Resources Research

Making local sense of food, urban growth, population and energy

The cities and their multitudes

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The 166 Indian cities in the UN population list. What do the colours mean? Dark blue is for city populations up to 250,000; light blue is 250,000-500,000; pink is 500,000 to 1 million; orange is 1 million to 5 million; red is 5 million and above. The source for the data is 'World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision', from the United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.

The 166 Indian cities in the UN population list. What do the colours mean? Dark blue is for city populations up to 250,000; light blue is 250,000-500,000; pink is 500,000 to 1 million; orange is 1 million to 5 million; red is 5 million and above. The source for the data is ‘World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision’, from the United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.

Bigger cities growing at a rate faster in the last decade than earlier decades. This is what the image shows us. These are 166 cities of India whose populations in 2014 were 300,000 and above. The jagged swatches of colour that seem to march diagonally across the image describe tiers of population, for the table is arranged according to the populations of these cities in 2015, with the annual series beginning in 1985 and extending (as a forecast) until 2030.

The populations of four cities will cross 0.5 million in 2015: Jalgaon (Maharashtra, whose population will be 506,000 in 2015), Patiala (Punjab, 510,000), Thoothukudi (Tamil Nadu, 514,000) and Imphal (Manipur, 518,000). They will join a group of cities which in 2014 crossed the 0.5 million mark: Gaya (Bihar, 508,000 in 2015), Rajahmundry (Andhra Pradesh, 511,000), Udaipur (Rajasthan, 517,000), Bilaspur (Chhattisgarh, 518,000), Kayamkulam (Kerala, 533,000) and Agartala (Tripura, 550,000).

Just ahead of these are Vellore (Tamil Nadu, whose population in 2015 will be 528,000 and which crossed 0.5 million in 2013), Mathura (Uttar Pradesh, 529,000 and 2014), Tirunelveli (Tamil Nadu, 530,000 and 2011), Sangli (Maharashtra, 545,000 and 2009), Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh, 550,000 and 2013), Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh, 556,000 and 2009), Kurnool (Andhra Pradesh, 567,000 and 2012), Muzaffarnagar (Uttar Pradesh, 587,000 and 2011), Erode (Tamil Nadu, 590,000 and 2010) and Cherthala (Kerala, 593,000 and 2013).

To make this chart I have used the data from ‘World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision’, from the United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. The 166 cities of India are extracted from the main table, ‘Annual Population of Urban Agglomerations with 300,000 Inhabitants or More in 2014, by Country, 1950-2030′.

Visiting our total household food budget

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Twice as much over the 11 years until 2009-10, and three times as much over the 10 years until 2012-13. That has been the increase in rupee expenditure for this basket of foods.

The data is from the private final consumption series, calculated by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI). The totals (left scale of the chart) is in thousand crore rupees.

In this chart I have shown the expenditure (in current rupees) for: Cereals and Bread, Pulses, Sugar and Gur, Oils and Oilseeds, Fruits and Vegetables, Milk and Milk Products, and Meat Egg and Fish. These totals also indicate the size in rupees of the food industry – but do not include the processed and packaged food industry.

The rise in consumption expenditure expressed in rupees is a money measure alone, and not a quantity or volume measure. We can see that the portion of milk and milk products in this group has gone up from just over 18% to 25% over 14 years, and the portion of meat, eggs and fish has gone up from just under 9% to 12.5% over the same period.

From 2006 the rising trend of expenditure on fruits and vegetables became steeper than the rising trend of cereals and bread. In 2005-06 the portion spent on fruit and vegetables in this group was just over 26% and that has risen slightly to 28% in 2012-13. In contrast for cereals and bread, the portion of 27.5% in 2005-06 has dropped to just over 21% in 2012-13.

In Europe, a vote for the right to keep GM out

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The 'no' vote has given the European Parliament an excellent chance to improve EU legislation and give member states genuine tools to protect the environment and promote genuinely sustainable farming. Image: Friends of the Earth Europe

The ‘no’ vote has given the European Parliament an excellent chance to improve EU legislation and give member states genuine tools to protect the environment and promote genuinely sustainable farming. Image: Friends of the Earth Europe

Members of the European Parliament have defeated a European Commission proposal to prevent member states from banning genetically modified crops on health and/or environmental grounds. The result of this vote means that national bans on GM crops, for environmental or health reasons, are allowed even if the EU approves genetically modified (GM) crops for cultivation.

The European Food and Safety Authority had approved GM for use in the EU, but a number of countries opposed to GM (like France) demanded the right to block crops under a principle known as ‘subsidiarity’, or devolution to individual countries.

The Greens/European Free Alliance has said that the vote by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) strengthens the grounds on which EU member countries could opt out from GMO authorisations under the proposed new system.

In a statement the Greens/European Free Alliance said: “No must mean no: countries wanting to opt out of GM authorisations must have a totally legally watertight framework for doing so. MEPs have also voted for the inclusion of mandatory measures to prevent the contamination of non-GM crops, with the myriad of issues this raises. The committee also rejected a proposal from EU governments, which would have obliged member states to directly request that corporations take them out of the scope of their GMO applications, before being allowed to opt out.”

However, the Greens are still very concerned that the new opt out scheme is a slippery slope for easing EU GMO authorisations and does not fundamentally change the flawed EU approval process in itself. Organisations, scientists, academics, political fronts and citizens’ alliances who do not want GM crop or food in their regions and countries nonetheless see an urgent need to reform the EU’s GMO authorisation process. On 03 November 2014, signatures from more than 160,000 European citizens were presented to the vice-chair of the Environment Committee calling on him to close these loopholes.

