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Archive for March 2010

India’s mobility merchants

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Urban demand for automobiles and a government intent on road-building to feed that demand, never mind the alternatives and energy implications, are the subject of my recent article in the Economic & Political Weekly. It builds on a post I wrote here in January 2010.

Hoarding cluster in Mumbai, Maharashtra, to launch a new car

Hoarding cluster in Mumbai, Maharashtra, to launch a new car

The all-round optimism for a decade of automobile manufacturing requires an assurance that the infrastructure-building commitment and investment will not slacken. That assurance comes from a comprehensive ‘Master Plan’ prepared for the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways which advocates a sprawling ‘Indian National Expressway Network’. The final project report of this master plan was released by the ministry in November 2009, only two months before the 10th Auto Expo.

This master plan contains the rationale for and routes to comprise a vast expressway network of 18,600 kilometres, to be built in three phases each concluding in 2012, 2017 and 2022, and which proposes to employ both public-private partnership and annuity modes of financing and project execution. Moreover, the master plan seeks the creation of a National Expressway Authority of India to oversee this gigantic task, which will have extensive and over-riding powers and amongst whose important functions will be the expediting of land acquisition for the many sections.

Finally, the master plan has called for “innovative and feasible measures to improve the financial viability (including ploughing back of profit generated from real estate development, commercial development of wastelands etc)” to finance the 60 different sections of the proposed expressways network.

These two developments – the underwriting by the Government of India, through the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and associated ministries and departments; and the growth of the automobile market in India to which commitments have been made by industry – taken together have presented us worrying new evidence concerning the kind of development we will see in urban and urbanising India over the next decade. There are a host of related concerns:

Autorickshaws in Vadodara, Gujarat

Autorickshaws in Vadodara, Gujarat

(1) On transport and public transit alone, the automobile-centric practices and policies embodied in the 10th Auto Expo, the Automotive Mission Plan and the national expressways network master plan push alternative modes of transportation (including the high-potential bus rapid transit systems, such as is now being introduced in Ahmedabad) into the background.

(2) From both government and from industry there is very little recognition of the possible scenarios that can govern the availability of fuels (certainly of fossil fuels until 2022) needed to fulfil the 10th Auto Expo’s consumerist theme of ‘Mobility For All’. This fundamental linkage should have hit home, for amidst announcements of new models came the regular bulletin from the Ministry of Commerce which stated that India’s crude oil imports rose 6.1% in November 2009, climbing to 10.48 million metric tons from 9.88 million tons a year earlier.

(3) India is already the fourth largest aggregate emitter of greenhouse gases worldwide and the country needs to be far more creative and visionary about creating a low-carbon future for its citizens. Industry and individual citizens will increasingly be called upon to be responsible for their manufacturing and consuming patterns relating to emissions and resource use. However, neither in the practice nor in policies government the automobile industries sector and the roads and highways part of infrastructure is there discussion about emissions equity in the country.

(4) Despite the efforts being made to integrate urban planning and transportation alternatives under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, the pro-automobile policies pay negligible attention to the inelastic demand created for cars in India, which are kept at a high pitch by the automobile (and financing) industry through extensive advertising. There are no significant measures, whether regulatory or persuasive, to temper this demand. Moreover, the huge direct demand for land (for use as expressways, highways, widened roads, etc), and the indirect impacts of change in land use that will impact agriculture most of all are externalised costs that both rural and urban public are already bearing, and which appear in no real costs analysis of a pro-automobile mobility choice.

Read the full article in the February 27, 2010, issue of the Economic & Political Weekly. The EPW pdf is here too.

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India’s fertiliser addiction fiddle

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The Economic Survey 2009-10 has attempted to conceal the true impact of chemical fertiliser abuse in India. Chapter 2 of the Survey deals with agriculture, and the Survey states: “The per hectare consumption of fertilisers in nutrients terms increased from 105.5 kg in 2005-06 to 128.6 kg in 2008-09.” This is false. Here is why.

