Resources Research

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

A cost perspective about India’s pulses imports

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Import categories sized according to their average monthly values for 24 months over April 2013 to March 2015.

Import categories sized according to their average monthly values for 24 months over April 2013 to March 2015.

For the last three years, India has imported between 3.2 and 4 million tons of pulses a year. These imports supplement our own production of pulses, which alas and despite several ‘missions’ and ‘schemes’ we do not grow enough of.

Apart from why we should import pulses at all instead of growing all that we need, the matter of what we spend (that is, the foreign exchange with which importing agencies pay for the pulses) has I think not been placed in perspective, which is the aim of this short inquiry.

For this I have used the Department of Commerce ‘System on Foreign Trade Performance Analysis’ which provides the monthly imports and exports under major heads as compiled by the Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics.

Of the 21 major heads, the import of pulses falls under the group ‘agriculture and allied products’. Considering the 24-month period of April 2013 to March 2015, the value of pulses imported has varied between 10% and 21% of the agriculture group imports.

However, the average monthly value of pulses imported over this period Rs 1,171 crore and this average lies between the monthly amount spent on ‘internal combustion engines and parts’ (Rs 1,130 crore) and ‘paper, paperboard and products’ (Rs 1,205 crore).

Hence our questions ought also to be: why is India spending Rs 720 crore a month to import fresh fruit, Rs 898 crore a month to import man-made yarn and made-ups, Rs 1,031 crore a month to import rubber other than footwear, Rs 720 crore a month to import fresh fruit, Rs 2,684 crore a month to import electronics instruments, Rs 2,745 crore a month to import electronics components, Rs 2,928 crore a month to import electric machinery and equipment, and Rs 4,539 crore a month to import vegetable oils?


Written by makanaka

November 21, 2015 at 18:51

Out with the legislated history of Bharat

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A public statement entitled ‘Hypocrisy and Indian History’ has within two days of it being released gathered supporters by the thousand. Written by a group of historians, archaeologists and scholars of the Indian civilisation, the joint public statement has issued a clear and much-needed call for an unbiased and rigorous new historiography of India.

The 50 signatories (at this time supported by more than 4,000 via an online petition) have condemned the “pernicious imposition by the Leftist School of a ‘legislated history’, which has presented an alienating and debilitating self-image to generations of Indian students, and promoted contempt for their civilisational heritage”. The authors of the joint statement have opened a first front in the quest for India’s Leftist historians – long held as the only writers and interpreters of the history of an ancient and exceedingly rich civilisation – to face a reckoning that will undoubtedly be grim for their school.

'Bheelalas' (also Bhilala), Sehore (MP, the old Central Provinces), 1862, from the Waterhouse Albums

‘Bheelalas’ (also Bhilala), Sehore (MP, the old Central Provinces), 1862, from the Waterhouse Albums

They have pointed to a few of the more odious recent instances of the Left historians doing their duty to the former Congress-led government – on 26 October 2015, a group of 53 Indian historians publicly said they were alarmed by what they perceived as a “highly vitiated atmosphere” in India. Soon after, an “Open letter from overseas historians and social scientists” (numbering 176) followed, and this letter warned against “a dangerously pervasive atmosphere of narrowness, intolerance and bigotry” and “a monolithic and flattened view of India’s history”.

Such made-to-order intellectual endorsing of what has been a tactical political campaign against the BJP government has disturbed many historians, archaeologists and scholars of the Indian civilisation.

hist_quote1The authors of this statement have said their response is to the hypocritical attempts by leftist historians to claim a moral high ground. “Many of the signatories of the above two statements by Indian and ‘overseas’ historians,” they explain in their statement, “have been part of a politico-ideological apparatus which, from the 1970s onward, has come to dominate most historical bodies in the country, including the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), and imposed its blinkered view of Indian historiography on the whole academic discipline”.

The authors of the (welcome and timely) call to free Indian historiography from the intellectual gulags of the left include a number of current members of the ICHR, several former members of the council, several scholars of the Archaeological Survey of India, university professors, Sanskrit scholars and linguists. They provide seven good reasons why their call is important, and these are (reproduced directly from the call):

'Kali Ghat, Calcutta', from 'Picturesque India. A handbook for European travellers, etc.', by W S Caine, G Routledge & Sons, 1890

‘Kali Ghat, Calcutta’, from ‘Picturesque India. A handbook for European travellers, etc.’, by W S Caine, G Routledge & Sons, 1890

1. A reductionist approach viewing the evolution of Indian society almost entirely through the prism of the caste system, emphasizing its mechanisms of “exclusion” while neglecting those of integration without which Indian society would have disintegrated long ago.

2. A near-complete erasure of India’s knowledge systems in every field —philosophical, linguistic, literary, scientific, medical, technological or artistic — and a general under-emphasis of India’s important contributions to other cultures and civilizations. In this, the Leftist School has been a faithful inheritor of colonial historiography, except that it no longer has the excuse of ignorance. Yet it claims to provide an accurate and “scientific” portrayal of India!

3. A denial of the continuity and originality of India’s Hindu-Buddhist-Jain-Sikh culture, ignoring the work of generations of Indian and Western Indologists. Hindu identity, especially, has been a pet aversion of this School, which has variously portrayed it as being disconnected from Vedic antecedents, irrational, superstitious, regressive, barbaric — ultimately “imagined” and, by implication, illegitimate.

hist_quote24. A refusal to acknowledge the well-documented darker chapters of Indian history, in particular the brutality of many Muslim rulers and their numerous Buddhist, Jain, Hindu and occasionally Christian and Muslim victims (ironically, some of these tyrants are glorified today); the brutal intolerance of the Church in Goa, Kerala and Puducherry; and the state-engineered economic and cultural impoverishment of India under the British rule. While history worldwide has wisely called for millions of nameless victims to be remembered, Indian victims have had to suffer a second death, that of oblivion, and often even derision.

