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Archive for February 2013

A food and agri trojan horse for South Asia

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Keep your research questions away from our diets and our street food.

Keep your research questions away from our diets and our street food.

What happens when the formation of a “multi-country multi-institutional research programme consortium” is announced, the aim being to aid nutrition in South Asia? In my view, what happens is the beginning of a carefully guided construction of evidence, in some form, that will aid – not nutrition, but – the further industrialisation of crop staple cultivation, its transformation into processed food, and its delivery to urban consumers through retail food oligopolies.

Am I right or wrong? Time will tell, and as this is designed to be a six-year long programme, I think we will see early evidence by end-2013. The programme’s full name is curious as it is revealing – ‘Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia (LANSA)’. Is the mix of agriculture in South Asia currently unable to provide nutrition? If so what has changed from say 50 years ago? What does ‘leveraging’ mean and who will move the levers? To what end? As I see it, the programme’s name advertises its provenance, and this is the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

In the view of the CGIAR and its constituent research institutes, agriculture’s most important task “is to provide food of sufficient quantity and quality to feed and nourish the world’s population sustainably so that all people can lead healthy, productive lives”. According to the CGIAR (and its donors, and its powerful collaborators and patrons, more of which below) achieving this goal “will require closer collaboration across the sectors of agriculture, nutrition, and health, which have long operated in separate spheres with little recognition of how their actions affect each other”.

This view is insidious and its logic is cunning – the CGIAR and its patrons use the climate change problem, they use food insecurity as a totem, and use food price volatility as justification for what they present as solutions. Until the rise of industrial agriculture and chemical fertiliser and the mechanisation of everything from field preparation to remote sensing, agriculture and nutrition and health existed at the core of the holistic existence of agrarian societies.

Vegetables, fresh and local and simple, more sensible by far than 'incentivised' 'interventions'.

Vegetables, fresh and local and simple, more sensible by far than ‘incentivised’ ‘interventions’.

Because the CGIAR imprint is so visible, it becomes immediately clear when we look at the members of this consortium, for the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) is there. But not leading. The leading institution is the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) of India, and who better – for the CGIAR and its determined patrons – than to have as a helmsman in this spinerette of policy than the man who partnered Norman Borlaug all those years ago in the Punjab? Ah yes, in the shaping of modern agriculture contemporary history does provide inspiration, and I will tell you why in a moment more.

The excuse presented for LANSA to be brought to life is an unremarkable one, it is not original and has been used and abused for all sorts of schemes and programmes ever since India’s days of ‘garibi hatao‘, the 1960s mobilisation cry that was also an election slogan. “Despite rapid economic growth in South Asia, its rates of child undernutrition remain the highest in the world, with nearly half of children stunted or underweight,” complained the LANSA flyer, and added, “progress to reduce these rates is extremely slow. Ironically, most people in the region make their living from farming, which researchers say, offers great potential for improving nutrition”.

Great potential yes, but improving nutrition? We shall see. The programme (according to the scanty literature available, in concert, on all the partners’ websites) “will first examine existing agriculture policies and activities, looking at India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan” (why are Sri Lanka and Nepal excluded? I have a theory, and will comment in a follow-up post). “It will then propose new initiatives to link agriculture and nutrition in the region, working closely with key decision-makers to ensure the research meets their needs.” Read that again – to ensure the research meets their needs! What happened to the children you were so concerned about, dearies? “The goal is to promote cooperation throughout the region, given the trans-border nature of many of the region’s food- and nutrition-related issues”. Yes we share rice and wheat growing ecologies, but what trans-border cooperation does this vastly ambitious consortium have in its collective mind? That too, I think, we shall see soon enough.

I have named two of the members of this group, and the others are: the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC, Bangladesh), the Collective for Social Science Research (CSSR, Pakistan), the Institute of Development Studies (IDS, UK), and the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH, UK). Let’s take the last first. This is the philanthropic part of the Lever that we find today, far more omnisciently, via Unilever, for whom processed food is a large and growing part of its businesses. The IDS is at first glance an odd member of the group, but it has worked with the centres from both Bangladesh and Pakistan, and moreover, carries some weight with the government of Britain, whose chestfuls of pound sterling are fuelling the whole enterprise. Policy-making connections apart, this does seem to me to be mercenary of IDS, but perhaps that is the new nature of development research outfits, and neither vintage nor experience now provides insulation from the temptations of the infernal market.