India per hectare chemical fertiliser use, 1950 to 2009

India per hectare chemical fertiliser use, 1950 to 2009

In 1950-51 the average fertiliser use in India was only 0.58 kg per hectare. The net sown area was 118.75 million hectares upon which 69,000 tons of fertiliser were used. Of course this is a notional average use only, as 60 years ago fertiliser was an agricultural input in only a few districts which were being primed for what was to become the Green Revolution. Still, that was the ‘national average’. It took 16 years before that average crossed 10 kg of fertiliser per hectare, and that happened in 1967-68 when the net sown area was 139.88 million hectares and the total fertiliser use was 1.53 million tons.

Thereafter it took only 5 years to reach 20kg/ha. The period 1971-72 to 1975-76 saw little change – the only such period in the last 60 years – in intensity of fertiliser use. Those were the years of the global oil crisis, the so-called first oil shock of the seventies. For that time, the ‘national average’ remained between 18 and 20 kg/ha while the total net sown area varied but little from 140 million hectares and total fertiliser use stayed between 2.65 and 2.89 million tons.

Per hectare application of fertiliser continued its upward trend from 1975-76 and it took less than 8 years to cross 50kg/ha and another 6 years to cross 80kg/ha – in 1989-90 India’s total fertiliser use was 11.56 million tons. In the decade of the 1990s, total fertiliser use in India rose by 44% (from 12.54 mt to 18.06mt) and per hectare application went up by 46% as the available agricultural land plateaued at around 140 million hectares.

India annual chemical fertiliser use, 1950 to 2009

India annual chemical fertiliser use, 1950 to 2009

Both total use and per hectare application remained at those levels until 2004-05. In the last four years there has been an astonishingly steep increase in the total consumption and per hectare use. For 2008-09 the total fertiliser use at 24.9 mt is more than 6.5 mt more than the figure for 2004-05, and per hectare use has shot up to over 174 kg/ha from 130 kg/ha in 2004-05, a jump of 33% in just four years.

The Economic Survey 2009-10 states: “Chemical fertilisers have played a significant role in the development of the agricultural sector. The per hectare consumption of fertilisers in nutrients terms increased from 105.5 kg in 2005-06 to 128.6 kg in 2008-09. However, improving the marginal productivity of soil still remains a challenge. This requires increased NPK application and application of proper nutrients, based on soil analysis.”

The Survey is wrong. The per hectare use crossed 105 kg in 1997 – nine years before the Survey says it did – and crossed 130 kg in 2004-05. In 2008-09 the rude equation is: 143 million hectares of net sown area; 24.9 mt of total fertiliser consumption. The Survey has concealed true per hectare consumption of fertiliser by swapping net sown area with gross sown area. Net sown area is the land surface on which crops are grown. To assess output and productivity, when cultivated land is used to grow more than one crop per year, that area on which the second crop is grown is counted again, which gives us gross sown area.

Counting cultivated land more than once raises the sown area from 143 million hectares (net) to 190 million hectares (gross). And that is how the per hectare consumption of fertiliser is portrayed as much lower than it truly is. Chemical fertiliser however affects the parcel of land, and is not divisible by the number of crops the land is employed for. The resulting difference is enormous: 45.4 kg/hectare!

The data I have used comes from the Reserve Bank of India Handbook of Statistics on Indian Economy 2008-09. For 2007-08 and 2008-09 I used the total NPK consumption figures from the Economic Survey 2009-10.

A global week’s food

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One week of food for the Aboubakar family in Chad (Menzel and D'Aluisio, 2005)

One week of food for the Aboubakar family in Chad (Menzel and D'Aluisio, 2005)

How much food does your family need in a week? That depends on where you are (Ecuador or Mexico, Bhutan or Egypt, Chad or Germany) and what you can afford. These pictures below are a remarkable sociological inquiry into what the global food price crisis can mean for families around the world. They can be found in the presentation by Ricardo Uauy (Institute of Nutrition, University of Chile) who draws on the world-spanning work of Menzel and D’Aluisio in 2005.

His presentation can be found in the very timely book, Mitigating the Nutritional Impacts of the Global Food Price Crisis, by Elizabeth Haytmanek and Katherine McClure (Institute of Medicine), which can be read as a pdf from the National Academies Press.

