SOME YEARS back, a top Indian negotiator for the Indo-Asean Free Trade Agreement (FTA) shared with me an interesting insight. As is the normal practice, the negotiating team went to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, before leaving for the talks. The underlying idea being to get the final limit -- where to draw the Lakshman Rekha -- to which India can agree to on several tricky issues during the negotiations.
AGRICULTURE MINISTER Sharad Pawar has accused US companies for derailing India’s oilseeds production programme. On a visit to Vidharbha a few days back, the minister said: “In the US, the entire soybean production is done with genetically modified (GM) technology. You have adopted GM in your country but you don’t let that happen in India. This is not proper and it is alarming.”
To save on global warming, why food is allowed to travel across continents? Why not popularise local products and local markets?
SOME DECADES back I had written on how Pepsi was shipping its used PET bottles, used for packing soft drinks, to Chennai in India for recycling. These bottles would then again be shipped back to the US for use. Why Pepsi took this detour for recycling PET bottles was simply because recycling of plastic waste is not easily allowed in the US (it has very stringent norms) for health and environmental reasons, and that obviously adds on to the cost.
SEVERAL YEARS ago, must be sometimes between 1988-89, I was interviewing Dalai Lama at McLeod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamsala, where he lives in exile. I was then the State Correspondent for the Indian Express, posted in Shimla. It was during the course of the pretty-long interview wherein we had discussed about what Dalai Lama called as 'cultural genocide' in Tibet, I asked him whether the peaceful path he had always advocated and stands for would ever get him closer to an autonomous Tibet.
Dalai Lama burst out laughing. He said he knew that most young Tibetans would be calling him 'foolish' Dalai Lama for refraining them from adopting a militant path. He then went on to explain how the youth were getting impatient. We talked a little bit about the peaceful methods of Mahatma Gandhi from where he drew inspiration. And then, after a little while I asked him something like this: "You seem to be so helpless about the future of Tibet, and with the international community not pitching in for you, what is that you regret the most?"
Dalai Lama went quiet for sometime, and then he said: "If only Tibet had oil ..."
No wonder, farmer suicides shows no signs of ending.
TIME AND AGAIN we have heard that agricultural credit plays an important role in improving farm production, productivity and mitigating farmers distress.It is primarily for this reason that the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-2017) document of Planning Commission says: "Assuming agriculture growth of 4 per cent, the size of credit requirement in the 12th Plan period translates to about double the flow in the 11th Plan at Rs 8 lakh-crore, as against the level of Rs 4.75 lakh-crore achieved during 2010-11."
In 2012-13, a budgetary provision of Rs 5,75,000-crore for farm credit has already been made. A year earlier, in 2011-12, Rs 4,75,000-crore was provided. According to Reserve Bank of India, between 2000 and 2010, farm loans increased by 755 per cent. Certainly it provides all the reasons to cheer.
HE CAME, he saw the plight of farmers, and crafted a highly successful cooperative ladder to bail them out. His vision, his marketing skills, and more importantly his courage to defy any kind of political meddling, turned Amul into a household name. But that's not the end of it. The passing of Dr Verghese Kurien, the milkman of India, certainly brings down the curtain on the era of milk self-sufficiency.
Verghese Kurien died unhappy.
Ever since he left National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) after being its chairman for 33 years, and passed on its reins to his own prodigy Dr Amrita Patel, Kurien realised that it was the beginning of the end for the dairy cooperatives. The women he groomed to take over from him, and all the efforts to get her installed despite stiff opposition from bureaucracy to pass on control to yet another IAS officer, Kurien was in for a shock when he found that Amrita Patel was beginning to undo what he had done all these years. But that's a story for a different day.
He stepped down from NDDB at the age of 76. And within the next few years, he was eased out from the board of Indian Rural Management Institute (IRMA) and also the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation. His nomination to the National Cooperative Dairy Federation of India was also rejected.