Eight EU countries have banned the cultivation of GM crops (others have not commercially grown such crops). The only crop permitted, Monsanto's GM maize, is restricted to some areas of Spain and four other countries. Image: Friends of the Earth Europe

Eight EU countries have banned the cultivation of GM crops (others have not commercially grown such crops). The only crop permitted, Monsanto’s GM maize, is restricted to some areas of Spain and four other countries. Image: Friends of the Earth Europe

Currently, authorisations proceed in spite of flawed risk assessments and the consistent opposition of a majority of EU member states in Council and, importantly, a clear majority of EU citizens. They have warned against a trade-off of easier EU authorisations against easier national bans. For the EU, the next step must be an EU-wide total ban and total rejection of GM crop, food, seed and technology in all its forms, otherwise the new proposal for EU GMO approvals is a Trojan horse which risks finally opening the door to GMOs despite citizens’ opposition, and which will keep open the route for GM/biotech companies to appeal against such bans (a route that European Greens and the many groups that have rejected GM want to shut once and for all).

Such a next step – which is the logical and moral next step for the European Parliament to take – is necessary to overturn completely the current arrangement which treats biotech companies and corporations at the same level as governments. Under the arrangement that existed till now (the ramifications of this week’s ‘no’ vote must still be examined) an EU member country which does not want GMO to be grown on its territory must request the biotech company (through the European Commission) that its territory be excluded from the geographical scope of the EU authorisation. Only if the country has applied for a ‘territorial exemption’ and been refused by the company is the country allowed to then implement a ban on GMO on its territory.

How utterly contemptuous of a country’s sovereign rights this arrangement was, and how it found its way into procedure illustrates dramatically the power and influence that the GM and biotech industry has come to wield in the EU – the decision of the geographical scope of an EU authorisation gave more weight to biotech/GM companies than to governments!

In the debate about GM crops, the argument that the biotech industry and their supporters always fall back on is that whether we like it or not, we are going to need them to feed the world. Genetic modification has, they assure us, the potential to produce crops with all sorts of wonderful traits: tolerance of drought, cold, salinity and flooding, resistance to insect pests, extra nutritional value, and more.

“But for the last 20 years, GM has singularly failed to convert that potential into reality,” the Institute for Science in Society has explained. “Almost all the GM crops grown have been modified to have one of two traits: tolerance of glyphosate-based herbicides and the ability to produce a Bt-toxin that can kill corn- and cotton pests. In the meantime, conventional breeding, often employing modern techniques such as marker-assisted breeding, has continued to deliver the goods. If our real goal is to feed the world, we should be taking resources away from GM and devoting them to other agricultural research that is less glamorous-sounding but more effective.”

Why the FAO food index is also an oil gauge

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The revealing relationship between the FAO cereals price sub-index, the OPEC Reference Basket price of a barrel of crude oil, and the Baltic Dry Index (right scale).

The revealing relationship between the FAO cereals price sub-index, the OPEC Reference Basket price of a barrel of crude oil, and the Baltic Dry Index (right scale).

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN has released its food price index data and commentary for 2014 October. This would be of considerable interest if only the index described the tendencies of food prices as experienced by consumers. Alas FAO’s food price index, as we have remarked upon several times in the past, pays no attention to the true cost of food staples.

Of what use is the FAO index, which is used as a reference by any government (and UN member state) to judge the value of its food exports (or to judge whether when importing grain it is paying what seems to be a fair price)? In the first place, the index (which itself is composed of separately calculated cereal, vegetable oil, dairy, meat and sugar indices) is not a consumer food price index.

The FAO food price index and its component sub-indices for the period 2012 January to 2014 October. A general downward trend, says the FAO, but this is the picture for international food trade and not consumer food retail price.

The FAO food price index and its component sub-indices for the period 2012 January to 2014 October. A general downward trend, says the FAO, but this is the picture for international food trade and not consumer food retail price.

The FAO has not claimed it is, but neither has the agency clearly and plainly said it is not. It should, because financial and general interest media all over the world report the ups and downs of this index as if it portrays how local food prices move, and of course it does not.

The FAO index is used by international traders whose business it is to buy and sell food staples (including cereal, vegetable oil, pulses, dairy, meat and sugar). Perhaps some of them use it as a benchmark while others forecast trends from its sub-indices. It may be used to validate the accuracy of a particular kind of agricultural commodity futures index, and help judge whether an investment in the production of food, its movement, its stocking or its trade is going to be a good investment or not. As you can gather, it is not an index that consumers can use, because consumers are local and this is assuredly not.

What pulls the FAO food price index up, down or sideways? There are two important factors at work on the main index. One is the price of petroleum products, the other is the cost of moving grain (or any other food staple). You may assess the short or long-term trend of the food index against the current or projected price of Brent crude (preferred in Europe), West Texas Intermediate (preferred in the USA) or the OPEC reference price (preferred almost everywhere else).

The FAO food price index and its component sub-indices for 2014 till October. The downward trend of the last six months, which the FAO commentary is faintly praising, mirrors the trend of crude oil prices over the same period.

The FAO food price index and its component sub-indices for 2014 till October. The downward trend of the last six months, which the FAO commentary is faintly praising, mirrors the trend of crude oil prices over the same period.

And then you will assess what the food price index describes against the cost of moving a large quantity of the agricultural commodity to be traded across an ocean, for which the Baltic Dry Index will be consulted.

[If you are a trader and want the FAO food price data and movements, go here. The usual commentary can be found: “The FAO Food Price Index averaged 192.3 points in October 2014, marginally (0.2 percent) below the revised September figure but 14.3 points (6.9 percent) short of its corresponding level one year ago” and so on.]

To help determine what the FAO food price index is depicting, I have made charts for the index (and sub-indices) for the period 2012 January to 2014 October; for the index (and sub-indices) for 2014 till October; a chart that shows the FAO cereals sub-index together with the OPEC Reference Basket Price for a barrel of crude oil and the Baltic Dry Index (this is the shipping index most commonly referred to for the movement of dry goods by sea) for the period 2012 January to 2014 October; and a chart that plots the changes (from month to month) in the three indexes taken together (FAO Cereals, OPEC Reference and Baltic Dry).

The FAO food price index and the OPEC Reference Basket price of oil have much more in common than the Baltic Dry Index, which has swung with volatility since 2012 January.