One week of food for the Namgay family in Bhutan (Menzel and D'Aluisio, 2005)

One week of food for the Namgay family in Bhutan (Menzel and D'Aluisio, 2005)

What does this series of pictures tell us? In situations such as Egypt and Ecuador, if it is necessary to make do with a reduced income, it is possible to decrease food quantity without necessarily sacrificing the food quality. Ironically, a reduced income might cause the family to cut out the unnecessary processed foods and soft drinks, which would improve this family’s nutritional status.

A family in Chad spends only US$1 on food each week. The essence of their meagre diet is cereals and some legumes, and almost exclusively features plant foods. A family in Bhutan can only afford US$5 per week for its food. There is less food overall, and it is basically plant foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables. There are less animal foods, as grains figure prominently.

One week of food for the Ayme family in Ecuador (Menzel and D'Aluisio, 2005)

One week of food for the Ayme family in Ecuador (Menzel and D'Aluisio, 2005)

In Quito, Ecuador, however, families spend about US$32 on food, and sacks of cereals, wheat, and some legumes are featured prominently. Less fruits and vegetables are seen as compared to the previous families’ diets. In this scenario where there is less variety, if some foods are eliminated from the picture, the family’s consumption will suffer in nutritional quality. In Cairo, a family spends US$69 dollars per week on food. This amount of weekly expenditure in Egypt still enables a fairly varied diet, with fruits and vegetables seen as prominent in their mix.

In Cuernavaca, Mexico, families spend about US$189 per week. Here fruits and vegetables are abundant, although processed foods and sweetened beverages figure prominently. In Germany, families spend about US$500 per week to feed a family of four. There is much variety, including a great deal of processed foods, although fresh fruits and vegetables are also prominent in the household.

One week of food for the Ahmed family in Egypt (Menzel and D'Aluisio, 2005)

One week of food for the Ahmed family in Egypt (Menzel and D'Aluisio, 2005)

These pictures demonstrate what foods people buy with the amount of money they have to spend on food each week. While these photos convey the present status of these populations, they suggest what people might stop buying if they had less money, during a food crisis, for example.

In crisis situations, families preserve diets based on less expensive foods. If their income is sharply reduced, families do away with animal foods and nonstaple foods. They eat less meat, less dairy, less processed foods, less vegetables, and less fruits; they are predominately dependent on cereals, fats, and oils. They find ways to get adequate energy at a very low price, but may forego appropriately nutritious foods, which results in poor quality diets that are inadequate in terms of micronutrients.

One week of food for the Casales family in Mexico (Menzel and D'Aluisio, 2005)

One week of food for the Casales family in Mexico (Menzel and D'Aluisio, 2005)

Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio’s book is an around-the-world exploration of average daily life in 24 countries, focusing on food. Hungry Planet: What the World Eats, details each family’s weekly food purchases and average daily life. The centerpiece of each chapter is a portrait of the entire family surrounded by a week’s worth of groceries accompanied by interviews and detailed grocery lists.

What about South Asia? In Mitigating the Nutritional Impacts of the Global Food Price Crisis, Josephine Iziku Ippe, Nutrition Manager with Unicef (United Nation’s Children’s Fund) in Bangladesh, explained that issues affecting prices at the regional level include trade barriers, especially with India, and export bans.

One week of food for the Melander family in Germany (Menzel and D'Aluisio, 2005)

One week of food for the Melander family in Germany (Menzel and D'Aluisio, 2005)

The large flood of 2007 also affected food prices. Despite this, in 2007, the percentage of food grain imports dramatically increased and reached 6% of total imports compared to 3% in previous years. The food price shock clearly worsened the food security situation in 2008 with 40% of households in Bangladesh reporting that they were greatly affected.

Due to the higher food prices, a majority of households in Bangladesh lost purchasing power. In 2008, the real monthly income per household decreased by 12% when compared to 2005 incomes. Real wage rates remained stable while the terms of trade (daily wage/rice price) further decreased in 2008. Moreover, expenditures (particularly for food) increased to an unprecedented level of 62%. of the total expenditures for households. Overall, about one in four households nationwide was affected.