5. A neglect of tribal histories: For all its claims to give a voice to “marginalized” or “oppressed” sections of Indian society, the Leftist School has hardly allowed a space to India’s tribal communities and the rich contributions of their tribal belief systems and heritage. When it has condescended to take notice, it has generally been to project Hindu culture and faith traditions as inimical to tribal cultures and beliefs, whereas in reality the latter have much more in common with the former than with the religions imposed on them through militant conversions.

Illustration 'Women of Bombay' from 'What I saw in India', by H S Newman, Partridge & Co., 1885

Illustration ‘Women of Bombay’ from ‘What I saw in India’, by H S Newman, Partridge & Co., 1885

6. A biased and defective use of sources: Texts as well as archaeological or epigraphic evidence have been misread or selectively used to fit preconceived theories. Advances of Indological researches in the last few decades have been ignored, as have been Indian or Western historians, archaeologists, anthropologists who have differed from the Leftist School. Archaeologists who developed alternative perspectives after considerable research have been sidelined or negatively branded. Scientific inputs from many disciplines, from palaeo-environmental to genetic studies have been neglected.

7. A disquieting absence of professional ethics: The Leftist School has not academically critiqued dissenting Indian historians, preferring to dismiss them as “Nationalist” or “communal”. Many academics have suffered discrimination, virtual ostracism and loss of professional opportunities because they would not toe the line, enforced through political support since the days of Nurul Hasan. The Indian History Congress and the ICHR, among other institutions, became arenas of power play and political as well as financial manipulation. In effect, the Leftist School succeeded in projecting itself as the one and only, crushing debate and dissent and polarising the academic community.

hist_quote3And there we have it. I signed the petition (which you will find here) and commented: “The Indic approach to understanding the patterns of the past has been systematically denied, suppressed, altered, misrepresented, miscast, ridiculed and marginalised by the historians who are the subject here. In my view, aspects that have a great deal to do with shaping events and the lives of peoples – language and spirituality – have been ignored altogether by the ‘leftist school’. In so doing, a gigantic corpus of work and memory concerning our Bharatiya past has been concealed or neglected to a condition of near ruin, and this has been disastrous for the transmission of the values and ideas which are part of our heritage. That is why I welcome this call for a new historiography of Bharat.”

The 50 original signatories of this statement are:

1. Dr. Dilip K. Chakrabarti, Emeritus Professor, Cambridge University, UK; Dean, Centre of Historical and Civilizational Studies, Vivekananda International Foundation, Chanakyapuri, Delhi; member, ICHR
2. Dr. Saradindu Mukherji, historian, retired from Delhi University; member, ICHR
3. Dr. Nanditha Krishna, Director, CPR Institute of Indological Research, Chennai; member, ICHR
4. Dr. M.D. Srinivas, former professor of theoretical physics; former vice-chairman, Indian Institute of Advanced Study; chairman, Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai; member, ICHR
5. Dr. Meenakshi Jain, associate professor of history, Delhi University; member, ICHR
6. Michel Danino, guest professor, IIT Gandhinagar; member, ICHR
7. Prof. B.B. Lal, former Director General, Archaeological Survey of India
8. Dr. R.S. Bisht, former Joint Director General, Archaeological Survey of India
9. Dr. R. Nagaswamy, former Director of Archaeology, Govt. of Tamil Nadu; Vice Chancellor, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Viswa Mahavidyalaya, Kanchipuram
10. Dr. B.M. Pande, Former Director, Archaeological Survey of India
11. Prof. Dayanath Tripathi, former Chairman, ICHR; former Head, Dept. of Ancient History, Archaeology and Culture, D.D.U. Gorakhpur University, Gorakhpur; former Visiting Professor at Cambridge, British Academy
12. Prof. R.C. Agrawal, President, Rock Art Society of India; former Member Secretary of ICHR
13. Prof. K.V. Raman, former professor of Ancient Indian History & Archaeology, University of Madras
14. Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, Dancer and Research Scholar
15. Prof. Kapil Kapoor, former Rector, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Chancellor, Mahatma Gandhi Antararashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya, Wardha (Maharashtra)
16. Prof. Madhu Kishwar, Professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi
17. Dr. Chandrakala Padia, Vice Chancellor, Maharaja Ganga Singh University (Rajasthan); Chairperson, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla
18. Sachchidanand Sahai, Ph.D. (Paris), National Professor in Epigraphy, Ministry of Culture, Government of India, Advisor to Preah Vihear National Authority under the Royal Government of Cambodia; member, ICHR
19. Dr. J.K. Bajaj, Director Centre for Policy Studies, Former Member ICSSR
20. Dr. Makarand Paranjape, Professor of English, JNU; Visiting Global South Fellow, University of Tuebingen
21. Dr. Nikhiles Guha, former professor of history, University of Kalyani, West Bengal; member, ICHR
22. Prof. Issac C.I., member, ICHR
23. Prof. (Dr.) Purabi Roy, member, ICHR
24. Prof. Jagbir Singh, Former Professor and Head, Dept. of Punjabi, University of Delhi; Life Fellow, Punjabi University, Patiala.
25. Dr. G.J. Sudhakar, former Associate Professor, Dept. of History, Loyola College, Chennai
26. Dr. Bharat Gupt, Former Associate Professor, Delhi University
27. Prof. O.P. Kejariwal, Central Information Commissioner & Nehru Fellow
28. Dr. S.C. Bhattacharya, former Professor and HOD, Ancient History, Culture and Archaeology, Allahabad University; former National Fellow, IIAS, Shimla
29. Prof. S.K. Chakraborty, former professor, Management Centre for Human Values, Indian Institute of Management Calcutta
30. Dr. Amarjiva Lochan, Associate Professor in History, Delhi University; President, South and Southeast Asian Association for the Study of Culture & Religion (SSEASR) under IAHR, affiliated to the UNESCO
31. Dr. R.N. Iyengar, Distinguished Professor, Jain University, Bangalore
32. Professor (Dr) R. Nath, former Professor of History, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur
33. Kirit Mankodi, archaeologist, consultant to Project for Indian Cultural Studies, Mumbai
34. Prof. K. Ramasubramanian, Cell for Indian Science and Technology in Sanskrit, IIT Bombay; Council Member International Union for History and Philosophy of Science; member, Rashtriya Sanksrit Parishad
35. Dr. M.S. Sriram, Retired Professor and Head, Department of Theoretical Physics, University of Madras; Member Editorial Board, Indian Journal of History of Science; Former Member, Research Council for History of Science, INSA
36. Dr. Amartya Kumar Dutta, Professor of Mathematics, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata
37. Dr. Godabarisha Mishra, Professor and Head, Dept. of Philosophy, University of Madras
38. Dr. R. Ganesh, Shathavadhani, Sanskrit scholar
39. Sri Banwari, Academic and Journalist; former Resident Editor, Jansatta
40. Dr. S. Krishnan, Associate Professor, Dept of Mathematics, IIT Bombay
41. Dr. Rajnish Kumar Mishra, Associate Professor, Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
42. Dr. Vikram Sampath, Director, Symbiosis School of Media and Communication; former Director of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) – SRC; historian and author
43. Prof. K. Gopinath, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
44. Prof. M.A. Venkatakrishnan, former Professor and Head, Dept. of Vaishnavism, Madras University
45. Dr. Sumathi Krishnan, Musician and Musicologist
46. Dr. Prema Nandakumar, Author and translator
47. Dr. Santosh Kumar Shukla, Associate Professor, Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
48. Dr. Siniruddha Dash, former Professor & Head, Dept. of Sanskrit, University of Madras
49. Dr. Mamata Mishra, Managing Trustee, Prof. K.V. Sarma Research Foundation
50. Dr. Chithra Madhavan, historian and epigraphist