The FAO food price index and the OPEC Reference Basket price of oil have much more in common than the Baltic Dry Index, which has swung with volatility since 2012 January.

What they describe can be found in the captions, but it becomes clear from a glance at the FAO-OPEC-Baltic charts that the food price as calculated by FAO has very much more to do with how energy is used to produce food staples (that is, the use of petroleum products directly, and the use of fossil fuels-derived energy) and how energy is used to transport, store, process, transport it again and retail it.

I see it as an index that describes the energy quotient of industrially produced food staples, and so it has little if anything to do with any other form of agriculture, in particular the smallholder, family-oriented and organic agriculture that the FAO advertises its concern about.

Gorbachev, democracy and the Berlin Wall

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Der Offizier Harald Jäger trifft unter dem Ansturm der Massen am Grenzübergang Bornholmer Straße die Entscheidung seines Lebens: Wir fluten! Foto: Tagesspiegel / EPD

Der Offizier Harald Jäger trifft unter dem Ansturm der Massen am Grenzübergang Bornholmer Straße die Entscheidung seines Lebens: Wir fluten! Foto: Tagesspiegel / EPD

The ‘celebration’ of the bringing down of the Berlin Wall (and the militarised border between the former East and West in Germany) is being held. Germany’s Christian Democrat-led government has marked the anniversary with many events, but the question ought to be: what are they celebrating? Is it the demise of communism? Is it the ‘victory’ of Western democracy? Or is it the fragile success of having steered without serious catastrophe a course that has become more unsustainable with every year for Germany’s 80.6 million?

These are the questions that do not hide behind the marketability of an event such as several thousand lit balloons in Berlin tracing the course of the Wall when it divided the city. The ‘installation’ will bring the tourists in, but little else for a city whose government – brazenly arm-in-arm with reckless property speculators – posed as being “poor but sexy” much to the disgust of Berliners.

It is difficult to slide away from the consequences of history. In the early euphoria following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Germany moved quickly to erase the scars of its Cold War division. “But East Germany’s legacy remains visible in statistics,” the weekly newspaper Die Zeit has commented, showing that German unification left scars that have not yet disappeared.

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Gorbachev: Europe is weakening. Photo: RT.com

An editorial blog post related to the article observed: “The border still exists. Nearly exactly where it existed in reality, Germany is still divided in two. Until today, 25 years after the end of the imposed separation, there is an important demographic and economic imbalance, and there are also very different lifestyle habits.”

In the former eastern part of Germany, the income per capita is still considerably less than in what used to be old Federal Republic (the west), and farms are considerably bigger in the old German Democratic Republic (GDR) than in the old West Germany – the legacy of collective farming. Easterners also put their children in day care, and most get flu shots each year, and the eastern population is older.

Those older residents remember ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika’ more readily than do Germans elsewhere in Germany. These were the concept-words employed by Mikhail Gorbachev which made the reunification of Germany possible. The former leader of the Soviet Union (the USSR) returned to Berlin to speak at a forum organised to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the message he gave was weighed down by his disappointment with the West and was charged by his warning – delivered as clearly and precisely as when he was general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union – that the new Cold War is the product of the current thinking of the West.

After the Berlin Wall was brought down and Germany began its process of reunification, the leaders of the western world were intoxicated with euphoria of triumph, and they adopted anti-Russian policies that eventually led to the current crisis, Gorbachev said.

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Gorbachev: The West claimed monopoly leadership. Photo: RT.com

Taking advantage of Russia’s weakening and a lack of a counterweight, they claimed monopoly leadership and domination in the world. And they refused to heed the word of caution from many of those present here,” he said. “The events of the past months are consequences of short-sighted policies of seeking to impose one’s will and fait accompli while ignoring the interests of one’s partners.”

Gorbachev gave a list of examples of those policies, including the expansion of NATO and the development of an anti-ballistic missile system, military interventions in Yugoslavia and Iraq, the west-backed secession of Kosovo, the crisis in Syria and others. The Ukrainian crisis is a “blister turning into a bleeding, festering wound,” he said.

Western policies toward Russia championed by Washington have led to the current crisis, and if the confrontation continues, Europe will be weakened and become irrelevant, said Gorbachev. “Instead of becoming a leader of change in a global world Europe has turned into an arena of political upheaval, of competition for the spheres of influence, and finally of military conflict. The consequence inevitably is Europe’s weakening at a time when other centres of power and influence are gaining momentum. If this continues, Europe will lose a strong voice in world affairs and gradually become irrelevant,” he said.

The anniversary of Mauerfall – the bringing down of the Berlin Wall and the militarised boundary between East and West Germany – has been employed by Zygmunt Bauman (professor emeritus of Sociology in the Universities of Leeds and Warsaw) to comment on the hopes of 1989 and the realities of 2014.

“We have seen a steady dismantling of the network of institutions intended to defend the victims of the increasingly deregulated greed-driven economy, and a growing public insensitivity to rampant social inequality, coupled with the incapacity of a rising number of citizens, now abandoned (since no longer viewed as a potential danger to capitalist order or a seedbed of social revolution) to fend for themselves as they might on their own glaringly inadequate resources and capabilities.”

Die größte Demonstration der DDR-Geschichte endete am 4. November mit einer Kundgebung auf dem Alexanderplatz. Foto: Tagesspiegel / EPD

Die größte Demonstration der DDR-Geschichte endete am 4. November mit einer Kundgebung auf dem Alexanderplatz. Foto: Tagesspiegel / EPD

This has resulted, Bauman continued, among the actual and prospective stake-holders of democracy, in a steady erosion of trust in the ability of democratic institutions to deliver on their promises: a stark contrast to the high hopes of the heady, optimistic aftermath of the Berlin Wall’s collapse. It has also resulted in an ever-widening gulf and a breakdown of communication between political elites and the man in the street.

“The ostensible triumph of the democratic mode of human co-existence, in practice brought a steady shrinking and fading of public trust in its potential accomplishments. Such unprepossessing and depressing effects struck, though in unequal measure, all member states of the European Union.”