Urban food pistoleros

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A boy plays with mud pistols in Mathare slum of Nairobi, Kenya ©Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

A boy plays with mud pistols in Mathare slum of Nairobi, Kenya ©Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

Alexander Müller, Assistant Director General, Natural Resources Management and Environment Department (FAO) and Paul Munro-Faure, Chairperson, Food for the Cities Multidisciplinary Initiative (FAO) have put out a call for “ideas, contributions and inputs that could be used for a conclusive statement related to food, agriculture and cities to be finalised during the World Urban Forum V“. This will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 22 to 26 March and the theme is: ‘The Right to the City, Bridging the Urban Divide’. As the call went out on the Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum), I sent in my response, as below:

Dear Alexander, Paul,

My contribution to your call on FSN for a statement on food, agriculture and cities follows. I work in India, with a Ministry of Agriculture programme called National Agricultural Innovation Project. One of its sub-projects is a knowledge-sharing effort that links crop science and farm practice through ICT. Within that framework I study rural livelihoods and the urban demand on a rural space that faces greater constraints with every passing year.

We are told frequently by central governments that growth is good (i.e. rising GDP) and that increasing per capita income is a national mission. This assertion has much to do with the boom-and-bust cycles we have witnessed in the last decade: in any number of stock markets, in the banking and finance system, in savings and pensions systems, in commodities, in credit and derivatives, and of course in basic food grains. That these cycles have occurred more frequently has as much to do with growing urbanisation in the South, and the mechanics of globalised capital and market risk.

The result is that cities in the South are, to put it crudely, laboratories for risk-taking experiments. The Gini coefficients of cities in Asia show why this is so. (Generally, cities and countries with a Gini coefficient of between 0.2 and 0.39 have relatively equitable distribution of resources. A Gini coefficient of 0.4 denotes moderately unequal distributions of income or consumption. This is the threshold at which cities and countries should tackle inequality urgently.)

Here are the composite urban Gini coefficients (from ‘State of the World’s Cities 2008/2009: Harmonious Cities’; United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), 2008). Over a given period (separate for each country), the urban Gini rose most for Nepal (0.26 to 0.43 from 1985 to 1996), China (0.23 to 0.32 from 1988 to 2002), Viet Nam (0.35 to 0.41 from 1993 to 2002), Bangladesh (0.31 to 0.37 from 1991 to 2000), Sri Lanka (0.37 to 0.42 from 1990 to 2002) and Pakistan (0.32 to 0.34 from 2000 to 2004) and it dropped marginally for India (0.35 to 0.34 from 1994 to 2000) and Cambodia (0.47 to 0.41 from 1994 to 2004). Note that the UN-Habitat calculations are only until 2004 for the latest city, and that the impacts of the triple crisis of climate change, financial volatility and food system distortions became widespread only thereafter. It’s very likely then that in cities in Asia, Africa and South America, the Gini coefficient has risen faster in the last five years than in the decade until 2004.

Gini coefficients for populations in Asian cities

Gini coefficients for populations in Asian cities

There’s another aspect that the urban Gini indicates, which several country studies have dealt with in the last few years, and that is the rural-urban divide, in terms of income inequality, consumption inequality, inequality in access to basic services and inequality of representation. Yet those at the deprived end of this quotient are also those who grow the food, absorb the agricultural risks, manage the natural resources and steward the crop biodiversity for a country. If we subscribe to the view of a dominant policy theocracy that ‘economic efficiency’ is good, then for such gross inequalities to be allowed to continue is not good, yet they do. For one thing, education and healthcare outcomes are directly impacted by such inequalities, let alone industrially-oriented ratios such as cost of redistribution, investment allocation and ‘growth’. Yet these continue, and are seen in every single country of the South quite conspicuously in the higher bands of food inflation in rural areas as compared with urban areas.

If inequality seems inescapable at outcome level however, the rural and urban ‘poor’ are certainly not sitting around waiting to be pushed even further into penury. They are using their stores of traditional knowledge (which have travelled with them just as they have migrated to the world’s peri-urbs) to innovate, adapt and survive. If we look at waste recycling in developing countries, most of it (as tonnage and as material value) relies largely on the informal recovery of waste of every description by scavengers or waste pickers. A raft of studies done on this sector in the Asia-Pacific region provide estimates of at least 2% and as much as 4% of the urban population is occupied in waste recovery (its reprocessing and re-use occupies another set of the population).