What have they said they will attempt? The minimalist pamphlet mentions three “core research questions” and these are: 1. How can agriculture be provided with an enabling environment in which to leverage nutrition? 2. How can agriculture and agri-food chains be incentivised to be more pro-nutrition? 3. How can more pro-nutrition agricultural interventions be designed and implemented?

I find these very worrying. What is meant by “enabling environment”? Does it mean the same as “reform” and “austerity” for example? Are they intending to tamper with India’s mid-day meals programme from which many millions of schoolchildren benefit – and who currently (most of them every schoolday at least) eat fresh cooked meals instead of packaged, processed, biofortified, micronutriented cardboard? That second core research question reads like MBA gobbledygook to me, but coming from this famously wise group, becomes all the more worrying – “agri-food chains” and “incentivised” and “pro-nutrition”? Who will do the incentivising and at what public cost – isn’t that a fair research question too? And the third one has “pro-nutrition” again, this time combined with “interventions” – by who? Tesco and Walmart?

It is troubling that hovering behind all this trendy goal-setting and consortium building is the hungry shadow of the CGIAR and its powerful patrons. It has striven mightily to place the agriculture, nutrition, and health combination on the development agenda (formally with the IFPRI ‘2020’ conference in 2011) and including the CGIAR Research Program 4 (insiders call it CRP4). But there are the close links that are far more alarming – to USAID’s Feed the Future, to the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture machinations and to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and its championing of agri-biotech. These, in our era, are designed as the heavy machinery that supports foreign and trade policy in the international sphere. With such connections LANSA, I fear and suspect, is a new food and agriculture policy trojan horse being readied for South Asia.

On foodgrain stock forecasts, the IGC and USDA are both tentative

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Foodgrain exports forecasts for 2012-13 by the USDA's WASDE. These are the major exporting countries, exports in million tons.

Foodgrain exports forecasts for 2012-13 by the USDA’s WASDE. These are the major exporting countries, exports in million tons.

In this late February capsule of the foodgrain forecasts from the International Grains Council (IGC) and the US Department of Agriculture’s WASDE (world agriculture supply and demand estimates) we see estimates for slightly higher production, but also somewhat lower consumption. The question is: what about stocks, on which there is never enough knowledge distributed as to who holds them (government or private, traders or bankers) and how they are used by food markets or agricultural commodities markets?

Still, here is what the IGC has said:

Following minor revisions to the 2012-13 forecasts, the estimate for total grains end-season stocks (excluding rice) has been revised up by 4mt to 326m, including increases for both wheat and maize. Overall, however, they remain down 40mt year-on-year at a six-year low, or a 17-year low for the major exporters.

IGC’s 2013 February grain market report presented the first forecast for the 2013-14 supply and demand balance for wheat. “While world output is tentatively projected up 4% year-on-year, much is expected to be absorbed by higher demand and end-season stocks are likely to rise by just 2mt, following a 21m decline in 2012-13. The forecast for 2012-13 end-season maize stocks has been revised 1.7mt higher this month, but major exporters’ end-season inventories are still put at a 16-year low,” said the 2013 February report.

Here are the major foodgrain forecasts for wheat, rice, coarse grain and maize:

Wheat
According to the IGC – Major exporters’ stocks for 2012-13 are revised down by 1.5mt, to 49.9mt, but upward revisions for China and India raise the global total to 176mt, which is still down 21m from last year. Increases for Brazil, Iran and Russia help to lift the 2012-13 world trade forecast by 0.8mt this month, to 137.4m. World output for 2013-14 is tentatively projected up 4% year-on-year, but much is expected to be absorbed by higher demand leaving little room for stock building.
According to WASDEGlobal wheat supplies for 2012-13 are nearly unchanged with a small increase in beginning stocks more than offsetting a small decrease in production. Global wheat output is projected 0.7 million tons lower. Production is lowered for Kazakhstan and Brazil, but raised for Ukraine, South Africa, and Belarus. Global wheat consumption is virtually unchanged at 673.4 million tons; however, global consumption is projected down 24.6 million tons year to year, mostly reflecting lower feed and residual use in 2012-13. World wheat ending stocks for 2012-13 are also nearly unchanged this month at 176.7 million tons.