Amongst the many commentaries in Berlin’s newspaper, one from taz – the short form of Die Tageszeitung – explains the cultural gulf between ‘ossis’ (from the east) and ‘wessis’ (from the former West Germany). “East Germans and immigrants were still commonly referred to as ‘foreigners’, both equally outsiders and underdogs in the West German perspective after the fall of the Wall. They dressed differently, had strange habits and foreign dialects and accents. But culturally East Germans had something in common with many immigrants – both came from societies in which the sense of community was very important.”

This was evident in everyday East Germany (the DDR). There were few telephones and not many public places in the GDR, and hence colleagues and friends met in their own flats and apartments. The result was that close neighborliness was well developed in many migrants at that time. They differed in this from the “distant West Germans”, who even 25 years ago preferred to met each other in cafes or restaurants rather than in their homes.

The frontier between Thuringia and Bavaria near Asbach, in 1950. Photo: Die Zeit / Deutsches Bundesarchiv / Otto Donath

The frontier between Thuringia and Bavaria near Asbach, in 1950. Photo: Die Zeit / Deutsches Bundesarchiv / Otto Donath

Twenty-five years after November 1989 what is Germany recalling? There are many unkept promises rued by a society in which the joy of being “wieder ein Volk” (once more a people) has been eroded by the finance politics of austerity and the creeping ruin of corporate control. At the time it looked so very different.

In 1986, in the journal Widersprüche (April 1986), the sociologist Timm Kunstreich commented: “Especially concerning the understanding and productivity in the seemingly petty bourgeois work ethic conceptions, the prominent idea is one of characteristic blocking of the transformation process in the GDR. The consequence of the reduction of the integral state is that the ‘proletarian’ company is pushed into the ground. To many social institutions such a proletarian society appears as ‘Prometheus in chains’, bound by a rigid state-partisan control machinery based on collectivism and planned democracy.”

What has been transformed, what is blocked and what remain cultural differences? Far too many of the German Volk (especially the youth) are a Prometheus bound despite reunification, the so-called free market and the removal of the spectre of communism. Every trait of the DDR/GDR that was reviled is seen again, 25 years later, through the employment of new tools of technology, finance, the marginalisation of local alternatives, the intrusion of the private sector into the domains of the state.

This has resulted in a stark and saddening contrast to the high hopes of the heady, optimistic aftermath of the Berlin Wall’s collapse. “Twenty five years ago people stormed a barbed-wired wall that epitomised their un-freedom, hoping that once that wall were down, democracy would guarantee them freedom and that freedom would assure their well-being. Twenty-five years after democracy is in a state of unprecedented (and all but unimaginable at that time) crisis,” Bauman has said. The lit balloons that today give Berlin a ghost wall are alas no more than the gaslight of a depression that is palpable, though in unequal measure, in all member states of the European Union.

Written by makanaka

November 8, 2014 at 23:40

The industry of urban empowerment

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The latest issue of the occasional journal Agenda (published by the Centre for Communication and Development Studies) has focused on the subject of urban poverty. A collection of articles brings out the connections between population growth, the governance of cities and urban areas, the sub-populations of the ‘poor’ and how they are identified, the responses of the state to urbanisation and urban residents (links at the end of this post).

My contribution to this issue is titled ‘The industry of ‘empowerment’ in which I have described how the urbanisation of India project is being executed in the name of the ‘urban poor’. But the urban poor themselves are lost in the debate over methodologies to identify and classify them and the thicket of entitlements, provisions and agencies to facilitate their ‘inclusion’ and ‘empowerment’. I have divided my essay into five parts; here is part one:

RG_Agenda_urban_empowerment_K2015 will be the tenth year of India’s largest urban recalibration programme. That decadal anniversary will, for one section of our society, be used as proof that new infrastructure in cities has lowered poverty, that new housing has raised the standard of living for those who need it most, that urban rebuilding capital is focused better through such measures and, because of these and like reasons, that giant programmes such as the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) must continue. With or without the name of India’s first prime minister applied to the mission (itself a noun used liberally to impel urgency into a programme), it will continue, enriched with finance and technology.

The JNNURM, a year from now, will be the foremost symbol amongst several that signal to some 415 million Indians (city-dwellers all, for that will be the approximate urban population a year from now) why city life and city lights are what matter.

For another section of society, less inclined because of experience with administrations indifferent or venal, life in India’s (and Bharat’s) 7,935 towns goes on minus the pithy optimism of governments and their supporters in industry and finance. The promise of higher monthly household incomes is somehow expected to compensate for the grinding travails that urban life in India brings, and it is a promise documented inside 50 years of gazettes and government orders, countless circulars and memoranda, hundreds of reports by committees high-powered and technical.

Still the number of villages that are transformed, statistically and temporally into towns (census and statutory) grows from one census to another (and in between), and still the urban agglomerations — some sprawling uncaring from one district into another, consuming agricultural land and watershed — expand, for the instruction of the market is that it is this process of gathering citizens that leads to the growth of gross domestic product (GDP), the prime mechanic in the alleviation of poverty, whose workings in cities are much studied but elude definition.

RG_Agenda_urban_empowerment_RThe density of programmes and schemes that envelop urban-dwellers — those whose households hover above or below a poverty line, those whose informal wage earnings are insufficient to maintain a crumbling housing board tenement — is confusing, inside administrations as much as outside them. The thicket of entitlements and provisions that have been designed, so we are told, to ensure the provision of ‘services’ and ‘amenities’, confounds navigation.

There are economically weaker sections and lower income groups to plan for (provided they remain weaker and lower); there are ‘integrated, reform-driven, fast-track’ sub-missions and components that are aimed at increasing the effectiveness and accountability of urban local bodies, all as part of the ‘Urban Infrastructure and Governance’ standards to be applied under the Urban Infrastructure Development Schemes for Small and Medium Towns (UIDSSMT, which defies any attempt to make acronyms pronounceable) in 65 mission cities.