Written by makanaka

November 20, 2015 at 00:59

Cities by numbers, a count of our cities

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RG_new_city_marks2The 27 cities shown on this map are no different from many others like them in India today, and the selection of these 27 is based solely on a single numerical milestone which I am fairly sure few of each city’s citizens (or administrations for that matter) will have marked.

On some day during the months since March 2011, the population of each of these 27 cities has crossed 150,000 – this is the criterion. March 2011 is the month to which the Census 2011 has fixed its population count, for the country, for a state, a district, a town.

And so these 27 cities share one criterion – which they be quite unaware of – which is that when their inhabitants were enumerated for the 2011 census, their populations were under 150,000 whereas in the four years since that mark has been crossed.

Any population mark is as arbitrary as any other. What such an exercise does help with is that the spotlight of awareness about our living spaces can once more shine on that factor which stands above all others: our numbers. It is these numbers that dictate our impacts, as individuals and as householders, on the environment and its gifts.

RG_new_city_marks3That’s why it is of scant interest to us that the city of Palanpur in the district of Banas Kantha (Gujarat) would have crossed the 150,000 mark only very recently, perhaps one or two months ago, just like the city of Beed in the district of the same name (Maharashtra).

It is also of scant interest that whereas the city of Barabanki (district Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh), crossed the mark within a year after March 2011, it was in 2013 that Kaithal (district Kaithal, Haryana) crossed the same mark (as did Sasaram, in the district of Rohtas, Bihar).

On this map, some of the increments seem small – look at Damoh in Madhya Pradesh and Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. What is of interest to us the cumulative impact of these small increments over time.

When the great enumeration of 2011 fixed their populations, these 27 cities taken together were home to 3.88 million people. In 2015 September about 4.3 million people live in the same 27. The difference between the two totals – about 405,000 people – is more than the population of any two on this short list together!

This is but the briefest outline for 27 cities only. Using a conservative estimate for the annual population growth rate there are in 2015 September 238 cities (including these) whose populations are between 100,000 and 200,000 – Nabadwip in Nadia district (West Bengal), Neyveli in Cuddalore district (Tamil Nadu) and Rae Bareli (Rae Bareli district, Uttar Pradesh) have all just crossed the 200,000 population mark.

So many households, some in slums (pucca and ‘regularised’, or with blue plastic sheets for a roof and water mafias in control) and some in tenements, some owning a car and two-wheeler both and others reliant on public transport and the kindness of neighbours, very very few with electricity around the clock and every one of those that can afford it with an inverter or UPS. All, humble or well-to-do, with a monthly food budget and all, humble or well-to-do, with dreams and hopes.