Is there a similar ‘waste picker’ model of urban agriculture that is being followed, almost invisibly, in Asian cities and towns? Likely yes. It flies under the radar of statistics because it is, per household unit, so small and well integrated with astonishingly tough living conditions. It is seen on tiny patches of marginal lands that are unsettled, usually only because of a city municipality’s hostility to rural migrants. These tiny linear patches run alongside railway tracks, drainage canals, water pipelines, expressways, marshes and swamps, residual watercourses, and between industrial zones. These vestigial connections to the immeasurably healthier lives led in their rural origins by migrants are the only in situ ‘urban farms’ in most Asian cities and towns. Existing municipal planning and zoning in Asia of the South either ignores them or subtracts them from its calculations.

A street in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh ©Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

A street in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh ©Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

Yet such spaces will be vital for our urban settlements. They are currently farmed in squalid conditions, often cheek-by-jowl with small-scale industries and their toxic effluents, and have no option but to use dangerously polluted water sources. Were they to be encouraged, planned for, incentivised and built into ward or neighbourhood food markets, they would lessen the massive burden the city places upon rural food cultivators. In ‘developing’ Asian cities that today are exemplars of more-GDP-is-good economics, there is often an utter disconnection between purchase of food and a recognition of its sources. The size, power and reach of the food processing industry plays a dominant role in enforcing this disconnection, for what it calls its economies of scale would not exist without it.

Where lie the answers? Linking rural food production – not with urban consumers but with urban wards and neighbourhoods – can help bridge the Gini gaps between urban and rural, between urban salaried and urban marginal. Just as in the ‘transition towns’ movement, in which agriculture is being increasingly promoted in urban areas, so too rural non-agricultural livelihoods development is starting to be promoted. Work-in-progress examples include the strategy adopted for the promotion of Town and Village Enterprises (TVEs) in China. These expanded rapidly in China in the post-reform period and as a result of their promotion between 1978 and 2000, the number of workers in China’s rural non-farm and farm labour sector grew, which stemmed the tide toward the hungry cities.

Lucknow’s megalomanic mahout

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Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) posters and hoardings in LucknowLucknow is a city beseiged by the blue elephant of the Bahujan Samaj Party and its mahout, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Behen Kumari Sushri Mayawatiji. She has taken over a mammoth portion of city land, on both banks of the river Gomti, and upon which gigantic memorials are being built. Scorning all hindrances (such as Supreme Court of India and High Court stays) and opponents (they are fewer and more feeble now) construction is proceeding steadily on a variety of monuments.

It is a landscape based in stone (judging by the delicate pink colour, it must be an expensive stone). There is not a square foot of grass to be seen amongst all the stone acres of Ambedkar Park – whose ‘official’ name is the more impressive Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Sthal. There is not a tree to be seen in the dusty acres relieved only by dry hot stone columns and pillars, stelae and towers. The scale makes no sense whatsoever – it has no relation at all to the densely packed residential neighbourhoods of Lucknow that this stone landscape has been robbed from.

Ambedkar park in LucknowThe kilometres of stone wall – clumsily ornate – that suround the giant Sthal are edged by a pavement it is impossible to walk on because the struggling saplings embedded in the pavement are enclosed completely by a tight orb of metal caging. To look at this immense folly is to see the senseless diminution of nature, the callousness to humans and a complete insensitivity to a wonderful city’s brocaded history.