Rice
According to the IGC – At 466mt, world rice production is forecast to be little changed year-on-year, as smaller harvests in Asia, particularly in India, are offset by gains elsewhere. World use is expected to rise by 2% year-on-year, to a fresh record, underpinned by increases in Asia’s leading consumers. Global ending stocks are forecast to fall marginally, but supplies in the major exporters are expected to rise to a new record. World trade in 2013 is projected to decline by 5% as key importers in Asia and Africa reduce purchases from last year’s highs.
According to WASDE – Global 2012-13 projections of rice production and consumption are raised from last month, but trade and ending stocks are lowered. Global 2012-13 rice production is forecast at a record 465.8 million due to increases for Bangladesh, Bolivia, and Nepal partially offset by reductions for Argentina and Laos. Global consumption is raised 0.7 million tons to a record 469.3 million as relatively small changes are made to several countries including Bolivia, Iraq, and Nepal. Global exports for 2012-13 are lowered slightly due mainly to reductions for Argentina and China. Imports are reduced for Bangladesh, Cuba, Egypt, and Indonesia. Global 2012-13 ending stocks are reduced 0.5 million tons to about102.0 million due mostly to decreases for Egypt and Indonesia.

Coarse grain
According to WASDE – Global coarse grain supplies for 2012-13 are projected 2.1 million tons higher as a decrease in beginning stocks is more than offset by a 2.9-million-ton increase in production. Lower 2012-13 beginning stocks mostly reflect an increase in 2011-12 corn exports for Brazil and revisions to the Paraguay corn series that lower 2011-12 corn area and yield. Global 2012-13 production is also higher this month for sorghum, barley, oats, and rye. Sorghum production is raised 0.4 million tons for Mexico with higher area and yields for the summer crop, but lowered 0.2 million tons for Australia with reduced prospects for area and yields. Global barley, oats, and rye production are up a combined 0.6 million tons on larger reported crops for the FSU-12 countries.

Maize (corn)
According to the IGC – Global production is forecast to decline by 3% year-on-year, with sharp falls in the US and EU offsetting rises elsewhere, including in China and the southern hemisphere. Despite some less than ideal weather in recent months, Brazil and Argentina are still set to harvest record crops. Due to tighter supplies, world use is expected to dip by 1% year-on-year, led by reduced demand from the US ethanol sector. With total use again expected to exceed production, closing stocks will decline for a fourth consecutive year, including a sharp drop in the major exporters.

Written by makanaka

February 23, 2013 at 19:24

The problem with following the FAO food price index

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Not a man who has any time for the FAO Food Price Index. A vegetable vendor in Bangalore's Russell Market.

Not a man who has any time for the FAO Food Price Index. A vegetable vendor in Bangalore’s Russell Market.

Can a cultivator tilling a five acre plot of land in Senegal use the FAO Food Price Index? Can a vegetable vendor on the streets of Jakarta, Indonesia, use the index? Can a corner shop in Quetta, Pakistan, follow the index? Can commodity traders in the world’s most active agricultural commodities and futures exchanges use the index? My answers to these questions are: no. no. no and yes.

Why should it be this way? It shouldn’t, especially since FAO also keeps track of consumer price indices in many countries. But let’s look at why it is this way.

Our familiar pair, but who can use them?

Our familiar pair, but who can use them?

Here is what the new update to the FAO Food Price Index has said, in two words, “remaining steady” (this is the 2013 February 07 update). I quote:

“The FAO Food Price Index averaged 210 in January 2013, unchanged from the slightly revised December value. Following three months of consecutive declines, the Index stabilised in January, as a rebound in oils/fats prices offset a decline for cereals and sugar. Dairy and meat values remained generally steady.”

Concerning cereals, the update said that the cereal sub-index averaged 247 in 2013 January, down nearly 3 points from 2012 December. Now here’s an odd sentence: “The values of the monthly index have been falling since October, mostly on improved crop conditions”. We’ve read news about drought conditions all over the place, in the USA, in Australia, in Central Asia and the former Soviet Union, about unseasonal conditions in South America, for well over three months, so this sentence makes little sense. The cereals explanation added: “Large exports of feed wheat have weighed negatively on maize quotations in spite of tight availabilities”.

