-profit but money making organization and other such welfare organisations, to stop the diffusion of all the technology, which may harm their usual business.

Even head of the academics head are playing hide and seek and trying to salvage the things, but the unnecessary confrontation can be well avoided by proper mention of acknowledgement to the authors and citing references and sources to the contributors of the report. The confusion over these paragraphs arose, because of no reference to where these paragraphs were taken from, which reference should have been made. The author (P Ananda Kumar) is a member of the academy so his views can be quoted in the report. In June 2010, at an inter-academy meet, the issue of commercially releasing Bt brinjal was discussed at length, in which around 60-70 members from all the six academies were present and they had presented their views on the subject.

It can be taken as just another case of media sensitization, which is overtaken by the anti-lobbyists’ front. Today, the anti-lobbyists have become too media-savvy and the very media, which was revered as the fourth pillar of the democracy highlights/ debates the unnecessary things out of proportion without having investigating the facts and revelations. Steadily but surely, the media is going too critique to Indians and going for lot of paid editorials and articles, which is really not a good sign of a healthy future. But now the big question is where gone the unbiased and independence character of media, once been referred as the mirror of the society. Everything is having its own flaws and goodness, but the thing is that whereas the good things need to be highlighted, the other darker side can be taken care of. As nonetheless, refuting any technology yields nothing for the welfare of the mankind. During this time, when not only the Indian subcontinent but the whole world is facing the challenges of food security, hunger and malnutrition, climate change, weather extremities etc., which can only been fought with taking all the stakeholders in the confidence, without harming the cause. With the constitution of NBRAI, it is hoped that the issues of media hypocrisy and chauvinism would be moderated and things are going to addresses as far as the biotechnology and GM industry is concerned.

The controversy:

"It (brinjal) is an important cash crop for poor farmers who transplant it from nurseries at different times of the year to produce two or three crops, each of 150 to 180 days' duration."

ISAAA report: "Brinjal Shoot and Fruit Borer (BSFB) causes significant losses of up to 60 to 70 per cent in commercial plantings. Damage starts in the nursery, prior to transplanting, continues to harvest and is then carried- over to the next crop of brinjal. BSFB damages brinjal in two ways. First, it infests young shoots during the vegetative phase, which limits the ability of plants to produce healthy fruitbearing shoots, thereby reducing potential yield." Another piece of data used to justify Bt brinjal has been lifted from the industry report: "Farmers usually spray twice a week, applying 15 to 40 insecticide sprays, or more, in one season depending on infestation levels." Figures relating to the financial cost of insecticide spray by farmers too come from the industry document. The similarities in the ISAAA report and the Inter-Academy report go on without anyone getting a hint about the source of the data. No references or citations have been given, as is normal with any scientific document. No references or citations have been given, as is normal with any scientific document.

Dr GS Khush-

The undisputed Hero of Rice revolution

It is a measure of Dr Khush's stature as the world's foremost rice breeder that, in any rice field, anywhere in the world, there's a 60 percent chance that the rice was either bred at IRRI under his leadership or developed from IRRI varieties.”

The man who is often referred to as one of the fathers of the Green Revolution in rice cultivation is none other than Dr Gurdev Khush, a plant breeder and geneticist by profession and is one of the world's authorities on crop breeding and a major force behind the development of productive rice varieties and the Green Revolution in plant breeding.

Dr GS Khush was born in a small village in Punjab and received his education at the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana in 1955. Then in 1957, he applied for his doctorate and was accepted by the University of California at Davis, where he studied with two legendary plant geneticists Ledyard Stebbins and Charles Rick. At an early age of 25, Dr Khush completed his PhD in genetics in less than three years after joining the University of California and studied the tomato genomics with Dr Rick for seven years.