Today, the mahout hovers over every chowk in Lucknow like a gorgon, bedecked with multiple rows of blue BSP buntings that line every single street and galli and avenue (except in the cantonment). What has this insensate throwback to pharaonic glory cost the state of Uttar Pradesh? In early 2008, this is what a report in the Indian Express had to say:

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) posters and hoardings in Lucknow“Uttar Pradesh has an urban population of 34.5 million with a need for 320,000 every year. But consider this: in 2007-08, the government has spent 65% of the Housing department’s budget — meant for housing and urban development projects — on Chief Minister Mayawati’s statuesque tribute to Ambedkar, the Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Sthal. In the present fiscal, 40% of the department’s budget has been earmarked for this colossal project. A close study of the Housing department’s budget shows that there are only two schemes in the budget of 2008-09 under the Urban Development Scheme — the Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Sthal and Ramabai Park, which is now part of the Sthal. Of the other 13 schemes, under the head of Urban Development, seven are memorials or parks in the name of Kanshi Ram and Ambedkar, which are being built in the state capital.”

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) posters and hoardings in LucknowThe mahout with the dinky handbag has unhoused the poor and needy of Lucknow to construct her messianic stone dreams. What of the Gomti and its heritage-rich landscapes? To begin to understand what has been, as the Americans say, paved over, you should read Chinki Sinha’s description, an extract of which is:

“Squeezed in between the river bank and the Dariya Wali Masjid and across from the King George’s Medical College (now called Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University), this was where kite fliers of repute would tug at their strings and fight fierce and colourful battles in the skies. Jafar Mir Abdullah would often stop by at the ground on his way home from La Martinere, where he studied at the time, to see the spectacle. Kan kauwe bazi or kite flying was a favourite sport in Lucknow. As a 10-year-old in 1952, he loved looking at the horizon that was painted in different hues in the twilight hour, the war cries resounding for miles. He loved watching the kite runners as they ran through the labyrinthine streets to grab fallen kites, raising dust as they sprinted.”

Indian Climate Research Network

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Flower-Western_GhatsThe Indian Climate Research Network has begun work with a two-day national conference of climate researchers held in the first week of March. Described as a community of individuals and institutions which will work to enhance capacity for climate research and action in the country, the Network brings together at this stage the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras and the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the Delhi-based research and advocacy body.

Ambuj Sagar and Krishna Achutarao of IIT-Delhi have said that the conference itself was distinctive in some respects: perhaps for the first time in India, the organisers of a conference on climate change “reached out to find new researchers working on the subject” through a call for submission of papers. The response, according to the organisers, was overwhelming. On one hand, the meet succeeded in bringing together on one platform almost all the top names working on climate research in the country. On the other, it identified and brought to the fore a lot of micro-scale work and initiatives which have been going on in the field of climate science in various parts of India.

Besides this, the conference also aimed at developing a common understanding of the key issues; identifying lacunae in science, policy, and action that need particular attention; and initiating a platform for a dialogue between researchers, NGOs, and policy-makers.

With sessions broadly categorised under ‘science and impacts’, ‘mitigation’, ‘adaptation’ and ‘policy issues’, the meet hosted a wide variety of presentations, highlighting research that has the potential to inform and influence current policy debates. These included papers on subjects ranging from energy scenarios and low-carbon pathways in India; emissions intensity and climate change; and impact of climate change on forests, to adaptive abilities of farmers in Gujarat; impact of climate change on corals in the Lakshadweep Islands; and micro-level monitoring of concentration of greenhouse gases at Cape Rama on the west coast of India.

Written by makanaka

March 8, 2010 at 09:56

The devil’s summer camp

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Thanks to the ever-nouvelle and culturally rich labyrinth that is Le Monde Diplomatique, among the most readable journals in the world. They have talked of the work of a variety of artists and visual commentators, who have at some point or other had a connection with the Diplo. I’ve selected just three to show how varied and interesting a visual contemporary account of our world can be.

Artists Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek“The source of inspiration for the comic was our interest in folklore and mythology, and our ongoing research in this area. The experiences of a winter holiday we went on to an organic farm on Salt Spring Iceland, influenced the comic as well: the moonlit nights, a flock of crows in the nearby woods and a herd of wild goats nearby gave rise to the kind of picture-book fantasy, the central point of our art and animations. During our walks in the lush rain forest, we discovered frequently huts that were built from branches and were sometimes enormous proportions. We imagined that this would be the devil’s summer camp, whom he visited when he was down in hell too hot and humid.”

Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek working collectively under the name Tin Can Forest live in Toronto, temporarily elsewhere (wherever it suits them over time). They mainly work as animation film makers, but also as combined graphic designer, cartoonist and painter.