Now, let’s see what the FAO Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) has said in its 2013 February Market Monitor (pdf):

“Wheat production in 2012 fell to below the 2011 record. Early prospects for 2013 point to a larger crop in spite of a possible decline in the US production. Maize production fell well below 2011 in spite of upward adjustments to the estimates in China and North America – utilisation in 2012/13 exceeding 2011/12, contrary to earlier expectations, mostly on larger feed use in China, Russia and the US. Rice production prospects for 2012 little changed, with large declines in Brazil and India dampening world growth to less than 1% – utilisation in 2012/13 still anticipated to increase by 7 million tonnes.”

Here we have what sounds like two different FAO voices speaking – the Food Price Index voice, which sees broad stability, and the AMIS voice, which sees declining production and more utilisation (as the food economists like to call it). True, the Food Price Index reflects what has occurred in the last month, and is not a forecast, but, as we see below, it is based on quotations, and not what households and small vendors actually pay for food, and there lies the rub.

Because, the FAO Food Price Index consists of the average of five commodity group price indices weighted with the average export shares of each of the groups for 2002-2004. There are in total 55 commodity quotations “considered by FAO commodity specialists as representing the international prices of the food commodities”. For the cereals sub-index, it is compiled from the International Grains Council (IGC) wheat price index, itself an average of nine different wheat price quotations, and one maize export quotation; there are three rice components containing average prices of 16 rice quotations. Fascinating yes, but relevant to those in Senegal, Jakarta and Quetta who see 60% of their monthly income being used to buy food? I don’t think so.

The AMIS has charts for daily quotations of export prices, which reveal more than the FAO Food Price INdex

The AMIS has charts for daily quotations of export prices, which reveal more than the FAO Food Price INdex

“The FAO food price index is a trade weighted Laspeyres index of international quotations expressed in US dollar prices for 55 food commodities,” explained FAO’s 2009 ‘State of Agricultural Commodity Markets, High food prices and the food crisis – experiences and lessons learned’. You see why no local translation is possible for the many hundreds of millions under the food inflation hammer.

Why the international trade and export quotations numbers dominate is revealed, in a roundabout way, by a regular paragraph in the AMIS Market Monitor. The monthly pronouncement has this to say about investment flows (that is, money chasing foodgrain), for 2013 February: “Managed money was a significant seller of wheat, maize and soybeans as futures prices attained early January lows prior to USDA stocks report”. Pay attention to that term, ‘managed money’, which means funds run by banks and big investment agencies. “Managed money reversed its position in wheat from long (bullish) to short (bearish) but maintains long positions in maize and soybeans.” Now the confusion should clear somewhat. The index helps traders and exchanges deal better with volumes of grain (and dairy and meat and edible oil). AMIS helps them with a great deal more sophistication.

And what do the primary beneficiaries of the index have to say about the FAO Food Price Index being so benign at the start of 2013? “With corn and soybean prices down sharply from drought-driven record highs reached last summer and holding ‘significant’ risk for further declines, grain farmers should consider hedging their 2013 crops earlier than normal,” is an abstract from a report by the CME Group, a company that advises investors about all kinds of commodities, including agricultural. This tells us why the FAO Food Price Index cannot serve those struggling with soaring food bills in small town Asia and Africa.

How 27 million more rural households are buying PDS rice in India

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Rural and urban, the reliance on PDS cereals has risen dramatically in just five years.

Rural and urban, the reliance on PDS cereals has risen dramatically in just five years.

The public distribution system (PDS) is the only means by which a large and rapidly growing number of households in India’s districts and towns is able to mitigate somewhat the rising cost of a basic food basket in an attempt to reach a calorific and nutritional minimum. The share of PDS in the consumption of rice and of wheat (and ‘atta’) has risen steeply between the last such survey, in 2004-05, and the 2009-10 survey, whose results have been released.

I combined the data from the latest report based on the 66th round of the National Sample Survey Office – (NSSO, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India) which is its quinquennial survey of household consumer expenditure – with the results of the two censuses (2001 and 2011). The result? The number of rural households reporting consumption of PDS rice was 63.3 million in 2009-10 compared with 35.9 million five years earlier.