Written by makanaka

October 29, 2015 at 20:41

The colossi of Guangdong

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West of Hong Kong lies one of the most extraordinary landscapes in the world, as much for the dense concentration of urban zones, of industrial and factory regions, but also for the change that has occurred over the space of a generation. In the 1970s, the Pearl River Delta was a mainly rural region. Of course there was Guangzhou (known to the world as Canton) but the rest of the sprawling delta was village. The Pearl River itself (‘Zhu Jiang’ in the Chinese) is China’s third longest river, but the second largest by volume of water which moves (after the Yangtze) and its course and seasons governed a basin in south-central China that is just over 400,000 square kilometres large.

The nine cities of the Pearl River Delta together form the world’s most urbanised region. Where did they come from? According to most annals of trading history concerning China, in the late 17th century the Qing government became more open to foreign trade and when that happened Guangzhou (Canton) quickly became a suitable port.

A shipping container terminal whose size defies the scale the eye can gauge, but one of several in the Pear River delta region.

A shipping container terminal whose size defies the scale the eye can gauge, but one of several in the Pear River delta region.

The Portuguese in Macau, the Spanish in Manila, Arabs from the Middle East and Muslims from India were already actively trading in the port of Canton by the 1690s, when the French and English began frequenting the port through the ‘Canton System’ (which was the name given to the imperial court’s regulatory response to what it saw, that long ago, as political and commercial threats). But for the Pearl River Delta, the gates had been opened – the Ostend General India company arrived, so did the Dutch East India Company, then came ships from most western colonial powers.

Over every horizon in every direction but towards the sea is such a landscape, teeming with structures and over-crammed with multi-tiered infrastructure.

Over every horizon in every direction but towards the sea is such a landscape, teeming with structures and over-crammed with multi-tiered infrastructure.

By the middle of the 18th century, Guangzhou had already emerged as one of the world’s great trading ports, and the ‘Thirteen Factories’ (not in fact factories at all but the designated areas of the port in where foreign trading was conducted) which were given imperial leave to operate, ensured the distinction was maintained until the outbreak of the First Opium War (1839) and the opening of other ports a few years later.

When, in the 1990s, China became known as the factory of the world, the province of Guangdong (of which Guangzhou is the capital) was where these manufactures were done. This is the activity which has made the province both the most populous in China and the biggest contributor to national GDP. What has also happened is the most rapid urban expansion in human (and Chinese) history. In a little more than 30 years, the Pearl River Delta region has become the epicentre of the Chinese manufacturing and consumer economy.

Over two generations, the urbanisation rate has increased from 28% to 83% which in effect means that where once not very long ago two-thirds of the residents pursued agriculture-based livelihoods, now four-fifths live in fully urban environments. The scale and speed of this transformation is astonishing. The cities of the Pearl River Delta have since 2008 been also referred to as a single interconnected zone of megacities, as their perimeters have blurred, they merge through wide highways and fast railway links and the endless manufacturing zones with their vast factory structures. The entire region has a geographical size larger than Denmark or Switzerland – with a wide river lined thick with docks and crammed with watercraft running through in the middle.

As densely packed as components on printed circuit boards, but these factory zones are kilometres long on each side, and their clones fade into the blue industrial haze.

As densely packed as components on printed circuit boards, but these factory zones are kilometres long on each side, and their clones fade into the blue industrial haze.

Working and living here is the largest urbanised population in the world – Guangzhou with 12.8 million, Shenzhen with 10.5 million, Dongguan with 8.3 million, Foshan with 7.3 million and the rest (Huizhou, Zhongshan, Jiangmen, Zhaoqing and Zhuhai) with another 18 million together) for a linked agglomeration of 56.9 million people. This enormous urbanised region accounts for 4.2% of China’s total population, and for 9.3% of its GDP. The multi-megalopolis has been assembled through the completion (and continuous expansion) of more than 150 major infrastructure projects (each by itself would be a significant milestone in a small country) which have helped the colossal network of transportation, water, energy supply and telecommunication to function every day.

There are labyrinths of roads, tunnels and bridges across the delta, as well as intra- and inter-city railways so that the residents of the Pearl River Delta speed from any one of the nine cities to another in an hour or less. Extending south-eastwards, these lead into Hong Kong, the Special Autonomous Region, whose economic might and cultural richness are both natural guides for the Pearl River multi-megalopolis but also (as seen from within Hong Kong, and perhaps Beijing) its competitor. Will the Pearl River Delta – the world’s biggest concentration of manufacturing megawattage, of people and of infrastructure – eventually absorb Hong Kong?

[Photos by Rahul Goswami, 2015.]

Written by makanaka

October 26, 2015 at 20:20

The uses of a Nobel prize in economics

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The 2015 Nobel prize for economics has been awarded to Angus Deaton, who is based in the Princeton University, in USA. Deaton’s work has been on poverty and his contemporaries in the field are Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze; all three have focused on poverty, malnutrition, consumption by households and how to measure these.