In 1967, Dr Khush joined the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Manila and in less than five years of joining IRRI, Dr Khush became the head of IRRI's plant breeding department and developed his own new variety of "miracle rice", IR36. This was developed using IR8 as a genetic base and cross breeding it with 13 parent varieties from six nations. He led IRRI to the forefront in the improvement of rice varieties. Prior to the beginning of the Green Revolution, varieties of rice took 6-7 months to mature and yielded about 1-2 tons per hectare. Dr Khush modified the plant by reducing its height, shortening maturing time, and increasing response to fertilizers. Under optimal conditions, these plants can yield up to 10 tons per hectare. The combination of these characteristics soon made IR36 one of the most widely planted food crop varieties the world has ever known. IR64 later replaced IR36 as the world's most popular variety and IR72, released in 1990, became the world's highest-yielding variety.

For his monumental contributions to the World Food Security, Dr Khush has been honored with numerous awards and honors. Perhaps no other NRI scientist has received as many awards and honors as Dr Khush. He has received honorary doctorates from ten universities, including a doctorate from Cambridge in 2000 and a doctorate from Guru Nanak Dev University in the year 2007 in India. In 2007, Dr Khush was awarded the Golden Sickle Award, honoring researchers who have made a considerable contribution or accomplishment in rice research. In addition, Dr Khush received the Borlaug Award in 1977, the Japan Prize in 1987, the 2000 Wolf Prize in Agriculture, the 2001 International Scientific and Technological Cooperation Award from the Government of China, and the Padma Shri award from president of India in 2001. Dr Khush was elected to some of the world's most prestigious academies such as Indian National Science Academy, The Third world Academy of Sciences, U.S. National Academy of Sciences and The Royal Society, and he consults for over 15 national governments, including India, China, and Russia. Dr Khush is the author of three books, and more than 80 book chapters and 160 scientific papers.

Dr Khush has served as consultant to rice breeding programs of 15 countries as well as The Rockefeller Foundation, The Third World Academy of Sciences, Italy, and the International Science Foundation, Sweden. He is now serving as a member of Scientific Advisory Committee (overseas) to the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India.

In 1994, Dr Khush announced a new type of "super rice", which has the potential to increase yields by 25 percent. His final work on what is called the New Plant Type (NPT) for irrigated rice fields is complete. Developing NPT almost took 12 years and the plants were yielding strongly in temperature areas of China and are expected to be ready for farmers in tropical Asia very soon. It is a complete redesign of the rice plant from the roots up, making it higher yielding, more vigorous, and better able to resist pests and diseases without the use of environmentally damaging pesticides. It is designed to yield up to 12 tonnes per hectare in irrigated tropical conditions, but adjusting its genetic characteristics to match tastes and environment conditions.

Dr Khush shared the 1996 World Food Prize with his mentor, Dr Henry Beachell, for their unparalleled achievements in enlarging and improving the supply of rice, one of the world’s largest food crops. He has since played a key role in developing more than 300 rice varieties in IRRI's race to keep rice production ahead of population growth.

High yielding rice varieties with disease and insect resistance and superior grain quality developed under his leadership are grown on 60 per cent of the world’s riceland. At IRRI, he and his team developed several varieties like IR8, IR36, IR64 and IR72. It is IRRI’s improved rice varieties only, which has pushed the world rice production from 257 million tonnes in 1966 to over 700 million tonnes today and most of the major rice growing countries became self sufficient in food production. High yielding rice varieties with disease and insect resistance and superior grain quality developed under his leadership are grown on 60% of the world’s Riceland. All thanks goes to Dr Khush and IRRI.

Another significant contribution of Dr Khush is the training of numerous rice scientists from all over the world. His contributions to rice genetics and biotechnology are equally well recognized. In 2002, after 35 years of unprecedented service, he retired from IRRI and returned to University of California-Davis as an adjunct professor to share his knowledge and experience with students and faculty.

Dr Khush has worked closely with the Indian rice scientists and supplied numerous rice varieties which are grown widely in India. It is solely due to his untiring efforts, perseverance, scientific bent and visionary thought, which has ushered into a food self sufficient and food secure India and many other countries world over.

-Abid Hussain