IT HAS taken the civil society years of struggle to ensure that the plant genetic resources (PGR), which is essentially the preserve of farmers, are not passed on freely into the hands of multinational corporations/seed companies. After the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was signed in 1992, and plant varieties were for the first time accepted to be a national sovereign resource, the battle to seek control over PGR had of course intensified. Several agreements were signed at subsequent international treaties, including material transfer agreements that ensured no IPRs were taken on plants that the private seed companies collected from the public sector gene banks.
While the focus remained at the global level, I was startled to read a news report in the Wall Street Journal captioned: India Institute Seeks Expertise in Global Seed Business quoting the deputy director general (crops) of Indian Council of Agricultural Research who appears more than keen to sell off India's massive collection of plant resources to MNCs. "Mr Datta said collaborating with MNCs would be hugely profitable ... We really wouldn't mind taking a small share of profits. What would be more important is if we could use such collaborations to bring high-yielding seeds to our farmers at 50% of the cost."
According to the news report, ICAR has sought the approval of Ministry of Agriculture. What is shocking is that while the effort globally is to preserve and protect the plant genetic resources under public sector, despite several attempts to seek private control, India somehow seems oblivious of the threat.
IT MAY take some time for the implications to sink in. More than whether the decision by Team Anna to go political is correct or not, what worries me is the dangerous fallout it will have on social movements in future. Is it the beginning of the end of social movements and peoples' struggles? Will it lead the powers that be to exercise the same contempt and rudeness towards citizen protests?
It is indeed worrisome.
The 10-day fast at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi by three members of Team Anna (and joined by Anna Hazare himself the fourth day) did not move the UPA II to even take notice and be bothered. While the health of my colleagues deteriorated (I am part of Team Anna, and in fact am one of the founding-members of India Against Corruption), the decision to culminate the fast by announcing the formation of a political party was certainly abrupt. Nevertheless, while the responses and reactions in the media (including the newspapers) as well as the social media is largely angry and blasting, I am more concerned about the fate of people's struggles.
SO AS to ensure that food reaches the needy and the hungry across the country, the government has launched a series of steps to streamline the public distribution system (PDS). Among several initiatives being planned, especially in the light of the National Food Security Act under preparation, a scheme to provide food coupons is being tested on a pilot basis in Delhi, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Several researchers had supported the idea. Kaushik Basu, Chief Economic Advisor to Government of India, had also backed the proposal saying “the subsidy should be handed directly to the poor household instead of giving it to the PDS shop owner with the instruction it is transferred to the poor. This can be done by handing over food coupons to BPL households, which they can use as money to buy food from any store. The store owner can then take the coupon to any bank and change it back for cash.” On the face of it, it looks to be a more sensible and effective mechanism to deliver food to the hungry. But is it really so?
Gir cow now records over 62 litres/day in Brazil..
THIS MAJESTIC cow is from Brazil. Belonging to the Gir breed of Gujarat, this cow -- named She-ra -- clocked 62.033 litres of milk in a 3-day milk competition at the 40th Expaja in Brazil, beating her own record of 59.947 litres. While Indian cattle breeds are doing exceptionally fine abroad, the fascination of our own policy makers for exotic breeds seems to be never ending. Meanwhile, Brazil has emerged as the biggest exporter of Indian breeds of cows. Recently I wrote: "newspapers in Punjab reported that an American company -- World Wide Sires Ltd -- is planning to provide high quality semen to dairy farmers. Some days back, I had heard that the Kerala minister for Animal Husbandry was thinking of importing some improved cattle breeds from Denmark for cross breeding with local cows." [See my blog post: Holy Cows -- acclaimed abroad, despised at home].
A few weeks back, Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal announced the setting up of an advanced institute for dairy farming in Mohali. This will be a joint collaboration with an Israeli firm -- Dairy Farming Solutions -- and will impart latest technology to farmers to improve the milch cattle [Punjab to have advanced institute of dairy farming].