Graphic artist Henning WagenbrethThe graphic artist Henning Wagenbreth has found a good solution to handle the daily flood of words from messages. He cuts it simple – as in the comic book for Le Monde Diplomatique:

“The illustration was created with the automated system ‘Tobot’.  ” ‘Tobot’ cuts through the world of images and texts into tiny components and uses the fragments according to different rules together. The results are often absurd, paradoxical and strange, but so are the various forms of politics in anything after.”

Henning Wagenbreth attended the art academy in East Berlin Weissensee. Before the fall of the Berlin wall, he supported various citizens’ movements in the GDR with its posters. Since 1994 he is professor of illustration in the Visual Communication course at the Berlin University of the Arts. For his posters and book illustrations, he was awarded numerous prizes.

Artist Mark MarekFor Le Monde Diplomatique, the American artist Mark Marek has drawn a history of his favorite character ‘Father Dirty Harry’. “I was raised Catholic, so is the inspiration for Father Dirty Harry.” I wrote it originally for a Rolling Stones album ‘Dirty Work’, back in the 1980s. However, the legal department of CBS Records got cold feet. I have something else then devised. But I liked the character very much. Some comic strips appeared later in the satirical magazine National Lampoon, until its legal department got nervous.”

Mark Marek has worked many years as a cartoonist and illustrator. Meanwhile, he made animation and even ‘Dirty Harry Father’ has been animated.

Meanwhile, the latest Le Monde Diplomatique’s annual Atlas (2009) takes a thoroughly different world in mind. I’ve taken this from the Deutsch edition and this map is called ‘Die Welt von Morgen’ or The World of Tomorrow. Using as its backdrop the events of the deepest crisis in the world economy since 1945 (the end of World War Two), the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China; actually the BASIC bloc since South Africa is included), are depicted as having shifted the geopolitical balance of power.

Le Monde Diplomatique, Atlas 2009 — Un monde à l’envers

Le Monde Diplomatique, Atlas 2009 — Un monde à l’envers

India’s mantra of ‘inclusion’

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Vendor of alamancs (kaal-nirnay and panchangs), Maharashtra

Vendor of alamancs (kaal-nirnay and panchangs), Maharashtra

The Holi and Id-e-Milad breaks coming right after the presentation of Union Budget 2010-11 have been welcome, for they allow an unhurried look at what the Government of India is saying versus what it indicates it will do. This Budget’s two key documents – the Budget proposals for 2010-11 and the Economic Survey 2009-10 – contain a term which was entirely absent from government-speak only three years ago. That term is “inclusive”. The central and state governments are now using the words “inclusive” and “inclusion” to talk about almost everything: inclusive growth, financial inclusion and inclusive development. It has gained, in India of today, the same sort of currency that “sustainable development” did worldwide about a decade ago. What on earth does it mean for the sarkar?

“For the UPA Government, inclusive development is an act of faith. In the last five years, our Government has created entitlements backed by legal guarantees for an individual’s right to information and her right to work. This has been followed-up with the enactment of the right to education in 2009-10. As the next step, we are now ready with the draft Food Security Bill which will be placed in the public domain very soon. To fulfil these commitments the spending on social sector has been gradually increased to Rs 137,674 crore which now stands at 37% of the total plan outlay in 2010-11. Another 25% of the plan allocations are devoted to the development of rural infrastructure. With growth and the opportunities that it generates, we hope to further strengthen the process of inclusive development.”

Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee

Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, caricatured by 'Mint', the financial daily newspaper

So said Pranab Mukherjee, Minister of Finance, in his Budget speech on 26 February 2010.

“A nation interested in inclusive growth views the same growth differently depending on whether the gains of the growth are heaped primarily on a small segment or shared widely by the population. The latter is cause for celebration but not the former. In other words, growth must not be treated as an end in itself but as an instrument for spreading prosperity to all. India’s own past experience and the experience of other nations suggests that growth is necessary for eradicating poverty but it is not a sufficient condition. In other words, policies for promoting growth need to be complemented with policies to ensure that more and more people join in the growth process and, further, that there are mechanisms in place to redistribute some of the gains to those who are unable to partake in the market process and, hence, get left behind.”