Herewith my view which I set out in a series of 37 tweets:

1 – like every single Nobel award category, the one for economics is calculated recognition of the use of Western ideas.
2 – There is no Nobel in economics for, say, Pacific islander economics or nomadic/pastoral economics. The boundary is clear.
3 – There is the additional problem, and it is a weighty one, of what is being recognised: a science or a thought experiment?
4 – Western economics can only ever and at best pretend to be a science (ignore the silly equations). There’s more.
5 – It has to do with food and food consumption choices. Do remember that. For the last 5-6 years the food MNCs and their..
6 – collaborators in Bharat have moved from hunger to nutrition. Remember that we grow enough food for all our households..
7 – and there are in 2016 about 175 million rural and 83 million urban households. So, food is there but choice is not yet..
8 – as clear as the marketeers and retailers pretend. No one truly knows, but economists claim to, and this one does.
9 – What then follows is the academic deification of the thought experiment, done carefully over a decade. The defenders..
10 – of the postulations of Deaton, Dreze, Sen et al turn this into a handmaiden of poverty study. And India is poor..
11 – (but Bharat is not). So we now have consumer choice, poverty, malnutrition and a unified theory to bridge the mess..
12 – for such a third world mess can only find salvation through the scientific ministrations of Western economics. The stage
13 – was thus set some years ago, when the Congress/UPA strove abundantly to craft a halo for this thought experiment..
14 – and in the process, all other explanations concerning food and the manner of its many uses were banished from both..
15 – policy and the academic trend of the day. But Deaton’s experiment is only as good as his references, which aren’t..
16 – for the references, as any kirana shop owner and any mandi bania knows, are more unreliable than reliable. What our..
17 – primary crop quantities are have only ever been a best estimate subject to abundant caution and local interpretation..
18 – for a thought experiment which seeks to unify food, malnutrition, poverty and ‘development’ this one has clay feet..
19 – which nevertheless is good enough for the lords of food crop and seed of the world, for it takes only the shimmer of..
20 – academic respectability such as that accumulated by Deaton, Dreze and Sen to turn postulate into programme. What we..
21 – will now see is what has been seen in medicine (and therefore public health) and in ‘peace’ (hence geopolitics) because..
22 – of the benediction the Nobel aura confers. This work will be press-ganged into the service of the new nutritionists..
23 – whose numbers are growing more rapidly than, a generation ago, did the numbers of the poverty experts. It is no longer..
24 – food and hunger and malnutrition but consumer choice, nutrition and the illusions of welfare. This is the masala mix..
25 – seized upon by those who direct the Nobel committee as they seek to control our 105 million tons of rice, 95 of wheat..
26 – our 43 million tons of coarse cereals, 20 of pulses, 170 of vegetables and 85 of fruit and turn this primary wealth..
27 – of our Bharat into a finance-capital manifesto outfitted with Nobel armoury that is intended to strip choice (not to..
28 – support it) from our kisans who labour on the 138 million farm holdings of our country (85% of them small and marginal)..
29 – and from our 258 million households (as they will be next year) towards whose thalis is destined the biofortified and..
30 – genetically modified menace of hyper-processed primary crop that is digitally retailed and cunningly marketed. This..
31 – is the deft and cunning manoeuvring that has picked on the microeconomist of post-poverty food study aka nutrition..
32 – as being deserving of Nobel recognition (when five years ago the Nobel family dissociated itself from this category).
33 – And so the coast has been duly cleared. The troublesome detritus of poverty macro-economics has been replaced by the..
34 – big data-friendliness of a rickety thought experiment which lends itself admirably to a high-fashion ‘development’..
35 – industry that basks in ‘sustainable’ hues and reflects the technology-finance tendencies of the SDGs. Food is no longer..
36 – in vogue but the atomisation of community crop and diet choice most certainly is. The pirate pennant of Western macro-
37 – economics is all aflutter again, thanks to the Nobel wind of 2015, but I will not allow it to fly over my Bharat. Never.

Water and a district in Maharashtra

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In this panel of maps the relationship between the district of Parbhani (in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra) and water is graphically depicted over time. The blue squares are water bodies, as seen by a satellite equipped to do so. The intensity of the blue colour denotes how much water is standing in that coloured square by volume – the deeper the blue, the more the water.

Water bodies consist of all surface water bodies and these are: reservoirs, irrigation tanks, lakes, ponds, and rivers or streams. There will be variation in the spatial dimensions of these water bodies depending on how much rainfall the district has recorded, and how the collected water has been used during the season and year. In addition to these surface water bodies, there are other areas representing water surface that may appear, such as due to flood inundations, depressions in flood plains, standing water in rice crop areas during transplantation stages. Other than medium and large reservoirs, these water features are treated as seasonal and some may exist for only a few weeks.

Click on this detail for a full size image (1.7MB) of the panel of fortnightly maps.

Click on this detail for a full size image (1.7MB) of the panel of fortnightly maps.

The importance of monitoring water collection and use at this scale can be illustrated through a very brief outline of Parbhani. The district has 830 inhabited villages distributed through nine tehsils that together occupy 6,214 square kilometres, eight towns, 359,784 households in which a population of 1.83 million live (1.26 rural and 0.56 million urban). This population includes 317,000 agricultural labourers and 295,000 cultivators – thus water use and rainfall is of very great importance for this district, and indeed for the many like it all over India.

The map of Parbhani district and its talukas, from the Census 2011 District Census Handbook.

The map of Parbhani district and its talukas, from the Census 2011 District Census Handbook.

This water bodies map for Parbhani district is composed of 18 panels that are identical spatially – that is, centred on the district – and display the chronological progression of water accumulation or withdrawal. Each panel is a 15-day period, and the series of mapped fortnights begins on 1 January 2015.

The panels tell us that there are periods before the typical monsoon season (1 June to 30 September) when the accumulation of water in surface water bodies has been more than those 15-day periods found during the monsoon season. See in particular the first and second fortnights of March, and the first fortnight of April. [Here is a good quality image of the census map, 968KB.]

During the monsoon months, it is only the two fortnights of June in which the accumulation of water in the surface water bodies of Parbhani district can be seen. The first half of July and the second half of August in particular have been recorded as relatively dry.