Prominent within this grand and swelling orchestra of urbanisation are some of the star creations of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty-Alleviation. There is the Basic Services to the Urban Poor (BSUP) and the Integrated Housing and Slum Development Programme (IHSDP) and these round up the gamut of concepts proffered by the urban planning dogma of our times: “integrated development of slums through projects”, “providing for shelter, basic services and other related civic amenities with a view towards providing utilities to the urban poor”, “key pro-poor reforms that include the implementation of the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act”, and “delivery through convergence of other already existing universal services”.

There are public-private partnership templates to guide business (and the odd social entrepreneurship) through this new topology; there are special purpose vehicles formed that mendaciously grey the distinctions between bond and financial markets and the greater public good, but which we are assured will function as the money backstop for public administrations whose clerks peer befuddled at slick online reporting formats (transparency at work, round the clock, accessible through apps on the beneficiaries’ tablet phones).

RG_Agenda_urban_empowerment_GThere is ‘inclusion’ — that most essential salt that flavours the substance of governance today — to be found in every direction. There are plenty of beneficiaries to enlist in this urban social re-engineering that is proceeding on a scale and pace unthinkable a generation ago in our towns (public sector housing colonies and waiting lists for scooters), when ‘income inequality’ was an uncommon topic of discussion and ‘gini coefficient’ had yet to become a society’s alarm bell. The new cadre of GDP engineers is well schooled in the language of human rights and normative justice, and so we have ‘Social Mobilisation and Institution Development’ which attends ‘Employment through Skills Training and Placement’, both of which facilitate ‘empowerment, financial self-reliance, and participation and access to government’.

About 30 years ago, The State of India’s Environment 1984-85 (Centre for Science and Environment) noted in a tone of cautious optimism that “planners are beginning to realise that squatters are economically valuable citizens who add to the gross national product by constructing their own shelter, no matter how makeshift, which saves the government a considerable amount of money”. That was a time when governments still sought to save money and the CSE report went on to explain that squatters “are upwardly mobile citizens in search of economic opportunity and have demonstrated high levels of enterprise, tenacity, and ability to suffer acute hardships; that the informal sector in which a majority of the slum-dwellers are economically active contributes significantly to the city’s overall economic growth; and that they should be helped and not hindered”.

[Articles in the Agenda issue, Urban Poverty, are: How to make urban governance pro-poor, Counting the urban poor, The industry of ‘empowerment’, Data discrepancies, The feminisation of urban poverty, Making the invisible visible, Minorities at the margins, Housing poverty by social groups, Multidimensional poverty in Pune, Undermining Rajiv Awas Yojana, Resettlement projects as poverty traps, Participatory budgeting, Exclusionary cities.]

The FAO mask slips further

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Family farming is a descriptive phrase that rings well with environmentalists, with anthropologists and ethnologists who have had anything to do with food and its cultivation, with naturalists and especially with the many groups promoting agro-ecological farming all over the world. What could be wrong with recognising and valorising family farming?

The FAO's view of smallholder farming, agri-business and markets, rendered in textbook business school fashion.

The FAO’s view of smallholder farming, agri-business and markets, rendered in textbook business school fashion.

Quite a lot, when it comes through the machinery of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s propaganda mill. The most cited of the FAO’s ‘flagship’ publications, the State of Food and Agriculture in 2014 has as its theme family farming, but this theme carries a passenger, which the FAO has described as ‘Innovation in family farming’. And that is how the mask has slipped further.

[The State of Food and Agriculture, FAO’s major annual flagship publication has as its 2014 theme ‘Innovation in family farming’ (the full report here and a summary here).]

The publication needs to be read not for the assertions of how important smallholder farming is, but for the conceptual machinery that has been assembled so that a technical take-over of small farms can be achieved with limited opposition. This is the scheme of the FAO of 2014, which is sadly a very different agency from what it was even a decade ago.

SOFA 2014 in its prose swings rather schizophrenically between sugary pronouncements about how family farms are “the custodians of about 75 percent of all agricultural resources in the world”, and therefore why they should be the new focus for an innovation that is techno-centric. The publication has made liberal use of terms such as “improved ecological and resource sustainability” and where the word ‘sustainable’ is used ‘vulnerable’ is surely not far behind. It isn’t, and SOFA 2014 goes to some lengths to convince its readers that most family farms are vulnerable in one or many ways.

The spin doctors employed by the FAO have come up with what the publication has called a triple challenge for family farming (challenges are most intimidating when they come in threes). This is: “yield growth to meet the world’s need for food security and better nutrition; environmental sustainability to protect the planet and to secure their own productive capacity; and productivity growth and livelihood diversification to lift themselves out of poverty and hunger”. The answer, according to the machine men of international crop science, is that they must innovate (or, better still, nominally hold the title to the factors of crop production while the innovation is administered by outside agents).

FAO_SOFA_2014_coverThis very brief canning of the publication’s main objective helps to place in context the main messages of this year’s State of Food and Agriculture, which include:

“Family farms are part of the solution for achieving food security and sustainable rural development; the world’s food security and environmental sustainability depend on the more than 500 million family farms that form the backbone of agriculture in most countries.”

Here the device of a very large number, 500 million, is used to reassure the critics that the forces that would control the world’s crop staples are unlikely to homogenise such a number. But indeed it is their number and variety that are being studied carefully in order to find approaches that – to use the acidic terms of the multi-lateral banks – boost investor confidence. Hence the considered advice from FAO: “Family farms are an extremely diverse group, and innovation systems must take this diversity into account.”

There is more on complexity and diversity with specific regard to the institutions for crop science (and for food retail and sales, the porcine twin of formal modern agriculture research). The SOFA has said: “The challenges facing agriculture and the institutional environment for agricultural innovation are far more complex than ever before; the world must create an innovation system that embraces this complexity.” What the FAO means by “more complex than ever before” is the growing opposition to industrial agriculture, agricultural biotechnology and the use of genetic modification techniques. So, the embracing that is called for is one that should sound acceptable, non-threatening, inclusive, participatory and all the other terms that the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal-setters so volubly use.