This is from Chapter 2 of the Economic Survey 2009-10, titled ‘Micro-foundations of Inclusive Growth’. Notice that the word “growth” has become a corollary to “inclusive”/”inclusion”. This is a serious problem, but not one that seems to concern the sarkar. Growth (most broadly, of GDP, which is a deviant, outmoded concept) and inclusion are utterly different ideas. The problems of “growth” can easily be illustrated by this paragraph:

“Price movements during fiscal 2009/10, as reflected in both the WPI [wholesale price index] and the CPI [consumer price index], have been characterised by very high rates of inflation in primary food articles and manufactured food products. The WPI rate of inflation for primary food articles crossed 20% in November 2009 and even at the end of January 2010 was close to 18%. Other than food products, the prices of other primary and manufactured goods have generally not increased by much.

A woman perched on the side bar of an autorickshaw, Surat district, Gujarat

A woman perched on the side bar of an autorickshaw, Surat district, Gujarat

Within the primary food articles basket, the goods that have exhibited the highest rate of inflation are foodgrains – pulses, wheat and rice, in decreasing order of magnitude. Within the manufactured food products segment, sugar products (sugar, khandsari and gur) have increased the most with annual inflation of over 51%. Another factor, which considerably blunted the impact of foodgrain releases by the government, was the overload on the PDS. There is a clear imperative to develop a distribution channel by the State governments, to supplement the PDS, so as to enable faster distribution of the additional releases made by the central government.”

From ‘Concluding Coments’, ‘Management of Prices’ in Review of the Economy 2009/10, by the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister. That is what “growth” does to prices, and prices that move the way food prices have in India for the last three years utterly wreck “inclusion”. I find it worrying that the Economic Advisory Council is talking about a parallel distribution channel to supplement the PDS, when (1) any number of independent studies have pointed out that the PDS has been handicapped in fact by exclusionary policy and (2) when state governments are quite likely to use public-private partnership methods to set up alternative distribution channels, which heap more misery on the rural and urban poor.

"Pade likhe bane minister, Chale naukri paane ko, Dhakke khaakar bane driver, Mila truck chalaane ko"

"Pade likhe bane minister, Chale naukri paane ko, Dhakke khaakar bane driver, Mila truck chalaane ko"

How contradictory the government’s “inclusive” claims are versus its intentions as contained in its other Budget measures can be seen in the Budget highlights, in which the Ministry of Finance summarises the major provisions.

“Rs 200 crore provided for sustaining the gains already made in the green revolution areas through conservation farming, which involves concurrent attention to soil health, water conservation and preservation of biodiversity.”

The contradictions in this point are ludicrous in the extreme. The Green Revolution methods ignore entirely conservation farming, soil health, water conservation and preservation of biodiversity. These four points are achieved by orgnic and biodynamic methods, for which state support is either neglible or not there at all. The Budget highlights add:

“Reduction in wastage of produce:
* Government to address the issue of opening up of retail trade. It will help in bringing down the considerable difference between farm gate, wholesale and retail prices.
* Deficit in the storage capacity met through an ongoing scheme for private sector participation – FCI to hire godowns from private parties for a guaranteed period of 7 years.
Credit support to farmers – Banks have been consistently meeting the targets set for agriculture credit flow in the past few years. For the year 2010-11, the target has been set at Rs 375,000 crore.”

Retail trade has so far done exactly the opposite of what is claimed here, while more storage capacity will directly benefit the flourishing agricultural commodity futures traders and brokers. Increased credit support is visible only in bank statements whereas small and marginal farmers (who together account for 81.9% of operational agricultural land holdings) are left out. Several estimates made in the last three years (a World Bank study amongst them) show that 87% of marginal and 70% of small farmers are not getting credit through institutions. In fact, 51% of all farmers, big and small, get no banking services, let alone credit. If 2009-10 was the year in which “inclusion” became popular with Bharat sarkar, 2010-11 needs to be the year in which its “inclusive” claims are either backed up by credible action or thrown out.