This small demonstration of the value of such information, provided at no cost and placed in the public domain, is based on the programme ‘Satellite derived Information on Water Bodies Area (WBA) and Water Bodies Fraction (WBF)’ which is provided by the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Department of Space, Government of India.

For any of our districts, such continuous monitoring is an invaluable aid to: facilitate the study of water surface dynamics in river basins and watersheds; analyse the relationships between regional rainfall scenarios and the collection and utilisation of water in major, medium reservoirs and irrigation tanks and ponds; inventory, map and administer the use of surface water area at frequent intervals, especially during the crop calendar applicable to district and agro-ecological zones. [Also posted on India Climate Portal.]

Written by makanaka

October 12, 2015 at 12:10

The Indo-Pak orange line four years later

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Almost exactly four years ago, in September 2011, the border between India and Pakistan was photographed by an astronaut on the International Space Station. It showed the border as a long orange line, one of the few international borders that can be seen from low earth orbit.

On 23 September 2015 the space agency NASA released a new picture. The line is as long and orange as it was, perhaps more fortified now. The cities visible on both sides of the very well lit frontier are more populous, and certainly emit more light in 2015 than they did in 2011.

An astronaut aboard the International Space Station took this nighttime panorama while looking north across Pakistan’s Indus River valley. The right half of the picture is occupied by the western districts of Rajasthan. Image: NASA

An astronaut aboard the International Space Station took this nighttime panorama while looking north across Pakistan’s Indus River valley. The right half of the picture is occupied by the western districts of Rajasthan. Image: NASA

I have added names to the clusters of bright lights seen in the new photograph. In western Rajasthan, Jodhpur, Barmer, Bikaner and Jaisalmer are all visible. In southern Pakistan, Karachi and Hyderabad are easily made out. The media has used the new photographs too, as you can see here, here, here and here.

A high resolution image is available here from Nasa’s Earth Observatory website. Another night image shows the border zone looking south-east from the Himalaya. An older daytime view shows the vegetated bends of the Indus Valley winding through the otherwise desert landscape.

Written by makanaka

October 7, 2015 at 10:12

Why India must rely on local food stocks

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The below average June to September monsoon season will lead to lower foodgrains production. What is the likely impact and how can society cope?

Context – For the last four years the numbers that describe India’s essential food security have become a common code: 105 million tons (mt) of rice, 95 mt of wheat, 41 to 43 mt of coarse cereals, 19 to 20 mt of pulses, 165 to 170 mt of vegetables and 80 to 90 mt of fruit.

With these quantities assured, our households feed themselves, army and factory canteens are supplied, the public distribution system is kept stocked and the processed and retail food industry secures its raw material.

Only provided there is such assurance, and that the allowance for plus or minus is as small as possible. Monsoon 2015 has removed that assurance for the agricultural year 2015-16. Our 36 states and union territories – and the 63 cities whose populations are more than a million – must begin to deal with the possible scenarios immediately.

Stock scenarios – In September 2015 the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, of the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, released the first of its usual four ‘advance estimates’ for the 2015-16 agricultural year. Each estimate sets the targets for the year for the foodgrain (and also commercial) crops, and provides with every estimate how likely it is that the annual target will be met.

This first advance estimate has issued a direct warning: rice production is estimated at 90.6 mt against a target of 106.1 mt. The wheat target is just under 95 mt but there is no estimate provided as yet. The target for coarse cereals is 43.2 mt whereas the advance estimate is just under 28 mt. The target for pulses is 20mt and the first estimate is 5.5mt.

What are the implications? The responsibility of the Department is to provide a provisional reading of the conditions that affect the production of our staple crops, and to inform and prepare state and central governments of the likelihood of shortfalls in foodgrain. The signal it has given for rice, estimated at 85% of the target, must be taken as a flashing red beacon which demands that our food stocks return to the foreground of the national agenda.

It is likely that the second and third advance estimates will see quantities revised upwards, but our planning must be based on this first estimate so that even the most adverse of natural contingencies can be met with suitable measures.

Using the first advance estimate as the basis, here are the likely annual production quantities, at 90% of the target and at 95% of the target: rice, between 95 and 101 mt; wheat, between 85 and 91 mt; coarse cereals, between 39 and 42 mt; pulses, between 16 and 17 mt; total foodgrains, between 236 and 250 mt of which cereals are between 220 and 232 mt.

RG_foodstocks_table_201509Household demand – Will these quantities suffice, as for the last four years total foodgrain targets and production have been in the region of 260-273 mt?

To help answer this question, two sets of deductions must be accounted for. To begin with, for each main category of foodgrain, there are production quantities, imports, stock variations and exports. When these are added or subtracted, a gross domestic supply quantity remains.

It is worth also noting that this gross quantity is still no more than a best assessment that is synthesised from the information provided by state governments. The first set of deductions is by way of feed, seed and waste (foodgrain that is used in animal feed, is harvested to use as seed for sowing, and which is damaged after harvest or rendered unusable because of pests and infection). Allowing for the lowest likely level of deductions, the combined deduction is about 7% for rice, 10.5% for wheat, 17% for coarse cereals, 15% for pulses, 5% for vegetables and 10% for fruits.

The available quantities are now revised further. Under a 95% of target scenario, we will have 93.5 mt of rice, 81 mt of wheat, 34.5 mt of coarse cereals and 14.5 mt of pulses. In the same way, a 95% of target scenario for vegetables is 153.5 mt and for fruits it is 72.5 mt. On the consumption side we have the households – in 2016 we will have 175 million rural and 83 million urban households.