Likewise, the number of rural households reporting consumption of PDS wheat (or ‘atta’) was 44.6 million in 2009-10 compared with 16.1 million five years earlier, the number of urban households reporting consumption of PDS rice was 15.1 million compared with 8 million, and the number of urban households reporting consumption of PDS wheat (or ‘atta’) was 12.9 million compared with 3.5 million.

Beating the drums of war early in 2013

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The Algerian army has beefed up its positions on the border with war-torn Mali to prevent incursions by armed rebels fleeing north. Algeria, which had always opposed military intervention in Mali, was reluctantly drawn into the conflict when it agreed to let French warplanes use its airspace, and closed its 1,400-kilometre southern border shortly afterwards. Photo: Reuters

The Algerian army has beefed up its positions on the border with war-torn Mali to prevent incursions by armed rebels fleeing north. Algeria, which had always opposed military intervention in Mali, was reluctantly drawn into the conflict when it agreed to let French warplanes use its airspace, and closed its 1,400-kilometre southern border shortly afterwards. Photo: Reuters

Little noticed by the world’s media, the Munich Security Conference has in 2013 has just concluded. Its organisers and sponsors call it “the major security policy conference worldwide”. In this year’s conference – attended by about 400 participants from nearly 90 countries – a speech was delivered by the Vice President of the USA, Joseph Biden.

Biden mixed deception with aggression. This is what he said about current conflict the USA is prosecuting:

Today, we’re in the process of turning the page on more than a decade of conflict following the September 11, 2001 attack, and we ended the war in Iraq responsibly. And together we’re responsibly drawing down in Afghanistan, and by the end of next year, the transition will be complete.”

And here is what Biden has threatened:

… we took the fight to core Al Qaeda in the FATA, we were cognizant of an evolving threat posed by affiliates like AQAP in Yemen, al-Shabaab in Somalia, AQI in Iraq and Syria and AQIM in North Africa.”

The USA is estimated to have from 700 to over 1,000 military bases of all kinds in the world.

The USA is estimated to have from 700 to over 1,000 military bases of all kinds in the world.

At the Munich Security Conference leading political, military and defence industry representatives of the major powers, along with invited officials from other nations, met to discuss current and future military operations and geo-strategic issues.

That’s the sanitised version. The unsanitised version is plain to see in the speeches, such as Biden’s, and the statements. What this perverse gathering of war-mongers demonstrated is the consensus that exists among the countries of western Europe, amongst the USA and its allies, for an expanded political and military drive to install puppet governments and seize control of land, water and energy in the Middle East, in Central Asia and in the African continent. [See the map of US military bases, courtesy of the New Humanist.]

Biden in his speech revealed the growing darkness of widening conflict planned by this group:

As President Obama has made clear to Iranian leaders, our policy is not containment – it is is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The ball is in the government of Iran’s court, and it’s well past time for Tehran to adopt a serious, good-faith approach to negotiations …”

And:

“The United States is taking difficult but critical steps to put ourselves on a sounder economic footing. And I might add, it’s never been a real good bet to bet against America.”

The American vice president then went on to allege that “Iran’s leaders need not sentence their people to economic deprivation and international isolation”.

Who in truth is responsible for that deprivation, what is the human cost of that designed deprivation and isolation?

US Vice President Joe Biden in a helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 11, 2011.  Photo: White House

US Vice President Joe Biden in a helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 11, 2011. Photo: White House

Less than a week before this Munich Security Conference began, Iranian Mothers for Peace in an open letter to Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, and Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Heath Organization, alerted them to the critical shortage of vital medication due to the US/EU-led sanctions on Iran and their deadly impact on the lives and health of the Iranian population.

Excerpts from the letter written by the Iranian Mothers for Peace:

Dear Dr. Margaret Chan
As you know, the illegal and inhumane actions led by the US and the EU, targeting the country and the population of Iran, with the stated intention to put pressure on the government of Iran, have intensified in the past two years and increasingly harsher sanctions are imposed almost on a monthly basis. The regulations governing these inhumane and arbitrary sanctions are executed with such strict inflexibility that Iran is now excluded from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) and the sanctions on banking transactions are preventing Iran from even purchasing its needed medical supplies and instruments. On the other hand, to avoid suspicion for dealing with Iran, the European banks are fearful not to engage in any kind of financial transactions with Iran and, therefore, in practice, refuse any transfer of payment for medical and health-related items and raw materials needed for the production of domestic pharmaceutical drugs, even payment for well-recognized drugs for the treatment of Special Diseases, which are not of dual use.”