FAO_SOFA_2014_cover_bwInstitutions cost money, which will come from where exactly? The FAO has a ready answer. “Public investment in agricultural R&D and extension and advisory services should be increased and refocused to emphasise sustainable intensification and closing yield and labour productivity gaps.” That is to say, leave the innovation bit to the private sector, turn your research centres (built and run with public monies) over to us, dismantle your nationalist agricultural extension service but give us the network, and look how we close yield and productivity gaps. That’s the pitch, in a nutshell, ignoring the several blunt cautions raised by other UN agencies (including the previous Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food) that we have quite enough food but far too little equity and fairness concerning how it reaches those who need it.

This publication, the State of Food and Agriculture, is the latest that has been outfitted to serve FAO’s new interest, camouflaged though it is. The usual empowering wordiness that has become so tiresomely characteristic of the UN system is on view here too: family farmers need an enabling environment, good governance, stable macroeconomic conditions, transparent legal and regulatory regimes, secure property rights, risk management tools, market infrastructure, capacity development through investment in education and training, participatory agricultural research, emphasise sustainable intensification, closing the yield and productivity gaps.

Until the next major report, this one will be turned into a mini-curriculum to be referenced by client governments so that a technologically obsessed industrial agriculture and seed industry annexes larger shares of old markets (India and South-East Asia) and totally subordinates small new ones (African countries). ‘Fiat panis’ (let there be bread) is the FAO motto and after a reading of SOFA 2014 one could be excused for considering that this motto be switched with ‘fiat food oligarchs’, for that is the direction the FAO, under Jose Graziano da Silva, is firmly pursuing.

Preparing for cyclone Hudhud

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Insat-3D’s view of the path inland of Hudhud at 1730 IST (5:30pm IST) on 12 October. The cyclonic storm is now moving north-northwest through Odisha into Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and south Bihar. Image: IMD

Insat-3D’s view of the path inland of Hudhud at 1730 IST (5:30pm IST) on 12 October. The cyclonic storm is now moving north-northwest through Odisha into Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and south Bihar. Image: IMD

12 Oct – The IMD has issued its evening alert on cyclone Hudhud. The 1700 IST (5:00pm IST) alert contains a heavy rainfall warning and a wind warning.

Heavy rainfall warning: Rainfall at most places with heavy (6.5-12.4 cm) to very heavy falls (12.5-24.4 cm) at a few places and isolated extremely heavy falls (>24.5 cm) would occur over West and East Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Vijayanagaram and Srikakulam districts of north Andhra Pradesh and Ganjam, Gajapati, Koraput, Rayagada, Nabarangpur, Malkangiri, Kalahandi, Phulbani districts of south Odisha during next 24 hrs. Rainfall would occur at most places with heavy to very heavy rainfall at isolated places over Krishna, Guntur and Prakasham districts of Andhra Pradesh and north Odisha during the same period. Rainfall at most places with heavy falls at a few places would occur over south Chattisgarh, adjoining Telangana and isolated heavy to very heavy falls over north Chattisgarh, east Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar.

Cyclone Hudhud will degrade into a severe cyclonic storm, then a cyclonic storm and by 13 October morning into a deep depression. Until 14 October it will continue to pose a danger with heavy rainfall and high winds. This IMD table explains why.

Cyclone Hudhud will degrade into a severe cyclonic storm, then a cyclonic storm and by 13 October morning into a deep depression. Until 14 October it will continue to pose a danger with heavy rainfall and high winds. This IMD table explains why.

Press Information Bureau distributes very useful railway helpline numbers.

Press Information Bureau distributes very useful railway helpline numbers.

Wind warning: Current gale wind speed reaching 130-140 kmph gusting to 150 kmph would decrease gradually to 100-110 kmph gusting to 120 kmph during next 3 hours and to 80-90 kmph during subsequent 6 hours over East Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam districts of North Andhra Pradesh. Wind speed of 80-90 kmph gusting to 100 kmph would prevail over Koraput, Malkangiri, Nabarangpur and Rayagada districts during next 6 hrs and 50 to 60 kmph during subsequent 12 hrs. Squally wind speed reaching upto 55-65 kmph gusting to 75 kmph would also prevail along and off West Godavari and Krishna districts of Andhra Pradesh, Ganjam and Gajapati districts of Odisha, south Chattisgarh and adjoining districts of north Telangana during next 12 hours.

 

Andhra Pradesh helpline numbers here. (Thanks to Ankur Singh ‏@ankurzzzz)

Andhra Pradesh helpline numbers here. (Thanks to Ankur Singh ‏@ankurzzzz)

Odisha district control room phone numbers have been distributed thanks to eodisha.org.

They are: Mayurbhanj 06792 252759, Jajpur 06728 222648, Gajapati 06815 222943, Dhenkanal 06762 221376, Khurda 06755 220002, Keonjhar 06766 255437, Cuttack 0671 2507842, Ganjam 06811 263978, Puri 06752 223237, Kendrapara 06727 232803, Jagatsinghpur 06724 220368, Balasore 06782 26267, Bhadrak 06784 251881.

There are reports on twitter that the leading edge of cyclone Hudhud crossed the coast at around 1030 IST (0500 UTC). The reported maximum wind speed is just above 200 kmph which means the destructive force threatens structures too.

This tweet means that western ‘wall’ of the cyclone has crossed. It took just under two hours. The eastern ‘wall’ crossing of the coast, accompanied by severely high winds and very heavy rain, is under way now.

Navy officials warn that there will be a lull in the storm at around 11.30 am, but the storm will again intensify after that for a few hours.
Zee News has a list of cancelled and curtailed trains.
At least 400,000 people have been evacuated from the coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha states as authorities aimed for zero casualties.

Insat-3D's view of Hudhud at 2:30pm on 11 October. The leading edge of the 'eye' of the cyclone is about 150 kilometres off Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh.

Insat-3D’s view of Hudhud at 2:30pm on 11 October. The leading edge of the ‘eye’ of the cyclone is about 150 kilometres off Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh.