These households will require a baseline minimum of 181 mt of cereals, 136 mt of vegetables, 45 mt of fruits and 41 mt of pulses. Under a 95% of production target scenario therefore, there will be enough cereals, enough vegetables and enough fruits. We have been falling short in pulses for several years.

But this apparent comfort is still without the second set of deductions. And these are: (1) buffer stocks of rice and wheat to be maintained, with 5-8 mt of rice during the year and 10-18 mt of wheat during the year (to fulfil the demands on the public distribution system and to fulfil the allocations for the food-based welfare programmes), and in addition the strategic reserve of 2 mt of rice and 3 mt of wheat to be maintained; (2) the use of foodgrains by the food processing and retail food industry; (3) exports of primary crops (such as rice and in particular basmati) and processed crops (vegetables and fruits); (4) the industrial use of foodgrain (including for biodiesel); (5) the diversion of cereals to alcohol distilleries.

Some amongst the second set of deductions are known – such as the withdrawals for buffer stocks and the food reserves, and the export quantities – but the others are either hidden, concealed or misreported. In a food production scenario that is less than 95% of targets (in the way that rice has already been estimated for 2015-16), the deductions from gross crop production will decrease available foodgrains, vegetables and fruits to levels that will compromise household food security, especially those households in the lower income brackets.

Recommendations – The climate variations that have led the Department of Agriculture to raise a red flag warning are no longer uncommon. The 2015 monsoon was affected by El Nino conditions, which are expected to continue into the first quarter of 2016. These changes in the pattern of the Indian summer monsoon are amplified by land use change in our districts, by deforestation, by rapid urbanisation, by inequitous water use, and by consumption behaviour. Some of these can be addressed through policy, education and incentives over the long term. What is needed immediately however are:

a) A review of the drivers of crop cultivation choice in our watersheds and agro-ecological zones so that, as far as possible, these settlements units begin the transition towards local food security in sustainable ways. This means that the income-led arguments which favour the cultivation of commercial crops for farming households must be critically re-examined – in a situation of primary crop scarcity an income buffer alone will not help these households.

b) The demands placed by export arrangements (including the export of meat, which represents fodder and feed) and by the food processing and retail food industry must be quantified and made public. Especially at the level of district administrations, the need to rationally incentivise land use towards the cultivation of food crop staples that suit agro-ecological conditions has become an urgent one. The decentralisation of planning that can make such an approach possible can take place only when hitherto hidden and concealed foodgrains use becomes public.

c) To reach self-reliance at the level of panchayat or block (tahsil, taluka), cooperative farming must be vigorously encouraged, villages must become self-reliant in the provisioning of their food staples (a consideration that must balance that of the ‘national market’), the bio-physical limits of the major food producing districts (the top 250 by quantity) have already been reached and this necessarily limits the demand urban India can exert upon rural districts, in terms not only of food quantities but also in terms of the population that must be fully engaged in foodgrains cultivation.

Lessons of monsoon 2015 for district India

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RG_rainweek_graphic_20150923With two weeks of the June to September monsoon remaining in 2015, one of the end-of-season conclusions that the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has spoken of is that four out of ten districts in the country has had less rainfall than normal.

This overview is by itself alarming, but does not aid state governments and especially line ministries plan for coming months, particularly for agriculture and cultivation needs, water use, the mobilisation of resources for contingency measures, and to review the short- and medium-term objectives of development programmes. [See ‘A method for a post-carbon monsoon’ for a recent discussion.]

RG_15rainweeks_table_201509The detailed tabulation (done for 15 weeks) is meant to provide guidance of where this may be done immediately – in the next two to four weeks – and how this can be done in future. The districts are chosen on the basis of the size of their rural populations (calculated for 2015). Thus Purba Champaran in Bihar, Bhiwani in Haryana, Rewa in Madhya Pradesh and Viluppuram in Tamil Nadu are the districts in those states with the largest rural populations.

In this way, the effect of rainfall variability, from Week 1 (which ended on 3 June) to Week 15 (which ended on 9 September), in the districts with the largest rural populations can be analysed. Because a large rural population is also a large agricultural population, the overall seasonal impact on that district’s agricultural output can also be inferred.

The distribution of the districts is: six from Uttar Pradesh; five each from Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal; four each from Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, and Kerala; three from Uttarakhand; two from Himachal Pradesh; one each from Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura.

Using the new 11-grade rainfall categorisation, a normal rainweek is one in which the rainfall is between +10% more and -10% less for that week. The overview for this group of 100 districts, only 11 have had five or more normal weeks of rain out of 15 weeks. In alarming contrast, there are 77 districts which have had three or fewer normal weeks of rain – that is, more than three-fourths of these most populous districts. Half the number (51 districts) have had two, one or no normal weeks of rain. And 22 of these districts have had only one or no normal weeks of rain.

From this group of 100 most populous (rural population) districts Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh and Nagaon in Assam have had the most deficit rainweeks, tallying 13, out of the 15 tabulated so far. There are ten districts which have had 12 deficit rainweeks out of 15 and they are (in decreasing order of rural population): Muzaffarpur (Bihar), Pune and Jalgaon (Maharashtra), Surguja (Chhattisgarh), Panch Mahals and Vadodara (Gujarat), Firozpur (Punjab), Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala), Hoshiarpur (Punjab) and Mewat (Haryana).

[Also posted by India Climate Portal as ‘Where they waited for rain in 2015’.]