We ask you: What could possibly be the intended target of the wealthy and powerful US and European statesmen’s ‘targeted’ and ‘smart’ sanctions but to destroy the physical and psychological health of the population through the increase of disease and disability? The right to health and access to medical treatment and medication is one of the fundamental human rights anywhere in the world. Please do not allow the killing of our sick children, beloved families, and fellow Iranians from the lack of medicine, caught in instrumental policies of coercion and power.”

The Munich Security Conference 2013 in session,

The Munich Security Conference 2013 in session,

Unheeding of the clamour for peace worldwide and blind to the appalling cost in life, the gathering of war-mongers in Munich listened to Biden:

“That’s why the United States applauds and stands with France and other partners in Mali, and why we are providing intelligence support, transportation for the French and African troops and refueling capability for French aircraft. The fight against AQIM may be far from America’s borders, but it is fundamentally in America’s interest.”

Representatives of the countries of western Europe – of the same governments bent on now impoverishing their own people just as surely as they have wreaked havoc in the countries of the South with neo-liberal mutations of the ‘structural adjustment’ doctrine of the 1980s – made clear that they were only too willing to participate in the re-colonialisation of the Middle East and North Africa in cooperation with the USA. The German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere stressed the importance of cooperation with the US and their support for the Western intervention in Syria, as well as the war in Mali.

Scholar Horace Campbell in his new book, ‘Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya‘, has argued that the military organisation is the instrument through which the capitalist class of North America and Europe seeks to impose its political will on the rest of the world, “warped by the increasingly outmoded neoliberal form of capitalism”. The intervention in Libya, he said, characterised by bombing campaigns, military information operations, third party countries, and private contractors, exemplifies this new model.

At the time, they called it ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Libya, they tolerated suppression in Bahrain and Yemen, and then they supported civil war incitement and escalation of violence in Syria. The results have been: dangerous new urban geopolitics and the militarisation of city spaces as can be seen in Aleppo, Benghazi, Cairo and Manama; the privatisation of state violence through private security firms and mercenaries; the overuse of the democratic carrot and the economic sticks of debt, fiscal discipline, and international investment; the violence with which new forms of political and social participation, organisation, and representation (which include women, the unemployed, the urban poor) are met. This is the militarised world that has been described anew by the Biden speech.

A month into 2013, what will drought do to grain this year?

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The US government in 2013 January declared much of the central and southern US Wheat Belt a natural disaster area due to persistent drought threatening the winter wheat harvest.

The US government in 2013 January declared much of the central and southern US Wheat Belt a natural disaster area due to persistent drought threatening the winter wheat harvest.

Drought has tightened its dry grip on US winter wheat, reducing the condition of crops in Kansas, the top producing state, and neighbouring Oklahoma, said this report by Agrimoney. Estimates of the proportion of the crop in “poor” or “very poor” health at 39%, up from 31% at the end of December. The figures also represented a sharp deterioration from a year before, when 49% of winter wheat was rated good or excellent, and 12% poor or very poor.

The result of the continuing drought has been poor conditions for all fall-planted crops and limited grazing of small grains, Agrimoney quoted officials as having said. Most districts received 50% or less of normal rainfall last month, at a time when they had already been in drought for months.

The US Drought Monitor and the associated long-range forecasts spell trouble for grain stocks, movement and of course prices for 2013. Severe to exceptional drought conditions cover most of the cultivation area for hard, red winter wheat, running from the Texas panhandle to Colorado to South Dakota, the US Drought Monitor shows. Winter wheat crops were in the worst condition since at least 1985 at the end of November, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Bales of corn stalks covered with snow in the state of Nebraska, USA, in late December 2012. Despite some big storms in December, much of the US is still desperate for relief from the country's longest dry spell in decades. Photo: AP / Nati Harnik

Bales of corn stalks covered with snow in the state of Nebraska, USA, in late December 2012. Despite some big storms in December, much of the US is still desperate for relief from the country’s longest dry spell in decades. Photo: AP / Nati Harnik

In Russia, grain exports are expected to slump further, as also reported by Agrimoney. Russia’s farm ministry is to cut to 14m tonnes, from 15.5m tonnes, its forecast for grain exports in 2012-13. Trade at that level would represent half the 28m tonnes shipped in 2011-12 (USDA estimates) and imply only minimal exports for the rest of the season, with the tally already at some 13m tonnes.