11 Oct – Where is Cyclone Hudhud and how fast is it moving towards land? The India Meteorological Department has said in its most recent alert – 1430/2:30pm on 11 October – that “the Very Severe Cyclonic Storm” is now about 260 kilometres south-east of Visakhapatnam and 350 km south-south-east of Gopalpur. IMD expects the cyclone to travel north-west and cross the coast of north Andhra Pradesh, near Visakhapatnam, by mid-morning on 12 October 2014.

Around 100,000 people have been evacuated in Andhra Pradesh to high-rise buildings, shelters and relief centres, with plans to move a total of 300,000 to safety. Authorities in Odisha said they were monitoring the situation and would, if necessary, move 300,000 people most at risk.

The evacuation effort was comparable in scale to the one that preceded Cyclone Phailin exactly a year ago, and which was credited with minimising the fatalities to 53. When a huge storm hit the same area 15 years ago, 10,000 people died.

The projected path of the cyclone and its outer rainbands, which in the case of Hudhud are around 80 km thick measured from the eye. Image: GDACS

The projected path of the cyclone and its outer rainbands, which in the case of Hudhud are around 80 km thick measured from the eye. Image: GDACS

Authorities have been stocking cyclone shelters with dry rations, water purification tablets and generators. They have opened up 24-hour emergency control rooms and dispatched satellite phones to officials in charge of vulnerable districts.

The AP government has cancelled leaves of employees and has asked everyone to remain on duty on the weekend.  In Vizag, where the cyclone is expected to make landfall, the administration has opened 175 shelters and moved close to 40,000 people from the coastal villages. In Srikakulam, people of 250 villages in 11 mandals which may be affected have been evacuated.

IMD's table of wind speeds at the surface (sea level) brought by Hudhud. Note the exceptionally strong winds between 2330/11:30pm on 11 October and 1130/11:30am on 12 October.

IMD’s table of wind speeds at the surface (sea level) brought by Hudhud. Note the exceptionally strong winds between 2330/11:30pm on 11 October and 1130/11:30am on 12 October.

While human casualties are not expected due to the massive evacuation, power and telecommunication lines will be uprooted leading to widespread disruption. A warning has been issued that flooding and uprooted trees will cut off escape routes, national and state highways and traffic is being regulated to ensure that no one is caught in the flash floods caused by heavy rains.

Vishakhapatnam, Bhimunipatnam, Chittivalasa and Konada are expected to face storm surges of over 1 metre. Source: GDACS

Vishakhapatnam, Bhimunipatnam, Chittivalasa and Konada are expected to face storm surges of over 1 metre. Source: GDACS

Officials said that National Disaster Response Force teams have been strategically placed along the coast to be deployed wherever they are required. Railways has cancelled all trains passing through the three districts which are likely to be affected.

The IMD has issued a “Heavy Rainfall Warning” which has said that driven by the cyclonic winds, rainfall at most places along the AP and Odisha coast will be heavy (6.5–12.4cm) to very heavy (12.5–24.4 cm). These places include West and East Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Vijayanagaram and Srikakulam districts of north Andhra Pradesh and Ganjam, Gajapati, Koraput, Rayagada, Nabarangpur, Malkangiri, Kalahandi, Phulbani districts of south Odisha.

10 OctThe India Meteorological Department said on the evening of 10 October that the “Very Severe Cyclonic Storm” is centered near latitude 15.0ºN and longitude 86.8ºE about 470 km east-southeast of Visakhapatnam and 520 km south-southeast of Gopalpur. This was the fix IMD had on the centre of the cyclone at 1430 IST on 10 October 2014.

Here are the salient points from news reports released during the afternoon of 10 October:

Cyclone Hudhud will cross the north Andhra Pradesh coast on October 12 and is expected to make landfall close to Visakhapatnam, according to the Cyclone Warning Centre (CWC) at Visakhapatnam. “It is forecast that Hudhud, which is already a severe cyclonic storm, will intensify into a very severe cyclonic storm in next 12 hours. Hudhud is likely to make landfall on October 12 close to Visakhapatnam,” said IMD’s Hyderabad centre.

This panel of four images shows the wind patterns of the cyclone at different altitudes. Top left is at 1,000 millibars (mb) of atmospheric pressure which is around sea level, top right is at 850 mb which is at around 1,500 metres high, bottom left is at 700 mb which is at around 3,500 metres, and bottom right is at 500 mb which is at around 5,000 metres. The direction of the greenish lines shows the winds rushing into the cyclonic centre. The visualisations have been collected from the 'earth.nullschool.net', which visually processes global weather conditions forecast by supercomputers and updated every three hours.

This panel of four images shows the wind patterns of the cyclone at different altitudes. Top left is at 1,000 millibars (mb) of atmospheric pressure which is around sea level, top right is at 850 mb which is at around 1,500 metres high, bottom left is at 700 mb which is at around 3,500 metres, and bottom right is at 500 mb which is at around 5,000 metres. The direction of the greenish lines shows the winds rushing into the cyclonic centre. The visualisations have been collected from the ‘earth.nullschool.net’, which visually processes global weather conditions forecast by supercomputers and updated every three hours.

Cyclone Hudhud has moved closer to the coast of Odisha and eight districts of the state are likely to be affected by it. The districts likely to be affected by the cyclone are Ganjam, Gajapati, Rayagada, Koraput, Malkangiri, Nabarangpur, Kalahandi and Kandhamal. All these districts have been provided with satellite phones for emergency and constant vigil was being maintained on the rivers like Bansadhara, Rusikulya and Nagabali as heavy rain is expected in southern districts.

The path over the Bay and after landfall as forecast by the IMD's Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre (RSMC). Note that within the large circle of heavy rainfall expected inland are the cities of Nagpur, Nanded, Amravati, Bhilai, Raipur and Karimnagar.

The path over the Bay and after landfall as forecast by the IMD’s Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre (RSMC). Note that within the large circle of heavy rainfall expected inland are the cities of Nagpur, Nanded, Amravati, Bhilai, Raipur and Karimnagar.