Written by makanaka

September 23, 2015 at 17:34

A method for a post-carbon monsoon

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The uses to which we have put available climatic observations no longer suit an India which is learning to identify the impacts of climate change. Until 2002, the monsoon season was June to September, there was an assessment in May of how well (or not) the monsoon could turn out, and short-term forecasts of one to three days were available only for the major metros and occasionally a state that was in the path of a cyclone. But 2002 saw the first of the four El Niño spells that have occurred since 2000, and the effects on our Indian summer monsoon began to be felt and understood.

The India Meteorology Department (which has become an everyday abbreviation of IMD for farmers and traders alike) has added computational and analytical resources furiously over the last decade. The new research and observational depth is complemented by the efforts of a Ministry of Earth Sciences which has channelled the copious output from our weather satellites, under the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), and which is interpreted by the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), to serve meteorological needs.

The IMD, with 559 surface observatories, 100 Insat satellite-based data collection platforms, an ‘integrated agro-advisory service of India’ which has provided district-level forecasts since 2008, a High Performance  Computing  System commissioned in 2010 (whose servers run at Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, Guwahati, Nagpur, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Bhubaneswar, Hyderabad and New Delhi) ploughs through an astonishing amount of numerical data every hour. Over the last four years, more ‘products’ (as the IMD system calls them) based on this data and its interpretation have been released via the internet into the public domain. These are reliable, timely (some observation series have three-hour intervals), and valuable for citizen and administrator alike.

The new 11-grade indicator for assessing weekly rainfall departures in districts. Same data, but dramatically more useful guidance.

The new 11-grade indicator for assessing weekly rainfall departures in districts. Same data, but dramatically more useful guidance.

Even so, the IMD’s framing of how its most popular measures are categorised is no longer capable of describing what rain – or the absence of rain – affects our districts. These popular measures are distributed every day, weekly and monthly in the form of ‘departures from normal’ tables, charts and maps. The rain adequacy categories are meant to guide alerts and advisories. There are four: ‘normal’ is rainfall up to +19% above a given period’s average and also down to -19% from that same average, ‘excess’ is +20% rain and more, ‘deficient’ is -20% to -59% and ‘scanty’ is -60% to -99%. These categories can mislead a great deal more than they inform, for the difference between an excess of +21% and an excess of +41% can be the difference between water enough to puddle rice fields and a river breaking its banks to ruin those fields.

In today’s concerns that have to do with the impacts of climate change, with the increasing variability of the monsoon season, and especially with the production of food crops, the IMD’s stock measurement ‘product’ is no longer viable. It ought to have been replaced at least a decade ago, for the IMD’s Hydromet Division maintains weekly data by meteorological sub-division and by district. This series of running records compares any given monsoon week’s rainfall, in a district, with the long period average (a 50-year period). Such fineness of detail must be matched by a measuring range-finder with appropriate  interpretive indicators. That is why the ‘no rain’, ‘scanty’, ‘deficient’, ‘normal’ or ‘excess’ group of legacy measures must now be discarded.

In its place an indicator of eleven grades translates the numeric density of IMD’s district-level rainfall data into a much more meaningful code. Using this code we can immediately see the following from the chart ‘Gauging ten weeks of rain in the districts’:

1. That districts which have experienced weeks of ‘-81% and less’ and ‘-61% to -80%’ rain – that is, very much less rain than they should have had – form the largest set of segments in the indicator bars.

2. That districts which have experienced weeks of ‘+81% and over’ rain – that is, very much more rain than they should have had – form the next largest set of segments in the indicator bars.

3. That the indicator bars for ‘+10% to -10%’, ‘-11% to -20%’ and ‘+11% to +20%’ are, even together, considerably smaller than the segments that show degrees of excess rain and degrees of deficient rain.

Far too many districts registering rainfall departures in the categories that collect extremes of readings. This is the detailed reading required to alert state administrations to drought, drought-like and potential flood conditions.

Far too many districts registering rainfall departures in the categories that collect extremes of readings. This is the detailed reading required to alert state administrations to drought, drought-like and potential flood conditions.

Each bar corresponds to a week of district rainfall readings, and that week of readings is split into eleven grades. In this way, the tendency for administrations, citizens, the media and all those who must manage natural resources (particularly our farmers), to think in terms of an overall ‘deficit’ or an overall ‘surplus’ is nullified. Demands for water are not cumulative – they are made several times a day, and become more or less intense according to a cropping calendar, which in turn is influenced by the characteristics of a river basin and of an agro-ecological zone.

The advantages of the modified approach (which adapts the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s ‘Global Information and Early Warning System’ categorisation, designed to alert country food and agriculture administrators to impending food insecurity conditions) can be seen by comparing the single-most significant finding of the IMD’s normal method, with the finding of the new method, for the same point during the monsoon season.

By 12 August 2015 the Hydromet Division’s weekly report card found that 15% of the districts had recorded cumulative rainfall of ‘normal’ and 16% has recorded cumulative rainfall of ‘deficient’. There are similar tallies concerning rainfall distribution – by region and temporally – for the meteorological sub-divisions and for states. In contrast the new eleven-grade measure showed that in seven out of 10 weeks, the ‘+81% and over’ category was the most frequent or next-most frequent, and that likewise, the ‘-81% and less’ category was also the most frequent or next-most frequent in seven out of 10 weeks. This finding alone demonstrates the ability of the new methodology to provide early warnings of climatic trauma in districts, which state administrations can respond to in a targeted manner.


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