In Britain, a third Agrimoney report on the impact of weather on grains has said, crop prices have soared thanks to the poor results from 2012 harvests, which showed the lowest wheat yields in 20 years and smallest potato crop since the 1970s. London wheat futures hit a record high of £227.00 a tonne last month, and remain at elevated levels, of £213.40 a tonne for the spot March contract, while potatoes are selling on the open market at £312.28 a tonne, more than triple their levels a year ago, according to the Potato Council.

Bloomberg has reported that the prices of wheat rose in Chicago as US production prospects “dimmed because of a persistent drought in the Great Plains, the biggest growing region for winter crops”. The Bloomberg report explained that the “central and southern plains [of USA] will have mostly below- normal rainfall in the next 10 days, with no significant relief expected”.

Roughly 57.64 percent of the contiguous United States was in at least ‘moderate’ drought as of 2013 January 22, reported the Huffington Post, which is a marginal improvement from 58.87 percent a week earlier. But the worst level of drought, dubbed ‘exceptional’, expanded slightly to 6.36 percent from 6.31 percent of the country.

The looters of India and what their robbery costs the people

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Subrata Roy, the head of the Sahara India group.  Photo: The Hindu

Subrata Roy, the head of the Sahara India group. Photo: The Hindu

A report in The Hindu, the English-language daily, of 2013 February 01 gives us some indication of the scale of robbery that the country continues to suffer, despite the anti-corruption protests that have waxed and waned over two years. The report also shows the impunity with which politically-connected business people can flout the law, evade tax, ignore court orders and stay out of jail. For the ordinary salaried Indian, a transfer from her or his bank account of 50,000 rupees or more (about USD 940 or EUR 690) must be accompanied by extra information that banks are required to demand. But for this super-rich set of looters, there are no restrictions when their transactions run into millions of dollars, euros or pound sterling.

The report in the Hindu has quoted a classified note made by the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance, on 2012 March 30. This note contains what the department calls “spontaneous information” – this means information given to it by a foreign counterpart.

The report quotes the note’s contents: “Intelligence indicates that Subrata Roy Sahara, DOB 15/06/1948, has control over a financial account with a U.K. financial institution in the name of Aamby Valley (Mauritius) Ltd, account number 539469 and the account holder intends to transfer GBP 8 million from this account to SG Hambros Bank (Chanel Islands) Ltd, number 0464163 in the name of Aamby Valley (Mauritius) Ltd and a further GBP 190 million to Bank of China, London Branch account number 781505-0220-000 in the name of Aamby Valley (Mauritius) Ltd.”

The report in the Hindu said government of India “may have failed to act against the Sahara group for duping small investors in fraudulent schemes despite intelligence gathered early last year of large fund movements in overseas accounts valued at well over GBP 203 million (at current exchange rates), connected to companies associated with its Managing Director and Chairman Subrata Roy. Mr. Roy was charged by the SEBI [that is, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, which exists to protect the interests of investors including small investors] in June 2011 and by the RBI in August 2011 for unauthorised raising of funds from the public“.

That 203 million pounds was equal to the amount earned as wages by rural households in Andhra Pradesh for a year under the employment guarantee programme.

That 203 million pounds was equal to the amount earned as wages by rural households in Andhra Pradesh for a year under the employment guarantee programme.

These are enormous sums of money – 203 million pound sterling!

In Indian rupees, that sum is 17,080,683,900 or 1,708 crore. That is a sum of money which is very nearly equivalent to the amount earned as wages in the state of Andhra Pradesh, for 2011-12, through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) programme by 4,153,850 rural households! Under the MGNREGA rural residents find employment for at least 100 days a year, and the work they did for INR 1,728.13 crore in that year was on rural connectivity, on flood control and protection, on water conservation and water harvesting, drought proofing, micro-irrigation works, irrigation for land owned by scheduled caste and tribal and below poverty line families, and the renovation of traditional water bodies.