With cyclone Hudhud fast approaching the states of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh today spoke to the chief ministers of the three states on the steps being taken to deal with the situation. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik sought satellite phones which could be used in case high-speed winds disturbed the telecommunication system.

According to the India Meteorological Department, the wind speeds of cyclone Hudhud will be less than what the east coast experienced during Phailin in October 2013. The wind speed during cyclone Phailin was nearly 210 kmph, which made the cyclone the second-strongest ever to hit India’s coastal region. The country had witnessed its severest cyclone in Odisha in 1999.

Frequent updates and advisories can also be found at GDACS – the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (a cooperation framework under the UN umbrella). GDACS provides real-time access to web-based disaster information systems and related coordination tools.

Cities that will directly be affected by cyclone Hudhud are Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh, Vizianagaram in AP, Bhogapuram in AP, and Anakapalle in AP.

The sweeping of Bharat

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RG_Modi_jhadoo_6_smIt is as customary in politics as it is in administration to expect a new dispensation to sweep clean the debris and dust of the old order. It is just as customary to fix such sweeping with a suspicious eye and mutter that new brooms after all must sweep, for such is their calling.

Yet what we now see in India appears to be no ordinary broom and no ordinary sweeping. There is a movement afoot to clean the country and its chief cleaner and founder had this to say on 2 October (the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi): “Does the job of getting rid of filth belongs to municipal cleaners only? Isn’t it the duty of all the 1.25 billion Indians? We have to change this situation. All of us are responsible for no longer keeping our country like this.”

RG_Modi_jhadoo_7_smThe exhortation was delivered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has set a benchmark for plain speaking in his government. The tone was set and early adopters proved to be, not the average Indian weary of garbage in her neighbourhood, but practically every government department.

Against a background of apathy by government departments that has been painfully familiar for two decades and more, this is unusual but not surprising. The new Bharatiya Janata Party government has impressed upon bureaucrats and government servants that they too are responsible citizens first, which is why every day after 2 October, one ministry after another has advertised its eagerness to sweep India clean through press releases, posed photographs and stilted promises.

The campaign, called ‘Swachh Bharat’, or clean India, has at best left ordinary citizens both bemused and amused. To set the ball rolling, Modi invited nine well-known citizens to begin a high-profile sweeping. Amongst them is Sachin Tendulkar, the cricketer, who quickly sent for a bunch of the typically ordinary brooms that Indian households use, rounded up some of his friends, and set to work in his Mumbai neighbourhood with at least as much technique as he once used to score runs on the cricket pitch.

RG_Modi_jhadoo_8_smBut the clean India campaign is also proving to have reached places that no such campaign before it has. The governor of the Reserve Bank of India, who ordinarily ponders monetary policy and interest rate adjustments, is reported to have turned his attention to how new toilets in rural India can be financed. Moreover, India’s University Grants Commission, the apex body that coordinates higher education in the country, has instructed all the universities to ensure clean and green campuses.

Preferring the questionnaire to the broom, Delhi University has decided to sociologically study the impact of Modi’s campaign (will Delhi’s residents actually stop littering, they have asked). The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (whose job it is to monitor the gigantic Indian economy) has been asked to “develop an appropriate statistical framework” so that the government can judge whether the campaign is working and how it may be adjusted. And the first smartphone application has been released with which litter-averse Indians can tag unclean places in their city wards, upload pictures to a dedicated portal, and perhaps wait for a municipal cleaner to turn up, armed with a now very familiar broom.

An erratic monsoon with late spikes

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RG_IMD_rain_deficit_chart_20140924From the first week of June 2014 until the middle of September 2014, there have been floods and conditions near drought in many districts, but for India the tale of monsoon 2014 comes from individual districts and not from a national ‘average’ or a ‘cumulative’.

The weekly rainfall variation table for Maharashtra's districts. The period of the last week of August and the first two weeks of September is the only period during which these districts received rainfall at or above normal. But overall, the second deficient category, coloured light rose, dominates (this table uses my modified monsoon measure methodology, see text for link)

The weekly rainfall variation table for Maharashtra’s districts. The period of the last week of August and the first two weeks of September is the only period during which these districts received rainfall at or above normal. But overall, the second deficient category, coloured light rose, dominates (this table uses my modified monsoon measure methodology, see text for link)

This revealing chart tells some of that tale. It shows that for the first six weeks of monsoon 2014, most districts recorded rain below their normals for those weeks.

The lines are percentile lines; they tell us what percent of districts recorded how much rainfall in a monsoon week relative to their normals for that week. This chart does not show how much rain – it shows distance away from a weekly normal for districts.

The left scale is a percentage – higher percentages indicate how much above normal districts recorded their rainfall, negative numbers show us how much below normal their rainfall was.

The dates (the bottom scale) are for weeks ending on that date for which ‘normals’ and departures from normal were recorded. The P_01 to P_09 lines are the percentiles (10th to 90th) of districts in every week.

The typical IMD map of 'normal' rainfall measured by the meteorological sub-divisions. The detailed weekly tables give us a very different picture.

The typical IMD map of ‘normal’ rainfall measured by the meteorological sub-divisions. The detailed weekly tables give us a very different picture.

The district weekly normal is an important measure for matters like sowing of crop and issuing water rationing instructions in talukas and blocks. In the week ending 23 July for example, we see that the 60th percentile line spiked above normal, and this means that in that week only four out of ten districts all over India received the amount of rain it should have based on the average of the last 50 years.

The districts overview chart is distilled from the detailed weekly tables I have assembled (see the image of the Maharashtra table). For the whole country, what the districts tell us about the monsoon so far is a very much more detailed and insightful tale than the typical offering by the Meteorological Department (see India sub-divisional map). These weekly district tables are coded using my modified monsoon methodology, geared towards aiding decisions for local administrations especially for prolonged arid conditions leading to drought.

Written by makanaka

September 24, 2014 at 10:06

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